It's no secret that dogs have migrated from the doghouse to the main house to the master bedroom, and cats have gone from mousers to housers. But even as pets have made the shift to full family members for many people, conflicts do arise.
This can be especially true around the holidays, when the kids come home with a four-legged feline "baby," or friends drop by with their dog for a visit and see no problem with welcoming him up on your bed as they do at home.
Minimizing visiting pet conflicts isn't hard, as long as everyone follows basic "petiquette" in planning and managing visits. Here are some tips:
-- Consider your pets -- and resident pets -- before the visit: Even if your pets are welcome, taking them may not be the best of ideas. Visiting is not a good idea if the resident pet will be stressed by yours. It's not fair for the family cat to spend the holidays under the bed because a new dog is roaming the house.
And not all pets are good visitors. Most cats would prefer to stay home, and many dogs are better left behind with a pet sitter or in a good boarding kennel.
To be a good guest, a dog must know basic obedience and be able to remain well-mannered under all circumstances. No knocking over a frail aunt or tiny toddler, and no stealing food off the counters or tables. Since you can't retrain a dog just for a visit, you can solve the pets-on-the-bed problem by bringing along old sheets to throw over the top of your host's bedding.
-- Don't make assumptions: If you're expecting pet-loving company, don't assume they'll leave their pets at home. Ask them, and don't be shy about setting conditions if you're willing to welcome a four-legged visitor.
By the same token, don't presume the welcome mat is out for your pet. Not everyone loves pets, and even those who do may not want your pet to visit for many legitimate reasons, including allergies, non-pet-friendly decor, other pets, and fearful or fragile family members.
It's essential to not only get permission but also to be clear on the rules of the house. A frank discussion beforehand can prevent many conflicts. Ask where the pet can sleep, and where he'll be expected to relieve himself (don't forget to clean up afterward!).
If friendly agreement isn't possible, a pet-friendly hotel room nearby is the best option.
-- Crates and baby-gates: Having your pet be able to relax in a "room of his own" makes visiting easier for all. A crate or carrier is your pet's best friend when you're traveling. Every pet should learn to be comfortable being contained in a safe, secure crate or carrier. This training makes everything better, from veterinary visits to car travel and more.
A crate may be the perfect place for your dog during meals, or when the family decides to catch a movie or go out for a meal. There's no worrying about what your dog will do in a unfamiliar environment when he's sleeping safely in his crate.
If using a crate isn't possible, a baby-gate can keep visiting pets out of pet-unfriendly areas while still giving them the sense that they're part of the activities. These gates are inexpensive to buy at any general-merchandise retailer. A simple plastic gate can adjust to any doorway and will leave no marks afterward.
With permission cheerfully granted and ground rules set before the door opens, having well-mannered pets join in the holiday festivities can be wonderful. It's just up to the humans to make sensible decisions so everyone is comfortable, pets included.
Choosing a dog for a home with cats
Q: I have two spayed cats, 5-year-old sisters I adopted as kittens. I grew up with dogs and cats and have missed having a dog. I am now able to adopt a dog, but I want to keep the transition smooth.
I've noticed that some shelters indicate whether a dog gets along with cats. How accurate do you think this information is? And what else can I do to keep from freaking out my cats? -- N.D., via e-mail
A: Shelters and rescue groups can find out this information by getting it from the dog's previous owners, or by exposing the dog to a cat and evaluating the response.
The latter isn't as awful as it sounds. They'd never test a dog who's clearly aggressive, and they don't haul out some terrified guest kitty to be the guinea pig, so to speak. The tester cat is usually a permanent resident of the shelter, often a staff favorite who has proven to be calm and disdainfully confident around dogs. Dogs who are aggressive toward the cat (but not people) are so noted, as are those who are too friendly (and will need training to leave a cat alone), are friendly but not intrusive (ideal), or couldn't care less about the cat (also fine). Ask the folks at the shelter how they determine cat-tolerance in the case of any dog you're interested in.
In general, I'd look for a quiet, gentle and well-mannered adult dog of 3 to 5 years of age or older who falls into the friendly but not intrusive category, preferably one who has lived with cats before. You'll find lots of such dogs in shelters or rescue groups -- check Petfinder.com for all the possibilities in your area.
When you find your dog, don't force the pets to be together. Let the cats decide how much interaction they want, and always offer them an escape route to a dog-free area. It may take a month or more for the situation to settle down. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
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ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
The secret behind shar-pei wrinkles
-- Ever wonder why Chinese shar-peis have all those wrinkles? A team of Spanish scientists has come up with the answer. Known as mucinosis, the condition is a genetic alteration that multiplies the activity of a particular enzyme. When it goes into overdrive, it produces excessive amounts of hyaluronic acid, which gathers under the skin and produces wrinkles. The researchers hope that this knowledge of the genetic basis of mucinosis will permit better breeding programs aimed at improving the health of the breed, as well as provide a better understanding of the biology of tissues surrounding cells and the processes of cell recognition and aging.
-- While on a walk with his owner, a normally well-behaved dog bolted across the road and into a lake. Napoleon emerged dragging a sack in his mouth. In the bag: six kittens, probably thrown into the water to drown. Four of them lived and were adopted. "He probably felt they were in danger or something, because he heard them cry out," said Alexandra Breuer, owner of the canine hero.
-- Running across 1,100 miles of the frozen Alaskan wilderness on only 12,000 calories a day is challenging enough, but doing it at 8 mph for more than a week is an astonishing accomplishment. That's why veterinary physiologist Dr. Michael Davis has been given a $1 million grant from the Pentagon to research how the dogs of the Iditarod can endure such intense physical labor. When sled dogs begin running, they initially have a racing metabolism, but after running for a day, their body slows to a resting metabolism, which helps them avoid exhaustion. The Pentagon wants to know if that metabolic slow-down would be possible for soldiers. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Mikkel Becker Shannon and Kim Campbell Thornton
Preventive care essential to bird health
A wild bird's survival strategy is to appear as healthy as possible to avoid the notice of predators. Many popular pet bird species are not many generations removed from the wild, but the same survival strategy that worked in a natural habitat is a bad one in captivity. Pet birds will sometimes show no sign of illness until they're too sick to be helped.
Proper daily care -- good nutrition and fastidious cleanliness -- is essential to preventing life-threatening illness, as is a solid working relationship with an experienced avian veterinarian. Here's why an avian veterinarian can make a difference:
-- Scarcity of urgent care. Emergency clinics are mostly geared for dog and cat care, not specialized bird care. And even if you develop an excellent relationship with an avian-savvy veterinarian, he will not always be available for emergency responses.
-- Cost savings. From the startup costs of a proper cage to annual well-bird exams with the necessary diagnostic testing, preventive care isn't cheap. Still, heading off illness is less expensive in the long run than trying to save the life of a bird in crisis.
-- Quality of life. Just because a bird is hiding his illness doesn't mean he isn't feeling dreadful. It may be days, weeks, months or even years before your bird finally gets so sick that he stops caring what happens to him. Misery has been his companion for a long time at that point, and that makes a strong argument for early intervention.
The place to start? An examination by an avian veterinarian, who'll take the time to establish the good health of your bird, correct small health problems before they become critical, and advise you about anything you're doing that might be endangering your pet's health long term. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Who makes pet-care purchases?
The kids may beg for a pet, but mom had better be on board with the addition. That's because chances are she'll be the one doing the shopping. According to a 2006 study:
Women as primary shoppers
All pets 79 percent
Dogs 79 percent
Cats 81 percent
Saltwater fish 67 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Door dashes can be stopped
Teach your dog not to dash out the door by always insisting that he sit and wait before exiting your home or car.
Just as you do when putting a child in a car seat, do not make exceptions to the rule. If you are consistent, your dog will accept this routine and learn that it's no go until you say so.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't be careful when opening the front door or the car door. Some temptations, such as seeing a cat or squirrel, may trigger your dog to dash, so always keep a look out.
No training is 100 percent, but you can put a brake on most door dashing with clear, consistent instructions and practice.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.