Universal Press Syndicate
Over the years, I've put many a pet on an airplane, most times unaccompanied. Some have been rescues going to new homes, some my own pets traveling for competition or training, and a couple of times my pets and I have just gone away for vacation together.
Every time I've put a pet in the air, I've chewed my nails down with worry until they reached their destination. And every time, there hasn't been a hitch or anything worse than a delayed flight.
While no one can guarantee a trouble-free trip, the vast majority of pets get where they're going in fine shape. But to make the odds of that happening even better, you need to be an advocate for your pets when they fly.
Animals move through the airline system as unaccompanied cargo or as travelers' baggage. Unaccompanied pets and most animals traveling as baggage travel in pressurized cargo holds, while some small pets are allowed into the cabin as a carry-on. Before your pet flies:
-- Talk to the airline. The airlines that take pets -- not all do -- have limits on the number of animals on a flight, both in the cargo hold and (for small pets) in the passenger compartment. You also need to know where and when your pet has to be presented, and what papers -- health certificate and so on -- you'll need to bring.
Also be aware that some airlines won't ship pets in the warmer months at all (except as carry-on). Other weather-related restrictions apply as well.
Don't forget to ask about costs, so you won't be surprised. Struggling airlines have dramatically raised fees on many services, including shipping animals. Even pets who travel as carry-ons are subject to fees.
-- Be sure your pet is in good health. Air travel isn't recommended for elderly or sick animals, and is likewise ill-advised for the short-nosed breeds of dogs and cats. These animals find breathing a little difficult under the best of circumstances, and the stress of airline travel may be more than they can handle.
For pets who'll be traveling in the cargo hold, use a hard-sided carrier designed for air travel, and make sure it's in good condition (no cracks in the plastic, no rust on the grating). The crate should be just big enough for your pet to stand up and turn around in. Check and double-check that all the bolts securing the halves of the carrier are in place and tightened.
Pets that are small enough to ride in the passenger cabin will be more comfortable in a soft-sided carrier.
Carry-on pets should have a collar and ID tag, but that's not safe for pets traveling below. Instead, put an ID tag on a piece of elastic around the pet's neck, and make sure contact information is written large and indelibly on the outside of the crate. Food and water dishes should be attached to the inside of the door grate and a supply of kibble duct-taped to the top of the carrier so airline personnel can offer it without opening the door.
-- Consider travel conditions. Don't ship your pet when the air traffic is heaviest. Avoid peak travel days and times. Red-eye flights are often a good choice.
-- Choose a direct flight. If that's not possible, choose a route with a single connection and a short layover. Most animal fatalities occur on the ground, when pets are left in their crates on the hot tarmac or in stifling cargo holds. Better yet: Choose a direct flight with an airline that has special handling available for pets, keeping them off the tarmac until just before flight time and transporting them to and from the plane in a climate-controlled van.
Ask about your pet en route, persistently but politely. Make your presence known! Confirm that your pet has been loaded and has made any connections en route. Get the direct line to cargo operations at any connecting airport and ask for visual confirmation from an airline staffer that your pet is OK. (Most of these people are very nice if you are!)
Contrary to popular belief, an untranquilized pet is safer. Still, your pet may be an exception. Talk to your veterinarian when you get your pet's health certificate.
The Air Transport Association, the trade group for the nation's airlines, offers information on its "Air Travel for Your Pet" section (www.airlines.org/customerservice/passengers). The ATA details the preparation of a pet for air travel, how to set up the carrier and how to check on your pet en route.
Young dog serves as alarm clock
Q: We got a Labrador puppy for Christmas. We've gone through puppy classes, and he's doing pretty well with most things. Now we're trying to be patient with things that are mostly "just puppy stuff."
One thing that's rough on us, though: He took the time change as an excuse to drive us out of bed not one but two hours early -- or try to. Four a.m. isn't working for us. Help! -- W.L., via e-mail
A: Your bright young dog has figured out that he gets fed as soon as he gets you out of bed.
Take away his reward for waking you. Do not make feeding him the first thing on his morning agenda -- or yours. Instead, pick the paper off the porch, make yourself breakfast, take a shower, etc., and then, when your needs are met, address his. You need to break the connection in his head between your waking up and his getting fed.
Try not to react to his alarm-clock act. Don't get up, and don't yell. Just ignore him. You'll have a difficult time doing this at first, but he will finally come to understand which behaviors alter your actions and which don't. The ones that don't work, he'll drop.
Even though I haven't a clue as to how much exercise your dog gets currently, there's no such thing as enough activity for a dog, especially a young retriever. An evening aerobic session -- fetch is ideal -- will help him sleep more soundly. Tired dogs are good dogs.
Above all, be patient. Labs are often a big pain in the fanny until they grow up, which eventually happens between the age of 2 and 4. He's a big puppy now, but you'll start noticing a serious trend toward mellow after he gets through his adolescence. -- Gina Spadafori
Q: I have three cats, but only one of them shows any reaction to catnip. That one cat gets so crazy I worry. Is he normal to be a catnip freak? Or are the ones who ignore catnip normal? Should I just make the one go "cold turkey" since the others don't care? Can catnip be dangerous? -- P.E., via e-mail
A: Since our cats don't need to stay alert on the job, pay the bills, get the kids to school or operate heavy machinery, they can afford to be blissed-out on a regular basis. So if your cat likes catnip, indulge him to his little heart's content. For the good of the plants, though, put the pot where he can't get to them and offer him fresh clippings as often as you like. It won't hurt him.
As for your other cats not getting a buzz from the herb, that's perfectly normal, too. Not all cats like catnip: The ability to appreciate the herb is genetically programmed into some cats but not others. Kittens under the age of 3 months are also unaffected by the charm of catnip. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Keeping veterinarians down on the farm
-- The boom in pet ownership is having ill effects down on the farm, as veterinarians are increasingly drawn to practices that care for dogs and cats. Only 10 percent of students entering U.S. veterinary schools pursue large-animal practice, says the American Veterinary Medical Association. Treating pets generally means better working conditions, shorter commutes and fewer on-call nights. Fewer large-animal veterinarians is seen as a concern not only for the animals who need care, but also for issues of public health, since veterinarians help to keep the food supply safer.
-- As the temperature across the United States has gotten incrementally warmer because of climate change, more than half of 305 bird species in North America -- a hodgepodge that includes robins, gulls, chickadees and owls --- are spending the winter about 35 miles farther north than they did 40 years ago, an Audubon study finds.
-- What animal are the Canary Islands named after? Surprisingly enough, it's the dog. Canaries, as in the singing bird, are named after the islands (where they are indigenous), not the other way around. The archipelago gets its name from the Latin for the largest of the islands, which the Romans named (BEGIN ITALS)Insula Canaria(END ITALS) (Isle of Dogs) after the large number of wild and domesticated dogs once found there. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
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." Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Be wary of warming weather when exercising dog
While exercise is important for all dogs, it's important to plan activities during the cooler part of the day to prevent overheating.
Dogs who are overweight, out-of-condition, elderly or pug-nosed are especially at risk. For these dogs, heat stress can quickly turn lethal.
Don't take a chance with your dog's life. Keep exercise sessions short and plan them for early or late in the day. Stop at the first sign of overheating, such as heavy panting.
Always have cool water available both for drinking and for wetting down dogs on warm days. For the latter, concentrate on a constant flow of cool water -- not ice cold and no ice packs -- to the belly. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Dogs loved in all sizes
Although small dogs seem all the rage these days, canine popularity isn't much influenced by size. According to the American Pet Products Association, dog lovers like their pets no matter what size (multiple answers allowed):
Own small dogs 43 percent
Own medium dogs 34 percent
Own large dogs 44 percent
Snail bait can be a pet hazard
With gardening season at hand, it's important to come up with a safe strategy for eliminating snails. Many brands of snail bait are not just deadly to snails and slugs, but also to dogs, cats and birds.
Instead of laying out bait, look for snails at night with a flashlight, picking up pests and putting them in a bag that then goes in the garbage bin.
If you suspect your pet has gotten into snail bait -- symptoms include frothing at the mouth, vomiting and convulsions -- see your veterinarian immediately. Your pet's life depends on your prompt action.
The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (www.aspca.org/apcc) offers more information on hazards outside and inside the home. Prevention is key! – Gina Spadafori
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.