Universal Press Syndicate
When other allergy triggers kick in, living with sneeze-triggering pets becomes even more problematic. That's why treating all your allergies aggressively will help make living with pets far easier when pollen is released in the spring.
If you can get a good night's sleep, you'll be better able to cope with almost anything, even allergies. That's why one of the best pieces of advice to those who are allergic to their pets is this: Declare your bedroom a "no-pets zone," at least during the height of spring allergy season.
That can be tough advice to follow for those of us who love to share our bedrooms, and even our beds, with our dogs and cats. (And studies say that's most of us!) For many allergy sufferers, though, establishing a pet-free sleeping area is a necessary compromise that will allow us to share our lives with pets despite our allergies.
Reduce allergy triggers further by keeping your sleeping area sparsely decorated with furnishings that do not attract dust, and be sure everything is cleaned frequently. Bedding should be washed often to combat dust mites, and pillows should be made of non-allergenic material, no feathers. Consider running a HEPA air cleaner in the room at all times.
The idea (both in the bedroom and outside of it) is to keep your total "allergy load" -- pets and other things that trigger your allergies -- to a level that you can live with or that can be controlled by medication. It's worth it to make an effort. Out-of-control allergies can make lives miserable and, in the case of asthma, can be life-threatening.
Here are more tips for those who have both pets and allergies:
-- Limit exposure to other allergens. Avoid strong cleaning solutions, cigarette smoke and perfumes, and consider using a mask when doing yard work and housework, especially when pollen counts are high or your home is especially dusty.
-- Let someone else do the dusting and vacuuming, if at all possible, and if not, invest in a vacuum that filters the air it releases. Allergy sufferers should also leave litter-box scooping to other family members to limit exposure to the allergens in cat urine. If that's not possible, again, wear a mask and wash your hands well afterward.
-- Keep pets well-groomed. The dirt and pollen that pets pick up in their coats can be almost as bad as the hair and dander they generate themselves. It's essential for pets to be bathed frequently and to be kept combed and brushed. Ideally, a non-allergic member of the household should assume this responsibility. Even cats should be bathed, by the way: A weekly rinse of your cat in plain water has been shown to help people who are allergic to them.
-- Work with your doctor. Medication -- short term or for life -- can make living with pets possible. While it used to be that many allergists recommended re-homing a pet as the first course of action, many have now accepted that pet lovers will often refuse. Allergists today seem much more willing to offer treatment options that accept pets as part of the family.
-- Choose pets carefully. Do everything you can to make things work with the pets you have now. But when it comes time to adopt others, be aware that some pets may be better than others when it comes to allergies. In general, dogs are less of a problem than cats when it comes to allergies, and breeds like poodles and their mixes may be easier for allergy sufferers to live with than other dogs. The fur is not the problem, in any case, so hairless pets offer no relief.
There is no such thing as a completely non-allergenic dog or cat, however, no matter what you've heard or read. The best that you can do is to work with your allergist, take medications as recommended and manage your environment -- and your pet's place in it -- to keep all the sneezes and wheezes to a minimum.
Keeping the cat's bathroom private
Q: I know a common complaint of dog lovers is "cruising the litter box." We solved this problem by placing a heavy, covered litter box in a corner, with the opening toward the wall.
There's enough space for our cat to slide through and into the litter box, but not for our dog to get inside. Can you share it? -- M.M., via e-mail
A: Your strategy works great for cats who can tolerate covered litter boxes. Those with asthma should have open ones, though, so they are less bothered by the concentration of litter dust and other irritations.
Your note reminds me of the setup a friend came up with, designed to keep the dog out of the cat food. Her husband got a plastic milk crate, set it on its side and secured it with the opening in a corner. The cats can easily hop over the crate, through the triangle-shaped opening and into the crate where the dishes are. The dog can't fit, though, and is forced to watch the cats eating -- a torment the cats likely enjoy immensely.
My solution is to put the cat boxes in my attached garage, accessible through a pet door the cats can get through but the dogs cannot. Baby gates work well, too.
When dealing with litter-box-cruising dogs, you always have to make sure your cat is comfortable with the arrangements you've made to keep the dog at bay. If you don't, you'll be finding little kitty offerings elsewhere in the house. If the cat's not happy, no one is happy! -- Gina Spadafori
Q: My dog has a hair trigger when it comes to barking. What do you think about citrus-spray collars? Do they work? Are they safe? -- L.I., via e-mail
A: The citronella spray anti-bark collar works fine with many barkers. I did Sheltie rescue in my area for a few years and always kept a citronella collar on hand for the noisiest of my foster dogs.
The collar releases a spray of citronella when activated by the dog's barking, but it's not necessary for the spray to get on the face. The collar really works by distraction: The "pfffttt" of the spray being released catches the dog's attention, as does the pungent smell. The dog can't resist taking a whiff, and since he can't bark and sniff at the same time, the disagreeable activity is halted.
You probably don't want your dog to wear such a collar forever, though, so you might ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist who can help you with a long-term solution to the barking problem. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Animals always put same foot forward
-- In animal art, the wrong foot is often forward. The way four-legged animals move has been well-known since the 1880s, when Eadweard Muybridge's motion-capture photographs revealed the sequence of leg movements. Animals walk this way: The left hind leg moves forward, followed by the left foreleg, right hind leg and right foreleg, in order. You'd think that since this knowledge has been around for well over a century that artists, taxidermists, toy designers and others responsible for depicting animals would get it right. But a study published in the journal Current Biology showed that out of several hundred depictions of walking animals in museums, veterinary books and toy models, the leg positions are wrong in almost half of them. The researchers from Eotvos University in Hungary studied depictions where it could be determined unambiguously that the animal was walking, and not trotting or running, as the leg movements may differ in those gaits.
-- In comparing veterinary earnings for 2007 with other health professionals, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows veterinarians averaged $84,090, compared with $101,840 for optometrists, $147,010 for dentists and $153,640 for family physicians.
-- Fish have not always gathered as a school, according to Vocabpower. They can also be called a "shoal of fish," a shoal (shallow spot) being where fish were generally observed. Want more such words? How about a pod of whales, an exaltation or a murmuration of larks, a drove of pigs, a troop of kangaroos, a parliament of owls, a kindle of kittens, kettle of hawks and -- our favorite -- a scourge of mosquitoes. -- 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.
Most 'dire warnings' shouldn't be passed on
A few years ago it was Febreze; then it was Swiffer. Now both seem to be in e-mail reruns again.
In the last several weeks I've received hundreds of e-mail "warnings" forwarded by well-meaning readers who in turn had it forwarded to them. The e-mail tells of a dog who died after walking across a damp floor that had been cleaned with the product and claims that Swiffer is "one molecule" off the chemical formulation of antifreeze, the latter a deadly risk to pets. The Febreze warnings seem to circulate regularly as well.
The dire warnings about both products are off-base. The Snopes Web site (www.snopes.com) debunks these as urban myths as does the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (www.aspca.org/apcc). Both rumors may well have been originally sent into play by those with a grudge against manufacturer Procter & Gamble, which makes both products.
The bottom line on Febreze and Swiffer? As with all household cleaning products, read the label carefully and follow directions to the letter. And don't forward e-mail warnings that you don't know to be true. It's easy to check, and if something doesn't pass the sniff test, just hit "delete." -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Watch out for killer plants
Plant poisonings are sadly common in pets, which is why it's important to make sure potentially toxic foliage is kept out of areas where pets frequent. The Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (www.petinsurance.com), recently analyzed the more than 400 claims it received in 2008 for toxic plant ingestions, developing the following list of offenders. The average amount claimed for plant poisoning was $427.
7. Sago palm
8. Macadamia nuts
A sick bird needs vet help -- stat
Can you give a cold or flu to your bird? Although the myth is a pervasive one, the answer is likely to be "no."
Because human colds and flus are always around, it seems to make sense that when a bird shows similar symptoms -- congestion, coughing and such -- the pet has the same gunk that has been floating around the rest of the family. But it's a good bet there's something else going on with your bird.
If your bird is showing cold or flulike symptoms, don't just figure the problem will pass in the same way a human bug will. Birds are very stoic when it comes to hiding symptoms of illness, and when a bird does show signs of disease, he's often quite sick indeed. So take him to an avian veterinarian, pronto. -- Dr. Marty Becker
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.