Universal Press Syndicate
Our dogs love spring and summer -- longer days, less inclement weather -- but they always seem a little disappointed when they realize they're not going to be getting as many rides in the car.
That's because in the winter there's not much risk to letting a well-mannered dog wait in the car during a quick pop inside the bank, drugstore or any number of local businesses that make up a morning's errand run.
But when the days get warmer, it's no longer acceptable to leave a dog in the car, even for a few minutes, even with the windows down. That's because the heat can build up quickly, even on a day that's just pleasantly warm, putting any pet in the car at grave risk for heatstroke.
Car rides and errands aren't the only risks to pets in warmer weather. Take care of your pets by watching out for these fair-weather hazards:
-- Heat risks. Cats have enough sense to nap on warm afternoons, but dogs do not. If you let them, they'll go where you do, even if it's too hot. Dogs are not good at keeping themselves cool, and they rely on us to keep them out of trouble.
Limit exercise to the coolest part of the day, no matter how happy your dog is to participate when it's warm. Even in the coolest part of the day, watch for signs of trouble: Glassy eyes and frantic panting indicate a dog who needs immediate veterinary help.
Remember that older, obese or short-nosed dogs are less heat-tolerant and that all dogs need constant access to shade and an endless supply of cool, clean water.
-- Gardening risks. Protect your pets from poisonous plants, troublesome garden materials or yard chemicals. Check with the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (www.aspca.org/apcc) to be sure your plants are pet-safe, and put any ones that aren't safe on the other side of a fence from your animals.
Be sure to use any pesticides or fertilizers according to label directions, and let lawn chemicals dry before allowing your pet access to the yard. Snail and rodent bait can kill pets, so do not use it in areas where animals have access.
-- Other outdoor problems. If you hike through open fields or wooded areas, be sure to check your dog afterward for foxtails and burrs. The spiky seed carrier of dried grasses, a foxtail, will burrow deep into the ears or flesh of an animal, and it will need to be removed by a veterinarian if it gets in a place your pet can't reach or is left to fester. Depending on where it ends up, it can even be fatal.
Warmer weather also means mosquitoes, and that means heartworms.
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, which pick up the microscopic heartworm larvae called microfilaria when they draw blood from an infected animal. They share the parasites when they bite another animal. Once in a new host, the larvae make their way to the heart, where they grow to be 9 to 14 inches long, blocking the flow of blood and causing severe damage and possibly death.
Most infested pets are brought to the veterinarian after their owners notice them coughing at night, coughing after exercise, or experiencing a general decline in their physical condition. By the time the symptoms are noticed, however, a great deal of damage has usually been done, not only to the heart, but also to other organs such as the kidneys, which rely on a steady flow of blood to operate.
Because of the risk and expense of treating a heartworm infestation, preventive care remains an essential part of a pet's well-being. Monthly heartworm prevention has been shown to be safe and effective for most pets. Don't ignore this essential protection: Talk to your veterinarian about heartworm preventives for dogs and cats.
Kits make artists out of your pets
We're now looking for gallery space for a pair of Pugcassos, otherwise known as our two pugs, Willy and Bruce, who recently completed three paintings using the Pup-Casso kit.
Pup-Casso's no-mess and non-toxic paint kit gave me a keepsake of my pugs' artistic skills that I can forever hang on my walls, and also provided bonding time for my husband and me to share with our pugs as we all four worked together to create the perfect painting.
The kit was extremely easy to use and came with a paint set of five colors, three art papers, three paw protectors (plastic sheets to sit over the top of the painting for the dog to walk across), a picture frame, and a small present for your dog (a yellow Frisbee with the Pup-Casso logo on it.)
To begin, paint colors are dotted and swirled around the paper by the dog owner, and then covered over by a clear plastic sheet, which is taped down to keep it from sliding. Treats are an important coaxing tool in the process because your dog is then guided back and forth across the plastic sheet over the paper to swirl and step into the paint, thus creating his own unique creation.
Two of our paintings were done in "Picasso" style with random swirls of color. But my husband, wanting to unleash his never-before-discovered "talent," decided to paint a picture of a dog on the grass with a sun on the top and had the dogs step over the top of it, with the final result looking much like a cheery preschool art project.
The kit's ease of use was exceptional. The directions were simple and easy to follow, there was very little cleanup needed, and we now have three keepsake paintings to always remember our time together as a family (our snorting pugs included, or course).
The only downside was the lack of a paintbrush, which made writing our signatures extremely difficult, as fingers to sign were too thick to be legible. In the end, we made due with the end of a pen as a makeshift paintbrush to memorialize all four of our names on our work of art. The paint kit also comes in a Cat-Casso variety, for all of the catty artists hoping to gain fame as well. Pup-Casso and Cat-Casso ($20 for either) are available from pet-supply retailers or from Art-Casso.com. -- Mikkel Becker Shannon
Prospects better for pets with cancer
-- Powerful new tools to treat cancer in animals are here, or on the near horizon, reports Veterinary Practice News. These include two new therapies that target canine mast cell tumors at the molecular level (from Pfizer and AB Science USA) and immunotherapy for melanoma (Merial). "Rather than use chemicals to kill the cancer or radiation to fry it, we can use our knowledge of cancer to outsmart it," notes cancer specialist Dr. Greg Ogilvie, director of the Angel Care Cancer Center at California Veterinary Specialties in Carlsbad, Calif.
-- This year marks the 125th anniversary of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia. Among the school's most well-known patients: the Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who ultimately lost his battle for life after shattering a leg in the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of racing's storied Triple Crown. The work to save Barbaro at UPenn has led to better safety on racetracks and better care for all horses.
-- Kitten season is no myth, and proof lies in the writhing bundles of kittens in animal shelters this time of year. The feline reproductive season runs from Dec. 21 (winter solstice) to Sept. 22 (autumnal equinox). Like Mother Nature's light-switch, the amount of daylight turns the cat's reproductive cycles on and off. That means in December, unspayed females are stimulated to come into heat, and usually they will be by the middle of January. A 60-day pregnancy means that cats will give birth around March 15 or so. The first wave of kitty litters will come to shelters shortly thereafter. -- 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," 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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Quick removal of ticks a seasonal must
Don't tolerate ticks: Prevent those you can and immediately remove those you find.
Tick prevention in pets means topical treatments, typically spot-ons available by prescription from your veterinarian (or from retailers with a prescription from your veterinarian). Talk to your pet's health-care provider about which product suits your animal best. In some areas, ticks may respond better to one product than another. In areas with heavy tick infestations, additional protection may entail the use of a tick collar. Again, talk to your vet.
Whenever you've had your dog out in an area with ticks -- and that could even be a green city park -- you need to go over your dog carefully to hand-pick any pests that hopped a ride. Don't wait for the preventives to kill them. Feel for tiny lumps and part the fur to get a good look at the skin.
When you've located a tick, don't use methods you may have heard of, such as applying alcohol, petroleum jelly or the tip of a hot match to remove them. They don't work. Instead, choose a direct method: Either use a tool to pull them off, or protect your fingers with a thin glove.
For tools, a curved-tip jeweler's forceps ($25 to $50) is probably the best, and well worth searching out and keeping on hand if you live in an area with lots of ticks, especially small ticks. Various tools with slots that fit under the parasite -- such as the Ticked Off spoon ($5.50 from retailers) -- also work well.
Start your tick hunt with a little bowl of isopropyl alcohol at hand. No matter if you're using a tool or your gloved fingers, get ahold of the tick close to where the mouth is attached to your pet and apply steady, even pressure to remove the pest -- no twisting required. Once out, flick the tick into the alcohol to kill it and then dispose of the dead ticks at once.
Use a mild disinfectant on the de-ticked areas, and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water when you're done clearing all the pests from your pet. Keep an eye on where the ticks had been embedded for any sign of infection, and contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Experience matters in pet care
If it seems that you've always had a dog or cat, you're probably typical. In responses to surveys about how long pet owners have kept pets, those with dogs or cats had more experience in caring for animal companions than did those with other pets:
Dogs: 19 years
Cats: 17 years
Birds: 10 years
Freshwater fish: 8 years
Saltwater fish: 5.5 years
Reptiles: 3 years
Small animals: 1.8 years
Source: American Pet Products Association
Yes, cats can be hurt falling from windows
Cats are equipped with the amazing ability to right themselves in midair if they fall while hunting, rotating their bodies from the head back like a coil to align themselves for a perfect four-paw landing.
But what works for a supple small animal falling from a tree branch doesn't cut it in the modern world, where a cat's more likely to fall from a window than a tree. Cats can be badly hurt or even killed falling from the window of a two-story home, or from the balcony of a third-story apartment.
Many cat lovers assume their pets would be smart enough to be careful when up high enough for injuries, but it's just not in an animal's ability to make that kind of judgment call. Cats are comfortable in high places, and they cannot understand the difference in risk between a one-story fall and a six-story fall. Protect them with secure screens and closed windows. -- 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.