Universal Press Syndicate
The Fourth of July is the ultimate summer holiday, a celebration not only of America's history and traditions, but also of family, food and fireworks fun.
But while we may love our pyrotechnics, pet lovers always need to remember our midsummer spectacular is no holiday for many of our animal companions.
While we humans are oohing and aahing, too often our pets are frightened out of their wits. They'll spend the holiday under the bed (or in the basement) cowering, shaking, drooling, and seeking safety and comfort. Scared pets have been known to jump out of apartment windows, leap over or dig under fences, or chew their skin until it's raw. They may also bolt out an open door to become lost but never found.
With the holiday at hand, make plans to ease the stress on your pet.
First, here's what you should not do -- reward your pet for being scared. Comforting scared pets may seem the right thing to do, but it sends the wrong message. If you remain calm and don't baby scared pets, they'll be closer to learning how to handle loud noises.
The best defense against Fourth of July problems is a good offense. Professional trainers and behaviorists start socializing dogs and making every potentially negative experience -- such as fireworks and thunderstorms -- into something rewarding. If a negative experience comes with tasty treats, then your pet is going to at least tolerate it, if not welcome it. This works best when started as a puppy, but don't give up hope if your dog is already an adult: New behaviors can be learned.
One way to help your pet is to expose him or her to commercial recordings of thunderstorms or fireworks, and play them at increasing volume. Play the recordings at a low volume -- recognizing how acute a pet's hearing is -- and give praise and treats. It's a party! As the volume and duration are increased during subsequent sessions, give them really tasty treats so they have the expectation of a repeat treat. Initially, play the recording for five minutes, eventually leaving it on during daily activities as "normal" background noise.
That's not going to happen with just a few days to plan, so make a note for next year, and get ready to cope with this year's racket.
Provide pets with safe, secure hiding spaces inside your home. Dogs and cats who are comfortable in crates can find them a good place to ride out the noise, especially if the crate is put in a quiet, darkened part of the house. Whatever you do, don't just throw your pet outside. A terrified pet can find a way out of the yard and, once out, will just keep running. The Fourth is a sadly busy time for emergency veterinary clinics, with a steady stream of pets hit by cars, and for animal control facilities dealing with an influx of lost pets.
If you know your pet becomes totally unhinged by fireworks noise, talk to your veterinarian before the holiday about an appropriate medication to calm your pet. Make sure you understand the dose and how long before the evening falls to give the medication. You might also ask to learn some acupressure points that will help to calm your pet.
This Independence Day, while we enjoy our parades, picnics and fireworks, don't forget your pet: He's counting on you!
Some products to help fight the fear
A handful of products can help get anxious pets through stressful times.
Head halters, such as the Gentle Leader head collar, mimic how mother dogs control and comfort their young by putting pressure on the bridge of the nose or behind the ear. You can also try the Calming Cap, a product that fits over a pet's head and eyes. The Gentle Leader head halter and Calming Cap are available through Premier products (www.premier.com, 800-933-5595).
The Anxiety Wrap (www.anxietywrap.com, 877-652-1266) applies gentle pressure to a dog's body to focus his attention away from what's scaring him. Advocates compare its use and effect to how whole-body pressure is used to calm overstimulated autistic children.
Some behaviorists recommend pheromones, such as those found in Feliway (for cats) and DAP (dog-appeasing pheromones, for dogs) (Petcomfortzone.com, 800-234-2269). These substances mimic those in nature that make animals feel more relaxed. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Two dogs, five kids: Is harmony possible?
Q: Can you help a first-time dog owner do the right thing? We have friends coming to visit, and they are bringing their 10-month-old boxer with them. We have a 7-month-old goldendoodle who is very sweet and gentle. Both dogs are crate-trained, neutered males. We have three kids and our friends have two kids, so we will have five kids under the age of 10 as well as these two dogs. We hope to be able to enjoy the weekend. -- D.B., via e-mail
A: Your goldendoodle is much more likely to put out the hospitality mat to the visiting boxer if you arrange for the dogs to get to know each other somewhere off your property. Give the dogs enough exercise in advance so they're tired when they meet. Then meet in an open area, such as a park, and walk the dogs on leash in a parallel fashion. Be armed with distractions like treats and balls to allow the dogs to be aware of each other but not too focused on each other. Your goal is to help the dogs feel relaxed during the first meeting and to associate each other with the good feelings of a walk. Each person walking a dog should praise his dog's relaxed muscle tone. Be ready to distract each dog with a toy or a treat at the first sign of muscle tension.
Do not allow the dogs to meet and greet until they seem relaxed at a distance. Ideally, the dogs should have relaxed tails and wiggling bodies when they first meet. A wagging tail does not always mean a friendly dog. A tense wag is different from loose, relaxed tail-wagging.
If the dogs are meeting on leash, you can further prevent tension by keeping a loose leash and by keeping the dog walkers' bodies relaxed. Family members can help set a positive tone by letting go of all muscle tension, giving the dogs no direct eye contact and by talking in a happy tone in a stream of friendly talk: "Go play. Have fun. Oh, what a nice doggy!" Bounce balls and squeak toys to keep the mood light. If the dogs are relaxed, it would be ideal to allow off-leash play in a fenced area, such as a vacant tennis court, before taking them home.
When you take the dogs home, have them go into the backyard first and then into the house. Again, use toys and treats to keep the dogs' minds on the people. Keep the boxer on leash once inside the house, and give the goldendoodle complete freedom. If it's easier, kennel the boxer, but keep the kennel out with the family.
It is also important to properly introduce your children to the other family's dog and vice versa. Set up rules and supervise all activity in the beginning to prevent a bad experience.
Start with one dog out at a time, as the children learn to give the dog instructions to sit for a treat or toy and play fetch-type games. Do not allow running and rough-housing. When both dogs are out, keep their leashes attached. It will be easier to grab a leash if a dog needs to be separated from the fray. The adults will need to put dogs and children into a timeout if there is too much excitement or misbehavior on anyone's part.
As the visit progresses, and if all goes well, you may be able to relax on the constant canine and kid patrol. However, when in doubt, either supervise or give the dogs a timeout for safety. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, AnimalBehavior.net
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Canine churchgoers: Opening the pews
-- As churchgoers enter the sanctuary every Thursday at the Underwood Hills Presbyterian Church in Omaha, Neb., some may sniff their fellow parishioners. An occasional sharp note may even cause a woof to waft through the sanctuary. But this is forgiving audience: It's full of dog lovers who join at least two other U.S. churches, in New York and near Boston, that allow dogs at regular weekly services, according to USA Today.
-- Games are one of the most popular categories in the Apple Apps store -- there are 6,700 of them. And while most games have been for single players, new games promise to allow a more social experience similar to multiplayer online games on computers. The Wall Street Journal reports that Ngmoco is working on a virtual-pet game called Touch Pets, in which players complete missions with their virtual dogs to earn points that can be redeemed for virtual items like clothing. When the new iPhone operating system is available, Touch Pets will use push notification to let users set up play dates with other players and their dogs.
-- The sleepiest animal in the world might be the koala, who naps for 22 hours. The animal that is awake most of the time is the giraffe, who sleeps (standing up) only 30 minutes a day, divided into very short naps.
-- A Parenting magazine poll showed that 42.61 percent of parents called their pets their child's "brother" or "sister." -- 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.
Take two: Now's a great time for feline adoption
If you've ever thought about getting a companion for your cat, there's no time like now. Kittens are everywhere, and healthy, well-mannered adults are also in good supply. You're sure to find the perfect pal for your cat with a trip or two to the shelter.
Since the worst territorial spats -- complete with urine-marking -- are between cats who aren't spayed or neutered, your chances for peaceful coexistence are many times greater if the cats are both altered before any introductions are planned.
Prepare a room for your new pet, with food and water bowls, and a litter box and scratching post that needn't be shared. (Separate gear may be a temporary arrangement, or it may be lifelong. It all depends on the cats involved.) This separate room will be your new pet's home turf while the two cats get used to each other's existence.
Bring the cat home in a carrier, and set it in the room you've prepared. Let your resident cat discover the caged animal, and don't be discouraged by initial hisses. Let your resident cat explore, and when the new cat is alone in the room, close the door and let him out of the carrier. If he doesn't want to leave the carrier at first, let him be. Just leave the carrier door open and the cat alone.
Maintain each pet separately for a week or so -- with lots of love and play for both -- and then on a day when you're around to observe, leave the door to the new cat's room open. Don't force them together. Territory negotiations between cats can be drawn-out and delicate, and you must let them work it out on their own, ignoring the hisses and glares.
Eventually you can encourage them both to play with you, using a cat "fishing pole" or a toy on a string. And slowly feed them in ever-closer proximity. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Plant poisons to watch for
The Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. recently analyzed the more than 400 claims it received in 2008 to find which plants and plant products proved most likely to poison pets. Raisins and grapes topped the list, followed by mushrooms and marijuana. In 2008, the average amount claimed for plant poisoning was $427. The top 10 claims were for:
7. Sago palm
8. Macadamia nuts
Any bite can be a true emergency
Accidents happen even to the cautious. One disaster that's all too common in a multipet household is a biting incident between a predatory animal (cat or dog) and a prey one (bird, hamster, rabbit).
A bite is a genuine medical emergency, even if the pet who has been bitten seems fine afterward.
Dogs and cats have bacteria in their mouths that can develop into a deadly infection in a bird or other prey animal. For many of these, a prompt trip to a veterinarian and a course of antibiotics will mean the difference between life and death. Nights, weekends -- no matter when it happens -- a bitten bird or rabbit needs help, fast.
Never assume your dog or cat won't bite your rabbit or bird. The prey-predator wiring can be very difficult to short-circuit. Keep these pets safely apart at all times. -- 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.