And Christie Keith
Universal Press Syndicate
Not reading directions may be a point of pride for many people, but when it comes to flea products, it's an attitude that can kill a cat.
"Pet owners need to read and follow the labels on flea and tick products, and to never use dog products on cats," said Dr. Steven Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist at the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (www.aspca.org/apcc). "Never."
Hansen's warning is aimed at the class of products known as "spot-ons," liquid insecticides that are applied directly to the skin. While they're normally safe and effective when used as directed, products intended only for use in dogs can cause serious illness or death in cats.
"Cats are very sensitive to a class of insecticides known as pyrethroids," said Hansen. "That includes permethrin, which is a common ingredient in many flea and tick products made for dogs. And in dogs, it has a good record for being safe and effective. But put these products on cats, and it can be very bad, even lethal."
That doesn't stop people from using them, and then rushing their pets to the veterinarian's when the cat gets sick. Most cats will recover if emergency veterinary treatment is sought immediately, but keeping a cat from the pet ER in the first place is a much better plan. Only around 2 percent of cats treated with feline-approved products according to label directions have an adverse reaction, but that number jumps to 20 percent when instructions aren't followed
And it's not as if the labels aren't clear. "I've met with the EPA and the companies, and we've worked hard to come up with creative ways to make sure people don't miss the message," said Hansen. "The product labels say, 'Do not use on cats.' Some of them even have a cat inside a big red circle with a slash.
"The companies struggle with this, the EPA struggles with it, and we at the Animal Poison Control Center struggle with it. We try to find ways to make it so people can't make mistakes, and they still make mistakes."
Part of the problem is that many people assume that risks are the same in animals of the same size, even if they're different species.
"If you have a 20-pound dog and a 15-pound cat, and you see three tubes in the container, it's easy to say, 'Why not?'" said Hansen. "But with cats, the 'why not' is that it can kill them. It's not a risk you want to take."
Protecting your cat from pyrethroid toxicity is easy. Never use a flea preventive on your cat unless it's labeled for use in cats. Read and follow all label directions carefully, especially when it comes to size.
"Cats come in sizes from 3 pounds to 22 pounds," said Dr. Hansen. "Make sure you know your cat's weight, and choose the right dosage for your cat's size."
Make sure you know to the nearest pound by weighing a cat carrier or cardboard box on a bathroom or shipping scale, putting the cat in the holder, reweighing and then subtracting the difference. Weights change, so make sure you don't rely on what your cat weighed the last time he visited the veterinarian.
And make sure his next trip isn't because you didn't read the label.
Have vet check out 'accident-prone' pet
Q: My sister has a neutered Pomeranian, about 5 to 6 years old. He urinates at the foot of the bed shared by my sister and her husband. My sister has put down pads, sprayed with various products, tried special carpet-cleaning methods, told the dog he's bad, etc. They have another dog, a silky terrier, but she doesn't do this. They both sleep on the bed.
Yes, the dogs are somewhat spoiled, but that is the way all their pets have been have been treated. Any ideas to get the Pom to stop peeing on the carpet? -- S.K., via e-mail
A: Before your sister tries changing his peeing habit, the dog's veterinarian needs to give the Pom a clean bill of health. A complete blood panel, urine analysis and X-ray of his bladder would help confirm that he's healthy and comfortable. Also find out if the dog takes any medications that could increase urination, and if there are options to those.
If there are no health problems, then it's on to figuring out why the peeing started and continues.
If your sister lifts up the carpet, chances are she'll discover that a carpet pad makes a great sponge. She may be cleaning a small patch of wet carpet when the problem is the underground lake. Unlike people, who look for a restroom sign, dogs sniff out their established pooch potties.
Dogs also squirt urine to make social statements. One sign of an insecure male dog is urine-marking. Perhaps the Pom is anxious about his relationship with the silky, or he may feel confused around the people in the home.
We can understand why your sister tried scolding the Pom, but he probably did not understand the message. Let's suppose the anxious Pom tries to stake out a claim to his people by putting urine where they spend a great deal of their time -- in bed. But then your sister blows a gasket in that location. The Pom now feels more anxious. What does he do? What comes naturally to a canine: He pees in a feeble attempt to improve his situation. See the vicious cycle forming?
Regardless of all the factors behind why he urinates indoors, there are steps your sister will need to take before he starts doggie rehab. The bedroom carpet and pad have got to go. At the same time, the Pom can't be given any opportunity to pee in the bedroom. This means starting house-training over with professional help.
Consulting a veterinary behaviorist or a trainer with experience in resolving problem behavior is the best solution to work out why this is happening and find steps to change the behavior. These professionals will take a comprehensive pet behavior history from your sister and her family to help figure out any social issues and sources of the dog's anxiety.
Medications may be considered in the short term to lower the Pom's anxiety. Dogs, like people, struggle to learn and adapt when they feel anxious.
It will be easier on your sister and the Pom to follow a plan that helps them be successful. For example, a "learn-to-earn" routine motivates the dog to learn where to go potty, builds confidence and lowers anxiety. The Pom can also learn to love sleeping securely in his own kennel at night in the bedroom. Whatever strategies are recommended, your sister and the Pom will be better off if the steps are guided by a behavioral diagnosis and professional assistance.
You are being a great sister! We encourage you to stick with it until your sister and Pom are accident-free. It sounds like your sister is ready for a fresh start. Her poor, confused Pom deserves a second chance at being a good dog. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, AnimalBehavior.net
Multiple cat homes make felines No. 1
-- How is it that more families have dogs than have cats, but cats outnumber dogs as pets? The answer: Many families have more than one cat. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 41 percent of U.S. households recently reported having at least one dog, while cats ruled in 35 percent of households. (Some families, of course, have both.) But cats were by far the most popular pet, according to the same trade group, which reported recent figures of 78 million pet cats to 65 million pet dogs.
-- A study by a feline advocacy group suggests that helping lower-income pet owners with spay-neuter costs would decrease the number of kittens in need of homes. Alley Cat Allies reports that while more than nine out of 10 pet owners in the $35,000 to $75,000 annual income bracket had their cats altered, just over half of those earning less than $35,000 had done so.
-- When our pets (and we humans) scratch an itch, they're doing it to relieve that miserable feeling of skin irritation. But why does denying the need to dig in with nails drive us crazy until we give in? A University of Minnesota study shows that scratching turns off activity in spinal cord nerves that transmit the itching sensation to the brain. The hope is that knowing how the "off-switch" works can lead to ways to tell the brain the itch has been scratched -- without the damage that chronic scratching can inflict on the skin.
-- Once written off as headed for extinction, the bowhead whale has not only staged a comeback, but it is also teaching scientists a great deal about how these 100-ton animals communicate. Studies by the University of Copenhagen reveal that the whales have developed very sophisticated songs to attract a mate, and that the songs are never repeated year to year. Even whales like catchy new tunes, it seems. -- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Don't let cats mess where they want to
Getting your cat to use a litter box is just plain responsible pet ownership. Here's why:
-- It's neighborly. When your cat's using the litter box, he's not using your neighbor's flower bed, vegetable garden or children's sandbox.
-- It's healthier for your cat. When you're cleaning the litter box once or twice a day, you're able to see changes in your cat's patterns of elimination. Is there a problem with diarrhea? A sudden increase in urination? Straining to pass feces? All of these problems could be symptoms of a serious health issue, and the sooner you catch it, the better for your cat (and your bank account).
-- It's environmentally responsible. Cats are a non-native species who spread diseases such as toxoplasmosis. Preliminary studies suggest that cat waste washed off the land and into the sewer system can end up killing native species such as otters in some parts of the country. The safest way to handle cat waste is to remove it from the litter box and place it in a digesting pet waste composter (not your garden compost!), or wrap it and place it in your household trash receptacle for pickup.
Cleaning a box isn't that difficult or time-consuming, especially since there are cat boxes that will clean themselves, wrapping the waste for easy disposal every few days. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Dogs get more vet care
Are cats being short-changed when it comes to their health? Survey results suggest so, with dogs taking the lion's share of vet visits and money spent at the vet's. (The remaining visits and expenses are for other companion animals, such as rabbits and horses.)
Percent of veterinary visits
Dogs 62 percent
Cats 33 percent
Percent of veterinary expenditures
Dogs 66 percent
Cats 29 percent
Source: American Veterinary Medical Association
New categories for new pet services
The addition of new kinds of pet-care services has had telephone directories adjusting their categories. Business listings in many area phone books have had to expand pet-care listings in ways previous generations could never have imagined.
In recent years, animal chiropractors and doggie day care have been added as categories in some phone books, joining such longtime pet-service industry stalwarts as dog training and pet boarding -- not to mention veterinarians. Want someone to clean up your yard on a regular basis? Look under Pet Waste Removal. -- 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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.