Universal Press Syndicate
Hardly a day goes by when there isn't a news story about a dog attack somewhere. When school starts, children may become especially vulnerable, walking and biking through their neighborhoods to class.
To be fair, dogs aren't the biggest risk that children face growing up. Organized sports, for example, are 10 times more likely to result in a child's trip to the emergency room than are dogs.
And although in most cases the dog involved in a serious attack is the family's own, it's also true that many neighborhoods are not safe for walking or biking because of a dog. These animals are accidents waiting to happen because their owners either don't know or don't care that their dogs are a public menace.
The experts say the signs are usually there long before a dog attacks. The dog is typically young, male and unneutered. He is usually unsocialized, a backyard dog with little to no interaction with the family. He is often inadvertently trained to be vicious by being kept full-time on a chain or in a small kennel run.
Is there a dog like this in your neighborhood -- or in your own yard? If it's the latter, call your veterinarian and arrange for your pet to be neutered, and then ask for a referral to a behaviorist who can help you rehabilitate your pet. Don't put this off: Your dog is a danger, and your own family is at risk.
Of course, you can't control what other people do with their animals. That's why you have to make sure your children know how to behave around dogs to protect themselves. Here's what everyone should know, and what parents need to teach their children:
-- Never approach a loose dog, even if he seems friendly. Dogs who are confined in yards, and especially those dogs on chains, should also be avoided. Many are very serious about protecting their turf. If the dog is with his owner, children should always ask permission before petting him and then begin by offering him the back of a hand for a sniff. Further, they should pat the dog on the neck or chest. The dog may interpret a pat from above as a gesture of dominance. Teach your children to avoid fast or jerky movements around dogs, since these may trigger predatory behavior.
-- Be a tree when a dog approaches, standing straight with feet together, fists under the neck and elbows into the chest. Teach your children to make no eye contact, since some dogs view eye contact as a challenge. Running is a normal response to danger, but it's the worst possible thing to do around a dog, because it triggers the animal's instinct to chase and bite. Many dogs will just sniff and leave. Teach your children to stay still until the animal walks away, and then back away slowly out of the area.
-- "Feed" the dog a jacket or backpack if attacked, or use a bike to block the dog. These strategies may keep an attacking dog's teeth from connecting with flesh.
-- Act like a log if knocked down: face down, legs together, curled into a ball with fists covering the back of the neck and forearms over the ears. This position protects vital areas and can keep an attack from turning fatal. Role-play these lessons with your child until they are ingrained. They may save your child's life.
Discuss safe behavior with your children and role-play how to approach dogs, when not to approach, and what to do if confronted or attacked.
You don't need to scare your children, but you do need to make sure they're ready, just in case. And going over the "what ifs" isn't a bad idea for you as well.
What to do about the 'new' dog flu
Q: A friend sent us a news story about the "dog flu," and now we're worried. It sounds really awful, and we want to know how to protect our pet. What do you advise? -- R.P., via e-mail
A: We checked with Dr. Melissa Kennedy, a clinical virologist at the University of Tennessee Veterinary Teaching College and infectious disease and immunology consultant for the Veterinary Information Network.
"Canine influenza virus (CIV) is a contagious viral disease spread most commonly among dogs with close contact or shared airspace, much like our influenza," she said. "Pet dogs at home are at very low risk. Dogs that board or frequently commingle with other dogs could be at risk."
What kind of risk are we talking about? "CIV is generally a mild disease, with typical symptoms of cough, some lethargy, fever and perhaps nasal discharge," said Kennedy. "As with the human influenza, there is a risk for secondary bacterial infections, which can be serious. This risk is highest among puppies and elderly dogs, where immunity may not be as good as in healthy adult animals."
Bottom line from Dr. Kennedy: "For most pet dogs, and probably most cases, it causes mild disease."
She confirmed that canine influenza is probably one of many causes of "kennel cough," although she used its more correct medical name, canine respiratory disease complex. "There are several viral and bacterial agents that may play a role in this disease complex, of which canine influenza virus is one," she said.
We asked her about the new vaccine, just approved in June. It's a killed virus vaccine and does not actually prevent infection with CIV. Nor does it protect your dog from becoming ill, although it might make his symptoms less severe (or not). And it also doesn't mean your dog, sick or not, can't infect other dogs, even after he's been vaccinated.
She said she does not consider the new canine influenza vaccine a "core" vaccine that should be given to every dog, but rather a tool that might be helpful in shelters, kennels or other environments where dogs are housed in close quarters and high numbers. She also agreed that vaccinated dogs, who can still be infected, could carry the disease home to other dogs.
Of course, influenza viruses are tricky things, and can mutate rapidly and unpredictably, so anything we say about CIV today could be wrong tomorrow. This virus could become nastier, or less nasty, over time; we really don't know. But for the moment, it's basically no bigger danger to our dogs than kennel cough is, which is to say, in most cases it will cause mild symptoms (or none). Yet in some dogs, particularly the very young, very old and immune-compromised, it can cause more severe illness and even death.
It can also be a real threat in crowded environments such as shelters or anywhere dogs are kept together in a confined space, and the new vaccine may have a role to play in those kinds of settings. But the average couch-sitting, yard-playing, park-walking pet probably isn't going to benefit from this vaccine, and probably isn't at much risk of severe illness from the virus, either -- anymore than we humans are from the common cold. -- Christie Keith
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Pet trade puts parrots at risk
-- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reviewing the status of 12 parrot species, of which many or all may be considered endangered because of rapid declines in population resulting from the pet trade. Under review, according to The (Portland) Oregonian: the blue-headed, great green, hyacinth, military and scarlet macaw; the grey-cheeked parakeet; the white, Philippine and yellow-crested cockatoo; and the crimson shining, red-crowned and yellow-billed parrot.
-- Six dogs died running the 2009 Iditarod, more than double the average for the 1,150-mile race. According to Scientific American, there is criticism of the popular event, with some questioning if the risk to man and dog is worth it, while others express concern over the possibility of performance-enhancing drugs being used on the canine athletes. In response to the criticism, race officials require mushers to carry sick or injured dogs to the next checkpoint, and all racers must finish with at least six healthy canines. A plane follows the teams and randomly tests canine urine for drugs, while volunteer veterinarians supervise the race.
-- Dogs are being trained to sniff out minute levels of problem foods for their allergic owners, a skill that can potentially save lives. According to Reader's Digest, the dogs even sniff the hands of others to determine if they have problem foods on them and need a hand-washing before interactions are safe for highly allergic people.
-- The city of Santa Monica, Calif., will spend $100,000 to flush out pigeons and their droppings from the water system. According to the Los Angeles Times, the city hired Bird Busters to install netting under the Santa Monica Pier to reduce the number of pigeons and the bacterial pollution caused by their droppings. Whatever the efforts, there are doubts that anything will keep pigeons away, as the pier's structure will remain very inviting to the birds that many think of as "winged rats." -- 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.
Bite abscesses best dealt with by prevention
Nearly every free-roaming cat will one day need to see a veterinarian to have an abscess treated -- surgically opened, flushed clean of debris, and sometimes temporarily held open by drains to let the wound heal with the help of time and some strong antibiotics.
Sound awful? It is. And the cost of treating these injuries can really add up.
The good news is that an abscess is one of those health problems that can usually be prevented by keeping a cat indoors. That's because this common feline health problem is often the result of a puncture wound, specifically a bite from another cat during a fight over territory or mates.
A cat's mouth is a nasty mix of bacteria, and once that bacteria gets punched into another cat's body, the result will probably be an abscess. Think about it -- bacteria being injected with two bacteria-laden hypodermic needles (the cat's fang teeth) into a perfect incubator (another cat's 101 degree-plus body). The only possible outcome is infection.
The best way to prevent your cat from getting a bite-wound abscess is to neuter him to reduce his desire to fight over females. And, again, it would be even better to keep him indoors.
The bacteria in a cat's mouth is also why even relatively minor cat bites can become serious medical issues for humans, leading to hospitalization in some cases. Any time you're bitten or scratched by an animal, you should wash the area immediately with soap and water and have the wound checked out by your doctor. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
Back to school -- with pets!
When students head off to college, most leave their pets with their parents. But not all have to. Petside.com put out a list of colleges that welcomes some pets into the dorms. Here's Petside's top five pet-friendly colleges:
1. Eckerd College (St. Petersburg, Fla.): Students are allowed to have cats and dogs (less than 40 pounds) as well as snakes and fish.
2. Stephens College (Columbia, Mo.): The college has one designated "pet dorm," which allows dogs, cats, hamsters and guinea pigs.
3. Washington & Jefferson College (Washington, Pa.): One dorm accepts cats and dogs (less than 40 pounds), small birds, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, turtles and fish.
4. Principia College (Elsah, Ill.): The college has seven dorms and university apartments that allow pets, including cats, rabbits, caged animals and fish.
5. California Institute of Technology (Pasadena, Calif.): Cal-Tech allows cats in all dorms, as well as small caged animals and fish.
Right setup means happy, healthy fish
Without plenty of filtered, aerated water kept at the right temperature, fish will become stressed, ill or may die.
Experts say that for best results, get a 55-gallon tank and a high-quality filter capable of processing 100 percent of the aquarium's water at least three times every hour.
After the tank is ready, wait 48 hours and then add a couple of fish. Good starter species include leopard or zebra danios and the smaller barbs, as well as that easiest of all beginner fish, the guppy. Be patient: Wait a few weeks to add more fish.
If a large tank isn't possible in your home, one fish that can do well in a tank that's 10 gallons or even less is the magnificent betta splendens, an aggressive species usually kept as a solo fish. Other good choices for small tanks are white cloud minnows and dwarf gouramis. -- Christie Keith
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.