Universal Press Syndicate
Hurricanes in the South, Wildfires in the West: Some disasters have seasons, but others don't. Which is why no matter where you live, you need to be ready -- and include your pets in your plans.
Disaster preparedness is so easy to let slide. We get all worked up after a major disaster is in the news, and certainly after we're lucky enough to be reminded of the potential -- a thick layer of smoke, in my case, with the nearest fire two counties away.
We read up, we stock up, we move on. And then, we forget. In a pinch, we take the can opener out of the emergency kit and don't replace it. We rotate the food and water into our kitchen cupboards, but we don't buy anything new to rotate into the supplies in the garage.
It's human nature, of course, to react to immediate threats and to put off preparing for something that might never happen.
If you're one of those people who not only have a disaster plan but have also included your animals in it, now is the time to review those plans. If you've never done any disaster planning, for you or your pets, this is as good a time as any to start.
Before you begin, ask yourself if your pet is in the best health he can be. It's survival of the fittest, after all! If your pet is obese, out of shape or behind on such preventive-care measures as vaccines, get to your veterinarian.
Next, start your preparations with something you've probably already taken care of, by making sure your pets have ID.
Most animals will survive a disaster, but many never see their families again because there's no way to determine which pet belongs to which family if the animals go missing, a common occurrence even under normal circumstances. That's why dogs and cats should always wear a collar and identification tags. Add a microchip, too, and make sure it's registered.
Once your pet has up-to-date ID, it's time to collect some equipment to help you cope in case of an emergency. A big storage bin with a lid and handles is an ideal place to keep everything you need together and on hand.
Keep several days' worth of drinking water and pet food, as well as any necessary medicines, rotating the stock regularly. For canned goods, don't forget to pack a can opener and a spoon. Lay in a supply of empty plastic bags, along with paper towels, both for cleaning up messes and for sealing them away until they can be safely tossed.
For cats, pack a bag of litter and some disposable litter trays.
Even normally docile pets can behave in uncharacteristic ways when stressed by an emergency, which makes restraints essential for the safety of pets and people alike. For dogs, leashes should always be
Shipping crates are probably the least-thought-of pieces of emergency equipment for pets but are among the most important. Sturdy crates keep pets of all kinds safe while increasing their housing options.
Crated pets may be allowed in hotel rooms that are normally off-limits to pets, or can be left in a pinch with veterinarians or shelters that are already full, since the animals come with rooms of their own.
The final item of restraint for dogs and cats: a soft muzzle, because frightened or injured pets are more likely to bite. And don't forget to put first-aid supplies in your disaster kit, along with a book on how to treat pet injuries.
You may never have to pull out your disaster kit, but it's always good to be prepared.
For more information or a free emergency preparedness brochure for pet lovers, visit www.ready.gov or call 1-800-BE-READY.
Creating a jungle for cats inside
Q: We have three cats. Two are sisters, and we got them as kittens. The other we took in when a friend became ill. All are females, all spayed, and they get along reasonably well.
The older cat was originally a stray. She was extremely insistent about going out, and we finally gave in and let her out when someone is home. Fortunately, the neighborhood is fairly safe. The other two picked up on the going outside business and all three now go out for a few hours in the daytime.
One of them has now become proficient at catching small birds and brings them alive or partially alive into the house. We really don't like this and would appreciate some tips on how to change them back to indoor-only cats, if possible. Also, do bells on collars really work, since maybe that would at least hinder her ability to catch birds. They all wear collars, but not bells. -- T.Q., via e-mail
A: If your only concern is about the hunter cat turning your home into the nature channel, the easiest thing to try is a cat bib ($11, catgoods.com). While they may not be the best feline fashion statement, these devices hang down the front of a cat and keep them from being able to get the jump on their prey. As for bells on cat collars, they do sometimes work to scare birds away. But some cats learn how to stalk without ringing their bells. Who says cats aren't smart?
The better route to take is convincing your three outdoor adventure lovers to accept an indoor-only life.
Indoor cats are safer. They tend to live longer, be flea-free and rack up fewer medical bills. Some say indoor cats are better companions because their people are the best action in town. That's a lot of incentives for you. The hard part is providing enough incentives to convince your cats to accept this change gracefully.
Feline frustration can turn into an orchestra of cat complaints. Some cats complain vocally (nonstop), others make the 50-yard dash to the door their sport (nonstop), and others play Tarzan indoors from curtains to couches. Cranky cats may pick on each other. Just a few escapes can drag out this feline focus and fury on gaining freedom. If you decide to make them indoor cats, go cold turkey. Once they're in, they're in forever.
When you take away the great outdoors, replace it with a new indoor cat jungle. If you have feline door dashers, you may want to confine the cats to a room or rooms that do not have access to an outside door. Your challenge will be to provide enough adventure indoors.
Purchase a few floor-to-ceiling cat trees for climbing and perching. Place new things to explore in the room every day. Boxes and bags make great cat caves to investigate. Add catnip mice in new places. Buy a variety of scratching surfaces, both vertical and horizontal. Add a few containers of cat grass. Forget food bowls and begin feeding the cats from food puzzle toys. Buy cat toys that look like real prey and begin daily indoor hunts. Laser lights make great bug imitators on floors and walls. Rotate these objects and rearrange the indoor jungle landscape to keep it all interesting.
Your new job is leader of the daily indoor hunt. Use the variety of preylike cat toys to get your cat crew stalking, chasing, leaping, climbing, running and pouncing. Be prepared to change the prey type and game every few minutes to keep your kitties going. You want them panting before the hunt is over. Watch your cats beam when you praise them for catching the stunt prey. You can also toss in treats to add meaning to this prey reality show.
The better you are at creating a new nature environment indoors, the less fuss and stress for you and the cats when changing from outdoor to indoor scenery. Mentally and physically tired indoor cats will be more contented ones. They may never completely give up trying to escape, but over time their efforts will wane. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, AnimalBehavior.net
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Real bear inspired Winnie the Pooh
-- Veterinarian Harry Colebourn was on a troop train stopped at White River, Ontario, in 1914 when he bought a bear from a local hunter and named it "Winnipeg," in honor of his home town in Manitoba, Canada. According to The Globe and Mail newspaper, the bear became the brigade mascot and was later given to the London Zoo. Winnipeg became the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh, after A.A. Milne's son, Christopher, visited the zoo and named his stuffed bear after Winnipeg.
-- New York's John F. Kennedy airport has installed a "pet relief" area -- a 30-by-50-foot enclosure with a patch of natural grass and a red fire hydrant. The new pet zone is in the departures section of the American Airlines area.
-- The California Institute of Technology used high-speed film to watch flies before they are swatted, and found a fly need about 200 milliseconds to identify and avoid a swat. For those trying to swat flies, the tactic is to creep up slowly, as flies have difficulty processing slow moving objects, and aim a little bit ahead of the fly, anticipating the direction in which they will make their escape flight.
-- Dog and cat bites constitute 1 percent of emergency room visits in the United States every year, with a treatment cost of $1 billion. Severe infections develop in about 20 percent of the bites. Hands have the highest chance of infection, with about a third of bites to hands becoming infected with potentially devastating results. -- 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.
Commonsense pet care prevents disease
If you think about all the diseases one can contract from animals -- from rabies to worms and more -- it's almost enough to make you want to go pet-free and wrap yourself up in plastic.
In fact, it's pretty mind-boggling how many diseases and parasites can be passed from pets to humans. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control helpfully supplies a pretty scary list of them. The CDC's Healthy Pets, Healthy People Web site (www.cdc.gov/healthypets) offers an in-depth examination of these so-called "zoonotic" health risks, and it includes special advice for people at higher risk, including those with immune-system weaknesses and those whose jobs involve working with animals.
At the top of the list of concerns would likely be rabies, a deadly disease more common in wildlife than in pets, thanks to decades of aggressive vaccination laws. Other worries are bacterial, with pets capable of transmitting salmonella, leptospirosis and campylobacteriosis, to name a nasty trio. Diseases caused by parasites include tapeworm, hookworm, roundworm, Lyme disease and giardia. And there's even ringworm, which is really a fungus. Toxoplasmosis is a special concern for people sharing their lives with cats.
Pets are not the only source for many of these diseases -- in many cases, improper food handling is a bigger risk. You can reduce the chance of your animal or bird companion making you sick by keeping your pet free of disease and by making sure all family members wash hands frequently when around animals. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
Who brings home the kibble?
The kids and dad may beg for a pet, but mom had better be onboard with the addition. That's because chances are she'll be the one doing the shopping. Only when the pets are saltwater fish does the percentage of women doing the shopping fall. According to a 2006 study:
Women as primary shoppers
All pets 79 percent
Dogs 79 percent
Cats 81 percent
Saltwater fish 67 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
Why do cats go for cat haters?
Why, in a room full of people, will a cat invariably make a beeline for the one person in the room who hates or is allergic to cats?
Cats don't like eye contact from strangers -- they find it intimidating. When a friendly cat wanders into a room, he'll notice that all the people who like cats are looking at him. So he heads for the one whom he thinks is being polite -- the person who isn't looking at him. The cat doesn't realize that the person isn't looking because he doesn't want the cat near him. It's just a little bit of cross-species miscommunication.
That's one theory, anyway. Or maybe putting cat fur on the slacks of a cat hater really is the ultimate in feline fun. -- 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.