Part of my work as a veterinarian involves staying current on the latest in disease prevention and treatment, which means I go to a lot of conferences.
I also speak at a lot of conferences, which is what took me recently to Orlando, where the North American Veterinary Conference is held every year. While I was in Florida, I taped some public service announcements, and that's how I learned of a need for pet beds in shelters.
When I was at the Orange County Animal Services shelter I saw a sparkling-clean facility with a loving staff, all set up for 250 pets but filled with 800. This situation is not special to Orlando, of course, for all over the country job losses and foreclosures are forcing many to give up their pets. At OCAS, as in many other shelters, there aren't enough beds to go around. Some pets share what beds there are, but others sleep on the floor, without even the little bit of warmth and comfort that comes from being off the concrete.
I thought of the senior dogs and cats sleeping on hard surfaces, becoming stiffer and more painful every day, lessening their chances of being adopted.
I thought about skinny pets, cold pets, pets in drafts and on wet floors, all of whom would be healthier, happier and more adoptable if this one basic comfort were available to them.
Like all my readers might have felt, I can't take all those pets home. But that didn't mean I couldn't help and couldn't get others to help. That's when it came to me: Let's get these pets some beds.
In other words, let's help shelter pets rise up, lie down and move out.
Turns out the people at the Kuranda company of Annapolis, Md., are already on this. These cot-style beds are popular with shelters (and pet owners, too, of course) because they're easy to assemble, durable, chew-resistant and easy to keep clean. The company has a program where people buy beds and have them sent directly to any of hundreds of shelters. The cost for a donated bed is discounted 30 percent off the regular price.
In just a few days of sending the word out through our PetConnection.com Web blog, and my Facebook and Twitter accounts, the 100 beds OCAS had requested had been donated.
It's a great start, and now I'm reaching out even more, to help pets in other shelters.
Can you donate a bed for a shelter pet? It's easy! Go to Kuranda's Web site (kuranda.com) and click on "Donate a Bed." You can then choose from dozens of shelters, sorted alphabetically and also searchable by state. When you've chosen your shelter, the site will display what kind of beds the shelter has requested. Buy a bed, and the company will send it to the shelter you've chosen. It'll take you just a couple of minutes and a credit card.
I have no association with the company and didn't know about the program before the folks at OCAS pointed it out. And of course, there are lots of other ways to help your local shelter, with donations of time, money or goods -- and by adopting!
Whatever it takes, let's do it. The need is great, and it only takes a little from each of us to help.
Rabbits can't share the cat's litter box
Q: When I grew up, we had rabbits outside in a hutch. After doing some research, we gave in to our daughter's request for a pet rabbit, who lives in her bedroom, mostly inside a roomy cage but also loose in her room when she's in there. There's a box in the cage, but we've read that our cat's litter isn't right. Why can't we just buy in bulk for the cat and use the same litter for both pets? Does it really matter? -- K.I., via e-mail.
A: Yes, it does. Your rabbit needs to have his box filled with wood or pressed paper pellets, and covered with fresh grass hay. Clumping litter puts your rabbits at risk of impaction -- a block of their gastrointestinal tract. As for the hay, your rabbits know what's edible and what's not, and will eat the hay, not the litter.
Putting a layer of high-quality hay -- not straw -- on top of the pelleted paper litter encourages rabbits to use the box, since they tend to pass feces while eating. (I think of eating hay while "on the john" as the rabbit equivalent of reading while in the bathroom.)
Like many animals, rabbits naturally want to keep their area clean and will use a litter box if it's attractive and accessible. Make sure the box is large enough to be comfortable and the sides are low enough for easy entry. Keep it filled with clean pellets and fresh hay, supplemented by a special food treat like an apple slice, and your rabbits will use it likely as not.
Dropping feces while away from the box is normal for some rabbits, but fortunately cleanup is easy with a hand vac. Remember, too, that rabbits who are not neutered will be very difficult to house-train.
Rabbits are indeed wonderful house pets, as you're no doubt finding out. But be sure any area where bunny roams is rabbit-proofed and that your bun is watched while out. Put electric cords in rabbit-proof hoses, wrap wooden furniture legs to discourage chewing and offer lots of toys -- freebies such as cardboard boxes, broken baskets filled with hay and toilet or paper towel rolls are great. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" 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 more. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
A president's pet named for a 'no'
-- According to the Presidential Pet Museum, only two U.S. presidents were completely pet-free while in office: Chester A. Arthur and Franklin Pierce. All other presidents and their families have shared their lives with many different companion animals, starting with George Washington, who was well-known for his fine eye for a good foxhound. The presidential pets have had a lot of interesting names, but perhaps the one that says most about the power of the presidency is the name James Garfield gave to his dog: Veto.
-- "Only the strong survive" has been suspected for generations. But now, scientists are finding ways to further prove the idea. A study on Colorado mountain lions found that sick mule deer were more likely to become a meal for big cats by establishing that the deer were sick before the lions grabbed them. The carcasses of deer killed by lions were tested for chronic wasting disease, with the rate of infection compared to that in deer killed by area hunters. The study, published in Biology Letters, found the deer killed by mountain lions had a higher rate of infection than deer killed by the hunters, suggesting that mountain lions were more likely to kill sick deer. The lions do not seem to be affected by the illness and may be aiding the overall deer population by decreasing the number of infected animals.
-- Dogs have cat fleas, sort of. The flea that drives both cats and dogs -- and their owners -- crazy is Ctenocephalides felis, the "cat flea." But it could have just as easily been named after dogs. In 1934, a French scientist pulled the flea off a cat and named it after the host. He could have just as easily found one on a dog and named the pest accordingly. There is a flea called Ctenocephalides canis, but cat fleas are much more common on both dogs and cats.
-- Fish are a pretty diverse lot. The longest is the whale shark, at 40 to 60 feet. The shortest is the spiny-headed devilfish, at less than one-quarter of an inch. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Bird's cage must be chosen with care
When it comes to choosing a bird cage, metal is the best material. Wood is too hard to clean and usually won't stand up to the abuse birds can dish out.
Metal cages are made of stainless steel, brass, aluminum, galvanized wire or iron, and come in all kinds of designs, with or without paint. Choose a model without fussiness: Embellished avian abodes may look good in the store, but you're apt to regret the purchase every time you try to clean poop out of the decorative elements. Make sure you think and shop from a practical, as well as safe, standpoint for your bird.
Cages are often lacking in an important dimension: width. Those tall and narrow circular cages may look nice, but they force birds to fly more like a helicopter than in the style that comes naturally for them. Remember to consider the way the birds move. Finches and canaries usually prefer to fly horizontally, not vertically. Parrot species like to fly horizontally as well as climb up and down in their cages.
Galvanized metal is fine -- at least it won't rust -- but look for galvanizing material that's electroplated on, not dipped. The latter process too often leaves beads of material that birds can chip off and swallow, putting them at risk of zinc or lead poisoning or both. Powder-coating is popular in many decorator colors and is fine for most birds. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
In the know on the new
Seeing is believing when it comes to finding out about new products for pets. According to a 2008 survey by the American Pet Products Association, pet owners find out about new products from (multiple answers allowed):
TV: 59 percent
See in store: 56 percent
Print ad: 40 percent
Friend/relative: 28 percent
Veterinarian: 27 percent
Internet: 15 percent
Yarn not fit for cat toy
Kittens and cats love playing with yarn, as well as string, ribbon and anything that twists and dances. They like to stalk, to pounce, to flip their slender prey in the air and to start stalking again. That's all good, clean fun, but there's always a chance that your cat won't stop with play and will decide to eat his plaything.
The fun stops then, because any sort of "string thing" can cause havoc in your cat's intestines, causing a problem that may need to be surgically treated.
If you knit or sew, put your supplies securely away after you're done with them. Even if your pet's not really the playful type, she may find one kind of string irresistible: juice-soaked string from a roast or turkey. Dispose of these tempting dangers carefully, putting them in a trash container your cat can't get into. -- 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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.