Study after study shows that people are not only crazy about pets, but they also love to spend money on them -- even when money is tight.
We're certainly not arguing against buying that perfect dog collar or cat toy, but we do want you to know that you don't have to buy a lot of things for your pets to care for them well.
In fact, some of the best gifts you can give your pet don't cost any money at all and require only your attention. In this week's Valentine's Day spirit of giving the best to those we love, we offer a few suggestions that will make you and your pet happier and healthier -- and may even save you money in the long run.
The gift of health. Preventive veterinary care can spare your pet from suffering and may also catch little problems before they become life-threatening (and expensive). Develop a healthy relationship with your pet's veterinarian, starting with regular "well-pet" examinations. These visits are no longer about "shots" -- most vaccinations are no longer recommended on an annual basis -- but rather about catching and correcting problems as they develop. A dental examination is part of that well-pet visit, and follow-up preventive care may require a dental cleaning under anesthesia. A healthy mouth not only keeps your pet free of pain -- imagine eating with rotting teeth and infected gums -- but also spares your pet's internal organs from struggling to combat the shower of bacteria from an infected mouth.
The gift of fitness. By now we've all read the news that pets have their own obesity crisis. The reasons are similar to ours -- too much food and not enough exercise. But pets can't open the refrigerator on their own or hit the drive-through: They need our help to get fat. Cut back on the treats, and get your pet moving. You can use your dog's enthusiasm for a daily walk to help get yourself in shape, too, which is the message of "Fitness Unleashed: A Dog and Owner's Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together" (Three Rivers Press), Dr. Becker's book with human physician Dr. Robert Kushner.
The gift of time. Many pets spend most of their lives alone, while our busy lives keep us from home. While much of this alone time is unavoidable -- someone has to work for food and shelter, right? -- some simple changes will give you more time with your pet. Skip some of your TV or computer time, and play fetch with your dog or get out the laser pointer for your cat. Look for opportunities to include your dog on family outings.
The gift of training. A well-trained pet has a better, closer relationship with his owner because they speak a common language and spend more time together. If your pet has behavior problems -- from house-training to aggression, from leash-pulling to furniture-destruction -- ask your veterinarian for a referral to a local trainer or behaviorist.
The gift of safety. Be sure your home offers a safe, secure environment for your pet. Inside the house, garage and basement, keep cleaning supplies and other troublesome household chemicals out of reach, and clean up spills promptly. Cats are drawn to warm spots, so make sure to keep the door on your clothes dryer shut. Choose plants inside and out that aren't toxic. Finally, because your pet can become lost even with the most careful prevention, be sure your pet has a collar with current ID, and a microchip as a backup.
Got all the basics covered? Good for you! You can now celebrate by going out and buying your pet something special, just because.
Don't loom over
your little dog
(This week, I'm sharing some of the questions and answers from my recent guest appearance on the Allan Handelman radio show (ifitrocks.com) -- Dr. Marty Becker.)
Q: I have a Yorkie/Pomeranian mix I rescued a year ago. When she wants to get in the chair or bed with me and I go to reach for her she steps back several steps so I end up getting up and picking her up. It seems like a trust issue. Any suggestions?
A: I'm not sure it is a trust issue -- you're probably looming over her, and it's intimidating to her. It might be better to get a ramp and pat the spot (your lap, the bed) where you want her to go, and let her get there herself.
Q: I have a golden retriever mix who takes a mouthful of food out of her dish and carries it to a different part of the house to eat. Why is she doing this?
A: It's not that uncommon. She might feel a need to "hide" or "store" a bit of food based on past experiences, she might be physically uncomfortable eating out of her bowl (for instance, some dogs with neck injuries or arthritis are more comfortable putting the food at a different height than it's offered), or it might not be something we'll ever be able to explain. To rule out that it is a health problem, though, please have your veterinarian check her out.
Q: We have two miniature schnauzers, both male. One loves to bite and chew his skin and has terribly smelly skin. Should we bathe him once per week?
A: Very likely, but I think a comprehensive physical exam by his veterinarian needs to be part of the plan, and soon. He may have an underlying condition, such as hypothyroidism, which would need to be diagnosed and treated.
A visit to a veterinary dermatologist isn't out of line, either, since there could be secondary yeast or bacterial infections, or a skin barrier defect, all of which need to be addressed.
In the PetConnection for Jan. 31, a word was left out in the question and answer section. The corrected sentence should read: "Reputable, responsible breeders rarely breed a female more than twice before spaying her."
always a concern
-- Accidents can 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.
-- Veterinarians and horse-rescue organizations have teamed up for a statewide effort to geld horses in California. At a time of economic difficulty, the overpopulation of horses is a problem that low-cost clinics are hoping to address. The goal is to castrate 100 or more horses in 2011, and if the program proves successful, to expand it on a national level. Veterinarians are volunteering their time for this important work.
-- Wildlife researchers are using dogs to improve wildlife surveys. Dogs are seen as a non-invasive alternative to wildlife surveys because they are able to search out scat of animals, which can be used to identify various species, and even individuals within the species. A female Labrador was trained to detect mountain lion, bobcat and domestic cat scat, and a pit bull was trained to detect red fox, gray fox and kit fox scat.
-- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
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 many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.