It's a New Year's tradition around my home, one that has outlived three generations of pets but still works to help ensure the safety of the animals I live with now.
No, not resolutions, although I make those, too -- vowing, among other things, to exercise the dogs more, take more time for their training and do more for animals who are not as lucky as mine are.
The tradition I'm talking about is far easier to accomplish. I call the pets over and check their necks.
I always do my "neck checks" around the first of the year. It's easy to remember that way, especially for me, a person who has a hard time remembering much of anything when it comes to appointments: heartworm and flea medications on the first of the month, neck checks the first of the year, annual exams on each pet's birthday. (Any variation and I'm hopelessly lost!)
The neck check is easy, taking a few minutes to look for wear and fit on the collars, and legibility on the tags.
Consider the collar first. A properly fitted collar is important, but so is the right type. For dogs, a buckled or snap-together collar made of leather or nylon webbing is the best choice, and the proper fit is comfortably close but not too snug. Make sure your dog's not wearing a "choke" or prong collar for everyday use. These pose a potentially deadly hazard if left on an unsupervised dog.
When it comes to cat collars, some people fear their pet will get snagged while roaming and die. Other people argue that their cats stay indoors and so never need a collar. But if your pet has ever slipped out, or might, you ought to reconsider a collar and tag. As for cats being caught by their collars, this is resolved by the simple piece of elastic in most cat collars that enables the pet to slip free of the collar in a pinch.
If you have the right kind of collar on your pet, look at the holes and the fasteners. The collar is weakest at these spots, so if you see signs of excessive wear or strain, you'll need to replace the collar soon.
As for those tags, they need checking, too. A license is great, but since many lost pets are picked up by people in the neighborhood, it's a good idea to supplement the license with an ID tag that has a couple of phone numbers -- your home, mobile and the number of a friend or relative. Check to make sure the information is current and legible, and if not, order a new tag. I never put the pet's name or my address on the tags. Instead, my pets' tags say "REWARD!" with a collection of phone numbers. I want to get the point across that I want my pets back quickly.
Don't delay in fixing any problems you find with your pet's neck check. Issues with collars and tags are easy to fix, and these items are the cheapest insurance you can buy against loss or accidents. And if your pet isn't microchipped, add that to your to-do list. Animals given up as lost forever have been reunited with their families because of this technology.
Video bonus: Watch Pet Connection's Dr. Marty Becker and his daughter, dog-trainer Mikkel Becker, discuss the best -- and worst -- choices for collars on Vetstreet.com (vetstreet.com/learn/choosing-the-right-collar-for-your-pet).
Cats need vets
for pain help
Q: Is aspirin safe for cats? -- via email
A: It's most definitely not OK and, in fact, I don't recommend it even for dogs anymore, based on research findings that have linked aspirin use in dogs to gastric ulcers. But though the use of aspirin in dogs has long been common practice -- even if that may be changing -- the use of aspirin in cats has never been recommended.
Cats are very sensitive to pain medications, and that's why veterinarians have long been reluctant to wade into these murky waters, even when faced with cats in chronic pain. With the increase in the keeping of indoor cats, however, many of these pets are living longer, healthier lives -- or they would be if the constant pain of arthritis did not decrease their quality of life. The management of that pain is extremely important, especially in older cats.
But it's not just older cats who benefit. Treating pain doesn't just make the hurting stop: It also promotes healthy healing. Untreated pain slows healing time, interferes with sleep and depresses the immune system. The treatment of pain improves respiration, shortens postsurgical hospitalization and improves mobility.
Can you see why I'm a strong advocate for modern pain management for our pets? Despite the benefits, though, you should never -- let me emphasize that -- (BEGIN ITAL)NEVER(END ITAL) give pain medication to your cat without your veterinarian's guidance. If your veterinarian is reluctant to provide medication and advice on pain control, push for a consultation with a specialist to design a safe, individualized pain-management program for your pet. Veterinary specialists in oncology, surgery and anesthesia are usually most familiar with the wide variety of pain medications available today, as well as their safest use. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Do your homework
Considering end-of-year donations to charities? Don't forget organizations that help animals.
You don't have to give money to help, though. Shelters can often use items you might be throwing away, such as old newspapers or frayed towels. You might also consider buying large bags of pet food or cat litter and donating those, not only to shelters but also to community food pantries.
What if you do have a little cash to spare? Make sure you agree with the work and the views of any organization that wants your money. And consider this: Groups that don't have the money for direct-mail fundraising campaigns or TV advertising could probably use your donation more than the ones that spend big bucks to get your cash.
In addition to your community's shelter and rescue groups, remember that other organizations could use some support. Some ideas:
-- Health research: The Winn Feline Foundation has funded some of the most important research to advance the health of cats, with results that have saved countless lives. On the dog side, the AKC Health Foundation gives grants for research that's both general and breed-specific.
-- Veterinary schools: Your first thought may be "scholarships" -- and yes, that's one of the many ways a contribution to your nearest school or college of veterinary medicine can help -- but donations can also help pets more directly, and are always needed.
-- Fix-it funds: The American Animal Hospital Association's Helping Pets Fund works through veterinarians to help pets whose owners can't afford care.
-- Therapy animals: Animals help people in more ways than I have room to list here. From programs where dogs help teach children to read to those helping injured veterans get back on their feet by getting on a horse, animal-assisted therapy is always worth supporting. -- Dr. Marty 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 affiliated with Vetsteet.com and 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.