FOR MOST DOG OWNERS, THE 'CHOKE' COLLAR IS A POOR CHOICE
Years ago when I started training dogs, I couldn't have imagined doing so without a slip-lead collar, commonly known as a "choke" collar. These days, I can't remember the last time I put one on a dog, and I may never feel the need to do so again.
That's because the options for training and control have changed, and are now easier on dog and owner alike.
The choke chain was never without problems. In the old days, the important thing to remember was to never leave the collar on your dog unless you were training or walking.
It is, after all, a choke collar, and over the years I've heard from readers whose dogs died when the collar rings became caught on the tooth of another dog in play, on a piece of fencing in the yard or even a heater grate in the house. In other cases, dogs were injured and traumatized, and the owners who saved their lives by getting them free of the collar's deadly grip were often bitten by their terrified dogs.
This is what it has come down to, for me: If your dog is wearing a choke-chain collar as his everyday collar, replace it with a buckle or snap-together collar today. And then, like many trainers and behaviorists, I advise that when you take that chain collar off, you throw it away.
Some good dog trainers still use slip-style collars and leads, at least some of the time, and they're still the top choice for almost escape-proof handling in veterinary hospitals.
But this is a piece of equipment that's nearly impossible for the average dog owner to use properly. When the collar isn't used properly, it's ineffective at best, and cruel at worst.
There are only two ways to put on a choke-chain collar: with the moving end over the dog's neck (as intended), or under the dog's neck (incorrect). By the simplest law of averages, you'd think folks would get them on right half the time, but it never seems to work that way. When the moving part of the chain is under the dog's neck, the chain doesn't release easily when the leash is slackened. And that means the collar is constantly tight, choking the dog.
Even if the collar's put on correctly, the choke collar is very difficult to use in the way that expert dog trainers have over the years. A choke-chain collar is meant to be loose at all times, except for the occasional split-second tightening to correct a dog's behavior. But people don't seem to know that, so I am always seeing gasping dogs in tight choke chains dragging their owners behind them.
These days, my advice on choke chains is this: Don't bother. Get the help of a good trainer to choose training equipment that's not so hard to master -- and learn how to use it. For some dogs, a buckle or snap-together collar will be all you need, or a limited-slip collar known as a "martingale." For others, a head halter or front-clip harness will work best. The pinch collar has advocates, too. It looks horrific, but it can't tighten down to choke a dog the way a slip-lead collar can.
They're all easier for the average person to use, and less likely to cause unintentional harm than a slip-lead collar. And that's why after so many years of giving advice, I've changed my recommendation on this topic. You simply don't need to master the choke-chain collar to teach any old dog new tricks anymore.
Cat's coughing may be
a dangerous symptom
Q: What can I do to stop my cat's hairballs? I give her stuff from the pet store, but she's always hacking. -- via Facebook
A: Hairballs often take the blame for a cat's chronic coughing, but the problem could be something else entirely: heart disease, heartworms or even feline asthma. Coughing is a symptom, and you need a veterinarian's help to figure out what's really at the root of the problem. Only then can you hope to find an effective treatment.
Even if the problem is hairballs, there are some better options for treatment.
When cats groom, they pull out and swallow a lot of fur. Swallowed fur is indigestible, so when it's in a cat's stomach, it has two ways to go: down and out, or up and out. When it comes up (to the accompaniment of that middle-of-the-night "Ack! Ack!" serenade every cat lover knows so well), it's a hairball.
You'll have to tolerate a certain amount of hairballs because that's just part of having a cat. But there are steps you can take to help ingested hair to go through the system instead of come back up.
Add some fiber to your cat's diet. A little bit of canned pumpkin -– plain pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling -- added to your pet's regular meals will help the fur ingested by grooming to pass through the digestive system, instead of being thrown up onto your carpets. Combine it with canned food for palatability, or mix it with a little water from canned tuna or clams.
Canned pumpkin has an advantage over oil-based hairball remedies: Overusing the latter can decrease the absorption of some essential nutrients. Regular combing and brushing also helps, especially if your pet has long hair. The fur you catch when grooming your cat won't end up as a hairball, or as hair you'll be cleaning off your clothes. -- Dr. Marty Becker
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Drug crackdown leaves
mobile vets in limbo
-- The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has sent letters to California veterinarians with mobile practices warning that they are not in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act, a move that could put at risk the practice of at-home euthanasia for family pets and on-site euthanasia for horses and other livestock. According to DVM360.com, mobile veterinarians typically carry controlled substances in locked boxes. The DEA previously considered mobile veterinarians to be a common-sense exception to the law requiring registration of any premise where controlled medications are to be stored. As such, the letter of the law was generally not enforced in this instance. Officials from state and local veterinary trade groups have appealed to Congress to legislate an exemption that will allow veterinarians to care for animals as they need to.
-- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning about the potential for salmonella infection in pet hedgehogs. One human death has been attributed to the handling of these pets, and 20 people have been made ill in eight states. Good hand-washing and animal husbandry practices help to prevent passing of the disease from animals to humans.
-- A yearlong battle between a woman who found a dog and the man who lost him was resolved in an Oregon courtroom in favor of the original owner. The husky mix jumped over the fence at his owner's and ended up adopted by the woman who found him. Later spotted at a coffeehouse by his original owner, the dog became the center of an acrimonious fight when the new owner refused to give him back and charged the original owner with neglect. Authorities found no evidence to back up her claim. The legal battles ended when the dog's finder admitted in court that the original owner's claim was legitimate and promised to stay away from the animal. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
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 Vetstreet.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.