Fun ferrets need owners who keep them out of trouble
By Dr. Laurie Hess
“I’ve never had to bring him to the vet before, because he’s never been sick …”
At the animal hospital, I hear this same declaration every day from pet owners about their sick pets, regardless of the species they own. And here’s the catch-22: If these folks had brought in their pets before they were sick, instead of waiting until after they showed signs of illness, their pets might not have become ill in the first place.
This is especially true of ferrets, those masked mischief-makers who make wonderful companions but have become so popular as pets that their domestication and inbreeding have made them susceptible to a handful of common — often preventable — illnesses. Among the top preventable health problems in ferrets are:
?Foreign object ingestion: Just as human children put everything in their mouths, so do young ferrets. Shoes, parts of the couch, toys — you name it; they’ll eat it. And then they develop intestinal obstructions, which are marked by diarrhea, bloating and sometimes vomiting. This requires lifesaving intestinal surgery to resolve. So if you ferret-proof your crazy critter’s environment by removing all small objects from the floor and never leaving him out of his cage unsupervised, you can avoid a costly trip to the emergency room.
? Hairball ingestion: Just as young ferrets eat foreign objects, middle- to older-age ferrets ingest hair, and can develop intestinal obstructions due to hairballs. These furry friends often groom excessively, consuming large amounts of hair that stick together with mucus in their saliva to form cigar-shaped mats that plug up their narrow intestines, leading to diarrhea, lack of appetite, lethargy and occasional vomiting. Sometimes a laxative treatment will help these hairballs pass, but more often, complicated intestinal surgery is required to unplug these tiny creatures. With brushing and a couple of oral doses of a petroleum-based cat hairball laxative each week, you can avoid this situation.
? Urinary-tract obstruction: The most common cause of urinary-tract obstruction in male ferrets is prostate gland enlargement, which compresses the urethra (outflow tract of the bladder), preventing urination. Prostate gland enlargement in ferrets is most often a result of an adrenal gland tumor that produces hormones that cause the prostate to swell. Both males and females can develop these tumors, but because females don’t have prostates, they don’t develop urinary-tract obstructions. While the cause of adrenal disease in ferrets is not completely understood, and we cannot prevent it, we can recognize its telltale signs — hair loss and itchy skin — and treat it with hormones and sometimes surgery when it first occurs, before urinary obstruction develops. So if your ferret starts scratching and showing patchy baldness, it’s time for a visit to the vet.
? Dental disease: Can you imagine eating every day and never brushing your teeth? That’s what most pets do, but at least most cat and dog owners take their pets for regular dental cleaning. On the other hand, most ferret owners never do. In fact, most ferret owners are not even aware that their naughty nibblers need dental cleaning. Ferrets, like dogs and cats, should have an annual dental scaling and cleaning, and ferret owners should brush their pets’ teeth weekly to help keep tartar buildup down. There are tiny toothbrushes that fit on a human finger that are used with poultry-flavored toothpaste especially designed for ferret fangs. Regular tooth care in ferrets reduces gingivitis, tooth root infection and tooth loss that commonly occurs in ferrets as they age.
So if you own a ferret and he has never visited a vet, it’s time for a checkup — even if he isn’t ill. Remember, an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure.
Dr. Laurie Hess cares for birds and other exotic pets, such as rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, smaller rodents and reptiles at the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in Bedford Hills, N.Y. Dr. Hess previously served as head of the Avian & Exotic Pet Service at the renowned Animal Medical Center in New York City.
CUT PET CARE COSTS
Simple strategies can save money without short-changing your pet
By Dr. Nancy Kay
Today, the human-animal bond is stronger than ever. The more tumultuous the world is around us, the tighter we cling to our beloved pets. They soothe us with their predictability and unconditional love, and they consistently give in excess of what they receive. Imagine then, the heartache someone feels when it’s necessary to cut back on a pet’s health care because of financial hardship.
If you are in a financial pinch — who isn’t these days? — here are some things you can do to economize while still doing a great job of caring for your pet’s health.
? Lay your financial cards on the table when talking to your vet. Talking about your bank account may be difficult, but such a discussion can lead to options that make better financial sense. Rarely is there only one way to diagnose or treat a disease, and you are entitled to an explanation of every single option for your pet.
? Request a written cost estimate for veterinary services before they are provided. How else can you know if your bill will be $200 or $2,000? Requesting an estimate does not reflect how much you love your pet; you are simply being fiscally responsible.
? Kick the once-a-year vaccine habit. We used to think that standard vaccinations such as distemper needed to be given annually. We now know that these vaccinations provide a minimum of three years’ worth of protection, once the puppy or kitten series has been completed. If your vaccine reminder card suggests otherwise, talk to your veterinarian.
? Don’t neglect your pet’s preventive health care, as it could cost you money in the long run. For example, administering a heartworm preventive is less expensive for you (and safer for your dog or cat) than treating heartworm infection.
? Feed your pet less food! Just as with humans, many dogs and cats are overweight. Ask your vet for her honest opinion about your pet’s waistline. If she agrees that your precious family member could lose a few pounds, put less food in the bowl. This new habit will translate into cost savings and result in a healthier animal, which means fewer veterinary bills.
? Be a savvy consumer of supplements for your pet. Some supplement suppliers would like you to believe that your pet’s good health is dependent on their products. Avoid being seduced by such ads, and talk to your vet about exactly which supplements are worthy expenditures for your dog or cat.
? Investigate options for paying your veterinary bills. Perhaps the clinic administrator is willing to barter for products or services. Look into CareCredit, for example, a reputable line of credit that can be used to pay for veterinary expenses. The company provides interest-free payment plans that may be advantageous compared to standard credit card payments.
? Consider investing in pet health insurance, especially if you are inclined to take the “do everything possible” approach for your pet. Do the math and determine if insurance makes financial sense in the long run. And before you sign on the dotted line, do some research to find a provider that is a good fit for you and your pet.
What should you do if your pet is ailing and you are forced to contemplate euthanasia because of financial constraints? Before succumbing to such a drastic decision, I strongly encourage a thorough investigation of every other conceivable option. Consider researching rescue associations, borrowing money from friends or relatives, applying for a donation from a pet health assistance organization, or finding a financially capable guardian for your pet. Exploring these options might just save a life and will do wonders for your peace of mind.
Dr. Nancy Kay is a board-certified specialist in internal medicine and the author of the book “Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life.”
KINDEST CUP OF ALL
New surgical technique means easier spays, faster healing
By Dr. Timothy McCarthy
The first spaying I ever watched was in a small rural practice in 1958 when I was 13 — the same time I first became interested in veterinary medicine.
The surgery was performed using ether and catgut suture from a spool that had to be manually threaded onto a needle. There was no surgical cap, mask, gown or gloves, and only a postage stamp-sized surgical drape. There was no pain medication, and the ovaries were pulled up to the incision by tearing their attachment to the abdominal wall. This was the state of the art at that time.
Today, nearly all aspects of spaying have improved. We have better anesthetics that have minimal negative effects on the patient. We use individual sterile packages of suture with attached needles made using the same synthetic suture material used in human surgery, which causes minimal tissue reaction and is completely removed by the body with time.
We also use caps, masks, gloves and gowns, and use drapes of adequate size to prevent any contamination of the surgical field. We no longer need to pour antibacterial agents into the surgery site. Aggressive pain management with drug combinations is used before surgery to block pain before it starts, and the medications are continued during the post-operative period.
However, we are still using the same barbaric blind tissue-tearing technique to rip the attachment of the ovaries away from the abdominal wall. This technique does work — because we’ve been spaying dogs and cats this way for more than 50 years. But now there is a better way: laparoscopic spaying. It changes our technique from tearing tissue blindly to cutting tissue where we can see what we are doing, and it is the final step toward achieving modernization of this surgery.
To perform a laparoscopic ovariectomy, we first place a small endoscopic telescope into the abdomen, and the abdominal wall is lifted away from the internal organs by filling the abdomen with carbon dioxide gas so that we have a space to work. Specially designed surgical instruments are placed into the gas-filled abdomen. The first ovary is found and can be seen clearly on a video screen with magnification, which the surgeon uses for the duration of the procedure. The ovary is lifted gently away from the other organs, and its attachments to the abdominal wall are cut with a device that electronically seals the blood vessels. The freed ovary is removed from the abdominal cavity through one of the small incisions made for the telescope or the instruments. The procedure is repeated for the other ovary.
When the surgery is completed, no foreign suture material is left in the abdomen because we have electronically sealed the blood vessels, and we have only two small incisions in the abdominal wall.
The equipment and instruments needed to perform laparoscopic spaying are expensive, but they cost no more than many other advanced medical devices commonly seen in small-animal practices (such as ultrasound, digital X-ray systems and lasers) and are far less expensive than others (CT and MRI). Additional training is needed, but this surgery is easier to learn and perform, with fewer problems and complications than many other new surgical techniques that are being incorporated into small-animal medicine. This technique is well within a skill level attainable by most general practitioners.
The bottom line for pet owners: Animals spayed with laparoscopy recover faster and have less pain than those operated on using the traditional technique. It’s time for a change!
Dr. Timothy C. McCarthy is a board-certified surgeon in the Portland, Ore., area who has pioneered the application of many minimally invasive diagnostic and therapeutic techniques that are now becoming the standard of care.
ONE THE MOVE – Simple, safe steps for moving with a cat
By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
One of the most pervasive myths about cats is that they care more about places than people.
It’s true that cats are territorial and will seek out familiar places when stressed, which is why they sometimes attempt to return to their old homes when moved. But they’ll be much happier going where you go if you take steps to ease their transition from one home to another.
While you’ll never manage a stress-free move for either yourself or your cat, you can make the best of the situation by keeping your pet secure before, during and after the move, and then by allowing your pet to gradually adapt to his new surroundings.
The best way to move your cat is to confine him to a “safe room” before and after the move, and to transport him from one house to another in a secure carrier. The ideal safe room is a spare bedroom or bathroom where your cat isn’t going to be disturbed, and where he can be outfitted with food and water, a litter box, a scratching post and toys.
Don’t feel bad about confining your pet. He’ll be more relaxed in a small space where he won’t be subjected to the stress of seeing people tromping around his house with the family belongings. Confining your cat also prevents him from slipping outside, which is a danger at both the old and the new home. A frightened cat may be hard to locate on the day of the move if you don’t make sure he’s somewhere that you can put your hands on him.
When you get to your new home, leave the carrier — with its door open — in the safe room. Close the door to the room and leave him be while you unpack. Coaxing him out of the carrier with treats and praise is fine, but let him choose when and how much of the safe room he wants to explore. Never drag him out — you’ll upset your cat, and you might get scratched or bitten.
A couple of days after you’ve unpacked and things have settled down, open the door to the safe room so your cat can explore the rest of the house. Even if you plan to let him outside, keep him in for a couple of weeks. He needs to stay inside to start forming a bond with his new surroundings. Better still, make the most of the opportunity offered by a move and convert your pet to indoor-only status. Your new neighbors will appreciate it, and your cat will live a longer, safer life.
It’s relatively easy to make the conversion to indoor cat when you move to a new home. He’d carry on like crazy in your old home if locked in, but in new surroundings he’ll accept the change with little fuss. Part of the reason cats don’t like to convert to indoor-only is because they’ve marked the outside as part of their territory and have a natural desire to revisit it. A newly moved cat will learn to accept the territory he has been offered, and if the outdoors isn’t part of it, he won’t miss it as much.
Above all, don’t rush your cat through a move. Confinement during the transition is also good for avoiding behavior problems that might pop up with the stress of moving. By limiting your cat’s options to the litter box and the scratching post in his small safe room, he will quickly redevelop the good habits he had in your old home.
SHOW YOUR LOVE – Want a happy pet? Give attention, exercise and preventive care
By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
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.
FELINE MYTH-BUSTING | Understanding your cat the first step to better care
By Dr. Marty Becker
Some people are born into cat-loving families, while others have cats thrust upon them. And then, of course, there are those who independently make the decision to take up life with a cat.
Cat lovers are members of an exceptional club. A relationship with a cat can be joyful, entertaining and sometimes frustrating, but in the end, it’s always rewarding. Life with a cat is special, if you know what to expect.
Cats are so connected to myths and misconceptions that it’s no wonder they are often misunderstood. I want to help you separate fact from fiction.
First and foremost, cats are not small dogs. When you are reading about different cat breeds or looking at the personality descriptions of cats at a shelter, you may come across some that are described as “doglike.” It’s true that some cats, like dogs, will follow you around, play fetch or go for walks on-leash. But that is where the resemblance ends. Cats differ from dogs in many ways, but here are some of the most important:
? Their nutritional needs are different. Cats are what biologists call “obligate carnivores.” That means they must have meat in their diet to survive. Lots of meat. While dogs can exist on a diet that contains large amounts of grains, cats need meat protein to be at the top of their game. Meat contains a nutrient called taurine that is essential for heart and eye health and normal cell, muscle and skeletal function. Cats can’t synthesize taurine on their own, so they must get it from their diet. Cats also have other nutritional requirements that vary from those of dogs, such as the type of vitamin A they can use. That’s why you should never feed your cat the same food you give your dog.
? Their physiology is different. Cats metabolize drugs differently than dogs or people. It’s very dangerous to give a cat the same drug that you or I or the dog next door might take, even if it’s for the same type of problem. Take pain, for instance. I’ve seen clients kill their cats by going to the medicine chest and giving their cats aspirin or acetaminophen. The same holds true for parasite treatments: Never apply a flea or tick treatment or shampoo made for dogs to your cat. Always call your veterinarian first and ask if a particular medication is safe for your cat and at what dose.
? The way cats express pain is different. Well, it’s not really different. It’s almost nonexistent. It’s much easier to notice pain in a dog because we tend to interact with dogs directly. We take them on walks and we see whether they’re limping, for instance, or moving more slowly. With cats, it’s much more difficult to see the changes in mobility that signal injury or arthritis. Cats know instinctively that displaying pain puts them at risk from other predators, so they do their best to mask it. That works to their disadvantage when it comes to veterinary care. The signs that a cat is in pain are so subtle that most people miss them unless they are keen observers of their cats.
? Cats need to see the veterinarian. It’s a mystery to me why people are so much less likely to provide veterinary care to their cats than to their dogs. Cats are the most popular pets in America, yet veterinarians are seeing a decline in veterinary visits for cats. That’s a shame, because cats need and deserve great veterinary care to ensure that they live long, happy, healthy lives. They might be intelligent and independent creatures, but they can’t doctor themselves — at least not yet. Providing your cat with regular veterinary care is a good investment, and it’s one of the responsibilities you owe your cat when you bring him into your life.
WALK ON! Exercise keeps your pet healthy and out of trouble, too
By Marty Becker
Does your dog have the basics — food, water, shelter and veterinary care — but never does anything but sit around? Pretend your house is an exhibit at the zoo. You wouldn’t want visitors to come by, look at your dog inactive and bored, and think, “Oh, that poor thing!” would you?
A dog’s body is made for motion — as a hunter and a scavenger — and thanks to centuries of selective breeding, also for countless physical tasks in the service of humankind. If you want to see it for yourself, just watch for your dog’s prey drive. They all have it, though it’s buried deeper in some dogs than others. Everything about a dog is designed to see and go after potential prey: the way his eyes focus, the way his nerves are routed, the way he’s on his feet and after that squirrel, tennis ball or the opening of the treat drawer, or the movement toward the door for a walk before even the dog himself seems to fully process what’s going on.
An animal with that strong an instinct to take off running wants and needs exercise to be happy and healthy — no matter how cushy his spot is on the couch.
Get your dog back to his roots: He needs to move, to work, to play and to prey to be healthy and happy. Movement helps a dog shed excess pounds as well as behavior problems. And keeping him active is good for you: Studies show you’ll be more likely to be more fit as well, and you and your dog will be more tightly bonded.
Long before the canine family tree was split by human intervention into such diverse branches as the Irish setter, the bulldog, the Alaskan malamute and the Yorkshire terrier (and all combinations thereof), feral dogs spent their waking hours using their wits and their bodies to search for food. Sometimes they hunted and sometimes they scavenged, but they were on the move, working for the next meal to keep them alive. When humans came into the picture, many kinds of dogs became even more active. The majority of breeds worldwide were developed through selective breeding to help hunters and farmers get and protect their own food supplies. All the retrievers, hounds, terriers, setters, shepherds and collies of the world are a testament to these work-dogs, who are born with a drive to earn their keep by working alongside their owners.
Exercising your dog is a responsibility, right up there with providing him with food, water, shelter and veterinary care. Without an adequate outlet for their energy, even sweet, easygoing dogs can quickly develop a trifecta of serious issues: bad behavior brought on by boredom, excess weight and potentially significant health problems.
The best exercise for any dog is something that engages both body and mind. These activities can help your dog prove to you the tenet all veterinarians hold dear: A tired dog is a happy dog.
You can start with something simple, or dedicate your life to training and competing with your dog — it doesn’t matter, as long as you start. As the saying goes, “Every journey starts with a single step,” which is why there’s a natural place to begin. Walking! What are you waiting for? Grab a leash and hit the road with your dog!
CAT, MEET DOG Dogs and cats can be friends, if introduced properly
One thing that never fails to get a smile out of me is seeing my big orange cat, Ilario, happily curled up and purring loudly next to — and occasionally on top of — one of my four dogs. I love how well everyone gets along: They don’t just tolerate each other — they actually like each other.
It didn’t start out that way, though. When Ilario arrived as a kitten, he spent more time puffed up and ready to run than purring. Once he realized he wasn’t in any danger from his new four-legged family, he was able to relax and eventually even warmed to their company. Some nights I even catch him grooming my gentlest dog, 14-year-old Drew.
Some cats and dogs are never going to get along, but most can at least come to an agreement about sharing space. The trick is knowing the basic steps to handling the introductions.
Under no circumstances should dogs and cats be introduced by throwing the animals together and letting them work out things on their own. That method is far too stressful even in the best of conditions. It’s also important to keep in mind that introductions can be dangerous, usually for the cats. Some dogs see cats as prey, and even those dogs who are generally easygoing may react instinctively to a cat on the run by attacking the smaller animal.
Introductions must be supervised and handled with planning, care and patience.
If you have a cat and are planning to bring in a dog, try to find an animal who is known to be accepting of cats. Shelters and rescue groups often know if an animal has successfully lived with a cat, or they will test to see how the dog behaves in the presence of one. (These “tester” cats are usually friendly, outgoing permanent residents, and they’re just fine with their work of safely greeting new dogs.)
If you have a dog and are planning to bring in a cat, start working on your pet’s obedience before you add the new animal. Your dog should be comfortable on a leash and be trained well enough to mind your requests for him to stay in either a “sit” or “down” position while on that leash.
For the cat’s own comfort, he should be confined during the early stages of introduction to a small area (such as a second bathroom or guest bedroom), where he can feel safe while becoming acclimated to the sounds and smells of the dog. Be sure the room has everything he needs, and make sure he has frequent one-on-one visits with human family members.
After a couple of days with the cat sequestered, put the dog on leash and open the door to the cat’s room. Allow the animals to see one another, and do not allow the dog to chase the cat, even in play. Use “sit-stay” or “down-stay” to keep the dog in place while the cat gets used to his calm presence. Don’t force the cat to interact with the dog; if the cat wishes to view the dog from the darkest recesses underneath the bed, so be it. Reward the good behavior of both animals with treats and praise.
Keep the dog on leash for a couple of weeks in the cat’s presence, and always make sure the cat has a way to escape from the dog, such as putting a baby gate across the door to the safe area. Build up the time the animals spend together, and continue to make the introductions rewarding, with more treats and praise.
When the dog isn’t interested in bothering the cat and the cat feels secure enough to come out from under the bed, you can take off the leash and let them get on with their new lives together. How long it will take to get to this step will depend on the animals involved, and you must work at their pace.
It’s not uncommon for dogs and cats to become friends and to enjoy each other’s company. Take the time to manage your cat-dog introduction properly, and you could be setting up a friendship that will last for the rest of your pets’ lives.
HITTING THE BOX – Cat potty problems seem worse during the winter
By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
When the weather turns colder and houses close up for warmth, every little thing starts to annoy us. Like the smell of the litter box, or (worse) the smell of a cat who’s not using the litter box at all.
But don’t blame the cat.
If your cat is hit-or-miss where the litter box is concerned, chances are the choices you’ve made factor into the problem. After all, your cat really isn’t asking for anything more than you would when it comes to a bathroom. All that’s required for most cats is that the litter box be clean, quiet and offer no surprises.
That sounds simple, but the failure to use a litter box is the top behavior complaint of cat lovers, sending countless cats to shelters every year. Before you even consider such a drastic step, you need to try to work things out with your cat if you have a litter box problem.
The first step in solving such a problem is to make sure it’s not a medical condition — and that means a trip to your veterinarian for a complete workup. Urinary-tract infections and diseases such as diabetes make consistent litter box use impossible for even the most well-intentioned cat. You cannot hope to get your cat using the box again until any health issues have been resolved.
If your cat checks out fine, you need to make sure that everything about the box is to your cat’s liking. The second rule of solving a litter box problem: If the cat isn’t happy, no one will be happy. Here’s what to look for:
? Cleanliness. Cats are fastidious animals, and if the litter box is dirty, they look elsewhere for a place to go. Clean the box frequently — twice a day at least — and make sure it’s completely scrubbed clean and aired out on a weekly basis. Having an additional litter box may help, too. (Multiple litter boxes are recommended for multicat households, since many cats simply will not share.)
? Box type and filler. Many choices people make to suit their own tastes conflict with the cat’s sense of what’s agreeable. A covered box may seem more pleasing to you, but your cat may think it’s pretty rank inside, or scary. Likewise, scented litters may make you think the box smells fine, but your cat may disagree — not only is the box dirty, he reasons, but it also has this extra “clean” odor he can’t abide. Start with the basics: a large box with unscented clumping-style litter.
? Location. Your cat’s box should be away from his food and water, in a place he can get to easily and feel safe in. Consider a location from a cat’s point of view: Choose a quiet spot where he can see what’s coming at him. A cat doesn’t want any surprises while he’s in the box.
Make the area where your cat has had mistakes less attractive by cleaning it thoroughly with a pet-odor neutralizer (available from pet-supply retailers). Discourage re-use by covering the area with foil, plastic sheeting or plastic carpet runners with the points up.
If changing things around doesn’t clear up the problem in a healthy cat, you may need to retrain him by keeping your pet in a small area, such as a guest bathroom, for a couple of weeks.
Make sure the area you choose has no good options besides the litter box — no carpet, no pile of dirty laundry. Block off the bathtub or keep an inch of water in it to discourage its use as a place to go. After your cat is reliably using the litter box, let him slowly expand his territory again. As long as you keep up your end of the bargain and keep the litter box clean and safe, you have a good chance the good behavior will become permanent.
If you just can’t seem to get the problem resolved, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist. These veterinarians are skilled in behavioral problem-solving and are able to prescribe medications that may make the difference during the retraining period.
EASING THE CHALLENGES OF AGE- Older dogs can stay happy, active with your help
By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Your dog may breeze through years of senior citizenship without any significant health issues, but sooner or later, age catches up with even the most resilient of canine companions.
You may one day discover that your dog can’t see or hear anymore, or that he’s developed an irritable streak where he didn’t have one before. In many cases, the first really distressing issue to come up is incontinence — an old dog may dribble urine in his bed or in the house — and suddenly you have a problem.
Any time a new health issue develops, the best course of action is to have it checked out by your dog’s veterinarian. And there’s this good news: Many problems are treatable at any age, including cognitive dysfunction — doggy dementia — which can be eased for many dogs with medication.
Time, of course, will not be denied. But even for those things that cannot be aided by your veterinarian, you can take matters into your own hands and help your dog age gracefully and comfortably.
Remember, this is an animal who adores you, who lives for your approval and affection. As he begins to lose his health, he needs your assurance more than ever.
Some special situations you may deal with:
• Blind dogs: Maintain your blind dog’s environment with minimal change. Dogs actually adapt amazingly well when they lose their eyesight — as long as you don’t start rearranging the furniture. If your dog knows his way around your house and yard, and has a walking route that suits him, try to keep these things constant to prevent injuries and put him at ease.
• Deaf dogs: For a dog who lives in a soundless world, sudden contact can be unnerving. It can also be dangerous for the person who delivers the shock, since your dog may nip out of fear. Learn how to let your dog know you’re coming, and teach any children who have contact how to do so, too. Many dogs are hearing-impaired but not completely deaf, and for those a couple of simple hand claps are enough to get his attention. If your dog is completely deaf, step loudly as you approach him — your footfalls will cause a vibration that can be felt even if it’s not heard.
• Leaky dogs: If your dog has overnight incontinence, know that the situation probably upsets him even more than it upsets you. Take him out last thing before bedtime, and then provide a water-absorbent barrier in his bedding. You can use a puppy pad, cut-up pieces of a water-resistant mattress pad, or an upside-down, rubber-backed bath mat. Whatever you use will need to be washed or replaced daily, but the extra loads of laundry are a small price to pay to ensure your senior dog is comfortable.
Once again, be sure to work with your veterinarian on the challenges of age. Be especially keen on the combinations of prescription pain medications and so-called “neutraceuticals” — over-the-counter supplements like glucosamine and omega-3 oils — that can make life comfortable.
Slow down, be patient, be helpful. You’ll both feel better for the time you spend with your sweet older dog.
GROOM FOR HEALTH – Keeping pets clean and huggable is good medicine
By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Beauty is more than skin-deep when it comes to your dog. Keeping your pet well-groomed not only gives you a clean-smelling companion, it also helps keep your dog more comfortable and allows you to spot health problems before they become serious, even life-threatening.
How important is grooming to your pet’s comfort? Consider a simple hair mat, so easy to overlook. Have you ever had your hair in a ponytail that was just a little too tight? A mat can feel the same way to your dog — a constant pull on the skin. Try to imagine those all over your body and you have a good idea how uncomfortable an ungroomed coat can be.
Your dog need never know what a mat feels like if you keep him brushed and combed — but that’s just the start of the health benefits. Regular grooming allows you to look for lumps, bumps and injuries, while clearing such things as mats and ticks from his coat. Follow up with your veterinarian on any questionable masses you find, and you may detect cancer early enough to save your pet’s life.
For short-haired breeds, keeping skin and coat in good shape is easy. Run your hands over him daily, a brush over him weekly, and that’s it.
For other breeds, grooming is a little more involved. Breeds such as collies, chows, Keeshonden and Alaskan malamutes are “double-coated,” which means they have a downy undercoat underneath harsher long hair. The down can mat like a layer of felt against the skin if left untended. To prevent this, divide the coat into small sections and brush against the grain from the skin outward, working from head to tail, section by section. In the spring and fall — the big shedding times — you’ll end up with enough of that fluffy undercoat to make a whole new dog. Keep brushing and think of the benefits: The fur you pull out with a brush won’t end up on the furniture, and removing the old stuff keeps your pet cooler in the summer and lets new insulation come in for the winter.
Silky-coated dogs, such as Afghan hounds, cockers and Maltese, also need constant brushing to keep tangles from forming. As with the double-coated dogs, work with small sections at a time, brushing from the skin outward, and then comb back into place with the grain for a glossy, finished look. Coats of this type require so much attention that having a groomer keep the dogs trimmed to a medium length is often more practical.
Curly and wiry coats, such as those on poodles and terriers, need to be brushed weekly, working against the grain, and then with it. Curly coats need to be clipped every six weeks; wiry ones, two or three times a year (but clipping every six weeks will keep your terrier looking sharper).
Good grooming is about more than keeping your pet looking beautiful and clean-smelling, although those are certainly pleasant payoffs. Regular grooming relaxes the dog who’s used to it, and it becomes a special time shared between you both. A coat free of mats, burrs and tangles and skin free of fleas and ticks are as comfortable to your dog as clean clothes fresh from the wash are to you. It just makes you feel good, and the effect is the same for your pet.
Some added benefit for you: Giving your dog a tummy rub after every session is sure to relax you (and your dog, of course) and ease the stress of your day. And for allergy sufferers, keeping a dog clean may make having a dog possible.
Frightfully fun – Indulge your dog in Halloween, but be safe about it
By Gina Spadafori
When did Halloween become such a big holiday? It’s second only to Christmas, it seems, for decorating and celebrating, with special stores full of frightful fare and merchandise hitting all other retailers before summer is over.
It’s all in fun, of course, and whenever pet lovers have fun, our pets are usually included.
But holidays are often anything but fun for many pets. While we humans love the change in routine with the parties, the guests and the decorations, our furred and feathered family members too often find the disruptions disturbing — and sometimes dangerous.
Like all holidays, Halloween is not without its hazards. The two biggest problems are injuries and poisoning — and animal emergency clinics traditionally see plenty of both. When you’re planning to include your pet in holiday plans, keep pet protection in the mix.
With the increase in activity around the neighborhood, cats and dogs get nervous, and some will take off if they can. That means an increase in the number of animals hit by cars. Other times, animals may be a cause of injury: All those costumed young visitors can trigger territorial instincts or fear responses in some dogs, who may then become a bite risk.
The best solution for nervous pets is to confine them for the evening in a crate or a quiet room far from the front door or any holiday festivities.
Many animal-welfare groups warn that black cats are at special risk around Halloween, claiming that cultists pick up the animals for ritual torture. Such concerns have led many shelters to halt the adoption of black cats in the days before Halloween.
In truth, such cruelties are so poorly documented that they surely happen rarely, if at all. Your black cat is more likely to be killed by a car than a cultist, since it’s difficult to see a black cat in the dark. But the threat of either is more than reason enough to keep him inside.
If you keep your pets confined safely inside the house, you will eliminate one source of risk. Keeping them away from the goodies will take care of the other risk.
Candy is a problem more for dogs than for cats because cats are generally picky about what they eat. Not so for many dogs, who’ll wolf down candy (wrappers and all) if given the opportunity, giving many a serious case of what veterinarians call “garbage gut.” While chocolate really isn’t the deadly threat many believe, a small dog who gets a large amount of dark chocolate does need veterinary intervention. A bigger threat to all pets, though, is from candy and gum sweetened with Xylitol. It’s deadly stuff for pets, so keep it out of their reach.
And finally, what about costumes for pets? If it makes you happy, go for it. Your dog doesn’t care if he has a biker jacket, sunglasses, an ear-hugging visor or even a colorful bandanna. He’ll put up with most anything you put on him, as long as it means spending more time with you.
If putting a costume on your dog means you’ll fuss over him and maybe take him somewhere interesting, like the costume contests that are everywhere these days, then sure, it’s a no-lose proposition. Dress up your dog and have some fun.
Do make sure that any costume you choose or make meets commonsense standards: It’s comfortable and nonrestrictive, inedible, and it doesn’t involve anything that could be hazardous, such as dye or paint. There has never been a wider selection of silly stuff for pets at retailers, so you can pick up a costume or two easily.
I’ve dressed up my pets before, and I have to say that my favorite costume of all time — a first-place prize-winner at more than one contest — was also the cheapest and easiest. I purchased a package of round white dots from an office supply store, and put them all over my black retriever. His “Reverse Dalmatian” get-up got laughs everywhere we went.
TICK TALK – Pet lovers win a few battles, but ticks winning the war
By Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
ATLANTA — Spot a flea or two on your dog or cat, and the reaction is likely to be a slight shudder and a mental note to check the calendar to see if it’s time for the monthly application of a few magic drops between the shoulder blades.
But spot a tick or two on your pet, and the reaction is more likely to be a string of swear words, or even a scream.
There’s something about those nasty eight-legged pests that evokes a visceral reaction and does more than trigger a desire for parasite control: The sight of a tick, says internationally known flea and tick expert Dr. Michael Dryden of Kansas State University, makes pet owners dream of a nuclear option able to annihilate the blood-sucking pests in as complete and painful a way as possible.
And if possible, by yesterday.
Says Dr. Dryden, affectionately known as “Dr. Flea” in veterinary and academic circles, don’t hold your breath. That’s because the range and numbers of North America’s tick species — about a dozen of them — just keep growing, along with the populations of deer and wild turkey that serve as their primary targets.
“When I started studying ticks, I didn’t know I needed to study deer,” Dr. Dryden said at the American Veterinary Medical Association’s recent convention in Atlanta. “But where there are deer, there are ticks. When I was growing up, we used to stop and stare in amazement when we saw a deer. Now, you only stop if you hit one.”
The explosion of deer populations means that ticks are everywhere — and in mild climates, they’re a year-round problem that’s not getting better and and likely won’t.
Aggressive hunting and deforestation had decimated deer and turkey populations by the beginning of the last century, said Dr. Dryden, noting that the deer populations of the United States and Canada fell below 300,000 before legislation banned the mass slaughter of game animals — and the U.S. alone is now approaching 28 million deer.
Add increases in the number of deer and wild turkey — perfect hosts for juvenile ticks, noted Dr. Dryden — to the successful efforts to regrow forests, as well as a mobile human population that loves to be where the wild things are, and, well, the good news for ticks just keeps coming.
“It’s a numbers game,” said Dr. Dryden, who said the problem widely thought to be resistance to tick-control products is really a matter of those products being overwhelmed. In some areas, a dog can pick up one tick per minute on a simple walk, and if a spot-on product eliminates all but a couple of them, the dog’s owner will consider it a failure.
“Tick control isn’t like flea control,” he said. “People want to have ticks eliminated and repelled, and that’s just not possible.”
Still, he says, some products seem to do better in different regions against different tick populations, making it worthwhile to ask your veterinarian which product works best in your area. For the ticks that remain — and there will always be ticks, ticks and more ticks — picking them off with tweezers or a tick-removal tool immediately after a walk remains the best defense against the parasites. On your property, keep grasses cut low, leaf piles cleaned up and spray under shrubs and along the fence lines, where ticks are waiting for you and your pets.
That, or avoid the areas where ticks are heaviest from spring through fall.
“Sometimes, the only thing I can advise is that you can’t take your dog where you’ve been taking your dog,” said Dr. Dryden.