Originally Published: June 23, 2005 5 a.m.
The long days of summer are a great time to have – or be – a pet. But this glorious season for outdoor activities is not without its hazards. Knowing what to look out for is half the battle.
The hazards of summer include:
• Heat risks. Cats have enough sense to nap on warm afternoons, but dogs do not. If you let them, they'll go where you do, even if it's too hot. Dogs are not good at keeping themselves cool, and they rely on us to keep them out of trouble.
The fastest way to get your dog into trouble is to leave him in the car. Even a few minutes in a car on a warm day can kill a dog, so it's best never to take a chance.
Limit exercise to the coolest part of the day, no matter how happy your dog is to participate when it's warmer. Even in the cooler part of the day, watch for signs of trouble: Glassy eyes and frantic panting indicate a dog who needs help.
Remember that older, obese or snort-nosed dogs are less heat-tolerant, and that all dogs need constant access to shade and an endless supply of cool, clean water.
• Gardening risks. Protect your pets from poisonous plants, troublesome garden materials or yard chemicals. Check with the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA.org/APCC) to be sure your plants are pet-safe, and put any that aren't on the other side of a fence from your animals. Popular mulches made from cocoa hulls can be appealing to dogs, but some of these products have been shown to be hazardous. Again, if you use them, use them in areas off-limits to your pets.
Even the compost pile can be a problem, since some dogs learn the piles are a great source of food and will dig through to eat half-rotted materials. That's a habit that could earn your pet a trip to the veterinarian, so keep the compost pile off-limits, too.
Finally, be sure to use any pesticides or fertilizers according to label directions, and let lawn chemicals dry before allowing your pet access to the yard. Snail and rodent bait can kill pets, so do not use it in areas where animals have access.
• Poison risks. In addition to garden chemicals, other common products can present a grave risk to pets. Automotive coolant is deadly even in small amounts, so be sure to clean up all fluids completely and store all products carefully. Cleaners, solvents, paints, cleaners and pool supplies also need to be handled and stored properly.
• Escape risks. With many children home from school and coming in and out of the house with friends, pets have more opportunity to slip out unnoticed and be lost.
The best way to deal with this risk is through prevention. Check your yard for loose or missing boards, and install self-closing mechanisms on all gates. Since leaving doors open seems a part of childhood, you may have difficulty getting help from the kids, but it's certainly worth trying to get them to keep doors closed.
A collar and ID tag are always a good preventive measure and will help get your pet home if he's lost.
• Field risks. If your hiking takes you through open fields or wooded areas, be sure to check your dog afterward for foxtails and ticks. The spiky seed carrier of dried grasses, a foxtail will burrow deep into the ears or flesh of an animal, and it will need to be removed by a veterinarian if it gets in a place your pet can't reach or is left to fester.
• As for ticks, use tweezers or a tick-remover – not your hands – to get at these pests, pulling away from the tick head with strong, steady pressure. Dispose of the pest without touching it, and keep an eye on the spot for a few days to make sure no infection develops.
With a little bit of awareness, you and your pet will have nothing but enjoyment this summer.
A careful Fourth
Take the hazards of summer and add fireworks, and you have the Fourth of July, a scary and dangerous holiday for many pets.
If your pet finds fireworks terrifying, talk to your veterinarian now about tranquilizers that will help as the holiday gets closer. Many pet lovers also believe the homeopathic product Rescue Remedy, available in health-food stores, helps to calm a nervous pet.
Be sure your pets are secure when the noise begins – a quiet space indoors is ideal – because scared pets are more likely to escape the house or yard and be hit by cars or lost forever. Prepare for the worst by making sure your pets have collars and tags, and that you know where to go for holiday veterinary care. – G.S.
Lively finches fine kids' pet
Q: My 11-year-old daughter has a friend who has finches. She now wants some, too. Are they good pets for children? Also, how can we teach the pets we already have (two cats and a Westie) to leave the birds alone? – E.C., via e-mail
A: Zebra and society finches are the "easy keepers" of the finch group, hardy little guys who'll bring energy and sound into your home. They're not dreadfully expensive to acquire, set up or maintain. Unlike hookbills – budgies, cockatiels and parrots – who need and desire physical interaction, finches will be happiest if you leave them alone. That's really the only downside of them as a children's pet: They're not the best pet for a child who wants a hands-on pet experience. But since your daughter already has cats and a dog, perhaps she'll be happy just to watch these lively birds.
As for keeping the finches safe from the other pets, the cage they'll spend their lives in will do most of the protecting. You might also consider keeping the door to your daughter's room closed when no one's around so the other pets won't pester them.
If you do get finches, be sure to get them a cage with lots of room. Since cage-bound birds need to fly for exercise, choose a cage that's more horizontal than vertical, to give them room to flit from side to side. A reputable bird shop will be able to set you up with everything you need, including healthy finches.
No cat food for dog
Q: I cannot keep my dog out of the cat's food dish. She much prefers the cat's kibble to her own. I have trouble interesting her in her own dish unless I add canned food or broth. She's a small dog, a poodle mix not much larger than the cat. Is there any harm in feeding them both cat food? – M.U., via e-mail
A: Because cats are true predators, they require high levels of protein in their food, more so than dogs, who are as much scavengers as predators. The protein level is why dogs love cat food – and also why they're so fond of cruising for disgusting litter box "snacks."
Cats are better off eating cat food, and dogs are better off eating dog food. For some dogs, the higher protein levels in cat food can cause health problems.
No matter what your dog thinks, she needs to stick to her own food. For large dogs, a cat-sized hole in an interior door will keep food and the litter box off-limits. Small dogs can be thwarted by a baby gate, which is easy for most cats to clear but impossible for small dogs to get over. My friend Jan tipped a milk crate on its side and secured it into a corner with the open side facing the walls. The cats can jump up, over and in, but the dog can only drool from the other side.
Another option: Try elevated dining for the cats – on a counter, a washing machine or even a sturdy shelf.
As for getting your dog interested in her food again, use the "tough love" method. Allow her 15 minutes to eat her meal in a quiet, secure place and then pick up the dish until the next feeding session. No treats in between. In a day or so, her hunger strike will be over, I assure you.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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Prevention key to heartworm risk
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, which pick up the microscopic heartworm larvae called microfilaria when they draw blood from an infected animal. They share the parasites when they bite another animal. Once in a new host, the larvae make their way to heart, where they grow to be 9 to 14 inches long, blocking the flow of blood and causing severe damage and possibly death.
Most infested pets are brought to the veterinarian after their owners noticed them coughing at night, coughing after exercise, or experiencing a more general loss in condition. By the time the symptoms are noticed, however, a great deal of damage has usually been done, not only to the heart, but also to other organs such as the kidneys, which rely on a steady flow of blood to operate.
Because of the risk and expense of treating a heartworm infestation, preventive care remains an essential part of preventive medicine. Monthly heartworm prevention has been shown to be safe and effective for most pets. Don't ignore this essential protection: Talk to your veterinarian.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
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