By Gina Spadafori
Universal Press Syndicate
Disaster preparedness is so easy to let slide. We get all worked up after something like the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina or even a false alarm like the turn of the century's perceived threat to our computer systems.
We read up, we stock up, we move on. And then, we forget. In a pinch, we take the can opener out of the emergency kit and don't replace it. We rotate the food and water into our kitchen cupboards, but we don't buy anything new to rotate into the supplies in the garage.
It's human nature, of course, to react to immediate threats and to put off preparing for something that might never happen.
If you're one of those people who figured your pets into your disaster planning after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, good for you. Now it's time to review those plans. If you've never done any disaster planning, for you or your pets, this is a good time to start.
Hurricane and tornado season are at hand in many parts of the country. But no matter where you live, there could be a crisis heading your way, and your pets are counting on you.
Start your preparations with something you've probably already taken care of, by making sure your pets have ID.
Most animals will survive a disaster, but many never see their families again because there's no way to determine which pet belongs to which family if the animals go missing, a common occurrence even under normal circumstances. That's why dogs and cats should always wear a collar and identification tags. Add a microchip, too.
Once your pet has up-to-date ID, it's time to collect some equipment to help you cope in case of an emergency. A big storage bin with a lid and handles is an ideal place to keep everything you need together and on hand.
Keep several days' worth of drinking water and pet food as well as any necessary medicines, rotating the stock regularly. For canned goods, don't forget to pack a can opener and a spoon. Lay in a supply of empty plastic bags, along with paper towels, both for cleaning up messes and for sealing them away until they can be safely tossed.
For cats, pack a bag of litter and some disposable litter trays.
Even normally docile pets can behave in uncharacteristic ways when stressed by an emergency, which makes restraints essential for the safety of pets and people alike. For dogs, leashes should always be available.
Shipping crates are probably the least-thought-of pieces of emergency equipment for pets but are among the most important. Sturdy crates keep pets of all kinds safe while increasing their housing options. Crated pets may be allowed in hotel rooms that are normally off-limits to pets, or can be left in a pinch with veterinarians or shelters that are already full, since the animals come with rooms of their own.
The final item of restraint for dogs and cats: a soft muzzle, because frightened or injured pets are more likely to bite. And don't forget to put first-aid supplies in your disaster kit, along with a book on how to treat pet injuries.
You may never have to pull out your disaster kit, but it's always good to be prepared.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (in cooperation with the American Kennel Club, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States) has put together a free emergency preparedness brochure for pet lovers.
The brochure can be downloaded and printed out on your home computer or ordered by phone. Visit www.ready.gov or call 1-800-BE-READY for more information. -- G.S.
Barking dog? Talk to your neighbor
Q: I've had it. I can't even step out of my own back door without the neighbor's dog barking at me. I've screamed at the dog, and it won't shut up. The neighbors leave it out all day when they're at work. I suppose I should be happy the thing doesn't bark all night, but shouldn't I be able to enjoy my own backyard in peace? -- W.F., via e-mail
A: Yes, you should, and you shouldn't have to ask for quiet, either. But since your neighbors appear to be oblivious to the problem, you'll need to work with them on a solution.
I always get barking-dog letters in the late spring, when people want to enjoy their backyards and find they can't because of a neighbor's yapper. In the last few months, I found myself in the same position. My kind neighbors took in a train wreck of a stray dog with all kinds of behavior problems.
I could barely take a breath in my own home without Mango piping up. She barked -- a high-pitched, ultra-annoying staccato -- from the minute they left for work until they came home and took her inside.
So I piped up myself and talked to the neighbors, again and again. They were understanding and cooperative. And finally, a combination of keeping the dog in a different part of the yard, using a citronella-spray no-bark collar and just letting Mango settle in brought down the barking to acceptable levels.
I recognize, though, that not every neighbor is as willing to work on a problem as mine are. I realize, too, that some neighbors are not safe to approach on a matter of potential conflict. For these, it may be prudent to collect some information on how to keep a dog quiet, along with a note explaining that you and the other neighbors are asking for the pet owner's help. And then mail them the package.
The authorities traditionally consider barking dogs a low priority. Although you can escalate your complaints through law enforcement or legal channels, it's always better to try to get the neighbor to fix the problem first.
The Denver Dumb Friends League has an excellent fact sheet covering why dogs bark and how pet owners can choose effective solutions. You can find it in the pet behavior section at www.ddfl.org. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting PetConnection.com.
Hale Pet Doors a hearty choice
Pets come in all shapes and sizes, so it only makes sense that pet doors would, too. Ready-made doors, however, don't usually come in a wide range of sizes, and can have limited features and little or no adaptability.
Hale Pet Doors makes ready-made and custom doors for installation in walls, doors, patio sliders, windows, glass, motor homes and screens. They come in sizes for the tiniest cats all the way up to the tallest giant-breed dogs. The flaps are made of high-quality vinyl that holds up well to heavy use and fastens securely, thwarting bad weather and small pests. The frames are made of extruded aluminum and come in four colors.
Hale Pet Doors are sturdy, infinitely customizable and come in sizes to suit any pet. They are adaptable to any kind of climate and about as attractive as a pet door can be.
Prices start as low as $90, but can go as high as just over $1,000 for the largest sizes and greatest level of customization.
More information on Hale Pet Doors is available at www.halepetdoor.com, or by calling 1-800-646-4773. -- Christie Keith
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Among dogs, a sniff is just a 'hello'
Normal greeting behavior for people may be a handshake or a hug, but among dogs it's a sniff in places that people would consider rude. Owners who don't know acceptable canine behavior often scold their pets for this normal behavior with another dog. Scolding confuses your dog, inhibits his social skills and creates tension with his own species.
If you take your friendly, socialized dog to dog parks, let him greet other dogs in a normal, natural manner -- with sniffing in private places. If you must, just look away. If your dog then starts humping another dog, you do need to interrupt that behavior.
Humping, especially in altered pets, is not a display of affection or a desire to mate. It's about dominance. Police this bullying behavior by not allowing it to continue, while praising normal, friendly canine behavior -- such as sniffing.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
New test detects kidney disease early
If a pet's body had a picture window for internal health, the view would look directly at the kidneys. Did you know that the kidneys filter the entire blood volume every 30 minutes? Toxins in the blood can damage the kidneys during the filtration process, a danger recently revealed when pets consumed contaminated foods and went into renal failure.
Conventional urine tests -- measuring urine-specific gravity, BUN, creatinine -- don't detect damage until about 70 percent of kidney function is lost.
To catch kidney disease in its earliest stages before too much kidney function has been lost, there is a new urine test available to veterinarians called the E.R.D. (Early Renal Damage), from the Heska Corp.
Testing for albumin in the urine, this ultra-sensitive test takes less than five minutes to run. Available for both dogs and cats, the test is not only useful in detecting kidney damage from many common diseases, but also an excellent monitoring tool to gauge severity of disease, treatment success and progression of kidney damage.
Unlike a wound that heals, kidney damage is irreversible. That means the earlier you catch the loss of renal function, the better off your pet will be. With early detection, there are steps you can take to limit further kidney damage, minimize normal wear and tear to the kidneys, or begin treatment.
If the test is normal, you have peace of mind. If it's positive, your veterinarian has a number of treatment and management options available.
For more information, talk with your veterinarian. -- Dr. Marty Becker
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Pets should be for life
With kitten season at hand, it's important to remember that adopting an animal is about more than taking home an adorable fuzzy baby. When you look at the list of why cats end up homeless, you'll realize that most of the reasons could have been avoided if people considered whether they really could handle another pet -- or any pet at all:
1. Too many in house
4. Cost of pet maintenance
5. Landlord issues
6. No homes for littermates
7. House soiling
8. Personal problems
9. Inadequate facilities
10. Doesn't get along with other pets
Source: National Council on Pet Overpopulation Study and Policy
PETS ON THE WEB
Blogs bark loudest during food recall
Itchmo.com, a Web log for Seattle-area dog owners written by Ben Huh, was just cruising along comfortably with a reasonable local following. And then the pet-food recalls started.
Huh, a dog lover and journalist, started devoting all of his free time to covering the story. His Itchmo.com site soon became one of the handful -- including PetConnection.com -- that suddenly became a must-read for pet lovers trying to keep up on the recalls. These sites attracted the attention of national media as well as pet lovers and broke several stories along the way that kept the issue percolating. The Pet Food Tracker (petfoodtracker.blogspot.com) and The Pet Food List (www.thepetfoodlist.com) posted recall notices sometimes days before the FDA did.
"Itchmo" is Huh's term for a dog's "scratch me more" look. The site retains that whimsy and, as the urgency of the pet-food recall eases, Itchmo.com is returning to a lively mix of news and entertainment for dog lovers everywhere. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com
or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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