5 Myths of Pet Behavior

Exotic Pets and Children: Handle With Care
By TERI KARUSH ROGERS - The New York Times

While cats and dogs pose certain health issues for humans, most are well known and well mitigated by veterinarians and doctors — unlike the risks posed by certain other pets.

Salmonella, for example, can be carried by a wide variety of animals, not just the cute little turtles under 4 inches long that are officially banned but available nonetheless. The list includes gerbils, hamsters and other rodents; reptiles; and chicks.

In the October issue of the journal Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended keeping these and other nontraditional pets out of homes with children under age 5. In addition, children and adults alike should avoid kissing animals and take care to wash hands after handling; cage-cleaning duties should be assigned to adults or older responsible children.

To further minimize the risk of acquiring a pet with salmonella, consider using a breeder or a very reputable pet store. “Extreme stress and crowding raise the risk factor for stress-induced bacterial shedding,” said Dr. Nina Marano, a co-author of the Pediatrics article and branch chief of the C.D.C.’s geographic medicine and health promotion branch, division of global migration and quarantine.

Animals brought from other parts of the world can also bring along diseases that pediatricians and veterinarians are unaccustomed to seeing. For example, wild chinchillas in South America have been associated with hemorrhagic fevers. Using a domestic breeder can cut down on these types of risks, Dr. Marano said.

Experts suggested some good choices for children.

“For parents, I recommend guinea pigs as a first pet for children because they don’t really bite, they’re relatively sturdy and they don’t run very fast,” said Stephen Zawistowski, an animal behaviorist who is the executive vice president and science adviser for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “And they’re interactive and don’t need a huge cage.”

He also recommended “fancy” mice (mice selectively bred as pets or show mice) and domesticated rats, which resemble lab rats, not the ones outside ransacking your garbage.

“They are very hardy and intelligent,” he said, “and if you’re looking for something to cuddle, they’ll sit on your shoulder.”

In the reptile family, he suggested chameleons for children around age 10 or older who know how to hold rather than squeeze. “The big ones only grow to about six inches, and they can run up and down your arm.”

Rabbits, too, make good mobile pets for children of parents who don’t mind putting their furniture, baseboards and electrical cords at some peril. (Tip: Male rabbits tend to “spray” outside the litter box, though neutering may limit this behavior.)

Finally, don’t overlook fish: “There’s work to be done,” Mr. Zawistowski said, “but the new equipment available for filtration and everything else is remarkable. And depending on the type of fish you get, you can actually do some training. The Hammacher Schlemmer catalog actually has an agility course for your fish.”

Getting Past a Few Myths on Pet Behavior
by Michelle Posage D.V.M. - Nashua Telegraph

Dominance theory is often referred to as an explanation for the behaviors of dogs and as an approach for training dogs. It assumes the motivation behind pet behavior – and misbehavior – is related to a drive to achieve the highest possible social ranking.

This type of thinking is limited and outdated, according to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.

AVSAB, an organization of veterinarians with a special interest in animal behavior and the human-animal bond, has recently announced a position statement on the "Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals." It advocates the prevention and treatment of pet-behavior problems using techniques based in scientifically studied theories of animal learning rather than those based on the dominance hierarchies of wolves.

The authors explain the difference between "leadership" and "dominance," as well as the difference between wolf social structures and dog-human social structures. The statement also debunks common misconceptions about dominancy theory as it relates to dogs. The following are a few of the myths addressed in the position statement:

• Myth No. 1: My dog climbs on top of my shoulders when I pet him, so he must be dominant.

Your dog has probably learned that he can get your attention by climbing on top of you. Attention is his goal, not dominance.

• Myth No. 2: I need to act like a dominant wolf to make my dog behave.

You are not a wolf, and neither is your dog. The relationship you have with your dog will benefit by you taking a leadership role, which is not the same as behaving like a dominant wolf. Leadership is achieved when the dog owner has effectively taught the dog to obey rules through the use of rewards and removing rewards.

• Myth No. 3: Forcing a dog into a submissive position when he misbehaves is an effective correction technique and will let the dog know you are the boss.

Pinning your dog down will increase stress and may lead to aggressive behavior.

• Myth No. 4: Dominance is the main cause of aggressive behavior in dogs.

Actually, it is anxiety and fear. Confrontational techniques designed to communicate human dominance do not address the dog's fear and can worsen fearful and aggressive behaviors.

• Myth No. 5: You should always be the first through the door, and eat before your dog so you can be the leader of the pack.

This is too simplistic to be true. Teaching your dog to wait politely is a useful training exercise, but leadership involves more than eating first or getting out the door before your dog.

In my own experience as a veterinary behaviorist, it is clear that many behavior problems in dogs stem from a lack of consistent owner guidance, and in the case of aggression, from an underlying anxiety problem. Our dogs are often expected to just be good because we love them as family members. They are not always given the tools to be successful pets, thus they are set up for failure.

Leadership is an essential part of rearing a good pet. Teaching a dog to look to the owner for direction and rewarding good behavior will always help any type of dog behavior problem. On the other hand, confrontational techniques, particularly with aggressive dogs, are filled with risk. I have personally heard too many firsthand stories from pet owners that attempted confrontational techniques such as "dominance downs," hitting/tapping and "alpha rolls" only find themselves in an escalated situation and a problem that has worsened over time. It is also disturbing to see children being bitten by dogs while applying "dominant" behavior modification techniques they learned on television.

My suggestion is to strive to understand your pet's motivations and to approach training and problem solving with a good understanding of how animals learn. You can find more information regarding dominance theory at www.avsab online.org or by asking your veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist for their favorite references.

"Your Pet" is published on the second and fourth Fridays of each month. Michelle Posage, DVM, is a veterinarian who deals exclusively in pet behavior diagnosis and treatment, and accepts referrals from other veterinary hospitals throughout New England. Posage is associated with the Animal Medical Center of New England in Nashua. The Animal Medical Center also provides emergency and specialty care. Call 880-3034 or visit www.amcne.com for more information or to make an appointment.

Hints From Heloise
Washington Post

Caught in the Collar

Dear Heloise: We had an incident today. My beloved little Alley Cat was grooming herself. Somehow, she managed to grab her COLLAR, and it ended up around her ears and in her mouth. Thank goodness we were home at the time. She was choking.

Please let all pet owners know to check the collars on their pets. Who would have thought that a collar could pose a choking hazard? I adjusted it to a tighter fit, and hopefully she won't be in danger again. -- Deb H., Farmington, N.M.

Meow, and so glad your kitty is OK. We have received and printed many letters about the potential dangers (and benefits) of collars. It is very important to make sure collars are not too tight or too loose. You can check with your pet store or on the Internet for breakaway or elastic collars. Some readers suggest leaving the collar off while at home, but others disagree, because if the pet gets out, it doesn't have a collar on! So, the decision is yours. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: Many times, birds would fly into my windows because of the reflection of the trees and would injure or kill themselves. I would put "sun catchers" on the outside of the windows, and that would help some. However, my neighbor came up with an idea that took care of the problem.

During the Christmas season, she purchased a package of shimmering white tinsel, and with a few tacks, she hung a small clump of strands across the top of the outside window frames. This has totally eliminated the problem. A small price to pay to save the birds. -- A California Reader, via e-mail


Dear Readers: Elaine Persico of Amsterdam, N.Y., sent a photo of her fluffy, white-and-brown cat, Cinnamon, with a pretty blue scarf around his neck. Elaine says: "Cinnamon had dental work done and was drooling quite badly. I tied this scarf around his neck to catch his drooling." To see Cinnamon, visit www.Heloise.com. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: I have three small dogs, and they love their treats! But the cost was quite significant. A friend said I should check the stores that sell stuff for a dollar. I was able to buy almost the same type of treats for only $1 as compared with $4 or $5. I am saving money, and the dogs are still happy! -- Joy Grabowski, New Braunfels, Texas

Just be sure to check the expiration date, and you are good to go! -- Heloise


Dear Readers: Cats love to play with window-blind cords! To prevent accidents, tie cords out of reach and sight, plus cut any loops or untie loose knots that might tighten if pulled. Take a minute to check all of your blind cords so you can help keep agile and curious pets (and small children) safe from harm. -- Heloise

(c)2008 by King Features Syndicate Inc.

UPDATE: '1 in a Million' Pet Fights for Life
By Michael Woyton • Poughkeepsie Journal

PLEASANT VALLEY - Area residents have opened their hearts and pocketbooks to help a Pleasant Valley family save a beloved pet.

Over $690 has been contributed as of Friday afternoon to offset the cost of medical treatment for Sweetie, a terrier mix diagnosed with leukemia.

Her owner, Ron Lipton of Pleasant Valley, said the dog needs medicine and blood tests costing $200 every 21 days to combat the disease.

That is an expense Lipton, who has fallen on difficult financial times, cannot afford.

Sweetie is a rambunctious, 46-pound terrier mix, who greets visitors with whimpers and cries, wanting only to smother them with affection.

"She is one in a million," Lipton said Wednesday. "She is a very, very special animal."

By looking at her, you'd never know 12-year-old Sweetie could be dead in a month - from lymphoblastic leukemia.

Lipton would do anything he could to prevent that from happening.

With the proper treatment - a chemotherapy drug taken every 21 days, along with blood tests - she could live another two years.

The problem is, the treatment and the blood tests combined cost about $200.

That is an expense Lipton, who has fallen on difficult financial times, cannot afford. He's asking people to open their hearts and help him keep a beloved member of his family from dying.

"I want to give her a fighting chance," Lipton said.

"She's not just a dog," he said. "She's God's blessed creation."

On Nov. 10, Lipton found Sweetie in a living room easy chair, not moving, uninterested in food.

A trip to Pleasant Valley Animal Hospital brought a diagnosis of Lyme disease, and Sweetie was given a shot of penicillin and an oral medication.

She seemed to get better, but 15 days later she was lethargic again.

Lipton took her back to the hospital where a second blood test found an elevated white cell count. Specialized tests confirmed the diagnosis of leukemia.

CeeNU, which is a brand name for the drug lomustine, was prescribed, along with prednisone and Pepcid AC.

Lipton, a retired policeman, teaches two boxing classes at Marist College, but is otherwise unemployed.

His son, Brett, who lives with him, is a part-time employee with the county Office for the Aging and is looking for other work.

Both men are state-licensed armed guards, but neither has been able to find work.

"No one is hiring," Lipton said.

Money is scarce, and the family, which includes Lipton's fiancee Gabrielle, is having a difficult time paying the rent and mounting medical bills for themselves.

"We took our last food money and paid the vet bill," Lipton said, but that wouldn't cover the treatment and subsequent tests.

Lipton contacted Partnership for Animals Needing Transition (PANT), a Salt Point-based volunteer organization that fosters rescued cats and dogs.

"Ron reached out to anyone who might be able to help," PANT Vice President Connie Price said.

The group put a plea for donations to cover the medicine and blood work on its Web site and was able to contribute $200 toward the first treatment.

Price said not a week goes by where she hears of people who can't afford their pets.

"It's very sad," she said.

An option for Lipton would have been surrendering Sweetie to PANT because he couldn't provide medical treatment.

"But taking his pet?" Price said. "That was never a possibility for Ron."

Mary Lictro, the hospital's practice manager, said Sweetie's spirits are good, even being as ill as she is.

Lipton, she said, loves his dog dearly.

"It's tearing his family apart that they can't do what they want to do for her," Lictro said.

Lipton tells stories about walking Sweetie in parks around the area. He has a video of deer coming up to her, unafraid. Rabbits and squirrels approach her in the yard.

"God came down and created an animal that every other animal loves," Lipton said.

"I know everybody loves their dog and thinks their dog is special," he said.

"I've never seen any dog like this," Lipton said. "I would fight death itself to save her. If we don't do this, she only has a month."

Support Group Allows Pet Owners to Grieve for Death of Companions
By Mary Pickels - TRIBUNE-REVIEW

For 11 years, Ron Sadowski and Miss Lucky were constant companions.

He adopted the Labrador/collie/shepherd mix from Animal Protectors of Allegheny Valley, where he has been a longtime volunteer.

"We just took a liking to each other," said Sadowski, a resident of Tarentum. "I said, 'You know what, you are coming home with me.'"

"She was a sweet dog," said Sadowski, 64.

"This dog, she was just like one of a kind that comes along," he said. "Other people who don't have animals don't understand how this dog would wait for me to come home from work. She went in the car with me. She went everywhere with me."

So last July, when Miss Lucky became ill, he faced a hard choice. His veterinarian told him surgery would be difficult on an older dog. Unable to see her in pain, Sadowski opted to put her to sleep.

"Really, it took its toll on me for a while," he said. "I had animals before, and you can adapt to the loss. This one just hit me really bad."

Sadowski called around to see if there were any grief support groups available for pet loss. That's how he heard about the pet loss support group veterinarian Dr. Henry Croft Jr. helped to form last year through a collaboration with Seton Hill University's Center for Family Therapy.

The group, free and open to the public, meets monthly, and typically attracts about half a dozen owners grieving the loss of a pet.

"I went for three months," Sadowski said, "when I really needed some help.

"I just couldn't wait to get down there and talk to other people who understood," he said. "It was wonderful to tell my story and listen to other people whose hearts were hurting and aching just like mine."

Croft posts information about the support group on his Loyalhanna Veterinary Clinic's Web site, and staff members at the Stahlstown practice give fliers to clients they think might be interested.

"I have clients who, after five or 10 years, still can't come to grips with the loss of a pet," Croft said.

The holiday season, with its focus on joyful reunions and gatherings of family and friends, can be particularly difficult for people facing the recent, or impending, loss of a pet, he said.

Croft said a few of his clients have attended the support group. Some have made it as far as the door and turned around, embarrassed at their level of grief, or fearful that no one else will attend the meeting.

"Sometimes people think, 'Gee, I didn't know anybody else would be this devastated,'" Croft said.

"There is still a little stigma," Croft said. "People aren't allowed to grieve for pets."

Research from the American Veterinary Medical Association shows that the grieving process after the loss of a pet can closely resemble that experienced by people who have lost a family member or close friend.

The support group was established with a $5,000 start-up grant from the Richard King Mellon Family Foundation.

That funding will enable the group to continue through next semester, said DeMarquis Clarke, center director of clinical training for the Marriage and Family Therapy Program.

"We re-evaluate every semester to see if a program has been beneficial and if we feel the service still needs to be out there," Clarke said. "As of now, we plan to continue."

Lisa Johnson, a graduate student pursuing a master's degree in marriage and family therapy, is the program facilitator.

"Pets are one area in our lives where we can receive unconditional love," Johnson said. "People who come in are typically grieving for one individual in their life who happened to be an animal."

"Pets are a part of our family," Johnson said. "We need to respect the relationship our loved ones have with their pets and allow them to do the grieving they need to do."

Sometimes, she said, it can help to refocus a person's energy. They may be interested in becoming an advocate for animal rights or enjoy working with an animal rescue league.

Others find ways to memorialize their lost pets, she said, including with Web sites such as Critters.com.

Sadowski hopes to attend future meetings to let members know they will recover from their loss.

He has a new companion, a dog named Susie.

"She can never take the place of my other dog," he said. "But she's a sweet girl, too."

For more information about the support group, call 724-552-0339.

Pictures That Make You Smile
Thanks to RedKat

Give Pets A Happy New Year
Scott Miller - The Sunday Mail

Here are a few New Year resolutions to get your pet in tip-top shape for 2009.

Start a weight loss programme. Half of all dogs and cats in the UK are obese - more than 30 per cent above their ideal weight. If you think your pet is more than just "cuddly", ask your vet or vet nurse for advice on diets and exercise regimes.

Play with your pets. Actively playing with your pet is not as silly as it sounds. Enjoying two 15-minute sessions daily with your cat or dog is a great way to get its heart rate up and stress levels down.

Pet-proof your home. Put screens on high windows to avoid falls, fix holes in flooring and loose wires in electrical equipment, and walk around your garden to find potential dangers. Never leave candles burning, oven rings on, or sharp tools on surfaces that a cat may leap on to. Avoid lilies or other toxic plants in your home.

Pamper your pets.

Grooming your dog or cat regularly helps give it a sleek, shiny coat - and allows you quality time together. Visit a professional groomer for advice on ways to carry out this task in a way both you and your animal will enjoy.

Do a weekly health check.

Performing a nose-to-tail check on your pet once a week is a good way to pick up signs of injury or illness. Assess its weight, skin, teeth, eyes, ears and general condition.

Be open to your pets' feelings. Some dogs or cats will hide when feeling low. A nervous or reticent cat might need a visit to the vet for a check-up. Dogs are more attention-seeking, demanding you check an injured paw or sore eye immediately.

ID me. Ensure your pet is microchipped and check the chip regularly with a scanner.

Identification tags and collars are also an excellent idea.

Visit your vet annually.

Many owners decide not to put older pets through the stresses of yearly jabs...this is folly. Older animals, with failing immune systems, need to be vaccinated against serious illnesses.

An annual check by a vet could catch signs of chronic disease early, allowing for treatments or diet changes to be implemented and so prolong your pet's life.

Don't Skimp on Pet's Preventive Care
By Dr. Tracy Acosta - McClatchy-Tribune

Everyone during these challenging economic times is looking for ways to cut back on expenses. One area you don't want to cut back on is the basic preventive care for your pets. So, how do you define basic preventive care? First, keep in mind that prevention is worth a pound of cure and that prevention is always less expensive than treatment.

Depending on how dire your economic situation is, will help to determine where you should trim the budget. The best place to look for help with those questions is your pet's personal veterinarian. Your veterinarian knows your particular pet and its health status best, and can definitely help make critical decisions with you. Be honest with your veterinarian about your situation; while at the same time explain that you don't want your pet's health to fall to the wayside either.

The bottom line for most pets' basic requirements include good nutrition, parasite prevention and necessary vaccinations.

As you can see, a fancy bed or collar is not on that list. Not that those items aren't nice, but they can be added later once the basic health care needs have been met.

In regard to good nutrition, this is one area you can truly make a difference in the quality and length of your pet's life. You get what you pay for. I do not encourage any pet owner to ever skimp when it comes to feeding their pet a good quality food. At the same time, I don't believe you have to pay a fortune for quality food. Now,
with so many different foods and choices, any pet owner can be easily overwhelmed and find it difficult to make a good choice. Remember, quality commercially produced pet foods are available. Ask your pet's veterinarian to give you a couple of brands they think would be a good choice for your particular pet's needs. Remember, with the better quality foods, you actually will have to feed your pet less, because it has less fillers, which in the end means less fecal output.

As far as parasite control goes, no owner can fail to do their part to provide their pet proper external and internal parasite prevention. The paramount reason is many parasites can pose a health risk to the humans who live with them. The Centers for Disease Control encourages veterinarians to be vigilant against any disease or parasite that can have a zoonotic potential, which means can be passed from animal to human. Most pet owners are aware of the dangers of ticks on their pets as a source of a zoonotic threat, but most, unfortunately, are unaware of the serious dangers their pets' intestinal parasites can pose, especially to young children.

Where you and your pet live in the United States, will determine what types of parasite prevention will be necessary. Some of the top parasites of concern: fleas, ticks, heartworms, roundworms and hookworms. Consult your local veterinarian on this area of preventive care for your pet. Not only will your pet be healthier, but you will also assure the health of your entire human family.

Vaccinations for your pet are another critical aspect of a healthy pet and a healthy human family. We have come too far in absolute preventive care with the use of proper vaccinations in both human and veterinary medicine to let this aspect of care be ignored.

Where you live and the lifestyle of your pet, help determine the best vaccination protocol to keep your pet healthy. There is no "blanket" approach to vaccination protocols, so discuss with your pet's veterinarian what your particular pet needs.

Every pet has its own special needs and should always at least have an annual physical exam by a veterinarian. Veterinarians believe prevention is imperative when it comes to every pet's health. I encourage all pet owners to provide the best they can for their pet's health since it not only promotes a healthy and happy pet, but also promotes a safe environment for its human companions.

Wishing everyone a healthy and happy holiday season and Happy New Year!

Your Dressed-Up Pet Photos - Part III
The Boston Globe

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