Dogs, Cats and Ferrets

Breaking the Bank:
Are Your Pets Worth It?
By Elisabeth Brock -

NEW YORK -- As the future of the United States' health care system is a contentious debate which will eventually affect all Americans, pet owners have another health care dilemma they must deal with -- pet insurance.

With veterinary care now including preventative medicine, lengthy treatment plans and lifesaving procedures, the quality of life for our animals is increasing. But as veterinary medicine is rapidly advancing -- technologies and treatments once reserved for human patients, now used on pets -- the typical vet bill is equally advancing, in the number of decimal places billed.

To lessen the costs that pet parents have to pay for their animal companion's care, pet health insurance has evolved. With average monthly fees around $30 per animal, pets are covered, by most carriers, if they become ill or injured in an accident. Some will even cover the event of a pet death, and a pet becoming lost or stolen.

With owners wanting to keep pets healthy and alive for as long as possible and the result being costly vet procedures, the market for pet insurance has increased over the past couple of years -- but is it really worth it?

For some pet owners -- those who would spend any amount of money to save their pet's life -- even if that means going into debt, yes. For others, maybe not, when considering the struggle to pay their own medical bills and health insurance premiums, making the world of pet insurance deductibles, co-pays and pay caps out of their reach.

ZT Pet News wants to know how you manage your pet's vet care: Take the polls above to give us your opinion.

Elisabeth Brock is the editorial assistant for Zootoo Pet News and can be reached at

Hints From Heloise
Washington Post

The Facts About Ferrets

Dear Heloise: You mentioned in a past column that you once owned ferrets. I am thinking of getting one (or two) for my children. Can you tell me any FERRET FACTS that I should know before I go to the pet store? -- Maria, via e-mail

Ferrets are so sweet! My first advice is to do your research. Ferrets can live eight to 10 years with good health, but they get into LOTS of mischief, so they must be cared for diligently. They are very social critters, so many experts suggest getting them in pairs. They will chatter to each other and their human family. Note: Males are TWICE as large as females, which weigh about 2 pounds.

Ferrets are weasels; owning one is NOT like owning a cat. They eat kitten food or dry ferret food. Feed them fruit and sweet vegetables as treats. NEVER feed ferrets breads, nuts, grains or dairy products. A good ferret breeder will spay or neuter and de-scent the babies before selling them to you. (Even after de-scenting, most ferrets still have a distinct odor.)

You will need to "ferret-proof" your house, as they are VERY hyperactive -- especially just before sunrise and sunset; but they do sleep 18-20 hours a day. They chew, like other small animals, so guard power cords!

Kids and ferrets can be excellent companions, but any animal can be nippy, so proper socialization is important. Here are some tips to remember when you bring a ferret home.


--Need their nails clipped regularly. (Ferrets have a "quick" that bleeds if you cut too short.)

--Need annual vaccines and veterinary care.

--Should be spayed or neutered before reaching sexual maturity; otherwise, males can turn feral, and females can die due to anemia.

--Are easily litter-box trained.

--Don't make loud noises.

--Do not need a large cage, but should be allowed out every day for exercise and mental stimulation.

We enjoyed our little rascals, Fanny Farkle Ferret and Fred the Albino. They were just delightful little bundles of energy and fun, but they did take care to keep them healthy. -- Heloise


Dear Readers: Virginia Ottaviano of Neptune City, N.J., sent a photo of her beagle, Freckles, lying on the chaise longue outside in cooler weather. Virginia says, "He takes his blanket and pillow wherever he sleeps, and he loves to be covered."

To see Freckles, visit -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: Here is a timesaving hint for you and your readers. I have five cats, so I go through a lot of cat food and have lots of empty cat-food cans. I rinse them out before putting them in the kitchen trash can so the bag won't smell. We have pickup only once a week! -- Polly M. from Monroe, La.

Polly, we have Maow-Maow, our office cat, and we rinse out his food cans and put them out to be recycled. -- Heloise

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Tips for Including Your Dog
in Your Wedding

Perhaps some people will never understand, but some couples who are also dog-lovers can't imagine getting married without including their dog in their wedding. Some even make sure their pet has a prominent place in their wedding photo albums!

If you are thinking of having your canine present on your big day, first make sure that the ceremony site is happy to allow animals inside. Some venues may charge an extra fee or require a security deposit.

Next, come up with a role for your dog to play. This may depend on whether you have a calm, obedient animal or a more rambunctious pet. If your canine is not comfortable around crowds, you may want to stick to taking some photos with him before or after the big event - this will ensure he is included in your wedding albums, but there will be less risk of complications on your big day.

Some people choose to have their dog play the role of ring bearer. If you want to do this, you can dress him in a doggy tuxedo (or dress her in a doggy wedding dress), which are available from pet stores or online. Make sure you rehearse with your pet and get him used to wearing a new outfit and carrying a ring pillow.

Many couples who have had the most success with including their dog in a ceremony have hired a professional or asked a member of the family to be in charge of the hound all day. That means you have less to worry about and can rest assured your four-legged friend is in good hands.

Even if there is a slight snag in your plans, like if your dog doesn't perform exactly as planned - don't worry. When you look back on the wedding photo albums, chances are you will only have good memories

Is My Pet Sick?
Tips To Diagnose Pet Ailments

It's not so easy to get your pooch to open up and say "AHHHH!" So how can you tell if your dog is sick?

From a common ailment like an allergy to a serious sickness like melanoma, your pet can be affected by the same conditions you are. But how would you know, considering they can't tell you how they're feeling?

There are some simple ways your furry friends will show you that something is wrong.

From cataracts to arthritis, when something doesn't feel right, you communicate it someone who can help. But believe it or not, so can your pet. You just have to know what signs to look for.

"Let's say you come home and your dog normally greets you at the door. One day he doesn't come greet you. That's one of the number one signs," said Dr. Deirdre Chiaramonti of The Animal Medical Center in New York. "There are so many ailments that we can get and our pets can get as well. It's just important that we diagnose them."

Those ailments include diabetes, gum disease, bladder infections, even facial acne.

"A lot of times the dogs will lay on the carpets and mush their chin around," said Dr. Chiaramonti.

"I actually can empathize with my patients," said Dr. Mark Macina, an animal allergist, and an allergy sufferer. One of the biggest problems pets and humans share is allergies.

"It just is the time of year when the allergy burden tends to be quite high," said Dr. Macina.

John Patten suffers from hay fever, and so does his 9-year-old lab, Magic. But unlike his owner, Magic doesn't sneeze.

"What happens in these patients is they develop inflammation in the skin and ears," said Dr. Macina.

That can be very itchy and cause the dog's skin pigment to change, even the dog's hair to fall out.

"Any time you see abnormal behaviors, subtle changes in behavior, you should talk to your veterinarian because they can help you piece together what's important, what isn't important," said Dr. Chiaramonti.

Unlike dogs, cats will get a runny nose and watery eyes from allergies. Both cats and dogs can catch the flu, although not the same strain as humans.

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Pet Expert: How to Calm
a Skittish Pointer

Question: In May, we adopted a 2-year-old German shorthaired pointer. He is gentle and sweet, but very skittish, especially around men. He stays in one spot all day, does not come when called and does not wag his tail when he sees you. The vet said he seemed healthy. What can be done to bring this dog out of his shell?

Answer: If you were Michael Vick, all this would be perfectly understandable. But you aren't, and it isn't.

If your pointer could talk, it would make a lot of money off that rare talent, only to spend it all on counseling. You've taken the important first step, ruling out a medical condition, so the tough part can begin.
The key: desensitization. Expose your dog to a small amount of what scares him (perhaps a man, or a life-size cutout of Vick, placed far away). Reward calm behavior with a treat and bring the object closer. If he starts freaking out, start again. This can take days, weeks or months, says Marilyn Gooding-Stueland, a behaviorist with the Arizona Humane Society.

If you still retain part of your sanity, you can add counterconditioning. While exposing him to his fear, have him perform a simple command such as "sit." Such a distraction may be calming, as when parents grab a beer before their teens get home from school. Patience, and a lot of it, is the key.

If that does not seem to help, or you are running out of patience, we must revert to the usual "Dear Abby" cop-out: Seek a professional. Start at the Association of Pet Dog Trainers Web site,

Gary Bogue: Dogs: Please Don't Let Them
Urinate on Your Neighbor's Lawn
By Gary Bogue - Contra Costa Times

What does a dog do on his day off? He can't lie around — that's his job.

— George Carlin

Dear Gary:

With all the watering, fertilizing and aerating, I spend a fortune on my front lawn making sure it looks beautiful for my family and the whole neighborhood to enjoy.

Because so many people callously let their dogs urinate on my lawn while walking by my home, I spend significantly more time and money patching the burn spots. The other day, I caught a lady allowing her (female) dog to urinate right in the very spots I had just patched three days earlier. Upon confronting the woman and politely explaining that dog urine causes lawn damage, she rudely ignored me and walked away — as if I was being petty and unreasonable.

I'm an animal lover, have a large dog of my own and would never fathom letting her urinate on somebody's lawn, let alone a neighbor.

Could you please educate people regarding this petty, but important to me, subject? Thanks.

Scott Tramell,

San Ramon

Dear Scott:

Reminds me of a time many years ago when I had a neighbor who allowed his dog to poop on my lawn — every morning — when he took his dog for a walk.

He also wouldn't discuss it, so I'd wait until he and his dog had passed, then I'd go out and relocate the pile of poop to my neighbor's front lawn so he'd find it when they got back from their walk. It only took a week for the problem to resolve
itself. Unfortunately, you can't do that with dog urine.

Dog urine is high in nitrogen and when it's concentrated in one spot on your lawn, it acts like too much fertilizer and burns the grass, turning it brown.

Maybe your neighbor will read this and stop letting her dog use your lawn as a bathroom.

In the meantime, if you spray the urine spot with a hose as soon as possible, it will dilute the urine and keep it from burning your grass.

People usually take their dog walks at the same time every day. If you have a sprinkler system with a timer, you could set it to go off after the lady and her dog have passed to dilute the urine "... or right when they are passing "...

Smudge is missing

Smudge, a 12-pound, neutered male, long-haired gray (Russian blue color) cat with a white chest spot and green eyes has been missing since Aug. 17 from the Summerset II neighborhood on Katy Way in Brentwood. He has a microchip. If you've seen him, please call Melissa at 925-240-7965.

Dear Gary:

Every morning when I walk my Labradoodle, we pass a couple of blackberry patches and she veers over to pick and eat a few.

She knows the ripe ones from the others, and seems to really enjoy them. None of my other dogs have shown a knowledge of or taste for blackberries, so I am wondering if this is common?

Rosemary, Richmond

Dear Rosemary:

An interest in fruits and vegetables by pets is common, but it can vary from animal to animal.

Dogs and cats have a sweet tooth, so fruits are popular, but I used to have a cat when I was a kid that loved green beans. My brother, who hated green beans, started feeding them to the cat under the table at dinner.

It worked great for a couple of days until my mom cleaned out the cat box.

Dear Gary:

Why does my cat like to get in the bathtub and lap up whatever drops of water are left after a shower, either from the porcelain or the bath mat?

Diane, cyberspace

Dear Diane:

Because they're there.

Cats like to drink any water that's not in their bowl. It's a cat thing.

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Cathy M. Rosenthal:
Pets Get Back-to-School Blues
Cathy Rosenthal -

When college kids pack up and leave or younger kids head back to school, many dogs and cats catch the back-to-school blues — a feeling of sadness and anxiety that pets may suffer from when families resume regular routines outside the home this time of the year.

During the summer, pets thrive because they are likely to be surrounded with lots of activity. But when kids head back to school, the family pet may now be left alone for as many as 10 hours a day. The sudden disruption in their schedule and ensuing loneliness may manifest in various ways. Your dog may act depressed or destructive. Your cat may sleep more or vocalize more or less than usual. Other signs include lethargy, digestive problems and elimination issues, like spraying outside the litter box or leaving little puddles in the home.

What can you do to help? Maintain a normal schedule for your pet as much as possible. Walk and feed them at the same time and play with them or take them for walks every day. Consider enrolling dogs in obedience classes, and check out local doggie day cares. Even if you are only dropping your dog off once a week for some play time, it will help him or her expend some excess energy and adjust better to the sudden inactivity in the home, which brings me to a letter from a reader who has this problem all year-round.

Dear Cathy: When I get home from work, all I want to do is sit back and relax. But my dog, Ginger, only wants to play. She barks at me and won't let me rest until I take her outside to play ball. Any suggestions on how I can keep her more active during the day so we can enjoy some quiet time when I first get home?

— Roger

Dear Roger: Ginger sleeps all day so until you introduce some activity during the day, she will continue to expect some "me" time when you first get home. If you have more money than time, here are a couple things you can do.

Hire a pet sitter, dog walker or neighbor to play with Ginger each day.

Consider, as I mentioned above, taking her to a doggie day care a few days a week. She will be so pooped, she will be begging you to leave her alone.

Buy toys that she has to mess with all day in order to get the treat out.

Or get another dog so the two can play together.

If you have more time than money, then you will need to play with Ginger every day when you first get home. That's the only way a dog left alone with nothing to do can be satisfied.

More resources

The San Antonio Area Foundation added new spay/neuter and adoption resources on its Web page. Visit the community resources page at

Send your pet stories and questions to Cathy M. Rosenthal, c/o Features Department, San Antonio Express-News, P.O. Box 2171, San Antonio, TX 78297-2171, or Cathy's advice column runs every Sunday.

My Kitten Has a Sore Mouth,
and I’m Really Worried. Help!

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

This seems pretty urgent to me! I got a wee kitten about 4 months ago. He’s about 6 and a half months old now, but I noticed yesterday his gums were bleeding right at the line of where his teeth come out. I thought perhaps he’d bitten a stick and it had just left a little cut, but now he’s barely eating anything and it’s clear it’s painful for him when he does. He tries to wipe his mouth and meows in a strange way that sounds as if he is very sore. When I look in his mouth (which he doesn’t let me do for long) it seems like his bottom teeth are jutting into his top gum, as if maybe they’re chipped or something. It’s very worrying because normally he is so greedy with food, but now he won’t eat anything.

I also took the time to blend his food up thinking he could just lick it, but he won’t even touch that. My parents are away for a short break and obviously I don’t have the money to take him just to be checked up (since its out of hours) if it’s something silly that would waste the vet’s time. Does it sound like he needs to go? I’m not even really sure what his mouth should look like to know if something is wrong–but there is still bleeding and he has barely eaten in two days.

Please help, I’m very very worried.


Siouxsie: Cats do go through a normal teething process between four and six months of age. Their baby teeth fall out and their adult teeth start coming in. Teething can cause pain and discomfort, which can lead to not eating. But this sounds like it’s more serious than ordinary teething issues.
Thomas: If a cat’s baby tooth doesn’t come out when an adult tooth comes out, this can cause problems like broken teeth and pain, which may keep a cat from eating.

Dahlia: Teething kittens do tend to chew anything they can get their mouths on in order to relieve the discomfort caused by erupting teeth. If your kitten chewed a twig or a piece of wood, he may have a splinter in his gum or somewhere else in his mouth or throat. This foreign body may be causing an infection that’s making him even more uncomfortable.

Siouxsie: If there’s any chance your kitten may have had an accident, he may have injured his mouth in the process. Cats can break their jaws if they get hit by a car or if they fall a long distance and hit their chin on the ground as a result.

Thomas: Pawing at the mouth and not being able to eat are clear symptoms that something is wrong and that your cat needs veterinary attention right away.

Dahlia: A kitten that young can’t afford not to eat. Kittens need all the nutrition they can get in order to keep growing and stay healthy.

Siouxsie: Trust me, you’re not going to waste the vet’s time by taking your kitten in for a checkup.

Thomas: It must be pretty frightening that this is happening while your parents are away. If you have a way of contacting them, please call them and let them know your cat is sick and he needs to go to the vet. If you can get him there, that’s good, but they may need to provide credit card information so that they can pay for his treatment.

Dahlia: If you have another relative that lives nearby and who can help you out, that’s another option.

Siouxsie: Call your vet clinic today and tell them what’s going on. They’ll ask you about his symptoms and how long he’s been having those symptoms. They’ll probably tell you to bring him in right away.

Thomas: The chances are good that although this is serious, it’s a problem that will be easily fixed. If he’s got a splinter or other foreign body in his mouth, they’ll remove it (they’ll probably have to sedate him to do that) and give you antibiotics to help get rid of any infection that’s present.

Dahlia: Likewise, if it’s a teething problem, they’ll be able to fix that, probably with pretty much the same treatment.

Siouxsie: If your kitty has hurt or broken his jaw, it may take him a bit longer to heal, but he will be OK in the long run.

Thomas: Kittens are very resilient, and they can heal from almost anything as long as they get proper treatment.

Dahlia: Good luck, Cathy. Please let us know how things turn out.

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