Last year, 800,000 Americans sought medical attention for dog bites. Over half of these were children. In honor of National Bite Prevention Week, I decided to put out some tips and reminders to help prevent dog bites.
Most dogs bite because they feel threatened, trapped, or afraid, or may be sick or injured. This means that many of the bites are preventable. To avoid bites in your own home, start at the beginning. When selecting a dog to adopt or buy, make sure it is a good match. Research the typical temperament and energy level of the breed, and utilize a behavior test (most humane societies/rescues do this for free) with the people and animals in your family. This helps to ensure that all parties will get along before it is a permanent arrangement. Socialize your dog to positive experiences, but do it gradually. The first ride in the car, the first vet trip, and the first dog park should not all happen on the same day. Go during less busy times, and pair with treats and praise. Manage your pet’s environment as well. At the end of a long day, is there a place they can go that is quiet and secluded from other people and animals? Many pet owners have a crate or bed in a specific area, and the animal is not to be disturbed there. Making sure your dog is healthy is important as well. A sick or injured animal is more likely to attack, especially after contracting rabies. Keep your pet up to date on vaccinations and track their health. Lastly, but the most important, is to teach both your dog and your children (or adults!) proper behavior. Your dog should know basic commands and be able to respond to you, so that in a compromising situation, you can better manage them. You also do not want your dog to think it is okay to play aggressively or wrestle. Use toys (not body parts) to play tug of war or fetch, and do not tease or hit them. When teaching a child how to behave around a dog, first ensure that they are never unsupervised. Hugs and kisses are not appreciated by animals, as they often feel trapped and may bite (although some animals may tolerate this, it is not a good behavior to allow your child to do). In the beginning, let the dog approach the child, and teach your child to let them be sniffed. Model gentle petting for the child, in non-offensive areas like the back, rather than the face, feet or tail. Show them when the dog is not to be disturbed, such as when they are in their quiet area, eating, sleeping, or under situations of stress or injury. These practices can help keep your family and animal safe in their own home.
But what about meeting a strange dog? We see them on every sidewalk, whether leashed or stray. Again, make sure your kids (and adults) know the appropriate behavior. PreventTheBite.com recommends the W-A-I-T method for approaching dogs with an owner. WAIT to approach the dog, ASK permission to approach or pet the animal, INVITE the dog to come to you, then TOUCH the dog gently on its back (more information can be seen below on their educational poster from last year). Never try to pet a dog inside an enclosed area (fence, crate, etc) or that is tied up, as they will feel even more confined. You (and your children) should also be able to recognize when a dog may be about to attack and what to do. A stray dog should always be assumed to be a threat, rather than friendly and approachable. The body language of a dog about to bite may include a tense body, stiff tail, pulled back head and/or ears, intense stare, closed mouth or bared teeth, and they may be backing away. They could also appear fearful, with their tail between their legs and their head lowered. If you think a dog may perceive you as a threat or is about to attack, DO NOT RUN AWAY. This can trigger the dog’s natural instinct to chase, and may make the situation worse. Resist the urge to move, yell, or scream, which can scare the animal. Stand motionless like a tree, with your arms at your sides. Do not make eye contact. Hopefully the dog will see you are not threatening, and will lose interest after several minutes. If you are attacked, “feed” the dog your jacket, purse, or any other object you can, to delay a bite on you. Slowly back away with no sudden movements, ensuring that you do not make eye contact or turn your back on the animal. If you fall or are knocked to the ground, do not try to crawl away. Curl in a ball with your hands protecting your neck and ears, and lay motionless. Again, dogs are more likely to attack when feeling threatened or afraid, so chasing or yelling at them will only worsen the problem.
By teaching appropriate behaviors in our own homes, and educating ourselves and others on what to do when encountering a strange dog, we can lower the number of dog bites. When a dog does attack, it is usually out of fear, and often the animal has to be euthanized as a result. By taking a proactive stance on preventing bites, we can keep more humans and canines safe and happy.
For more information on preventing dog bites, the WAIT method, educational materials and more, visit www.preventthebite.com.
Sources: American Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Dog Training, American Humane Association, PreventTheBite.com
Our cats may seem tough, but they are often prone to simple diseases that can cause entire organs in their body to shut down. The most common cause of liver failure in cats is hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease. While this can occur in humans and other animals, it is especially prevalent and dangerous to felines. Hepatic lipidosis occurs when the liver is unable to break down fats properly, and the excess fat builds up in the liver’s cells. The liver is then unable to function properly, and the fat accumulation can lead to damage and scar tissue within the liver and elsewhere. Most fatty liver disease in cats is idiopathic, meaning that the cause is unknown, but often it occurs after a period of little or no eating in a cat. This anorexia may be caused by other illness, such as pancreatitis or cancer, or may be due to stress in the home or diet changes. When in “starvation mode”, an animal’s body will take fat from storage areas in the body, and send it to the liver to be broken down for energy use. Feline livers seem to be more sensitive to this, and often cannot break down all the fat being sent there during this anorexic state. The liver then builds up with fat and cannot function. As the cat begins to feel ill, they continue to not eat, which only worsens the problem. The cycle is fast and dangerous, and without prompt medical attention, can cause death.
So how do you know if your cat might have fatty liver disease? It can strike any feline for causes unknown, but having other health problems will make them predisposed to suffering from the disease. These include but are not limited to obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis, cancer, and other liver disease. The stress caused to a cat by moving, adding a pet or family member, owners being on vacation, traveling, or food changes can also cause them not to eat, increasing the chances for fatty liver disease. Although the name may be misleading, even cats who are not fat and are healthy can get fatty liver disease. The biggest sign to watch for in your pet is a change in their appetite. If you notice your cat is eating very little, or stops completely, malnutrition and other hazardous problems can occur quickly. If your cat has not eaten for two days, take them to the vet! Other signs and symptoms of fatty liver disease are weight loss, lethargy, jaundice (yellowing of the eyes, skin, gums, and ears), vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. In a progressed state of hepatic lipidosis, the cat may also exhibit neurological problems, such as excessive drooling, lack of coordination, vision problems, and seizures. Those unfortunate felines who have excessive scar tissue and liver damage may have long-term problems, but if treated promptly and aggressively, most cats can recover from this disease and often have symptoms reversed. Your veterinarian will run tests to diagnose (often a liver biopsy, blood and urine samples and sometimes x-rays), and then begin a treatment plan. Depending on your cat’s condition, the treatment can vary, but may include hospitalization, fluid treatments, antibiotics, vitamins and supplements, and drugs to treat the liver condition. Many cats will also need a feeding tube for a short while, to ensure that they get the nutrition they need and can recover. With idiopathic hepatic lipidosis, cats that get prompt medical attention (and are not suffering other diseases) can often recover and lead healthy normal lives. So watch your kitties and treat them well!
Sources: American college of Veterinary Internal Medicine, PetMD, The Mayo Foundation, www.pets.webmd.com
While most of us choose the furry variety for our pets, many people have reptiles or amphibians as well. Caring for these types of animals is a bit more complicated than your average cat, especially considering they may not even be awake for a few months out of the year. Hibernation is a prolonged sleep in which an animal rests and slows its bodily functions down to a minimum during the winter. Whether reptile or mammal, most will load up on food to increase their fat stores as the temperature cools, then fast for a week or two so they do not have to defecate during hibernation. They find a dark, safe location, and then rest for weeks until the temperatures begin to warm again. So what about our pet reptiles? We created an artificial environment so they stay warm, but should we then create artificial hibernation conditions too?
There are several important factors in deciding whether or not to hibernate your pet. First, check the breed to see if it hibernates naturally when living in the wild. Tropical animals (found near the equator) do not experience cooler temperatures, and therefore have no need to hibernate. Those that are non-tropical will generally sleep during the winter (and the longer the winter, the longer the resting period). Second, you need to have your reptile or amphibian examined by a vet to make sure it is healthy enough to undergo hibernation. Never hibernate a sick or injured animal, as the slowed state can worsen their condition. Some professionals believe that a well-fed pet has no need to hibernate, others think that by mimicking its natural state it may have a longer life.
If you choose to hibernate your pet, you will need to check on the requirements specific to your type of animal and its breed. Some only hibernate for 2 months, others can be up to 8. Temperature and humidity requirements are also very specific. For example, turtles native to Michigan often hibernate for months in mud, under the layers of frost. However, a desert climate reptile would become sick in a mud den, as it is too damp for the animal. The amount of light the animal is exposed to must be gradually reduced each day (just like your days get shorter in the winter). The temperature is also very slowly decreased. It should take a few weeks to a month to get the animal cool, and cannot be done rapidly. Check on the specifics of your breed to see the recommended temperature and cooling period. And remember, cooling the animal is a very gradual process! You cannot simply stick your turtle or snake into the fridge, as this will be too sudden of a temperature change. A dark, enclosed, quiet area with the appropriate temperature and humidity that is safe from children or animals will be best for your pet’s prolonged sleep. Some owners use a box within a box, filled with bedding and insulation specific to the breed, and monitor it in a shed or basement. A hibernating animal is defenseless while sleeping, so make sure its environment is safe and secure. If the animal has gone into a successful resting state, it will not urinate or have activity. Placing your animal into hibernation requires careful planning, monitoring, and attention to detail. Be sure to talk to your vet and do research on your pet’s breed before deciding to undertake this process. When done correctly, a yearly winter hibernation can help your scaly friend live a long and happy life!
Sources: PetCo, California Turtle and Tortoise Club, Herp Care Collection
What do you think of when you hear about Easter? Egg hunts and chocolate, religious services and family, bunnies and baby chicks. Often children get small gifts and treats, and pet stores stock up on chicks, rabbits, ducklings and other cute fluffy animals. But are these Easter-themed animals really a good gift for kids?
Rabbits can be excellent pets. I know a few people who have free-range bunnies that live comfortably in their houses, acting like cats or even dogs. They are well-cared for and a part of the family. But many rabbits that are given for Easter are forgotten after a week or two. A domestic rabbit may not be safe or comfortable outside, but need lots of room to move. Their pen or bathroom area needs regular cleaning, and they need a balanced diet (hay, vegetables, fruits, etc). Rabbits are also natural chewers, which can cause many uneducated owners to suffer ruined cords, furniture and clothing, and some will even abandon the rabbit. A properly-cared for bunny will have toys or other materials to chew on. The social and psychological needs of a rabbit are complex, and they require specialized care in addition to their veterinary and basic needs, therefore they are not an ideal pet for a child.
So what about the baby chicks? They grow to chickens, which are easy to care for and profitable, right? Not necessarily. Chicks are not something that should be handed out or given on a whim. First, many city and township rules do not allow chickens, or they have a limit on the number. Roosters may also be prohibited, and gender mistakes are easy to make when only a small chick. Shelter for the chickens is a large issue when providing a good home. Chickens are sensitive to heat and cold, especially when small, so they need bedding to keep them warm, but also proper ventilation and shade. Their home needs to protect them from predators, especially at night. Raccoons, cats, foxes, dogs, coyotes, predatory birds, opossums and more can all prey on an unsecured chicken, so their coop must be safe and escape-proof. Hens will need nesting materials to lay eggs in, but also prefer an elevated perch to sleep on, so a simple pen is not sufficient. Their coop must also be cleaned regularly, to ensure health for the chickens, eggs, and humans. Contrary to common opinion, chickens do need veterinary care, especially if their eggs or meat will be eaten. They also have complex nutritional needs, especially laying hens, and cannot live on kitchen scraps or corn kernels alone. Going on vacation and leaving them in the coop? Think again. Chickens are a difficult animal to leave alone, and require daily cleaning, food and other attention from a trained person. Be sure to educate yourself before accepting that free chick at the local egg hunt or picking one up for your child.
Rabbits and chicks are not easy animals to care for (I would definitely say my cat is simpler), and may not be a good option for a child. While both of these animals can be incredibly fun to have and develop individual personalities, they should not be adopted or bought on a whim. This Easter, I encourage you to think of other gifts than animals. Unless you are prepared to care for these pets for years and years, just stick to the chocolate and jelly beans. Happy Easter everyone!
Sources: Petfinder, The Humane Society of the United States, ASPCA, Make Mine Chocolate