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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Cool Weather Cautions

Fall is my favorite season, and I think it's my pets' favorite, too. They all seem to perk up as the evenings get cooler and the days seem to gently warn of the colder days to come. I love walking the dogs as the leaves are turning along the river near our home, watching my little pack as they lift their noses to track the changes in the air.
But even as I'm enjoying the crispness and beauty of fall, I'm aware that it means winter is around the corner, and with it, the seasonal challenges for our pets.
As the days get shorter in the fall, dog walkers may be out in lower light than they were a few weeks earlier, making them less visible to vehicles. The danger is higher if your dog is a dark color, you wear dark clothes or you walk on a road without sidewalks. Take a page from the bicyclist's book: Being seen is being safe. Check out reflective vests (for you and your dog), reflective leashes and collars, or other safety gear.
The change in weather is more critical to outdoor pets. While I am not keen on the concept of outdoor pets -- these pets are often lonely and bored, and are often neighborhood nuisances as well -- I realize that people make their own decisions for many different reasons, and most do the best they can.
If you have outdoor pets whom you cannot bring inside, the time to review your pet's shelter is now.
Animals must be able to get out of the elements. A pet must have a well-insulated structure just large enough so that he can curl up inside to maintain body heat. The structure should also have a wind-block to protect it from wintry blasts. In the coldest parts of the country, it should also have some sort of outdoor-rated pet heating pad or other device. And be sure that there's always a supply of fresh, unfrozen water by using a heated bowl.
Final cold weather caution for outdoor animals: Remember to thump on your car's hood on cold mornings. Your neighbor's cat may be nestled against the engine for warmth, and thumping your car's hood will get the animal to skedaddle to safety.
Indoor pets don't face the challenges outdoor pets do, but winter can be uncomfortable for them as well. For pets with arthritis, cold weather can be more painful, so ask your veterinarian about supplements or prescription medications that may help your pet feel better. A soft, heated bed may be much appreciated, too, especially by older pets. And remember that one of the best things you can do for a pet with joint problems is to keep the extra weight off: A pet who's more sedentary in winter needs to eat less.
Every year, I get questions about sweaters for pets: Are they helpful or just plain silly? Some animals really can use the extra insulation of a well-fitted sweater: older pets and dogs who are tiny (such as Chihuahuas), or are shorthaired and naturally lean (such as greyhounds or whippets). Overcoats can save you time drying your dog if you walk in inclement weather, especially if your pets are longhaired. And don't forget to wipe your pets' feet, legs and bellies after they've been outside to keep them from ingesting any de-icing solutions.
Because heating systems can dry out the air, you and your pets may be more comfortable if you introduce some humidity. Birds, especially those species originating in tropical climates, will enjoy extra opportunities for bathing or being misted.
Cold-weather pet care is a matter of compassion and common sense. Use both in equal measure, and your pet will get through the worst of the season in fine shape.  - by Gina Spadafori
Puppy won't keep teeth to herself
Q: Please help us stop our puppy from biting us. My husband is ready to take her to the shelter. -- via email
A: If you watch a litter of puppies play with each other, you might be surprised at how rough they can be. As puppies grow older, they learn from their littermates and their mother how to restrain those playful bites. These lessons are important in the development of a well-mannered pet, which is why experts say puppies should stay with their littermates until at least the age of 7 weeks.
When people end up with a pup who missed the crucial lessons taught by her siblings, or if a puppy is naturally nippy (many retrievers and retriever mixes, for example, are very "mouthy" as puppies), there are still ways to teach a youngster to stop biting.
Address the problem from a couple of different directions. The first would be to redirect the behavior. Clap your hands to startle the pup into stopping the nipping, and then give your puppy a toy to chew on instead. Don't forget to praise her for chewing on something that's not a family member.
Even as you're teaching the puppy what is OK to mouth, teach her how to leave family members unchewed by making the nipping unrewarding. Every time the puppy nips, dramatically cry "ouch" and immediately stop the play session. Fold your arms, turn away and ignore the puppy completely. The message to get across: Play stops when nipping starts.
If you're persistent and consistent, your puppy will get the message. It will also help if you make sure she's getting plenty of exercise, because sometimes dogs who don't get enough physical activity get too excited when they're finally offered the chance to play.
If the behavior doesn't show any sign of easing, or if the biting seems more aggressive than playful, don't delay in asking your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist or trainer. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to

The Buzz
Dogs help get, keep children more active

  • Looking for a way to get your children off the couch and more active outdoors? A survey of 1,500 people by the Purina company -- both those who own dogs and those who don't -- revealed that children raised in families with dogs are 20 percent more likely to spend time in active, outside play than those in families without canine companionship. 

  • The recent recall of peanut butter due to Salmonella contamination is significant to pet owners because it is often used to hide pills, making it easier to get pets to take their medications. More than 30 people in 19 states have been sickened by contaminated products, which all use nuts from New Mexico-based Sunland farms. Updates on the recall and a complete list of affected products are on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's website. Both dogs and cats can become ill by eating Salmonella-contaminated products, and the illness can be transmitted to people from pets. 

  • While most pet lovers are aware of the challenges of re-homing cats and dogs, relatively few give much thought to parrots in need of new homes. The challenge of caring for these pets is made more difficult because of medical and behavioral issues -- and the fact that many parrot species kept as pets have potential life spans as long as human ones. The nonprofit Gabriel Foundation in Colorado has for years maintained a model shelter and sanctuary for these pets, with a variety of services including lifetime care for parrots who cannot be successfully transitioned to new homes. -- Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 10/8/2012 10:04:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 10/08/2012


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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