By Gina Spadafori
Every month I go to my local public radio station for a short feature on pets and their care. While I'm always prepared for the topic we've chosen for the show, I'm sometimes caught off-guard by the questions other guests ask me in the "green room" before the show.
These are all extremely accomplished people in their own fields, but in my area of expertise, they can have some pretty off-the-mark ideas. Such was the case recently when a top atmospheric scientist asked me to confirm for him that the vizsla, a Hungarian hunting breed, would be a "low maintenance" pet.
Low maintenance? Not unless your idea of that includes a couple daily exercise sessions that would exhaust someone training for a marathon. Like many hunting dogs, the vizsla is bred for a hard day's work in rough terrain. For someone looking for a dog who'd snooze the days away alone in a downtown condo, his choice of dog could hardly be worse.
He told me he wanted shorthaired, medium-sized and laid-back, and he was surprised when I suggested he consider a retired racing greyhound, likely a female to come in on the smaller size. He thought that a racing dog would have nonstop energy, but on the contrary, greyhounds are lovingly known by their families as "40 mph couch potatoes." You want a dog to snooze the day away? This is that dog.
That doesn't mean the vizsla isn't a good dog ... for someone else. I have high-energy dogs of a similar hunting breed, and I manage their exercise needs by making sure there's room for lots of fetch in my schedule. If I couldn't or didn't want to exercise them constantly, I wouldn't have dogs like these. But too many people don't consider a dog's energy levels when choosing an animal companion, and that often leads to frustration for both dog and owner.
Look at the big, active dogs we adore, such as the Labrador, golden retriever and German shepherd. These breeds are high on the American Kennel Club's list of the most popular, and they're also well-represented as adoption candidates in shelters, both purebreds and mixes. You don't have to go far down the popularity list to find other active breeds as well -- dogs whose genetics have prepared them to work both hard and often.
What are they doing to burn off all that natural energy? Barking, digging, chewing and often making their owners very unhappy.
If you're thinking of getting a dog, think seriously about which breed you want and whether you can provide an active dog with the exercise he needs. If you can't honestly say that your dog will get 30 minutes of heart-thumping aerobic exercise at least three to four days a week -- daily is better -- then you really ought to reconsider getting an active large breed.
Instead, consider the alternatives. For large breeds, look at the sight hounds, such as the greyhound I suggested, the saluki or even the massive Irish wolfhound. These breeds were not developed to work all day like the retriever, husky and sheepdog, but rather to go all out for a short period of time and then chill out for hours. They're big, but they're couch potatoes by choice. Many guarding breeds, such as Rottweilers, boxers and Akitas, also have relatively minimal exercise requirements. All dogs love and need their exercise, but not all dogs will go crazy if they don't get a ton of it.
Most small breeds are easy in the exercise department, too, not because they don't need a lot of it, but because it's not as difficult to exercise a small dog with short legs. A Yorkie, pug or corgi can get good exercise in a small yard or on a brisk walk. - by Gina Spadafori
Holiday guests need pet-friendly advice
Q: I want to make sure everyone knows not to have poinsettias as holiday decor if they have pets. Will you please spread the word? -- via Facebook
A: I am happy to spread the word about holiday hazards, including the happy fact that poinsettias are one thing you don't have to worry about. That's right: These traditional holiday plants are just fine around pets.
Now, I realize that many people think that their pet being anywhere within a three-block radius of a poinsettia will cause Mr. Whiskers to spontaneously explode, but you can rest assured that this is not the case. Yes, if eaten in sufficient quantities, the poinsettia can cause a mild and usually temporary stomach and intestinal upset, but this is more of a risk for your carpet than it is for your pet.
On the other hand, among the plants that do pose a hazard are mistletoe (causes more serious gastrointestinal and potential heart issues) and lilies (which can cause lethal kidney failure in cats at very small amounts). Holly, too, is a plant that needs to be off your holiday decorating list.
Instead of stressing about poinsettias, turn your attention to two things many careful pet lovers overlook: medications and foods sweetened with xylitol. It's essential to keep all medications, both for animals and people, prescription and over-the-counter, out of reach of pets at all times. That means you need to ask any guests if they have medications with them, and provide them with a safe, secure place to keep them while they're in your home. Keeping them in luggage or on top of the nightstand is just asking for tragedy when pets are in the home.
As for xylitol, this artificial sweetener seems to get more popular every year. If you have gum or breath mints in your purse or backpack, don't leave your bags where your pet can get into them. And again, remind your houseguests -- and your kids -- to be sure that these products are not where a pet can get to them. -Dr. Marty Becker
Rabbit head tilt a common malady
- Head-tilting in rabbits is common and can be caused by a variety of diseases. A common name for head tilt is "wry neck," although the correct medical term is "vestibular disease." Rabbits with vestibular disease can have a head position that ranges from a few degrees to 180 degrees off the normal position. They can fall over, circle, have difficulty standing and develop eye injuries because the downward-facing eye is in a position of vulnerability. For rabbits with vestibular disease, the vast majority will recover most of their normal head position and lead normal lives, as long as good nursing, veterinary care and time for recovery are provided. Other rabbits, however, will have a lifelong residual head tilt even if the inner ear disease is cured.
- The charity associated with the Banfield chain of veterinary clinics found in Petsmart stores is collecting pet food and donations through the end of the year for its annual drive to help seniors care for their pets. The Banfield Charitable Trust will assist Meals on Wheels with its pet food distribution programs, so elderly people who are housebound can continue to benefit from having pets in their homes.
- On the fence about microchipping your cat? Researchers at Ohio State studied data from 53 shelters in 23 states and determined that a microchip is the best chance for reuniting lost cats with their families. The return-to-owner rate for cats was 20 times higher -- and two-and-a-half times higher for dogs -- for microchipped pets compared to rates of return for all stray cats and dogs that had entered the shelters. When a pet had a microchip, owners were located almost three-quarters of the time. When owners couldn't be found, it was usually because the pet's information hadn't been updated within the chip registry. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Date Published: 12/10/2012 8:23:00 AM
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. COPYRIGHT 2012 - 2013 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE; 4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; 816-932-6600.
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