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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Pets Need Safe, Comfortable Collars and Current ID

It's a New Year's tradition around my home, one that has outlived three generations of pets but still works to help ensure the safety of the animals I live with now: I call the pets over and check their necks.
I always do my "neck checks" around the first of the year. It's easy, taking a few minutes to check for wear and fit on the collars, and for legibility on the tags.
Consider the collar first. A properly fitted collar is important, but so is the right type. For dogs, a buckled or snap-together collar made of leather or nylon webbing is the best choice, and the proper fit is comfortably close, but not too snug. Make sure your dog's not wearing a "choke" or prong collar for everyday wear. These pose a potentially deadly hazard if left on an unsupervised dog.
Cat collars aren't as widely accepted because some people fear the collars will get caught on branches and trap the cat. Other people argue that their cat stays indoors and so never needs a collar. Neither argument's a good one: Any cat can slip out, and as for cats being caught by their collars, most cat collars are designed to give enough to allow a pet to slip free if caught.
If you don't have a safe collar, you'll find countless choices at your neighborhood pet-supply retailer, and even more online. One online favorite of mine: Beastie Bands for cats -- comfortable, colorful collars that stick tight unless a cat needs to lose them.
What if your pet already seems to have a comfortable, safe, well-fitting collar? Take a look at the holes and the fasteners. The collar is weakest at these spots, so if you see signs of excessive wear or strain, you'll need to replace the collar soon.
Next, look at your pet's ID tags. A license is great, but since many lost pets are picked up by people in the neighborhood, it's a good idea to supplement the license with an ID tag that has a couple of phone numbers -- yours and the number of a friend or relative. Check to make sure the information is current and legible, and if not, order a new tag. I never put the pet's name or my address on the tags. Instead, my pets' tags say "REWARD!" with a collection of phone numbers -- my cellphone number first, followed by the cellphone numbers of two friends in case I can't be reached. I want to get the point across that I want my pets back quickly.
If you're worried about a dangling ID getting caught -- or annoyed by the noise -- get a slide-on tag from an online source such as Looking for something a little more fun? Check out, which offers hundreds of designs, or allows you to upload an image of your own. also has a service for an additional charge that will allow anyone who finds your pet to contact you immediately through a web-based service that sends text and phone messages to you and any other contacts you designate.
Problems with collars and tags are easy to fix, but they shouldn't be the extent of your pet's get-home-safe insurance policy. If your pet isn't microchipped already, call your veterinarian and get that done. About the size of a grain a rice, the microchip has reunited pets with families who were sure they'd never see them again, and saved the lives of others whose chip was a ticket home when they landed in a shelter. - by Gina Spadafori
Pet dishes need to be kept clean
Q: I love my cat and my dog, but I am pretty determined to keep things clean in my house. I always wash my pets' food dishes after they eat, and wash the water dish daily in soap and warm water before refilling. Over the holidays, I got in a discussion with my sister, who points out that pets drink from puddles and eat nasty stuff given any opportunity. She is a lot less fastidious about her dog's dish as a result. I think she's nuts. What do you think? -- via e-mail
A. I think I'm in no position to opine about anyone's relative sanity, considering my own happily crazy life filled with animal companions. But I do think keeping pet dishes clean is very important, and so does the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which points out that recent pet food recalls for Salmonella mean people can get sick from pet food if proper handling isn't practiced.
The FDA suggests preparing pet meals away from human food-prep areas, but given that food sold for human consumption also carries the risk of foodborne illness, I think you'll be fine keeping things as you have been. Safe food-handling practices for all foods, whether for pets or people, are necessary in this day and age.
In other words: You're not being too careful for either yourself or your pets by picking up your pets' food dishes after every meal and cleaning them. The water dish should get the same treatment on a daily basis. Given the recalls on peanut butter, it's not a bad idea to do the same with any hard chew toys that can be stuffed, such as a durable mainstay of generations of canine chewers, the Kong toy.
Better still, run toys and dishes through the hottest cycle of the dishwasher to get them really clean and sterilized. Stainless steel or heavy plastic "crock-style" dishes are best for frequent cleaning: They last forever and stand up well to the abuse a pet can dish out. I myself prefer stainless steel, and the investment has proven a wise one: I have dishes that are more than 20 years old, and still come out of the dishwater looking like new. -- Gina Spadafori
Catnip a safe 'buzz' your cat can enjoy

  • Catnip is a harmless pleasure for those cats who enjoy it. After all, it's a rare cat that ever has to operate heavy machinery, drive or take a call from a telemarketer. Don't be alarmed if the 'nip has no effect, though. Catnip (Nepeta cataria) makes some cats very happy -- but doesn't do a thing for others. Kittens under the age of 3 months do not react to catnip, and not all cats are genetically programmed to react to it -- the split is about 50-50. For those felines who do get a buzz, it's a safe high, and easy to grow at home to provide a near-endless supply. Just keep your plants where your cat can't get them, so they don't get ripped out by the roots. 

  • Pet food donated in the wake of Hurricane Sandy has ended up in a warehouse begging for takers after the outpouring of generosity overwhelmed the short-term demand. The VIN New Service  reports that only six of 46 pallets of donated foods were distributed, with the rest taking up space volunteered by ZipJack Custom Umbrellas, a small company in Elmsford, N.Y. The company is working around the pallets while its owner and the local veterinarian who worked together to help their pet-owning neighbors figure out ways to get the food to people who can use it. (Editor's note: the food was finally distributed to people affected by Hurricane Sandy).

  • Should your pet get probiotics? The science has been presented at veterinary conferences for a few years now, and it's pretty convincing. As with many veterinary issues, it tracks closely with developments in human health, where probiotics -- "good" bacteria added to the gut -- are widely accepted as beneficial. While some pet foods are advertised to contain probiotics, there are also supplements from well-respected companies that can be added to a pet's diet. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 1/7/2013 7:35:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 01/07/2013


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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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