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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Simple Steps now May Save your Pet in a Disaster

Disaster preparedness is so easy to let slide. We get all worked up after something like Hurricane Sandy and decide it's time to "do something."  We read up, we make plans, we stock up, we move on. And then, we forget.
We take the can opener out of the emergency kit and don't replace it. We use the food and water we've stored, but we don't buy anything new to rotate into the disaster supplies. We mean to, of course. And yes, we'll get to it ... next month.
The good news is that in recent years, disaster experts have pushed people to prepare for their pets as well -- a 180-degree change in attitude, driven by the risks people have taken with their own lives to protect their pets when disasters strike. And public planning for disaster relief includes temporary housing for pets.
The bad news? Most people aren't as ready. But it's not hard to start, and step one is checking your pet's ID.
Most animals will survive a disaster, but many never see their families again because there's no way to determine which pet belongs to which family if pets and people get separated. That's why dogs and cats should always wear updated identification tags, and preferably be microchipped, too. Take some clear, sharp pictures of your pet as well, to help with any search.
What next? Get a big storage bin with a lid and handles to prepare a disaster kit for your pet.
Then it's time to shop. Keep several days' worth of drinking water and pet food as well as any necessary medicines, rotating the stock regularly. For canned goods, don't forget to pack a can opener and a spoon. Lay in a supply of empty plastic bags, along with paper towels, both for cleaning up messes and for sealing them away until they can be safely tossed. For cats, pack a bag of litter and some disposable litter trays.
Hard-sided crates and carriers are among the most important items to have on hand. Sturdy crates keep pets of all kinds safe while increasing their housing options. Crated pets may be allowed in hotel rooms that are normally off-limits to pets, or can be left in a pinch with veterinarians or shelters that are already full, since the animals come with rooms of their own.
Leashes for dogs and harnesses and leashes for cats are important, too, because frightened animals can be difficult to control. Pack a soft muzzle for each pet to keep everyone safe if a frightened or injured pet starts lashing out in fear or self-defense. And finally, put a first-aid kit in the bin, along with a book on how to treat pet injuries.
Make a note on the calendar to check on supplies and rotate food and water a couple of times a year. You may never have to pull out your disaster kit, but it's always good to be prepared. For more guidelines, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has tips for pet owners at - by Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Get veterinary help for dog's discomfort
Q: I've read that prescription pain medications are deadly for my dog. Can you suggest an alternative? -- via Facebook
A: There are indeed things you can do to treat your dog's arthritis without using a prescription pain medication from your veterinarian, such as providing soft beds (warmed in the winter), glucosamine supplements and regular moderate exercise, and getting your pet down to a proper weight. But if these measures are not enough, you do need to discuss effective prescription pain control with your veterinarian.
I know a little something about chronic pain, thanks to a chronic neurological condition, and I can tell you it's a miserable way to spend a life. And yet so many pets are in such misery because their owners have "heard" that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are deadly.
While no medication, however helpful, is without the potential for side effects (including very serious ones), the NSAIDs available from your veterinarian have high marks for safety as long as recommended precautionary protocols are followed, including diagnostic tests to spot possible problems with internal organs.
Your veterinarian wants to help, but can't unless you do your part by making an appointment. Discuss all your options and all the precautions, and work with your veterinarian to ease your pet's suffering while minimizing the potential for side effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has an excellent free publication on NSAIDs (, and I encourage you to download it and discuss the subject with your veterinarian.
Don't let fear keep you from easing your pet's pain. Work with your veterinarian to find what's best for your pet, while keeping the risks as low as possible. -- Dr. Marty Becker 

Feral cat advocates bash predation study

  • A report asserting that free-roaming cats have a devastatingly large impact on populations of birds and small mammals has conservationists calling for an end to the live management of feral cat colonies, while feral cat advocates argue that the study is based on flawed research and that its authors are known to be anti-cat. The report in the journal Nature Communications drew the conclusion that cats kill between 1.4 billion and 3.7 billion birds and between 6.9 billion and 20.7 billion small mammals every year. 
    Alley Cat Allies argues that the study's methodology is inadequate and that the researchers are attempting to make scapegoats of feral cats, while ignoring factors such as deforestation, climate change and habitat destruction.
    Veterinary and animal welfare experts have long argued that keeping pet cats from roaming is safer for cats as well as birds and small mammals, but that doesn't address the issue of unowned cats, whose U.S. numbers are estimated to be in the tens of millions. Advocates for these cats argue that caring for altered communities in place is the answer, while wildlife and wild bird groups typically recommend removal of the cats entirely.  

  • How smart is your dog? You can get an idea with a smartphone app developed by a Duke University researcher. Dognition uses questions and simple games to rate the intelligence of dogs. The release of the app coincides with the publication of "The Genius of Dogs: How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think," co-authored by the app's developer, evolutionary anthropologist Dr. Brian Hare. Information on both is available at 

  • When a cat rubs against a person, it's accepted that it's a sign of friendliness and affection. Which, of course, it is. But rubbing also performs a very important feline function: scent-marking. Cats want everything in the world to smell like they do, and they spend their lives trying to accomplish that feat. When cats rub against people or furniture, they're depositing material known as sebum from glands on their heads to spread their own trademark scent. -- Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 2/19/2013 10:01:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 02/19/2013


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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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