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Friday, 1 May 2009

A quiz on pet truths and consequences

With the dog days of summer looming, it's fitting that we find time to get outside with our canine friends. And why not bring a little catnip in from the garden for our lazy kitties?

But before you start flipping steaks off the grill for Rover to catch in midair, it might be wise to take a look at common myths and facts concerning the care and feeding of pets.

See how you do on a little pop quiz.

True or false

1. Dogs should never eat people food.

2. Chocolate, onions, garlic, raisins and turkey fat can kill dogs.

3. Cats are natural hunters that can live by their wits outdoors.

4. When you leave your dog alone in the house, it's a good idea to leave it with a bone or a rawhide to chew so it doesn't go after your shoes or furniture.

5. Cats "forget" to use the cat box to show you that they're upset.

6. It's best to stay with the same dog food throughout your dog's life.

7. Dogs should never get chicken bones, but certain beef bones, such as rib bones or knuckle bones that don't splinter, are OK.

8. Cats that climb trees can't get down by themselves.

9. It doesn't matter whether you feed your dog or cat cheap food or expensive food. They all provide complete nutrition for your pet.

10. Cats are very sure-footed; they hardly ever fall, and if they do, they always land on all four feet.

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We put our questions to a panel of pet-care experts. Here's what they said.

1. False. Dogs are omnivores that evolved by being flexible about their food.

"In a state of nature, dogs would eat a deer one day, a rabbit the next and some berries after that," said Marc Morrone, Long Island pet shop owner and host of Petkeeping With Marc Morrone, seen locally on Fox network's KDVR-Channel 31 at 7:30 Sunday mornings. "Cats, on the other hand, are carnivores and must have meat."

A variety of foods should be part of every dog's diet, says Jean Hofve, a Boulder veterinarian who specializes in pet nutrition.

"Broccoli and sweet potatoes are particularly good because they're so nutritious, but keep using different fruits and vegetables and meats when you feed your dog," she said.

Always consult with your veterinarian before changing your dog's diet, Morrone cautions.

2. True. Chocolate, onions, garlic, raisins and turkey fat (or beef fat or chicken fat) all create serious health problems for dogs and could even kill them. But unless your dog is extremely sensitive or physically compromised, small quantities probably won't cause long-term harm. How much would it take? Take your dog to the vet if it has consumed an ounce of chocolate per pound of body weight, Morrone says - and go in even if it hasn't eaten that much but you're worried anyway. Morrone says dark chocolate or baker's chocolate contains higher concentrations of the toxin theobromine than milk chocolate does.

It would take all the onions in an order of onion rings to affect a large dog, Hofve says, though cats are a different matter. She's seen cats endangered by only as much onion as is in the onion- powder flavoring of one jar of baby food.

Raisins, Morrone notes, have been used as dog-training treats for years, but if a dog scarfs down a lot of them at one sitting, they can cause kidney failure.

Hofve says she's heard of only one documented case of raisins killing a dog.

Lots of fat can give a dog a potentially fatal case of pancreatitis, said Morrone. Dogs are somewhat more susceptible than humans.

Morrone wishes pet owners focused more on non-food toxins because, he notes, "if something is as poisonous as arsenic to a dog, you won't have it in your kitchen, anyway." He routinely removes all the toadstools from his yard so his dogs won't eat them and cautions that even a very small amount of antifreeze lapped up from the driveway will kill a dog.

3. False. Carly Porter, animal-behavior manager for the Dumb Friends League, calls that "a huge misconception."

"When humans domesticate a species, we take away their ability to live in the wild," Porter said. "The average life span of a cat who lives only outdoors is two years. An indoor cat can live 15 or 20 years."

4. False. Rebecca Gershten, owner of the Sixth Avenue Pet Source pet-supply store at 810 E. Sixth Ave., says choking is always a possibility. "There are risks when giving dogs bones, rawhides or chews. Supervision is key, and dogs should never be left alone with those items."

If you want to leave your dog alone with something that will keep it occupied, consider a treat-filled Kong toy or a carrot, says Hofve. Either can be frozen to keep the dog busier for longer.

5. False. Boulder cat-behavior consultant Jackson Galaxy says owners of cats that stop using the litter box should start by ruling out a urinary-tract infection. Once that's done, look at the cat's environment.

"Cats spray as a response to stress," he said. "They're trying to mark their territory because they feel insecure. Maybe there's an unneutered cat in the yard or a new puppy in the house. When I'm asked to consult on one of these cases, I start by trying to figure out what is stressing the cat."

6. False. "If you took your toddler to your pediatrician and he told you that they'd recently discovered that SpaghettiOs are nutritionally complete, so you should give your child only SpaghettiOs for the rest of his life, you'd find another pediatrician," said Hofve. "Feed your dogs like you'd feed your children. Give them variety so you're sure they get a balanced diet."

7. False. "I don't recommend any bones at all," said Hofve. "And even holistic veterinarians who have recommended them in the past are now saying to give them up."

Whole bones are just too risky, she said. Bone fragments that get into a dog's intestines can create an impaction, and sharp fragments can perforate the intestine.

"Then you have peritonitis and a dead dog," she said. "At the very least, dogs can break their teeth on them. My own dog busted both his premolars on bones."

8. False. "It's a myth," said Porter. "Once they need food and water, they know how to come down."

9. False. Although all dog foods must meet certain nutritional standards, the way they meet them can vary widely. For example, notes Morrone, the protein requirement can be met by soybeans, but dogs and cats do best with meat as their protein source.

"Cheap foods are cheap for a reason. They have lots of corn and fillers, and the cheaper brands also have lots of salt and sugar so your pet will like them," he said.

Hofve suggests reading pet-food labels and avoiding foods that list byproducts, meat- or bone meal, soy or corn among the first few ingredients.

10. False. Cats can be klutzes, says Galaxy. He's seen them fall because they misjudge the distance needed for a successful leap, fall off roofs and even wander off the edges of counters.

"They're usually pretty careful, and they do have the ability to right themselves if they've got enough distance to turn themselves around," he said. "But it doesn't always happen."

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Is your pet safe in your own back yard?

Some items commonly found in back yards during the summer can be hazardous to pets. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center offers these hints to keep pets safe during the summer.

- Alcoholic beverages can poison pets. Never leave drinks unattended where pets can reach them.

- Do not apply sunscreen to pets or use insect repellents not labeled specifically for animals. If a dog licks off the sunscreen, it can cause gastrointestinal upset , excessive thirst and lethargy. Using insect repellents with DEET on pets can cause neurologic problems.

- Always keep matches and lighter fluid out of the reach of pets. Some matches contain chlorates, which are toxic. Lighter fluid can be irritating to skin and, if ingested, can cause stomach upset and central-nervous-system depression.

- Do not put glow jewelry on your pets or allow them to play with it. The luminescent chemical can create stomach upsets, and if a dog swallows pieces of the plastic jewelry, it might create an intestinal blockage.

- Keep citronella candles, insect coils and oil products out of the reach of pets. Ingestion can upset their stomachs or depress their central nervous systems. If inhaled, the oils could cause aspiration pneumonia.

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