Keeping Pets Safe for the Howlidays

1) LIMIT TABLE SCRAPS. When you have a dozen dinner gift guests, and everyone from Aunt Ethel and Uncle Fred are all offering table scraps, it may be too much for a small dog or cat to handle. Even big pets are too often treated for everything from minor tummy upset to pancreatitis.

2) WATCH WHAT YOU LEAVE OUT. Whether you’re leaving cookies out for Santa or the cheerful chocolate coins known as gelt for children, remember chocolate can make pets sick; avocado is hazardous to birds (no guacamole for Polly). Pets can choke on chicken or turkey bones, which may also cause a gastro-intestinal obstruction.

3) CANDLES IN THE WIND. Decorative candles and those on the menorah can easily be knocked over by playful kittens or curious cats. Aromatic candles may smell good to us and seem benign, but may be very dangerous to pet birds (who have very sensitive respiratory systems).

4) AVOID PRICKLY CHRISTMAS TREES. When choosing a tree, consider one with pet friendly needles such as white pine or Douglas fir. They’re not as likely to stick to pet’s paws.

5) TIDY WITH TREE NEEDLES. Puppies and kittens can munch on errant needles, and that may cause choking or stomach upset. Pet parrots (given the chance) may naturally perch on a branch of your Christmas tree, no harm done – great photo op. But if Polly begins chewing on real needles or those from an artificial tree, it may be life-threatening.

6) NO CHEMICALS UNDER THE TREE. Don’t add chemical preservatives to prolong the life of your tree if pets have access to that solution. While the solutions to prolong tree life don’t seem to cause severe reactions, pets can get an upset tummy.

7) HOUSE GUESTS. Some pets are social butterflies, others not so much. For some pets the commotion caused by little children is simply not the peace and quiet they’re accustomed. Those pets might be happier secluded in a room, door shut with holiday music playing in the background. Also, with that front door frequently opening and closing – some dogs get out, and so do indoor cats. Be sure all pets are microchipped for identification (and registered with the microchip provider), and have a collar and an ID tag.

8) HOLIDAY PLANTS MAY NOT BE SO FESTIVE. In truth, poinsettias are generally not the poisonous killer they’re made out to be, although too much may potentially cause stomach upset. Fresh holly and mistletoe are toxic, particularly the berries. Also, cats may be attracted to amaryllis lilies, red azaleas – all potentially dangerous.

9) TINSEL AND RIBBON IN THE TUMMY. Cats and puppies love to play with tinsel and ribbons; if they ingest enough of this glittery stuff, it can create serious gastro-intestinal obstruction, and may be life threatening.

10) WHAT ARE TREES FOR? Ask any cat – trees are all about trying to climb them. Secure the tree so that if a cat takes a flying leap – the tree won’t topple over.

11) ORNAMENTS ARE MADE FOR CATS. If you have cats, glass ornaments should be kept off the tree. Find a cat-proof place, such as behind a glass cabinet where they can be shown off. Cats tend to believe that shiny glass ornaments are, of course, meant to be batted at. Broken ornaments are a hazard to people and pets, and some may have lots of sentimental value. Also, tinsel hanging from a tree is an equivalent to an invitation for any cat to jump and grab.

12) PETS DESERVE PRESENTS TOO. As the family gathers for opening presents, include all members of the family – even those with paws. This doesn’t mean you need to spend big bucks – simply take a dog’s toy away a few days before the holidays – and now open on the big day; your dog won’t mind the “re-gifting” as long as you make a fuss. Cat toys can be simple as a plastic bottle top, wine cork or used tissue box with catnip inside it, Of course, the best thing you can do for your cat is to wrap the present in catnip-scented wrapping paper. The wrapping will be far more exciting than the gift.

Halloween Safety Tips for Pets

The door knocks. You walk slowly to the door because on the other side, you hear a strange whining sound. Slowly, you open – and what a sight – horror of all horrors, it’s a devil dog. Or should I say, a dog dressed as a devil. Or perhaps it’s a dog with a Lady Gaga-like wig.

Increasingly, dogs are joining with the two-legged kids trick or treating. And often those dogs are dressed up. But is that really a good idea? Who’s asking the dogs?

Here’s the first test. Put a costume on your pup. If your dog stands stiff, tail tucked, ears back, essentially acting humiliated – your dog might just be exactly that. Worse, may be if the family stands around pointing and laughing. No one likes to be laughed at.

However, what if the dog wiggles with delight dressed up as a postal carrier? It’s true, many dogs absolutely relish the attention, and family members can enhance the experience by offering little treats as the costume goes on, and telling your dog how cute she looks. Some dogs truly have a blast trick or treating.

However, some normally social dogs are frightened by little people dressed as ghouls and goblins. These dogs aren’t the best candidates for trick or treating. Be honest about your dog’s real temperament. It’s unfair to other trick or treaters, and to your dog if you force your dog into joining in on trick or treating.

If ever there’s an appropriate time to remind to microchip pets (for permanent identification), Halloween is a good one. Many dogs and cats bolt through the constantly opening door, and are lost. Shelters who find pets scan them for a microchip (that’s why not forgetting to register with the microchip provider is key – since you want your contact to appear when the pet is scanned). For both dogs and cats, having a flat buckle collar and an ID is also a good idea, so if a neighbor down the street finds the pet – the pet might be returned directly to you without a shelter visit.

So much may vary on the temperament of the pet – some pets actually revel in the commotion and constant doorbell ringing with little spooks on the other side of the door. Others pets bark non stop or become frightened. For pets who are afraid, it’s best to put them off in a room downstairs, upstairs or at the other end of the house or apartment, and close the door. Perhaps, turn on talk radio for some “white noise” or classical music – which may be calming. Plug in diffuser pheromone products (such as Dog Appeasing Pheromone or Feliway) just to take the edge off. Or simply disconnect your doorbell.

For dogs, appropriate chew toys (perhaps stuffed with treats) may be a great distraction.

Some cats and dogs are actually happier or at least more secure inside a carrier, though that’s not typically the case. For cats, another idea is to re-locate them into a far away room – and litter that room with a few empty boxes which they may jump into at their own will if they’re feeling insecure, or jumping inside the box may be an interesting game. For some cats, catnip may provide momentary relief from the Halloween stress.

While it’s always safer to keep cats indoors, there are reports – substantiated or not – of cruelty to cats over Halloween, particularly black cats. Odds are this is an urban myth – but no matter, with increased foot traffic and noise in the neighborhood, and sometimes increased auto traffic – there’s no doubt cats are safer and perhaps more content inside.

Here are some tips on keeping your pets safe on Halloween:

  • Aromas from lit candles can cause respiratory distress and even death in pet birds.
  • Cats jumping on tables might knock over a lit candle and cause a house fire.
  • Goodie Bags: While a stash of candy may not be the best thing for kids, some of what’s in those Halloween bags may be very hazardous to pets. Even ingesting only a little bit of an artificial sweetener called Xylitol (mostly used in sugarless gum) is dangerous.
  • That seemingly innocuous box of raisins may be a healthy treat for children, but raisins can make some dogs very sick.
  • Dogs who enjoy candy don’t usually stop munching after a few pieces, and too much candy (not to mention often eating the wrappers and all) can cause an upset tummy. If there’s chocolate involved, the outcome may be worse since chocolate is toxic (particularly dark chocolate). Keep the candy in a secure place, away from Fido – even if that means opening a safety deposit box at a nearby bank.

Can a Virtual Dogfighting App Lead to Real Violence Against Animals?

As a country, we value freedom of speech and take it seriously as one of our rights. That’s why movies, TV shows, video games and even mobile applications sometimes contain material that we may disagree with or find to be against what we stand for morally.

However, there is a difference between simply displaying a certain type of unacceptable behavior and engaging or encouraging others to practice it, even virtually. Reinforcing any type of harmful behavior through repetition and virtual rewards blurs the boundaries of what is right and what is wrong – especially for children, who are in their formative years. And while there are plenty of high-tech “shooter” games available, let’s face it — most kids can’t get their hands on an automatic weapon or a grenade launcher. But most kids have easy access to the family dog or a neighborhood pet. All it takes sometimes is the wrong idea about what is acceptable, an opportunity, and a lack of responsible adult guidance, and a kid could be on a path of harming actual living creatures.

Recently, Kage Games released a second version of a mobile app through which participants can learn to “train” dogs to fight one another. The way one wins in this app is to have their dog rip the other dog to shreds. The tagline on the “game,” called KG Dogfighting, is “Raise your dog to be the best.”

Unlike earlier versions of this game, which were loudly spoken out against by animal welfare organizations, the newest version is rated as a “high maturity” app, suitable only for players over 13. Despite this rating, there is really nothing stopping anyone under 13 from downloading the app or playing the game.

I’m concerned about children or young adults who download this app. As a board member and national ambassador for American Humane Association, a pioneering organization that studies The Link® between violence against animals and violence against people, I find it disturbing that this type of app might desensitize children to harming animals. Do children understand that this game is just a fantasy? Do they understand the real harm that comes from dogfighting?

Dogfighting involves more than horrific violence we force dogs to inflict upon themselves (and upon the unfortunate “bait” animals used in training them), often to the death. Police say where there are dogfights, other crimes are almost always being committed. At dogfights, children are exposed to the worst of what people can do, and are taught to do it themselves. They learn that cruelty to animals — and, often, to people as well — is not unthinkable.

That’s a lesson that we don’t believe should ever be learned.

Summer Safety for Pets

You can have hot fun in the summertime with your pets, but if the heat is on, your pets may potentially be in danger.

In general, dogs aren’t able to deal with heat as well as people are. So, if you are uncomfortable, it’s a good bet your dog is too. Many dogs wear fur coats year-round, and panting isn’t as efficient as perspiring as a cooling mechanism (though dogs do perspire some from their paw pads). Generally, the larger the dog, the more challenging to keep cool. Darker colored dogs heat up faster than lighter colored pups.

Here are a few tips for keeping your pets safe in summer:

Dogs Die in Hot Cars

Instances of dogs becoming ill and sometimes dying as a result of literally roasting in hot cars are avoidable. According to the AAA Chicago Motor Club, if it’s 85 degrees outdoors, even when the windows are open a crack, the dashboard can heat up to 170 degrees in less than 15 minutes.

Sadly, such tragedies still happen. On July 4, Maya Webb of Bettendorf, Iowa, went shopping inside a Joliet, Ill., furniture store. Unfortunately, she left her two pit bulls in the car. It was only 81 degrees outside, and she was barely gone for two hours — still, both dogs suffered heat stroke and died. Webb was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, a Class 4 felony.

In many states and municipalities, leaving a pet in a hot car is against the law. So, calling the police may be an option. In some places, this law (like many animal cruelty laws) is more enforced than in others. Certainly, if the car is parked at a store — if more than a few minutes passes — fetching the owner can save a dog’s life.


Some dogs play fetch forever, just to please you or, well, they’re dogs and don’t always know when to stop. It’s your job to say enough is enough. Simply put, if your dog appears too hot, he probably is. Also, be sure to offer lots of cool water throughout your game.

For dogs who are out in the yard for any extended period of time — which is not the best idea in the first place — shade and water are absolutely necessary.
If you run with your dog — even a short distance — your best bet is either an early morning jog or hitting the track after sunset, when the temperatures aren’t as high and the sun isn’t shining. Be sure to bring water for your dog (and for you).

If it’s hotter than about 90 degrees, dogs with pushed-in noses, such as French bulldogs and pugs, probably shouldn’t go out (except to do their business and for the briefest of walks). The pushed-in nose (brachycephalic) dogs have a more challenging time breathing when it’s hot outside.

Cats in Trees

Where’s Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry when you need him? In most places, if you phone the local sheriff or fire department to fetch a cat that is up a tree, you’ll only hear a bemused operator ask, “You’ve gotta be kidding?” If you manage to convince emergency personnel to respond, you’ll likely be charged a fee.
Be patient. Veterinary clinics rarely report treating cats who have fallen from trees. Emergency rooms, however, do treat people who have fallen trying to rescue feline friends. Entice kitty with a can of tuna left at lower branches or at the base of the tree; walk away, and wait for hunger to overcome fear.

While cats are generally pretty savvy about finding a cool place to escape the heat, sometimes those places are dangerous. Your cat is far safer indoors in the first place.


If your dog gets skunked….Step #1: Get a clothespin — that’s for your nose. Step #2: Scrub your pooch in a solution of one quart hydrogen peroxide, one-quarter cup baking soda and one teaspoon liquid dish soap. Step #3: Rinse. Step #4: Scrub the pet again — this time with a solution of half tomato juice and half water as needed. Step #5: Rinse. Step #6: Go to the movies while the odor subsides. Or go back to Step #2 and purchase an over-the-counter product available to help fight skunk stench.


Your dog isn’t dancing to act like Lady Gaga. Hot asphalt can literally scorch dog paws. To prevent fried paws, prevent asphalt — especially around midday.

Swimming Pools

If an adult isn’t there to supervise, the dog should wear a float jacket. For starters, not all dogs are adept at swimming; most bulldogs and Pekingese, for example, will sink like a rock. Even Labradors, Portuguese water dogs and Newfoundlands, etc., may impress in the pool, but not understand or be able to exit without assistance. Even Michael Phelps can’t swim forever. It’s not uncommon for expert swimming dogs to jump into a pool, but then drown because they’ve exhausted themselves attempting to get out.


Even homes with air conditioning can get pretty hot and, of course, not everyone has air conditioning. Refill water frequently so it’s cold. You can create cooling-off snacks, like “clucksicles” (stickless popsicles made with low-salt chicken bullion), or simply make low-salt beef- or chicken-flavored bullion ice cubes, pop one out, and serve for a cool treat. Many cats don’t drink enough, and encouraging them to do so is important. One trick is to add just a little bit of water to moist food for cats (a good idea year-round).

Emergency Care

Heat stroke begins with excessive panting and difficulty breathing. The dog may lie down or seem generally confused. At this point, quickly offer water, and begin to cool the dog — place the dog in a tub or kid’s swimming pool filled with cool water (not ice-cold water). You may enhance cooling by placing the wet dog in front of an electric fan, but not for more than a few minutes. There’s a real danger of overdoing it, and inducing hypothermia, so be careful. Don’t be shy about contacting your veterinarian.

If symptoms don’t quickly dissipate, immediately contact your veterinarian or visit an emergency veterinary clinic. Worsening signs include: the tongue and mucous membranes appear bright red; the saliva becomes thick and the dog may vomit; the rectal temperature rises to 104° to 110°F. If any of these occur, it’s a matter of life and death.

Author, syndicated columnist, and radio host Steve Dale is one of America’s leading authorities on pets.

Lucy, Funny Little Dog: She Lived to Put Smiles on Faces

“Wha hoo” says Lucy, our miniature Australian Shepherd, as she walked into the large gymnasium-sized room at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. Lucy spent eight years at the direction of medical professionals to help stroke, spinal cord injury and burn injury victims as a part of an animal assisted therapy (AAT) program. When Lucy entered a room everyone knew it, as she announced her entrance. I was embarrassed and worked to correct this attention-seeking behavior for a time. But it was an effort in futility. Lucy’s “Wha hoo” sparked laughter. What could I do?

Once our animal assisted therapy assignment was to help a little boy – about 12 years old – to better use his voice by calling Lucy from the other side of the large room. Thing is, the boy was afraid of dogs. Why would he ever want to call a dog who he was afraid of? I tried telling a few jokes, and told the boy Lucy liked jokes and would laugh:

Q: Why shouldn’t you tell a secret to pigs?

A: Because pigs are squealers.

Each time I told a joke, Lucy, would howl “Wha hoo.” The jokes didn’t make the boy laugh, but Lucy did. And within 10 minutes, Lucy somehow broke the ice  and the boy quietly began to ask Lucy to “sit” or “roll over.” He was amazed that she listened to him. Lucy visited the Rehab Institute weekly, and each week the boy seemed to gain more confidence and have more fun. We were told he had two photos in his room, one was of Michael Jordan and another was a photo of Lucy.

During one visit we found that the little boy was no longer there. My wife Robin and I were worried because sometimes, in truth, the stories don’t always have happy endings. One of the physical therapists came up to us in tears. We thought, ‘Oh no.” She walked right by Robin and me, and went straight to Lucy with a cookie, and said “thank you.” She then hugged us, and tearfully told us the little boy went home much sooner than expected; she credited Lucy.

The wonders of animal assisted therapy are mind-boggling but definitive. No one knows how dogs like Lucy can wiggle their way into the hearts of people and somehow achieve success when medical professionals cannot. Lucy died peacefully today, just a few weeks shy of her 16th birthday. Our veterinarian commented, “She was lucky to have you and Robin.” Actually, we were lucky to have the little funny dog who made people laugh.

To honor Lucy and her dedication to animal assisted therapy, American Humane Association has created a fund that will provide assistance and recognition for other AAT dogs just like her.  Contribute to Lucy’s Fund today to help us create the Hero Dog Award.  Through Lucy’s award we’ll honor her legacy and forever celebrate the amazing contributions AAT and other heroic dogs just like her provide, through the power of the human-animal bond. Our goal is to raise an initial $25,000.  Robin and I along with my friends at Pet World Radio are kicking off Lucy’s campaign with an initial contribution of $2,800.  Please help us honor our special dog and help us all to memorialize the incredible efforts of these amazing animals.

Ensuring Peaceful Endings for Tumultuous Lives

Steve DaleThe word “euthanasia” comes from the Greek, literally meaning a good death without fear, stress or pain. In animal welfare in 2011, this translates to what we can do for animals, and how veterinarians in private practice are able to end lives peacefully, called euthanasia by injection. Most animal shelters also practice euthanasia by injection, but a surprising number do not. They still use antiquated gas chambers.

There was a time in our own history when people on “death row” were executed using gas. This method was discontinued because it was simply considered too inhumane. People suffered a great deal before they died.

Often times, animals are rounded up, big dogs with small dogs, cats with dogs, aggressive dogs with old or sick dogs, and the gas is turned on. Once the button is pushed, the technician high-tails it away from there. Technicians have told me they sometimes can hear screaming as they go.

I suspect the primary reason you don’t read about this is just because it is so distasteful. Animal shelter consultant and euthanasia expert Doug Fakkema has witnessed countless shelter animals killed via carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.

“Animals struggle to desperately hold on to life, some panic,” he says. “When there are other animals present — as there often are — it’s not unusual for attacks to break out.”

For anyone who euthanizes a pet, every private practicing veterinarian in America and Canada uses a technique called euthanasia by injection. This is vastly different death than what shelter animals in gas chambers experience.

Euthanasia by injection is quite peaceful. Some even describe it as beautiful. There is no suffering, so this is an especially humane choice for pets with terminal diseases or those that are so elderly that their quality of life is poor and will not improve.

A sedative is often given first to literally put the animal to sleep. That’s followed by an injection of pentobarbital, which places the animal under anesthesia in a matter of seconds. At this point, the animal has lost all sensation, so the animal can no longer see, hear, smell or feel. Within 20 seconds the animal lapses into a coma and vital organs begin to shut down. Performed by a skilled technician, the entire process takes less then a minute. Unlike use of gases, the animal quickly loses consciousness, and most of all, there’s a pain-free and dignified death.

Indeed most animals in shelters have done nothing wrong. Don’t they deserve a dignified death?

Of course they do. Even shelters using gas chambers say that animals deserve a dignified death. So, what’s the problem?

Actually, even Fakkema, arguably the world’s most noted expert on the topic, isn’t sure. Some facilities are stuck in time, he explains, sticking to the notion that with the use of gas, “it’s the way we’ve always done it.” Other shelters say they don’t have funds to pay for euthanasia by injection.

The truth is that according to a 2009 study by American Humane Association, both euthanasia by injection and the gassing of animals cost about the same. In fact, euthanasia by injection may be less expensive.

It’s true, personnel require training for euthanasia by injection (in some states recertification is required for this procedure). However, once trained, the technique is actually safer when compared to often untrained volunteers and workers who sometimes “fight” struggling animals to force them into gas chambers. Euthanasia by injection is also easier on the psyche of staff.

Fakkema has been in the animal welfare world for 40 years. “If it was up to me, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide [gas chambers] would be declared illegal everywhere,” he says.

In fact, gas chambers remain legal in many places, including Michigan, North Carolina and Texas.

National animal welfare organizations also strongly support euthanasia by injection, including American Humane Association — which has long been out in front on this issue. Fakkema says you can make a difference by ensuring that euthanasia by injection is being implemented in your community. Visit your local shelter to ask what technique is used to perform euthanasia.

It’s a shame too many pets are still dying in animal shelters. The least we can do is to provide them with a peaceful ending to what has sometimes been a tumultuous life.

Author, syndicated columnist, and radio host Steve Dale is one of America’s leading authorities on pets. He is also a board member and National Ambassador for American Humane Association.

Listen to Steve’s interview with Doug Fakkema.