Friday, April 22, 2011

The Easter Bunny is Not a Pet

Parents: Beware of the Easter Bunny. Don't give children pets as Easter presents, says Adam Goldfarb, director of the Humane Society's "Pets at Risk" Program. He says generally, people have gotten the message about pets with feathers – but with bunnies, not so much.

"We don't see an issue as much with the chicks and the baby ducks as we used to, but it's definitely still an issue with the rabbits."Animal welfare experts say rabbits aren't as docile as they look, and they may even bite. So, while parents think they might be fulfilling a young child's dream of owning a cuddly bunny, there's a definite downside.

"They might have a very 'cute' Easter – but unfortunately, the novelty of having a rabbit and the reality of caring for them long-term, kind-of wears off."He urges parents to do some research so they have a realistic idea of what to expect if they decide to have a rabbit join the family. Some consider them "high-maintenance" pets, and they often live more than ten years.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Take care of your pets and the planet

According to the American Pet Products Association, we’re going to spend more than $50 billion on our pets this year. And we expect to get the best quality products for those dollars.

In fact, pets are so much a part of the American family that the 2007 Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act, designed primarily to protect children, included language that required the Food and Drug Administration to develop regulations for pet food quality.

That’s how serious we are about the well-being of our pets. So it’s of no surprise that animal lovers end up as product developers, and the products they develop are in line with our other concerns – sustainability and safety.

Sustainability takes into consideration not just the well-being of the pet, but by extension, the well-being of the planet. A good example of that is the proliferation of handy doggy-do collection products that keep our sidewalks and beaches clean, PCB-free water bowls, and even poison-free wormers.

Add to that list the high quality cleaning products that protect the health of our pets and the health of the planet at the same time. There’s no doubt there are cleaning products on the market that do a tremendous job and leave your house smelling of pine or citrus – but savvy pet owners expect more these days and they know that some of those products can actually harm their pets.

Since pets (and infants) are closer to the floor, they breathe in much more of the chemical gases put off by chemical cleaners. Pets are also much more sensitive to scent and their nasal membranes can be burned or otherwise insulted by scents we may perceive as “pretty.” For those reasons, pet owners usually avoid cleaners with strong chemical or even natural smells, which can irritate nasal passages and eyes. Chemical cleaners may also stick to a pet’s feet and be ingested when the animal cleans its paws. So, although citronella (citrus odor) works well as a natural insect repellent and is often used both in shampoos and in bug sprays for horses, it is far too strong a scent for use on cats or ferrets. Many cat owners also testify that cats will avoid entire rooms if they have been cleaned with orange or citronella-scented chemicals. A low or no-scent biodegradable cleaner is best for sensitive noses. For instance, a simple vinegar and water solution will clean tiles and glass – and has the added benefit of repelling ants. Other recommended products include natural enzyme cleaners such as Pure Ayre, Nature’s Miracle and Bissell products such as Yecch, Ewww, and Crikey — all available at The Pet Works in Astoria.

“Pet owners are absolutely aware of these natural enzyme cleaners,” said Nick Thompson, manager of The Pet Works. “It’s often also the only way to break down the odor and get it completely removed to prevent remarking.” Other products such as BioKleen products for all cleaning applications can be purchased online, and many pet products purchased both from independent dealers like J.R. Watkins, Shaklee or Amway and in chain stores such as Walmart are pet- and environment-friendly. Other recommended cleaner brand names include Seventh Generation, Begley’s Best, Murphy’s Oil Soap and Mrs. Meyer’s. Some have pine and citronella scents, so know your pet’s sensitivity.

Parents choose no-tears shampoos for their infants, and once a pet owner realizes how delicate the nose and eyes of their pet can be, they will want equally gentle products for pet shampooing.

That’s why The Pet Works sells a lot of Paul Mitchell pet products, Thompson said. “They are soap- and detergent- free and rinse clear really, really well and are tested on humans first!” In fact, in the big dog-wash area inside The Pet Works, where pets from dogs to ferrets to even pygmy goats are washed, you will find 10 different shampoos and conditioners – all detergent- and chemical-free.

Cat owners should note that otherwise beneficial natural oils such as tea tree and eucalyptus can be poisonous to cats should they lick it off their fur, and can even be painful when in contact with a cat’s skin. Thompson recommends LaSalon “Soothe” for cats – which is soap-free and rinses clean.

Pet owners need to be alert when they go out to play, too. Pets who go out of doors can track in even worse chemicals than cleaners – weed killers and pesticides. Even a small amount of pesticide can result in a fatal dose. Although commercial chemicals can be safely applied in pet areas if proper mixing and application methods are used, many pet owners prefer to look for natural weed and pest killers. A good place to start looking for safe pesticides is Needless to say, a pet running through a sprayed field, or walking through a sprayed area, may also pick up a dangerous pesticide dose. Farm dogs especially should be kept close to home during crop or weed spraying.

Dog owners who walk with their pets down roadsides should also keep an eye out for evidence of roadside spraying and keep their pets away from those areas.

By exercising this caution, an expression of your love, pets can be protected from harmful chemicals they may pick up on their feet or breathe in. If proper nutrition is also maintained, they also will be more resistant to disease and allergies.

For many years, a number of pet owners sought out feed products for dogs and cats that had more grains – not just because of a personal desire to “go vegetarian” but also because it seemed a more sustainable and safer option than feeding meat products which were not subject to the same quality standards as those eaten by people.

However, animal nutritionists and veterinarians have discovered that many dogs and cats simply got fat on the grains and some were actually allergic to certain grains. As a result, many new lines of pet food have been formulated to provide pets with the optimal balance of fats, proteins and carbohydrates while avoiding the most common allergens. While cats and dogs are not naturally vegetarian, a pet in a vegetarian household can safely share the family commitment to eat vegetarian with a little special shopping. Just two examples of healthy all-vegetarian pet food are Natural Balance brand (available at The Pet Works in Astoria), which provides vegetarian food for dogs; and Ami and Evolution brands, which produce vegan cat food. Check with your vet for recommendations.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Pet shop owner busted after cops find five dogs & cats in her freezer, dozens more sick and hungry

A pet shop owner in Florida has been charged with animal cruelty after police found a dead and sickly pets throughout her home and shop, including several frozen in her freezer.

In all, cops rescued 26 pets - dogs, cats, a rabbit, a bird and a hedgehog -- on Monday from the Palm Beach home and shop of Debora Van Oort, owner of Forever Puppies. They also discovered five dead cats and dogs frozen in her freezer, two dead dogs in her shop and dozens of sickly, starving animals roaming around her apartment.

Police conducted the search after finding two dead golden retrievers at Van Oort's shop, which had no air conditioning or heat, police said. Necropsies revealed that the dogs hadn't eaten for days, authorities said.

After seizing 12 animals from the shop, including dogs, cats and a rabbit, cops raided Van Oort's home, where they found one cat that looked like a walking skeleton and several dogs in cages and caked in feces, according to The Palm Beach Post. Investigators pulled 14 more animals from her hovel, plus the five frozen corpses in the freezer, police said.

The hedgehog was the only one that appeared to have food and water, according to the Post. Animal control officials said that Van Oort was known to "stockpile" animals at her home and had run into trouble with animal authorities in the past.

One of her shops, Top Shelf Puppies, was nailed in the past for importing animals from large Midwestern puppy mills, a pet industry term for dirty, poorly run breeding farms, according to the Post.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Pet insurance surges as vet costs rise

Elizabeth Brown spared no expense in seeking treatment for Maggie, her yellow Labrador retriever who was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. Radiation treatments and surgeries added up to more than $4,200 before Maggie died in 2008. The experience prompted Brown, who is retired and lives in south St. Louis County, to buy a pet health insurance policy for $90 a month when she later brought home a puppy named Caramel.

Faced with the increasing price of medical care, more pet owners are now pulling out insurance cards when visiting the veterinarian's office. Pet health insurance has been available in the United States for nearly 30 years, but expanded veterinary treatments and changing attitudes toward the family pet have bolstered the number of policies over the last decade, even during the economic downturn.

"The humanization of pets is driving it, as people are more likely to treat pets as four-legged members of their family," said Grant Biniasz, a spokesperson for VPI Pet Insurance based in Brea, Calif., the largest pet insurance provider in the nation.

The growth has drawn several new insurance providers into the market in recent years, including St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare. The company started its PurinaCare insurance subsidiary in 2008 and has since expanded coverage to all 50 states.

Pet insurance has grown at a glacial pace in the U.S., but it has gained speed in the last decade. Three percent of the nation's 78 million dogs and 1 percent of its 93 million cats are now covered, according to a recent American Pet Products Association estimate. That's up from 1 percent of dogs and virtually no cats covered in 1998.

How much could this industry grow? Insurance has gained wider acceptance in some European countries, such as the United Kingdom, where 20 percent of pets have policies, and Sweden, where it's estimated at least 30 percent of pets are covered, according to New York-based research firm Packaged Facts.

PurinaCare believes that eventually 10 percent of U.S. pets will be covered by insurance. Changes in people's social support systems — higher divorce rates, fewer children and people living farther away from their families — has helped drive this trend, said James Serpell, a veterinary ethics professor at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine.

"We're using animals to replace what we're losing in human social relationships," he said. With that evolution, pet owners now expect medical care for their pets to match medical care for themselves. "People ask now, 'Why can't my dog get dialysis?' People increasingly think health care they get from their vets should be like what they get for their children," Serpell said.

Yet, veterinary care isn't cheap. It's second only to food in the amount people spend on pets. Of the $50 billion expected to be spent this year on pets, $14.11 billion will be for vet bills, up from $13 billion last year.

GROWING MARKET: In 1982, VPI Pet Insurance issued the first pet insurance policy in the United States. VPI has long dominated the industry, but it has lost market share in recent years as more providers emerged. VPI had 52 percent market share in 2009, according to Packaged Facts, down from 68 percent in 2005.

"They sort of had the party to themselves until 2004-2005, when new companies started entering the market with new plans and pitches," said David Lummis, senior pet market researcher for Packaged Facts. The number of pet insurance providers in the nation doubled over the last decade from six to a dozen in 2010.

Among the newcomers is Nestlé Purina. After studying the pet insurance market for three years, the company felt it could be competitive by drawing on its experience and research in pet health.

According to company executives, a void existed in the market for people to access information about what pet policies covered. Nestlé Purina posts copies of its policies online for customers to view. The potential exists for Nestlé Purina, which is owned by Swiss-based Nestlé, to grow its insurance business globally.

"Other Purina subsidiaries around the world have expressed interest in pet insurance, but our current focus is limited to the North American market," said Dr. David Goodnight, a veterinarian and president of PurinaCare, based in San Antonio.

Nestlé Purina wouldn't disclose PurinaCare's revenue or market share. But Packaged Facts estimates it has less than 1 percent of the North American pet insurance market. Pet insurance revenue in North America totaled $354 million in 2009, up from $310 million in 2008, according to a Packaged Facts estimate.

The emergence of a global consumer products conglomerate of Nestlé's size in the pet insurance market is a sign of the market's strength and growth potential, Lummis said. "Nestlé Purina is a very cautious, conservative company, and they really look before they leap," he said.

Its rivals include pet retailer PetCo and the financial services division of grocery chain Kroger. There's speculation that Wal-Mart will introduce a pet insurance product at its Canadian stores this year.

"I think that the tipping point will be when big retailers get into it, and we're right on the verge with retailers exploring it," said Kristen Lynch, executive director of the nonprofit North American Pet Health Insurance Association, whose members include pet insurance providers.

PRICE SHOCK: Monthly pet insurance premiums can start at around $10 but can exceed $100 for some older dogs. Pre-existing conditions are typically excluded, and pet owners are reimbursed after submitting claims.

Providers' policies vary. Some of the higher-end preventive plans cover heartworm and flea medications in addition to vaccines and annual exams. Some of the lower-cost plans just provide coverage for unexpected accidents and illnesses.

A $1,180 vet bill for a dog's broken leg under VPI's Super Plan, for example, will reimburse the pet owner $1,002. With a lower monthly payment, VPI will reimburse $626 of the vet's bill.

Nestlé Purina tweaked its offerings last year to include a plan that allows pet owners to pay lower premiums in exchange for bearing a higher percentage of the bill, between 30 percent and 40 percent of eligible expenses.

Despite the cost, more pet owners are taking out insurance policies to avoid price shock at the vet's office.

"Nobody's expecting a big pet bill, and then all of a sudden, they have a big problem like a car accident (involving the pet) or illness," said Dr. Wayne Hause, a veterinarian in Bridgeton who specializes in clinical oncology and neurology.

Visits to his office start at $120 but can quickly add up to several thousand dollars when multiple procedures are performed. More people are coming to his practice with pet insurance policies, although pets covered with insurance still total less than 10 percent of his clients, he said.

"The people that walk in with pet insurance are much happier, because they can take the financial aspect out of decisions relating to their pets," Hause said.

Dr. Noelle Miles, a veterinarian in Millstadt and president of the Greater St. Louis Veterinary Medical Association, said treatment for some chronic diseases such as cancer can cost pet owners more than $300 a month. Many pet owners are willing to pay the cost, with or without insurance.

Consumer Reports' Money Adviser newsletter published an article last fall with an analysis of four pet health insurers — VPI, ASPCA Pet Health Insurance, 24PetWatch QuickCare and Trupanion — and concluded that for generally healthy animals, pet insurance isn't worth the cost. For most owners, establishing an emergency fund for unexpected pet bills is a better choice.

Still, for young pets that develop a chronic condition or illness after the policy is in place, having the policies paid off, according to the report.

"The main thing is, whenever you're shopping for those plans, it's important to look very carefully at the fine print and look at all of the exceptions," said Tobie Stanger, a Consumer Reports senior editor and author of the report.

For Brown, who paid several thousand dollars out-of-pocket for vet bills, the peace of mind in knowing she won't face unexpected veterinary expenses is worth the price of a monthly premium. "I like that it pays for shots, and when Caramel did need to seek treatment for a dog bite, I was reimbursed promptly," she said.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Camps teach kids proper animal care

Iguanas, cockatoos and sugar gliders are just some of the animals kids can get to know at camps dedicated to teaching about pets and wildlife this summer. Camps offered by the Arizona Animal Welfare League and SPCA and the Phoenix Herpetological Society will be teaching kids about new animals, how to care for the pets they have, and how to protect animals in the wild.

Camp Ruffin' it is a day camp open to kids ages 6 to 12. Campers will be broken up into age groups of 6 to 8 and 9 to 12, and will be taught about responsible pet care. They will have the chance to interact with rare pets like iguanas, cockatoos and sugar gliders and will learn pet training tips and animal care and behavior.

Camp sessions begin the week of May 30 and go until Aug. 1 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day with half-day and after-care schedules available. Paws n' Claws Kids Club Members can take part in Camp Ruffin' it for $245 for the full day and $155 for half day while non-members will pay $275 for the full day and $175 for half day.

The AAWL and SPCA also offer Camp Vet for older campers who may want to learn more about being a veterinarian. The camp is for ages 12 to 14 and will explore a wide variety of animals and the care they require. Campers will be able to observe surgeries in AAWL's Pet MD veterinary clinic, dissect organs, learn anatomy, view specimens under a microscope, practice pet first aid, and explore animal diseases.

Advanced Camp Vet is also offered for campers who have already attended Camp Vet in the past. Campers in Advanced Camp Vet will work side-by-side with veterinarians and veterinary technicians in the clinic.

Camp Vet will be offered the weeks of June 6 through 10, July 11 through 15 and Aug. 1 through 5. Advanced classes will be offered June 20 through 24 and July 18 through 22. Each camp will cost $290 for club members and $325 for non-members.

A T-shirt and two snacks are included in all AAWL and SPCA camp prices but campers must bring their own lunch. For more information or to register, or call (602) 273-6852, ext. 122.

The Phoenix Herpetological Society offers a day camp for ages 9 to 14. Reptile Encounters will cover a different subject each day like snakes, crocodiles, tortoises, lizards and desert safety. Campers will learn how to care for the pets in captivity and also how to keep their natural habitat safe. Kids will have the chance to help with the everyday care of the animals at the Phoenix Herpetological Society's reptile sanctuary in Scottsdale.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Petpals – Foster care for pets

Part-time care for young animals that are awaiting adoption is a rewarding journey. The new foster programme anchored by Blue Cross gives Chennai-ites a chance to take care of a puppy or kitten for two to four weeks until the animal finds a permanent home.

Fostering is becoming increasingly popular across the world, and is seen as a solution for over-burdened shelters that cannot provide individual attention to rescued and vulnerable animals. It's also an opportunity for a person to enjoy all the benefits of keeping a companion animal, when he/she is not in a position to adopt one. “But it's a nice way to experience what it is like to keep a pet, by taking care of one for a few weeks and observing how it changes your lifestyle,” says a volunteer of the programme.

Foster parents provide space for the animal in their homes and administer special care if necessary (for example, bottle feed newborns) in a relatively infection-free environment and give the pet affection. Volunteers at the shelter set out to find permanent homes for the pet, after which the foster caretaker hands over the pet to the permanent family. A pet that has been fostered escapes the stress that comes from living in a facility where there are hundreds of other animals, and also gets a head-start in being socialised by humans.

Volunteers check foster parent's schedule, level of experience, and other factors such as existing pets. Says puppy rescuer Jennifer Jacob: “Foster parents Shiva and Sobhana Rani took care of three homeless puppies I rescued, and also successfully found permanent homes for them. They did a fantastic job of helping out during a time of need.”

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Legal on 4: Planning your pets' future

Today's Legal on 4 focuses on an issue that you probably haven't thought of: what would happen to your pets if you weren't around anymore? News 4 at 4 legal contributor Craig Wisnom says it's smart to make plans not only for your death, but if you become incapacitated. Here is Wisnom's legal advice for planning for your pets:

Planning for incapacity: Normally, individuals can plan for incapacity by executing a Power of Attorney, which names someone to make decisions on your behalf. If you have pets, you should make sure specific authority is provided for them. Otherwise, your Agent may not have the legal authority to spend your money to care for your pets.

Planning for death: In case of your death, the first step in planning for your pet's care is realizing your animal's need and living situation. Is it a horse that will require a great expense for food and boarding, or an animal with special medical needs? Once this is established, there is a broad range of options available to provide for your pet:

A. No plan: If no planning is done, the individual or professional you name as Personal Representative of your estate, or the Trustee of your Revocable Trust, will decide what happens to your animals.

B. Specify a new caregiver in your Will: In your will, you can specify who will inherit your pet. You can also select alternative owners if your first choice is not willing to accept your pet. C. Give the selected caregiver money: An additional step in planning is to give money to the person who will care for your pet. This will not create a legal entity or obligation, but providing money may help make it easier for Nephew Jeffrey to take responsibility for Spot.

D. Leave a gift for animal organizations: For those who want more certainty provided for their pets, there are organizations available that will guarantee a certain level of care, placement, and supervision for your animals if you provide the group with a certain monetary amount in your Will.

For instance, the Humane Society of Southern Arizona has the "Guardian Angel" program. This can be a particularly important option when you want to provide for your pet but don't have an individual willing and able to accept responsibility for your pet when you die.

E. Set up a trust: Arizona law provides for the "deluxe" option, where you can set up a continuing trust for your pet, under your Will or Revocable Trust. With this option, a Trustee will be named to make any decisions regarding your pet and manage the money designated for that use.

There are many options available in planning for your pet's care after you are gone. Choosing the right option for your pet depends on his/her needs and the resources available.

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