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And that’s just one of many notable edibles that vied for the Hambone Award, which one pet insurer bestows for its most unusual claim.
ROCKY: Here’s an inside look at what happens when a dog eats a lot of rocks. (Photo: Veterinary Pet Insurance)
Pets do the darnedest things, but that’s why we love them. For every shoe that my dog Lulu has destroyed, she also has provided hours of much-needed cuddle time. I still miss those green suede pumps she ate — and it seems that I’m not alone in lamenting lost inventory. Each year, Veterinary Pet Insurance compiles a list of the unusual ingestion claims for its annual Hambone Award. The dubious title honors a dog that got stuck in its owner’s refrigerator and ate an entire Thanksgiving ham before being discovered. Here are a few notable items consumed last year. In some cases, names have been omitted to protect the guilty.
Harley the pug secured the 2011 Hambone Award after consuming 100 rocks during his stay at a veterinary boarding facility. (That’s an X-ray of Harley in the photo above.) His owner knew there was a problem when the pooch kept pooping rocks. A visit to the emergency clinic led to the discovery of pebbles clogging Harley’s pipes.
He passed the rocks without requiring surgery, earning a bronze ham-shaped trophy, treats and an emergency pet kit. It’s a good reminder to create your ownpet first-aid kit, complete with the number to your nearest after-hours veterinarian.
Sometimes dogs like to veer off the beaten trail and find their own adventures. That didn’t disturb pet owner Brian Handwerk until his dog Scooby started throwing up quills, as in potentially fatal porcupine quills. Next time, we recommend stocking up on Scooby snacks.
Package of fluorescent light bulbs
Compact fluorescent bulbs require much less energy than their incandescent counterparts. But consuming a package of these green bulbs isn’t so bright.
ASPCA dog trainer Kristen Collins recommends investing in a variety of chew toys to promote good dental health and prevent destructive behavior. Even though deer antlers have gained popularity as “green” chew toys, she says that pets should be monitored during playtime.
“Supervise your dog really closely the first few times that she is chewing anything,” she warns, because broken pieces can present a choking hazard. They also can be dangerous if ingested.
A cassette tape
When pet owner William Yunker discovered broken shards of plastic, he knew there was a problem. Dangling under his pointer puppy Rudy’s tail, he discovered evidence of a tune gone horribly wrong. Rudy had managed to eat a cassette tape — and the evidence was working its way out the other end. (That’s Rudy at right.)
Stringy objects such as yarn, shoestrings or cassette tapes can become potentially fatal as they become entangled in a pet’s intestinal tract. Gastrointestinal foreign body issues rank among the top five preventable medical conditions treated at the ASPCA’S Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York. While Rudy’s case did not require surgery, it serves as the perfect cautionary tale to watch pets around bite-size items. Also, maybe it’s time for Yunker to try a digital music format.
One-foot-long metal hanger
Boredom is a common cause for destruction, says animal trainer Kristen Collins of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Mental and physical exercise can keep dogs and cats on the path to good behavior.
She recommends five to 10 minutes of playtime for frisky felines. Interactive toys also keep pets mentally stimulated.
Train pets to avoid potentially dangerous items. Collins is a proponent of the “drop it” command. If your dog has something it its mouth, say “Drop it” and show a high-value treat. As soon as your dog drops the item, offer praise and give the treat. Repeat this step a few times before moving on to the next stage of saying the command without showing the treat every time.
Since most cats don’t respond to bribery, Collins says it’s important to be vigilant about keeping their environment safe. Remove items they are likely to find chew-worthy and stock up on cat grass or other alternatives.
If it’s small enough for pets to swallow, it should be placed far beyond their reach. Foreign body ingestion can require costly — and preventable — emergency surgery.
This column previously appeared on Mother Nature Network
To avoid the gassy, messy aftermath that ‘people food’ can bring, train your dog (and your guests) to behave at the dinner table.
Q: I just got a new puppy and we are working on his manners. He has managed to avoid begging during dinnertime, and we want to keep it that way. But I know that the holidays will be tough because I have lots of friends and family visiting. How do I get through the holidays without being the food police?
A: I’ve watched my brother-in-law lavish ribs, potato salad and even nachos on his beloved pooch with reckless abandon. Give my dog Lulu a banana, and she returns it in a far less pleasant form. That’s why I spend the holidays policing relatives as they walk near-empty Thanksgiving plates to the kitchen.
They mean well, they really do. But depositing scraps of ham, uneaten bits of mac and cheese and other yummies into my dog’s bowl can do more holiday harm than good. While I appreciate the generosity, I don’t relish the tummy troubles or the gassy nights that typically follow.
“Pets get used to absorbing a certain amount of fat, carbohydrates and protein; [their diet] can be thrown out of balance during the holidays,” says pet nutritionist Dr. Martin Glinsky, who began manufacturing holistic pet food in the 1980s. “The most common symptom is some form of loose stool or diarrhea and — with my dog — bouts of nausea. She’s just not used to the rich food we feed ourselves.”
Unfortunately, overly generous relatives aren’t the only threat to a pet’s digestive system. Dogs and cats have a knack for finding and consuming things they should avoid, particularly when their people are preoccupied. The ASPCA’s poison control hotline ( 1-888-426-4435) handled 167,000 cases last year, says medical director Dr. Tina Wismer. Chocolate, a holiday staple, remains the No. 1 culprit. Pet insurance company VPI also notes a spike in claims related to chocolate poisoning during the holidays. The company’s infamous “Hambone Award” even pays tribute to pets and the quirky things they consume, such as the Labrador that ate a Thanksgiving turkey carcass or a golden retriever that consumed an artificial Christmas wreath. Perhaps my brother-in-law’s table scraps aren’t so bad in comparison.
But there are ways to help pets participate in holiday festivities without the risk of accidental injury or illness. Start by brushing up on basic obedience skills so that your pet will have tools to avoid temptation, says ASPCA trainer Kristen Collins.
“Training your dog to ‘leave it’ on cue can be really useful when you have lots of people and tempting foods around,” she says. “With lots of visitors, it’s also a great opportunity to teach your dog to greet people politely.”
In a previous column, I offered tips to help dogs behave on a leash around houseguests. Collins suggests pet-friendly zones, complete with soft bedding, toys and chews.
“Pets become overwhelmed by people and sounds and smells during holidays,” Collins says. “It’s best to fix up a comfy confinement space for your pet.”
Of course, you also can be firm with guests who try to be a little too generous with the table scraps.
“Most guests are conscious of your relationship with your dog and will say, ‘Want me to save this?’” Glinsky says. “I have no problem saying, ‘Please don’t feed the dog. She’s on her own diet, and we don’t feed her table scraps.’ Your dog needs you for her well being and she looks to you for that. You’ve got to do what’s necessary to provide her with that safety.”
This column previously appeared on Mother Nature Network
With guidance, children can overcome their fears, learn the warning signs and prevent future incidents.
As a child, Ranjan Avasthi was once bitten by the family’s German shepherd. His parents responded quickly by separating the two, bandaging his wounds and gradually reintroducing healthy interaction with the dog. Fast-forward a few decades. Dr. Avasthi, an M.D., now has a wife, child and his very own German shepherd mix.
His toddler may be a bit young for cautionary tales, but Avasthi fully understands the risks and rewards of kids and pets sharing a household. As a doctor who specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry, he has seen kids transform in the presence of pets. He also knows that kids will be kids.
They love to grab ears, pull tails and simply rub pets the wrong way. While cats and dogs reside in roughly 84 million U.S. households without incident, accidents happen. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly half of the 800,000 medically treated dog bites each year involve children, mostly between the ages of 5 and 9 years old. Even with the most well-behaved fur kids, it’s best to avoid leaving children and pets unsupervised.
“Kids naturally do things that upset cats and dogs — hugging, staring, petting on the head,” says animal behaviorist Kristen Collins of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA.org). “These can stress animals, and any stressed animal is more dangerous.”
In a previous column, I offered tips to help kids and pets peacefully coexist. But it also helps to have an action plan just in case your child is bitten by a pet (yes, cats bite, too). Take measures to help prevent emotional scars after a pet bites or scratches your child. Collins and Avasthi offer expert advice:
Take swift action: Remove the pet immediately, then discuss why pets may have reacted negatively. “A lot of it is talking about what happened and asking, ‘Why do you think this happened?’” Avasthi says. “Allow children to discuss what can be done to prevent the situation from recurring.”
Teach kids to read a pet’s body language: Collins strongly encourages parents to discuss body language while watching pets. ASPCA.org provides guidelines, photos and safety tips to help kids and parents recognize signs — such as flattened ears or wrinkled forehead — that indicate distress.
Reinforce healthy interaction: Help kids understand how to safely approach a cat or dog. Start by asking human handlers if you can approach, then extend a closed hand for the cat or dog to smell. “It’s best if you let the pet come to you,” Collins says. “It can prevent a lot of bad situations.”
She also recommends that kids and parents practice the proper way to pet a cat or dog using stuffed animals. Focus on areas where animals like to be petted, such as their chest or side. “We sit with kids and talk about things dogs don’t like and cats don’t like,” Collins says. “It’s equally important to explain what they do like.”
Reintroduce pets slowly: Each situation differs, but psychiatrists often use exposure therapy to help patients deal with phobias, Avasthi says. The process resembles slow and deliberate steps that his parents took many years ago. Therapy may begin with kids seeing photos of puppies, then pint-sized pups and, eventually, larger dogs. During subsequent sessions, kids watch videos of pets and gradually interact with an adult cat or dog. The goal is to help kids overcome a fearful response when they think about the pet.
Try a training class: Avasthi and Collins recommend training to build confidence — for kids and pets. Many dog trainers encourage kids to participate in group classes, setting the foundation for safe interaction at an early age. “Then the child is not afraid and doesn’t learn the wrong behaviors,” Avasthi says.
Collins also encourages games such as fetch, along with obedience and teaching trick training. These activities help kids learn positive interaction, and dogs learn that kids are great treat dispensers, she says.
Encourage a healthy respect for Mother Nature: “Educate kids that our house pets — even though domesticated and pets — they are animals,” Avasthi says. “Sometimes they may not mean to hurt us; they may be playing, irritated or even frightened.”
Respecting pets also means giving them space when they show signs of being distressed, overstimulated or tired.
All the best.
This column previously appeared on Mother Nature Network