Leasing your pet? Really? (And a little about the FTC…)

Via Leasing your pet? Really?

PDF: Pet leasing and FTC

Today, I got an email from the Federal Trade Commission with the header, “Are you buying or leasing your pet? (Not joking).”

As it would be physically impossible for me not to read on (could you resist?) I dived in. It seems that, with the skyrocketing prices of pets (especially exotic ones), some pet retailers are setting up installment plans that allow pet owners to purchase their pets on credit. Some are even setting up lease agreements under which the creature is still owned by the pet store until the lease is paid in full, which can result in paying much more than the price of the pet itself.

Now, while leasing a car might or might not be a good idea (depending on the circumstances), the notion of leasing a pet is lost on me at my current stage of development. While I’m personally a big proponent of just adopting a lovable furry friend from the local rescue shelter, retail pets are a big business. Unfortunately, though, many pet owners have evidently found themselves on the hook for thousands after their pet dies or is stolen, or have even faced the trauma of having Rover or Fluffy repossessed if they can’t make the payments.

FTC blogger Lisa Lake noted in her blog post, “…whether it’s pooches or parrots, understand what you’re actually paying for before you sign anything.” It’s good advice all around.

As you know if you read this column regularly, I often bring you information from the FTC. This agency creates a lot of consumer news as it goes about its work. Consumer reporters, bloggers and columnists rely on the agency (as do I) to tell us what they’re doing to protect consumers, and we pass that on to you.

Often, a news release from the FTC is a starting point for a similar or related topic. It’s one of dozens of federal and state-level agencies, along with independent “watchdog” organizations, consumer columnists and blogs I follow to help keep you apprised of consumer news you need to know.

Since its inception 103 years ago, the FTC has become a large agency with a lot of important tasks. When it started, the FTC’s job was to combat “unfair methods of competition.” In 1938, the agency’s mission grew to include watching out for “unfair or deceptive acts or practices,” and in the years since, Congress has given the FTC many other tasks. A few weeks ago, President Trump nominated Joseph J. Simons, a veteran antitrust lawyer, to head the FTC. If approved by Congress, Simons will head an agency with broad powers.

Specifically, the FTC is “empowered, among other things, to prevent unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce; seek monetary redress and other relief for conduct injurious to consumers; prescribe rules defining with specificity acts or practices that are unfair or deceptive, and establishing requirements designed to prevent such acts or practices; gather and compile information and conduct investigations relating to the organization, business, practices, and management of entities engaged in commerce; and make reports and legislative recommendations to Congress and the public.”

The FTC also enforces the National Do-Not-Call registry, has broadened its efforts to halt identity theft and promote data security, and has taken a lead role in things like product packaging, warranties, “Made in the USA” claims and other issues affecting consumers.

The agency is generally regarded as doing good work, but it’s not without its critics. Some have criticized it, for example, for not doing enough to challenge powerful tech companies. And, no matter which political party is in the White House, the FTC’s actions are often viewed through the lenses of politics. (The FTC’s five commissioners are nominated by the president to their seven-year terms, but the law says that no more than three may be from the same political party.)

But no matter who’s in charge, it’s likely that the FTC will be a formidable force well into the future, and no matter how you feel about leasing your furry friend or buying that questionable product, will keep an eye on that situation for you.


Preventable pet diseases can be costly if not treated early

via Preventable pet diseases can be costly if not treated early, clarionledger.com

PDF: Pet diseases costly

Any pet owner knows that taking care of a pet comes with its financial responsibilities.

Since taking “Bella” or “Max” to the vet is likely to put a crimp in your wallet, many people have begun taking out pet insurance on their furry friends. But many more pet owners just pay for the expenses out of pocket, and Americans spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on veterinary bills.

Just as with humans, keeping your pet healthy can help you avoid the costs of having to pay later. Recently, Nationwide Insurance (the nation’s largest pet insurance provider) combed through its records of more than 600,000 covered pets to determine the cases that cost the most, but which could have been prevented or mitigated if pet owners had taken preventive measures.

The search provided some interesting data to underline what many pet owners already knew: neglecting your pet’s general health needs can cost you more in the long run, and your furry (or scaled, or feathery) companion will have to bear the cost in pain, discomfort and possibly a shorter life.

Nationwide noted the five most costly conditions, which could be treatable if caught early. (Keep in mind these are just averages; what you pay will vary depending on a number of factors.):

Dental disease. Just as you and I need to see the dentist regularly, your pet’s teeth need care, too. The average cost to treat dental diseases, such as tooth infections and cavities, is about $391, and can cost much more, depending on the condition. Brushing your pet’s teeth regularly, or having your vet do it, costs less than treating advanced — and often painful —dental problems.

External parasites. Conditions transmitted by ticks and fleas such as Lyme disease and skin allergies carry an average cost of $244 to treat, and just $121 to prevent. Using preventative flea and tick medications, and regularly inspecting your pet for infestations, costs a lot less than having to have these conditions treated later.

Internal Parasites. Getting your pet treated for heartworms, roundworms and other internal parasites costs on average $207 to treat, but just $35 to prevent, according to the Nationwide data. Heartworm infestations, according to the American Animal Hospital Association, can cost $400 to $1,000 to treat. Annual exams and preventive medications can greatly reduce the chances of infestations, and medications can cover a range of parasites in one pill or treatment.

Infectious diseases. Dogs and cats can get some serious and life-threatening diseases, such as Parvovirus and feline leukemia. Treatments can be very costly, averaging $841, according to the Nationwide data. But getting your dog or cat vaccinated costs much less and can help prevent many diseases.

Reproductive organ diseases. While perhaps lesser known to many pet owners, diseases of the reproductive system can be costly, costing an average of $609 to treat. But early spaying or neutering is cheaper and can prevent some problems. “Early spaying of female dogs and cats can help protect them from some serious health problems later in life such as uterine infections and breast cancer,” notes the American Veterinary Medical Association. “Neutering your male pet can also lessen its risk of developing benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate gland) and testicular cancer.”

Respiratory infections. Diseases such as kennel cough and feline upper respiratory virus averaged about $190 to treat, but generally less than $25 to treat with a vaccination.

“Seeking a veterinarian’s recommendation for wellness care not only saves pet owners money but also helps prevent our pets from unnecessary, painful ailments,” noted Dr. Carol McConnell, vice president and chief veterinary officer for Nationwide, who in addition to a veterinary medical degree has a master of business administration degree. “The cornerstone of good veterinary care has always been catching diseases early. I strongly recommend that pet owners schedule routine wellness examinations with their local veterinarian. Being proactive is in your pet’s best interest.”

For more on Nationwide’s study, visit http://prn.to/2fDsm4x.

Interesting side note: I chose “Bella” and “Max” as pet names for a reason. A search of the web found a lot of pet owners like the name “Bella.” There are numerous (and conflicting) sources of the most popular dog and cat names, but Findcatnames.comsays its users ranked Bella as the most popular name for female cats and Simba the top name for male cats. Dog-sitting company Rover says its users ranked Bella as the top female dog name and Max the top male dog name.

States passing laws to save kids, pets trapped in cars



via States pass laws to save kids, pets trapped in hot cars, clarionledger.com

PDF: Kids and Pets in Cars

Every year, with the hot weather comes tragic stories of how someone left a child in a hot vehicle, leading to death or serious injuries. Especially here in the Sun Belt, where we’re used to long, hot summers, cars can be a death trap if a child is left inside.

In the past three decades, nationally more than 800 children have died after being left in hot vehicles, and the organization Kidsandcars.org has documented 23 cases so far this year.

In one of the latest cases, a Tennessee couple was charged with murder after their 2-year-old son died. The couple allegedly left the child in a vehicle overnight and into the next day in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Cases abound, as an internet search will attest.

While the outside temperature can be tolerable, inside a vehicle it’s a different story. An enclosed vehicle acts as a greenhouse, with the sun’s rays warming the interior as their energy is trapped inside. The website heatkills.org reports that, even on a mild 70-degree day, temperatures inside a car can easily reach 104 degrees in 30 minutes. And at 90 degrees (we’ve seen those temperatures in the last week in central Mississippi), temperatures inside the car can soar to 109 degrees in 10 minutes, and after a half-hour to 124 degrees. Some studies have reported temperatures as high as 172 degrees when it’s 100 degrees outside.

Even at the lower end of that scale, heat-related deaths can easily occur. And although many people continue to believe that cracking the window for your pet helps, most experts disagree. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study in 2005 that opening a window a few inches does little to alleviate the temperature rise.

The spate of child deaths has rightly led to increased calls for action, as well as additional laws and demands for new technologies to keep these tragedies from occurring. According to kidsandcars.org, about half of the states have laws specifically making it a crime to leave a child or pet in a hot vehicle (Mississippi, regrettably, does not.) Hopefully, as states around the nation take legislative action, these laws will also include language to protect pets.

Frequently, an endangered pet is discovered by passersby. Bystanders who see a potentially deadly situation have a decision to make. While many courageous people have risked lawsuits and even personal harm by breaking into an unattended vehicle to rescue a trapped pet, others might fear the repercussions of taking action.

Recently, several states have passed laws to protect people who must break into a vehicle to save a pet trapped inside. For example, in Colorado and other states, would-be rescuers must take a number of other steps before they start breaking windows, including making “every reasonable effort” to locate the vehicle’s owner and call law enforcement. They must also be able to demonstrate the pet is clearly in danger of suffocation or extreme heat or cold. Many state laws specifically limit the term “animal” or “pet” to cats and dogs and specifically prohibit the law from referring to livestock.

Most state laws, according to a study earlier this year by Michigan State University, require that the rescuer be a first-responder (such as a police officer, EMT or firefighter), or a representative of a humane society. Ordinary citizens in most states are not offered any protection or immunity. Of course, many pet lovers will take action anyway, disregarding the potential risk of a nasty confrontation or being charged with destruction of property.

But until we have better laws protecting kids — and pets — left in vehicles, perhaps the best response is to leave your pets at home if possible. And if you see an animal in obvious distress in a vehicle, the Humane Society of the United States suggests you try to locate the owner, and if that fails, call the non-emergency number for the police to report the situation.

Big bunny’s death raises concern about flying with pets

via Big bunny’s mysterious death raises concerns about flying pets, clarionledger.com

PDF: Bunny Death 1Bunny Death 2

The mysterious death of a giant rabbit on a United Airlines flight has highlighted the potential dangers of traveling with pets.

Simon, a 3-foot-long Continental Giant Rabbit, had been bought from his British breeder by a group of investors who had hoped to enter him into a “world’s largest rabbit” contest at the Iowa State Fair.

But Simon didn’t survive to receive the honor, as he died during the trip after the London-to-Chicago flight in April. Lawyers for Simon’s new owners allege Simon was somehow placed in a freezer for 16 hours, then his body cremated without the owners’ consent in a bid to destroy the evidence surrounding his death. United has disputed that version of events, however, and the case is making its way through the court system.

It’s the latest in a spate of bad news for United and the airline industry in general. United is still reeling from the backlash after a man was forcibly removed from his seat after refusing to give up the seat for an airline employee and for the now-infamous “leggings” incident. Hardly a day goes by without some new scandal affecting not only United, but other airlines as well.

While we may never know the exact chain of events that led to Simon’s death, it does highlight the risk people take when flying their pets. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, of the more than 2 million pets transported in the U.S. on planes each year since 2005, airlines have reported more than 300 incidents of pets dying in cargo holds. Many more animals are injured or lost during travel, as well.

The DOT requires all airlines to provide a pressurized cargo hold for transporting animals, but some airlines won’t transport pets in the cargo hold. Often, holds are subject to extremes of temperature, noise and stressful situations. The DOT’s website publishes monthly reports of animal-related incidents at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/air-travel-consumer-reports.

The cause of the animal’s death (if known) is listed on the reports. In many cases, baggage handlers found the animals “unresponsive” after a flight, but it’s difficult to say whether the deaths had anything to do with the conditions in the cargo hold or some other factor. In some cases, animals escaped their carriers and were hit by baggage “tugs” or other vehicles on the busy tarmac, or in other cases, were attacked by other animals or died of causes unrelated to the trip (such as heart disease or stroke).

Short-nosed dogs were particularly susceptible to deaths on planes, accounting for more than half. Dogs such as bulldogs, boxers and pugs can have particular respiratory problems, which can be worsened in a tight cargo hold with little ventilation. The American Veterinary Medical Assocation has a page on its website with advice on this issue at https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/Short-nosed-Dogs-and-Air-Travel-FAQs.aspx.

If you plan to travel with your pet, it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian. He or she can help answer questions about travel and may be able to help with ways to make travel less stressful for your pet. In addition, the DOT has some additional tips on its website at https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/plane-talk-traveling-animals:

  • Before traveling, accustom your pet to the kennel in which it will be shipped. Make sure the door latches securely.
  • Don’t give your pet solid food in the six hours prior to the flight, although a moderate amount of water and a walk before and after the flight are advised.
  • Don’t administer sedation to your pet without the approval of a veterinarian and provide a test dose before the trip to gauge how the pet will react.
  • Be sure to reserve a space for your pet in advance and inquire about time and location for drop-off and pick-up.
  • Try to schedule a non-stop flight; avoid connections and the heavy traffic of a holiday or weekend flight.
  • When you board, try to tell a pilot and a flight attendant that there is a pet in the cargo hold. The airlines have a system for providing such notification, but it doesn’t hurt to mention it yourself.
  • For overseas travel (including Hawaii), inquire about any special health requirements such as quarantine.
  • Write your name, address and phone number on the kennel, and make sure your pet is wearing a tag with the same information. Consider purchasing a temporary tag showing your destination address and phone number. Bring a photo of your pet, in case it is lost.

Owners’ smoking puts pets in peril



via Owners’ smoking puts pets in peril, clarionledger.com

PDF: pets-and-smoking

After decades of research, it would be difficult to argue with the notion that cigarette smoking can damage your health. Physicians and health advocates have warned smoking can cause a variety of long- and short-term health consequences, many of which are deadly. Constant efforts over the past five decades have helped reduce cigarette smoking dramatically; the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates cigarette usage among adults has declined from around 43 percent in 1965 to less than 17 percent in 2014.

While that’s good news, a lot of Americans still smoke, and even though the dangers of even “secondhand” smoke are well-documented, it turns out that even “thirdhand” smoke (when the chemicals from cigarette smoke linger on clothes, hair or skin) can have adverse effects on people who live or work with smokers.

But until recently, little research has been devoted to studying how smoking can also affect our pets. But from the research that has been done, it appears that smoking can affect not only humans but the animals we love as well. This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned that pets often have to pay the price for living with a smoker. Tobacco smoke and its residue have been shown to affect a variety of pets, including cats, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters and even fish, afflicting them with cancer and other diseases.

“Smoking’s not only harmful to people; it’s harmful to pets, too,” says Dr. Carmela Stamper, a veterinarian with the FDA. “If 58 million non-smoking adults and children are exposed to tobacco smoke, imagine how many pets are exposed at the same time.”
While our beloved pets often share our living spaces, Stamper notes cats and dogs are likely to spend a lot of time on the floor, where many of the particles in tobacco smoke eventually settle. Often, these compounds are sticky and adhere to every space in the home. Pets breathe it in, and it sticks to their fur, where they can ingest it by licking and sniffing. Even smokers who are careful to smoke outside the house can bring in nicotine and other dangerous chemicals on their clothes. This “thirdhand” smoke can also be poisoning your pets.

The FDA advisory also noted a few interesting facts about pets and smoking, revealed by the available research. For example, it appears that the length of a dog’s nose can affect whether it gets sick — and from what. The nose acts as an air filter, trapping particles. In studies in which dogs were exposed to chemicals in tobacco smoke, longer-nosed breeds (such as Greyhounds and Dobermans) were found to have a doubled risk of nose cancer as compared with short-nosed breeds such as Pugs and Bulldogs. But those shorter-nosed dogs had increased risk for lung cancer, as their noses were less efficient in keeping the toxic brew of chemicals from reaching the lungs.

Cats living with smokers are at risk, too. Felines (as any cat owner knows) are constantly grooming themselves. Cats in smoking households were found to have higher risks of a mouth cancer called squamous cell carcinoma around the base of the tongue, where particles collect during grooming.

And other animals can be harmed as well. Birds developed respiratory problems, and “pocket pets” like guinea pigs were found to be at risk of a variety of health problems, including emphysema. Even fish can suffer from particles that settle out from the air. In one experiment cited by the FDA, scientists put one smoked cigarette butt into water containing 2-week-old fathead minnows. Half of the fish died within four days.

And if you think pets can’t be harmed by electronic cigarettes, e-pens, hookahs or other systems touted as safe, think again. Poison control centers around the nation have noted an uptick in pet illnesses and deaths after they bit into the nicotine capsules in electronic cigarettes.

There’s a lot more in the FDA warning, but the message is clear: tobacco smoke has far-reaching health effects on all the creatures in a home, whether human or not.

If you’re interested in quitting smoking, there are a lot of great resources to help. For example, the American Lung Association has tools available at http://bit.ly/2hfqNWf, and the American Cancer Society’s resources can be accessed at http://bit.ly/1ltRoxc.

Is pet insurance worth it?



From Moak: Do you need pet insurance? Clarionledger.com, 12/23/2015

PDF: Do you need pet insurance

We Americans love our pets. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there were approximately 157 million pets in the United States in 2012, including 43 million dogs, 36 million cats, 3.7 million birds and 1.8 million horses. According to the association’s Pet Ownership Calculator (which allows you to put in a population number and get an approximate number based on statistical information), that would amount to about 421,000 dogs and 350,000 cats in Mississippi. Add in reptiles, small mammals and fish, and that’s a lot of animals bringing joy into our lives.

We get so much from our association with pets. Studies have shown they help decrease stress, as well as provide balance and, of course, give us unconditional love. After a hard day at work, it’s nice to be greeted by an enthusiastic, tail-thumping canine or a cat purring with affection.

But having a pet can be expensive, too. Besides taking care of the basic needs of food, water, shelter, medicine and grooming, owning a pet is a big responsibility. Pets need trips to the vet for routine exams, immunizations and care for various conditions, and, occasionally, emergency care or treatment for a life-threatening condition. If your dog gets heartworms, for example, or if your cat develops an autoimmune disease, it can set you back thousands.

“A majority of the problem with people having big expenses from their pets accumulates from people not taking proper care of their pet or being misinformed of medical issues that might occur,” noted Evan Tew, a certified veterinary technician with Northeast Animal Hospital in Ridgeland.

According to IHheartDogs.com, the most expensive vet bills for dogs are ruptures of the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament, which consists of connective tissue around the knee), gastroenteritis, ingestion of foreign materials, pancreatitis and MPL (a condition in which the dog’s kneecap slips in and out of its normal position, causing pain and lameness). Other costly conditions, Tew added, include diabetes, thyroid disease and urinary issues.

According to wallethub.com, dog owners annually spend $235 to $776 on average for veterinary care, while cat owners can be expected to spend $160-$564. “That equates to as much as $10,088 over the course of the average dog’s life or $8,460 for a cat!” notes Wallethub. That’s not a trivial amount of money but one which most pet owners spend without a second thought.

To help pay those bills, a lot of companies have in recent years begun selling pet insurance. These products vary in what they will cover, how much they cost and the conditions of using them. Some consumer advocates have questioned whether these plans are worth the cost. It should be noted the vast majority of pet owners don’t buy pet insurance, anyway; Wallethub notes only about three in 100 dogs are insured. Most pet insurance costs $20 to $30 a month.

If you are considering pet insurance, Consumer Reports suggests you compare plans. Look for terms and conditions and coverage limitations. Some policies are designed as “safety net” policies, kicking in only for major expenses, while others might include some routine expenses, such as teeth-cleaning. Be sure to consider any deductibles.

In addition, making sure your animal receives the proper preventive care can save you later. For example, putting your pet on a regular heartworm prevention medication can be expensive, but the cost pales in comparison to having him or her treated for heartworm infestation ($500 to $1,000). Tew adds that you should consider heartworm preventives carefully; some are ineffective. Your vet can recommend some good options.

“The key to finding the right insurance policy is reading the fine print,” he noted. “Making sure they will be covered for major surgeries or expenses is a must. Sometimes needless examinations are done as well. But … a lot of pet-related expenses could be avoided with education through their veterinarian.”

Here are some other suggestions from Consumer Reports:

  • Ask your vet what vaccines you can skip. While some vaccines are required, others may not be.
  • Guard against parasites. Flea and tick infestations can cause life-threatening anemia. An inexpensive topical flea and tick solution can keep the critters at bay.
  • Spay or neuter your pet. Doing so can prevent health problems, including uterine, ovarian and testicular cancers. Many local shelters or pet organizations can provide low- or no-cost spay or neuter surgeries.

And many advocates suggest putting some money aside on a regular basis to help take care of unexpected expenses. Putting the $20 or $30 a month you’d spend on a pet insurance policy can add up, helping provide a pool of money to take care of Bella or Max when they need it down the road

Keep sweets away from your dogs

via Moak: Keep sweets away from your dogs, clarionledger.com, 11/5/2015.

Sick dog facing camera on white background


Many households this week are likely to have a lot of extra candy lying around. While a few of us plan well enough to have used exactly the amount of sweets we bought before Halloween, it’s more likely you have a stash left over. I know that’s the case in the Moak household; we bought candy to prepare for the expected onslaught on Saturday, but we were away from the house on Friday night, only to find that most of the trick-or-treating had been moved to Friday because of anticipated bad weather. Now, it is just sitting there, tempting, beckoning.

But that candy can do a lot more damage than adding to your waistline or rotting your kids’ teeth; it could kill your dog. The chemical Xylitol, which was introduced years ago in some sugarless gum brands, has been found to be toxic to dogs. In some tragic cases, dogs who have gotten hold of a pack of xylitol-containing gum have died.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced some time ago that Xylitol could cause a massive release of insulin in dogs, leading to severe low blood sugar, seizures and liver failure. Xylitol is harmless to humans, but not so for our canine friends. CBS News reported on Tuesday that Xylitol may also be found in products like sugar-free candy, chewable vitamins and even peanut butter.

Over the past decade, the number of cases of Xylitol pet poisonings has skyrocketed, from just 82 reported cases in 2004 to more than 3,700 last year. That probably coincides with its increasing use in foods.

Dogs are naturally curious, and often go poking around for things to eat. Their sensitive noses may pick up the irresistible scent of sweets, and getting into the treat bag can introduce them to a host of bad things. Of course, it’s well known chocolate is bad for dogs.

“Chocolate contains theobromide, a chemical that is toxic to dogs in large enough quantities,” notes the website vetstreet.com.

But those aren’t the only foods that may be harmless to humans but can be problematic for pets. Here is a short list, from vetstreet.com:

  • Grapes and raisins have been linked to often-fatal kidney failure in dogs and cats. The cause is currently unknown.
  • Avocado leaves, pits, fruit and bark are all believed to be toxic to dogs and cats.
  • Garlic and onions contain chemicals that can damage red blood cells.
  •  Macadamia nuts have been linked to unexplained pet illnesses.

And that’s just foods; a number of houseplants, cleaning chemicals, antifreeze and other substances have been known to make dogs and cats sick or die. Of course, you can’t blame a dog for following his instincts, any more than you could blame a child for getting into the colorful bottles of cleaning chemicals you left under the kitchen sink. It’s on us pet owners to make sure our furry friends can’t get at anything that could be toxic.

Take a look around your house, and if necessary, get on the floor (a dog’s eye-level) to see what things might be a temptation. Lock up any “people” food, and investigate any plants or new substances you bring into the house. Veterinarians are united in their advice to serve your dog his pet food and only his pet food, no matter how much he begs or whines for the much-tastier people food. Some tasty pet treats might be OK as well; ask your vet for recommendations.

Just as we would childproof our homes if expecting a baby, we should all make sure we pet-proof our homes. Our pets give us lots of love, but ultimately, we’re responsible for making sure they’re healthy and happy and remain that way.

Flying with your pet

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on 6/6/2015.

PDF: Flying with your pet

You may have been following the saga of actor Johnny Depp’s dogs and their harrowing escape from  Australia. For those unfamiliar with the story, Depp and his wife Amber Heard took their two Yorkshire Terriers Boo Radley and Pistol to Australia on a private jet back in April. However, no one declared the canines to Australian customs officials, thereby breaking Australian customs law. After seeing photos of the Yorkies on Facebook, authorities threatened to slap the Pirates of the Caribbean actor with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of fines and a possible prison term.

Most disturbingly to animal lovers, Australia’s agriculture minister Barnaby Joyce discussed having the dogs killed if they didn’t leave the country post-haste. Since then, the pups have been spirited out of the country (just barely before the deadline had passed), but Depp must still deal with the issues raised by taking the dogs into the Land Down Under to begin with. That could include $340,000 in fines and up to 10 years’ jail time.

As this saga demonstrates, traveling with your pets can complicate your trip. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, more than two million pets and other live animals are transported by plane every year in the U.S. Many hotels and travel destinations are becoming more pet-friendly, but getting them there in the first place can be complicated.

Increasingly, Americans are taking their pets with them as they travel internationally, too. But travelers sometimes forget to check to ensure their pet is welcome. Due to diseases and pests, animal importation is taken very seriously across the globe. And although some consider Australia’s reaction extreme, in many countries the response to violation of importation laws would likely be swift and severe, and likely wouldn’t have a happy ending for the pets (or their owners).

Here in the U.S., animal plane transport is generally covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USAPHIS). Here are some rules you need to know if you plan to take your pet on a commercial airline (www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/plane-talk-traveling-animals):

  • Dogs and cats must be at least eight weeks old and must have been weaned for at least five days.
  • Cages and other shipping containers must meet minimum standard for size, ventilation, strength, sanitation and design for safe handling. (Sky kennels furnished by the airlines meet these requirements.)
  • Dogs and cats must not be brought to the airline for shipping more than four hours before departure. (Six hours is permitted if shipping arrangements are made in advance.)
  • If puppies or kittens less than 16 weeks of age are in transit more than 12 hours, food and water must be provided.
  • Older animals must have food at least every 24 hours and water at least every 12 hours. Written instructions for food and water must accompany all animals shipped regardless of the scheduled time in transit.
  • Animals may not be exposed to temperatures less than 45 degrees (F) unless they are accompanied by a certificate signed by a veterinarian stating that they are acclimated to lower temperatures.
  • Animals cannot be shipped COD unless the shipper guarantees the return freight should the animals be refused at destination.

Airlines have their own differing rules about pet travel. Most airlines charge a hefty fee for taking your pet along (Southwest charges $95.00 each way). Depending on the airline, you may be able to “carry-on” your pet, but may have to ship your animal as cargo. Many airlines require that you provide a certificate from your veterinarian that Fido or Fluffy is in good health. Delta requires that you have a vet sign a health certificate no more than 10 days before your trip. (These rules might not apply in the case of service animals, such as guide dogs for the blind.)

If you do carry-on a pet carrier, make sure it’s approved. Generally, it must fit under the seat in front of you, and the door must latch securely. Most airlines will make you keep the pet in the carrier the entire time. Keep in mind that pet carriers are subject to inspection by TSA agents, so make sure they are empty of anything but Fido and his essentials. And, since airport and airline officials frown on having animals running through their planes and airports, carry a leash.

If you’re planning to take your pet into another country (or Hawaii), plan well ahead. Do your homework on whether your pet is allowed, and under what conditions. And plan to adhere thoroughly to those regulations; some countries will make you quarantine your pet. Even though Hawaii is a U.S. state, it’s considered “rabies-free”, and has a strict quarantine policy. Pets generally are subject to an expensive 120-day quarantine, but your pet might qualify for a “5-day-or-less” program. (Visit hdoa.hawaii.gov for more information.)

While many people think pets should be sedated before traveling, check with your vet to get his or her advice. Experts advise against giving your pet any solid food for six hours before flying, but exercise and water are a good idea. And if your pet is traveling in the cargo hold, be sure to advise the flight attendant.

Your pet is counting on you to consider his or her needs. Travel is stressful; a little planning can help you avoid problems later.

Retailers pull jerky treats from shelves; FDA investigating

Giving your dog a meaty treat is a sure way to get his tail wagging, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers once again that there may be something dangerous lurking in at least some of those treats. Since 2007, at least 1,000 dogs in the U.S. have died after eating “jerky” flavored treats (mostly made in China), and the FDA estimates that it has received more than 5,600 reports of animals – and at least three sick people – whose illnesses or deaths may be related to consumption of the savory treats. Problems have been reported with several flavors, including chicken, duck and sweet potato treats.

This week, two of the nation’s largest pet retailers – Petco and Petsmart – announced they would be removing jerky treats from their stores. Petco has already done so, and Petsmart says it will follow suit by March. Since consumers first reported problems seven years ago, the FDA has been trying unsuccessfully to find the “smoking gun” that would indicate what is behind the spate of illnesses and deaths of our beloved furry friends. The agency even asked veterinarians across the country to assist by helping examine the bodies of deceased pets. After studying 26 such necropsies, the FDA reported that half indicated causes of death other than ingesting treats. In the remaining cases, the agency indicated that a connection “could not be ruled out.” The investigation continues, but the two chains (and lots of others as well) have decided it’s not worth the risk.

“This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” noted Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it.” The CVM has conducted thousands of tests, visited jerky pet treat manufacturers in China and collaborated with colleagues in academia, industry, state labs and foreign governments. Yet the exact cause of the illnesses remains unknown.

FDA scientists have tested the treats for a host of potential causes, including bacteria and viruses, heavy metals, poisons, chemicals, molds, nutritional composition, drugs and “nontraditional ingredients.” Most have come up negative, but one potential suspect is an anti-viral drug called amantadine, which is inexplicably present in some jerky treats.

Meanwhile, the FDA offers these pointers to help you and your canine companion:

Don’t substitute jerky products for a balanced diet. The products are intended to be used occasionally and in small quantities. Owners of small dogs must be especially careful to limit the amount of these products.

If you choose to feed your dog chicken jerky products, watch the dog closely. Stop feeding the product if your dog shows any of the following signs, which may occur within hours to days after feeding the product:

  • decreased appetite, although some dogs may continue to eat the treats instead of other foods
  • decreased activity
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea, sometimes with blood
  • increased water drinking or increased urination

Call your veterinarian if signs are severe or last for more than 24 hours. Although most dogs appear to recover, some reports to FDA have involved dogs that have died.

And if you think your dog’s health problems may be related to ingesting jerky treats, report it to the FDA’s website at www.fda.gov/petfoodcomplaints.

Pedigree recall includes Miss. stores

Originally published in the Clarion-Ledger on 8/30/2014.

PDF: Pedigree recall includes Miss. stores

Dog food manufacturer announces recall of some PEDIGREE® Dog food sold in Miss.

Mars Petcare US has announced a voluntary recall of 22 bags of PEDIGREE® Adult Complete Nutrition dry dog food products due to the possible presence of a foreign material, according to a news release from the U.S. Food and Dug Administration (FDA).

The bags were sold between Aug. 18 and 25 at Dollar General Stores in Vicksburg and Magnolia, as well as in other Dollar General stores in Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee.

The bags were produced in one manufacturing facility, and shipped to one retail customer. The facility production line has been shut down until this issue is resolved.

Affected bags may contain small metal fragments, which could have entered the packages during the production process. The foreign material is not embedded in the food itself, but may present a risk of injury if consumed.

“We encourage consumers who have purchased affected product to discard the food or return it to the retailer for a full refund or exchange,”
noted the release. “We have not received any reports of injury or illness associated with the affected product.”

To identify the 15-pound bags of
PEDIGREE® Adult Complete Nutrition dry dog food, look for a lot code printed on the back of the bag near the UPC code that reads 432C1KKM03 and a Best Before date of 8/5/15.

The FDA notes that no other PEDIGREE® products are affected, including any other variety of dry dog food, wet dog food or dog treats.

Pet owners who have questions about the recall should call 1-800-305-5206 or visit www.pedigree.com/update.