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.

Bill Moak: Cat owners warned about Easter lilies

Lilies are an important symbol of Easter, and many people will be buying these beautiful flowers (did you know they originate in Japan’s Ryukyu Islands?) to commemorate the season. But cat owners are being warned that lilies and cats don’t mix.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Monday issued a warning to consumers that some varieties of lilies can be lethal to your cats, causing acute kidney failure in your feline friends. Easter Lilies (Lilium longiflorum) have caused the deaths of cats which ingested the leaves and flowers, as well as other varieties such as Tiger, Asiatic, Day, and Japanese Show lilies.

If you have cats, you may have noticed their tendency to sometimes eat plants or grass. Veterinarians say this is normal behavior, but many common houseplants are toxic, and eating even a small amount of lily plant (leaf, pollen or flower) is poisonous to them, according to Melanie McLean, a veterinarian at FDA. “Even if they just eat a couple of leaves or lick a few pollen grains off their fur, cats can suffer acute kidney failure within a very short period of time,” notes McLean in the FDA warning.

McLean says that if your cat has eaten part of a lily, the first thing you’ll see is vomiting soon afterwards. That may gradually lessen over two to four hours. Within 12 to 24 hours, the cat may start to urinate frequently. Then, if kidney failure sets in, the cat will stop urinating because the kidneys stop being able to produce urine. Untreated, she says, a cat will die within four to seven days of eating a lily.

Young cats typically have healthy kidneys, so when a young cat shows signs of acute kidney damage, consumption of a toxic substance is one of the first things veterinarians investigate, McLean says.

Early veterinary treatment is critical. McLean says that even if you just suspect that your cat has eaten a lily, you should call your veterinarian immediately or, if the office is closed, take your cat to an emergency veterinary clinic. The vet may induce vomiting if the cat just ate the lily, and will give the cat intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and preserve kidney function.

Other lilies, like Calla and Peace lilies, don’t cause fatal kidney failure, but they can irritate your cat’s mouth and esophagus. Lilies of the Valley are toxic to the heart, causing an abnormal heart rhythm. If you think your cat has eaten any type of lily, contact your veterinarian. Lilies are not a great danger to dogs, McLean says. Dogs may have some gastrointestinal issues if they eat a lily, but nothing considered life-threatening.

The ASPCA has a great database of toxic plants, which would be a good resource to consult if you want to make sure your house is safe for your pets.

Of course, this is just part of the story when it comes to the association of Easter with animals. Every year, animal advocates beat the drum about not giving animals as Easter presents. Those cute little bunnies and fuzzy chicks grow up to be adult animals, requiring care for life. Often, they end up in shelters when their owners can’t take care of them. People who raise rabbits say they make great pets, but they’re not always ideal for kids. Both rabbits and chickens can live a long time and be a real commitment, so please keep that in mind when thinking about advising Peter Cottontail what to put in those baskets.

Originally published by the Clarion-Ledger on 4/15/2014.

Jerky treats may be killing, injuring pets

flippie1Giving your dog or cat a meaty treat is almost guaranteed to send them into a food Nirvana, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers that there may be something dangerous lurking in those treats. The problem is, they don’t know exactly what.

Last week, the FDA issued a call for anyone whose pet has become ill or even died after eating “jerky” type pet treats to come forward and let them know. The FDA estimates that close to 600 pets have died after eating the treats since 2007, with more than 3,600 pets becoming ill enough to take them to the vet. It does appear that at least some of the problems may originate in …wait for it… China.

“This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” says Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it.” The CVM has conducted more than 1,200 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 elusive.

Now, the CVM is asking for help from consumers and veterinarians across the country. A letter is being sent out to vets, along with a fact sheet to help report the incidents.

Meanwhile, the FDA has told us what to look out for:

  • Decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea, drinking more water, and increased urination have been associated with eating jerky tenders or strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes and/or dried fruit.
  • Severe cases have involved kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, and a rare kidney disorder. About 60 percent of cases involved gastrointestinal illness, and about 30 percent involved kidney and urinary systems.
  • The remaining cases reported various symptoms, such as collapse, convulsions or skin issues.

“Our fervent hope as animal lovers,” says Dunham, “is that we will soon find the cause of—and put a stop to—these illnesses.”

I agree. For now, no jerky treats for the Moak family dog. He’ll just have to stick to his daily allotment.

For more information, visit the FDA’s incident site here.

Proctor & Gamble recalls some Eukanuba, Iams pet food

The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G) has voluntarily recalled specific lots of Eukanuba and Iams dry pet food because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website.

The dry dog and cat foods represent just 1/10 of one percent of annual production, and were produced in a recent 10-day window. P&G issued the voluntary recall as a precautionary measure.

“Salmonella can affect animals eating the products and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet products,” notes the FDA website, “especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products.”

For a complete list of products affected, visit the FDA website. P&G requests that consumers who have bought one of the affected products, call 800-208-0172, or visit www.iams.com or www.eukanuba.com.

Puppy scams victimizing pet lovers

via Puppy scams victimizing pet lovers | Consumer Watch, clarionledger.com, 12/12/2012.

There are few things that can bring joy to the eyes of a child like finding a puppy under the tree. But scammers know this, too, so unfortunately it’s buyer beware. Authorities at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport have reported an increase in puppy scams, which involve people who bought puppies online, and were told that they could have them shipped to the airport, but had to pay to take the puppies out of the airport.

Unfortunately, the scam activity usually picks up around the holidays. “It’s really sad,” says Warren Jones, cargo manager at the airport, in an interview with an Atlanta TV station. “As soon as you hear, ‘I’ve bought a dog and I’ve been told to contact you,’ you know right away they’ve been scammed.”

Of course, there are really no puppies, and the airport does not have a special animal shipping operation. But more than 100 people each year fall victim to this particular scam. The same thing happened to a North Dakota resident who bought a teacup Chihuahua puppy for $350 via PayPal, as well as hundreds of others.

Puppy scams have become so pervasive, and scammers have become so expert at trickery, that they can con even those who consider themselves worldly-wise. One Georgia couple decided to surprise their two daughters a pair of bulldog puppies, and paid their Christmas savings up front to buy the puppies. They even checked out the company online, so felt safe about paying for the dogs. But when they called the airport to get the dogs, they got the bad news. Now, they want to spread the word to other potential victims.

Their advice: make sure you actually see the dogs. This means doing business with a local vendor. And don’t be fooled by emails which feature the logo of an airport or other official entity. Anybody can put a logo on an email. If you do business online, consumers should ask for tracking numbers through the airline which is supposedly shipping the pets.

And, for what it’s worth, if you’re looking for a new companion for the holidays, check out your local shelter. There are hundreds of shiny wet noses and waggly-tailed canines out there in need of homes. They have lots of love to give, and could be your perfect companion for the holidays.