Q: My husband insists that putting a Halloween costume on our little dog is a horrifying idea. What do you think? -- M.E., Henderson, NV
A: You mean horrifying to the dog, or horrifying to the people who see your pooch in costume? Clearly, pets wearing costumes is a trend. Many big-box stores and pet superstores now devote long aisles to Halloween costumes for pets, especially dogs.
Some pooches do seem humiliated while wearing costumes; I believe they may, in fact, feel disgraced or less than 'dogworthy' dolled up as vampires, princesses or gangsters. Other dogs, particularly those who've been dressed up for Halloween from a young age, seem to revel in the extra attention. Still other dogs obviously could care less what they're wearing as long as they're with their people.
Dr. Mark Russak, of Berlin, CT, immediate past president of the American Animal Hospital Association, says he's more concerned about pets getting into the stash of Halloween candy, being spooked by blood-curdling human costumes, or running out the door as trick-or-treaters troop in and out. Lots of pets get lost on Halloween. For complete safety, Russak suggests confining pets to the basement, a spare bedroom or office during Halloween festivities.
Q: It's been a bad year for me and money is tight. I have two rescued dogs and two rescued cats, all of whom aren't getting any younger, though they're healthy at the moment. Do you have any advice for saving money on medical care, food, grooming, toys and other pet expenses? -- V.J., Orlando, FL
A: I agree that times are tough. Here are some cost-saving ideas:
1. Pet insurance: As for all forms of insurance, this requires an investment (which not everyone can shoulder), but should something catastrophic occur, you'd be covered. Some companies pay up to 80 percent or more of the cost of care.
2. Create your own toys. For example, if you took your dog for a walk in the park near a tennis court just after dark, I'll bet you'd find several gently used tennis balls. A plastic milk carton with a wine cork inside (or something else that makes a noise) appeals to many dogs.
3. Most pet food and cat litter companies offer coupons online.
4. Low-cost veterinary clinics do exist, most often associated with animal shelters.
5. Consider learning to groom your own animals; they won't care if the results are less thahn show quality.
6. Buy the largest bags of pet food possible.
For more ideas, check out "Barkonomics: Tips for Frugal Fidos," by Paris Permenter and John Bigley (Riviera Books, 2010, $13.95). Note: At the time this column was published, used copies of "Barkonomics" were available through Amazon.com for a mere $7.
Q: My 8-year-old Miniature Poodle and my daughter's 9-month-old Corgi love to eat birdseed that's fallen to the ground. We've heard this seed is dangerous for dogs. Is this true? -- P.R., New Richmond, WI
A: "Bird food isn't toxic, per se," explains Dr. Gerry Klein, a supervising emergency veterinarian in Chicago, IL. "Eating very large amounts of the bird seed could cause stomach upset or potentially even an obstruction," he notes. "Another related concern could be the dog eating up bird droppings along with the seeds, which could potentially expose the dogs to parasites."
When your dogs are outside, the solution might be as simple as offering something better for the dogs to do than scarf bird seed. Actively play with your pets by tossing a toy or a ball, or provide treats or food-dispensing toys (such as Kong Wobbler, traditional Kong toys, IQ Ball or sterilized bone).
Q: We recently adopted a 9-year-old cat. When we're not home, our old lady loves to sleep. Butterball (who lives up to her name) seems so appreciative, like she knows we've given her this one last chance at love. We do have her on a diet, and it's working. Her only bad habit is nibbling on plants. Should we be concerned? -- H.H., St. Paul, MN
A: Many common houseplants are, in fact, dangerous for cats to ingest. For a complete list, go to http://www.aspca.org, then click on the tab for the Animal Poison Control Center under Pet Care, toward the bottom of the page. There's also a video on You Tube presented by the director of the Poison Control Center on the topic; search on the words Poisonous Plants.
Consider a manufactured deterrent you can apply to houseplants, such as Bitter Apple or Keep Away (available online and at pet stores). However, it would be far better, at least until you know Butterball has broken the habit, to simply remove the plants.
Meanwhile, redirect Butterball's chewing habit to safe roughage. You can buy cat grass at most pet stores and supermarkets, or online, and it's actually healthy for cats. Also, periodically offer catnip, which you can also grow yourself. If Butterball is busy grazing on these acceptable alternatives, it's less likely she'll sample anything harmful.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)
(c) 2013 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.