Q: With Independence Day around the corner, is there anything I can do to help our dog, Betty, who gets really nervous about the fireworks displays held fairly close to our home? -- M.M., Deerfield, IL
A: Run away! If you can, slip away for a few days to somewhere reasonably quiet. If a trip to a quiet cottage in the woods is not practical, however, you do need to be proactive. Waiting until July 3 at midnight would leave you few options. If Betty is truly terrified by fireworks, the best and kindest answer might be to see your veterinarian about a psychopharmaceutical drug (not acepromazine). (Statistically, your pet may also become nervous about thunderstorms, which the drug could also ease.)
1. Royal Canin CALM: A prescription diet with unique calming nutrients.
2. Pheromone therapy: Pheromones are species-specific chemicals that influence behavior. Feliway is a copy of a soothing cat pheromone, and the same for Adaptil for dogs.
3. Anxitane: Veterinarians sell this chewable for dogs and cats containing L-Theanine, an amino act which helps to 'take the edge off.'
4. Thundershirt, Anxiety Wrap, or Storm Defender: Each of these commercial products resembles a sweater or superhero cape for a pet. For many pets, the pressure provided by wearing one of these is soothing.
5. Music: New evidence suggests that music helps soothe a pet's nervous soul. Apparently, the type of music matters; rock 'n roll and hip-hop are not suggested. Instead, check out music specifically designed to calm pets. Several websites are devoted to such tunes.
6. Redirection: Some pets can be redirected with distracting interactive play or food puzzles.
Q: Could a dog help an autistic 6-year-old? -- L.M., Montreal, Quebec, Canada
A: Speaking via Skype form Ammerzoden in the Netherlands, psychologist Dr. Marie-Jose Enders-Slegers says her recent study paired nearly 30 families with autistic children from age 4 to 7 years old with a service dog.
"At this age, the children often begin to be bullied, but we noted this didn't happen (with a service dog)," Enders-Slegers comments. "In fact, the dogs attracted friends, which seemed to force improvement in the social skills (of the autistic children)."
Autistic children often have tactile issues, not wanting to be touched or to touch others. Over time, Enders-Slegers notes that while some children wouldn't hug Mom, they eventually hugged the dogs, or at least petted them. Ultimately, the children began to touch their parents more often. The study also measured an increase in learning ability.
She also observed that with a service dog at their side, autistic children in the study had fewer temper tantrums, allowing their parents and siblings a more "normal" existence, including the freedom to go to the movies or out to dinner.
Enders-Slegers is one of many presenters who will offer the latest information regarding studies involving human-animal interactions at the International Association of Human Animal Interaction Organizations Conference (IAHAIO) July 20-22 in Chicago in conjunction with the Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
"For anyone interested in the topic of human/animal relations, subjects like animal-assisted therapy, service animals, pet reading programs, or using animals in nursing home settings -- as only a few examples -- this conference is one of a kind," says Rebecca Johnson, president of IAHAIO, the umbrella organization for over 40 associations and individual scientists doing research to better understand human/animal relationships."
This is the first time the prestigious conference is being held in the U.S. Learn more at http://www.IAHAIO.org.
Q: I heard you speak on the radio recently about the kind of information dogs gather when sniffing pee. Can you repeat? -- J.N., Cyberspace
A: Indeed, a dog can learn more from the urine of another dog (even though the dog depositing the urine has long since left the scene) than we can learn reading a business card, though the information is different. "P-mail" offers information on a dog's general health, reproductive status, and identifies the individual dog -- if that pet is known to the dog doing the sniffing.
Learn more about my national radio shows at http://www.petworldradio.net, where you can also hear archived interviews with pet experts.
Q: Why don't cats like taking baths? -- C.M., Spartanburg, SC
A: While most cats shun water, I can't count the number of times readers have written about cats who voluntarily jump into the shower, sometimes even into a bathtub.
Domestic cats likely derived from species which little experience with water, and many cats appear hard-wired to avoid being in water. Having said that, there are wild cat species who enjoy into rivers and ponds, such as the Asian Fishing Cat or Bengal tiger. It seems that for at least some pedigreed cats, taking a dip is actually fun. The Turkish Van, Turkish Angora, American Bobtail and American Shorhair are known to enjoy water.
(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.)