Traveling with pets? Car safety tips

It’s nearly summer. Time for a vacation. Every year around this time a strange, beautiful sound, like a choir of angels, fills the air. It beckons me out of the house and, strangely, into my car. What is it? Ah yes, it’s the call of the open road!

Whether I drive to the mountains, the beach, or to my favorite picnic spot, I like to bring my dog—a huge, floppy-eared adventure-loving Labradoodle named Murphy. A road trip with pets, of course, is more complicated than traveling without them, but well worth the effort. After all, pets often enjoy the adventure of travel as much as humans do. (Maybe even more!)

Here are a few tips to make sure you and your pets arrive safe and sound.

  • Never, ever, ever leave pets in a parked car, even with the windows down. When it’s 85 degrees outside, the temperature inside your car can reach more than 100 degrees in just 10 minutes, possibly leading to death.
  • Consult your veterinarian before you go. If your pet has any health conditions (or a very nervous disposition) that could be aggravated by traveling, take these into account.
  • If it’s Fido’s first road trip, start by taking him on several small trips around town to make sure he does well with car travel.
  • Make sure to pack your pet’s food, a supply of cool water, a leash, comfortable bedding and any medications your pet might need.
  • For extended trips, check with motels or hotels along the route to make sure they are pet-friendly.
  • Make time for rest stops, when you should offer your pet a drink and check for signs of stress or car sickness.
  • Make sure your pet is wearing ID tags. Bring a photo of the pet in case they get away and become lost.

Finally, you should seriously consider using a pet car harness—a “seat belt” specifically designed for dogs. In the State of California, these pet restraints are mandatory, and for good reason: every year hundreds of dogs are injured, maimed or killed in car accidents.

I recently priced some harnesses that range from $12.99 for small dogs up to $29.99 for big guys like Murphy. This seems like a pretty good deal when you think about what you’d pay if they were hurt. Protecting your best friend is priceless.

Oh, one last tip—make sure to have fun and take lots of pictures! Those memories are priceless, too.

Pet Insurance Scams? Are You Being Cheated?

When it comes to my dog, I’m pretty devoted. I always want the best for him. But, like most people, I’m not an expert. I learn a lot by talking to various people; my vet, the dog trainer, other dog owners, etc.

The other day, in an online chat room for pet owners, I met a guy who was extremely upset. He had purchased a pet health insurance plan from a major pet insurance company (NOT Pets Best) and he felt he had been scammed.

What was the scam? When he first enrolled in the pet insurance plan, he knew that it would be renewed every year. What he did not know is that, once the insurance policy was renewed, any condition that existed during the previous year suddenly became a “preexisting condition!”

What does this mean? Consider the following hypothetical (but very frightening) scenario:

  • Let’s say your dog is diagnosed with a serious illness on a Monday. You schedule a costly, major surgery for Wednesday.
  • Your insurance plan is set for renewal on Tuesday.
  • The dog has surgery on Wednesday.
  • You submit your insurance claim for the surgery on Thursday, and the claim is denied: under the terms of the plan, the illness was a preexisting condition.

Any condition, he says, that existed even one day before the policy renewal will not be covered. Also, if your pet has a condition that lasts more than a year, it won’t be covered for the duration of the condition.

I was pretty happy to point out that this is not the case with Pets Best—all Pets Best plans include Lifetime Continuous Coverage, and won’t automatically disqualify claims as preexisting after the policy is renewed. This is extremely important when it comes to treating chronic problems like diabetes or cancer.

It just goes to show that you need to really understand the ins and outs of a policy before you make a decision.

A company might advertise the fact that their pet insurance policies reimburse you for 90% of your veterinary bills. Sounds good, right? Do some digging, though, and you could find so many exclusions it would take a contortionist to wiggle their way through them. Or a payment schedule that caps their reimbursements at a ridiculously low rate.

If you find that a specific company’s policy is confusing and hard to unravel, do what I do—go online and find out what other folks are saying about that company and their policies. Often, if the company’s customers feel like they’ve been scammed, they will want to help you so you won’t make the same mistake.

I definitely did my research, and most of the folks I talked to agreed that the Pets Best name says it all. They really are the best!

Five things to ask when adopting a pet

Adopting a pet from a local shelter or rescue group can be a wonderful event, both for you and for your pet. Four of our seven permanent dogs are adopted from shelters and rescue groups. We also adopt and place in new homes, about that number annually. Here are five things to ask the shelter or rescue group up front to make sure your new pet will fit into your family.

1. Why was the pet relinquished? You need to gain information on why the pet is up for adoption. It might be due to a behavior problem, which if you are unable or unwilling to correct will result in an unhappy situation for you. Know the facts, and then you can make an informed decision and prepare to deal with the circumstances. Most behavior problems can be corrected, but you need to be prepared to deal with the problem up front. Most all pet behavior problems are due to our lack of knowledge, but may take time and certainly an insight into how to correct improper behavior.

2. Does the pet have any medical problems? Adopting pets with medical problems is fine, if you know the facts and make an informed adoption decision. Questions to ask: What medical problems does the pet have, if any? Are they long-term or lifetime problems that I have to treat? How much will it cost to continue treatment? Is the condition contagious to other pets or humans? What special needs do they have? For instance, my wife and I have adopted two pets that were paralyzed in the rear legs due to slipped disc. We bought them carts to ambulate and the care was intense and costly at times, but our rewards were worth the cost.

3. How old is the pet? There is nothing wrong with adopting an older pet, you just need to know the facts. There can be medical issues with older pets, and older pets are oftentimes “set in their ways” and may take special accommodation. An older pet with arthritis, for instance, is not good with young children who lean, push, prod and lay on pets. Someone who likes to take long walks should not adopt an older dog with arthritis or a heart condition. Certainly the veterinary care will be more costly on older pets, but then you don’t have to go through the puppy/kitten problems.

4. Is the pet good around children and other pets? Seems like a “no brainer” question, but you would be surprised how many adoption decisions are made on the spur of the moment. The pet is taken home, only to find out it will not adjust to children or other pets. Some large dogs, simply will not tolerate a small dog. Cats take longer to accept other new cats and some dogs and cats have had bad experiences with children and will not tolerate them. It is better to know before adoption than risk your child or small pet to a possibly nasty, but normal reaction from a fearful pet.

5. What is your return policy, should the adoption not work satisfactorily? Unfortunately, not all adoptions work out for many reasons. Asking the right questions is paramount to starting off right with your pet, and knowing your limitations for caring for a pet will prevent relinquishment.

Why miss out on the many positive benefits that pets provide us. Do yourself a favor and save a pet by adopting from a shelter or rescue group.

Adopting and Adult Shelter Cat

1. Purchase the necessary paraphernalia. If this is your first household cat, you need all the bowls, litter boxes, toys, beds, and scratching post. If you have other cats, it is still good to obtain new ones to reduce aggression towards the newly adopted cat.

2. Begin immediately with confinement to lower stress and allow some time before being introduced to the entire house, other cats or dogs. The cat’s body language will tell you when it is time to introduce other pets and expand outside the confined room. It will most likely not be the first day and may be longer.

3. Feed small amounts of food on each side of the door to the new cat’s isolation area if you have other pets. The proximity with the sounds and smells will be associated with a positive experience of eating for both the newly adopted cat and other household pets.

4. Hand feed for the first few days during the isolation. Do not leave food down; instead insist they take the food by hand. If they are rough in taking the food, pull back your hand or close it. Open slowly when they respond gently. The key is to reward gentle behavior. Then use your other hand while they are eating to stroke and massage the newly adopted cat.

5. If the cat is fearful or hiding, try providing special treats. If they will not accept food or treats from your hand, leave some on the floor and come back in an hour. However, remember that providing free food instead of hand feeding will slow the socialization and bonding.

Provided by Dr. Rolan Tripp of The Animal Behavior Network. Visit for more information.

5 Rules for Adopting a Pet

1. Always have the pet examined by a veterinarian. If not before the adoption, then immediately afterward. If you can do so before you become emotionally attached to the animal, you might avoid a mistake that could cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in veterinary services. Invest in a general health screening, especially when adopting an older pet, including a blood test to check the internal organs and overall health of the pet. Make sure the pet has the proper vaccinations, which can prevent a number of contagious viral and bacterial diseases. Also, have the stool checked for internal parasites.

2. Always do your homework before you go to adopt a pet. Not all pets are right for all people. Avoid adopting based purely on emotion or first impressions. Bringing home a pet that you can’t manage or isn’t suited for your lifestyle can make your family—and the pet itself—unhappy. Animals, especially dogs, vary considerably in temperament, activity level and sociability from one breed to another. Be practical and realistic in your approach: training may help, but will never completely transform the animal’s natural tendencies.

3. Be willing to make several visits before you choose. Don’t be in a hurry to adopt. Sure, adopting a pet is the right thing to do, but taking your time and getting the right pet is far more important. Take your time and wait until it is the right fit for you, the pet, your household and your lifestyle.

4. Choose a selection committee. With a family, it is especially important that you discuss what type of pet you will get, how old, what breeds are acceptable and generally what expectations you all have for the pet. It can be a wonderful learning and bonding experience if you take your time, do research in advance and make the selection together. A committee—even if it’s only two people—will also make better decisions. Make sure to get expert input: talk with knowledgeable people about your choices.

5. Be willing to consider a mixed-breed pet. Too often, mixed-breed pets are passed over in favor of purebred animals. The truth is, mixed breeds tend to have less congenital and hereditary defects, and may display excellent traits from a variety of breeds. Often, people who adopt these “mutts” find them to be more loyal and appreciative, with plenty of vitality and character.

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