Savvy Consumer Tips

When my black Labrador got up in years, she would occasionally have accidents inside the house on the wall-to-wall carpeting. Don’t procrastinate when your pet accidentally urinates on your carpet. According to Matt Cole, owner of Cole’s Carpet & Upholstery Company, a Diamond Certified firm, the crystals in the urine can create an alkaline stain, which can give off a bad odor, discolor your carpet and even damage your hardwood floors.

Here’s what to do: Blot up the urine with a wet terrycloth towel until all the yellow comes up. You don’t want it to spread further, so remember to blot, not rub. You can also use paper towels for blotting. A 20/80 mixture of white vinegar and water can be applied to break up the urine crystals and absorb more of the stain.

A number of foods that we eat can be toxic for dogs if ingested. You may already know chocolate is bad for them (especially chocolate with a high cocoa content), but according to Dr. Kristina Hansson, a veterinarian with Northbay Animal Hospital, a Diamond Certified company, you should also keep Macadamia nuts, rising bread dough, onions and garlic out of reach. Fatty turkey and chicken skins are a no-no and may cause gastro-intestinal disturbance or pancreatitis.

The last two items on this list of toxic foods may surprise you: Dr. Hansson says grapes and raisins are extremely dangerous for your pet. “Many people aren’t aware that these are very toxic to dogs and can result in kidney failure. The mechanism is unknown for this, but it has been shown that quite a few dogs have died from acute renal failure due to ingesting either grapes or raisins.”

According to Dr. George Walters, a veterinarian with Northbay Animal Hospital, a Diamond Certified practice, obesity is common in domestic cats and dogs. If not treated, it can lead to diabetes, pancreatitis, hip dysplasia and other painful joint conditions. You can perform simple checks to determine if your pet is overweight. You should be able to feel and see its ribs, and if its belly is hanging down in front of its back legs, that’s a red flag.

To control your pet’s weight, Dr. Walters recommends buying high-quality food and providing the right portions. Feed your dog or cat at the same time every day. Leave the food out for 10 minutes and then remove the dish, even if the food isn’t all gone. Don’t feed your pet table food, and use high calorie treats sparingly. Lastly, you should walk your dog every day, rain or shine.

Are you and your kids getting too many mosquito bites? Do mosquitoes take some of the fun out of your outdoor BBQs?  You can head off a mosquito problem by preventing them from landing and breeding on your property.

First, make sure your window screens are on tight and not damaged. Next, eliminate all standing water. Look for pooling in dishes under plants, and in the water bowls and toys for your pets. Change out the old water, especially in the birdbath. Use fogger sprays for outside dining, as they will provide some short-term relief.  Cover yourself and use repellents containing DEET when mosquitoes are most prevalent, at dawn and dusk. And finally, if your mosquito problem is totally out of control, call the Mosquito Abatement Center in your county for professional help.

Retirement is a time to downsize. Moving into a retirement community means having to decide what to take or leave behind. Seniors probably won't be able to take all their possessions with them. Linda Johnson, Administrator for the Diamond Terrace Retirement Community, a Diamond Certified facility, suggests using a digital camera to make the move easier.

Material objects hold memories--of other times, or people, places and events in our lives. Using a camera to capture those memories will ease the sense of loss the move is certain to trigger. Ms. Johnson suggests photographing every room in the house and outside too. Even a banged up recliner headed for the trash heap, says Ms. Johnson, might bring back the memory of a pet or shopping for furniture with a now departed loved one. Photographs help clear away the clutter so you'll have room for a new life to begin.

Most of us know to ask our pharmacists for generic drugs whenever possible in order to save money.  But have you ever thought about asking your veterinarian whether a generic version is available for the brand name drugs your dog or cat is taking? It never occurred to me, but I was delighted when my veterinarian’s office suggested a generic form of heartworm medication that was almost 50% cheaper than the brand name prescription I had been buying from another vet.  A second way to save money on pet drugs is by buying drugs from online pet catalogues and pharmacies. These companies sell both prescription and non-prescription medications at a savings. Written prescriptions have to be faxed to the on-line company. Some vets might charge you for writing the prescription, and others might even refuse. If the doctor refuses, you might want to find a more customer-friendly practice.

Would you sit in a car or go jogging wearing a fur coat on a hot summer day? Dogs already have high body temperatures and when you add on a coat of fur, you can see why they're susceptible to heatstroke. They cool off only by panting, not sweating. Dr. Howard Schutzman, owner of Antioch Veterinary Hospital, a Diamond Certified company, says the first sign of overheating is rapid, frantic breathing. Wet your pets down with cool, not icy, running water. Moisten their mouths with water, but don't let them drink much. Find shade and apply ice packs to the groin area.

If your dog's temperature exceeds 104 degrees or if the animal starts vomiting, Dr. Schutzman recommends getting to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible. Prevent overheating by restricting exercise on hot days, providing plenty of water and shade, and not leaving animals in a confined space such as cars or outdoor kennels.

Many people who have already put together a disaster plan and emergency supplies for their families have overlooked planning for their pets. Candy Telford, owner of Candy's Pampered Pets, Inc., a Diamond Certified company, says the number one thing to have on hand is a cage or carrier for your pet. Vets sell cardboard ones for $4 to $5, which can be folded and stored. Many larger carriers can be dismantled so as not to take up space. Animals often panic in a disaster and take off from home. If you contain them, you'll know exactly where they are in case of an emergency.

Other recommendations include getting your animal a microchip ID, adding a cell phone number to collar tags, storing 3 days worth of food and water, and keeping on hand a current photo of your pets, with your name and number on the back, to post in case they're missing.

This year's abundant winter rains are expected to increase the mosquito habitat, bringing two threats to your pet's health. Local veterinarians like Dr. George Walters, DVM, from Northbay Animal Hospital, a Diamond Certified organization, are warning pet owners that both West Nile virus and Heartworm disease are spread by mosquito bites. Heartworm disease infects dogs, cats, and other small animals, while West Nile only infects horses and humans.

Dr. Walters says Heartworm disease is much less of a risk for dogs and cats taking a monthly treatment such as Heartguard. Infected dogs can be treated, but no safe treatment has been developed for cats. Dogs can pass the infection to other dogs, cats, and even humans by mosquitoes. Eight-five percent of dogs rescued from Hurricane Katrina areas and brought here tested positive; they could be spreading the disease. Watch for symptoms which mimic a heart condition, such as coughing, weakness, and/or shortness of breath.

To prevent pet urine stains on hardwood floors, the key is to catch the problem when the urine is still fresh. Use paper towels or cloth to dry the area. Then apply white vinegar and wash the area thoroughly a couple of times. Wash again with warm water and soap. Don't flood the floors; you don't want them to cup. Dry thoroughly. You should pay extra attention to cat urine because the odor is more harsh and cats will return to the same area to urinate if the scent remains.

If the urine has penetrated into the floor and turned it dark, there are two possible solutions.  One, the area may be sanded down to bare wood, re-stained and refinished.  Two, if the boards turn very dark, or even buckle, the boards will have to replaced and professionally sanded and refinished.

California's Veterinary Medical Board wants you to know that a number of unlicensed people are providing a service called anesthesia-free doggie dental care, which could be harmful to your pet. Gina Bayless, Enforcement Officer, says performing dental cleaning services without supervision by a veterinarian is illegal, and a number of injuries and one death have been reported.

One of the big concerns is that consumers mistakenly believe that their dogs' teeth are getting a thorough cleaning without anesthesia, when they're not. Superficial scraping may whiten the teeth, but a true dental cleaning where tartar and plaque are removed, protects the gums, and cannot be done without sedation. It's also a misconception that you'll save money with anesthesia-free dental care. Unlicensed operators charge up to $95 and typically recommend 3 to 4 cleanings a year. Your vet will charge you $200-$250 on average every 2 to 3 years for a professional and effective cleaning

It’s never too early to learn and develop good money management habits. I just found an excellent website that makes it fun and easy for parents and teachers to help young people become more financially literate. Created more than 10 years ago by the National Council of Economic Education and the Northwestern Mutual Foundation, covers everything about money from earning it and saving it, to investing, spending, borrowing or giving it away.

You can take a quiz about how long it takes to become a millionaire and read articles on how to trade in old video games for cash. Teachers can find lessons on creating a budget or explaining compound interest. Kids can learn how to track their checking accounts. And parents can test their own financial IQ. Look for the Perfectcents Newsletter in the parents’ section under Teaching Tools for items you can print out for free and use

Many families needing home care for a loved one use independent contractors instead of agencies, thinking that it’s a less expensive option. That’s not always the case, according to Lucy Andrews, owner of At Your Service Home Care, a Diamond Certified company. You also have to factor in the cost of liability, training and supervision issues when you’re hiring a caregiver.

Problems may come up when an independent contractor files for unemployment after leaving the job, or gets injured, due to lack of training, on the job. When claims are filed, the family may be assessed taxes retroactively, or be held responsible for medical bills if they do not have worker’s compensation insurance. Agencies placing caregivers take care of all these details, and also supervise employees, a big relief for families. They will replace caregivers in case of personality conflicts, guarantee seamless staffing, and also provide resources and extra emotional support for families as needed.