My Pet World: Leaving a dog in hot car is deadly

Question: Please warn your readers about leaving dogs alone in hot cars. In our town, a terrible tragedy occurred when two dogs were locked inside a car for two hours. When the owner returned from her shopping, both dogs were dead. I'm glad she was charged with animal cruelty. I say, if you see pets locked in a hot car, break the windows! — S.J., Joliet, Ill.

Answer: On July 4, Maya Webb, of Bettendorf, Iowa , went shopping at a furniture store in Joliet, Ill., leaving her two pit bulls in the car. By the time she returned, the dogs had died of heat stroke. It was only about 81 degrees outside, but the car windows were closed. Webb told police she left the dogs in the car with the car ignition running and the air conditioning on. Police say the engine was not running. Webb was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, a Class 4 felony.

According to various studies, the seating area of a car (even with the windows open) can heat up to over 100 degrees in 15 minutes when it's 85 degrees outside. Dogs don't cool themselves as efficiently as people, and are more prone to heat stroke. In some states, and in some communities, leaving animals inside hot cars is illegal. Instead of breaking into the car (unless the animal is in obvious distress), however, I'd suggest calling police.

Q: You recently wrote about dogs who lick everything, suggesting that these dogs have allergies or other physical or psychological issues. My Tibetan terrier licked herself, licked people, and seemed obsessed with eating paper. The vet said she was probably allergic to grasses. I wondered if she needed salt in her diet because she licked people for salt. Once I added salt to her food, she became a calmer dog. She no longer compulsively licks people or herself, or eats paper. Could it be that pet food companies have removed salt from their food? — J.B., Colonial Heights, Va.

A: As a practicing veterinarian for 44 years, Dr. Sheldon Rubin, of Chicagosays, "I've never heard of this solution."

Rubin notes that pet food companies add sodium chloride (salt) to diets primarily to create complete and balanced diets. As we require some sodium chloride in our diets, so do dogs. Also, sodium chloride enhances flavor.

"I wonder if your dog had a low sodium/potassium (blood) count to begin with," Rubin speculates. Such a low count could be an indicator of illness. However, if that was the case, additional salt would not be a treatment.

Rubin adds, "Dogs have been licking sweat off people and liking it probably since there have been dogs. However, because they like it doesn't mean they're not getting enough of it. I like ice cream but that doesn't mean I have an ice cream deficiency. Even if the dog needed the salt and licked people for it, that doesn't explain why the added salt would stop the dog from eating paper or licking at herself. My concern is that depending on how much salt you're adding to your dog's diet, you may be doing harm in the long run. This is a topic to speak to your veterinarian about."

Q: My friend has a Bengal cat she got a year ago. She took the cat to the vet because it was peeing on my friend's bed. She had to cover her couch with plastic because the cat had also peed there. Apparently, the rescue group who gave my friend the cat neglected to mention this issue, and that Bengal cats can be difficult. She contacted rescue groups to take the cat, but they were all at capacity. Any advice? — L.U., Las Vegas

A: The Bengal can, indeed, be a challenging breed. And no wonder, when you think about it. After all, a Bengal is a hybrid cross of the truly wild Asian leopard cat with domestic cats. On the upside, these cats have a striking wild look, with unique rosettes and marbling, and varied color combinations. No one can deny their beauty. But beauty doesn't always mean a pet is right for everyone.

The Bengal breed was "created" in the late 1980s, and to this day some wild Asian leopard cats are being used for breeding. Average pet owners should not get Bengal cats less than four to six generations away from the use of a wild cat in a breeding program. Otherwise, you're asking for problems, including difficult temperaments and inappropriate elimination.

Bengal cats are likely the most trendy cat breed today. These cats are exceedingly intelligent and active. But while you can admire the way a Ferrari looks and drives, it's decidedly not a car for all drivers. Similarly, Bengals aren't for all cat owners. However, if you provide enough environmental enrichment (activities as well as places and objects to explore), they can be terrific pets.

Cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger, of Redwood City, Calif., who oversees California Bengal Rescue, says she consults on behavior issues with Bengal owners around the world.

"One way to harness all that intelligence is to clicker train your Bengal," Krieger says.

"Of course, Bengals can have many of the same behavior problems as any other cat," adds Krieger, author of "Naughty No More: Change Unwanted Behaviors Through Positive Reinforcement" (Bow Tie Press, Irvine, CA, 2010; $12.95).

As for the problems your friend is having, Krieger says her cat is choosing elevated places (the bed, couch) to relieve herself because she feels unsafe or uncomfortable using the litter box. This most often occurs when other pets (or even small children) bother a cat. You don't mention if your friend has other cats, but the ideal situation is to have one more litter box than you have cats (so if you have three cats, ideally you should have four boxes).

Another issue could be the box itself (most cats prefer an uncovered box), or your friend may not be keeping the box as clean as her cat would prefer. It's important to figure just out what's making the cat anxious about using the box.

Krieger suggests using a large storage container as a litter box. She likes the Sterlite brand (available at many retail stores and online), but any large plastic box that's 12-inches high and allows the cat to see though the sides would suffice.

Your friend should also be sure to use an enzymatic cleaner before putting her bedding in the wash.

In any case, she should not give up on her cat!

STEVE DALE welcomes questions/comments from readers. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend

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