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Family Matters: Cold-weather flea protection


True or false: Pet owners don’t need to worry about fleas in the winter. 

False! While this may have once been commonly accepted, we now know that fleas can and do survive in colder weather – especially indoors, and especially in the milder climates of the southern U.S. 

In fact, fleas may even be a bigger threat in the cooler months, as many pet owners slack off on the preventative measures for dogs and cats in the fall and winter – meaning more fleas are breeding and just itching to get into your home and onto your pet. 

So, to keep fleas at bay, veterinarians and pet experts advise that pet owners treat their four-legged friends all year long. Otherwise, you’ll risk flea infestations, which can lead to more than just nasty little fleas on the carpet and annoying flea bites. Flea bites can cause allergies, infections, and skin disorders. They can also spread tapeworms, tularemia (a disease spread by fleas and ticks that causes headache, fever, and fatigue), and even Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a potentially fatal illness that can affect both dogs and humans. 

These flea-prevention tips are courtesy our friends at Sergeant’s, which makes many effective flea- and tick-control products for pet and home. 

Prevention goes a long way: Follow your veterinarian’s advice and treat every pet in your household every month, all year long. If you keep fleas from getting a foothold in your home in the first place, you won’t have the more-difficult task of getting rid of them later.  

Treat each pet monthly – preferably on the same date so you don’t forget a dose. Bathe your pet to remove dirt and as a first step in treating flea or tick infestations. A flea comb removes flea dirt (flea feces) and dead fleas. 

Treat the home, too. Regularly wash pet bedding. If you have or suspect an infestation, wash pet bedding again, then vacuum carpets, and treat your home with a household spray, powder or fogger. 

Don’t forget the yard. Spray your yard and your home’s foundation, to kill fleas lurking outside. 

Use an effective anti-flea treatment. Squeeze-on, topical treatments are easy to use and very well tolerated by pets. You can now purchase topical treatments at grocery stores and other retailers, eliminating an extra trip to the veterinarian’s office. For instance, Sergeant’s™ Flea and Tick Squeeze-On protects pets against adult fleas and ticks and prevents eggs and larvae from developing into adults. It contains Bitrex, a bittering agent, to help prevent ingestion. Sergeant’s Evolve™ Flea and Tick Squeeze-On is specifically formulated for the weight of your pet, both in dosage and active ingredients. It not only protects against adult fleas, but also prevents infestation and protects against flea eggs and larvae for up to nine weeks.



Family Matters: Refocus on the Holidays


The holidays are fast approaching and with the weight of the economy, many people are struggling with family, finances and job situations.  Sometimes we get overwhelmed with things that matter only to the outside world and lose focus of what is really important for our family. 

Make this holiday season a time to refocus on your kids and family: 

1. Plan holiday meals and let your children help prepare the food.  Kids love to cook but a lot of times not given the opportunity to learn especially during the holidays when “everything has to be perfect”.  The perfect meal is one prepared by the entire family…when everyone is involved there is love, laughter and memories being made.  Yes, the kitchen will probably be a mess after you all get through, but is that what really matters?  Don’t let these times pass without enjoying your family to the fullest and teaching your kids the importance of working together to make something special.  Teaching your child to cook is a life lesson in more ways than one.

2. Sit and talk to your children about making gifts this holiday season for family and friends instead of purchasing them. Something made, you will find is priceless to the ones receiving it…the thought counts for so much more than the amount of money spent.  There are so many great things you can work together as a family to make that will be treasured for years to come by those receiving them (or enjoyed immediately if eaten).  Part of the fun of working together, as a family, is figuring out just the right item(s) you can make. You will find that making special gifts will require lots of “together time” as a family…a wonderful added benefit! 

3. Find a family who might be struggling this holiday season, purchase food items from Brookshire’s and prepare a meal and deliver to them. One warm meal can make a difference; just ask someone who has had to do without one.  The cost is not much…the return is invaluable.  Teach your children the true joy of giving…it is the small things that make the largest impact in someone life.  Let your family be a blessing to someone else this holiday season.

Count your blessings daily and give thanks for the time you share with your family!  



Family Matters: Safe cold and flu relief for babies


As a parent, it’s heartbreaking when your baby is coughing, sneezing, crying and clearly suffering from the symptoms of a bad cold.

Of course you want to offer relief. But even though it may seem tempting to give a suffering baby just a tiny bit of cough or cold medicine intended for older children, there are extremely good reasons you should never do so without seeking the advice of your doctor first.

First, a refresher is in order, especially if you did not have an infant at the time the rules changed: Over-the-counter cough and cold products for infants under age 2 were voluntarily removed from the market by manufacturers in 2008, responding to concerns raised by the Food and Drug Administration. Now, even cold medicines for older children carry a warning that they are not to be used in children under age 4.

The new rules apply to products containing these decongestants:

  • Ephedrine
  • Pseudoephedrine
  • Phenylephrine

They also apply to these antihistamines:

  • Diphenhydramine
  • Brompheniramine
  • Chlorpheniramine

There had been numerous reports of illness and even some deaths in children under age 2 who had been given these products, according to FDA reports. Often, this was due to misuse or over-dosage by caregivers who may have misunderstood label instructions.  In addition, these medications have little effect on the duration or severity of an infant’s cold symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic.

It is important that parents do not attempt to modify doses of medications meant for older children and give them to infants anyway. For instance, do not attempt to guess what a “safe” dose of a children’s cough medicine would be for your six-month-old. 

Instead, seek a physician’s advice for any symptoms that seem particularly severe, especially for infants under three months of age. For babies three months and over, you should probably call your doctor if a cough lasts more than a week, a fever hovers at 102 degrees or your child refuses fluids.

In the meantime, attempt to bring relief with other, safer remedies, approved by the FDA:

Infant formulas of acetaminophen or ibuprofen: Usually provided in a liquid form administered by droppers, these medicines can be used to reduce fever, aches and pains. Choose your favorite name brand, or select store brands/generics that provide precisely the same medication at a cost savings. Acetaminophen is considered safe for babies over three months, and ibuprofen is considered OK for those over 6 months.

Cool mist humidifier: This can help baby’s swollen nasal passages shrink, allowing for easier breathing.

Plenty of clear fluids: Staying well-hydrated will help flush cold viruses out of your baby’s system faster.

Saline nose drops or spray: Helps relieve stuffy noses by thinning out mucus. In children under one year, you can try combining nasal drops with a bulb syringe or aspirator, to suck out excess mucus. (Children over about age 1 often actively protest any attempt at suctioning.)



Family Matters: Table Manners


The holidays are stressful! All that last-minute cleaning, cooking, and preparing for guests, so take care of something now that doesn’t need to wait till the last minute – improving your children’s table manners. 

Holiday dinners can be stressful for kids too – all those adults at the table, all that fancy food. And, you can’t expect your children to have perfect manners overnight. You must work with your kids now to teach them good manners. As parents, you must lead by example. If your elbows are on the table and you’re talking with your mouth full, don’t expect your children not to do the same. 

Don’t make dinner a time of lectures and scolding. Praise your children for doing the right things instead of scolding them for doing the wrong. The key is to praise and reinforce. Here are a few table manners you and your family can work on now so they are ready for the holidays: 

  • Before and after meals, make sure to wash your hands.
  • No pet, toys or electronics should be brought to the table. This includes cell phones.
  • Remove any hats before coming to the dinner table.
  • Place your napkin in your lap.
  • Wait until everyone is seated at the table before eating.
  • Ask politely if you need anything passed at the table. Don’t forget to say please and thank you.
  • Remember eating is not a race. Take your time and chew your food.
  • Don’t stuff your mouth. Only eat what you can.
  • When eating your food, keep your mouth closed.
  • If someone asks a question while you have food in your mouth, wait until you have swallowed before answering.
  • Avoid eating with your hands, unless appropriate.
  • Bring your food to your mouth rather than leaning too far into your plate..
  • Leave a little liquid in your glass to prevent slurping.
  • Ask to be excused before leaving the table.


Family Matters: Halloween for Pets


Halloween is a fun time for the whole family – except, sometimes, for your pets.

Although some animals, especially dogs, love costumes and parties and parades of trick-or-treaters, other pets get irritated or anxious about all the commotion. And the holiday can bring some risks for pets, too. Our friends at Purina, along with the experts at the ASPCA, offer some tips on keeping your four-legged friends happy and healthy during this festive time:

Costumes? Maybe not. Dogs are often willing to play along and wear a costume, especially if they wear sweaters or other clothing during cold weather. But don’t force the issue if your dog seems scared or exhibits anxious behaviors, like whining or licking, while wearing it. Make sure any costume does not limit your dog’s mobility, including use of his tail, or obscure his vision. Most cats are far less likely to suffer the indignity of a costume; unless your cat is very easygoing, it’s probably best not to try.

 If you really want to play dress-up, almost all dogs (and even most cats) will happily wear a decorated collar or even a bandana, since they’re already accustomed to wearing collars.

Safe decorating:  Don’t let your curious cat get too close to a lit jack-o-lantern or lit candles including Halloween-themed luminaries. They can easily knock one over and start a fire, or even burn their tail or ears. If you want the glow of illuminated pumpkins, look for battery-operated synthetic ones, but avoid those with electrical cords, which animals may play with or get tangled up in, creating a risk of strangulation or even electric shock.

Watch the treats. Watch where you leave the candy intended for trick-or-treaters, especially if it is something you don’t normally keep around the house. Dogs may seize the opportunity to dive right in. And if they’re not too discriminating, they may eat the wrappers right along with the treats, posing choking hazards and intestinal issues.  In large doses, chocolate can even be toxic to dogs. So make sure candy – including the haul your own children bring home – is not left unattended. Put it in a high spot or a closed cabinet that animals can’t reach.  If you want pets to join in on the festivities, get them their own favorite treats, like Beggin’ Strips for dogs and Friskies Crispies for cats.

Meeting and greeting.  Even if you think your very social pet would love to help you greet trick-or-treaters at the door, it’s better for everyone if animals are secured during festivities.  Cats should stay in their kennel or a quiet back room. Dogs should be kept in their crate or in a back room during the busy part of the night, or at least on a leash.

Loose dogs may get frightened and snappish, or may get over-excited and jump on young guests – which can be traumatic for both parties. And, both dogs and cats may take the opportunity to make a break for it and slip out through an open, unwatched door. That’s bad news when there are lots of children and extra traffic in your neighborhood. Finally, do not leave animals unattended in the back yard. The extra noise in the neighborhood may traumatize them, and you don’t want them to be targeted for teasing or worse by pranksters with bad intentions.

Keep your pet safe and you’ll all have a happier Halloween!



Family Matters: Autumn trail mix


After a long, hot – OK, super-hot – summer, we’re finally getting into the fall mood around my house. One of our favorite fall traditions for the past few years has been making seasonal goodies together. It’s just more fun to get in the kitchen when there’s a hint of cool air outside.

My daughter Grace’s favorite treat to make is a Harvest Trail Mix, good for Halloween or any fall occasion. Grace loves making this because there’s no real recipe to follow. She can mix-and-match, depending on what we have in the house and what she feels like snacking on. This is a good treat to take to fall parties or to let the kids munch on after school; Grace likes to include a small bag in her lunchbox, for a healthy treat.

Making trail mix is so easy that even very young children can help. For younger kids, you can put a small quantity of each ingredient in a large bowl and let them scoop as much as they want of each into the container, rather than turning them loose with big, spillable bags and boxes. Let them mix it with their (well-washed) hands! Then, store in a tightly covered container.

If you’re taking it to a party, older kids can also help you package it in individual packs. You can just use sandwich bags, or for a themed event, buy individual goodie bags and secure with black-and-orange ribbon or raffia.

Your ingredients can vary, but here are some ideas for a simple autumn mix:

  • Popcorn
  • pretzels
  • goldfish (any flavor)
  • Cheerios
  • raisins
  • candy corn
  • M&Ms (fall colors are fun)
  • Peanuts (plain or honey-roasted)
  • Yogurt-covered or chocolate-covered raisins
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds
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Family Matters: Giving up the pacifier


When your baby was little, a pacifier may have been his or her – or your– best friend.

But if your baby is approaching a year and still using a binky, you may feel it’s time to take it away. And even if you don’t care, you may be feeling outside pressure, from well-meaning family or friends.

For some babies, that’s easier said than done. That’s because the pacifier is often one of the earliest and best ways a baby learns to soothe himself. To a young child, it often represents familiarity and security and helps them calm down and even fall asleep. No wonder some don’t want to give it up without a fuss!

If your baby still has a binky habit, however, there’s some good news.

  1. Most give it up on their own – when they’re good and ready. For most  toddlers, it will happen naturally between the age of one and two years – even if you don’t do a thing.
  2. There’s no rush to eliminate it by age 1, no matter what the neighbor or your mother-in-law says.  In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry doesn’t think you really need to worry about it until about age three. If your child is still relying on one after that, however, you should step in to help eliminate the habit. Otherwise, your child may develop teeth, gum, and bite problems.
  3. Relying on a pacifier is no worse than sucking a thumb – and it might be better. For one thing, it’s often easier to get a child to give up a pacifier than to quit sucking his thumb, which, after all, is always right there.
  4. If you’ve decided the time has come to banish the binky, many choose to go the cold-turkey method. Depending on your child’s age and personality, you may choose to make a big deal of it, explaining that they are now a big boy or girl and don’t need a paci anymore. You might even make a celebration of it, gathering up all the binkies in the house and making a show of tossing them away. For other toddlers, a less-direct approach might work better: During naptime, hide all the pacifiers, and then play dumb when your child asks for one. Either way, experts say, most children will be upset for only a day or two before moving on.
  5. For other toddlers, a weaning approach works best. First, limit pacifier use to your home; then to just naptime and bedtime; and finally just bedtime. After a few weeks, the habit will be less ingrained, and your child will probably quit on his or her own.
  6. Don’t stress!  Your baby won’t go off to college – or, most likely, even preschool – still using a pacifier. If your family is going through some other stress, like a move, a family illness or a job loss, postpone the pacifier problem a few weeks until the other situation is under control.
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Family Matters: Pet Loss


You can never imagine the pain that accompanies a loss of a pet until it happens to you. 

Our pets are loyal companions who quickly turn into best friends. Many of us have bought clothes to keep our pet warm, made a special cupcake for their birthday, and even taken them on our family vacation. Why would we not grieve when we experience the loss of this treasured family member? 

To an outsider looking in it may seem silly, but these feelings are normal. Talk to someone you’re comfortable with, like a family member or friend. Don’t bottle up your feelings, but express them. Like any other loss you may feel guilt, denial, anger and depression. 

If you have children, pay special attention to their feelings, so they can understand and accept the loss, too. For many children, the loss of a pet may be the first experience they have ever had with serious illness and death. 

Most grief experts suggest that you don’t try to “hide” the pet’s death from children but treat it honestly and openly. If you use vague terms or make up a false story about the animal’s disappearance, you will only create more stress, anxiety and sadness in the child. 

Use simple, direct, but compassionate language that is appropriate to your child’s age and understanding. For instance, children under 5 do not understand that death is permanent, so you may need to explain simply that the animal can no longer move and will not wake up again. 

No matter the age of your child, give them time to get over the loss. Let them talk about their pet, share stories together, and explain that it’s normal to miss them for a long time. 

Finally, it’s important to pay extra attention to any other pets in your household, too. Your other pets will notice the loss of their companion and will grieve just like you. Losing a pet can be hard on your whole family. Just remember these feelings are normal and you need to express them.

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Family Matters: Family Dinner Night


Your smooth, slow summer schedule turns fast and furious as soon as the school bells ring. Getting the kids to soccer practice and dance lessons can quickly bump a nutritious family dinner down on the priority list. 

The solution? At least once a week, make family dinner night a priority – no excuses. 

As a family, plan your menu for the upcoming week.  Let your children have input on what they want for dinner. If your children’s favorite food is pizza, plan a night the whole family gets together to make a nutritious homemade pizza. 

Take your kids to the grocery store. Let them have a choice in what foods they eat. Ask questions: Do you want carrots or broccoli? Give them the power on what they want to eat. Teach your kids how to use the NuVal scoring system. Make a game out of picking the most nutritious scores.  Pick a lower scoring item in a category and see if your kids can pick out a higher score than you. Teach your kids the higher the score of the product the more nutritious it is for them. 

Prepare the family meal together. When the kids get involved in the meal preparation, they appreciate the meal more. Let the younger kids count ingredients out,  and wash and dry the produce. The teenagers can actually start participating in the cooking of the meal. Let them sauté the onions or brown the chicken. 

Make cooking educational. Have your child work on their reading by letting them read the recipe to you. Have them measure ingredients and teach them that two half cups equal one whole cup. Show your kids that cooking is a science. Let them see that oil and vinegar don’t mix on their own or what happens when vinegar and baking soda are combined. 

At the dinner table, turn off your electronics. We have become so accustomed to having our cell phone sitting on the table while we eat. Turn the ringer off on your phone and set it in another room. Turn your TV off and talk to each other about your day. Ask your family what the best and worst parts of their day were or something new they learned that day. If your family is trying a new food that night, talk about the taste, texture and appearance of the food. 

For busy evenings, plan ahead. If you know Tuesday nights are busy, prepare a casserole in advance, freeze it, and heat it up for Tuesday’s dinner.  If you find a recipe that requires a lot of preparation, do some prep work the night before. Find creative ways to use your leftovers, like adding the leftover taco meat to your macaroni and cheese. If you see canned or frozen vegetables are on sale, stock up. Whenever a busy night comes up, those vegetables will come in handy.

Make family dinner night fun and exciting. Have themes for family night; like Fiesta night or Italian night. You can choose a night where the kids are in charge. Let the kids make the menu, help your kids prepare the food and let them serve the food. Make family dinner night a night your family looks forward to. 

Dinner time is not only a time to share a meal with your family, but a time to share a part of your life.

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Family Matters: Safe diets for dogs


Those big brown eyes, that puppy dog gaze. Even if your dog isn’t usually a beggar, it can be tempting to want to “reward” him or her with the occasional people-food treat.

But in trying to reward your dog, you can actually do it harm. Some common foods can actually be poisonous to your pet.  

You have probably heard that you’re never supposed to feed chocolate to your dog, but there’s actually a much-longer list of foods that can be dangerous. 

 Even a small amount of some of these foods can harm your dog.

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Raisins
  • Grapes
  • Macadamia nuts (and many other nuts, including walnuts)
  • Alcohol
  • Rhubarb
  • Avocados

Just avoiding that list, however, isn’t enough to keep your pet healthy. Hidden ingredients like garlic, onion powder and extra salt can lurk in many prepared foods. And most dogs do not need the extra fat and salt that’s present in many “table scraps” that you may be tempted to offer. Too much fat in a dog’s diet can lead to obesity, heart problems and other health problems just like in a human. And because most dogs are so much smaller than the average person, it doesn’t take much of the bad stuff to cause illness or obesity.

That’s because dogs, like people, have specific needs when it comes to calories and nutrients. Commercial pet foods tailor these formulas specifically to these needs, and in the past few years, have increasingly created specialized foods for the different stages of a dog’s life.

 While puppy food, for instance, has long been available, you can now also buy foods especially for older dogs,  for those that need to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, or formulas made from all-natural ingredients.

If you still want to give your dog the occasional treat, consult your veterinarian for recommendations on vet-approved, made-for-dogs snacks. However, it’s generally considered safest to keep any “people food” to a minimum, and limited to simply cooked, lean foods like chicken, beef and plain white rice. Since your dog can’t exactly make his own lunch, you owe it to them to give them the food they need to thrive.

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