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Old Fashioned Homemaking Magazine March 2012

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Backyard Oasis – Build or Upgrade a Deck

(ARA) - A home is a place of comfort and relaxation. Many homeowners are now taking to the outdoors and making this space an extension of the dream home they've always wanted.

One way to transform a house into a dream home is by utilizing the outdoor space with the addition of a new deck or improvements to an existing deck. A deck creates the perfect backyard oasis to escape the stresses of a busy lifestyle, to enjoy the outdoors, grill out, have a party or simply relax. With a deck, a couple can celebrate with friends, children can play outside and parents can retire in comfort.

Many alternative decking choices are available for homeowners seeking high-quality materials with low-maintenance features. Choosing to go with alternative decking materials helps homeowners save money and have more time to spend outdoors enjoying time together. While composite products will need occasional cleaning, they don't need the sanding, staining, sealing or painting that wood decks require. There are many choices for deck deigns, materials and colors that can make choosing a dream deck a little overwhelming. But deck design http://www.oldfashionedhomemaking.com

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tools like those found at TimberTech can help ease the deck design process without having to leave the house.

For example, TimberTech's product selector can help homeowners determine which alternative decking material works best for their lifestyle. Families with children, pets or even special needs equipment like wheelchairs will be interested in the products offered by TimberTech that can easily withstand high traffic volumes without showing scratches or wear. These products will maintain their good looks and durability in the years to come with minimum cleaning and maintenance.

Online design tools help homeowners envision the perfect colors that match the house and find environmentally friendly decking and railing products. Some homeowners are interested in a clean appearance by using hidden fasteners or railing systems with no exposed hardware, while others pursue a more economical approach to picking the perfect decking. Railing systems provide additional safety and style while lighting options help homeowners illuminate their space for extended time on the deck once the sun has set.

The beauty of composite decking - in addition to the multitude of color and material options - is that it's fully customizable to whatever style or look is wanted for the deck. Homeowners can opt for a deck and railing design all in one color to perfectly blend in with the house, or can go the contrasting route to make the deck a unique design feature to beautify the backyard.

Decks can be both practical and stylish, which is why many homeowners looking to enhance the look and the value of their home and increase their living space consider replanking an existing wooden deck or adding a new deck. Composite decking products provide many http://www.oldfashionedhomemaking.com

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different style options and allow homeowners to enjoy their deck without annual sanding, staining, sealing or painting. To get started on planning a new deck or upgrading your current deck, visit http://www.timbertech.com.

Curb Appeal for Your Home - Small Repairs Have a Big Impact

(ARA) - As the weather continues to warm, you might be thinking about some of the home improvement projects you put on the back burner during the winter. As you once again consult your to-do list, it's the perfect time to think about a few small projects that can greatly enhance your home's curb appeal.

Where does a smart homeowner start? The answer: Begin with a few small projects that are guaranteed to greatly enhance your home's curb appeal. Whether you're preparing to sell your home, or are simply trying to protect your investment and make it easier on the eyes, there are a few common improvements that can give the exterior of your home a quick and easy facelift.

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Start With the Driveway

Repaving or reconstructing your driveway entirely can be a time consuming and expensive task, but for most homeowners, this can be avoided with some annual maintenance. If you neglect your driveway, cracks can quickly grow into potholes, which can cause it to lose its aesthetic appeal and pose a safety concern. A few hours work each year can greatly extend the life of your driveway.

Sakrete U.S. Cold Patch is a reliable option for every type of driveway repair because it can be used during all seasons and has a much longer shelf life - up to five years - than most pothole repair products. Because it's made without kerosene, there's no odor or mess, yet it's strong enough to win praise from road repair professionals and contractors alike.

"I use U.S. Cold Patch both on my driveway at home and out on the job," says Chad Patrick, owner of Patrick Landscapes in Pennsylvania. "The ease of use, lack of foul odor, and non-gooey application make it the logical choice for all of our blacktop repair projects."

Using a product like U.S. Cold Patch is simple: You just sweep the area, pour in the patching mixture and roll over it with a car tire. However, it is important that you completely fill the affected area and tamp it well to prevent future damage during freezing and thawing. More information on repairing cracks and potholes can be found at www.uscoldpatch.com.

In addition to maintaining your driveway, here are a few other projects that can greatly contribute to your home's curb appeal: 5 http://www.oldfashionedhomemaking.com


* Add some landscaping features along the edges of your driveway. This adds a point of distinction between the pavement and your lawn, giving it a more inviting look.

* Check your mailbox for winter wear. If it's seen better days, consider replacing it. Otherwise landscaping around your mailbox can add extra appeal. If you live in a colder region, be sure to use resilient plants, as this area can take a beating from the snowplow.

* While cleaning out your gutters is a necessary spring ritual, power washing the exterior of your home can add a little extra life to the look of your house, especially the front porch.

* Replace your house number and worn hardware on the front door, and consider a fresh coat of high-gloss paint on the door in a classy color, such as black.

* Early spring is an excellent time to trim trees and other vegetation before they begin to sprout leaves. It's easier on your plants, and it's easy to identify branches that need to be trimmed.

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7 Home Filters You Probably Didn't Know Should Be Changed

(NewsUSA) - Home cleaning is a catch-all phrase for the general declutter and organizational projects that abound when messiness trumps neatness. But in addition to clearing out the garage, don't forget to change those oft-neglected filters that can harm your health if left unclean.

"Humidifier filters, for example, are designed to wick the water and make it easier to evaporate in the air to increase humidity. But, if not changed they can become oversaturated and susceptible to mold, mildew, and bacteria growth that can make you sick," says Alex Hertzog, a water specialist with Filters Fast who is certified by the Water Quality Association.

Most of us eventually remember to change the obvious filters, like those on our stove vents or the PUR filter on our tap. But what about changing filters you don't even know you have?

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According to the experts, there are seven filters you probably don't know you should be changing.

1. Microwave filter. The filter traps grease and odors from the air, thus protecting the appliance and also preventing odors from recirculating and affecting the taste and smell of your food. The microwave filter should be replaced every 6-12 months.

2. Showerhead filter. The filter reduces harmful chemicals that can dry out your hair and skin, leading to other negative effects on the body. It should be replaced every 3-6 months.

3. Humidifier. Most people know humidifiers have a filter that should be changed, but what they don't realize is that many humidifiers actually have up to three filters. It's important to change all three filters.

4. Coffee maker filter. A filter is used in most coffee makers, and it should be replaced approximately every 60 brews.

"They're designed to remove the disinfection chemicals from tap water. If the filters aren't changed, they cause more exposure to ingesting chlorine," says Hertzog.

5. Furnace filter. To reduce allergens like pollen, dust, pet dander, mold spores and dust mites from leaking into the air, it should be changed every 3-6 months.

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6. Dryer lint filter screen. The lint filter screen should be replaced as needed, if it has build-up or tears in the screen. Changing the filter can prevent fire hazards, extend the life of your dryer and reduce energy bills.

7. Refrigerator filter. The filter on a fridge keeps ice fresh and cleans the water dispensed from the refrigerator.

Get more filter-related advice at http://www.filtersfast.com

Tips to Halt Spring Termite Infestations

(NewsUSA) - While you're trying to find every available reason to be outside this spring, termites are doing the exact opposite -- trying to worm their way indoors and devour your walls and floors. And they certainly aren't feasting for free.

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"Termites have an insatiable appetite for cellulose found in wood, eating 24-hours a day, seven days a week. They cause serious and costly damage and can compromise the structural stability of a home," said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). "NPMA advises homeowners to have their homes inspected annually, especially if they've noticed swarmers."

Swarmers are winged termites that arrive in early spring, eagerly looking to set up a new colony. Although they appear similar to flying ants, it's important that homeowners do not mistake the two species, since termite infestations that are left untreated can quickly damage the structural integrity homes. To make matters worse, damages caused by wood-destroying insects, such as termites, are typically not covered by homeowners' insurance policies -- leaving you to foot the bill.

The "silent destroyers" and their saw-toothed jaws can significantly reduce the long-term property value and financial investment of a house. The NPMA estimates that termites cause at least $5 billion in property losses each year in the U.S.

Termite season usually begins in early March and lasts through June. The NPMA recommends these tips to prevent termite infestations:

* Inspect the perimeter of a home for rotting wood, mud tubes or a visible termite presence. Pay particular attention to doors and windowsills, looking for shed wings.

* Avoid water accumulation near a home's foundation by diverting water away with downspouts and gutters.

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* Never bury wood scraps in the yard. If your home is newly built, remove any remaining grade stakes or tree stumps on your property. * Maintain a one-inch gap between soil and wood portions of a building.

* Keep mulch at least 15 inches from the foundation.

* Do not stack firewood or lumber near home, and inspect it carefully before bringing indoors.

* If you suspect you have an infestation, contact a licensed pest professional. Termites cannot be controlled on your own. Learn more about choosing a qualified pest professional at http://www.pestworld.org.

Conquer Childhood Obesity - Tips for Healthy Family Living

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(ARA) - Today, health professionals encourage parents of even very young children to actively confront the childhood obesity epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention find that obesity rates for children ages 2 to 5 have more than doubled over the past 30 years, and The White House Task Force on Obesity reports that more than half of obese children became obese by their second birthday.

"With the obesity epidemic looming large, it's absolutely crucial for parents to instill healthy habits right from the start," says Dr. Laura Jana, pediatrician and award-winning parenting author. "While this may seem like a tremendous responsibility for those still adjusting to diapers, play dates and the many other demands of new parenthood, it's not hard to help children grow up healthy by committing to some simple yet important lifestyle changes."

Jana recommends some tips:

Downsize your plate, upsize the veggies.

An easy way to cut down on unhealthy eating is to use a smaller plate. Portion sizes are now two to five times larger than in years past, and studies have shown that the bigger the serving dish, the bigger the serving is likely to be. "The more we heap on our children's plates, the more likely we are to unintentionally encourage them to overeat. Avoiding large plates can help you avoid serving supersized meals," Jana says.

What belongs on that healthier-sized plate? The USDA MyPlate program recommends making half your plate fruits and vegetables and the other half protein and grains. Other important recommendations include serving fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk to children older than http://www.oldfashionedhomemaking.com

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2, choosing lower-sodium foods and skipping sugary drinks. This simple, fresh-plated picture-of-nutritional-health program even comes with online tools to create a customized food plan for your little one. Swap screen time for playtime.

Young children thrive and learn best through interacting with others and playing with real objects in their environment. While watching TV may be fun and entertaining, or even appear to be educational, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports it does not support learning for children younger than 2. In fact, evidence suggests that screen time may interfere with young children's healthy development and encourage sedentary behaviors and poor sleep - both are habits implicated in the obesity epidemic.

Dr. Mary Zurn, vice president of education for Primrose Schools, recommends independent play as an alternative to TV. "The early years are critical to a child's development, so it's important to ensure that children have opportunities to explore their surroundings and find out what they can make happen," Zurn says.

Singing songs, drawing, playing with puzzles and stacking blocks are fun, "unplugged" activities children can do on their own that also support their creative, problem-solving and reasoning skills.

Get moving.

Pediatricians recommend children ages 1 to 3 get 60 to 90 minutes of physical activity every day, while preschoolers need 90 to 120 minutes. Regular exercise helps children grow to a healthy weight, build and maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, and strengthen their hearts. 13 http://www.oldfashionedhomemaking.com


There are many fun ways to add physical activity to your family's daily routine: turn a casual stroll into a scavenger hunt, play tag, race through the sprinklers or simply get up and dance. "I love getting children to dance because it not only gives them a healthy dose of exercise, it also supports their creative development and self-expression and, as a bonus, enhances positive family time," says Jana.

Need more motivation to get your family up and moving? You could win as much as $5,000 and a $30,000 donation to your Children's Miracle Network Hospital by entering the national Family Dance-off. Entering is easy. Film your family's best dance moves and upload your video to FamilyDanceoff.com between Feb. 25 and March 23. Visit the contest website for full details.

For more parenting tips, visit http://www.DrZandFriends.com.

Teamwork is the Secret to Successful Family Vacations

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(ARA) - When it comes to planning your family's vacation, you can find a lot of value in that old saying "teamwork divides the task and doubles the success." Divvying up planning responsibilities helps ensure that one member of the family is not overwhelmed with tasks, and that everyone is excited about and invested in the trip.

"Sharing time together is one of the most appealing aspects of family vacations," says Kimberly Miles, a travel planning expert with the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Families can start their vacation fun early by sharing planning responsibilities. It can be a great way to teach kids organizational and planning skills, and make sure everyone takes ownership of the family vacation."

All age groups can take part in the process, Miles notes. Here are some ideas for dividing the work and multiplying the enjoyment of the family vacation planning process:

Start with a survey

Successful teamwork requires constant communication. Your family vacation team effort should start by polling the members. Where does everyone want to go? Of course, you won't be able to fulfill every desire, but you can come close by encouraging everyone to be specific.

For example, it's not enough to say everyone wants to go to the beach, because not all beach destinations will offer the same appeal for all family members. Will your family members be relaxing or frolicking on the beach? Spending the whole trip in the sand and surf, or looking for other attractions to round out their adventure? Do they want to stay in a busy beachfront hotel, or somewhere quieter and off the beaten path?

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"Destinations that offer a broad range of activities have the best chance of pleasing everyone in the family," says Miles. Look for a location like Myrtle Beach, where generations of families have found something for every member - from miles of pristine beaches and plenty of water sports, to amusement parks, great shopping and dining, and even museums and live entertainment.

Research your options

Many families rely on the Internet for planning and booking their vacations. The Web can be a great resource for information about a variety of destinations - from what attractions you'll find there to how much hotel rooms will cost during your travel dates. Look for family travel blogs and websites that provide specific destination information, visitor reviews, tips and advice.

Don't overlook the value of word-of-mouth. Check with family and friends to see if they've visited your destination of choice, what they thought of it and what attractions they recommend. All the professional reviews on the Web can't beat the endorsement of happy, satisfied kids.

Assign age-appropriate tasks

Once you've chosen your destination, the real teamwork begins. Divide up tasks based on each family member's abilities. Mom and Dad will probably do the actual booking, but teens and older kids can pitch in with tasks like prepping the house to be vacant, and researching what to do and see. Grandparents can help with driving and packing. Even young children can play a role if you allow them to choose some of the snacks the family will pack for the trip.

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Encourage everyone to choose one activity or sight in which the whole family will participate in. This will help ensure everyone gets to do something they enjoy, and the entire team gets to take part in a variety of activities.

"Teamwork in vacation planning can definitely help make the workload lighter on parents," says Miles. "And it helps get everyone excited about the trip - before they even begin the journey."

Reinventing Your Home in a Day Affordable, easy accents bring dramatic home style

(ARA) - With more homeowners choosing to stay in their homes longer and the full supply of existing housing stock, decorative siding accessories are providing a touch of personal style for rejuvenating and updating America's family homes.

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Appeal-adding updates could be as simple as the quick installation of two pairs of shutters and window headers for a smaller home, or a door surround and five or six pairs of shutters and sunbursts for a larger home.

Accessories like these make a significant difference and help transform the facade and complete feel of a home. Other products include dentil trim, specialty siding shapes and decorative gable vents.

"If your siding is 10 or 12 years old and still in good shape, one way to really give yourself a quick transformation is by simply adding color and dimension with some siding decor," says Jonathan Wierengo, vice president of marketing for The Tapco Group, maker of Mid-America Siding Components.

"We've had a number of contractors tell us about curb appeal makeovers that people are doing for $1,000 or $1,200, where you can have five or six pairs of shutters and something like a door surround," says Wierengo.

While installing these exterior accents is accomplished in a matter of hours, their beauty benefits last for decades. With Mid-America's SolidThru color technology and limited lifetime warranty, no painting, staining or sealing are ever required.

The vinyl shutters from Mid-America offer virtually limitless ways to bring excitement, and make a colorful starting point for one of these affordable multi-faceted makeovers. Whether shutters are for two windows or a set of five, the difference with charismatic color and depth is dramatic. Standard shutter styles include Cathedral Open Louver, Williamsburg Raised Panel, and spaced or joined Board-N-Batten http://www.oldfashionedhomemaking.com

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Shutters. Customizable louvered shutters allow offset mullions, extra panels and optional shutter tops for added elegance. Available decorative S-hooks can further distinguish with a romantic touch.

Shutters can combine with sunbursts or window headers to frame a window with robust style. Elliptical and half-round sunbursts bring a brighter feel, while sunburst kits pair half-round designs with either flat-panel or classic-dentil headers for added flair.

The timeless style of window headers projects a refined look. For a front door, a header is combined with twin pilasters to create a door surround conveying subtle strength. The pilasters' crisp vertical lines deliver a grander entryway. The eye-pleasing dimension of a door surround can also be used to uniquely frame a garage door.

For an expressive combination, a door surround can be paired with the lively contrast of specialty siding shapes. Mid-America's popular Round specialty shapes provide textured accents for gables and contrasting color around a home's second story. Five other shapes are offered in white, including Half Cove and Mitered Corner profiles, lending contrast to shingle-style siding or combining with colorful Round shapes for uniquely elaborate exteriors.

Dentil trim is another accent available for upper exteriors, delivering timeless elegance and immediate architectural distinction. Square Tooth and Scalloped Tooth Dentil Trim create substance all the way around a home with harmonious interplays of light and shadow.

Decorative Gable Vents (non-functional) are simple yet impactful. Combining with shutters, window headers or other accents, they help unify a home's appearance. Available in Round, Octagon, Square and http://www.oldfashionedhomemaking.com

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Rectangle profiles, these ornaments can complement or contrast existing trim or siding.

Smaller details also do their part to generate serenity and a more finished look. Cost-effective, color-coordinated mount blocks and vents deliver crisper, cleaner appearances for light fixtures, electrical outlets, exhaust vents and more. Blocks and vents come in the industry's widest color spectrum, matching vinyl and fiber cement siding makers' color availability. With innovative trim rings that snap on in a flash, they hide imperfections like heavy caulking and unseemly cut ends.

Mid-America Siding Components enhance various architecture styles and can be directly installed on exteriors ranging from brick, fiber cement and vinyl to wood, stone veneer and stucco. From modest homes to those in luxurious neighborhoods, a selection of these decorative accents can reinvent a home's exterior with captivating new appeal.

SturdiMount fiber cement mounts are the pre-flashed, pre-assembled mounts that are manufactured of fiber cement with an ABS flange. Easily installed, they offer the versatility to mount everything from dryer vents and coach lights to hose bibs and receptacle outlets. SturdiMount products are the first fiber cement mount blocks and the only ones to carry the "Recommended by James Hardie" logo.

Mid-America Siding Components is a division of The Tapco Group, a U.S. Green Building Council member. For more information, visit http://www.MidAmericaComponents.com or call 800-521-8486.

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Boomers - 15 Minute Activities for Big Health Benefits

(ARA) - The American baby boomer generation isn't content sitting still - they live full lives working, traveling and pursuing their favorite hobbies. Age is only a number for this determined group whose population is pushing an estimated 78 million. If you are one of the many active baby boomers, you understand your health is a priority, but that doesn't mean you want to spend long hours each day making sure you stay well. Luckily some of the best things you can do for yourself only take a matter of minutes each day.

Dr. Wendy Bazilian (wendybazilian.com), a doctor of public health, registered dietitian and author of "The SuperFoodsRx Diet: Lose Weight with the Power of SuperNutrients," knows the importance of optimizing health for baby boomers. Simple healthy activities, when done on a daily basis, can have a huge cumulative effect on health and wellness. Here are four big-impact health activities from Dr. Bazilian that you can do in 15 minutes or less:

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1. Be flexible with gentle stretches

Stretching might seem like a basic physical activity, but its positive effects can be substantial. Especially for boomers, stretching for five to 15 minutes each day can help keep muscles and joints flexible, and help increase overall body health. Plus as you age, stretching can help maintain your mobility levels and decrease the risks of falls. Try gentle stretches to get your blood flowing in the morning or before you take a walk. Want to try something different? Yoga blends stretching and strength for a wonderful workout for people of all ages. Time requirement: 15 minutes or less

2. Get an oil change - in your kitchen

The right kind of oils can benefit your health and wellness, and the wrong ones can put you at risk for high cholesterol, heart disease and even cancer. Cooking healthy means stocking your pantry with the right kinds of oils so you can enjoy the foods you love the right way. Two to keep on hand are extra virgin olive oil and organic grapeseed oil. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fats which can help boost healthy HDL cholesterol while at the same time help to reduce unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels. Lower cooking temperatures or cool/room temperature usage is best. Organic grapeseed oil has a more neutral flavor and a high smoke point, allowing for higher temperature cooking while using a lighter hand in measures with this healthier cooking oil. Time requirement: five minutes or less

3. Consider taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement

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Recently, there's been a lot of talk about omega-3 essential fatty acids and their ability to prevent common disease as well as benefit brain and overall health. Because you can only get these essential fats through what you eat, Americans often don't get as much as they need. Include food sources like wild salmon and sardines, as well as plant sources like walnuts and flaxseeds. Luckily, you can fill a nutritional gap by incorporating a high-quality fish oil supplement into your daily routine. A high-quality supplement can mean more benefit to your health; Ultimate Omega-D3 from Nordic Naturals is a good example and great option. Time requirement: two minutes or less

4. Eat more fresh fruits and veggies each day

Few foods can provide the high levels of nutrients your body needs than fresh produce, yet more than 80 percent of us are not getting enough. It's important to aim to make half your plate fruits and vegetables at meals every day. And try to incorporate fresh fruits and veggies daily, and don't forget about frozen and dried options without added sugars or preservatives. They're super nutrient-rich, too. The tasty options are endless - from berries, apples, bananas, and cherries to broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, and kale. Be adventurous and try a new recipe that features a veggie you've never had before. Or, taste local flavors by visiting your neighborhood farmers market. Whether for a snack or with a meal, fresh produce is great for any baby boomer's diet. Time requirement: five minutes or less

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How to Keep Your Pet Healthy During Any Season

(ARA) - Americans love pets - to the tune of 62 percent of all households with at least one pet in residence, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Statistics show that 72.9 million homes accommodate approximately 78.2 million dogs and 86.4 million cats.

With so many four-legged friends among us, pet health is a concern from coast to coast. To help you protect your pet's health and well-being, Dr. George Banta, department chair of the Veterinary Technology program at Brown Mackie College - Akron, offers professional advice.

"Many owners commonly overlook the weight of their pets," says Banta. "It is much more common for a household pet to be overweight than underweight." Veterinarians judge weight according to the body condition score. This scale assesses an animal's age, weight, height and proportions of muscle and fat. Pets with lean bodies attain a more ideal body condition score. "It's not so much the number of pounds, but how each animal carries the weight," says Dr. Banta. "If the animal looks

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like it swallowed a watermelon, that's an issue. On other hand, if looks like hasn't eaten in two weeks, that's also an issue." A study conducted by scientists at the Purina Pet Nutrition Research Department and specialists from universities around the United States shows that leaner pets live about two years longer than overweight pets. These eye-opening results prompt many people to take a second look at the food they provide for their pets. "I see pet food in four categories: great, good, I don't know and not for a dead animal," Banta says. "I like Hill Science Diet, Eukanuba, Iams, and Royal Canin. I would argue big name brands like Purina are fine. Even with quality food, good weight management still depends on the amount of food your pet eats."

Banta recommends feeding pets two small meals a day rather than one large meal. Some owners fill the bowl and let the pet selffeed, or graze. "Some animals will eat the correct amount," notes Banta. "Others will keep eating when food is always available. If a pet is overweight, it is best to oversee the portions of each meal."

What about treats? Many of us offer a treat as positive reinforcement in training or housebreaking our pets. Banta advises giving a kibble of food instead of a pet cookie. When it comes to table scraps, Banta says, "Almost never. Table scraps can upset a pet's stomach and cause diarrhea. In addition, many foods are toxic to pets. Garlic, onions, grapes, raisins and chocolate can be deadly toxic." Table scraps with high fat content, such as roast trimmings or a ham bone, can cause vomiting and diarrhea. "There is association with sudden high fat content and pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas which can lead to life-threatening complications," he says.

Exercise goes hand in hand with a good diet. "Exercise helps strengthen the body and is good for their minds," Banta says. Similar to children, it is best to give your pet time to digest after eating before http://www.oldfashionedhomemaking.com

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tossing his favorite ball around. "Older dogs and cats have a tendency to develop arthritis. Large dogs, such as German shepherds, labradors and golden retrievers, are prone to hip dysplasia. Keeping them lean and providing regular exercise can make pets of any size more comfortable as they age," he continues.

Banta recommends regular check-ups for pets and annual vaccines. "It is easier to keep a pet healthy and prevent disease than it is to diagnose and treat an illness," he says. Regular visits to the veterinarian provide the doctor with baseline blood work for your pet, making it easier to diagnose any problems that may develop. For older pets, he advises two exams a year. "Things can happen quickly. The earlier a problem is detected, the sooner treatment can begin. It's all about quality of life."

One important pet safety precaution to keep in mind involves household poisons. Antifreeze and rat poison are two of the most common poisons regularly found in homes. "It doesn't take much time for antifreeze to become lethal," Banta says. "On the other hand, many rat poisons can be very insidious, taking as much as a week after exposure to show clinical signs. Most animal poisoning can be treated if caught early." The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offers an animal poison control hotline for pet owners: (888) 426-4435. There is a fee to place the call. In return, you get unlimited consultations with emergency veterinarians, who are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Ask any pet owner about the benefits of having a dog or cat. Many describe their pet as part of the family. "Every client tells me their pet is the best pet on the planet," says Banta. "That's how it should be."

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