Are you thinking of getting your first dog or cat? Becoming a pet owner is a big commitment, but it’s well worth the investment. Companion animals are a source of comfort and can ease anxiety and stress. If you’re ready to bring a pet home, here are six questions you’ll want to answer first.
Which Pet Is Right for You?
Take some time to really think about your answer to this one. Consider your home, your lifestyle, and your new pet’s comfort when making your decision. Love getting outside and have a big backyard? A dog could be your perfect companion. Don’t like walking that much and live in a small apartment? Then a cat may be a better option for you. Once you’ve picked your pet, think about which breed will be best as well. Some breeds are more active than others, and some may require more grooming and upkeep. You can even get a hypoallergenic pet (see www.babble.com/home/12-great-pets-for-people-with-allergies) if you suffer from allergies.
How Should You Prepare Your Home?
Help your new pet feel right at home by taking some time to really prepare your home. If you have houseplants around, check to see if they are safe for animals and remove or reposition those that may be toxic. If you plan on letting your dog out in your yard, check for poisonous plants (see www.thespruce.com/plants-poisonous-to-dogs-2132451) there as well. Be careful when using pesticides and lawn treatments and think about switching out cleaning products for more natural products that won’t cause harm to dogs or cats.
What Supplies Will You Need?
If you’re getting a new pet, you’ll need a few necessities. If you’re leaning toward a large dog, you’ll want to make sure they have a large bed of their own, a leash that’s easy on your hands, and maybe raised food and water bowls. A cat will likely need a good brush that will keep excess hair away, and a couple of scratching posts will save your furniture from scratches. Pick up some basics, like food and litter boxes, as well. Getting the right gear will keep your pet comfortable and you stress free.
How Will You Keep Your Pet Safe?
Your new pet will depend on you for their safety, so take steps to keep them out of harm’s way. Keep dogs on a secure leash and be careful when opening doors if you have a cat. Microchipping is a smart idea for any pet and can improve the chances for a reunion if they do get lost. Be mindful of foods that can be hazardous to your pet’s health. Keep an eye out for these toxic foods in trash and out in public and make sure to keep them out of reach in your own home.
What Kind of Schedule Will Your New Pet Have?
Dogs and cats thrive on routines, so set up a schedule for your new pal. Most vets recommend feedings twice a day and daily time for play. Dogs need walks twice a day and a few trips outside for potty breaks in between. Puppies may need more frequent trips outside. You may need to spend time teaching a new kitten how to use the litter box. Keep time commitments in mind when picking out your pet and then establish their new routine as quickly as possible to help them settle in safely.
How Will You Bond With Your New Pal?
Connecting with your new pet may take some time and effort, so be patient when building the bonds between you and your new buddy. Training and play are wonderful ways to connect with your pet, so set aside a few minutes each day to hang out together. Using positive reinforcement can also help foster a healthy relationship. Rescued animals can be especially nervous in a new home, and you may need to take extra steps to establish trust and encourage affection. Patience and positivity can go a long way in welcoming a new pet into your world.
You should be excited to become a pet owner! It’s quite the commitment, but a little planning and knowledge will keep your new pal healthy and help you enjoy your new life together.
By Jessica Brody
Next to housetraining, one of the biggest challenges — and frustrations — you may face as a pet parent with the arrival of a newly adopted puppy is his insistence on mouthing and nipping your hand, forearm and ankle. It also ranks among the top reasons puppies and young dogs are relinquished to animal shelters.
Sure, your pup is darn cute and full of canine charm – but ouch! His little pointed teeth can hurt and even break skin. And, without being taught the safe and acceptable way to interact with people, your dog’s playful biting behavior can evolve into a more serious issue: play aggression.
“Play aggression is playful behavior, but with over-exuberance and without adequate (bite) inhibition,” notes Pamela Perry, DVM, Ph.D., a veterinary behaviorist at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Behavior Clinic in Ithaca, NY. “Uncontrolled play is dangerous because the dog can knock people down or injure them with their teeth.”
It is important to recognize that playful mouthing and nipping is normal behavior among fast-growing puppies. Play mouthing starts to develop in puppies between 2 and 4 weeks of age and accelerates between 4 and 14 weeks of age as they learn the proper play etiquette with their littermates. When one puppy accidentally bites down too hard on another or jumps on him too hard, the other lets out a painful yelp. This is a signal to the first puppy to tone down his play.
“Puppies learn from their littermates that overly exuberant play (growling, biting and wrestling) is not tolerated,” says Dr. Perry. “This is very important that puppies have adequate socialization with littermates or with other puppies of similar age so that they learn to inhibit their bites.”
But sometimes, a puppy is separated from his littermates before learning the canine rules of bite inhibition. He needs your help in learning how to play politely.
Dr. Perry offers these strategies to help you tone down your dog’s mouthing and nipping actions:
• Head to school. Enroll your young pup (after he has completed his round of puppy vaccinations) in a class taught by a professional dog trainer. During these supervised classes, your puppy gets to learn how to play properly with other puppies of his own age.
• Select the right toys. Your fast-growing puppy is teething and transitioning to permanent adult teeth. His gums may ache. Provide him with appropriate chew toys to satisfy his oral needs.
• Choose your interactive games wisely. Two safe games to engage with your puppy are fetch and tug-of-war. When done properly, these games provide an acceptable outlet for your puppy’s innate urges to grab and pull on things with his mouth. Ideal fetch toys include tennis balls and nylon floppy discs. Fetch provides a safe distance between you and your puppy. For tug-of-war play, choose a tug toy that is at least three feet in length to give a safe distance between your hand and your dog’s mouth. Teach your dog to drop the tug toy on cue so he learns that you start and end all fun games.
• Avoid hand wrestling with your puppy. Never tease your puppy by placing your hand over his muzzle in a friendly game of wrestling. Don’t permit him to nibble or pounce on your toes, either. Unintentionally, you are encouraging his mouthy behavior. • Don’t hit or pin your puppy. Resist smacking your puppy’s muzzle or holding his mouth closed if he nips you as these punitive tactics can backfire and cause him to bite more, and harder.
• Teach your dog to be gentle during play. If your puppy’s teeth contact your skin, make a high-pitched yelp to let him know it hurts. Don’t quickly yank your hand from his mouth because this rapid movement can trigger his play drive. Instead, let your hand go limp as you move it away from his mouth.
• Know when to stand up and end play. Employ time outs to teach your puppy that fun playtime ends when he becomes too mouthy or nippy. Do this by abruptly yet calmly standing up, turning around and walking away. This technique teaches your puppy that gentle interactive play reaps your attention and overly aggressive actions halts playtime. Resume play with your puppy when he is calm.
“As soon as the puppy will calmly sit for the owner, play may resume,” adds Dr. Perry. “In general, puppy mouthing can be prevented or managed by giving the puppy lots of exercise, play dates with other puppies and obedience training to teach appropriate behaviors.”
Start teaching your puppy the proper play rules from Day 1 while he is still young and his bites are not as harmful. Dr. Perry also recommends teaching your puppy to learn to sit on cue before any interactions with people: greeting visitors to the home, engaging in fetch or other games or getting ready to go on a leashed walk.
Be on the lookout for warning signs that over-exuberant play mouthing has evolved into canine aggression that warrants seeking the help of a veterinary behaviorist. Some dogs may start biting out of frustration or fear.
“Things that indicate the play aggression is progressing to something more serious include stiff body postures, staring, or prolonged deep-toned growling,” says Dr. Perry. “Inadvertent reinforcement of mouthing behavior, inconsistent interactions, or use of physical punishment (hitting the puppy) can exacerbate the problem and lead to fear- or conflict-related aggression.”
By Sarah Zumhofe
Forge a Fear-Free Home for Fido; Secure a safe retreat space for your dog to minimize stress and maximize emotional rest.
When your pet is fearful, anxious, stressed or just plain needs extra space, you don’t always have time to figure out how to deal with it. Having an action plan in place is a preventive step you can take to help your dog feel safe, one that can stand alone or be used in tandem with veterinary-led interventional efforts. The feeling of being prepared is empowering for you and reassures your pet that you’re in charge and all is well.
One way to achieve this is to create a safe, secure home retreat where your pet can go when he wants to rest and relax or when he’s feeling a little — or a lot — stressed.
Building A Fear Free Fortress
A Fear Free fortress doesn’t require a moat or high walls. It simply needs to be a place where your pet feels secure, no matter what’s going on around him.
The fortress may be an area your pet has chosen in the past to hide out, such as a bathroom or bathtub. If he hasn’t indicated a preference, you can create such a space. Ideal spots are insulated from outside noise. Such spaces may include an inner room, bathroom, closet or basement.
Keep exit points and doors of the fortress open to allow free movement in and out. Fearful pets may panic if they are trapped or simply feel trapped inside an enclosed space.
When static electricity builds up on a dog’s coat, it can be a shocking experience — literally! Dogs naturally take measures to decrease the static shock that can build up in their coat during storms. They do this by fleeing for spaces like bathrooms or basements where static is naturally lessened. For these dogs, the ideal safe setup may be a space where static is minimized.
Provide Hiding Places
Inside the fortress, your pet should have places where he can take cover. Some popular hideaway options include the following:
• Blankets and bedding that allow the dog to burrow
• A covered space insulated from outside sounds. You can purchase one or make your own using an indoor doghouse, a covered pet bed, or a crate draped with blankets on up to three sides, leaving the door open.
Stock your pet’s fortress with “survival supplies” so he doesn’t feel the need to venture out if he doesn’t want to. These include water, comfortable bedding, toys, food puzzles, comfort items, and a supply of tasty treats.
Make the fortress inviting in other ways as well. For instance, spritz calming species-specific synthetic pheromones on bedding or place a pheromone dispenser near the fortress to provide a chemical sense of comforting calm similar to the serene scent a mother dog or cat provides at birth for nursing pups or kittens.
You can also create comfort through calming scents placed near the fortress. Applying them on specific items of bedding or toys gives pets the choice of moving closer to the scented item or further away. Soothing scents include lavender, chamomile, and worn, unwashed items of clothing belonging to the dog’s favorite people.
Set The Stage
Often, you know in advance which types of events are going to have an effect on your pet. He may be anxious or fearful during thunderstorms, fireworks explosions, or visits from rambunctious relatives. Have practice hangouts in the fortress prior to the frightening event.
Start by laying a Hansel and Gretel-type trail leading into the space. After your pet follows it, reinforce him for being in his fortress, using rewards he appreciates. These might include food treats he doesn’t usually get, or play with a favorite toy.
Food Puzzle Fun
Providing food puzzles in the safe space focuses the dog on something positive rather than potential negatives. Food puzzles increase the amount of time dogs spend eating, channeling their energy into a productive activity.
Provide a variety of food puzzle types in the dog’s Fear Free fortress or select types you know your dog enjoys. Puzzles that are easy to “unpack” are good choices for sedentary dogs or those without much hunting instinct. More complex puzzles call for dogs to use paws or their nose to move the toy to cause it to release food. Stuff a few food puzzles and freeze them so that you have one readily available when needed to occupy your pet. Freezing also helps the treat toy last longer.
Learn more fear-free techniques by visiting www.fearfreepets.com.
By Sarah Zumhofe
Dogs come in all sizes, breeds and temperaments. But dogs never lie or deceive. Their body languages and vocalizations are consistent. Their “talk” is always clear whether they are communicating with people, each other or even feline housemates.
Dogs deliver messages via their postures, tail positions, tail movements, eyes, actions, sounds and much more. They do their best to deliver their canine cues to us, but sometimes we misinterpret their signals. We may quickly declare a dog who spills his kibble on the kitchen floor to be a finicky, messy eater. But the real reason may be that he is enduring undiagnosed mouth pain because of a broken tooth or infected gums. We fail to distinguish the “bark-bark-bark” that a client’s dog sounds to alert the approach of a delivery work from the “bark-bark-bark” that he uses to convey sheer boredom or his need for purposeful play.
In the book, “What Dogs Want: A Visual Guide to Understanding Your Dog’s Every Move,” Arden Moore decodes 100 postures, expressions, sounds and actions. Here are five examples to help you improve your “dog chat” with canines under your care:
What the Dog Wants: Submissive dogs have no qualms about being labeled cowards, but they stop short of sporting signs on their backs that read, “Bite me.” They purposely make themselves small to communicate that they come in peace and pose absolutely no threat. It is the canine version of waving the white flag of surrender.
Some dogs cower because they have been victims of past physical abuse. These dogs sulk in order to protect themselves and to plead the case to leave them alone and unharmed.
Finally, shrinking in size is also a sign of respect conveyed by a young pup toward a confident adult dog.
How to Respond: Dogs who cower need a confidence boost. This can be accomplished by giving them a little time and space during your initial visit with the client and during your first solo visits to care for the dog. When the dog crouches low and perhaps licks his lips and avoids eye contact, this is your cue to sit down quietly on a chair or the floor a few feet away. Speak in a calm, upbeat tone and avoid making fast or exaggerated hand gestures.
Give this dog a chance to download you on his time schedule. Try tossing a treat his way. If he does approach, let him sniff you. Do not reach your hand out over his head because he may perceive this as a threatening gesture and snap or bite you out of fear.
STIFF TAIL WAGGING
What the Dog Wants: Tail-speak is clear and candid, and is never deceptive. The dog is declaring to others to keep their distance when he strikes a tense body pose, stiffens and slows his tail movement to mimic the beat of a metronome. If you or another dog invades his perceived safety zone, he will snarl, lunge and may even lash out.
A confident, alert dog hoists his tail up and makes slow side-to-side sweeps as he focuses on a situation and decides how he is going to act and react. This tail posture signals high-ranking status in the dog world. A dominant dog wags his tail stiffly and slowly when he is being approached or when he confronts another dog. In response, the lower-ranked dog usually avoids direct eye contact and lowers his tail.
Different dog breeds carry their tails at different heights, but in general, dogs who are concerned, focused and ready to go into attack mode keep their tails stiff and parallel to the ground or raised. Some breeds that have curled tails, such as the Basenji, increase the tightness in their tails in these scenarios.
How to Respond: Heed the dog’s message not to engage. Do not rush in to try to pet a dog who is still sizing you – and the situation – up. He is deciding whether to stay and fight or to flee. Do not stare directly into his eyes because he will perceive this action as threatening.
Look at the dog’s entire body posture, especially in dogs with cropped or docked tails, such as Doberman Pinschers, Boxers and Bulldogs. Toss a treat to a weary dog when he makes this posture to try to shift his mood from cautious to calm. Do not attempt to hand-feed this dog or you may get bit.
What the Dog Wants: Yawning is more apt to indicate stress than fatigue. It is one of the primary go-to calming signals that dogs use. The maneuver is employed to diffuse a potentially explosive situation.
Some dogs, especially intelligent ones who catch on to new tricks quickly, grow tired of long, repetitive training sessions. They may start to yawn and scratch their heads with their back paws as a way to relieve stress, take a break from concentrating too much and to re-energize.
Just like people, dogs yawn when they are bored and tired of dull routines. They also yawn when they see another dog or person yawn. For unknown reasons, yawning can be contagious.
How to Respond: Take a break from the intensity and duration of a training session when a dog starts yawning. He is trying to tell you that he needs a rest. Dogs learn best in minisessions. Slowly build, step-by-step, on each success with each training session.
Be clear and concise in communicating with dogs. If you give conflicting signals or confusing commands, the trying-to-please dog may respond by yawning because he is stressed and anxious. To calm an anxious dog, get his attention, lick your lips and make a big yawn yourself.
Do not fall into a rut with the dog’s daily walks. Break up the routine by taking him to a new place to give him new places to sniff and explore.
What the Dog Wants: Young puppies nip when they play. Puppies understand that a nip is part of the sport of tussling with their siblings or another puppy. When they leave the litter and go to a new home, a puppy usually brings this habit with him. Unfortunately, puppies often extend this type of play to people.
Adult dogs use nips as warnings, to send the message that they are dominant or that they want you to stop whatever you are doing because they are hurt or feel afraid. Dogs who nip because they think they make the rules are the most dangerous nippers of all. If you want to move the dog from the couch or bed and he nips at you, he is telling you, “I am in charge and I say back off.”
Some dogs nip because they have an instinct to herd. Dogs who are bred to interact with livestock are naturally nippy because their teeth are a good weapon against stubborn sheep or cattle. For these dogs, nipping is part of their herding styles. Examples are corgis, border collies and Australian shepherds.
How to Respond: Although puppies are being playful when they nip, this action is another one of those unacceptable behaviors that should be strongly discouraged. The best way to do so is to stop interaction with the puppy and even let out a loud, “Ow!” if he gets nippy. He will soon learn that this action means the end of contact with you and the end of a good time with you.
Herding breeds need to be taught from a young age that they are not allowed to nip at people. A consistent and firm “No!” and the termination of the play session should be enough to get the message across.
Finally, you do not want the client’s dog to be calling the shots during your visit. Pushy, bossy dogs need to learn that you are the leader and the keeper of all good resources: food, play and attention.
What the Dog Wants: Some dogs pant when they are too hot, scared or physically exhausted. All of these reasons can raise the dog’s body temperature. A couple degrees above a dog’s normal body temperature (ranging from 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit) can signal a health concern. Dogs do not sweat through skin pores like people do, but rather through the pads on their feet. Overheated dogs leave wet paw marks on the floor caused by sweating.
Some dogs pant because they feel scared, anxious or tense — emotions that can raise body temperatures and trigger panting episodes.
How to Respond: If the panting is due to the dog becoming overheated, get him into a ventilated area and cool him down slowly by placing his paws in cool (never ice cold) water and placing cool wet towels on his abdomen area. Do not use ice as the extreme change in temperature can shock a dog’s body.
Never put a dog in a crate in the corner of a room covered with towels. You will block any ventilation and he may start panting because he is overheated. Do not overexercise a dog, especially on a hot day by taking him for a long run. And, it goes without saying, never leave a dog inside a closed car on a warm day. The temperature inside a vehicle quickly spikes and can resemble that of an oven.
By Sarah Zumhofe
Dusty was a black-and-white cat who hissed, swatted and squirmed anytime a veterinarian or veterinary tech tried to restrain her to do an exam or worse, attempt to draw blood or give a necessary vaccine injection.
This same cat, however, transformed into a picture of serenity and calmness when she had tiny needles strategically inserted on her body during acupuncture treatments.
“The big surprise is just how many cats will sit still and accept acupuncture needles,” says Polly Fleckenstein, DVM, MS, a certified veterinary acupuncturist and certified veterinary spinal manipulative therapist at the Veterinary Medical Center of Central New York. “Dusty was my cat. She suffered from seizures, but hated being handled. But once we added acupuncture to her care, she stopped having seizures and she never reacted negatively to the acupuncture needles.”
Nick, a 12-year-old mixed breed, is a regular canine patient at Cornell University’s School of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y. Every week to two weeks, his owners bring in Nicky to receive electroacupuncture treatments to address his aches and mobility issues associated with chronic arthritis.
“He develops a spring in his step after each treatment,” notes Joseph Wakshlag, DVM, Ph.D., chief of the Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Service at Cornell who, with Curtis Dewey, DVM, is board-certified in acupuncture and offer this therapy at Cornell.
The field of veterinary acupuncture is drawing the interest of more conventionally-schooled veterinarians – and pet owners. The study – and interest – of acupuncture on pets is on the rise. Acupuncture training programs have steadily experienced increased enrollments since the mid-1990s, according to the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture. The AAVA was admitted into the American Veterinary Medical Association’s House of Delegates in early 2014.
Dr. Fleckenstein has incorporated acupuncture in her practice for the past two decades. She believes that more pet owners see the benefits of integrative medicine and want the same type of care for their pets.
“More owners are willing to do more for their pets in terms of medicine, pain management and nutrition,” she says. “People see the benefit of acupuncture on themselves. They are looking for that extra little bit that may improve the quality of life for their pets and acupuncture is a viable option.”
Adds Dr. Wakshlag, “Acupuncture is a modality that should be actually mainstreamed. Using the word, complimentary, is now a bit of a misconception.”
Acupuncture is a 2,000-year-old Chinese healing art that is fast-becoming a popular therapy for use on 21st Century pets: dogs, cats, horses and even birds. It can boost blood circulation and spur the release of endorphins (pain-controlling hormones) and cortisol (anti-inflammatory hormones design to regulate stress within the body). The goal of acupuncture is to promote the body to heal and unlike conventional medications, it lacks potential adverse side effects.
A common type of acupuncture performed on cats and dogs involves the use of tiny needles strategically placed so as not to send any pain signals to the brain. On average, 20 to 30 needles are placed, depending on the health needs of that specific pet. These needles are inserted into body tissue where blood vessels and nerve bundles merge.
In fact, many patients relax and even fall asleep during the treatment that can range from a few minutes to up to a half hour.
In her practice, Dr. Fleckenstein incorporates acupuncture in treating cats with kidney failure, heart disease, asthma, diabetes and to some extent, arthritis, stomatitis and gingivitis. Acupuncture can assist in inflammatory conditions and help support immune systems.
“I’ve had some paralyzed cats whose mobility has improved and I treated a cat who had elevated kidney levels for three to five years,” she says. “After steady acupuncture treats, his kidney levels came back to normal. We can’t prove that acupuncture was responsible for the improvement, but we did not change anything else in our treatment.”
Other types of acupuncture include:
• The use of lasers to provide needle-less treatments, an advantage for pets who don’t tolerate needles. Aqua acupuncture involves the injection of needles containing medicinal herbs or vitamins that are injected into the body. Moxabustion applies a warm Chinese herbal compound to the needles to provide added heat to treat joint stiffness and muscle soreness.
• Electroacupuncture involves electrodes hooked up to the needles to deliver a mild, steady electric current to stimulate nerves damaged by injury or trauma.
In general, acupuncture tends to be painless and safe and can be combined with medicines and other treatments with no side effects. Used to stimulate the body to heal itself, acupuncture can benefit cats and dogs facing these conditions:
• Sore muscles and joints
• Muscle spasms
• Degenerative joint disease
• Digestive issues, including constipation, diarrhea and vomiting
• Cushing’s disease (dogs)
• Hypothyroidism (dogs)
• Heart disease
• Kidney disease
• Liver disease
• Ruptured discs
• Dermatologic conditions, including allergic dermatitis and lick granulomas
• Asthma and other respiratory problems
• Epilepsy and seizures
• Weakened immune system
In addition, acupuncture is employed to maintain the health of dogs active in such sports as hunting, agility and fly ball.
“More owners are willing to do more for their pets in terms of medicine, pain management and nutrition,” says Dr. Fleckenstein, who has practiced veterinary acupuncture for two decades. “Pet owners are looking for that extra little bit that may improve the quality of life for their pets and acupuncture is a viable option.”
To maximize the benefit of the acupuncture session, the dog under Dr. Fleckenstein’s care, enters a quiet room with dimmed lighting with their owner present. Dogs relax on blankets or comfortable bedding during the treatment.
“Owners need to relax as much as possible because their dogs read their energies,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. “I’ve had some owners fall asleep next to their dogs who also fall asleep.”
Acupuncture is considered quite safe with the biggest precaution in making sure a dog does not lick and swallow an acupuncture needle.
“I’ve inserted 100,000s of needles and only 1 dog has swallowed one needle,” says Dr. Fleckenstein.
The number of acupuncture treatments depends on the dog, but on average, the treatments are weekly with the goal of extending to maintenance visits every month or six weeks.
“People see that they are investing in the quality of the health of their pets with these acupuncture treatments,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. “After an acupuncture treatment, we advise that the dog take it easy — no big, long walks — and make sure the dog drinks plenty of fresh water.”
Treatment sessions, on average, range in cost between $50 and $100. Acupuncture may qualify for pet insurance but coverage varies. A check of five pet insurance companies found one company that covers acupuncture if it’s performed by a licensed veterinarian for a covered accident or illness, but excludes acupuncture as preventive or routine care. Another company requires the owner to purchase an additional coverage for acupuncture reimbursement.
Many dogs display an eagerness for acupuncture treatments. Sophie, an eight-year old spayed Labrador retriever, had a lifetime history of urinary incontinence and developed an adverse reaction to medication. Three years ago, her owners took her for regular acupuncture treatments performed by Dr. Fleckenstein.
“Within two months of weekly treatments, there was a significant decrease in her leaking,” says Polly Fleckenstein. “In the past 18 months, Sophie has only leaked three times and she now only needs to come in every six weeks for acupuncture treatments.”
Is acupuncture the answer for a pet’s health?
“With acupuncture, you may not cure the problem, but you can slow it down and make the quality of life better for that pet,” says Dr. Fleckenstein. “I’ve been amazed by how well cats and dogs do.”
Selecting a Veterinary Acupuncturist
If you are considering acupuncture care for your cat or dog, seek a veterinarian certified in this field from one of three associations:
• International Veterinary Acupuncture Society – www.ivas.org. This group has more than 1,800 members.
• American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture – www.aava.org. This group has more than 900 members.
• Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine – www.tcvm.com.
By Sarah Zumhofe
Ah yes, that’s the spot, a little lower. If dogs could talk, no doubt they’d be interested in a dog massage. What some may guffaw at is actually a very real, doable, and human-animal enhancing experience to bond with your dog and spot potential health problems.
“Will you be using the in-room masseuse during your stay, Mrs. Bryant?”
The concierge asks that of my dog when we visit pet-friendly Inn by the Sea in Maine. Indeed, if Fido needs a little rub down after a day at the beach, a pet masseuse is more than happy to service that need on premises.
Dogs make our lives better: They are ready at a moment’s notice to be mood enhancers, help people recover better after a heart attack, and just sitting and petting a dog can make both parties involved feel better. Touching a dog, in fact, can save a life.
When a tiny raised lump appeared on my first Cocker Spaniel’s shoulder blade about two weeks after getting her then yearly vaccinations, I felt a twinge of “something isn’t right” course through my veins. My gut instinct was right: Getting it checked right away most likely saved her life: It was cancer.
The next time you sit down to pet your dog, consider these 10 touches that just might save your dog’s life (note: If your dog is not accustomed to touching, now’s a good time to start: From veterinarians to groomers, getting a bath to getting his nails clipped, touch should be an acceptable, positive behavior throughout a dog’s life). Remember the 10-for-10 rule: 10 minutes, 10 touches. We do this at least weekly.
Touch 1 – Full body scan: Glide your fingertips across your dog’s body. Gently move fingertips across the dog’s back, stomach, head, ears, and even his face. Most dogs will tolerate this touch, especially if you do it while he is resting next to you and relaxed. Feel anything? Are there any new lumps or bumps? Take a snapshot of any growths so that you are able to show the veterinarian.
Touch 2 – Ears: Hold the ear between your fingers and caress gently, praising your dog for being such a good pooch. Ticks have a tendency to cling onto ears, the face, or head since dogs spend a lot of their time outdoors with their nose to the ground.
Touch 3 – Lymph Nodes: The lymph nodes filter foreign invaders/ particles from a dog’s blood stream. The lymphatic system includes organs like the thymus gland and spleen, so the regulation and production of cells of the immune system are involved. Touching the lymph nodes of the body and knowing where they are located is an important part of understanding your dog’s anatomy. Gently palpate the neck, legs, and groin region. Feel into your dog’s armpits.
Touch 4 – Mouth: One of the many reasons we are strong proponents and advocates of regular dog teeth brushing is to screen for lumps, bumps, growth, or sores. Dog parents who know what normal feels and looks like will be the first to know when something abnormal is touched or seen. If your dog isn’t into teeth brushing or having your finger gently probe around his gums, here are some ways to help a dog adjust to teeth brushing (and gentle probing).
Touch 5 – Tail: It wags, it alerts us, it has many positions, and we can often tell what a dog is thinking by the way of his tail. When is the last time you touched your dog’s tail and felt around for anything unusual? You can train a dog to trust touching any part of his body using positive reinforcement. Praise a dog, have a friend or family member reward with a treat in association with touch.
Touch 6 – Top of the Head: One of the first places most people touch a dog is on their head. Even the friendliest dog might not like this: Especially if an unsuspecting stranger does it. As his pet parent, gingerly massage the head and feel around for anything out of the ordinary.
Touch 7 – Paws and Pads: A broken nail can be very painful. An overgrowth of fur between the pad surfaces means dogs can slip on flooring. Any cuts or wounds on a paw pad need immediate attention. Visually inspect the paw while using touch to feel for anything unusual.
Touch 8 – Belly: Ah, the delightful belly rub: Incorporate an incognito exam into a belly rub for a win-win. Gently press fingers along the dog’s stomach to feel for any signs of swelling or abnormalities.
Touch 9 – Tush Touch: Most dogs love a good butt scratch: Gentle and massaging, across the tush and hips, feel for any bumps or lumps and take a peek, too: The sensitive anal glands are located in this area, so any unusual odors should be checked out by a veterinarian.
Touch 10 – Chest: Increased panting is a common occurrence for dogs in the winter months, particularly when the heat is on indoors and dogs are adjusting. However, if dogs are excessively panting, it’s time to get checked. Feel your dog’s chest and notice if there is any discomfort or pain while petting the chest area. Just behind the elbow on the left side of the dog’s chest is where you should be able to feel a heartbeat.
As a bonus 11th tip, check the eyes: Is there any unusual discharge or buildup in or around the eyes? Do the eyes look red or cloudy? Is there any increase or decrease in tear production? Does the dog squint or paw at the eyes?
How often are you touching your dog?
By Sarah Zumhofe
Your dog is relaxed and snoozing in his favorite pet bed located in the living room. But he suddenly jolts awake, stiffens his body, curls his lip and begins growling at your other dog as he approaches this pet bed. It is as if he is declaring that this pet bed is, “mine, mine, all mine! Back off!”
Your cat is nestled on a comfy window perch and cackling at birds flying around a bird feeder outside. But his demeanor quickly turns to agitation and anger when the other cat in the house dares to share his window perch. He hisses and swats your other cat who dashes into another room.
Both scenarios are prime examples of what is known as resource guarding. This behavior takes many forms and can occur at various levels of intensity.
By definition, resource guarding involves threatening behavior directed towards an individual who approaches the dog or cat while he is in possession of or near something he does not want to relinquish, reports Pam Perry, DVM, Ph.D., a veterinarian board-certified in animal behavior at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Resource guarding can occur in any dog or cat of any age and breed and stems from a normal desire to maintain access to valuable resources. A dog may aggressively defend his turf, toys, food, bedding and even favorite people inside your home that he regards as treasured resources. When he displays aggressive behavior (body tensing, growling, lunging, snapping and biting) and the person or animal backs away, the resource guarding behavior becomes negatively reinforced. Without proper intervention, it can become the dog’s go-to behavioral response.
Same situation applies to cats. The severity can range from a cat tensing muscles and hissing to lunging and biting. And keep in mind that cats mark what they deem to be their resources by rubbing their faces and bodies on these items. This action releases natural pheromones. Some cats feel so stressed and threatened that they will urine spray to mark their territory as a scent warning to others to back off.
When it comes to dealing with resource guarding in dogs, Dr. Perry offers these do’s and don’ts:
• Do teach your dog to sit for all interactions. Make that his default behavior.
• Do teach your dog to heed the “leave it” and “drop it” commands. Teach these important cues by using rewardbased positive reinforcement training techniques. For example, if a dog guards his food dish, drop a few pieces of a tasty treat into the dish every time you walk by so that the dog learns that your presence around his food bowl is associated with getting something pleasurable.
• Do not forcibly attempt to retrieve an item from your dog. Such actions may result in the dog snapping at you and even biting you.
• Do not punish a dog for resource guarding. Never yell at him, yank him away or even strike him. These actions will only cause the dog to become more anxious and may even exacerbate the aggression in him. This punitive approach can also damage your relationship with your dog.
• Do restrict access to items your dog tends to guard. Limit the number of toys available to him each day by placing the rest in a toy chest or other place he cannot access on his own. Rotating toys is a great way to minimize resource-guarding tendencies.
• Do minimize the dog’s resource guarding tendencies. Do this by keeping temptations like kitchen trash cans and laundry baskets full of clothes out of reach and by closing doors to bathrooms.
Here are key ways to minimize resource guarding by indoor cats as identified by the American Association of Feline Practitioners: 1. Provide a safe place. Each cat needs a safe and secure place where he feels protected. These may include an open pet carrier, a cardboard box or a raised cat perch.
2. Provide multiple and separated key environmental resources in multi-pet households. These include food, water, litter boxes, scratching areas, play areas and sleeping areas. These resources should be separated from each other so that cats have free access without being challenged by other cats or pets in the home. Separation of resources reduces the risk of competition as well as stress-associated diseases.
3. Provide opportunity for play and the chance to display predatory behavior. Cats need to be able to capture “prey” during play. Using food puzzles can also mimic the action of hunting for prey. Be sure to rotate your cat’s toys so he does not get bored.
4. Provide positive, consistent and predictable human-cat social interactions. Keep in mind that each cat has personal preferences in how much human interaction (petting, grooming, being played with or being picked up) they can tolerate. Remind guests not to force interaction and instead, allow your cat to initiate, decide and control interaction with them.
5. Provide an environment that respects the importance of a cat’s sense of smell. Cats use their sense of smell to evaluate their surroundings. Threatening smells to cats include scented products, cleaners or detergents as well as the scent of unfamiliar animals.
Let’s take a closer look at a few key resource guarding issues and how to address them:
The resource: Food bowl
Basis: Food is one of the key must-haves for all dogs and cats. Some dogs and cats who are more food motivated may be more apt to resource guard at meal times, especially when the food is being prepared and they are aroused.
The Behavior: One pet may quickly gulp his food and then push another away from his bowl. Or he may block the entrance to the kitchen while you prepare the meals. A dog may gulp his food, growl, stiffen his body and even attempt to bite another pet who is perceived to be too near to his food bowl. Some dogs may even bite a person if they feel that person will take the food away before they have finished eating. An intimidated cat may hide and wait until the bully cat leaves to enter the kitchen and attempt to eat his meal. And some cats may swat or bite a person if they perceive that person will take the food away before they have finished eating.
Possible solutions: Feed the pets in separate areas of the kitchen or even different rooms so that they can enjoy eating their meals at their own paces without the threat or fear of not being able to finish. Quietly position yourself between the two food bowls to block direct eye contact between the pets. Help your dog or cat to view meal time as a safe time by refraining from sticking your hands in the food dish or taking the dish away while they are eating. Occasionally, swap out food bowls for food puzzles to encourage your pet to earn their food by hunting.
The resource: Favorite toy
Basis: The toy contains the pet’s scent and has been a dependable resource for play, making it a valuable commodity to him.
The Behavior: Even young puppies and kittens are capable of growling and hissing at their littermates who dare to play with their favorite toy.
Possible solutions: Disrupt the interaction before it escalates into aggressive behavior by calling them away from the toy. Then with the pets separated, engage them in play with separate toys. Also, store and rotate toys and schedule mini play sessions. For dogs, you can also exercise the “trade up” technique by teaching your dog to drop or give an item as you give him one he views to be more valuable.
The resource: Litter box
Basis: The litter box can be a site of aggression. It may not be as much as a resource to guard as it is an easy place for a cat to ambush another cat when the latter cat is in a vulnerable position.
The Behavior: One cat in the house may lie down across the hallway, blocking access to the room where the litter box is located. The cat may also hide and then pounce on another cat who is using a litter box, scaring him away before he completes urinating or defecating in the litter box.
Possible solutions: Locate litter boxes in different rooms to prevent the resource-guarding feline from being able to block access. He can’t be at two places at one time. Make sure your cats can view any possible threat easily while in a litter box so that may mean not having hooded litter boxes that block their view. Remember, the recommended number of litter boxes is one per cat plus one. So, if you have three cats, you should have four litter boxes located in different rooms to minimize resource guarding behavior.
By Sarah Zumhofe
Poop happens. And, how it looks and smells can carry vital clues into the health of your dog. So, it’s time to take on the role of poop detective — or if you prefer, become a poopologist. By paying attention to your dog’s bathroom habits and eyeing each deposit, you can seek veterinary care for minor health issues before they possibly erupt into major, expensive ones.
If the poop looks odd, smells foul, occurs too often or too little, is red (possibly blood) or pale yellow (possibly issues with the pancreas or liver), pay heed. These are clues that something is wrong with your dog’s diet or there’s a medical condition brewing, such as constipation, inflammatory bowel disease or even colon cancer.
“If your dog assumes the normal posture to poop, but there is no results, he or she could be constipated, could have a foreign body obstruction somewhere in the GI tract, could have swollen anal glands or something else,” says Trisha Ballard, DVM, a holistic veterinarian who has practiced in the Dallas area for the past three decades.
The Three C’s of Poop Consistency – The deposits from the pet should be segmented, the consistency of Play-Doh and easy to pick up.
• Color – Color should be chocolate brown. Bright red may indicate bleeding in the lower GI tract. Maroon colored stools could indicate bleeding in the stomach or small intestines. Pale yellow deposits may signal something is wrong with the liver, pancreas or gallbladder.
• Contents – Hold your nose and inspect the poop. Any signs of rice-shaped flecks or wriggly strands could signal your dog has worms. Too much hair in the stool can be attributed to over grooming due to stress, allergies or a host of medical conditions.
• Coating – Gross as it sounds, when you scoop the poop off the yard or the floor, it should not leave any residue or filmy mucous.
Why the need to bring in a poop sample on your veterinary visit?
“Poop provides us veterinarians with a wealth of information,” says Dr. Ballard. “Healthy poop is chocolate brown in color, the shape of a log, passed one at a time that is easy to pick up.”
What Number Is the Pet’s Poop?
When it comes to producing healthy poop, veterinarians have been keeping a not-so-hidden secret. They actually rank the poop brought into their clinics on a scale of 1 to 7. The healthiest poop falls between a 2 and a 3.
Here is the run down on the fecal scoring system used by veterinarians to rate doggy poo:
1. Hard, small pellets resembling Milk Duds.
2. Tootsie-roll in color and texture. Segmented.
3. Ideal: Chocolate brown-colored logs easy to pick up and slightly squishable.
4. Chocolate, gray or tan colored logs with a slimy coating.
5. Moist, slimy logs that fall apart when picked up and leave a residue.
6. Shapeless plops of poop often dropped in multiple locations.
7. Watery, reddish brown or tan-colored poo puddle.
Yuck, yes. But when do these episodes require veterinary care or rank as medical emergencies? It depends on how your dog’s “deposits” look and smell as well as their amount and frequency.
GI upsets in dogs run the gamut from the occasional diarrhea/constipation to the more serious colitis, often misidentified pancreatitis, the lesser-known exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and small intestinal bacteria overgrowth to the downright deadly bloat.
“The gastrointestinal tract ranks as one of your dog’s most important organ systems,” said Ernie Ward, DVM, who operates Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C., noted author and founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. “I firmly believe that a healthy gut means a healthy pet.”
Here’s a quick rundown of how to combat these headline-making GI conditions:
• Colitis: Inflammation of the largest intestine that is evident by frequent, small volumes of semi-formed to liquid feces. Chief cause: stress (being anxious about being boarded or due to parasitic infections.) Antibiotics and fiber supplements often treat this condition.
• Diarrhea/Constipation: Adding canned pumpkin to the diet can help an occasional bout, but chronic episodes can signal kidney or liver disease or parasitic infection that requires medicine and veterinary treatment.
• Not all tummy upset incidents merit pronto trips to the nearest veterinary clinic, such as the occasional diarrhea or constipation. And, it turns out that bright-red stools are not nearly as dangerous as are runny stools that pack a powerful stench and look like they contain dark coffee grounds.
“The presence of blood in stools can be confusing,” said Dr. Ward. “Bright red is not as life threatening as horribly smelling black flecks in the stools. The bright red tells me this is coming from the lower, large intestine near the anus. The dog could be straining to defecate and irritated his anus area. But if the dog’s stool smells horribly and has evidence of dark flecks, that is much more serious. It tells me that there is bleeding from the small intestine or a serious ulcer. That dog needs to see a veterinarian right away.”
You can catch a GI issue in your dog early and possibly, save on veterinary treatment bills by heeding these three tips:
1. Inspect your dog’s poop – daily. The size, texture, frequency, color and smell of your dog’s poop serve as big clues on how healthy his gastrointestinal tract is. Feces should be brown, formed easily to bag and definitely not reek.
2. Recognize emergency signals. Take your dog to the vet, pronto, if your deep-chested dog is on the ground with a swollen stomach and having dry heaves but unable to vomit. He could be having a bout with bloat.
3. Pick the right pumpkin for occasional mild digestive upset. If your dog has mild diarrhea or constipation, add pumpkin in his bowl. But use real canned pumpkin that provides dietary fiber and not the sugar-filled pumpkin pie variety.
Poop Fact or Fiction
1. Dog and cat poop is good fertilizer. Answer: False. Pet poop is toxic to lawns and can cause discoloration and burn spots on the lawn. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency has classified pet waste as a dangerous pollutant in the same category as toxic chemicals and oil. Do not consider using dog poop in compost piles for your garden.
2. Dog poop can contain roundworm larvae that can cause blindness. Answer: Fact. If a person ingests a roundworm larva, it can migrate to the brain, lungs, kidneys, heart or eyes. That is why it is important to thoroughly clean your hands after touching soil, pet toys or anything that has come into contact with pet feces.
3. The average dog excretes nearly 1 pound a day or about 274 pounds of poop each year. Answer: Fact. And pet poop represents about 4 percent of the contents in landfills. Baby diapers, by the way, also claim 4 percent of the landfill.
4. One ounce of dog feces contains 23 million microorganisms of bacteria — nearly twice that of human waste. Answer: Fact.
5. The most ecologically friendly removal method of dog poop is to bag it and toss it in the trash. Answer: False. Actually, the EPA suggests you flush dog poop (not litter-covered cat poop) in the toilet. There are water-soluble doggy poop bags now available on the market that will enable you to easily flush the feces safely down the toilet.
By Sarah Zumhofe
A controversial subject regarding appropriate pet care is whether to keep cats indoors only or allow them access to the great outdoors.Some people think “cats should be cats” and should be allowed outside to chase field mice, lie in the grass, and have all sorts of outside cat adventures. Other people think cats should never be allowed outdoors.
Below are 10 reasons to keep cats indoors.
1. Indoor cats typically live many years longer than cats who are allowed outside. According to national research, indoor cats live an average of 16 years or more, while cats allowed outside live only about five years.
2. Cats who are allowed outside can be stolen, abused, killed, run over by cars, get lost or injured or killed by other creatures.
3. Cats who are allowed outdoors can get themselves trapped in things like other people’s garages or sheds, and if they are not found, they will slowly die of starvation.
4. Cats are very curious, hence the saying, “curiosity killed the cat.” Cats can lick antifreeze, or other poisons, crawl up into warm car engines where they can become hurt or taken for a harried and unexpected journey under the hood of a moving car. They can come back home from their day out sicker than a dog (no pun intended) and you won’t know what they ingested and that will make it more difficult for your veterinarian to try and save your feline friend.
5. If a cat is let outdoors, you won’t know if his/her bowel movements are regular, if she or he has diarrhea, constipation, or even going at all. A responsible pet owner will be aware of their cat’s health by monitoring their elimination habits and that is more challenging to do with an indoor/outdoor cat. Outdoor cats can have urinary tract infections and their owners may not be aware of it until a more serious issue arises.
6. Outdoor cats can bring home all sorts of things like dead mice and birds, and harass the lovely birds in the yard and at the bird feeders.
7. Cats can bring in fleas and ticks, cuddle up on beds with the owners, and the next thing you know “oh, oh!” there is a new problem in your house!
8. If a cat comes home with injuries after fighting with who knows what type of creature, he or she will have to be rushed to the veterinary clinic, incurring medical fees and time spent nursing the cat back to health.
9. Cats who are let outdoors without identification may become lost and will not be able to be returned to the owner simply because there is no way to find them. They may be returned to a shelter and might have to stay days before they can be located, causing further stress and anxiety. The person who found the cat may also opt to keep him/her and the owner may never see their cat again.
10. Cats who are allowed outside may not come home at night and leave an owner worried. This will impact the owner’s life the next day because they’ve been up most of the night worrying if their cat is okay.
Some people have the misconception that cats cannot be happy indoors because it is not their “true nature” to be inside all the time. If owners train their cat to be an indoor cat and provide him/her with lots of attention, love, great nutrition, an assortment of toys, scratching posts, a tower or two, a clean litter box, and some sunny spots, he or she will thrive and probably live to a ripe old age. Owners will also know where their cat is at all times, will not be wary of cuddling their cat for fear of fleas or ticks or by aggravating your allergies with the pollen the outdoor cat brought home, and they will be more able to monitor the cat’s health.
More Insights into Cats
To help you understand indoor cats better, here are some surprising feline truths from, Fit Cat: Tips & Tricks to Give Your Pet a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by Arden Moore:
Cats are furry Rip Van Winkles. Indoor cats sleep nearly two-thirds of every day — up to about 18 hours a day. Only opossums and bats snooze more — about 20 hours a day.
Cats are speedy and springy. A house cat can reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour and jump up to seven times his height from a sitting position. The fastest domesticated cat breed on record is the Egyptian Mau, clocked at 36 mph.
Cats outtalk dogs 10 to 1. Cats can make more than 100 distinctive vocalizations as compared to about 20 sounds for dogs. But these feline sounds are mostly directed at people because they rarely meow at other cats.
Cats can give off a ghoulish glow in dim light. Causing this glow is a group of light-sensitive cells located behind the retinas known as the tapetum lucidum. This is a Latin term meaning bright carpet. These cells allow cats to take in extra light in dimly lit situations. These special cells enable cats to quickly adapt to low-light conditions in the house.
Cats put the C in color. Cats come in more than 75 different colors and patterns beyond white, black and brown. Some sport shades of red, orange, silver, lilac and other hues.
A cat’s tongue contains rows of barbs called filiform papillae. Barbs are the reason behind the sandpaper-like texture of your cat’s tongue. These barbs are positioned toward the throat and are designed to help a cat hold his prey, such as a mouse — or a paper wad — in her mouth.
Some cats actually like to get wet. Turkish Vans hail from Lake Van and earned the nickname, “swimming cats.” Bengals also are drawn to water and have surprised some of their owners by joining them in the shower.
By Sarah Zumhofe
Sarah Zum Hofe was born in 1987 in St. Louis, MO- and has since then had a love affair with animals!