How and what should your cat eat? Experts weigh in
By Kim Campbell Thornton
How hard can it be to feed a cat? You just set down a bowl of dry food and go, right? Wrong. Feline experts would prefer that you feed cats on a schedule, measure their food so they don’t eat too much and switch them to canned food for a healthier diet.
What’s wrong with free-feeding — setting out a bowl of dry food and refilling it as needed so cats can snack at will?
“Pouring a bowl of dry cat food and topping it off is the way to diabetes,” says Deb Greco, DVM, senior research scientist at Nestle Purina. “It’s unlimited food, and cats often never get satiated. If you’re eating constantly, you never have time to burn fat.”
Measuring an appropriate amount of food and giving only that amount per meal is one way to ensure cats don’t take in too many calories. For the average cat, that might be one-quarter cup twice a day. Use a measuring cup rather than a scoop so you know exactly how much you’re giving. The amount recommended on the package is a guideline. Don’t be afraid to adjust it up or down depending on your cat’s weight.
Why canned food? Cats need high levels of protein and plenty of water. A canned diet provides both. While dry food is convenient and can certainly meet a cat’s dietary needs, it has drawbacks.
Dry food is high in carbohydrates, and cats’ teeth aren’t made for eating it. Their sharp molars are made for tearing meat off bones, not grinding pieces of kibble. A cat’s digestive system isn’t suited to dry food, either, says Kristi Krause, DVM, a feline medicine specialist at Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital in Lake Forest, California.
“They don’t have the salivary amylase to start breaking down the carbohydrate portion of the food,” she says. “They preferentially use protein, preferentially use fat, and store the carbohydrates. That’s where we start getting our fat cats and diabetics because they eat these higher carbohydrate diets and automatically store the carbohydrates.”
Cats who do eat dry food need plenty of fresh water, so make it attractive to them. It’s difficult for cats to see still water, Dr. Greco says, so simply setting out a bowl of it may not be enough. Running water is a better option because cats can hear it. Consider leaving a faucet dripping in a bathroom or providing a pet fountain.
Water placement is another important consideration. “They may feel vulnerable sitting at a bowl, especially one that’s in a corner with their back to other cats that might jump on them,” Dr. Greco says.
Dr. Greco and Dr. Krause advise new kitten owners to give canned food from the start, but if your adult cat has the munchies for his crunchies, or you can’t give up the convenience, they recommend giving some canned food every day as a treat or a topper to dry food. That’s because cats may require a canned diet at some point in their lives.
“If your cat ends up with some kind of bladder condition, kidney disease or diabetes, I’m going to tell you that he can no longer eat dry food,” Dr. Krause says. “I want that cat to at least be accustomed to eating canned food.”
And if you feed primarily dry food, give your cat a workout by placing his kibble inside a food puzzle so he has to work to get at it throughout the day. That will help keep him from gorging and ensure that he gets plenty of activity.
READY FOR DISASTER
Include your pets in your family’s preparedness plans
By Dr. Marty Becker
Tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, floods and earthquakes — there are few places on Earth that are not vulnerable to one or more natural disasters.
We’ve learned from countless disasters that people often will put their own lives at risk — and the lives of first responders as well — if there are no options for relocating with their animal companions. Public planning now includes pets, and your own planning should, too. Here are the basics you need to know:
Have a plan. Prepare for all possibilities, and make sure everyone in your family knows what to do. Try to figure out now what’s most likely for you and your community, and how you will respond. Where will you go? What will you take? You need to get these answers in advance. Get to know your neighbors, and put a plan in place to help each other out. Find out from local shelters and veterinary organizations — and your family’s own veterinarian — what emergency response plans are in place and how you fit into them in case of a disaster.
ID your pets. Many, if not most, animals will survive a disaster. But too many will never see their families again if there’s no way to determine which pet belongs to which family. That’s why pets should always wear a collar and identification tags with your cellphone number and the numbers of a couple of out-of-area contacts. Better still is the additional permanent identification that can’t slip off, such as a tattoo or an embedded microchip.
Practice preventive care. Disease follows disaster, which is why keeping a pet as healthy as possible with up-to-date vaccinations is essential. Prepare a file with up-to-date medical records, your pets’ microchip or tattoo numbers, your veterinarian’s phone number and address, feeding and medication instructions, and recent pictures of your animals. Trade copies of emergency files with another pet-loving friend or family member. It’s a good idea for someone else to know about your pet, should anything happen to you.
Have restraints ready. Even normally calm pets can freak out under the stress of an emergency, especially if injured. You should be prepared to restrain your pet — for his safety and the safety of others.
Keep leashes, muzzles and carriers ready for emergencies. The means to transport your pet shouldn’t be something you have to find and pull from the rafters of your garage. Harnesses work better than collars at keeping panicky pets safe. Shipping crates are probably the least-thought-of pieces of emergency equipment for pet owners, but are among the most important. Sturdy crates keep pets safe and give you more options for housing your pets if you have to leave your home.
Keep supplies on hand. Keep several days’ worth of pet food and safe drinking water ready to go in the event of a disaster, as well as any necessary medicines. Canned food is better in an emergency, so lay in a couple of cases, and don’t forget to pack a can opener with your emergency supplies. For cats, keep an extra bag of litter on hand. And pack lots of plastic bags for dealing with waste.
Learn first aid. Pet-supply stores sell ready-made first-aid kits, or you can put your own together fairly easily with the help of any pet-related first-aid book or website. Keep a first-aid book with your supplies. If you check around in your community, you should be able to find a pet first-aid class to take that will give you the basic knowledge you need.
Be prepared to help. You may be lucky enough to survive a disaster nearly untouched, but others in your community won’t be so fortunate. Check out groups that train volunteers for disaster response, and consider going through the training. Disaster-relief workers do everything from distributing food to stranded animals to helping reunite pets with their families, and helping find new homes for those animals who need them. Volunteering in a pinch is not only a good thing to do, it’s also the right thing for anyone who cares about animals and people.
Do you have a pet question?
Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
TAKE A HIKE
Your dog’s company can enhance your experience of the great outdoors
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Hiking is a great way to enjoy the outdoors, spend time with your dog and wear him out, especially if he’s the super-active type. It’s quite possibly the most accessible activity you can do with your dog. Wherever you live, you probably have access to dog-friendly hiking trails within 30 minutes of home. We’ve gathered eight tips to help you both have the best hike possible.
1. Puppies can go hiking as long as you condition them gradually. Start with short hikes of a half-mile to a mile, and slowly work up to longer distances.
2. Watch the weather. It’s not just flat-faced dogs who are sensitive to heat and humidity. Plenty of dogs wilt quickly, even in moderate temperatures of 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Any time the temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s too hot for most dogs to exert themselves. If you’re going on a short hike near home, consider hosing down your dog before you leave to help him stay cool, or stop during the hike at a place where he can go swimming or get wet.
3. Bring plenty of water and a snack. For a day hike in optimum temperatures over moderate terrain, a quart of water and some cut-up boiled chicken or hot dogs (frozen the night before) should be enough to keep your dog hydrated and full of pep.
4. Because of the uneven terrain and changes in elevation, hiking is harder on the body than just going for a walk. Pay attention to your dog’s condition, especially if he’s a puppy or an old dog. You never want to see him panting heavily or unable to go on. Remember that dogs are lower to the ground and may not have the benefit of a breeze.
5. Keep your dog on leash so he doesn’t disturb wildlife or other hikers. Accidents happen, though, so he should be trained to come to a whistle. The sound will carry over a longer distance than your voice if you get separated. He should also know and respond to the commands “sit,” “stay” or “wait,” “down,” “heel” and “quiet.”
6. Know how to treat injuries. You can find a pet first-aid course in your area through the Red Cross. Carry a first-aid kit that contains items such as bandages, antiseptic wipes and Benadryl (check with your veterinarian ahead of time so you’ll know the appropriate amount to give if your dog suffers an insect bite or sting).
7. Tote that load. Your dog can carry his water, snacks, first-aid kit, a folding water dish and poop bags in a canine backpack. Before buying, check the fit to make sure it stays on securely without being too tight or too loose or restricting his movement. You should be able to comfortably fit two to four fingers between the straps and your dog’s body. Features that can add to his comfort include a mesh back panel for ventilation and padding beneath the straps. Other conveniences you may appreciate are D-rings for attaching items to the pack, weather-sealed zippers, attachment points for the leash and a handle on top that allows you to hold onto or lift your dog if necessary.
8. Bug out. Protect your dog from fleas and ticks with an oral or spot-on preventive. If the local insect population is especially intense, you can try applying an all-natural citronella spray to his coat. Be aware that the effect probably won’t last more than an hour, so you’ll need to reapply it regularly.
Most important, have fun! See you on the trail.
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
7 smart ways to reduce pet expenses without cutting back on good care
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Are pet-care costs taking a bite out of your budget? You might be tempted to skimp on veterinary care or quality pet food, but there are better ways to save money without compromising your pet’s well-being. Here are some of my favorite budget-boosting tips.
Ask about discounts. If your pet has severe periodontal disease, he may benefit from professional cleanings more than once a year. If that’s the case, your veterinarian may give you the same discounted rate offered during National Pet Dental Health Month (February). Some clinics offer discounts if you bring in more than one animal at a time for exams, or if your pet is a rescue animal. Groomers may offer discounts if you bring your pet in on a regular basis, or if you bring in more than one pet at a time. Don’t be afraid to ask; the worst they can do is say no, and you might even get them to start a new policy.
Buy smart. Ask your veterinarian if there is a generic equivalent of the medication your pet needs. With a prescription, you can take advantage of low-cost pharmaceuticals from big-box retailers such as Costco or Target. Your veterinarian may also have samples of medications, including flea- and tick-control products, or be willing to match the price found at an online pharmacy.
One word: email. Your local pet supply store or your favorite pet food brand likely has an email list you can join. They send out coupons and notices of sales or special events. One pet supply store I know of has a monthly “Yappy Hour,” with special prices between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Buy food in bulk. Whether you feed canned, dry or frozen pet food, bulk options are available. Buy the largest size container, and store excess dry or frozen food in your freezer, or split it — and the savings — with a friend or neighbor. If you make your pet’s food yourself because he’s on a special diet, look for a pet food co-op in your area. Scoop: Another item you can buy in bulk for big savings is cat litter.
Choose quality. Whether you’re buying food, collars and leashes or toys, look for top-notch ingredients and materials. They’ll always perform better. Well-made toys and other items last longer, so you don’t have to replace them as often. High-quality foods contain more and better nutrients, so pets need to eat less. Even if you pay more upfront, your costs are less on the back end. And speaking of the back end, your pet’s poop will be smaller, firmer and less stinky on a good-quality food, so it’s a win-win all the way around.
Offer a trade. The barter economy is alive and well. If you have skills in construction, social media, interior design, cooking or, well, you name it, you may be able to work out a deal for a service exchange with your pet’s trainer, groomer, pet sitter or veterinarian. It never hurts to ask.
Take a walk. Your dog needs regular exercise to stay healthy; in fact, all pets need some kind of exercise for both mental and physical well-being. For dogs, a walk is something you can easily do every day, in any place. For cats, toss a wadded-up piece of paper down the hall, or sit on the sofa and direct the beam from a flashlight on the floor for them to chase. Pets who get an appropriate amount of exercise and who live in an interesting environment have fewer behavior problems and better health.
Short-nosed dogs and cats often have difficulty breathing. What you should know about the problem
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Most people recognize pet overpopulation, cruelty and animal fighting as animal welfare issues, but there’s one that many don’t think about or may even consider cute. We’re talking about extreme physical traits, such as the excessively flat faces seen in many Persian cats, bulldogs, Pekingese, pugs, Boston terriers and other brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds.
Snorting and snoring, or the undershot jaw of the bulldog or boxer, are often thought to be endearing characteristics. But when those traits cause animals to gasp for air after minimal exertion, develop heatstroke or even die from exposure to heat and humidity, it’s no life for a dog — or cat. It’s not great for their humans, either, who pay high veterinary bills to treat their animals or lose them to an early death.
Pets with extremely flat faces are prone to a condition called brachycephalic syndrome. They may have pinched or narrowed nostrils, known as stenotic nares; an elongated soft palate, which partially blocks the airway; everted saccules, small sacs just inside the larynx that can turn inside out and block the airway; and a hypoplastic, or narrowed, trachea. When the nostrils are too small, nasal cartilage is too soft or the airway is blocked, it’s difficult for the animal to draw breath. Dogs with the combination of a short muzzle and undershot jaw can also have difficulty breathing.
A side effect of brachycephalic syndrome is that pets with it have a harder time regulating their body temperature in hot or cold weather. They can’t stay outdoors in warm weather, let alone go for a walk. Allergies can worsen the problem.
To protect pets with brachycephalic syndrome, it’s important not to let them get fat or overexert themselves in the heat. They must stay in an air-conditioned environment, and need plenty of shade and fresh water when outdoors. Walking dogs with a harness instead of a collar that puts pressure on the neck can also help them breathe easier.
Noisy breathing, gurgling, gasping and a foamy nasal discharge are all signs that a dog is having trouble getting enough air. Other signs of difficulty breathing are fainting and blue gums and tongue, indicating a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. Left untreated, chronic lack of oxygen puts a serious strain on the heart, and breathing difficulty worsens with age.
For dogs with serious respiratory difficulty, surgery can correct stenotic nares, elongated soft palate and everted saccules. A dog who can’t walk across the room without turning blue and gasping for air is a clear candidate for reconstructive surgery.
It’s best if this is done early in life if it’s obvious that a pet has a problem. When the procedure is performed before the problem becomes serious, it usually has good results. Surgery may be less effective if performed when animals are older. If necessary, stenotic nares and an elongated soft palate can be corrected at the same time. A good time to do it is when the animal is spayed or neutered. You’ll be able to hear the difference in breathing immediately after surgery.
No one wants to experience the heartbreak of a pet who can’t breathe. Animal lovers can help by not purchasing dogs or cats with extreme facial conformation, no matter how cute they are. Breeders can work toward producing animals with not-so-flat faces and larger nostrils that enable them to breathe effortlessly and do all the things a pet should be able to do: chase a toy, walk around the block, play at the beach or compete in dog sports.
BIG DOG ON CAMPUS?
College students with pets can be less stressed and less lonely, but making the situation work calls for commitment and cooperation
By Kim Campbell Thornton
When Kate Eldredge of Vernon, New York, returned to Cornell University in 2010 for her sophomore year, it wasn’t to dorm life with a new roommate. She brought along her own furry roommate: Queezle, a 4-year-old Belgian Tervuren.
Kids leaving home after graduating from high school don’t always leave by themselves. Sometimes, the family dog or cat goes along as well. Studies show that having a pet at college has benefits, but only when it’s done right.
Factors to consider in making life work with a college pet include the student’s maturity level, the pet’s personality, campus housing rules, whether the pet will receive enough attention from a busy student, and who will care for the animal if the student must be away from campus. Here, experts share their experiences and advice for making a smooth transition.
Deb Eldredge, DVM, notes that her daughter Kate was already an experienced dog trainer and handler at the time she left for college. And she knew that Kate’s course schedule as an English major gave her enough time to make sure Queezle got the activity she needed.
When it comes to housing, colleges and universities that permit pets typically limit animals to certain floors or buildings. Rules address concerns such as noise, grooming and waste disposal. Pet-friendly dorms may also limit animals by size, breed or species.
When Eliza Rubenstein went to Oberlin College in Ohio in 1991, freshmen and sophomores were required to live in dorms, where pets weren’t permitted. But her golden retriever, Alfy, was a huge part of her life — they made pet-assisted therapy visits and participated in obedience trials — and she successfully made a case for exemption from the dormitory requirement.
“I know that I missed out on some of the bonding and socialization that I’d have experienced had I lived in a dorm, but I met lots of friends with Alfy as my icebreaker, too, and I got involved with the local student-run animal shelter, which in turn introduced me to my future co-author and lifelong best friend,” says Rubenstein, who wrote “The Adoption Option: Choosing and Raising the Shelter Dog for You” with Shari Kalina.
Cornell required freshmen to live in a dorm, but after that first year, Eldredge lived off campus so she could have Queezle with her.
“Although I loved my dorm, life without dogs just was not an option,” she says. And her dog-friendly apartment proved to be a boon when Dr. Eldredge’s own dog, Hokey, was undergoing radiation therapy at Cornell for nasal cancer.
Who pays for the pet’s food and veterinary care or looks after him when his new caregiver can’t be at home? College students or new college graduates may foot the bill themselves through part-time or full-time jobs, or share the expenses and responsibilities with parents.
For Eldredge, it helped to have a mother who was a veterinarian and only two hours away by car. And she arranged her schedule around Queezle’s walk times as much as possible and recruited friends to help when she couldn’t.
Whether young people are in school or just starting out in life, having the family pet along on the adventure can bring continuity and contentment, but it’s a serious commitment.
“As positive as my own experience was, I don’t know that I’d recommend taking a pet to college for most students,” Rubenstein says. “College, even with no pets involved, is a time of lots of work and not much money for most of us. If you’re thinking of adding an animal to the mix, be sure you plan for the challenges as well as the fun.”
IT TAKES AN ARMY
Veterinarians train to save America’s community cats
They live on our streets, in fields and barns, behind shopping centers and in our neighborhoods. They eat on back porches and in city parks, fed by dedicated cat lovers. They’re the felines now called “community cats,” and while many of them are feral, some are strays or abandoned former pets who have adapted to life outdoors.
Some estimates suggest there are as many unowned as owned felines in the U.S., most of them unvaccinated and never spayed or neutered. Left free to reproduce, they’ll create the next generation of community cats, and the next, and the next.
Operation Catnip aims to change that, says founder Dr. Julie Levy, director of the shelter medicine program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. The trap-neuter-return (TNR) organization has been running free high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter clinics for community cats in Gainesville, Florida, since 1998. In 2014 alone, they helped 2,693 cats and prevented the births of an estimated 6,142 kittens just in the first year following surgery.
Now, thanks to a grant from PetSmart Charities, they’re throwing open their operational model and training program to veterinarians, veterinary students and veterinary technicians from all over the country.
“Our vision is to train an army of veterinarians to spay and neuter America’s community cats,” said Levy. “This approach, along with vaccination, will allow us to reduce cat population, control infectious diseases and improve the lives of the cats.”
Operation Catnip clinics are run MASH-style, with each cat tended by volunteer veterinarians, technicians and veterinary students. Each cat receives a medical examination and, if healthy, is spayed or neutered, treated for fleas and other parasites, and returned to the same place she or he was trapped.
It’s easy to tell if a cat has been treated at the clinic, because of the distinctive “ear tip” each one receives during their surgery. This means those cats can easily be identified as having already been sterilized, so they won’t be trapped again, putting them through unnecessary stress and taking the place of cats who still need care.
One graduate of the program, Dr. Amy Karls, was so inspired by her training with the Operation Catnip program that she now volunteers her services with four different community cat organizations near her North Grafton, Massachusetts, home — all that on top of her full-time career as a veterinarian.
“I wasn’t taught the high-volume, high-quality surgical techniques now commonly used in TNR programs while I was in veterinary school,” she said. “We learned new surgical skills, colony management and trapping techniques, and feline medical and behavioral pearls.”
America is a nation of cat lovers. One 2007 study found that 81 percent of us would prefer to see cats left where they are rather than killed, if those were the only two choices. Programs like Operation Catnip offer something better than either: reduced population over time, vaccination to help prevent infectious disease, and a chance for healthy feral cats to return to their homes in our communities without adding to the feline population.
It also offers a chance for veterinarians to become better surgeons, and for all veterinary professionals to learn innovative strategies for managing community cats in their hometowns.
“I was able to bring everything I learned back to our local rescue and TNR groups,” said Karls. “It was truly wonderful to see so many people united for the common goal of improving the lives of the homeless cat population.”
To learn more about Operation Catnip, or to sign up for one of their upcoming training sessions, visit operationcatnipclinic.org.
What to know about vaccinating your dog or cat
By Dr. Marty Becker
In case you’ve been on a desert island for the past few months, vaccinations are in the news. Fearing vaccine-related reactions or other concerns, some people are leery not only of vaccinating their children against preventable illnesses, but also their pets.
Protecting against something you’ve never seen can be a difficult concept for both pet owners and veterinarians. Many veterinarians (and probably 90 percent of vet techs) who have graduated in the past 10 to 20 years have never seen a case of canine distemper. For the pet owner — add in families, friends, co-workers and acquaintances — who has also never seen or known a dog with the disease, it’s easy to begin to believe the threat doesn’t exist, isn’t serious or is overblown.
Those of us who have been practicing longer (35 years, in my case) have seen the green discharge from the eyes and nose, the hardening footpads, the neurological signs and death. Many deaths. We know this invisible and now infrequent killer can gain ground quickly in a community of dogs that are unvaccinated or under — vaccinated and kill indiscriminately and grotesquely. Distemper and parvo outbreaks occur in shelters across the country every week because approximately half of the dogs coming in have never been vaccinated.
For 35 years I’ve told pet owners, if you love your dog or cat specifically, and dogs and cats in general, you’ll get your pets vaccinated not only to give them potentially life-saving protection, but also to put an invisible blanket of protection over the whole pet community.
That doesn’t mean your pet needs every vaccination out there. Your pet’s vaccination program should be individualized, based on factors such as his age, health, medical history, lifestyle (is he a homebody or does he go to dog parks or cat or dog shows?), and the prevalence of disease in your locale. Here’s what you should know:
Dogs and cats should receive core vaccines — those that protect against the most common and most serious diseases. In dogs, core vaccines are distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis and rabies. In cats, they are panleukopenia, calicivirus, rhinotracheitis (herpesvirus) and rabies, as required by law.
For a minimal vaccine program, veterinary immunology expert Ronald D. Schultz, Ph.D., recommends a first vaccination no earlier than 8 to 10 weeks of age (6 weeks for shelter animals), followed by one or two more doses, the last when the animal is 14 to 16 weeks or older. Get a titer test two or more weeks after the final vaccination to make sure the immune system has responded to the vaccines.
At one year, your pet can receive a booster vaccination or titer to ensure he has antibodies to disease. Then you can simply do titers every three years for the rest of the animal’s life and revaccinate as needed, or you can revaccinate every three years for the rest of the animal’s life.
In dogs, give non-core vaccines, such as those for leptospirosis or giardia, only if your pet is at high risk of the disease. The coronavirus vaccine is not recommended by the current guidelines. In cats, vaccines with little or no efficacy include those for feline infectious peritonitis, feline immunodeficiency virus, virulent calicivirus and bordetella. Alice Wolf, DVM, an internal medicine specialist and professor of small-animal medicine at Texas A&M University, advises against giving those vaccines to cats.
Some animals are more at risk of vaccine reactions than others. They include certain breeds, such as akitas, American cocker spaniels, American Eskimo dogs, Great Danes and Weimaraners; young puppies or kittens who are stressed from being transported to new environments; animals who are sick or have a fever; animals with white coats and pink noses or with dilute coat colors; and small dogs in general. Talk to your veterinarian about ways to reduce the risks.
Can dogs be jealous? Science says, “Yes.”
By Kim Campbell Thornton
When we are on a walk with all three of our dogs and someone stops to pet them, Harper, our 7-year-old cavalier, pushes forward to be first. When they move on to one of the other dogs, she nudges them, as if to say, “No, pet me, pet me.”
Is Harper jealous or envious of the attention received by the other dogs? The answer used to be no — that jealousy is a complex emotion not experienced by dogs. Then University of California, San Diego psychology professor Christine Harris, working with former honors student Caroline Prouvost, decided to test whether that was actually true.
Their study, published last July in the journal PLOS ONE, found that dogs may well experience a basic form of jealousy. One of the definitions of the word “jealous” is one who is solicitous or vigilant in maintaining or guarding something. In this case, dogs may have evolved to protect social bonds from interlopers (or in Harper’s case, protecting her share of attention from people and making sure other dogs don’t get any).
When their owners showed affection toward another dog, the dogs in the study snapped and pushed at their owners or the rival dog, which for experimental purposes was a stuffed dog that barked, whined and wagged its tail. In contrast, they were less likely to display jealous behaviors when the owner showed interest in a novel object, such as a jack-o’-lantern bucket, or when the owner read aloud a children’s book that had pop-up pages and played melodies.
Dogs were about twice as likely to push or touch owners when they interacted with the stuffed dog (78 percent) as when the owner paid attention to the bucket (42 percent). Thirty percent of the dogs tested tried to get between their owner and the stuffed dog.
“Our study suggests not only that dogs do engage in what appear to be jealous behaviors, but also that they were seeking to break up the connection between the owner and a seeming rival,” Harris said. “We can’t really speak to the dogs’ subjective experiences, of course, but it looks as though they were motivated to protect an important social relationship.”
Your response might be, “So what?” If you’re a dog owner, you’ve probably seen your dog exhibit jealous behaviors. The research is important, though, because it adds to our knowledge of the canine brain and helps to support the growing body of research indicating that dogs have sophisticated social and cognitive abilities.
You probably know as well that pets can be jealous of more than just other dogs. Sometimes they are a roadblock in the path to true love. It’s not unusual for pets to resent attention given to a new person in the owner’s life, whether that’s a boyfriend or a baby. They may seek more attention for themselves or even try to insert themselves between the owner and the new person. That’s especially common when the pet is used to getting all the owner’s attention. It’s no surprise he doesn’t want to compete with anyone else for it.
If your pet is jealous of the new love of your life, seek to create a love triangle — the good kind. Have your significant other become the giver of all good things: walks, meals, treats, toys. If the new kid on the block is a baby, provide those things to the dog (or cat) in the baby’s presence. In both cases, you’ll be helping your pet develop a positive association with the newcomer, joining best friend to best friend. What could be better than that?
CHEW ON THIS
To ban stinky breath and periodontal disease, brush up on dental care
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Keeper did not want me to even lift his lip to look at his teeth, and his breath was terrible. It had been only six months since his last dental exam and cleaning, but clearly something was wrong.
Turns out that not only did he have an abscessed tooth, but dental X-rays also showed a large amount of bone resorption, a bone remodeling process that invades the tooth structure. It’s normal when it involves the loss of baby or puppy teeth, but veterinarians are seeing it more often in the permanent teeth of dogs. Keeper had to have three teeth removed.
Keeper’s experience is just one of the reasons that veterinarians are adding dental X-rays to the professional cleaning process. His veterinarian, Gershon L. Alaluf, DVM, explains: “When you look at a dog’s teeth and see tartar, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t tell you what’s going on underneath the gumline. Usually there’s infection, and on dental X-rays we can see pockets of infection, plus root resorption and bone resorption.”
Oral and dental disease are by far the most common problems affecting dogs and cats. By the time they are 3 years old, 80 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats have some form of gum disease. Tartar isn’t just ugly; combined with bad breath, it’s a signal that your pet’s teeth and gums are probably infected, painful or both. Other signs include difficulty eating, constant drooling and lethargy.
Unfortunately, dogs and cats can’t tell us that their mouths hurt, so all too often they go without treatment because a professional cleaning is considered cosmetic rather than medically important. But oral bacteria don’t affect just the mouth. Over time, they can cause infections that enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body, damaging organs such as the heart, liver and kidneys.
What can you do? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Brushing is the No. 1 way to help keep dental disease at bay. If you start when your puppy or kitten is young, he’ll get used to it and accept it more readily.
Here are some options to prevent tooth decay if your pet says “no way” to brushing:
?Wipe the teeth with a moist gauze pad or dental wipe. That can help to remove the plaque that hardens into tartar.
?Ask your veterinarian about gels, rinses or sprays that contain chlorhexidine or zinc ascorbate cysteine (ZAC) compounds. The enzymes in chlorhexidine products dissolve plaque and help reduce bacteria, and ZAC compounds encourage collagen production to stimulate repair of gum tissue.
? Lay in a supply of tartar-control chews and toys (available for dogs and cats) that contain enzymes to help reduce plaque.
?Cut back on the daily skinny vanilla lattes and put the cost toward your pet’s dental care. At $3.25 a pop, you can save more than enough over a year’s time to cover the cost of a cleaning and any necessary extractions.
An annual professional cleaning that gets below the gumline — something that can’t be done with a non-anesthetic shine-up — can help ensure that dental problems are found early and treated, which saves you money and saves your pet unnecessary discomfort. Even better, you may find that once his mouth doesn’t hurt anymore, your pet is acting young again, for the first time in a long time.
PETS AND BABIES
10 tips to help prepare pets for the arrival of a new baby
We are expecting a bumper crop of babies among our relatives and neighbors in the next few months, and of course, they all have pets. With that in mind, we thought it would be a good idea to review some of the best ways to ready pets for the new kid in town and to introduce everyone safely.
Begin now to prepare your dog or cat for this momentous change in the family. While you will still love your pet as much as ever, it’s a fact of life that you will have less time to spend one-on-one with him.
Prime your pet for the transition by making sure he has interactive toys that will keep him entertained when you are busy with the baby. Good choices include food puzzles, treat balls and other independent-play toys.
Your pet should be used to staying on his own. If you are in the habit of taking him with you everywhere, now is the time to cut back on that so he learns that “me time” isn’t scary. Instead, give him several short playtimes or attention periods throughout the day and continue this habit after the baby arrives.
Take your pet to the veterinarian to make sure he is in good health and free of parasites.
Enlist the services of a trainer or behaviorist to help with any behavior problems — such as jumping up on people, aggression or fear issues, or housetraining mistakes — that you’ve been meaning to work on.
Scent is important to your pet. Accustom him now to the smell of baby products such as lotion and diaper cream. Apply them to your hands before handling your pet’s toys and playing with him.
Introduce baby noises through the use of a CD such as “Preparing Fido.” Play it at a low level, giving your pet his favorite treats, and then gradually increase the volume. The goal is for him to stay relaxed despite the unusual sounds.
Using a doll, practice doing “baby things” in the pet’s presence, such as changing a diaper or going for a walk with a stroller. (The experience may help you feel more comfortable, too.)
Cat owners, you may be concerned about toxoplasmosis. You can take some simple precautions to protect yourself and your baby from this infection. Keep your cat indoors so she can’t hunt and eat wild prey. Scooping the litter box once or twice a day will also minimize risk. Assign the task of scooping the litter box to your spouse or another family member. If that’s not possible, simply wear disposable gloves while scooping the box and wash your hands thoroughly after discarding them. Toxoplasmosis also can be acquired from soil, so wear gloves while gardening. Finally, ask your doctor and your veterinarian about running titers on family members and your cat. You may already have immunity.
Once the baby is born, have your spouse or another family member take home a blanket, diaper or other item that carries the baby’s scent. That person should let your pet sniff it and give him a treat and praise him as he does so. This will help him to associate the baby with good things.
When you come home, greet your pet first without the baby. Then with a favorite treat or toy to give, such as a stuffed Kong, let him meet Junior under your watchful eye. Always supervise interactions between pets and babies so you can teach them how to behave around each other. You’ll be the laying the foundation for a strong and happy relationship between your children and animals.
WARM HEARTS, WARM PETS
Fall’s the time to check that your pets are ready for winter’s chill
By Dr. Marty Becker
Pets seem to enjoy fall as much, if not more, than we do. They all seem to perk up as the evenings get cooler. With their incredible eyesight, cats find interest in the early darkness, and dogs love being able to go for walks without enduring the heat.
We need to remember, though, that fall means winter is coming, and we must remind ourselves of what that means when it comes to caring for our pets.
When I was growing up, pets spent most if not all their lives outside. In my lifetime, they’ve gone from the barnyard to the backyard to the back porch to the bedroom. That old saying about “being in the dog house”? In our family, “the dog house” is the same one we enjoy, and that’s true of most people these days.
But some people still do have outside pets, and for them more than any others, the shift to colder weather means they need you to look out for them and make sure they’re ready for the change.
All animals must be able to get out of the elements. A pet must have a well-insulated structure just large enough so that he can curl up inside to maintain body heat. The structure should also have a wind-block to protect it from wintry blasts. In the coldest parts of the country, it should also have some sort of outdoor-rated pet-heating pad or other device. And be sure that there’s always a supply of fresh, unfrozen water by using a heated bowl.
Animals who spend any significant amount of time outside will need more calories during cold weather. Food is fuel, and they’ll need to burn it to stay warm.
I’d prefer you make your pets part of the family by bringing them inside. But if you can’t, you certainly must pay attention to their changing needs.
Indoor pets don’t face the weather challenges outdoor pets do, but winter can be uncomfortable for them as well.
For pets with arthritis, cold weather can be more painful, so ask your veterinarian about supplements or prescription medications that may help your pet feel better. A soft, heated bed may be much appreciated, too, especially by older pets. And remember that one of the best things you can do for a pet with joint problems is to keep the extra weight off: A pet who’s more sedentary in winter needs to eat less.
What about sweaters and coats for dogs? Some animals really can use the extra insulation of a well-fitted sweater: older pets, and dogs who are tiny (such as Chihuahuas), or who are shorthaired and naturally lean (such as greyhounds or whippets). Overcoats can save you time drying your dog after a walk in inclement weather, especially if your pet’s longhaired. And don’t forget to wipe your pets’ feet, legs and belly after they’ve been outside to keep the animal from ingesting any de-icing solutions. If you live in an urban area where de-icing solutions are a constant, boots for your pet can make protecting him easier.
Because home heating systems can dry out the air, you and your pets may be more comfortable if you introduce some humidity. Pet birds, especially those species originating in tropical climates, will enjoy extra opportunities for bathing or being misted. Dry air also may be a factor in feather-picking, in which birds strip their own feathers off and become an unsightly mess.
Final cold-weather cautions: Remember to thump on your car’s hood on cold mornings. Your neighbor’s cat may be nestled against the engine for warmth, and thumping your car’s hood will get the animal to skedaddle to safety. Inside, check your dryer before you add clothes and turn it on, in case your cat is snuggled inside.
Cold-weather pet care is a matter of compassion and common sense. Use both in equal measure, and your pet will get through the worst of the season in fine shape.
Social media, networking, and dedicated people change rescue and adoptions for the better
By Kim Campbell Thornton
In January, a sporting dog rescue group asked Lori-Lynn Clayton of San Angelo, Texas, to go look at a dog in her local shelter thought to be an English springer spaniel or Brittany. He was a springer, emaciated and near death.
She struggled to get him released, battling shelter workers and then veterinarians who said it would be better to euthanize him. She got on the phone to Beth Maryan, the north Texas representative for English Springer Rescue America, who agreed to help, and arranged a flight for him with Pilots N Paws volunteer Tyler Chapman to Carrollton, Texas, where he could get the specialized veterinary care he needed. Kim Mrozek stepped up to foster the dog, soon named “Clayton,” once he was well enough to leave the hospital.
No one can quite pinpoint why, but people who saw the dog’s picture fell in love with him. As specialists fought to reverse the effects of starvation and dehydration and figure out why his body wasn’t absorbing nutrients, people across the country and around the world followed his progress on ESRA’s website and then on Facebook, where Mrozek set up a dedicated page for him called, simply, Clayton.
Within 18 hours, the Clayton group had 600 members and eventually rose to 1,759. They called themselves the Clayton Nation.
The social media exposure ensured that Clayton’s extensive veterinary bills — $23,000 for three weeks in intensive care — were covered, and then some. Mrozek estimates that people donated approximately $50,000.
“It seemed like every time I would post about him, people would go to his ESRA site and start donating money,” she says. “There were people sending $500 at a time. He had more donations than any special-needs dog ever.”
Not every pet can be a Clayton, but Christie Keith, social media manager for the Shelter Pet Project, the Ad Council’s public service campaign promoting pet adoption, says social media is an incredibly powerful tool that has revolutionized the pet adoption landscape.
“It enables individuals who don’t even work or volunteer for shelters or rescue groups to help spread the stories and photos of pets who need homes or are looking for other kinds of help,” she says. “They can do this literally with the click of a mouse or a click on their mobile device, and there is no barrier to them being able to get a pet in front of people who aren’t connected to the rescue or shelter world: their friends, their family, their college roommate. You never know when someone is looking for a pet or when a pet’s story will inspire someone to adopt.”
Although his life hung in the balance for two weeks and he needed a feeding tube for two months, Clayton’s story has a happy ending. Tony and Mary Davies of Durand, Illinois, adopted him after following his story from the beginning. They drove to Texas in May to pick him up and on the way back made stops so other Clayton supporters could meet the springer celebrity. He made a smooth transition to life on their 20-acre farm.
“It is a glorious sight to see this dog who was knocking on death’s door finally get to live the life he deserves,” Mary Davies says.
When he’s not playing with the Davies’ other dogs or digging holes, though, Clayton keeps busy with important work. He makes appearances at ESRA functions to raise money for other special-needs springers.
“He is giving back, and we are grateful for everyone who has helped him,” Davies says.