An expert’s look inside the search for intelligence in other species
By Kim Campbell Thornton
I recently flew to Mongolia for a 20-day expedition to the Gobi Desert, Hustai National Park and places in between. One of my companions on the 20-hour flight, plus the five days it took to drive to the Gobi from Ulaanbaatar, was ethologist Frans de Waal — not in person, but in the form of his new book, “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?” Looking at the science regarding the intelligence of apes, corvids (crows and ravens), dogs and more, primatologist de Waal, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, reviews the evidence for animal cognition.
There is plenty of it, but only recently has the idea of animal cognition been taken seriously. In the past, he writes, the dominant schools of thought argued that animals were either “stimulus-response machines out to obtain rewards and avoid punishment,” or “robots genetically endowed with useful instincts.”
De Waal is in favor of a third premise: Intelligence comes in different forms, with animal minds possessing a complexity that has long gone unrecognized. It has been within only the past two decades that researchers became bold enough, or curious enough, to move beyond the idea that animals could not have intentions, emotions or cognition. To credit them with such abilities was considered anthropomorphic, romantic or unscientific (and still is by some). In fact, he writes, the term “animal cognition” was considered an oxymoron until well into the 1980s.
If you live with a dog, cat, bird or other animal, you are probably rolling your eyes and thinking, “Of course animals have emotions and intelligence.” And you would be correct. Their cognitive abilities might not be exactly the same as those of humans, but they are similar in any number of ways, or they simply take a different form that allows a particular animal to navigate his world in a way that would be impossible for humans.
While many of de Waal’s examples focus on apes and corvids, dogs don’t go unremarked upon. In Chapter 4, “Talk to Me,” on communication, de Waal discusses the advantages of working with an animal “intentionally bred by our species to get along with us.” Of course, he means the dog.
“Dogs eagerly pay attention to us and need little encouragement to work on the tasks that we present to them,” he writes. “No wonder ‘dognition’ is an up-and-coming field.”
He visits Emory colleague Gregory Berns to see dogs Eli and Callie demonstrate their prowess at sitting still in an MRI machine for brain imaging. Hand signals inform the dogs that a treat is on the way, allowing Berns to visualize activation of their pleasure center.
The prospect of food lights up a dog’s brain in the same way and location that anticipation of a bonus lights up the brain of a hedge fund manager.
De Waal’s book is a fascinating peek into the minds of our fellow beings, whose cognitive abilities may be best described by naturalist Henry Beston: “In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.”
For other new books that address animal intelligence, see Jennifer Ackerman’s “The Genius of Birds”; Jonathan Balcombe’s “What a Fish Knows”; and Bernd Heinrich’s “One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives.”
Keep Pets Safe from Summertime Threats
Just as humans are exposed to certain risks when temperatures rise, hot weather creates the potential for both emergency threats and everyday dangers that can affect pets.
From weather-related emergencies to fleas and ticks that can threaten even the healthiest animals, special care during the summer months is essential to making sure your pets stay safe.
The makers of Adams(tm) Flea & Tick Control have teamed up with Code 3 Associates, a national non-profit that rescues animals during disasters, and their spokesperson, Tony Stewart, to offer these tips to help pet owners steer clear of trouble this summer:
* Never leave a pet in the car, even with the window cracked. In fact, every year hundreds of pets die from heat exhaustion because they are left in parked cars. Especially during the summer, pet owners should be mindful that temperatures inside a car can increase almost 20 degrees in just 10 minutes.
* Protect against flea and tick infestations. The summer heat triggers flea and tick outbreaks and products like Adams(tm) Flea & Tick sprays and shampoos help keep pets free from fleas and ticks – and as an added benefit, from 4/1/2016 through 9/30/2016, for each bottle of Adams(tm) shampoo and Adams(tm) spray sold by US retailers $1, up to $150,000, will be donated to Code 3 Associates to help animals in need during times of disaster.
* Provide plenty of water and shade to help protect pets from overheating.
* Save outdoor play time for mornings or evenings when it’s cooler.
* Make a pet disaster kit including water and food for seven days, water and food bowls, leashes and ID collars, a first aid kit, medications, medical records, familiar toys, muzzle, cleaning supplies and a contact card.
* If living in a disaster prone area, designate a family member to be in charge of your pets. Formulate a buddy system with a neighbor or friend who can check and care for your pets if you are out of the area and cannot return.
* Keep current frontal and profile photographs of each of your animals. If an animal has an identifying mark, take a photograph and keep it with you. Use this as positive ID if you need to reclaim a pet who is separated from the family during an emergency.
Learn more about summer pet safety at adamspetcare.com
(boy holding water bowl for dog)
Photo courtesy of Getty Images
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Food truck for Fido in Seattle
• The food truck craze has gone to the dogs. The Seattle Barkery, owned and operated by Ben and Dawn Ford, rolls out such popular pet treats as air-fried chicken feet and duck neck, bacon “pupcakes,” a canine ice-cream sundae — served in an edible bowl with bacon sprinkles — and a peanut butter and banana bone, to name just a few. Ingredients are, of course, human-grade and frequently organic. Humans can order their own separate treats — and coffee, because this is Seattle — but dogs are the primary customers.
• The leading infectious cause of death in young cats is feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), caused by a virulent feline coronavirus. A vaccine for FIP is available, but it has little to no efficacy and isn’t recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners. But a new treatment reported by Kansas State University researchers in the journal PLoS ONE may block the virus from replicating and stop the disease from progressing. The cats in their study recovered fully after treatment with an experimental antiviral. The authors report, “We found that antiviral treatment led to full recovery of cats when treatment was started at a stage of disease that would be otherwise fatal if left untreated.”
• Lucca, a U.S. Marine Corps German shepherd, saved thousands of lives through her patrol work in Afghanistan, where her job was to sniff out explosives. Where she was on the job, no human casualties occurred. But on her final patrol, she discovered a 30-pound bomb. During the search for additional explosive devices, one detonated. Lucca survived, but at the cost of her left front leg. Now she has become the first Marine Corps dog to receive the Dickin Medal, an award for animal bravery in wartime service created in 1943 by animal welfare pioneer Maria Dickin.
— Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
Best workplaces for pet lovers
- We’ve all heard of the Fortune 500 — the 500 most profitable U.S. companies. Well, here’s a more important ranking for pet lovers: the pet-friendly 12, a dozen companies that offer perks to pet-loving employees. They run the gamut: allowing owners to bring dogs to work and providing pet insurance, discounts for doggie daycare, pet supplies, financial assistance for pet adoptions and free pet health screening days. The “purr-ty” dozen are Genentech, Kimpton, Atlantic Health, VMWare, Salesforce, Mars, Google, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Autodesk, GoDaddy, Workday and Activision Blizzard.
- Thanks to social media, we’re seeing lots more photos and videos of cats getting baths or playing in water. You were probably under the impression that cats did a perfectly fine job of grooming themselves, but there are times when a bath can be beneficial. If someone in your family is allergic to cats, a weekly bath (for the cat) can help to keep dander levels low, reducing the person’s reaction. Cats also need baths if they get into something sticky or that would be toxic for them to lick off themselves.
- “Who rescued whom?” The popular bumper sticker is seen on numerous cars, but for Eric O’Grey, it’s more than an expression. When his doctor told him he would be dead in five years if he didn’t lose weight, he consulted a nutritionist and took her advice to adopt a shelter dog. He chose a middle-aged, overweight dog named Peety, and the two started walking. Within a year, O’Grey had lost 140 pounds and Peety 25. Their story was turned into a video, the kickoff for a contest called the Mutual Rescue initiative, in which people can share stories of how a shelter animal changed their lives. Contact the Humane Society of Silicon Valley for more information. Entry deadline is April 30.
— Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
WORDS WITH ANIMALS
Words and phrases about pets and how they entered the language
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Have you ever thought about how many words and phrases we use every day that come straight from the horse’s mouth? Expressions that are the cat’s meow? You might even say our language has gone to the dogs.
Animal-related terms are delightfully descriptive. Some are built upon animal characteristics — eagle-eyed, bird-brained, dog-eared — irrespective of accuracy (birds are actually pretty darn smart). Others come to us from languages such as Greek, Latin or Icelandic. Learning about their origins is fascinating. Here are some fun facts about pet phrases and how they came to be.
? “Animal attraction.” A reference nowadays to strongly attractive personal charm, this phrase harks back (itself a phrase used in hunting with hounds) to the 18th century, when Franz Mesmer coined the term “animal magnetism” to describe his theory of an invisible natural force that could play a role in healing and other physical effects.
? Other words describe our affinity for certain animals. An ailurophile is a person who loves cats. It comes from the Greek words “ailouros,” meaning cat, and “philos,” meaning loving. While people have been crazy for cats for more than 5,000 years, this term is relatively new, with its first known use in 1914.
Dog-lovers have their own distinctive description, also deriving from ancient Greek. They are cynophilists, or cynophiles.
? Collective terms. You’re probably familiar with the term “litter” referring to a group of kittens, but did you know that they can also be called a “kindle”? The word comes from Middle English “kindlen” and means “to give birth.” The first-known use of the phrase occurs in the 15th-century “Book of St. Albans” as “a kyndyll of yong Cattis.”
There are many different collective, or group, names for dogs, most of them related to hunting. These are called “terms of venery” and include “a mute of hounds,” from the Old French “meute,” meaning “pack” or “kennel”; “a leash of Greyhounds”; and “a couple of spaniels.” In modern times, dog-loving wordsmiths have invented their own fanciful collective terms for specific breeds, drawing on wit and word play: a waddle of Pekingese, a snobbery of salukis, a rumble of Rottweilers, a snap of whippets, a grin of Japanese chin, a bounce of beardies, a shiver of Chihuahuas. I’m partial to a court of Cavaliers, myself.
? “Hair of the dog.” Did your English teacher tell you that humans have hair while dogs and cats have fur? Technically, there’s no real difference. It’s all made of a protein called keratin. The ground hairs — soft, insulating fur — and the coarser protective guard hairs on pets are considered fur. The hair on your head has a texture that’s somewhere in between ground and guard hairs, so it’s not wrong to describe pets as having hair.
But why do we call for “hair of the dog” the morning after a night on the town? The idea of taking a nip of the same alcoholic libation that gave you a hangover dates at least to the 16th century, when John Heywood wrote in “Proverbs” (1546): “I pray thee let me and my fellow have a haire of the dog that bit us last night.” The concept is related to the even older folk remedy of placing the burnt hair of a dog who had bitten someone on the wound, according to Christine Ammer in her book “It’s Raining Cats and Dogs.”
? “Chowhound.” I think most of us who have dogs understand why this term is applied to enthusiastic eaters. It was also the title of a 1951 Looney Tunes animated short featuring a bulldog always in search of a meal. He probably would have enjoyed a hush puppy, a fried cornmeal cake supposedly named because it was tossed to noisy hounds with the admonition, “Hush, puppy!”
Pets get a ticket to ride
• Amtrak now permits people to bring pets on board certain Northeast train routes. A cat or small dog confined to a carrier can ride the rails on trips up to seven hours. Available routes are Boston to Lynchburg, Newport News and Norfolk, Virginia; Northeast Regional service lines; and the Downeaster route from Boston to Brunswick, Maine. The pet fare is $25. With the pet inside, the carrier must weigh no more than 20 pounds. Pets must be at least 8 weeks old and have up-to-date vaccinations.
• Got diabetes? Dogs can sniff out hypoglycemia — low blood sugar — simply from the scent of your sweat. Researchers tested six dogs who had been trained to detect hypoglycemia by taking sweat samples from their owners during both a hypoglycemic episode and a normal blood glucose period. They stored the samples in glass vials and then placed the vials in steel cans. The dogs correctly identified the hypoglycemic samples 87.5 percent of the time. “Our results suggest that properly trained dogs can successfully recognize and raise the alert about a hypo using smell alone,” the researchers wrote.
• The Siberian cat is Russia’s natural feline treasure, with a long, triple-layered coat; a fancy ruff around the neck and “britches” on the legs; and an abundance of personality. These cats are friendly, intelligent and full of curiosity. Count on a Siberian outwitting you at every turn if you’re not careful — and maybe even if you are. He’s one of the larger cat breeds, weighing up to 18 pounds or more, and his luxurious fur coat comes in all colors and combinations. Siberians have a reputation for being hypoallergenic, but that varies by individual. Some are more allergenic than others. Try before you buy.
— Kim Campbell Thornton
Festive threats to pets include fatty foods, alcohol and open doors
By Dr. Tony Johnson for Universal Uclick
As I strolled through the grocery store last month, I noticed that the Christmas decor was already up. In my mind, it was still summer, but apparently the good folks at my local fooditorium wanted to ring in the holidays a tad early this year. Some day, I am certain they will start putting up the tinsel in June.
The holiday season is one of togetherness, and pets are increasingly a big part of the holiday festivities. During this otherwise joyous season, a few pet dangers are lurking, though. This info will help keep your pet safe during all the fun and avoid expensive trips to the pet ER.
Food — The biggest holiday threats to pets come from the same threats to your waistline and chances of you fitting into your skinny jeans — food! The holiday season is all about food (yeah, and love and family and all that other stuff, too), and there’s plenty of it to be had: cookies, roast beast, puddings and more cookies. To you, it may just mean another hour on the stair stepper, but to your dog, human food can cause real problems.
Vomiting and diarrhea are common side effects from eating too much people food (the medical term we throw about is “dietary indiscretion”), and in some cases, this can proceed to a more serious condition called pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas, the gland that makes digestive enzymes as well as insulin. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, it releases these enzymes and begins digesting itself. This can be a serious and painful condition that often requires hospitalization.
It is probably a good idea to either keep pets confined during any holiday parties, or make sure guests (especially kids) know not to give treats to your pets. Dogs and cats have been known to drag an entire turkey off the counter when the owner’s back is turned (you know they’ve gotta be thinking, “SCORE!”), so make sure you stay aware of their whereabouts during meal preparation.
If you do want to include your pet in the meal and fun, stick to a bit of lean turkey and low- or no-fat veggies (no onions, though, as these can cause anemia in dogs and cats), and skip the gravy, dressing and pecan pie. Sugar-free items that contain xylitol are also toxic to pets.
Booze — It is true: Don’t get your Doberman drunk during the holidays (or any other time), and don’t let any lampshade-wearing guests try to give your pug a mug of beer. And no one wants to see a basset with a hangover.
Your dog or cat’s liver is not equipped to process alcohol, and even small amounts can be life-threatening. Put boozy party leftovers well out of reach. That includes whisky-soaked fruitcakes, trifles laced with liqueurs and the rum balls that Aunt Martha sends every year.
Open doors — People come and go much more during the holidays than other times of year, and all that traffic can lead to plenty of opportunities for escape. In the ER, we see many pets who made a break for freedom when Uncle Floyd came a-callin’ with his special tuna surprise. Dogs and cats can dart out the door without anyone even noticing, and there’s a whole big world of hurt just waiting for them out there. Ensure that pets are safely put away when you are expecting guests, and make a nightly head count to make sure that all the furry family members are accounted for before turning in for your visions of sugar plums.
Here’s hoping you have a sane season, and that all family members make it through safely, no matter how many legs they have.
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.”