How an abandoned pit bull went from desertion and starvation to a forever home
By Dr. Marty Becker
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Last August, my wife, Teresa, and I were in Louisiana, volunteering at a shelter animal clinic. Before heading there, Teresa and I agreed not to adopt any pets that day. We even shook on it.
You probably know where this is going.
Along with a team of veterinarians and veterinary nurses and a scrum of veterinary and pre-vet students, we methodically but tenderly examined 300 dogs, drawing blood for heartworm checks, giving dewormer for internal parasites and products for external parasites, and implanting microchips. Throughout, we focused on each dog’s physical and emotional well-being, guided by our Fear Free philosophy.
Then Relic staggered in. The adult male pit bull was the thinnest dog I’ve ever seen in 39 years of practice. He was covered in fleas, ticks and lice, and inhabited internally by roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, tapeworms and heartworms.
Then he did something special. I had drawn a smiley face with aerosol cheese on the palm of my left hand. Relic walked over slowly and started licking it out of my hand. His tail wagged so hard, it made him unstable. I’d never seen a dog fall over from being happy.
I looked down at Relic and up at Teresa. In unison, we said, “We’ll adopt him.”
Relic had been abandoned in a decrepit house. When the landlord found him, he thought the fly-covered unresponsive dog was dead and called animal control to come get the body. When they discovered Relic was still alive, they rushed him to Bellevue Veterinary Clinic in Opelousas, Louisiana. The dog weighed only 19 pounds and was near death, but Dr. Kevin Fuselier gave him a chance, and he slowly began to recover.
When we spoke with him, Dr. Fuselier said Relic (now called Lazaruff for his rise from the dead) had only a 33% chance of survival.
Lazaruff made it. But we weren’t able to adopt him. The veterinary behaviorists who evaluated him recommended that he go to a home where he would be the only dog and where someone would be home with him most of the time. Lazaruff had separation anxiety, and he was happiest lying next to somebody with his big “meat head” on their lap.
The right home hadn’t come along, so last month, when Teresa and I were in New Orleans for Animal Care Expo, we decided to drive him back home with us to see if the right family was in northern Idaho, where we live.
During that weeklong road trip, his light shone bright. He never got carsick, never barked, never soiled his crate. He went from having to be lifted into his crate to jumping into it in the back of the SUV. We made “pit stops” at shelters along the way, spreading our message of emotional well-being and enrichment.
Then the miracle happened: Our friends at Panhandle Animal Shelter in Sandpoint, Idaho, connected us with Breanna Franck and her husband, Terry, who owned their own home, had no other pets, worked opposite schedules so somebody would be home most of the time and, most important, loved dogs.
Lazaruff walked over to Breanna, she knelt down and he washed her face with one lick of his dishrag-size tongue. He went into their arms, into their vehicle and into their hearts.
Teresa and I have stayed in close contact with them, and Lazaruff continues to fall over from being happy. But now it’s not because he’s too weak to stand. It’s because he’s waiting to get his belly rubbed.
PHOTO CAPTION: Lazaruff adapted quickly to hotel living on the road to his new life.
Check calendar for dog and cat days
• May is an eventful month for pets. Take time out to observe Pet Cancer Awareness Month, National Pet Month, Be Kind to Animals Week (May 5-11), National Animal Disaster Preparedness Day (take a pet first-aid class or set up a “go bag” with everything your pet might need if you have to evacuate on May 11), International Chihuahua Appreciation Day (May 14), World Turtle Day (May 23) and International Hug Your Cat Day (May 30). Cats don’t especially enjoy being hugged, so maybe just give her a good scratch behind the ears.
• Which is cleaner, your dog’s fur or your husband’s beard? Swiss researchers found that dog fur wins out. They swabbed the beards of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs of assorted breeds and compared the results. All the men had high bacterial counts in their beards while only 23 of the dogs (76 percent) had the same result. The remaining seven dogs had medium-to-low levels of bacteria. Maybe it’s time to retire the phrase “You dirty dog!”
• If you have a new kitten, be sure she is properly vaccinated. Current recommendations are an initial inoculation for feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia when kittens are 6 to 8 weeks old, followed by additional doses every three to four weeks until the kitten is 16 to 20 weeks old. A single, separate rabies vaccine can be given when the kitten is 12 to 16 weeks old. Even if your locale does not require cats to be vaccinated for rabies, it offers important protection in case your cat ever encounters a rabid animal. Bats can fly into homes, and it’s not uncommon for cats in their own yards to come in contact with skunks and raccoons, which often carry rabies.— Dr. Marty Becker,
Kim Campbell Thornton
and Mikkel Becker
Rough Side of the Tongue?
The spines on a cat’s tongue serve a variety of purposes
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
If you’ve ever been licked by a cat, you know the rough feel of the tongue, lined with rows of backward-facing barbs called papillae.
It used to be thought that papillae were in the form of a solid cone, but engineering researchers at Georgia Tech took a closer look and made a surprising discovery. Using 3D scanning with micro-computed tomography, the actual shape of the small spines was revealed to be not conical, but hollow. And that shape has a specific purpose.
“I liken them to ice-cream scoops,” says Alexis C. Noel, lead author of a paper published last December in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). “They have this little U-shaped hollow from the tip down. We found that this cavity holds fluids really well.”
To test the action of the papillae, Noel and co-author David L. Hu introduced drops of food dye to the tip of the spine. “It sucked it up like a straw,” she says.
The scoop shape enables cats to use surface- tension forces to pull up water as they lap it, as well as to wick saliva deep into their fur, a way of cooling themselves.
“This shape makes much more sense, from a biomechanical standpoint,” says feline veterinary specialist Drew Weigner, DVM, who practices in Atlanta and is president-elect of the Winn Feline Foundation.
The investigation was inspired by Noel’s own cat, who was sitting on her one day while she watched TV.
“He decided to lick this microfiber blanket that he was on top of, and he got his tongue stuck in it,” she says. “I had to detangle him from the blanket, and it made me think. Everybody says cat tongues are kind of like sandpaper, but it really looks like the tongue is a lot more like Velcro.”
She and Hu hypothesized that when cats lick themselves, saliva — containing enzymes that break down fats and particulates — is distributed from the hollow spines, all the way down to the root of the hairs. They used high-speed videography to film three adult cats grooming themselves. During grooming, papillae become erect, increasing their contact area with fur. This contributes to saliva’s cooling effect.
Cats don’t have sweat glands over their bodies, except on their paws, so the thorough distribution of saliva helps to remove heat from the skin. Without papillae to push saliva deep into the fur, it would wet only the top layer of hairs.
The spines also help cats lick up oils, dirt, blood, feces and other contaminants. This not only keeps cats clean, but it also reduces odors that might otherwise expose their presence to predators.
Beyond domestic cats, Noel and Hu were able to examine the tongues of five other members of the feline family: bobcat, cougar, snow leopard, tiger and lion. What they found surprised them: Papillae are the same size and shape regardless of species.
That means the papillae of your tabby or tortoiseshell are just like those of a tiger or lion — except the big cats have more of them. Cats have about 300 papillae, while tigers have approximately 1,200.
“We thought that was strange because generally when you go from a small species to a large species, these things tend to scale, but these papillae didn’t,” Noel says.
On further investigation, they learned that no matter what the species, feline papillae are almost always long enough to penetrate fur and reach the skin. The exception is the Persian, with long, thick fur that’s impenetrable. “With these cats, the cat physically cannot push the tongue spine through the fur and reach the skin,” she says.
11 smart ways to help your puppy become the dog of your dreams
By Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Whether your new puppy is your very first or the latest in a long line of family dogs, a little advice on bringing him up can help ensure that he has a great start in life. Sometimes we forget what puppies are like, especially if the last one was 10 or more years ago, and if you’re new to puppies, they can be a mystery. The following tips can put you and your new pup on sound footing.
1. Start as you mean to go on. “What’s cute at 18 pounds isn’t cute at 118 pounds,” says Bernese mountain dog owner Adam Conn. Teach young pups to sit instead of jumping up when greeting people, especially if they are going to be jumbo-size as adults. If you don’t plan to allow your dog on the furniture when he’s grown because he’ll be too big or furry or drooly, don’t make an exception when he’s a small puppy.
2. Introduce puppies to being brushed and combed and having teeth brushed from day one. Even if a pup doesn’t have much coat yet, becoming used to the grooming process will save both of you stress in the long run.
3. Live by a schedule. “They poop and pee a lot more than you’d expect,” says beagle owner and dog trainer Denise Nord. Set a timer, and take them out every hour during the day until you get a handle on their personal schedule. Every pup is different.
4. Don’t take them out to potty and then go right back in. Let them have a little fun outside first. Sniffing and exploring are important to dogs.
5. Speaking of exploring, puppies need plenty of socialization — exposure to new people, places, objects and experiences — but in a positive way. “The more new experiences you can introduce your puppy to under calm, controlled conditions, the more likely he will be to accept new situations with a confident attitude,” says Fear Free Pets lead trainer Mikkel Becker. New situations should be fun, not scary, with the pup having the option to investigate at her own pace.
6. Don’t miss your puppy’s peak socialization and learning period (3 to 12 weeks of age) by keeping him at home until all his vaccinations are completed. “If you wait until your dog is 10 months old and 75 pounds before you take them anywhere except the vet, you will have issues,” says dog trainer and Labrador owner Liz Harward. It’s safe to take your pup to a socialization or “kindergarten” class as long as he has had at least one set of vaccinations and the other puppies have had vaccinations as well. Avoid places where unknown dogs gather, such as parks and pet stores.
7. Exercise appropriately. Puppies are active, no doubt about it, but they aren’t ready to become jogging partners until they are 18 to 24 months old. Running with them too early during bone development can cause permanent damage and pain, says English springer spaniel breeder Linda Prouty. Talk to your veterinarian about when your pup’s growth plates will close.
8. Schedule downtime. Puppies need plenty of rest, or they’ll become cranky, just like a toddler. Use a crate, exercise pen or puppy-proofed room for naptime — and for any time you can’t actively supervise your puppy’s activities and whereabouts.
9. Too much freedom too soon makes it difficult for puppies to become housetrained and learn house manners. For instance, they can learn to chew on the wrong things, says trainer Liz Palika.
10. Puppies need guidance, but it’s important not to push them too quickly. “I encourage people to let their pup grow up and take that time to build a solid working relationship that will pay dividends in the end,” says flat-coated retriever breeder Xan Latta.
11. Most important, enjoy that first year. “It goes fast,” Harward says.
Labs hold on to top-dog status
• For a record 28th straight year, Labrador retrievers are the No. 1 pick of dog lovers in the United States. The American Kennel Club’s registration statistics track the numbers of the 192 AKC-recognized breeds. The Lab hit first place in 1990 and hasn’t left it since, mainly because of his friendly character and ease of training. The Lab’s devotion to people may also be a factor. “They live to breathe your air,” says Lab breeder Linda C. Rehkopf. Following the Lab are the German shepherd, golden retriever, French bulldog, bulldog, beagle, poodle (all three varieties), Rottweiler, German shorthaired pointer and Yorkshire terrier.
• Poet T.S. Eliot called April “the cruelest month,” but for animal lovers, it’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month. Ways to help animals during this month — and year-round — include training them early in life using positive reinforcement techniques so as to prevent behavior problems; playing with them, whether that’s with a rousing game of fetch, a teaser toy for cats or participating in a fun sport such as agility or nosework; adopting from, fostering for or volunteering at a shelter; and supporting laws that protect farm animals and pets from abuse.
• We think of cats as loners, but they can live together amicably given enough space for each cat and a consistent and predictable daily routine. According to cat expert Tony Buffington, DVM, a happy cat has unrestricted access to high-perch resting areas free of loud noises and pursuit by dogs and small children. There should be enough space in a room for each cat to keep a social distance of at least 3 feet. Some cats are happy to share space and groom each other, while others take turns using resting areas at different times of day. Sort of a kitty timeshare! — Kim Campbell Thornton
Photo caption:The multitalented Labrador retriever is not only a popular family companion but also a super service and detection dog and search and rescue partner.
The season of renewal can be perilous for pets. Household poisons come in the form of pretty plants, tasty (human) treats and more
By Dr. Marty Becker
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Is your home ready for spring? If you live with dogs, cats or other pets, you may need to do some extra preparation to ensure their safety as your garden comes to life, your home fills with flowers for spring holidays, and you or your neighbors fight off unwelcome spring guests such as rodents and external parasites. Here’s what you should know about preventing pet poisoning from common plants and products.
Lilies are lovely, but they can be fatal to cats. A cat who eats any part of a lily — flowers, leaves, stems, pollen — or drinks water in a vase of lilies can develop fatal kidney failure. Don’t plant lilies in your yard if you have outdoor cats, and don’t accept them into your home if you receive a bouquet for Easter or your birthday. Give them to a friend or family member whose home is cat-free.
Other common spring plants that can be toxic to pets include bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Pets who eat the tops or flowers of bulbs usually suffer only mild stomach upset, but if they eat the bulb itself, the result can be bloody vomiting and diarrhea and low blood pressure.
Cats are also sensitive to certain flea- and tick-control products, especially those made for dogs. Never give your dog’s parasite-prevention products to your cat, thinking that she’ll be safe if you just use a little less. Feline physiology is not the same as that of a dog or human. Cats respond in different ways to certain chemicals, so it’s important to purchase parasite preventives made specifically for them.
What about dogs? We all know that they are indiscriminate eaters, willing to chow down on whatever they come across in the hope that it’s edible. Check labels to make sure food items such as baked goods, candy, chewing gum and even peanut butter aren’t sweetened with xylitol. Pets, including cats, who ingest xylitol-sweetened items show signs such as vomiting, sudden and life-threatening low blood sugar, and liver failure. If your dog considers himself a professional taste-tester, read labels carefully, and keep these items well out of his reach.
Chocolate Easter bunnies and eggs, especially those made with dark chocolate, can be toxic to pets. Chocolate contains a compound called theobromine that is harmful to dogs, cats and parrots. Baker’s and dark chocolate have the highest concentrations of theobromine and can cause vomiting, diarrhea and seizures, depending on the size of the animal and how much he eats. Take your pet to the vet if you find evidence that he has broken into your chocolate stash.
If you are a savvy pet owner, you probably avoid putting out mouse or rat poison for fear that your pet will ingest it, but neighbors or family members you visit might not be so careful. Ask if they have put out any bait traps, where they are and if they’d be willing to take them up while your pet is there. Poisoning from rodenticides containing anticoagulants is treatable with blood transfusions and vitamin K if the poisoning is caught in time, but alternative poisons that contain a neurotoxin called bromethalin are more harmful to pets and have no antidote.
Finally, for many people, spring means allergy season. Human medications are the number-one reason for calls to animal poison control hotlines. Decongestants can be deadly to pets who accidentally ingest them. They can cause vomiting, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, tremors and seizures. Seek veterinary help immediately if you discover your pet has ingested these types of drugs. Remember, it takes dogs only about 15 seconds to break into a childproof bottle.
Pet blood pressure check is smart idea
• Hypertension isn’t just for humans. Cats and dogs can also develop high blood pressure, often related to kidney disease, an over- or underactive thyroid gland or other medical conditions. Hypertension that goes unrecognized and untreated in pets can damage organs and lead to renal failure, blindness, stroke or heart failure. Pets can take medication to control high blood pressure. Depending on the cause, your veterinarian may also recommend medication or dietary changes to treat underlying diseases. “If these underlying problems are treated successfully, then blood pressure can return to normal, and anti-hypertensive drugs can be discontinued,” said Dr. John N. Stallone, a professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, who studies hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases in pets.
• If you read books set in Ireland or Great Britain, you may have seen mention of dogs called lurchers and wondered what they were. Lurchers are cross-breeds made up of any sighthound — such as a Greyhound — and another breed such as a border collie or terrier. The goal is to create a dog that’s fast, smart and hard-working. Some crosses may seek to bring in greater tenacity or better scenting ability. Lurchers are known for being silent and sneaky when hunting and were nicknamed “the poacher’s dog.”
• Speaking last month at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, veterinary behaviorist Debra Horwitz offered four takeaways for managing pet behavior problems: Most behaviors that people dislike are normal animal behaviors, and pets need appropriate outlets for performing them or to learn to do something different; understand that animals see situations differently than humans and have different expectations for outcomes; meet a dog or cat’s needs for social interactions, exploration, safety and control; and consult trainers who use Fear Free training methods to diminish anxiety and increase learning. — Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
PHOTO CAPTION:When pets aren’t able to engage in normal behaviors, they can become stressed and behave in ways owners don’t like.
How a complex surgery gave a second chance to a cat with cancer
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
The collies kept licking Edmund’s right ear. When Rosemary George looked inside it to see what was so intriguing to the dogs, what she saw immediately sent her to the veterinarian with the 11-year-old cat. His ear canal was so inflamed that he required a course of antibiotics before the veterinarian could laser out the growths, which turned out to be the result of a ceruminous gland adenocarcinoma. That’s a malignant tumor of the ear canal, usually seen — although rarely — in older cats.
Edmund did well for about 18 months, but then the tumors began to regrow. A CT scan found that the cancer had spread to one lymph node. George was referred to a surgeon, who suggested a total ear canal ablation, or TECA: a delicate and complex surgery to remove the entire ear canal. It’s commonly performed not only for pets with ear canal tumors, but also those with chronic ear canal infections.
The dramatic surgery is performed when there are no medical options for treatment of external or middle-ear disease, says Elizabeth Layne, DVM, a veterinary dermatology specialist at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine in Madison. The immediate recovery period can be intense, but afterward, there’s no more need to medicate the ears, a bonus for pets and owners alike.
“It can really improve everyone’s quality of life,” Dr. Layne says. “It’s a major investment in time, and it’s relatively expensive, but then you’re finished with this chronic, frustrating, painful problem.”
Interestingly, cats can still hear after this type of surgery. Although the opening into the ear canal is closed, the ear is still able to process sound waves. The main difference is that sounds may be somewhat muted, the way they would be if you plugged your ears with your fingers. Even if both ear canals are removed, animals typically still have some hearing.
Occasionally, pets may develop a condition called Horner syndrome after the procedure. The usually temporary nerve damage causes the eye to appear sunken and the eyelid droopy. The signs usually disappear after three or four weeks. Edmund, now 14, had some residual damage to his blink reflex, which required application of eye drops several times daily, but the problem resolved in a couple of months. His pinna, the outer ear, droops a bit as well, resembling a flag at half-staff.
And he wasn’t quite done with treatment. Because the mass was malignant, Edmund needed a course of chemotherapy. The laid-back cat accepted six treatments at three-week intervals without the need for sedation and experienced few side effects.
“They gave him anti-nausea medication at the clinic, and only once did he show any signs of discomfort the next day,” George says. “He didn’t want to eat and sat hunched. This resolved itself after about 12 hours. For the remaining two treatments, the oncologist instructed me to give him anti-nausea medication prophylactically the day after treatment.”
The only other side effect was the response of Edmund’s littermate, Clarence.
“Clarence hissed at him for a couple of days after treatment and refused to lie near him. That is apparently how long it takes for the chemo to leave his system,” George says.
If a full-body CT scan next month determines that the cancer hasn’t spread anywhere else in the body, Edmund’s prognosis is good. For other people considering this procedure for a cat or dog, George says, “Find the most experienced surgeon for a TECA and oncologist that you can. It is an expensive undertaking, but the odds were good that Edmund would make a complete recovery and live a normal lifespan, so I went for it.”
PHOTO CAPTION: In 2008, Edmund was voted Washingtonian Magazine’s “Cutest Cat in Washington.”photo: Paul Morse
Clue to pup size is proportion, not paws
• Can paws predict a puppy’s size at maturity? Not necessarily. Big feet don’t necessarily mean that a puppy will grow to be a large adult. A better clue is the pup’s overall proportions. Puppies who are well-proportioned at an early age typically grow into small or medium-size dogs. It’s the gangly, awkward puppies who are most likely to be big dogs a few months down the road. If a young puppy looks as if he hasn’t grown into his body, his head seems too large for his body, his tail looks longer than the rest of him and he’s constantly falling over his paws, don’t be too surprised if he weighs a whopping 90 pounds when he’s 8 months old.
• When your cat rubs up against you, he’s not merely expressing affection. Cats want their possessions — and that includes you, your sofa, favorite toys and maybe the dog — to smell like them, so they deposit sebum from scent glands on their heads to mark whatever they’re rubbing with their own special scent.
• Dogs may be the canary in the coal mine when it comes to male infertility. A recent study found that environmental contaminants in the form of two man-made chemicals negatively affect the quality of sperm in both men and dogs. Both chemicals have been detected in commercial dog foods, and one, DEHP, is common in household items ranging from carpets to toys. The other, PCB153, used in products such as surface coatings and paints, is banned globally but remains widely detectable in the environment, according to researchers. An earlier discovery that dogs in homes experienced a decline in sperm quality led to the hypothesis that chemical pollutants in the environment, including homes, could be the cause of a decline in male sperm quality as well. — Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
PHOTO CAPTION: Cats are highly scent-oriented. When they rub up against people or objects, they are marking them with their own scent.
When Less Is More
Smaller incisions, less pain among the benefits of minimally invasive surgical techniques
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
When Rebecca Barocas went to the veterinary clinic to pick up Anja, the 18-month-old German shepherd she had recently adopted, it was hard to tell that the 50-pound dog had just undergone spay surgery. Anja was bouncing around and then bounded into the truck before Barocas could lift her in. Barocas attributes Anja’s high spirits after what is typically major abdominal surgery to the minimally invasive laparoscopic procedure she had sought out for the dog.
Those of us who’ve had gallbladders removed, hips replaced or other surgery performed using minimally invasive techniques know the benefits: less pain and quicker recovery time. Pets needing surgery can experience the same advantages, including less time spent under anesthesia and a shorter period of hospitalization. If your pet needs joint repair, bladder stone removal, gastropexy (“tacking” the stomach to prevent bloat), fracture repair, liver or kidney biopsy or other surgery, it’s worth asking your veterinarian whether a minimally invasive procedure is available and appropriate.
Pets first benefited from minimally invasive techniques in the 1970s. The procedures allow for better visualization, magnification and lighting, as well as smaller surgical incisions.
But are these types of procedures minimally invasive to your wallet? Not necessarily. I discovered this about six years ago when I was looking into laparoscopic spay surgery for Harper, my cavalier King Charles spaniel, who was 5 years old at the time. A traditional ovariohysterectomy was about $700, while a “lap spay” was about $2,200. A more recent price check brought quotes ranging from $1,100 to $4,000.
“Unfortunately, it does not always mean lower cost for the owner because there’s a significant increase in the amount of equipment that gets used in these, but we do see benefits to the patient,” says Kevin Winkler, DVM, a veterinary surgeon who practices at Blue Pearl Specialty and Emergency Hospital in Sandy Springs, Georgia.
But for owners with pet health insurance or who can afford to pay for the procedures without financial strain, minimally invasive surgery can be a good decision. A Great Dane undergoing gastropexy, for instance, can have a 2-inch incision instead of a 12-inch incision that requires opening up the dog completely on the belly, Dr. Winkler says. “That dramatically speeds recovery, allows these guys to get back to normal much faster and decreases some of the risk associated with the large incision.”
Advanced scoping procedures have also allowed orthopedic surgeons to repair certain types of fractures and dislocations through much smaller incisions. The procedures allow for better and more rapid bone healing in dogs with significant trauma.
“Not only do we have a smaller incision from a wound standpoint, but we’re disrupting significantly less tissue that may be traumatized from the original injury,” Dr. Winkler says. “One of the areas where we have had wonderful success with minimally invasive surgery is in sacroiliac dislocations or luxations. We now have patients who are walking on these legs in 24 to 48 hours versus two weeks, so it’s been a wonderful advancement for the dogs.”
As with any surgery, not every dog, cat or other animal is necessarily a good candidate for a minimally invasive procedure. Veterinarians will look at the animal’s overall health to make a decision about the risk of anesthesia for any procedure.
Other factors: Not every condition is suited to minimally invasive surgical procedures. And not every veterinarian has the training or necessary equipment to perform them.
But for pet owners who have seen the results in themselves, their friends or relatives or their pets, there’s no going back.
“I would definitely do it again,” Barocas says. “For me, it’s the gold standard.”
Food rewards aid in training, reduce fear in unfamiliar situations, and are just plain fun to give. Here’s what to know about treats for cats and dogs
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Did you celebrate International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day last month? Even if you didn’t know about it, you probably gave your dog or cat a treat that day for any number of reasons.
Pet lovers give treats as rewards during training sessions, after a great agility run or nosework search, or for pottying in the right spot; as distractions in situations that cause the pet to be fearful, such as visiting the vet or the approach of an unknown person or dog; or to build a positive association with an item like a crate or carrier.
Ramona Marek says her Siberian cats Ivan and Natasha will do anything for cat grass. “I leash-trained Ivan in a couple of hours due to his ‘grass addiction,’” she says.
Dog trainer Laura Busch saves high-value treats such as homemade liver brownies and dehydrated chicken hearts for nosework trials and training class.
Janiss Garza’s Somali cat Summer makes frequent public appearances, and Summer’s response to treats helps Garza gauge whether her cat is feeling stressed.
“I save the really good treats for shows and other public appearances,” she says. “If she refuses them, I need to either take her to a safe spot or do something to calm her down or distract her.”
Veterinarian Marty Becker, who lectures around the country on the secrets of Fear Free veterinary visits, offers this advice: “Pets prefer certain flavors and textures over others. It’s crucial to use ‘the good stuff’ when it comes to gaining the pet’s interest in the face of pain, discomfort, distractions and change that takes them beyond their comfort zone — home sweet home — and into the hospital environment.”
He likes giving pieces of warm deli turkey, slices of turkey hot dogs and squeeze cheese. Choose treats that are soft and smelly, not any larger than the size of your pinkie toenail. During the exam and procedures such as having the temperature taken or vaccinations, offer 10 to 20 tiny treats per minute.
Sometimes we give treats just because. “Who’s a good boy?” isn’t simply a rhetorical question. We give treats to our pets because we love them and want them to feel special.
Treat manufacturers and pet bakeries know this, and they develop treats that feed into the human love of rewarding cats and dogs with items that resemble our own favorite foods, whether that’s bacon, cheese, chips, cookies or cupcakes.
Many pet owners also have favorite homemade treats that they serve up to drooling dogs and cats. For Lab breeder Linda Rehkopf, it’s frozen turkey meatballs. Val Hughes gives sweet potato and yam chips that she bakes in the oven. “Scrub the veggie, slice as thin as possible and cook for at least three hours at about 250 degrees, turning every hour,” she says. “Let them cool before serving.”
For faster, easier treats, pet faves include rotisserie chicken, freeze-dried liver, tiny frozen shrimp, small cubes of cheese or a small bit of cream cheese or aerosol cheese on the end of your finger. Many dogs love blueberries, banana slices, bits of fresh or dried apple or other fruit. (Avoid grapes and raisins, which can cause kidney failure.) Cats often like cantaloupe.
Try the following recipe if you want to bake “brownies” for your dog or cat.
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Blend 1/2 cup chicken liver or beef liver with one egg. Add 3/4 cup rice flour and blend well. Form the dough into small balls and bake for 45 minutes or until hard. Let cool. Serve to happy pets!
PHOTO CAPTION: Limit treats to about 10 percent of a pet’s daily caloric intake.
Eat Your Greens
What’s in your cat’s garden? A guide to plants cats love
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Cats are carnivores, but they have a green side, too. We often see them delicately nibbling on grasses, plants and blossoms. Sometimes they throw up their greenery, but more often than not, they seem to enjoy it simply for the taste and not because they’re trying to vomit on the carpet just for the pleasure of watching you clean it up.
Growing an indoor garden for house cats is a way to enhance their environment and bring the outdoors inside. And some plants have entertaining effects for cats and humans alike. Who doesn’t love watching cats under the influence of a hit of ’nip or silver vine? Here are five plants to try growing for your cat.
•Catnip. This is the most well-known of the plants cats love, but interestingly, not all cats respond to it. Approximately one-third are immune to the harmless “high” the plant brings. A member of the mint family, catnip has a stimulating effect caused by nepetalactone, a compound that mimics the scent of a cat’s sex pheromones. It’s no wonder that cats roll and yowl in response to it.
To grow catnip, fill one or more 4-inch pots with potting soil, plant 10 to 15 seeds in each pot, and water to moisten the soil. Store the pots in a warm, dark area for a few days until the plants begin to germinate. Place in a sunny spot and protect from feline predation until there’s enough for your cat to begin to nibble.
•Wheatgrass. Lots of people grow this vitamin-packed superfood for use in their smoothies and juices, but cats appreciate it, too, although they probably don’t care about the health benefits.
Put potting soil in a planting tray and top it with presoaked wheat berries, available at grocery stores or online. Store the wheat berries in the dark, at room temperature, and moisten them with water once or twice a day until they take root. Once wheatgrass is about an inch high, give it plenty of sunlight. Within a week, it will be ready for your cat to nosh on.
•Silver vine. This climbing vine has similar effects on felines as catnip. A study published in March 2017 found that nearly 80 percent of the domestic cats exposed to it responded to silver vine. Cats are usually given silver vine in powdered form, but they can be attracted to the plant, too.
Growing silver vine indoors is best done by placing it in a hanging basket — near your cat’s tall kitty condo if you have one — allowing the vines to dangle onto it. Prune as needed. If your cat has access to a catio, you could also train the vines onto a trellis or one of the surrounding walls. The fruit is edible by cats and humans alike.
•Lemongrass. If you love to cook or make cocktails, you are probably familiar with and fond of lemongrass, but did you know that cats like it, too? Simply purchase a plant and keep it in a warm, sunny spot for your cat’s sniffing and tasting pleasure. Be aware that lemongrass essential oil is toxic to cats, so if you keep that around, store it where your cat can’t get to it.
•Cat thyme. Not a true thyme, this odorous herb does best in good soil with full sun and plenty of drainage. Try growing it in a container large enough for your cat to roll around or nap in it, often their preferred ways of interacting with this plant. Cats also enjoy sniffing dried sprigs of the slow-growing plant. Consider placing it in a catio instead of indoors; while the odor is intoxicating to cats, it’s not so pleasant to humans.
PHOTO CAPTION: Cats love to nibble on grass and plants, so offer them some safe options.
PET BUZZ. How to brush your pet’s teeth
• If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to begin brushing your pets’ teeth regularly, good job! Here are some tips and techniques from the AVMA to ensure you do the best job possible. Wait 10 days after a professional dental cleaning to begin or resume brushing at home, to let gums heal. Use a finger brush or toothbrush with soft bristles. For pets new to the process, give them a few days to smell and taste the toothpaste before you begin brushing. Start with only a few teeth at a time and reward with a treat. Work up to a more thorough cleaning of 30 seconds or more. Run the brush along the gumline at a 45-degree angle. Focus on the outside of the teeth, where plaque is more likely to build up. Between brushing, offer rope toys or other chew items. Chewing has a mechanical action on the teeth that helps to clean them.
• Cockatiels are popular pets because of their friendly personalities, variety of color mutations and ease of care. They originated in Australia, where they were first exported in the late 19th century, and began to be bred in the United States in the late 1950s.
• Taking a Fear Free approach to skin care benefits dogs and cats who require frequent treatment for ear infections, allergies and other dermatological diseases, says veterinary dermatologist John C. Angus. Speaking at a veterinary conference in Orlando last month, he recommended light sedation and local anesthesia for obtaining skin biopsy samples. This reduces the fear, anxiety and stress that can accompany restraint, injection with a stinging liquid, pressure and the smell of blood. Following a skin biopsy, pets should receive postoperative pain relief immediately after the procedure and pain medication at home for three to five days.
— Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
PHOTO CAPTION: Cockatiel color variations include lutino, pied, pearl, white-faced, cinnamon and yellow cheek.