Thursday, July 30, 2009 3:21 PM

No Fleas, Please

Another issue that rears its ugly head more noticeably during the warmer weather is flea infestation. Although technically a year-round problem, it seems more apparent during the warm weather, when pets spend more time outdoors and in contact with other animals. Also, the flea's life cycle is sped up during warm weather, so there's just more of them. If your pet goes outdoors, chances are excellent that she has fleas. In both dogs and cats, the symptoms are similar: scratching, skin disturbances and the tell-tale flecks of "flea dirt", which is actually flea excrement (ugh) where the pet sleeps. It looks brown until moistened; it then turns rusty, as most of its contents are digested blood. Depending upon the extent of the infestation and the individual animal's sensitivity, red, raw, hairless areas called "hot spots" may appear on the pet's skin. The animal is literally scratching itself raw! These spots are very difficult to treat and the first step is always flea eradication, a tall order when there is a heavy infestation, but an absolute must if the spots are to heal.

Fleas are also vectors of disease (like plague!) and various parasites such as tapeworm. Another annoying habit of fleas is that they will bite humans, too. They don't stay on us, but man, are those bites itchy! It gives you an idea of what Kitty or Lassie are going through. An additional problem is that only about 10% of the infestation's population are on your pet at any one time. Fully 90% of these nasty critters are off-site, that is in your carpets, upholstery, floor cracks and crevices, etc. So, not only do you have to treat the pets themselves, but also the entire house, paying particular attention to areas the pet frequents. It is so much easier to just prevent the problem in the first place.

How to attack the problem? The animal and the environment must be treated simultaneously. The pet will need to be given a bath, no two ways about it. Any gentle soap or shampoo will do, as fleas will drown in the soapy water anyway, so why put insecticides on your pet? As for the house, for a severe problem you will need to use a flea "bomb" that you set off in each room or two, then leave home for a couple of hours. The pets will have to be outside, too, so you might as well save the bath for after the bombing. I've used a couple of different types, and they both seemed to work as long as the directions are followed carefully. We used Zodiac a few years ago, which contains permethrin (an insecticide with low mammalian toxicity) and methoprene (a hormone that regulates insect growth). Afterward, vacuum all rugs, floors and upholstery very well. You should not need to do it again, as the residue takes care of any hatches that occur later.

The ounce of prevention/pound of cure adage applies here as well, so next week we'll talk about how to keep your pets and your home free of fleas.

Movie of the Week: Again, not really a movie, but a British detective series set in Edinburg, Scotland called Rebus. We've watched only the first couple of episodes and we're hooked already. Very stark and realistic, with complex but believable story lines.
Chat later!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009 1:22 PM

Heatstroke in Pets

What do you do if your pet exhibits the symptoms of heatstroke? Act fast, that's what. If your dog or cat is panting heavily, staggering around (assuming he can walk), drooling, looking very scared or just staring--plus has a fever of 106 degrees Farenheit or 41 degrees Celcius-the first thing you must do is lower that body temperature. The quickest way to accomplish this is with cold water. For severe cases, you may have to immerse the animal in a bath of icy water. Check the body temp with a rectal thermometer, and let that be your guide (don't have a pet thermometer? Go buy one today). Don't let the body temp fall below 103 degrees F or 39.5 degrees C., or you'll wind up with hypothermia! If you can't immerse the pet in a tub, use the garden hose to soak him down. Massage the extremities in particular to keep the circulation going and avoid shock. Do all this before you call the veterinarian--seconds count! A fever above the danger zone can cause permanent damage and even death. Put the animal in front of a fan while you call your vet.

Mild cases may only require the movement of the animal to a cooler spot, like the basement. Again, check the body temp with a thermometer, don't try to diagnose the symptoms. Sponge the cat or dog with a sponge dipped in cold water, just in case. Give lots of cold water to drink. In more severe cases, the animal may be vomiting, so this may not be possible; dehydration is a real threat here, so you'll definitely need to see the vet. He or she will be able to give subcutaneous fluids to rehydrate your pet.

Even after he seems out of danger, you'll need to monitor the animal for a couple of days to be sure all is well. Convulsions and death can occur even after it seems the worst has passed. If your pet was seriously affected by hyperthermia, it may be best to leave him at the vet's for observation.

Older pets and those that are overweight are at increased risk for heatstroke. If you needed another reason to put Fluffy or Rex on a diet--here it is!

As the old saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Keep a watchful eye on your beloved pets during the hot summer months and you'll never have to contend with this dangerous and often fatal condition.

Today's photo shows the scene outside our front windows late last February. There's nothing like a nice wintry scene to cool you off during a heat wave. Aren't you feeling refreshed already?
Chat later!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 3:05 PM

It's Too Hot, Baby

Now that the summer heat is upon us, it's time to talk about how to protect our pets from the high temperatures. Dogs tend to be bothered by the heat more often than cats, probably because they spend more time outdoors (usually) and are more apt to go running errands with us in our cars. Heatstroke (hyperthermia) is very dangerous, however, and can be fatal for any mammal if not treated right away. Here are some tips on prevention and what to do if you think your pet has been affected.

Make sure that there is always a place for your dog to get away from the sun when he is tied up outdoors. If you have an outdoor kennel and run, that's great! However, many people leave dogs tied up in the yard without additional shelter. Don't count on the shade of the tree to keep him covered--if you must be gone for any period of time, put him in the house. Don't forget to provide plenty of fresh water, as it can get hot inside, too (unless you're lucky enough to have central air conditioning!).

Another common way for dogs to get hyperthermia is when owners leave them in parked cars during the summer. Now, I know this seems like a no-brainer, but EVERY YEAR there are incidents of this nature occurring, so it bears repeating. A car left in the sun, even with the windows down a bit, even if the air temperature doesn't seem that hot EVEN IF you're only going to be in the store a few minutes--this car can and will get too hot much sooner than you think. That, along with the stress of not being able to move around and look for you, can cause problems fast. If you bring your dog along on errand day, check first to see if the buildings you'll be entering allow dogs. Many do, at least in Massachusetts, unless otherwise posted. Unless they sell and/or serve food, you may be able to bring Spot along while you run your errands. Otherwise, he'll probably be better off staying home while you are out and about.

Cats, desert creatures that they are, don't handle humidity and heat together quite as well as one might think. They tend to find shady, cool spots when outdoors; you can't count on this, however. When we lived in the suburbs and I let Min and Sweet Pea outdoors, she would hang out on the cool earth under the evergreen bushes in the yard. Min, however, tended to lie right in the sun, panting until I would go out and bring him in. After noting this strange behavior, I kept them both in on hot days. Having indoor cats, of course, solves this problem completely. Again, always leave plenty of fresh water around. If you need to transport them on a hot day, use a carrier that is larger than you think the cat needs. Nervousness causes panting which can dehydrate a cat very quickly, and being squeezed in a tiny compartment will only exacerbate the problem.

Tomorrow: Recognizing the symptoms of heatstroke and what you can do about it.
Chat later!

Monday, July 27, 2009 3:13 PM

The Domestication of Cats

When we think of domesticated animals, we immediately think of dogs and cats. Then, we usually think of horses, cows, chickens, pigs, etc. We think first of the animals that we share our homes and lives with, right? As I've mentioned previously, the dog has a long history with humans, being identified as a very useful animal indeed. Hunting, retrieving, guarding, herding and even sled pulling--it's all in a day's work for the dog. Livestock, of course, provides us with transportation (or used to), wool, meat, manure, eggs...the list goes on and on. And the cat provides us with--what exactly?

Since cats couldn't be made to respond to orders like dogs, it's difficult to imagine why humans cared about having them around. More aloof and independent than the dog, it's also hard to figure out why they allied themselves with humans. What we do know is that fossilized remains of cat-like creatures harken back 10 to 12 million years, predating humans and most domesticated animals' predecessors. So, while they may have been first on the scene, they were the last to make their entrance into domesticity. How did that happen, you ask?

Most sources credit the Egyptians for befriending these wily creatures. Was it for their beauty that they were worshiped, or was it for their prowess in keeping the grain silos free of rats and mice? Probably the latter situation, which established a symbiotic relationship between wild cats and people, began both to soften the cat's attitude toward humans as well as give people a really good look at this beautiful animal. The deifying came later, I would imagine, after the two species got to know each other a little better. There is no doubt that they were treated as gods: many ancient Egyptian gods have physical attributes of cats, especially the head, and mummified cats have been discovered in the tombs of powerful Egyptians. Who better to wake up to in the afterlife than your pet cat!

So, although cats were domesticated in part because, as the August Harper's Magazine states, they're "adorable", they also demonstrated their utility to humans. Their hunting abilities came in handy again during Europe's Black Plague, dispatching the rats whose parasites harbored the disease. They did, however, suffer due to their perceived association with paganism. Happily, this era of ignorance was short-lived, and humans once again appreciated the cat for its near perfection. Though it took considerably longer for felines to enter our lives, it only proves the old adage that the best things are worth waiting for!

On That Same Note: I happened to catch one of my favorite scary movies this weekend, Alien, with Sigourney Weaver. What a great pic! Anyway, I couldn't help but notice that while Ripley couldn't manage to save her co-workers from the nasty monster, she did make sure to rescue the cat, Jones. Cats know a winner when they see one.
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Thursday, July 23, 2009 3:54 PM

Bonding with Your New Kittens

When you first bring your new kittens home (note the plural), you will automatically begin the bonding process. You won't be able to help it, you're a cat lover! Obviously, the kittens will be afraid of you for a few hours, possibly a day or two. After that, they will stick to you like glue, and will not be bothered by handling. In fact, they will grow to love it, just as you will love holding and petting them. This is the most important part of training and forging a relationship with your pet. No matter what some people say, cats who experience a lot of handling grow into cats who love to be touched. The more cuddling you give, the more they will want. This seems to be true of most animals, and, I would venture to say, all mammals. We all know people who hail from touchy-feely families; they may drive us a little crazy, if we were not brought up that way. We understand, however, that this is a valid method of communication. We may even envy them their ability to be so demonstrative, and so open with their feelings. If this describes you, it is never too late to change! The first step? Go get a passel of kittens from your local shelter and bring 'em home!

Kittens who receive lots of touching and cuddling become very affectionate pets. They are also easier to train, as they bond with and want to please you. They are also more amenable to being physically corrected without being startled, i.e., as when you pick them up off the counter and place them on the floor, or remove their claws from the upholstery and place them on their scratching post. They will also tend to be cats who unashamedly ask for attention, sometimes loudly and insistently! Isn't that what companionship is all about?

When our three cats were really young, the Bear had digestive problems and we thought we might lose him. Therefore, I fussed over and coddled him like crazy. He recovered, and is extremely attached to me. He also is the "top cat". For several weeks, the kittens and I had a morning routine that went like this: I would lie down on the couch and all three would pile on top of me. We would take a 20 minute rest, with all three jockeying for the position closest to my head. More than once, I had to peel the Bear off of my face so that I could breathe! He always got the top spot. When they outgrew this phase, I have to admit, I missed it.

Other benefits of handling kittens a lot is that they are much less apt to bite or scratch you, since that would end the cuddling session. Gentle physical activity creates playful cats who learn early on not to get too carried away with the teeth and claws. It also teaches you how far you can go before problems arise, so that playtime is always a pleasure and not cause for discipline. Another bonus is that it becomes much easier to check for health problems, as they don't mind you poking around. It's what you call your "win-win" situation!

Just So You Know: This method also works with puppies!
Chat later!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009 11:44 AM

More Causes of Bad Breath

Now that we've eliminated the mouth as a source of smelly pet breath, we need to move a bit lower and examine what's going on there. A couple of problems come to mind, which affect dogs almost exclusively. They both entail eating inappropriate things, such as , ahem, other animals' feces, and garbage. "Coprophagy" (eating feces) is a behavior that cats, thankfully, do not participate in but some dogs seem to enjoy quite a bit (ugh!). As you can imagine, this can lead to some nasty breath! You may or may not know if your dog engages in this behavior, as most often it does not make them sick. "Garbage gut", however, can make a dog pretty ill. This problem seems to be most prevalent in the early spring, when melting winter snows reveal all sorts of delectable items such as rotting carrion, other decaying organic matter and people's compost heaps. Some dogs simply cannot resist these tasty morsels, resulting in a monster-sized upset stomach, vomiting and diarrhea. I would expect that these two conditions exist more with dogs that are free-roaming, whereby the owners don't know what they're getting into. If you keep a close eye on your dog, neither of these problems are likely the cause of his smelly breath.

If the problem doesn't originate in the mouth or the stomach, then it's time to move on (so to speak) to other bodily systems. Impurities in the blood will make their presence known through the respiratory system, which is why we reek the day after we've imbibed a bit too much. Diabetes mellitus is a disorder in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to allow the body to metabolize glucose for energy. Since glucose is then excreted by the body as a waste product, the body tries to use fat stores for energy instead, causing a very distinctive "ketone breath" type of halitosis. If your pet seems ravenous but still loses weight, drinks a lot of water and is generally unthrifty, make an appointment to get him checked, particularly if he has a few years under his belt.

Other health problems that can impact the purity of circulating blood, causing bad breath, are: Liver and/or kidney disease and pancreatitis (which can develop from garbage gut). There will probably be other symptoms to alert you that something is wrong, but it is possible that foul breath may be the first to present, giving you a head start on diagnosis.

Lastly, as animals age, their digestion just isn't what it used to be. Even if they don't actually have kidney or liver disease, additives and toxins in commercial food can strain these organs, causing premature failure. Also, the poor quality proteins cause the kidneys to work too hard, and once tests show kidney failure, there seems to be no way to reverse it. Therefore, now is the time to change your animal slowly to a premium diet supplemented with home-cooked foods, or to change them over entirely to a homemade diet. Your animal's breath will be kissing-sweet if you do, plus they will live a longer, higher quality life.

Above is Molly, Miss P.'s tri-color gal (she's one of the friendly ones!).
Chat later!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 1:06 PM

Ooh-That Smell!

We all love to nuzzle our pets and give and get smooches--well, most of us do, anyway. Stinky cat/dog breath can really put a damper on this type of bonding activity, however. If your pet's breath smells like something the cat dragged in, read on to see if there is, perhaps, something that you can do about it.

First of all, stinky food will cause stinky breath. If have to hold your breath as you prepare your pet's meals, think about how that very "food" is settling in inside your pet's gut. Not a good thought, is it? There are some cheapie brands out there that are just god-awful smelly. No matter if your pet seems to like this stuff or not, you must wean him off of it and onto a premium or homemade diet. Your nose will thank you, and you'll know that Tigger or Buster is getting better nutrition in the bargain.

If your pet suddenly develops bad breath when previously it was not present, then you need to look at an organic cause. First stop: The mouth. Take a look at your pet's teeth. Do they look gross? Are the gums red and inflamed? If so, it may be time to make an appointment at your vet's for a thorough teeth cleaning. This is an involved procedure, requiring your pet to be under anesthesia for some length of time, depending on how bad the problem is. It is also expensive. If things have gotten this bad, though, it probably should be done. Rotting teeth and gingivitis are the number one causes of bad breath (for anybody), so professional help is needed before you try any home-based preventative measures such as tooth brushing or gum massage.

If you don't see any obvious problems, don't discount tooth and gum problems just yet. An abscessed tooth can present as a recurrent sore under the animal's chin or somewhere on the face, without showing any apparent problem in the mouth itself. It may also cause no real symptoms at all, at least for a while. You will not be able to diagnose this situation yourself; you'll need to have the vet check him out.

Other mouth problems not directly linked with dental health but that can cause foul breath are cancerous lesions of the lips or mouth; inflammation and/or infection of the lips, gums or tongue and, in some case, infected sinuses. In any of these cases, it is important to get the animal checked by a veterinarian before proceeding with any home care. You will need to know what you're dealing with before embarking on that course.

Tomorrow, we'll look at some other health problems that can cause halitosis--as well as what you can do about them.

So Cute: Recently, a pair of tufted titmice made a nest on top of our upstairs bathroom vent fan exhaust pipe. They would flit around from the nest to a tree right outside of the hallway window, driving Goldie crazy for a while. He would spend most of his time in that window, head on a swivel, watching those birds! I snapped the above photo one afternoon while he was concentrating on all that activity. What a nut.
Chat later!

Monday, July 20, 2009 5:05 PM

Cat (and Dog) People

Have you ever wondered why some of us are "cat people" and others are "dog people"? Obviously, I have! Is it one of those nature v. nurture things, whereby we just naturally gravitate toward one or the other, or does it depend more on whether we grew up in a "cat" or "dog" household? Or does it depend on other factors entirely?

In my case, my mother always had a cat and made no bones (ha ha) of the fact that she disliked dogs (my father didn't seem to have an opinion on this). We were given a poodle mix pup by a relative, but the poor thing never seemed to fit in and was given to a more appreciative owner in short order. While I never actively disliked dogs, I was not given enough time to bond with this particular one, either. So, we remained a "cat only" household.

After college, I worked for veterinarians and was exposed to more dogs than cats, since dogs visit the vet more often. Some dogs I liked more than others, of course, but was never tempted to take any of them home. I can't say the same of the cats--I took a couple home overnight for special treatments (eye drops every four hours, or something similar) and even adopted one that the owners didn't want. My preference was quite set by this time in my life, apparently.

Did I inherit my mother's love of cats? Maybe. Not her dislike of dogs, though, so maybe that's not the whole story. Even though I had grown up around cats, I certainly had an opportunity later to acquaint myself with canines, but still preferred cats. So, it clearly wasn't purely an environmental effect, either. I also had friends with dogs, large ones, who always insisted on jumping on me whenever I saw them (the dogs, I mean). These were the times when I would most often hear the comment, "You're a cat person, so you just don't like dogs". While I am certainly a cat person, I didn't dislike any dog, particularly theirs. They were very nice dogs--I just happen to be a small person and a big dog can knock me over. So, naturally I would complain, and that was my answer. I guess it depends on your perspective!

As for "other factors" other than nature and environment, I have to say that all my life cats have almost literally dropped into my lap. The cat I took home from the vet was going to be put to sleep if I did not take it. A beautiful cat I named Handsome simply showed up on my roommate's and my doorstep one day and wouldn't leave. What could we do? J. insisted that we stop and look at kittens that fateful day that I wound up with Sweet Pea. He brought Min home from the factory at which he worked, since he was sick with an abscess and needed care. The three I have now were born right outside of my work place window--do you see a pattern here?

So what's the verdict? It seems it must be a combination of nature, nurture and fate. Also, as we all know, there are people who have cats and dogs, and often other animals as well. Then there are those who have no pets at all. Try to explain that one! In pet ownership, as in most things in life, there are no hard and fast answers. That winds up our philosophical discussion for today.
Chat later!

Above is Punkin, a member of Miss P.'s multi-species household!

Thursday, July 16, 2009 11:31 AM

Exploding Cat Myths

That's right, it's just a myth. Cats don't really explode, at least not spontaneously. Well, there was that Hoover vacuum commercial with the Persian cat on the carpeted stairs...well, never mind that. Seriously, folks, I'll be starting a new feature in which I debunk some myths concerning our beloved cats. I was going to call it "Cat Myths Exploded" but J. suggested the above title, which is much funnier. I'm telling you, the guy is a laugh a minute. I might have to shorten it to "ECM:___", though I haven't made up my mind yet on that score. OK, enough of that. Just thought I'd share with you the inner workings of my bloggy brain for a minute or two, sort of as a bonding experience. Really brought us closer, don't you think?

For some reason, the other day I was thinking about all the well-known sayings about cats, many of which are unflattering. "Cats are selfish." "Cats aren't loyal." "Cats are too independent." Now, really! Is there any such thing as TOO independent? I certainly don't think so! Sounds a bit like sour grapes, doesn't it? Where do these myths come from? Let's see: "Cats don't hang on your every word like dogs do." Aha! If you just add the phrase "...unlike dogs" or " dogs" to the end of every anti-cat phrase, you will have the answer: dog people! Well, cats aren't dogs, are they? When you compare the cat to the idealized version of man's best friend, he's bound to come up a bit short. With his supplicating posture, face turned lovingly to you and eyes shining as brightly as two stars of Bethlehem, Buster seems to be fairly begging, "Oh, please, please, let me take a bullet for you!" A cat would never do that, even if that's how he felt. They just aren't that demonstrative.

I once bought a get well card for a veterinarian I knew that showed a lovely tri-color cat lounging on the front, with the words, "Cats know how you feel" underneath. Inside it said, "They don't give a damn, but they know." I laughed and laughed at that card, even though it could be construed as somewhat insulting to cats. Why? Because I get cats. And, I know that the person who wrote that also "gets" cats. That's how they are, and we love them for it. Just like, if you're a dog person, you read the above paragraph and laughed (or at least smiled?) because although it's an exaggeration, it sort of sums up our loyal canine pals in a nutshell. I have to say, I find the abillity of even the most loving cat to toss out the occasional "Yuck Fu" look very amusing. They may not always be kissing our butts, but they are entertaining as hell!

So, next week we'll look at one of these myths, whichever one that may be. We'll also talk about halitosis (not yours, your pet's), and whatever else my crazy brain cooks up over the weekend.

Movie of the Week: Technically it's not a movie, it was a HBO series called Deadwood. We're not huge fans of the "Western" genre but we got absolutely hooked on this show. We went through all three seasons in record time. Everyone who's seen it that we've spoken to loved it too, but it only lasted three seasons because supposedly the ratings weren't high enough. Apparently, superb writing is not very popular among cable viewers. Go figure.
Chat later!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 3:40 PM

The Reading List for Pet Owners

You probably won't be surprised to learn that I read a lot of books. I have always loved books, and they are the first item on my procurement list whenever I start a new project about which I know very little (like blogging). I've learned Pilates, weight lifting, how to make homemade pet food and herbal treatments for almost any health problem from reading books. Long ago, I learned that my love for books could bankrupt me one day, so I usually limit book purchases to reference materials. Not only that, but I "test-read" books by borrowing them from the library before I buy, to be sure that they are something I really need to stock. I thought I would share some of these outstanding texts with you, as well as how they have helped me with my animal care research.

First on the list is the Merck Veterinary Manual. My copy is a holdover from my veterinary science studies days (I won't say how many years ago that was) and I still refer to it to this day. If you have any animals around, you should get a copy. It's pretty pricey, but well worth the cost as it has information in it that you won't find elsewhere. It has tons of livestock info, something you just never know when you might need! I've used it recently for the "goatie" blog, to look up "swine flu" to try to figure out what all the fuss was about (good husbandry never goes out of fashion, duh) and as an excuse to put another photo of one of Miss P.'s goats, Badger, on my blog. So useful!

Another book I used recently for the goatie blog is called All About Goats by Lois Hetherington. Definitely written for the goat farmer, it was very good at pointing out the value of good animal husbandry when it comes to keeping animals healthy and happy.

A book I have found to be a lifesaver (literally) is The New Natural Cat by Anitra Frazier. I bought this book when Sweet Pea's kidney failure suddenly got worse and she was refusing to eat. By following Frazier's advice, I was able to buy Pea almost one more year of good, quality life before she had a relapse. I still refer to it not only for this blog, but when I need to make up a natural concoction to treat common problems like eye irritation, constipation or vomiting. I strongly suggest this as a reference for any cat owner.

When I decided that the only safe way to feed my cats was to make their food myself, I borrowed Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets by Donald R. Strombeck, DVM, PhD. I immediately knew that I needed to have this book on my reference shelf. It was out of print at the time, but was reprinted due to the melamine scare in 2007. It is a very technical book,
but is so jam-packed with information about nutrition and health issues of both cats and dogs that no pet owner should be without it. Happy reading!

Update: One night last week, we heard some unusual barking in our front yard. We are quite sure that it was our Gray fox, and wondered if our cats were observing out of their large cat-room window. Early this morning, we saw the vixen trotting by within six feet of the front of our house, stopping to look directly at that window! I'll bet she's trying to figure out how to get to those three tasty morsels she saw there recently. Yikes!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009 1:31 PM

Beware Cats Bearing Gifts

Well, not really. We cat lovers know the predilection that our kitties have for bringing us presents, usually of the still-alive (or formerly alive) variety. It's just their way of letting us know they care. Their hearts are in the right place, even if we wince each time we discover one of their little presentations! Indoor cat owners also know that cats don't have to be outdoors hunting in order to give tokens of their affection--just check out Black Bear, with one of his "sock offerings". Pretty cute, eh?

Before our cats became "indoor" sorts, Min and Sweet Pea did their fair share of hunting and, at least in Min's case, presenting. One time, I was sitting in the back yard, relaxing and reading the newspaper, when I saw Min coming cross-lots with a bird in his mouth. He was trotting happily, all ready to offer me his new acquisition. I yelled, "Min! NO!" and watched as his devil-may-care gait slowed to a standstill. It was as if he was thinking, "Oh, sh-t." I had to laugh. The bird was OK, and Min got put inside for an hour until his victim was far away. On another occasion, I was cleaning house when I heard something rapping strangely on the screen door. As I looked out and then down, I could only see Min's hind end, as his head was pressed against the door. I eased it open enough to see an enormous cicada in his mouth, wings beating a very loud tatoo on the aluminum door! I shut the door quickly, went out another door and rescued the poor thing. Min was pretty good about delivering his gifts in showroom condition.

Not so Sweet Pea. When she caught something, she ate it. Never the sentimentalist, she knew was hunting was really for. Only one time do I remember her bringing a live mouse into the house. She ran in before I could stop her and plopped down in the hallway, her favorite spot in which to observe all comings and goings. She then proceeded to ping-pong the hapless creature between her front paws until I could get it away from her. It was done in, unfortunately, with a sizable canine-tooth sized hole in its cranium.

When these two became indoor cats, they took to carrying around toys, especially a couple of wool seals I had bought at a Greenpeace store. Min did this much more than Pea, making a wailing/meowing sound with the thing in his mouth. When he first did this, we thought something was wrong, but soon got used to it. After Min died, Sweet Pea took over the "sealie" transportation duties, with her own vocalizations thrown in.

As for our present cache of cats, Bear tends to bring socks to me as gifts all the time, particularly when he wants attention. He makes a pretty good howling sound while carrying these items, too! He has several socks just for this purpose, as he used to dig J.'s socks out of the laundry bin and carry them around, leaving holes in them. J. says that whenever I leave the house, Bear brings up every one of his socks from the basement, yowling the whole time. When I return, they're all over the first floor. It's what we call a "sock explosion"! Aren't cats fun?

Just So You Know: Even indoor cats can present formerly-live prey. Recently, Miss P. told us that she had noticed an odd smell in her bedroom. She has a new mattress, situated on the floor while it waits for its attendant frame to be delivered. At first, she couldn't pinpoint the area until it got really ripe. As it turns out, Punkin had buried a mouse under her new mattress, right at the head! She reports he was not the least bit contrite when she showed it to him. She offered to let me take a photo for the blog, but I declined. What a Punk.

Monday, July 13, 2009 3:24 PM

Thunder and Lightning: For Pets, it's Frightening

Summer is here, and so far we've had several electrical storms, even though it is barely mid-July. If you've had pets for any length of time, you know how thunder can drive them crazy. Reactions to these storms run the gamut from mildly nervous to downright panicky. For some cats, comfort from you, their favorite person, is enough to calm their nerves, while others scurry off to hide somewhere safe until the storm has passed. Dogs tend to react with more fear than cats do, and the worst cases can actually do damage to themselves or your house in their panicked attempts to escape from what they perceive as imminent danger.

Why do pets react this way to these storms? Truth be told, many humans are also afraid of thunder and lightning. Of course, we assume the fear stems from the damage we know a lightning strike can cause. Our pets cannot know this, we reason; they are just afraid of the noise from thunder claps. This is true, of course. But many people are afraid of thunder, as well. You can't really separate thunder and lightning, and electrical storms are quite a force of nature. We can't control them, and lack of control can be frightening.

Pets' fear of thunder, which usually heralds the arrival of lightning and moderate to heavy rain, is really not all that unreasonable. Loud noises are startling to everyone, and in the wild, often announce danger of some kind. The adrenaline rush causes various reactions to danger: fight, flight or hide. Since fighting isn't really an option, animals do what comes naturally. They crouch, making themselves as low to the ground as possible. They hide when they can. When your dog tries to frantically dig a hole through your carpet, he is just trying to make himself a burrow to lie in. Pretty smart, when you think about it! Years ago, we always knew when a storm was coming long before we heard anything, because we would see Sweet Pea scuttle off, belly to the ground, to a safe spot in the basement. When she reappeared, we knew the storm had passed.

What can you do to help your pet during these stressful times? Take your cue from them. If they want comfort, give it. If they tend to want to hide, make sure they have a place they can go where they feel safe (indoors, of course). Some pets, particularly dogs, have an inordinate fear bordering on panic, so they may need a bit more help. Some veterinarians will prescribe sedatives for dogs like this, but there are more natural remedies you can try. Miss P. gives her dog D. a homeopathic blend called Calms Forte, which is a human sleep aid. She gives him one tablet, since he is a big boy, nearly 100 pounds. For smaller dogs, try a half tablet. She says it really helps take the edge off. Another natural product is Bach's Rescue Remedy. I have used this myself and I really like it. I have also it given to cats. Put 2-4 drops of the tincture in the dog's drinking water. You can also dilute the remedy in water and add to the dog or cat's food.
There are also other, single Bach flower remedies that you can try--the website gives a comprehensive list of them.

Remember: During an electrical storm, protect yourself as well. Stay away from open windows and doors--people have been struck inside their garages with the door open. Stay off the phone, and don't shower or do dishes. If you get caught outdoors, lay flat on the ground away from tall objects. And don't forget to unplug your computer!
Chat later!

Thursday, July 9, 2009 9:22 PM

Prevention and Treatment of CHD, Part 2

If your dog is already exhibiting symptoms of hip dysplasia, the immediate concern is relieving pain and attempting to slow the progression of the disease. Unfortunately, osteoarthritis will most likely develop in the dysplastic joint, compounding the problem. Depending upon whether the disease is mild or severe, there are several treatments that you can try.

In milder cases, pain relief medications and anti-inflammatory drugs are used to reduce discomfort. If the animal is overweight, it is imperative that this be corrected. If your dog is eating a commercial diet, now is the time to slowly change him over to a premium or, better yet, a homemade diet. A moderate exercise program should be initiated not only for weight loss, but to keep the hip joints limber and to try to strengthen the muscles supporting the hips. Acupuncture and acupressure may afford some relief, with the latter technique being one that the owner can perform at home, with training from a licensed practitioner. Massage therapy has produced good results in pets, not only for pain relief but to calm and relax the animal. Again, the owner should consult with an expert in this field so that it can be practiced at home. Many non-toxic herbs may be employed to control discomfort, as well. Yucca is often used by human arthritis patients for pain and swelling, as has boswellia. Try adding a bit of either tincture to your dog's water or food to see how well he responds and to make sure there is not negative reaction. Others have had some success using glucosamine-chondroitin supplements, which seem to be well-tolerated by dogs.

More serious cases of dysplasia may require surgery. Total hip replacement has shown success, but is quite expensive. Short of that, a procedure that removes the deformed ball at the head of the thighbone sounds like it shouldn't work, but apparently does. The muscles and ligaments tighten to support the hip, and the bone-to-bone grating that causes pain no longer occurs. A less invasive technique involves cutting a muscle inside the dog's thigh, affording pain relief by reducing the close contact between the ball and socket. This last procedure seems a poor treatment to me, since the laxity in the joint is what caused the problem in the first place. It may be worth discussing with your veterinarian, however, if the dysplasia becomes severe.

Chances are that, even if your dog has dysplasia, it won't progress to the point where surgery is needed. Putting into practice the preventative methods outlined here should give you and your best friend many happy, active years together.

So Cute: Recently, we purchased a notebook computer, the Asus Eee PC both for portability and for backup in case this old ark hits the skids again. For $250 at Target, it seemed like a steal. We got it home and, since we still have dial-up internet here in the boonies, I tried to set up a connection only to find the tiny thing has no modem. OK, so we go out and buy an external modem, only to find (of course) that it has an INSTALLATION CD and, you guessed it, no CD drive. Sigh. Oh, well--at least it's really cute.
Chat later!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 2:26 PM

Prevention and Treatment of CHD, Part 1

Since there is no cure for canine hip dysplasia, the focus is on prevention and treatment. By "prevention", I mean not preventing the disease itself, but taking steps as a responsible dog owner to markedly reduce your chances of acquiring an animal with this problem.

When I was working for veterinarians 30 years ago CHD was a major health concern. It still is today. Why? Shouldn't careful breeding techniques have at least downgraded its occurrence to a greater degree? A great number of reputable breeders have worked diligently to eradicate this disease from their bloodlines. Why does it still persist? One reason is the fickleness of genetic expression. A recessive gene may "hide" in a population for generations, never exhibiting symptoms of the abnormality it carries until a chance mating allows its expression. Another problem is the infamous "puppy mill" industry which cares for nothing except profit. To avoid becoming part of this problem, I implore you to adopt your new pet from a shelter or find a reputable breeder.

If you adopt from a shelter, your chances of encountering this problem are quite low. Since the gene pool is so much larger in the "57 varieties" dog than the pure bred, chances are good that you'll have yourself a CHD-free pet. I always encourage adoption from animal shelters, since there are so many wonderful animals in need of good homes. Support your local shelter!

If you opt for the pure bred, do your research. Find a breeder with a good reputation and ask specifically about hip dysplasia. If the parents of the pup you want are certified CHD-free, you will dramatically reduce your chances of encountering this problem. You would do well to go back three or four generations, however, due to the nature of genetic expression. For information regarding dog breeders, visit the American Kennel Club's site.

Once you have your new pup, I think it would be wise to err on the side of caution and care for the animal as if it may have dysplasia. Again, prevention is worth a pound of cure, as they say.
One thing to remember is that there can be no extremes as far as the raising and maintenance of this dog is concerned. Overnutrition is a key factor in hip dysplasia, as people want their pups to grow as big as possible, and unwittingly set the stage for joint problems later. Overfeeding, particularly "growth" types of commercial foods, causes weight gain and other stresses on the skeleton, as does excess calcium supplementation. Feed a high-quality diet and monitor the dog's intake, and this problem can be avoided.

Moderate exercise is a must. Too much inactivity will cause stiffness and movements that involve fast running, jumping and turning of the hips are definitely a no-no. Moderate activity over the course of the day will help preserve the integrity of your dog's hip joints.

Tomorrow, we'll cover treatment of hip dysplasia once it's diagnosed.

By The Way, I meant to mention in the "cat litter" series my experiences with scoop-spoons. I found long ago that the ones that are sold just for that purpose don't work very well. They are big and clumsy, plus they tend to break up the urine clump that you've worked so hard to create! I buy slotted kitchen utensils, instead. The larger ones with the bigger slits are great for solid waste and smaller spoons with tinier holes work really well for clumped urine. These can be purchased so cheaply at Dollar Tree Stores that I keep a set of two spoons by each of the boxes for convenience.
Chat later!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009 5:58 PM

Bigger Isn't Always Better

How is it that hip dysplasia is most commonly seen in large-breed dogs? One purported reason is that the larger size and weight puts more stress on the hip joints. However, dogs, like every other creature, are usually proportionately sized, so they also have larger joints, as well. Also, this disease is seldom seen in greyhounds, who have been bred for racing and therefore have an unusually thick musculature supporting the hips. Additionally, smaller dogs and even cats can develop hip dysplasia, although it is not as prevalent as in larger dogs. A big part of the problem seems to be the relationship between these large dogs and humans.

Most of the larger breeds tend to be working dogs, who have had a long relationship with human beings. Early on, people saw the utility of having a canine helpmate in the everyday activities associated with hunting, fishing, herding and guarding. As dogs became domesticated, they were selectively bred for certain characteristics that made them all the more useful to their masters. This long history of reproductive manipulation has resulted in many desirable traits, as well as some not so desirable. Such is genetics!

Nowadays, of course, many dogs are kept as pets and are not required to perform many of the tasks they were bred for in the past. They still have the inclination, however, to do what they were "meant" to do. This is also part of their charm. People like dogs to protect their homes, and they want a companion animal that has physical stamina. The physical activity that they were bred for, however, puts an additional strain on the animal's joints. Think about the times you see people running , or playing fetch or frisbee with a dog. I'll bet it's usually a large dog you see engaging in these activities, right?

Environmental factors as well as human involvement can exacerbate the symptoms of this disease. Next post, I'll take a closer look at these issues and the ways they can influence hip dysplasia.

Just So You Know: The fox featured in a recent post has been sighted in the last few days by our Miss P. The vixen is indeed a Gray fox, characterized by the red behind her ears as well as the black swath on her tail. Miss P. chased her out of her goatie pen, where the foxy thing was attempting to catch one of Miss P.'s chickens. All flew out of the way, so no harm was done. The last Miss P. saw, Foxy was making her way into the woods, but not before she looked back at Miss P. with a look that said, "I'll be back"!
Chat later!

Monday, July 6, 2009 10:40 AM

Canine Hip Dysplasia

This week I'd like to dedicate some time and space to our other favorite companion animal: The dog. Dogs tend to have more health problems than cats, perhaps due to the fact that dogs come in very many shapes and sizes. Another reason may be that dogs have had humans meddling in their reproductive behavior for longer than cats, resulting in genetic mutations that very often do not bode well for the species. One of these genetic glitches is hip dysplasia, a serious musculoskeletal defect that plagues the larger breeds more than the smaller and, on occasion, even affects cats.

Hip dysplasia is a congenital condition, meaning that the gene for this disorder is inherited. Dogs inherit a predisposition for the disease, as puppies are not actually born with hip dysplasia. Some pups, however, are diagnosed with dysplasia as early as 4 or 5 months. Others develop symptoms later in life.

This disease usually affects both hips and is a direct result of a "looseness" in the hip joint itself. Normally, the rounded ball at the top of the thighbone, or femur, fits snugly into the socket of the pelvic girdle. Strong muscles and ligaments hold this joint together, creating a sturdy joint with a fairly wide range of motion (which you know if you've ever seen your dog, um, cleaning up "down there"). The dyplastic joint, however, lacks the muscle strength and taut ligament structure of a normal hip. The ball may be just a bit flattened, and the socket might be more shallow than normal. Since new pups do not exhibit dysplasia symptoms and x-rays of their hips show no abnormality, it is unknown whether the laxity of the support structure cause the bone anomolies or they are present at birth. Also, like any disorder, hip dysplasia comes in various gradations of severity, and environmental stresses can speed up or slow down the displaying of symptoms. The actual degradation of the hip joint due to excess "play" is what ultimately brings about the symptoms and diagnosis of hip dysplasia.

The first symptoms of hip dysplasia are often pain and a disinclination to stand up. As the condition worsens, stiffness and a hopping or stilted gait are evident. When standing, the dog may drop its head and hunch its back in an effort to take the pressure off the hip joints. Eventually, muscle wasting of the hind quarters becomes evident.

Hip dysplasia is a chronic disease and is incurable. Careful breeding can be preventative and, in existant cases, treatment can relieve discomfort and slow the degradation of the joint itself. We'll take a look at some of these issues here as the week progresses.

Introducing: Today's pictorial features our pal Miss P.'s beautiful German Shepherd, D. He is a well-trained, lovable guy who absolutely worships his mom. He's pretty fond of J. and myself, too! He has hip dysplasia but, at 10 years old, is doing very well because of the excellent diet Miss P. feeds him and a well-defined exercise program. We'll be sharing some of his secrets in the next few posts.
Chat later!

Thursday, July 2, 2009 5:14 PM

Keeping the Kitty Box Clean and Fresh

Like many cat owners, I tried many different litter brands and types in an ongoing effort to make maintaining the cat boxes less of a chore. First, I tried mixing baking soda in with the clay litter. This worked all right for a few uses, but didn't really last very long. Then I tried the paper pellets, which didn't work well at all. The pine pellets smelled better, but didn't clump; also, the cats didn't really care for them. When I finally stumbled upon Cedarific, I knew I was on to something.

Cedarific is made by Northeastern Products Corp., a NY company that manufactures and distributes animal bedding and litter. It is a mix of cedar and other hardwoods, milled into flakes. It is lightweight and has a natural cedar scent. Like the other natural litter products, it claims to be biodegradable, low dust and low tracking. The only problem I had with it was that it didn't really clump as well as I had hoped. To resolve that issue, I mixed a bit of clay litter with it, which helped quite a bit. But now it wasn't compostable, something that I really wanted. So the research continued.

Finally, I came upon a tip in my reading: Chicken feed. More specifically, layer mash and/or fine cracked corn, the kind fed to chickens. It took a little experimenting, but I came up with a perfect mix. I now use this formula exclusively: One part layer mash, one part fine cracked corn and three to four parts Cedarific. I have three separate containers, and mix it all together in a clean litter box. I use old yogurt containers as scoops, which helps keep the dust down. The mash causes the urine to clump for easy scooping and, along with the cracked corn, dehydrates the stool in short order. This creates a very lightweight litter that is completely compostable (we don't put this into our regular compost bins; we have a special set-up just for the litter).

For this to work really well, here are a few tips. First, only put about 2 inches of litter in the cat pan. This enables you to tip the box so that you can easily scoop the clumped urine out completely, without mixing it with the clean litter. Make sure that you clean the box with soap and water and dry completely before filling the box with new litter. We have two boxes at all times for three cats, and I never have to throw away any litter that hasn't actually been used. That's how well this system works!

Additionally, you really need to clean out the boxes at least twice a day, particularly if you have indoor cats (which I hope you do!). Expect some tracking; there is no such thing as non-tracking litter, no matter what they say. Remember, too, that diet is important. Since I have been feeding our cats a homemade diet, their stool is much smaller, and never smells anymore. Plus, since the food has such a high water content, the urine is dilute, so I never notice an ammonia smell. Yet another advantage of a high-quality diet!

One last tip: It helps to have the boxes away from your main living area. This is why we have never considered buying a house without a cellar!

Cost: We pay $13 for a bag of Cedarific that weighs about 25 lbs. (50 liters). A 50 lb. bag of either style of corn feed costs $11-12. Not only does this formula work great, it is also cost-effective.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 3:07 PM

"Natural" Cat Litters: Which is Best?

Choices abound these days when it comes to filling your cat's litter box. Which one is best? Well, it depends on what you're looking for most: convenience, odor control, biodegradability, etc. Let's take a look at the less ecologically sound types and move along to the more "green" litters, which seem to promise just about everything but a prosperous old age. Here's the "scoop", so to speak.

I discussed good old fashioned clay litter in yesterday's post, so here's a quick summary: pros are that it is inexpensive, widely available, absorbent and is a natural product. Cons include dustiness, odor when moderately soiled, doesn't clump very well, it's not flushable and it's very heavy, especially after it's been used. The other widely available type is silica litter, which due to its moisture-absorbing quality clumps very well. I remember when this style became popular and there was some discussion about whether the silica cats licked off their paws would eventually cause health problems, specifically bowel obstructions since it tends to draw water from its surroundings and become solid. I don't think it actually caused any problems, but I've never been tempted to try it. Like clay, it's not flushable and is somewhat heavy. I think it's a bit more expensive than clay, as well. Fresh Step makes both kinds of litters.

Products that are biodegradable (and, assumedly, compostable) fit into three major categories: Food byproduct based (corn and wheat), paper pellets and wood byproduct types (pine pellets, cedar flakes). They all claim to be flushable, control odor naturally, create less dust and track less than clay and, except for the paper pellets, are scoopable to some degree.

Swheat Scoop, made from wheat, claims to have superior odor control due to the "natural enzymes" in wheat that neutralize litter box smelliness. A 14 lb. bag costs $10; that's a lot of money for enzymes! The World's Best Cat Litter is a corn-based litter and, at $18 for a 17 lb. bag, is the most expensive of all the cat litter products I researched.

Yesterday's News is a product made by Purina Co. and consists of paper specially processed into small pellets. I actually tried this product many years ago and found it lacking. Not only did it not clump (it doesn't claim to) but it didn't control odor any better than plain clay. A 15 lb. bag runs approximately $9, rather pricey for no real clear superiority to clay (except, I guess, that it could be composted).

Lastly, we have the wood-based products. Feline Pine offers two styles of pine litter, pellets and scoopable. I tried the pellets a few years ago and was disappointed with the results. The pellets are fairly large, making them difficult to scoop without a lot of waste. Also, it doesn't clump at all. More recently, the scoopable version has been offered, which is a finer grade of product. I also remember some concern about the natural pine oil irritating cats' skin, but this issue either never surfaced as a problem or the manufacturer refined the product. It's more reasonably priced at $11 for a 20 lb. bag.

Tomorrow I'll talk about Cedarific, my personal favorite in the litter wars. I'll also discuss some tips for having the sweetest-smelling litter box in the neighborhood (without actually having to get rid of the cat!).

Just So You Know: I'm sick of all this rain! Crikey!
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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