Friday, April 30, 2010

Why Cats Paint…and Why Paint Cats?

By Julia Williams

I recently received an email from a friend that had dozens of pictures of elaborately painted cats. The email claimed that many pet owners were partaking in a new fad of having their cats painted by professional artists. Supposedly, people paid as much as $15,000 to have their cats painted, and the paint jobs would need to be repeated every three months as the cat’s fur grew out.

My first thoughts were (in this order): gosh, that can’t be healthy for the cats to lick the paint off their fur; $60 grand a year to paint your cat? Some people have too much disposable income; and finally – this can’t be real…can it? With that last thought, I realized I had to consult my good friend “Mr. Google” to ferret out the truth.

I discovered that this email featuring stunningly painted felines, like so many other emails, is a hoax. It’s an offshoot of two “art” books about cats by Heather Busch and Burton Silver. The first was Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline Aesthetics. Following the huge success of this first book, the authors released a second title, Why Paint Cats: the Ethics of Feline Aesthetics. Whereas the first book discussed cats as artists, the follow-up featured cats as canvasses.

These books are widely believed to be well-crafted spoofs, but they’re written so convincingly that many people, including some professional book reviewers, have taken them seriously. The first book purports to be “an unprecedented photographic record of cat creativity that will intrigue cat-lovers and art-lovers alike.” In a style that persuasively mimics art criticism, Why Cats Paint discusses the many different aspects of feline creativity, with representative works from the best known cat artists around the world. The authors allege that cats who paint are aesthetically motivated, and their works should be regarded as genuine art.

That sounds a lot like the stuffy high-brow world of art criticism, doesn’t it? But then the authors come up with this little gem: “While we hope this book will inspire readers to carefully examine paw patterns in litter trays for examples of aesthetic intent…it is not our intention to give instruction on methods of encouraging cats to paint.” In other words, be on the lookout for “art” when you’re cleaning your cat’s litter box. Haha! That image is amusing enough, but this Newsweek quote made me giggle: “Yes, cats can paint. The phenomenon has to do with territorial marking, acrylic paint smelling a little like cat pee, and a lot of pet spare time.”

The second book, Why Paint Cats: the Ethics of Feline Aesthetics, has spawned countless discussions about the propriety and potentially harmful effects of painting designs onto a cat’s fur. Although the authors will not admit that the pictures were achieved through computer imaging (i.e., photoshop magic), it’s pretty hard to imagine that anyone would really think painting their cat is a good idea. For one thing, how are you supposed to keep them still long enough to a) paint them and b) allow the paint to dry?

Then again, we’ve all seen people do incredibly dumb things, so is painting cats as farfetched as it might seem? I don’t know. I do know that, photoshopped or not, I really enjoyed looking at the amazing pictures of the painted cats. Cats are transformed into butterflies, belly dancers, the night sky and American flags. They sport rainbow colors on their faces and flanks, and clowns on their backsides. Which, by the way, was probably the inspiration for this: “By the time you finish flipping through Why Paint Cats…you'll have more questions than answers. Seeing Charlie Chaplin's face painted on a cat’s rump has that effect.”—Heather McKinnon, Seattle Times.

If you are a fan of felines, I think you would really enjoy reading Why Cats Paint and Why Paint Cats. I must offer two caveats about these books though. First, look for the large, coffee table editions and not the miniaturized ones, as the downsizing does significantly reduce their overall amusement. Secondly, please do not attempt to paint your own cat. Besides endangering your beloved feline, you risk great peril to your own limbs, which would surely be scratched and clawed to bits during such a foolish endeavor.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Many Benefits of Pets for the Elderly

By Suzanne Alicie

We all know that pets benefit from being adopted and becoming part of a loving home. We also know that when children are exposed to pets they tend to be more responsible and caring, but when it comes to the elderly the benefits of having a pet are much more than those for younger folks. In comparison with other seniors without pets, elderly pet owners show these results:

• Overall lower blood pressure and pulse rate. Animals have a calming effect as well as causing the senior to walk and move more to improve circulation and health.

• Improved mood and less depression. Pets generate good feelings and lift the mood.

• More social interaction. By making visits to the park to walk a dog or taking a cat to the vet, the elderly are exposed to other people more often.

• More physical activity. Walking dogs and playing with pets are good ways for the elderly to get more exercise, which is beneficial for their overall health.

• Unconditional love and affection. These are things that many elderly people are missing in their lives, since younger family members are often busy with their own lives and don’t have time to visit and spend time with seniors.

• Less loneliness. Again, pets take the place of people in the life of the elderly and many of them spend a great deal of time interacting and talking to their pets.

Besides these benefits it has been shown that seniors who have pets tend to take better care of themselves and show improved health after obtaining a pet. The elderly are exceedingly responsible pet owners too. Interestingly, it has been found that when an elderly family member has a pet, more relatives with young children will visit them because the pet provides a distraction for the children while the adults visit. This provides not only more attention for the pet, and interaction with adults for the senior, but also a chance for the senior to interact with the youngsters using the pet as a common ground of interest.

Young dogs and cats that are energetic and need to run and play more are not the best choice for an elderly person. Instead, a mature pet that has been well trained will make a more suitable companion. These are animals that will soak up all the attention that the elderly person will give them, they will nap often and just be a constant presence.

When it comes to the benefits of pets for the elderly, there are many suitable pets. Every sort of animal, from cats and dogs to fish, can provide the companionship and entertainment that improves the quality of life for the elderly. Many physicians and therapists recommend that their elderly patients obtain a pet for companionship, for exercise, and for therapy.

Just as companionship, understanding and devotion are beneficial to teenagers, the same is true for the elderly. The simple act of having a cat to cuddle on their lap, or a dog to curl up at their feet can make a world of difference in the life of an elderly person.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Common Health Issues for Older Dogs

By Ruthie Bently

Do you know how old a senior dog is? Most large dogs are considered seniors at the age of five to six years old, while their smaller counterparts are seniors at the age of eight to nine. As they age, many adult dogs can develop health issues that mirror our own, even down to the symptoms. According to a 2005 MIT study that mapped the canine genome, humans and dogs share 5% of the same genes, so it stands to reason they might have some of the same health problems we do.

One aspect of being a responsible pet owner is taking your dog in for a yearly vet visit, but senior canines may need to visit their vet more often. Older dogs don’t have the health reserves a younger dog has, and getting them to the vet quickly can be a life saver under certain conditions. Getting a base line veterinary checkup can help you with your geriatric canine; you can use it as a gauge for later vet visits.

One of the most common health problems our dogs have as they age is obesity. Obesity can be caused by overfeeding, not enough exercise or a combination of both. Obesity is a cause for concern because it can lead to more serious health issues and can actually make your dog age faster. Obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, lack of energy and the early onset of arthritis. Diabetes occurs when a dog’s body cannot assimilate glucose (blood sugars) properly. Signs of diabetes can include increased water consumption and inappropriate urination in the house. Side effects of diabetes are cataracts, glaucoma and blindness. Canine diabetes is managed with insulin injections, as it is with humans.

Senior canines are susceptible to developing heart disease, though it’s more common in dogs that are overweight. Dogs with a good exercise program and a healthy diet are less apt to develop heart problems. Your dog may be moving slower as they age, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get exercise. You just need to take their age into consideration when exercising. Tone down the exercise to something easier for your senior dog to handle; for example instead of jogging, go for a leisurely walk. Excessive heat and cold will affect your senior dog more, so don’t exercise them during too hot or too cold temperatures. Exercise more frequently, for shorter periods of time, and take along plenty of water for your dog.

Another health issue older dogs can have is dental disease, which is due to incorrect dental hygiene as well as the lack of kibble or baked treats in the dog’s daily diet. Without daily brushing, plaque turns into tartar which needs to be scaled off the teeth, as it cannot be removed by brushing. Tartar buildup can cause periodontal and gum disease and can lead to a bacterial infection in your dog’s system or the need for teeth extractions. Many senior dogs can have bad breath, but it can also be a sign of something more serious. Other things to watch for in your canine senior are a loss of their appetite, rapid weight loss or gain if their diet and exercise levels have not changed (this could be a symptom of cancer), excessive urinating or drinking excessive amounts of water (this could be a symptom of kidney issues).

Canine arthritis is a disease caused by improper lubrication of joints. It causes the joints to become inflamed and your dog will have a hard time or be unable to run, jump or even walk. Signs of arthritis can be difficulty standing after resting or limping after exercise or walking. The pain may make your dog aggressive or highly agitated. You can help your arthritic dog by getting them a canine heating pad, a bed made for an arthritic dog, or by putting a cover over their crate or moving it to a warmer room of the house in colder weather. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome is comparable to human dementia or Alzheimer’s disease and some symptoms are confusion, wandering the house aimlessly, not recognizing humans or other pets, insomnia and inappropriate vocalizations. For more information, see my articles on canine arthritis and cognitive dysfunction syndrome.

Just because our dogs are aging doesn’t mean their quality of life has to be any different than when they were younger. Your dog may be a bit grayer around the muzzle, walk a bit slower and take more time getting up after a nap; but if you look closely I’ll bet that you’ll still see that sparkle in their eye and that wagging tail as they greet you at the door after a hard day at work.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Is it Separation Anxiety, or Something Else?

By Linda Cole

We all know what separation anxiety is. A dog just can't stand being away from the people he loves. Left alone, the dog might whine, howl or bark all day which isn't good if you live in an apartment. He may also destroy things in the home or scratch up the doors and windows. He gets all worked up and so do the neighbors. But, there could be something else going on that has nothing to do with a dog missing his owner.

Separation anxiety has become a sort of catch-all for behavioral problems. But it could also be boredom or a disease. No one knows why some dogs seem to miss their owner more than others. Some become anxious even with the owner at home but in a different room. Destructive chewing, howling or constant barking, drooling and doing their business inside are all symptoms of separation anxiety. Some dogs become so worked up they chew on themselves, causing self inflicted injuries. A mild case can be dealt with easily whereas a more severe case may require medication and/or working with an animal behavioral expert to help solve the dog's anxiety.

A bored pet can be as destructive as one who misses his owner, but the two problems are quite different. Boredom can be solved with exercise before you leave the house and chew toys stuffed with dog treats. But before you can solve the mystery of whether your dog is destroying your couch because he's bored or because he's experiencing separation anxiety, you need to determine which problem you are dealing with. Discussing the issue with your vet can help.

There are medical reasons why your dog may be exhibiting what appears to be separation anxiety. Cushing's disease, seizures, diabetes, renal disease, gastrointestinal problems or cystitis could be the problem. A fear of thunderstorms that increases when you are gone can upset some dogs enough that they howl or chew to help relieve their fear. Cognitive dysfunction, needing to go outside, marking their territory, a pup who is teething and not being completely housebroken can all be symptoms that you should have your dog checked out by a vet or an animal behaviorist, or spend extra time working on housebreaking and basic training.

Separation anxiety can begin at any age and for a variety of reasons. If you've moved into a new home, your dog may not feel as comfortable in his new surroundings. Separation anxiety can occur is you adopt a new dog who isn't accustomed to you, their new environment or a new routine. It might manifest if your work schedule changes and you don't have as much time to spend exercising and playing with your dog.

Other causes of separation anxiety include: a new baby in the home; new people living in your home; other changes in your living arrangements; a death in the family which can be a human or another pet. Separation anxiety might occur if your dog had an extended stay in a kennel or at the vet, or if you've adopted a new puppy or kitten. Your dog needs to know he hasn't lost your love, so any time there's a change, it's important to reassure him he's still your buddy. Dogs feel most comfortable and secure when their routine is maintained from day to day. Before making changes that are in your control, talk to your vet for recommendations on how to best implement the change so your dog doesn't feel threatened. Changes you can't control, like a death, may need to be dealt with by an expert if your dog continues to grieve.

Don't assume your dog has separation anxiety just because it's an easy explanation for why your dog is misbehaving. Any of the diseases mentioned above, boredom or lack of proper training could be the culprit. If you're thinking about using a crate to help keep your dog from destroying the house while you're gone, discuss your intentions with your vet before doing so. A dog with separation anxiety should never be put in a crate. It will only cause him more stress to be confined in a small area.

The more we learn about dogs, the more we understand how intertwined our lives are. Separation anxiety can be dealt with as long as that's the problem. It's always a good idea to have your vet give your dog a checkup just to make sure it's separation anxiety and not something else.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Monday, April 26, 2010

Great Careers for Animal Lovers

By Julia Williams

Children who dearly love animals often dream of becoming a veterinarian when they grow up. It’s a logical choice, since it’s likely the one they’re most familiar with. But there are actually thousands of other animal-related occupations to choose from. It’s an interesting field in that it includes animal-related jobs that require no education and very little training, those that call for college degrees and years of experience, and many that fall somewhere in between. Here are just a few careers for animal lovers.

Groomers turn dirty dogs and scruffy cats into clean, well coifed pets, be it for creature comfort in everyday life, or high profile shows where appearance is everything. Pet groomers can learn the tricks of the trade by attending a licensed grooming school or by apprenticing with a professional. Groomers may work for a vet, pet store or specialty pet grooming “salon.”

Pet sitting and dog walking businesses are perfect for independent types who want to be their own boss. Pet sitters care for animals while their owners are away, which may include feeding, walking, playing, petting, giving medication and cleanup. You typically visit the pet a few times a day, but may also be asked to stay in the home. Busy people hire dog walkers to give their canine companions much-needed exercise. Although it is possible to make a decent income as a pet sitter or dog walker, it takes dedication and hard work to build a steady client base, and your schedule needs to be extremely flexible.

Doggie daycare workers supervise canine playtime, feed and clean up after them, and generally just make sure the dogs are kept safe during their stay. Training is often offered on-the-job, and with experience a dedicated worker could even become a manager or open their own doggie daycare center.

Trainers: this field includes a host of different jobs, working with all types of animals, from dogs and horses, to dolphins and sea lions. Jobs include obedience training for private clients, service dog training, working with canine and feline “actors” in show biz, training exotic animals to perform at amusement parks, and training horses for shows and competitions.

Animal control officers (think “Animal Cops”) investigate the mistreatment of dogs, cats, horses, roosters and other animals in their city, rescue strays and deal with wild animals that endanger humans. These jobs can be rewarding for those with a sincere desire to help animals, but can also be demanding, stressful and heartbreaking, and are not right for everyone.

Animal Educators work at wildlife parks, sanctuaries, zoos and aquariums to educate the public. These jobs require a high level of confidence, and you must be comfortable meeting people and speaking to large groups.

Zookeepers feed animals, clean enclosures, and observe animal behavior. Most have a college education and prior experience as an animal caretaker.

Zoologists are biological scientists who study the behavior, diseases, genetics and life processes of animals in their natural habitats as well as in laboratories. Zoologists may work for universities, museums, zoos, government agencies or private companies.

If you’d like to work with animals but have no idea which job you’re best suited for, your local library and/or the bookstore is a good place to start. Books are a valuable resource for information on animal related careers. They contain detailed descriptions of specific careers for animal lovers, along with the education and training needed, typical salaries and job outlook.

Here are some to look for: Careers for Animal Lovers, by Louise Miller; Careers With Animals, by Ellen Shenk; 105 Careers for Animal Lovers, by Paula Fitzsimmons; Careers With Animals (for grades 3 to 8), by Willow Ann Sirch. For the entrepreneur, Joseph Nigro’s 101 Best Businesses for Pet Lovers provides information on starting an animal-related enterprise – from popular choices like pet photographers and doggie daycares, to unusual careers like catnip farmers, doggie fashion designers, pet furniture makers and pet party planners.

If you’re already established in a non-animal-related field you love, you can still work with animals by becoming a volunteer. There are so many worthwhile animal charities and organizations that rely on volunteers in their quest to help pets and the people who love them. Consider volunteering at your local animal shelter, rescue group or wildlife rehabilitation center. Those who live in Oregon could volunteer at the Pongo Fund Pet Food Bank, a wonderful organization CANIDAE supports in its mission to provide meals for every hungry pet in Portland.

I’ve been an animal lover as far back as I can remember. I’ve felt profoundly connected to animals in a way that is often difficult for me to achieve with people. Had I not discovered an affinity for writing at a very young age, I might conceivably have chosen any one of these careers for animals lovers instead. As it is, writing about animals offers me the best of both worlds – I get paid to do something I dearly love, while immersing myself in a topic that I care deeply about.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Why Do Dogs Have Hackles?

By Ruthie Bently

All dogs have hackles and they run from the dog’s neck, down their backbone and to the base of their tail, sometimes even the shoulders. One of my dogs actually had hackles that started at the base of their skull and went all the way down their back and partway down their tail. The first time Smokey saw horses, he sniffed the air in their direction and his hackles rose to their full extent on his back. He didn’t bark or growl at the horses as he approached them and he didn’t race up to them, so why did his hackles rise? Put it down to a simple case of curiosity. Smokey saw these huge creatures who smelled funny to him, and he was trying to assess the situation before taking action. Since I wasn’t worried, neither was he.

When a dog’s hackles rise it is called piloerection. It is similar to the hair going up on your arm, your head or the back of your neck and is an involuntary reaction to a situation. It is theorized that piloerection happens when there is a rush of adrenaline through a dog’s system. Hackles may rise on a dog’s entire body or just in one area, depending on the situation. This should not be confused with a Rhodesian Ridgeback’s ridge. This is a particular feature indicative of the breed and even some Ridgeback crosses.

Piloerection can be caused by excitement, stimulation, arousal, being startled, fear or interest. It is rare that hackles are raised in an aggressive manner, though it does happen. A hunting dog’s hackles may rise when they are pointing a bird or catch a whiff of a pheasant in the brush; they are stimulated and react accordingly. An intact male dog scenting a female in heat in the neighborhood may raise his hackles in his arousal. A dog’s hackles can rise involuntarily due to a loud clap of thunder that startles them. Even the excitement of greeting a family member or canine friend can cause the hackles on a dog’s back to rise.

Small dog or dogs that are fearful may raise their hackles when they meet another dog and it is thought they do this to try and make themselves look taller to the approaching dog. It reminds me of what my cats did when I brought my first puppy home. They puffed themselves up and looked so huge the puppy backed up in terror. While it was funny to watch, I had my hands full trying to calm the poor puppy and soothe the cats. A dog smelling an unfamiliar wild animal in their territory at night may raise their hackles and growl a warning to “stay away.” A puppy raising its hackles may do so because it is unsure how to react to a situation or change in its surroundings.

The best thing for a responsible pet owner to do is to be aware of your own dog’s body language and be in charge of any situation you and your dog are in. The next time you go walking with your dog or to the dog park, watch your dog and how they react to other dogs they meet. Watch both the dogs and their communication with each other. Watch not only their hackles, but their tail, eyes, ears, body posture and facial expressions. For more helpful tips on this topic, read Linda Cole’s Body Language of Dogs. By understanding your own dog and their body language, you are a step ahead of the game.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

Saturday, April 24, 2010

How Dogs Make a Difference in Our Lives

By Linda Cole

I've had the honor of sharing my home with multiple dogs over the years. Some were ones I picked out, but most had been abandoned. I've never regretted adopting dogs or cats who needed a home. Every now and then, one will touch your heart more than others. Two dogs who found their way to us were special souls that made a difference in our lives.

Rosie had been found with her brother dumped in a ditch in early January. Around here, that's a death sentence for 8 week old puppies trying to survive with no shelter or food. I remember the afternoon I picked Rosie up from the people who had found her. She was smaller than my cats. Pushing her nose inside my jacket, she cuddled against me as I wrapped her inside my coat. She shivered as we walked out into the cold air. As I climbed into the car, she crawled over and snuggled against my leg laying her head on my lap. She didn't make a sound or move from her spot as I drove home.

The little red pup quickly grew, and grew, and grew. In fact, I was beginning to think we had adopted a small horse instead of a dog! Rosie didn't waste any time settling into her new home. She rarely barked, preferring the more melodic tone of a howl, and she expressed her opinion loud and clear. She always had the last word to say about everything on any subject, especially when she didn't want to do something or move out of the chair she'd claimed.

She was as gentle as they come. We were finally able to reassure her when we left the house to go to work, that we would be back. I always wondered if she remembered being abandoned in that freezing ditch. Rosie never liked winters and shivered through the cold months.

About a year after we adopted Rosie, a friend of ours had been visiting a friend and her boyfriend. She watched as the guy yelled at, kicked and hit their dog before throwing it against the wall in a fit of rage. My friend angrily told them they didn't deserve to have a dog. Having no collar, she wrapped her shoelace around the dog's neck and left. No pets were allowed in her apartment and after telling us her story, we agreed to take the dog. She was around 9 months old with no name.

It didn't take us long to discover how loving and special she was, so we named her Angel. She was a beautiful black Border Collie mix with the kindest eyes I've ever seen. Angel loved herding my cats and she was good at it. The cats, however, weren't too fond of it. She loved playing catch with a ball or Frisbee and her favorite thing to do was head out to a nearby lake and retrieve tennis balls thrown into the water. Eager eyes waited for me to throw the ball and she'd watch it soar, timing her splash into the water at the same time the ball hit. She'd grab the ball, race back to drop it in my hand and then streak back to the lake as the ball sailed through the air. I loved taking her to the lake because I knew how much she enjoyed it.

Considering how badly Angel had been abused, we were surprised with how gentle she was with us and the other pets. One day when becoming overly excited during a baseball game, I noticed Angel cowering in the corner of the living room trying to make herself as small as she could. She was wide eyed and shaking like a leaf. Tears came to my eyes when I realized my yelling at an umpire had frightened her. I'll never forget that image because I realized she hadn't forgotten how loud voices affected her and in her mind she associated yelling with pain.

There's a special bond that develops with a pet who was abused or abandoned before they came to you. You want to hold them close and make sure nothing bad ever happens to them again. But you can't do that. The best thing you can do is give them stability by treating them like everyone else. That's all they ask of us. Dogs or cats don't worry about the past. They move on and that's what we have to do in order to help them. Time and love will heal most things, but the actions of cruel people are hard to forget. All living things feel pain and react to violence and negative emotions. I hope to never run across another dog who experienced what Angel did.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Friday, April 23, 2010

Does Your Cat Eat Strange Things? It Might Be Pica

By Julia Williams

I have a “foodie” cat that likes corn, beans, peas, pasta, Cheetos, popcorn, scrambled eggs – pretty much any food that doesn’t eat him first. As a responsible pet owner I don’t give him these things, except for a small morsel once in a great while; I’m just saying he would eat them if he could. Although Rocky’s obsession with food is not exactly typical for a feline, it’s far less worrisome than the eating disorder known as pica.

Pica (pronounced “PIE-kuh”) is the voluntary ingestion of non-food items. While more common in cats, pica can occur in dogs and people too, especially children. Cats who have pica will eat things like yarn, tape, plastic bags, wool and other fabrics, electrical cords, plants, kitty litter, shoelaces and paper.

Why do cats eat weird things?

Although the exact cause of why some cats have a penchant for eating non-food items is not fully understood, a genetic component is suspected since the disorder is more commonly found in oriental breeds like Siamese and Burmese. According to Dr. Karen Sueda, DVM, pica has also been linked to a variety of diseases, including feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus. Other suspected causes of pica include mineral deficiencies, diabetes, brain tumors and other illnesses. If all medical causes have been ruled out, pica may be a manifestation of behavioral or psychological issues such as boredom, anxiety, attention-seeking, comfort, compulsive urges, and learned behavior.

Cat pica is sometimes associated with wool-sucking, although the two are not really the same thing. Wool sucking is generally believed to be a compulsive, misdirected form of nursing behavior, caused perhaps by abrupt early weaning of kittens. Additionally, cats who engage in wool sucking usually do not progress to the stage of actually eating the blankets, sweaters, stuffed animals and other “objects of their affection.” You can read more about wool sucking in cats here.

Is pica dangerous for your cat?

Beyond the obvious perils of chewing on power cords, ingesting plants that are poisonous for pets, or consuming potentially toxic non-food items, pica is dangerous because the items could become lodged in their stomach or intestine. This blockage can be fatal since it prevents the passage of food and may cut off blood supply to the organs. If your cat regularly eats non-food items and becomes lethargic, vomits or displays erratic behavior, see your veterinarian immediately.

Treatments for cat pica

Because pica may be a sign of an underlying health problem, any cat who shows an interest in consuming unusual non-food items should be examined by a vet. If no medical issues can be found, treatment may include:

● Keeping the targeted items (blankets, tape, cords, plastic bags etc.) out of your cat’s reach.

● Redirecting their impulse to more appropriate and safer items, such as food-dispensing toys or durable cat toys. For felines who like to snack on plants, you could try growing some catnip or cat grass just for them.

● A copious amount of interactive playtime can help if the cause of your cat’s pica is related to boredom.

● Increasing the fiber in your cat’s diet (but please consult your vet before making any changes to their diet).

● Deterring the chewing by applying hot sauce, Bitter Apple or other aversive substances to the objects they favor.

If your cat eats weird things, it might be pica, or it might not be. It’s crucial to have them examined by their vet to determine if there are any underlying medical issues. This quirky behavior might seem cute, but it’s really not. And since it could be harmful to them, it’s something you will certainly want professional help with, so your kitty can live a long and healthy life.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Therapy Dogs Live a Life of Community Service

By Suzanne Alicie

CANIDAE sponsors several outstanding animals, and are exceptionally proud to be able to include therapy dogs Stitch and Riley as well as their newly certified partner Sophie. Because of the CANIDAE sponsorship and even the attendance of some company employees at events, these dogs are able to spread their love and comfort in an ever growing way including hospital visits, community events and the Make a Wish foundation.

Johne and Jane Johnson volunteered their time at the VA hospitals before they got involved with the therapy dogs. Johne bought Stitch as a puppy for the express purpose of training him to be a therapy dog in order to expand their outreach program with the VA hospitals in the area. Along the way they adopted Riley whose owner claimed that she was a terrible dog who didn’t like men. Riley became a certified part of the team and loves being around people, men included. This just goes to show that the way an owner thinks and feels about a dog does affect the way they behave.

Jane, a marathon runner, found a Maltipoo in a gutter while out training one day. She brought her home ,and now Sophie is the newest certified therapy dog on the team. Sophie is small enough to claim a lap to cuddle in when she visits, and usually does so. The Johnsons have also rescued another dog, a Bluetick hound named Bella who is in the process of training. These wonderful dogs visit VA hospitals as well as children’s hospitals and many community events to spread love and companionship.

Pets in general have a positive effect on people, and therapy dogs are trained to provide the attention and love that the people in the hospitals need. Mr. Johnson tells of many times when visiting the VA hospital there were patients who were despondent and non- responsive to him and the others who visited with him. However, when the dogs began to visit, these same people opened up and began talking about pets they used to have, and really enjoyed their visits with Stitch and Riley. Eventually those same patients began to look forward to his visits, although if he went without the dogs the main thing he heard was “Where are the dogs? Why didn’t you bring the dogs?” This lets him know that his therapy dogs are truly something special, and that they make a big difference to these patients.

The difference between therapy dogs and service dogs is that the service provided by therapy dogs is purely social. Service dogs are trained to stay with a specific person and assist them with different tasks, while therapy dogs are welcome visitors who provide their services to everyone they encounter. Many times veterans need physical therapy to aid with their recovery from illness and injury; this can lead to a boring and repetitive routine. Therapy dogs introduce something a little different and bring some excitement into the day. Lonely or depressed patients have shown remarkable improvement after a visit from Riley and Stitch. The unconditional love and acceptance of a dog can lift the spirits and distract patients from dark thoughts and loneliness.

Imagine being a bored patient who is in pain and all alone. Suddenly these two gorgeous golden labs and their tiny white partner burst onto the scene, three special dogs who love to be petted and played with, who are happy to just be in contact with you. Interaction with the dogs breaks up a dull routine and makes the patient feel so much better.

The training to become a certified therapy dog involves learning several important things. Besides basic obedience, these dogs learn to deal with loud noises, ignore food when it’s dropped or eaten in front of them, how to handle crowds, and the fact that everyone will reach out towards them. The mentality of a good therapy dog is that any attention is welcome, and that love is the name of the game. Little Sophie recently got to take a trip to Disneyland as part of her training to become certified.

Mr. Johnson says that any dog can be trained to be a therapy dog, but some may have learned behaviors that must be worked through first. Dogs that have been abused in any way may shy away from strangers wanting to pet them. The Johnsons now have three certified therapy dogs and only one of them has been trained for his job since he was a puppy. There is a difference, Mr. Johnson says. All three dogs are good at their jobs and love what they do, but Stitch is the one who has been raised with love from the beginning and simply has no understanding of anyone being mean.

Besides being beneficial to the hospitals and the people they visit, therapy dogs like Stitch, Riley and Sophie are also helping to spread the word of the importance and legal allowances for certified service dogs. Mr. Johnson often takes Stitch to dinner with him and his wife; this is not only a training enforcement for the dog but also a learning opportunity for the people who work in restaurants as to when a dog is allowed in, and the purpose of the dog for the person he is with. There have been several instances where Mr. Johnson has been told he can’t bring the dog in. This leads to educating and informing the employees and management as well as other diners about the legality of service dogs and their purpose. By taking on this challenge, Mr. Johnson is making the world more aware and hopefully making it easier for the people who need to take their service dogs everywhere with them.

The Johnsons, their wonderful dogs, and the Masonic lodge they are a part of have received awards for their community service. They plan to continue with breeding and training therapy dogs in order to make life a little better for all of those they encounter.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How to Give Your Dog Medication

By Ruthie Bently

From time to time our dogs have to take medication, whether it is their monthly heartworm pill, a dewormer, or an antibiotic because they are ill. Some dogs are great at taking medication and some are just demons. How do you get your dog used to taking medication when you need to give it to them? One of the determining factors is whether or not it can be taken with food; some medications need to be given without food so they are absorbed into the dog’s system faster. If this is the case, are you giving a pill or a liquid?

If you are giving your dog a pill, find a convenient room to administer it in. I use the kitchen, because this is where my dog gets fed and she associates the room with food and goodies. Get the pill out of the bottle before you call your dog. This way, you are prepared and won’t be trying to fumble with a lid that is hard to open or a dog who may not want to get a pill. Call your dog into the room using an unconcerned, cheerful voice and put your dog on a sit/stay facing you.

Hold the pill between two fingers of one hand; grasp their upper jaw with the other hand using your thumb on one side and the rest of your fingers on the other. Gently squeeze their upper jaw behind their canine teeth while raising their head. With one of the free fingers of your “pill” hand (between their lower canines) pull their lower jaw down and place the pill in the dip of the tongue at the back of their mouth. Hold their mouth closed as you lower their head and begin stroking their lower jaw (front to back) while speaking in a soothing tone.

If you are dispensing a liquid medicine, measure it out in a liquid syringe and slip the syringe behind your dog’s last set of molars and into their mouth near their throat. Again, rubbing your dog’s throat front to back will help them swallow the medication. Whichever medication you are giving, make sure they have actually swallowed it and not spit it out. And be sure to praise your dog and give them a treat; they will remember this and be more willing to take their medicine the next time.

If you have a small dog you can pick them up and set them on a table, since they are less apt to move if they are at a disadvantage. If you have a larger dog that is a wiggler or not as amenable to getting a pill, you can put them on a sit/stay with their back to the corner of the room. This way, you’ll be able to block their exit from the room.

If the medication can be given with food it’s a fairly simple process. If you are giving a pill, pick something your dog loves to eat. I use cream cheese or a piece of cheese, but have also used CANIDAE canned food, peanut butter, liver sausage and hot dogs. The size of the pill determines how much you use to camouflage it with (I use about a quarter of a teaspoon). Wrap the pill in the food and offer it to your dog, making sure not to mask the pill too much or too little. Too much camouflage and your dog may find the pill and spit it out, too little and they’ll be able to taste the pill and spit it out.

Skye is a special needs dog and has been on medication since she was about a year old, both pills and liquid. The liquid medication is very salty and Skye didn’t like taking it, so the breeder would squirt it on a piece of bread and give it to her that way. While it was an efficient way to get the medication into Skye, she would shake her head from side to side after eating the bread to get rid of the taste of the medication. Skye now gets liquid medicine twice a day with her CANIDAE canned food. I put Skye’s food in her dish first, squirt the medicine on top and mix it with the food. I set it down, and Skye makes it disappear.

By using a cheerful, unconcerned voice, praise and treats, anyone can get their pet to take their medicine. To paraphrase Mary Poppins “a spoonful of CANIDAE makes the medicine go down.”

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

11 Basic Commands Every Dog Needs to Know

By Linda Cole

We teach our children basic commands they need to know in order to stop them from running out in front of a car or putting something dangerous in their mouth. Puppies should also be taught certain commands for the same reason. Whether you adopt a puppy or prefer an older dog because it fits better with your lifestyle, there are certain basic commands every dog should know. Their safety could depend on it.

“Come” means to stop what he's doing and return to you. It's an easy command to teach, and important in an emergency, if he should break loose from his leash or pen, or rush out the front door when company arrives. The come command helps you control situations much easier, and allows you to keep your dog out of harm's way.

“Sit” is another easy command every dog should know. Dogs get excited when they're getting ready to go outside or go for a walk. Some have a hard time waiting while supper is being prepared and some dogs go bonkers when the doorbell rings. Teaching your dog to sit and wait helps subdue their excitement so you can answer the door, finish their supper or get their leash attached to their collar. The sit command also works well to keep them from jumping up on people.

“Stay” is harder for some dogs to learn, but it's well worth the time and patience it takes to teach it. Dogs don't always understand they could be in danger, and using stay can stop them from running in front of a car or grabbing something they shouldn't have. It gives you time to remove the danger or wait until it's gone. Staying can be hard for a dog to do when he sees something he wants, especially if it's a cat or squirrel in the yard across the street; however, it's an essential command every puppy and dog should know.

“Drop it.” How many times have you tried to wrestle something out of your dog's mouth? They don't know that the chicken bone clamped between their teeth is harmful for them. Instead of you prying their mouth open to retrieve whatever they've picked up, the drop it command makes life much easier for you. Knowing this command also makes playing fetch more fun when your dog returns the ball to you and drops it at your feet or in your hand so you can give it another toss.

“Leave it” is another good command for dogs to know, because it can give you peace of mind knowing they won't grab something they shouldn't have. Dogs can easily swallow whatever they've picked up if they think you want to take it away from them. And dogs have been known to swallow needles, safety pins and other small objects before their owners could retrieve the item. The leave it command tells the dog it's not for him.

“Wait.” This command is sometimes used in conjunction with stay although they are two different commands used for different reasons. A more energetic dog may need to be held in check for a short time. Wait tells him it's not time to go and he must stay where he is until you let him know he can move.

“Okay” is a command every dog should know because this releases them from any other command you've given him. Okay simply means the dog is free to move.

“No” tells your dog he can't have something, or to stop doing what he's doing. No should be used to stop unwanted behavior like chewing, jumping up on you or someone else, or biting.

“Heel” helps you control your dog while on a walk and when you are around other people or dogs. Instead of allowing your dog to pull on his leash, heel puts him by your side where you have better control of him should you meet another dog or person while walking.

“Off.” Not everyone enjoys having a dog jump up on them. This command tells them to stay down and not to jump up on you or someone else. It also keeps your dog off the furniture.

“Stand” is a command every dog should know because it makes it easier when you are trying to give him a bath or groom him. Teaching him to stand is also a big help during vet examinations or when you are trying to examine him yourself.

These eleven basic commands can help you keep your canine companion out of danger, and you will have a well mannered dog who understands and follows your wishes. For information on how to teach your dog some of these commands, read Basic Commands for Dogs: Heel and Stand, and Teaching Come and Stay.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Monday, April 19, 2010

CANIDAE Helps Take a Bite Out of Crime

By Julia Williams

The handsome Belgian Malinois pictured here is Baco, a hard-working K9 who helps fight crime in the Southern California city of Pomona. CANIDAE graciously donated Baco to the Pomona Police Department a year ago, to replace a patrol dog who died from cancer. Officer Theo Joseph is Baco’s human partner on the force (also called a handler), and Baco is his third police dog.

I spoke with Officer Joseph recently to get an update on how Baco has been doing this past year. As it turns out, Baco just recently caught his first bad guy. This “K9 rite of passage” is an important test, as it tells the handler much about the dog, what he has learned, and how he’s likely to perform in the future. According to Officer Joseph, Baco handled his first apprehension of a bad guy (two of them, actually) really well, and shows great promise as a police dog.

With his first bite behind him, Baco can now attend a six-week training for narcotic detection. This cross-training is valuable because it will make Baco an even more useful member of the force. If Baco’s sensitive canine nose detects drugs in a vehicle, Officer Joseph has probable cause to search without needing to obtain a warrant.

Although Baco knows many English words, he has been trained to respond only to commands in Dutch. This can be useful to the officer, since it prevents criminals from knowing what commands are being given. In fact, it’s not uncommon for them to mistakenly think that a command to apprehend is the dog’s name. Whereupon, instead of calming the menacing dog in front of them by calling his name, the criminal is actually saying “grab me, grab me.” Don’t tell the bad guy this, but no matter what he says it won’t cause the dog to retreat or attack, because K9s are taught to respond only to their handler.

Dog officers develop extremely close bonds with their K9 partners, largely because they are with them 24/7. Their dogs go to work with them every day and spend evenings and weekends at their home. “I spend more time with Baco than I do with my family,” joked Officer Joseph.

On those rare occasions when he works a shift without Baco, Officer Joseph said it feels strange. It’s not just the companionship of a dog that he misses, however. Baco’s mere presence can prevent physical confrontations with criminals and diffuse potentially deadly situations. Officer Joseph described an incident where a stand-off occurred between a suspect and police. The man was willing to fight eight officers, but when he heard the bark of just one police dog, he surrendered immediately. This is a perfect illustration of how tremendously valuable K9s are to law enforcement.

Baco eats premium-quality CANIDAE dog food, of course, alternating between the All Life Stages and Chicken & Rice formulas. Officer Joseph believes that the CANIDAE food helps Baco be a better police dog because it gives him the high level of energy he needs, doesn’t cause digestion issues, and satisfies his ravenous appetite.

Although Baco takes his police work seriously, Officer Joseph said he’s also a laidback, low-key canine. This is in stark contrast to the officer’s last K9 partner, another Belgian Malinois named Zorro described as a “Type A” personality. Zorro is retired from the force and lives at home with the family along with Baco and a third dog, a Husky. When he’s not fighting crime, Baco enjoys playing tug-of-war and keep-away with his favorite toy, a plastic bone. He likes country music, and snores while sleeping.

Talking with Officer Joseph brought back fond memories of my college days as a Journalism student. I was assigned to the “police beat” and went on many Citizen Ride-Alongs, including two with K9 units. All of my rides were interesting and educational, but the K9s provided the most fodder for A+ tales. Officer Kaiser and his German Shepherd Samson, were quite the pair. I’d been forewarned by other officers that “the dog stinks to high heaven,” and “Kaiser is the only guy on the force with a dog smarter than he is.” I’ll not divulge whether they were right, but my four-hour ride with this duo was definitely unforgettable.

Samson spent the entire time breathing down my neck from the back seat of the patrol car. When a call came over the radio about a fight at a liquor store, Officer Kaiser spun the car around and accelerated (largely to impress me, I’m sure), and Samson went wild, barking and pacing like mad. The “fight” turned out to be a mild scrap between three macho dudes and a hippie with a dead squirrel in the basket of his moped. (I swear I’m not making that up!). While Officer Kaiser spoke to the men, Samson leaned out the window and kept a keen eye on them. Later, we headed to Samson’s favorite “potty spot.” When Officer Kaiser told Samson to “Take a break!” he flew out the car window, did his business and jumped back in.

Although my memorable Citizen Ride-Alongs occurred many years ago, Officer Joseph said most cities still do them today, but that he and Baco have only done two of them in their first year together. I’m quite certain they weren’t nearly as entertaining as my rides with Officer Kaiser and Samson. Nevertheless, Baco is an exemplary K9, and CANIDAE is proud to sponsor him.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why Do Dogs Chase Cats?

By Ruthie Bently

Asking why dogs chase cats is like asking the age old question “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” Basically, like many things dogs do, chasing cats is instinctual and they’re hard-wired to do it. However, you’ll find anomalies in every purebred and mixed breed dog; some will chase cats, some won’t. If you have a hunting, working or terrier breed or mix, there’s a good chance they will chase cats, because they have a stronger drive to do so. Most terriers and even some hounds were used as ratters not that many years ago. Dachshunds were used for hunting badgers and were sent into holes after the badgers to route them out.

The instinct that our domestic dogs inherited from their wolf ancestors is their prey drive. This drive was necessary in the wild so a wolf pack could survive. A mother wolf hunts to feed her pups, and the pack hunts for survival of the fittest pups in the pack, as they are the future of the pack’s longevity. The prey drive causes a lone wolf to hunt anything smaller than itself.

A dog’s prey drive is motivated by movement; it can also be motivated by smell. Racing Greyhounds are trained to chase a mechanical rabbit. Lure coursers chase a scented bait across a field. Herding dogs chase the flocks they protect, nipping at their heels to get them to move. This is all controlled at their base level by the prey drive instinct. If a dog grows up with cats, while they may chase when playing with their feline roommate, they are not as apt to actively chase cats all the time. They may also defend their joint territory against strange cats that intrude in your yard.

If you want your dog and cat to get along, the first step is introducing them. Admittedly it is easier if one or both of them are young, because they are less apt to have preconceptions of what the other species is capable of. If you’re bringing a new puppy home, a good way to introduce them is to crate your puppy and bring the cat into the room the crate is in. If your cat isn’t disturbed by the appearance of your dog, sit on the floor in front of the crate with the cat in your arms and introduce them.

If the cat is unwilling, scared or too wiggly, you can put them in their carrier and set the carrier door facing the crate door, several feet apart. You still want to be nearby watching the interaction and have treats and praise on hand for both your dog and cat. If your dog barks or the cat growls, admonish them but do not punish them; they are just reacting to a new situation. If they behave well, praise them and offer treats to both. By using this method, your dog and cat can get used to the sight of each other without being able to reach each other.

The next step is to let them interact in a room under your supervision. Make sure the room you choose has an escape route for your cat. Make sure your cat’s toenails are trimmed before the encounter, a friendly swat on the nose is one thing, but sharp claws may make your dog re-think the idea of being friends. Put a collar and leash on your dog and put them on a sit/stay in the room.

Have another family member bring the cat in and put them on the floor near the dog. If your dog is calm, praise them and offer them a treat for their good behavior. If your dog rushes the cat or tugs on the leash, tell them “no” and put them back on their sit/stay. Repeat both stages of training several times a day and for the first several months if needed. If your cat is an indoor/outdoor cat, provide sanctuaries both inside and out where they can be away from the dog, because even friends need a break at times. Make sure to feed your cat away from the dog’s reach. A dog eating their food may irritate the cat and make his acceptance of the dog harder.

You can train an adult dog that has not grown up with cats to respect them as another member of your melded pack. I know, because I’ve done it. By having patience, understanding why your dog chases cats, and using the same method of training consistently, you too can have your own peaceable kingdom at home.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Great Dog Books for Kids to Read

By Linda Cole

I grew up with a dog by my side and a book constantly in my hand. I loved reading about nature and animals, especially dogs. Some of the books I read as a child were classics then and are still popular today. If your child loves dogs, reading books about dogs is a great way to encourage them to read. There's an excellent assortment of great dog books for kids to read.

Big Red, written by Jim Kjelgaard and published in 1945. Big Red is set in the Canadian wilderness. Seventeen year old Danny Pickett and his father are mountain trappers living in a small shack. Danny does odd jobs for their landlord, Mr. Haggin, who owns a champion Irish Setter show dog named Red. Danny falls in love with Red the moment he sees him and eventually convinces Mr. Haggin to let him train Red and teach him about life in the wilderness. Danny's father has a run-in with a mean bear called Old Majesty who's been killing Mr. Haggin's steers. Danny and Red take on the dangerous task of tracking Old Majesty to stop the bear once and for all. This is a story about poverty, the privilege of wealth, trust, loyalty, determination, courage and love. One of my all time favorites, it's a great dog book for kids that’s filled with adventure, action and the great outdoors.

Where the Red Fern Grows, written by Wilson Rawls in 1961. The story is set in the Ozarks where 12 year old Billy Coleman wants one thing more than anything else. His desire for a pair of Redbone Coonhound puppies is so strong he's willing to do whatever it takes to earn enough money to buy them. After picking berries to sell and doing other odd jobs for neighbors, he finally saves enough money to buy his puppies and Billy wastes no time teaching them the art of coon hunting. This book is a tear jerker, but it's an excellent story about the loyalty and courage of dogs.

The Incredible Journey, written by Sheila Burnford in 1961. Thinking they have been left behind by their family, a Labrador Retriever, Bull Terrier and a Siamese cat set off to find them. Traveling through the rugged Canadian wilderness, the three friends cover 300 miles. With danger around every corner, they are chased by wild animals, survive rushing rivers and hunger as they search for their lost family. This is another great book for kids that stresses the loyalty, courage and determination of two dogs and a cat surviving alone in the wilderness against overwhelming odds.

Barry: The Bravest Saint Bernard, written by Lynn Hall in 1973. This book is based on a true story about Barry, a Saint Bernard who lived from 1800 to 1814 at a monastery in the Swiss Alps. Barry's job was to patrol the mountain pass used by travelers to cross the rugged mountains between Switzerland and Italy. Because of Barry's bravery, he was able to rescue at least 40 people during his lifetime, making him the most famous St. Bernard of all time. To this day, one pup from every litter born at the monastery is named Barry to honor his courage and dedication. It’s a touching book that's even more heartwarming because it is a true story.

Because of Winn-Dixie, written by Kate DiCamillo in 2000. Ten year old Opal and her father are new to town. While Opal is in the Winn-Dixie supermarket, she sees a dirty, ragged looking stray dog and adopts him even though everyone tells her to leave him alone. Winn-Dixie and Opal spend their days getting to know the residents of the small town. Winn-Dixie has a nose for trouble, but through it all, Opal and her dog become fast friends with the town's more colorful residents. Along the way, she begins to understand some life lessons and learns how to let go of what needs to be left in the past. Opal also begins to develop a closer bond with her father.

Marley and Me, written by journalist John Grogan, is an autobiographical book about his life with a Yellow Labrador Retriever that chews on everything he can get his teeth on. Grogan chronicles life with Marley as he grows into an energetic adult. As Grogan's family grows along with Marley, his exploits will make you laugh. This is an excellent book for kids that is funny and very entertaining, but does have a serious side to it.

These are some of my favorite dog books I've read over the years, and there's many more just waiting for kids to discover. I still love a good book about animals and nature. The library is full of great dog books for kids to read, and it's never too late to introduce a child to the joy of reading.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Friday, April 16, 2010

Getting to Know Your Pet Could Save Its Life

By Julia Williams

In my last article, I talked about the different ways you can help the veterinarian treat your pet. When a vet is trying to determine what ails a sick pet, I really don’t think there is such a thing as having “too much information.” And since our pets can’t tell us – or the vet – how they feel, it’s up to us to be their voice and to ensure that they get the treatment they need to be healthy and happy. A big part of that is keeping detailed records of their health and past treatments along with their dietary issues and environment history. But there is another very important component to helping your vet treat your four-legged friend: you need to know your pet well. Better perhaps, than you even know yourself.

When you know your pet well, you will be more apt to notice right away when something is amiss. And the sooner you can get them in to see their vet, the better. While not every health problem a pet can face is serious, a delay in treatment for some conditions could be life threatening. Getting to know your pet well is not that hard, but it does take time and a conscious effort. It involves spending enough time with your pet that you have a good idea of what is “normal” for them, and what isn’t. It means being observant about everything. When you know your pet well, you know what their typical appetite is; you know how their skin and coat look, how their eyes, nose and mouth look, and whether they have any digestive issues or problems with their bones and joints.

Responsible pet owners know how important regular vet checkups are. However, it’s also a good idea to perform your own brief physical exam on your pet at home on a regular basis. Look at the eyes to see if they’re bright, clear and free of any discharge. Examine their mouth to make sure the gums are a healthy pale pink and teeth aren’t yellowed or covered with tartar, and that there’s no foul odor. The ears should be free of wax buildup, and the nose should feel damp and velvety with no crusting on the surface.

You should pet and massage your dog or cat regularly too, not just because it feels good to them and helps you bond, but because you will notice any lumps or bumps that might be present. Feeling along the abdomen for any masses or swellings associated with the mammary glands can help detect tumors. Taking your pet’s temperature at home, although not particularly pleasant for either of you, can provide valuable health information. The stress of being in a veterinary exam room can sometimes cause a borderline elevated temperature that’s difficult for the vet to interpret. If your pet has a fever in the comfort of their own home, this tells the vet that it’s not likely due to nervousness.

Knowing your pet well also means being able to tell when there are behavioral changes. This is often not as easy as noticing physical differences in your pet, because the changes may be subtle and difficult to interpret. Behavioral changes might not necessarily indicate that your pet is ill; they may just be acting differently for reasons known only to them. For example, if a pet suddenly stops sleeping in a favorite spot that he’s loved for years, it’s possible they just want a change of scenery. In the summer, my cats sometimes sleep under the bed rather than on it. I wondered why they were “hiding” under there, until I realized it was cooler, and probably more comfortable. Some behavioral changes are more serious, however, and may indicate an underlying medical problem. These include lethargy, aggression, growling, restlessness, refusing to eat, and going potty in inappropriate places.

If you know your pet well, you will notice right away when something changes. Being aware of any differences in behavior or appearance is an important part of responsible pet ownership, and may even save their life. When in doubt about any changes in your pet, behavioral or otherwise, it’s always wise to consult your vet.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cat Breed Profile: Maine Coon

By Suzanne Alicie

The breed of feline known as the Maine Coon is a domestic cat with a very distinctive appearance. This is one of the oldest natural breeds of cat in the United States, and is not only native to the state of Maine but is also the official cat of the state.

The Maine Coon cat is one of the largest domestic cat breeds, with males weighing between 15 and 25 pounds and females between 10 and 15 pounds. The solid muscular build is important for supporting the weight of this cat, and the broad chest with rectangular body shape balances out the long tail and the weight that this cat can gain.

The 2006 Guinness World Record holder for “longest cat” is a Maine Coon known as Leo. He was the only kitten of two fairly large Maine Coons, and the benefit of having all of his mother’s milk may have been the reason he was able to grow to 35 pounds and 48 inches in length!

The origin of the Maine Coon cat is steeped in folk tales and theories with no factual proof. There are rumors that the Maine Coon evolved from the Turkish Angora cats that Marie Antoinette sent to the United States mating with Norwegian Forest cats. Another tale involves sea captain Charles Coon and his long haired ship cats. Rumor says that when Captain Coon laid anchor in New England his ship cats would visit and mate with the feral cats in the area. When long haired kittens started being born, the locals referred to them as Coon’s cats.

While not a traditional long haired cat, the Maine Coon is considered a long haired or medium haired cat. The length of the hair is short on the head and shoulders and longer on the stomach and flanks. Some Maine Coons have a long lion’s ruff around the neck. The light undercoat helps keep grooming to a minimum by being self maintaining. The most common color of a Maine Coon is brown tabby, but the breed can have any color that other cats have, as well as many different eye colors.

Maine is known for harsh winter conditions, and these cats have adapted to their native environment. Dense water-resistant fur, a long bushy tail and large paws provide these cats with many different options to deal with the cold weather. The long hair on the underside provides extra protection while walking or sitting in wet snow and ice. The tail can curl around the face and shoulders for warmth, and the ling tufts of hair between the toes and the ears also help keep the cat warm.

The Main Coon cat is a hardy breed that has evolved to survive and thrive in the harsh Maine climate. They are generally healthy cats whose most sever threat is HCM (feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). This is the most common heart disease found in cats and is an inherited trait in Maine Coons.

These large dignified cats are not known for being “lap cats,” but they are relaxed and amiable. This makes them a good choice for families with children, other animals and even dogs. The Maine Coon is an extremely intelligent cat that is easy to train. They are a playful breed and actively affectionate. As with most cats they are independent, and their love is shown less through cuddling and more through play and interaction.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Understanding Canine Arthritis

By Ruthie Bently

As our canine companions get older they are susceptible to many of the same conditions of aging that affect humans; arthritis is one of these conditions. A dog’s skeletal system is comprised of not only their bones, but also the tendons and ligaments that give overall stability to the skeleton. Though they are not bones, an injury to tendons and ligaments can affect the onset of arthritis in our dogs too. Symptoms of arthritis are lagging behind during walks, limping, the inability to rise easily after resting, resistance to being touched, changes in their personality, a hesitancy to climb stairs, play, jump or even simply walking.

Arthritis is caused by an inflammation in the joints. It is usually divided into two categories: inflammatory joint disease and osteoarthritis, which is known as degenerative arthritis. Each one of these is divided into sub-categories. Inflammatory arthritis can affect multiple joints at the same time and is caused by an underlying disease that affects the dog’s immune system or an infection (infectious joint disease). Some symptoms can include stiffness, anorexia and fever. Infectious joint disease has several causes, which include a fungal infection, a tick borne disease like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease or a bacterium. Arthritis that affects the immune system can be brought on a hereditary weakness. There are several types including idiopathic arthritis and systemic lupus which cause infections in the joints but are not degenerative. Rheumatoid arthritis which is a deformative arthritis is the third kind, but is rare in dogs.

Osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis) is caused when the cartilage that protects bone joints is destroyed. This can happen when undue stress is put on normally healthy joints. Some examples of undue stress are injuries received during an accident or fall; or the tearing or hyperextension of ligaments during strenuous exercise which can include constantly jumping over an obstacle. It is also caused by stress put on abnormal joints because of issues like hip dysplasia, which is due to the hip bones not being properly formed. Osteoarthritis also has subcategories; primary and secondary disease. Primary osteoarthritis is one that there is no evident cause for, while secondary has a specific cause. Some of the causes of the secondary disease are ruptured knee ligaments, injury, patella luxation, and OCD (osteochondritis dissecans) as well as hip dysplasia. My vet mentioned that Skye may suffer from arthritis as she ages because of the damage to the ligaments in her left leg.

While arthritis is primarily a condition of our dogs aging, it can also be suffered by a younger dog. A larger breed dog with rapid growth spurts should be watched, especially if the breed is one that is genetically disposed to dysplasia or OCD. Responsible pet owners who carefully monitor their dog’s diet can keep their weight in line and help prevent this from happening. Owners with dogs that have arthritis may not notice anything wrong for quite some time. Cartilage doesn’t have nerves and joint damage may not be apparent until there is a severe joint problem and the fluid that lubricates the joints is critically depleted.

If your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, there are several treatment options to consider. If a dog is overweight, this will put added stress on their joints, and your vet may suggest a weight reduction to alleviate this. If caught in time, surgery can sometimes stop or prevent osteoarthritis. While anecdotal, there is evidence that acupuncture can help a dog with arthritis. Laser therapy has also been used with good results. Consider getting an orthopedic dog bed or heated mat for them to lie on. Some veterinarians will suggest a nutraceutical in an attempt to rebuild the lost fluids around the joints. Your veterinarian may suggest an over the counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (nsaid) for pain or a prescription drug for more severe arthritis.

As arthritis can be due to several causes, there are different treatments for each one. So what’s a responsible pet owner to do? Pay close attention to your dog’s moods and body language. If your normally happy dog is being crotchety, seems to take longer to get up after a nap or doesn’t want to participate in their regular routine, and you suspect your dog may have arthritis, a trip to the vet is in order.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Why It's Important to Teach Your Dog to Come

By Linda Cole

Getting your dog to come when he's called can be frustrating, especially when he's playing. Your words can seem like they are going in one ear and out the other. There are times, however, when you do need your dog to come when he's called. It could save his life. Teach your dog to come each time he's called, and make sure he knows you expect him to respond every time.

Even well trained dogs can become so preoccupied with a smell or playing that a command to “come” may be ignored. Dogs may not hear you calling if they are engaged in a game of tag with another dog or in hot pursuit of a rabbit flushed from a hiding place. Dogs will be dogs, and chasing and running are two of their favorite things to do.

It can be difficult and time consuming to teach your dog to come, but it's worth the effort to make sure this basic command is something your dog understands well and is eager to respond to. If your dog doesn't come when called, he should never be let off his leash.

Be consistent when teaching your dog or puppy to come when called. If he's off leash, that means you trust him not to run away. However, most dogs can't resist a good chase if they see a rabbit or cat. If he's excited, coming when called may not be what he wants to do, but the dog who fully understands what come means should break off his pursuit when he's called. He knows it's a mandatory command and not one to respond to when he feels like it.

Dogs are great at manipulating us and, like kids, don't always want to spend an afternoon learning what we are trying to teach – especially if it's a command that takes them away from their play time. When you're ready to teach your dog to come, keep it simple, consistent and fun. This command is so important, it's well worth the time and frustration some owners experience when their dog doesn't want to cooperate. If your dog is playing and having fun, he may feel he's being punished when he has to stop playing. But a dog who doesn't come when called could put his owner and himself at risk in the event of an emergency. You have to make it so fun for him to come if you want him to respond every time.

Dogs can sense our anxiety and excitement during emergencies which can upset them. Those of us who have to deal with the prospect of tornadoes and sudden spring storms that could require quickly moving to a safe shelter, need to make sure our dogs come when they are called. Playing a game of you chasing your dog while a siren is sounding a warning is not good. Dogs have no concept of the danger at hand. Teach your dog to come for your piece of mind and safety.

An emergency includes stopping your dog before he runs in front of a car if his ball bounces into the street. He needs to understand you aren't punishing him by calling him back. Come means to stop now and return to you every time you call him no matter what he's doing. So make it fun from the start by giving your dog lots of praise when he follows your command. Make it a game he will love to play, and never punish him for not coming. You want only positive reinforcement associated with him coming to you.

My dogs are good about coming when they are called, but sometimes a squirrel racing up a tree in the backyard is too tempting to leave. Dogs are like us and if their attention is elsewhere, we need to be patient. You do need to get their attention, however, so they can follow your command. My dogs do understand the difference between calling them to come inside verses calling them if we have to move into a safer part of the house. They do understand my tone of voice.

Emergencies like fire, flash floods, out of control grass or forest fires, tornadoes, damaging winds, car accidents, etc. happen and you don't have time to try to persuade your dog to come to you. Some dogs get spooked and their instinct is to run away. If you take the time to teach your dog to come, when he's scared the positive reinforcement you taught him will make him feel safe. Your dog needs to come every time he's called regardless of what he's doing. By making “come” a positive requirement, you have taught him an important lesson he will remember his entire life.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Monday, April 12, 2010

How to Help the Vet Treat Your Pet

By Julia Williams

Wouldn’t it be great if our pets could talk? They could tell us when they aren’t feeling well or when they think something isn’t quite right with their body. Better yet, we could take them to the vet and let them describe their symptoms and health issues in great detail. It would be so much easier and quicker for the vet to diagnose health problems if our pets could tell them what’s wrong! Unfortunately, very few people have a real life “Dr. Doolittle” vet who can chat with animals. Which means it’s up to us to take an active role in our pet’s health, and do everything we can to help our vet diagnose and treat them.

The most helpful thing a responsible pet owner can do for their animal is to keep detailed records of their health and medical history. In the veterinarian’s office, a timely diagnosis might mean the difference between life and death. A detailed medical history can provide important clues to the current issue, and may prevent unnecessary tests and needless expense. I keep a big notebook for my cats that includes basic information on when they were born, when they were immunized and spayed or neutered, and details of all other vet visits. If you have a good memory, you might think it’s unnecessary to write it all down. However, the stress and worry of a medical emergency can make it difficult to remember things, and having written records can lessen your anxiety.

Reviewing your pet’s medical records can give your vet valuable information, especially if you move to a new city or want to change clinics for some other reason. Many vet offices will ask the previous vet to send over your pet’s medical file, but this doesn’t mean that owners shouldn’t also be keeping their own records. For one thing, you may have information in your notes that was not recorded in your pet’s file. Also, as with my own medical records, I like to take a more hands-on approach – I just prefer not to rely on someone else when it comes to providing my vet with the information he needs to treat my pet. Medical records are essential to have, because a new complaint may be a consequence of a previous condition and/or treatment.

Aside from comprehensive record-keeping of treatments and illnesses, there are other pieces of information that can help your vet treat your pet. Some breeds of dogs and cats are predisposed to certain illnesses, so knowing your pet’s pedigree can help your vet determine which diagnostic tests to perform. However, if you aren’t certain of your pet’s lineage, don’t tell your vet you have a purebred cat or dog just because it resembles a picture you’ve seen. And if you’re not sure exactly how old your pet is, an approximation is still useful for your vet, since some medical conditions correlate to aging.

Environmental history is another important component of your pet’s records. Your vet needs to know if your cat is allowed to roam outdoors, because they can exposed to many diseases, toxins and other health risks that aren’t an issue for indoor cats. A pet’s travel history may also be useful to your veterinarian, particularly if your pet has been exposed to diseases that are endemic to certain regions but not prevalent in your local environment.

Dietary history is also essential information for your vet to have. In addition to knowing which brand and type of food your pet eats, their dietary history should include how often they are fed, if they are routinely given treats or snacks, what their usual appetite is like, and whether there has been any weight gain or loss. You may also find it useful to watch your pet eat from time to time. A pet that chews only on one side of its mouth or suddenly refuses to eat kibble in favor of canned food, may indicate the presence of an oral health issue that needs treatment.

Because dogs and cats can’t talk (at least, not in a language that most of us understand), veterinarians must rely on pet owners to speak for them. The more information you have about your pet’s health, the easier it will be for your vet to diagnosis what ails them. Then, they can devise a treatment plan that gets your four-legged friend quickly on the road to recovery.

Photograph © Andrew Dunn, July 2005.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Dog Breed Profile: Korean Jindo

By Ruthie Bently

The Korean Jindo is a Spitz type dog of a medium size with a double coat native to Korea, specifically the island of Jindo in South Korea. It is believed that the breed originated on Jindo Island where they were bred several centuries ago. One theory purports that they were cross bred with Mongolian dogs when the Mongols invaded Korea during the thirteenth century. They were bred to help on farms as well as to hunt, and were used for hunting deer, rabbits, wild boar and badgers. The Jindo is used in packs or individually and is prized for its hunting skills. The Jindo is different from several other breeds in that it does not retrieve or point its prey. It brings down the prey and returns to its handler to lead them to its capture.

The Korean Jindo made its first appearance in the United States during the 1980s, though it is claimed that they first appeared in France. There are currently about twenty-five Jindo dogs in Britain, and the Korean government is working to gain recognition of the breed internationally. While the Jindo is not yet able to compete in AKC confirmation events, it was approved to compete in AKC companion events in January of 2010. It has been a member of the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service since January of 2008. The Jindo has also been added to the Non-Sporting dog group of the AKC, and has been recognized by the both the United Kennel Club (1998) and the Fèdèration Cynologique Internationale (2005).

There are currently six coat colors recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) in the Jindo: red, black and tan, gray, white, fawn and brindle. The brindle is also known as a “tiger” pattern as the base color is fawn with either black or dark brown stripes on the fawn base; these stripes appear while the dog is still young. The residents of Jindo Island prize the black/red, black and red/white as good dogs for hunting. An adult male Jindo should weigh between 35 to 45 pounds with a height at the shoulders of between 19-1/2 to 21 inches. Adult females should weigh between 30 to 40 pounds and their height should be between 18-1/2 to 20 inches. Their life expectancy is between twelve and fifteen years.

While a Jindo has a coat suited to an outdoor climate, they should never be left outside on their own. When bored they can get into mischief and have been known to scale an eight foot fence. As with any other active breed, they would do well with several daily walks or vigorous romps in the yard, but are easy to housebreak and able to live in an apartment; however, they would do better with more room to roam as they like to investigate their area thoroughly. It is suggested that a Jindo be leash walked due to their prey drive, unless the dog is very well-trained.

A Jindo grooms itself like a cat due to its fastidious nature. The Jindo is a double coated dog and blows its coat twice a year. Brushing the coat several times a day during the shedding seasons will help rid them of this dense undercoat. I suggest brushing outside when the weather is temperate enough to do so, as the birds will benefit from the shed hairs, and it will be easier to dispose of.

In 1962 the Korean government moved to protect the Jindo. This was accomplished by declaring them as the fifty-third natural treasure of the country. After passing the Jindo Preservation Ordinance, the Jindo is now protected by the Cultural Properties Protection Act under Korean law as a national monument. It takes a formidable task to export a purebred Jindo from Korea due to their status. Because the Jindo is so highly prized, they marched in Seoul, Korea during the opening ceremonies of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games.

The reason the Jindo is so revered in Korea is due to their high intelligence, fastidiousness, courageous nature and their affection and loyalty to their masters; these qualities have also enabled it to become the most popular dog in Korea. I would not suggest a Jindo for a first time dog owner, as you need to be in control and the alpha at all times with this breed. However, for a seasoned dog owner used to owning a strong, intelligent and crafty dog, the Jindo may be just what you're looking for.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently
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