Northwest Pets DC Blog

No Silver Bullet

If you’ve ever cared for a pet with chronic anxiety, you know how heartbreaking and frustrating it can be. You may have had someone, perhaps even your veterinarian, recommend pheromones to you as a good way to help alleviate the anxiety and improve the behavior associated with it.

There is debate within the animal behavioral community as to the efficacy of pheromones in treating anxiety and its resultant behaviors. Until more robust, non-industry funded studies have been completed, I remain agnostic as to their effectiveness.

In the meantime, I think we would do well to guard against recommending or using them as the sole or primary means of addressing anxiety issues. Chronic emotional and behavioral issues require a thoughtful, well-planned course of treatment, in which pheromones may play a role.

I really appreciated the following article by Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, which focuses on the most widely used and recommended feline pheromone product, Feliway, and does a great job of breaking down the topic and summarizing the studies that have been conducted. The comments following the article are helpful, too.

Another study shows that Feliway doesn’t work: Trying to make sense of the pheromone mess

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome!

Coywolves

Although not as cool as a Jackalope, or a Rainbow Butterfly Unicorn Kitten, this hybrid creature (whom some are suggesting should be considered its own species) is an intelligent master of adaptation.

Also, my brother is pretty convinced he saw one of these on a neighborhood trail in Northern Virginia a few months ago.

Anyone in the DC area ever encounter one of these?

For those who don’t have time to watch the documentary, here’s a nice, concise article in Smithsonian Mag on the topic. Coywolves are Taking Over Eastern North America

Mobile, Merry & Bright

Feature photograph of Max Bailey’s “Zara” Persian kitten figurine by Ruffings.

The coming holidays will be my first as a pet sitter. Like many professional pet sitters, I will spend the next few weeks on the go from early in the morning until well into the evening. No festive dinner with family; no enjoying my neice and nehphew’s excitement  as they open their presents by the tree; no leisurely Christmas morning brunch filled with mimosas and laughter. I admit that I have experienced a few moments of sadness in anticipation of this fact.

But early this morning, as I drove to visit one of my kitty clients before the sun was fully up, I noticed the light displays in so many yards along the way. My car radio was tuned to a classical station that I’m pretty sure will be playing nothing but carols from now until the new year. There was a decorated tree waiting for me when I arrived at the client’s home. And it struck me that in my travels around town as a pet sitter, I will actually get to experience more varied festive holiday stimuli than I would otherwise.

Most importantly, I’ll get to spend time helping people’s pets feel a little less alone while their families are away, and hopefully help their families enjoy themselves a bit more, knowing their pets are in good hands.

When I look at it this way, I can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays.

Now, if we can just not let it snow…

Brown Paper Packages Tied Up with Strings…

…these are a few of your pet’s favorite things.

They are also a few of the things that can send your pet to the vet, and you remembering your favorite things isn’t going to make your furry friend feel better (or pay the bill for emergency surgery to remove a foreign object from his or her digestive tract).

I often feel like such a buzz-kill with some of what I write here, but what can I say? I’m an ounce of prevention kind of gal.

So, here are a few other things to keep in mind while you’re enjoying the holidays with that kitten and her whiskers, and/or that dog who hopefully isn’t biting (if you happen to also have cream-colored ponies or geese, and live within my service area, get in touch!):

FOOD
Who wants to have their holiday vibe interrupted to clean up prodigious amounts of vomit and diarrhea? While it may be tempting to share your holiday meal or treats with your pets, best just to stifle that generous urge, harden your heart against those beseeching eyes staring up at you, and have some of their pet treats on hand to offer as an alternative. Of course, this is easier said than done, and I confess to having been weak in the past. If you must share some of your people food, please do so in very small quantities and make sure it’s something that won’t upset their GI system (think meat or vegetables without a lot of seasoning). Also, bones are out, and definitley keep them away from any chocolate (and probably from any crisp apple strudel).

Cat looking cute begging for food

PLANTS
I think most pet owners have heard that poinsettias are toxic to pets. While this is true, I recently learned that they are only mildly toxic, and that medical treatment is rarely required. However, since we’ve already established that we’d rather not deal with vomiting and diarrhea when it can be avoided, it’s probably best to keep these plants out of reach if possible. Other holiday plants such as mistletoe and holly can be far worse for our pets if ingested; the ASPCA has compiled a comprehensive list of toxic and non-toxic plants for cats and dogs. Apparently roses with raindrops on them aren’t much of a hazard.

cat smelling rose

DECORATIONS
Tinsel:  If my memory serves me correctly, I recall that my mother hated tinsel on the Christmas tree. We kids loved it, and I think my dad did, too. I’m pretty sure Mom eventually won the debate, and at some point our holidays became tinsel-free. Which is probably a good thing for the family cats, because tinsel is very hard for them to resist, and is very dangerous to them if ingested because of the liklihood of an intestinal blockage (and believe me, your cat will eventually ingest it if it’s around). In the unfortunate event that your pet does swallow some tinsel and you find out about it on its way out, here are some guidelines for how to proceed (please take note that any attempts to pull it out should be gentle, breif, and halted immediately if you encounter any resistance when you start to pull on the string).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gift Wrapping Material: See Tinsel. Our pets explore the world with their noses and mouths, and bless their hearts, they’re often not much better than a two or three year old human at knowing what they should swallow and what they shouldn’t. So best to promptly pick up any bows, ribbons, etc.

Lights: Holiday lights are one of the best things about the season if you ask me, so I woudn’t dream of recommending not having them around. However, if a pet bites into a strand, all sorts of mayhem is likely to ensue, including a shock or burn to the pet, and an electrical fire that could burn down your home and totally ruin your holiday. Our friskier feline friends also run the risk of getting them wrapped around their neck if the strand is not securely wrapped around something. So please just keep an eye on your pets while the lights are plugged in, be sure to unplug them whenever you leave your home, and try not to have loose light strands lying/hanging around.

I’m sure there are other potential hazards I’ve failed to mention, but it’s time for me to go dream about silver white winters melting into spring. Please feel free to add any important points I may have missed in the comment section!

And sincere best wishes to all for a very happy and safe holiday season filled with your favorite people, pets, and things.

In Case of Emergency

Many of us load our emergency contact’s info into our phones under “ICE” (in case of emergency) so that first responders know who to contact in the event that we are incapacitated.

I would like to suggest that you consider including your pet sitter’s information either in the note field of your ICE contact, or as a separate ICE contact, if you have not already done so. This wikipedia article points out that you can designate multiple ICE contacts, and also provides some good tips on how to make sure the ICE contacts on your phone are accessible to first responders even if the phone is locked.

I typically ask my pet sitting clients to notify me once they have returned safe and sound from their vacation, but I know that it’s easy to forget to do this. Having your pet sitter listed as one of your emergency contacts just adds an extra layer of insurance that your pet sitter will be able to continue caring for your pets in the event that you are incapacitated and unable to request it.

If the suggestion above doesn’t work for you, please make sure that your primary emergency contact has your pet sitter’s contact info.

Thanks for your consideration, and may your ICE contact never need to be utilized!

Whisker Fatigue: Fact or Feline Fake News?

The first time I heard about “whisker fatigue” was earlier this year when I visited a new client who showed me to her cat’s feeding area in the basement, where a mound of kibble sat atop a paper plate. She explained to me that she had recently learned that many cats experience discomfort when forced to eat out of deep bowls because their sensitive whiskers are being subjected to over-stimulation.

This made sense to me, and I never questioned it. In fact, when I was caring for another kitty soon after whose appetite seemed a bit off, I switched out the bowl that his owner used for a flat dinner plate, thinking that perhaps this insidious whisker fatigue was the cause (more on this later).

Having not heard of this syndrome prior to this interaction with my client, I assumed that many other cat owners may be unaware of it as well, and I figured I’d write a blog post about it.

However, in researching the topic online, I came upon an article in Boston Magazine calling the issue into question, and calling out the New York Times for perpetuating as fact something that has almost zero research to back it up. I recommend that you read both pieces and decide for yourself, but in a nutshell, the author of the Boston Magazine piece reached out to several veterinary shcools and associations, and searched a number of veterinary journals, and could find no evidence that “whisker fatigue is a real thing” other than the assertion by a general partner at a pet product company that sells feeding dishes.

Me? My jury is out. It still makes intuitive sense to me, but there just doesn’t seem to be any evidence to back it up. The kitty I mentioned above whose bowl I switched out for a plate? He did begin eating more after I did that…but only after I tried some different wet food and placed the plate on a high shelf in the kitchen where his food-obsessed and much larger kitty companion couldn’t get to it. It seems that his problem with the food had more to do with the food itself, and competition for his food from his buddy, than too deep a bowl; I suspect that may be the case with many of our feline friends. This quote from a blog post by Shertz Aniimal Hospital in Texas sums up my current thoughts on the matter:

“By nature, cats are outdoor, solitary animals that we’ve decided to bring indoors and force into our pack. Taking steps to reduce environmental stress  and enrich your pet’s environment are an important part of responsible cat ownership. This may include providing a flowing water source and feeding from a flatter surface. Remember, combating whisker fatigue in cats is just a small part of making them feel welcome in our homes.”

I can see no harm in feeding your cat from a flat surface, beyond maybe a little more cleanup required on your part. Just do yourself a favor and don’t get suckered into paying a lot of money for a shallow pet bowl!

Finally…A Really Good Pet Hair Remover

I don’t make this claim lightly, but I think I may have actually found a pet hair roller/remover that works well and is easy to use, with minimal effort required to remove the hair from the device itself once the device has removed it from your furniture.

I’ve only had the Chom Chom Roller for a couple of weeks now, so it’s always possible that it will break or stop being amazing, but for now I am more satisfied with it than I have been with any previous pet hair removal method (tape rolls, lint brushes, vacuum cleaners, etc.).

I haven’t yet tested it on clothing…I have a suspicion that good old fashioned tape rollers may work better. But it kicks butt on my furniture, and so I give it a five star rating (it gets 4.8 stars on Amazon). You can buy it from Amazon by clicking on the image below (yes, I’ll get paid on it if you do, but that’s not why I posted this…I really just like the device and wanted to share it with everyone).

Critters in Cars: Let’s Talk Safety

Head out the window, ears flapping, catching the breeze and checking out the world as it whizzes by. No doubt many dogs enjoy this experience, and many people who witness it smile at the cuteness as they drive alongside the vehicles containing said dogs.

Now imagine that the dog is a child instead. How would you feel about that?

Most of us would never consider allowing a child to stand up in the seat and stick his or her head out of the window of a moving vehicle; in fact, I’m willing to bet that most parents wouldn’t dream of not having their child buckled into a crash-tested car seat, depending on their age and size. And I think it’s safe to say that most of us (hopefully) take care to ensure that we are wearing a seat belt as well.

Dogs and cats are made of the same stuff we are: their bones break; their skin is vulnerable to lacerations; and their organs can sustain damage from blunt trauma. They are also subject to the same laws of physics that we are, and become moving projectiles when subjected to force.

Dog wearing goggles with head out of moving vehicle window.
At least this pooch is wearing goggles to protect her eyes from debris!

My impetus for writing this post was another local pet sitter who was advertising her services, including pet transportation, on a local listserv. One of the photos she posted was of a sweet little dog on her lap in the driver seat. I was immediately struck by a vision of the airbag deploying; given the angle at which the dog was sitting, a broken neck was the most likely outcome of that scenario. It probably wouldn’t have ended well for the driver, either.

I realize that this is not a fun topic, and to be honest it’s not one that I ever gave much consideration to until I took my pet first aid/CPR certification and learned about the injuries that are sustained by pets each year, especially dogs, because they are not properly secured in a moving vehicle. However, I couldn’t unlearn what I had learned, and am now a firm advocate for securing pets during transportation.

So the obvious next question is “what’s the best way to do this?” Fortunately, Lindsey Wolko took this question to heart and founded the Center for Pet Safety, whose mission is “to have an enduring, positive impact on the survivability, health, safety and well-being of companion animals and the consumer through scientific research, product testing and education.”

The center has developed the CPS Certified Program, a 501(C)(3) non-profit which requires rigorous product testing from its members who commit to meet independently developed safety standards, monitor product quality control, and commit to truth in advertising. If you are a pet owner and you want to try to mitigate injury to your pet in the event of an auto accident, please visit the Center for Pet Safety website to learn more (be sure to check out their FAQ’s, where I learned, among other things, that they advise against using a seat belt to strap a carrier in). I also recommend watching the video below so you can see how the organization conducts their safety tests, and read a helpful list of things to look for when shopping for a travel harness at the end. Warning: although no live animals are used in their tests, some people may find the visuals upsetting.

My goal here is not to make anyone feel guilty about how they choose to transport their pets in a vehicle, but rather to introduce an idea that may not have occurred to you. That scenario above with the pet on the lap when an airbag deploys? It could have been me several years ago, when I traveled along the I495 with a newly adopted kitty on my lap.

It wasn’t too long ago that seat belts and car seats for humans weren’t standard practice. But now that we know better, countless lives are saved every year. It’s at least worth considering that our pets deserve some of the same safety measures that we have come to expect for ourselves.

Hair versus Fur: What’s the Difference?

The short answer is: there is none.

It’s all nomenclature; the stuff that covers the bodies of many of our pets and their wild cousins is made up of the same stuff that covers parts of our bodies: an outgrowth of the protein keratin. We just typically call it hair when referring to it on a human body, and fur when referring to non-human mammals.

For some reason I tend to think of my cat’s hair as fur while it’s still on his body, but hair once it has become embedded in every square inch of my bedding, couch, and carpets.  And I’m more inclined to think of dogs, cats, ungulates (hooved animals), and apes as having hair, whereas I always think of bunnies, bears, foxes, wolves, and beavers as having “fur” (yes, I know – foxes and wolves are dogs…it makes no sense).

catoncouch
Photo from 1001catblogspot

Some fun facts about animal hair:

  • Porcupine quills are greatly enlarged hairs.
  • Whiskers are hairs that work as sensory receptors.
  • Fingernails and claws, rhino horns, and the scales covering the pangolin are all made of the same stuff that hair/fur is made of: keratin.
  • Not all languages differentiate between hair and fur like we do in English.

    Pangolin on sand with blue sky background.
    Photo by Nigel Dennis/Getty Images

Check out this Mental Floss article for more interesting facts about hair/fur.