Recently, while doing some research on whether or not it’s OK to use laser pointers when playing with dogs (not really, it turns out), I learned that many animal behavior experts are now recommending that they be used with caution when playing with cats as well.
Basically, the red dot stimulates our pets’ hunting drive, but the inability to ever be able to “catch” the prey can result in frustration, leading to obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
The following article has some tips for how to safely incorporate a laser pointer into your cat’s play routine (summary below link):
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.
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!):
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).
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.
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).
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.
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!
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!
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).
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.
Check out this Mental Floss article for more interesting facts about hair/fur.
I confess that figuring out how to use a new dog harness is one of the most challenging aspects of my job as a pet sitter. My brain just doesn’t map the process out well, and with so many different kinds of harnesses out there, it’s a sure bet that I’ll be confronted with and confounded by this on a somewhat regular basis.
I had a meet and greet recently with a Rover client* whose Boston terrier wears what I think is a “Trixie” harness. She showed me how to put it on, but I have no confidence that when it comes time for our walk this afternoon I’ll be able to do so with any grace. The client sensed my apprehension and told me that she learned recently that her regular dog walkers have been just leashing her dog at the collar because they couldn’t figure it out, so that makes me feel a little bit better.
I was hoping to find a funny video of someone as inept as I trying to put a complicated harness on a dog and failing, but alas…I could only find sober instructional videos.
But you know what there are a ton of online? Yep…videos of people trying to get their cats to wear harnesses. While I don’t condone teasing or making any animal uncomfortable for entertainment, the following video is a stellar example of how many cats react to having something placed…well, pretty much anywhere on their bodies.
* I created a Rover profile back when I first started Northwest Pets DC, hoping that I could get some side jobs/income while I built my NWPDC clientele. The client mentioned above is the first I have worked with on the Rover platform. If you are a Rover client and you are looking for the occasional walk for your dog, please feel free to look me up on Rover and book me via their site. If you are looking for regular walks or vacation stays, please contact me through NWPDC’s contact form; call 202-999-8206; or email email@example.com.
Pimms lives in AU Park has been a member of the Corcoran family since 2014, when his guardian Sara received him as a 40th birthday present. The two have formed a strong bond, and Sara is incredibly grateful that Pimms has become an integral part of her life (he thinks she’s pretty awesome, too).
Sara was a good sport and participated in a little Q&A about Pimms:
Who is Pimms’ favorite family member?
I am Pimm’s favorite family member.
If you had to choose one personality trait to describe Pimms, what would it be?
Pimms is very slick – we think he might be part Russian.
If Pimms could talk, what do you think his voice would sound like?
He would most certainly have a British accent, and would enjoy an occasional drink of his namesake.
If Pimms could convince you to change something about his or her environment or routine, what do you think it would be?
I think he would prefer to be able to go in and out freely.
What’s the naughtiest thing Pimms has ever done?
He once opened a bag of bread and took a bit out of every slice. I thought it was funny. My husband at the time did not. We’re divorced now:-)
If Pimms had a theme song, what would it be?
(All photos in this post are by Sara’s boyfriend, John Lambrou)
If you have ever lived with a pet, chances are you’ve needed a pet sitter at some point.
When I was growing up, I don’t think that professional pet sitters were even a “thing”. It seems to me that we and everyone else we knew just asked a neighbor or relative take our pet while we were away, or to stop in and give them food and water every so often.
That paradigm has clearly changed, and the pet sitting industry is booming. This is largely due to a big increase in the number of companion animals living with us, as well as a shift in our attitudes toward our companion animals, whom we now tend to think of as family members. We also travel more frequently than we used to, and many of us dislike the idea of burdening our friends and family with repeated requests to help out. Then there’s the nagging concern, especially among those of us who are a bit more neurotic about our pet’s well-being, that our neighbors or friends may not prioritize our pet’s care to the degree we would like (I’ve experienced first-hand the disappointment of having a neighbor agree to stop in to feed my cats for just one morning, and then fail to do so).
So, the benefits of hiring a pet sitter are clear – but does it matter what kind of pet sitter you hire?
There are two main categories of pet sitters available today: traditional professional pet sitters, and on-demand pet sitters that contract with tech companies like Rover or Wag. I’ve attempted to dig into some of the pros and cons for each, and apologize in advance for the length of the post, but there are quite a few considerations. I thought about breaking this up into several posts but decided to leave it as is for the sake of continuity.
The Trust Factor
When you go the traditional professional route, your pet sitter will most likely always be the same person, so you and your pets will build a relationship with this individual, and you won’t have to wonder who is going to be coming into your home each time around. Some animals are gregarious and love meeting new people, but for many, it takes a while for them to learn to trust someone new. The consistency of having the same person visit each time is simply less stressful for many pets. This does not mean that you will necessarily get a different sitter each time if you go with an on-demand pet sitting service; you can request any sitter you’d like, and people often stick with one particular sitter. However, many of the people who contract to work for the on-demand services do so to make side money, and they may have other obligations that prevent them from always being available when you need them. I spoke with a potential client recently who was using an on-demand dog walking service, and she said that while she was satisfied with their services overall, she wasn’t crazy about having different people in her home all the time. She also had an issue when someone new neglected to read the notes in her dog’s profile stating that the dog had a torn ACL, and that she shouldn’t engage in any rigorous exercise; the dog could barely walk for several days because the walker over-exercised her. I think instances like this are probably the exception, and I’m sure most on-demand sitters are diligent and careful. However, the more different people you have coming through, the more likely it is that you’re going to get one who isn’t paying attention – it’s just basic probability.
Most professional pet sitters are insured; are licensed in states where this is a requirement; are certified in pet first aid/CPR; and many will have pursued other industry training from organizations like Pet Sitters International, National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, and Dog*Tec. There is debate within the pet sitting community as to whether industry certifications really make for a better pet sitter; some think that it is simply a good marketing tool. Either way, if your pet sitter has taken the time and money to engage in many or all of the above-mentioned best-practices, it’s a good indicator that he or she takes their job seriously and are in it for the long-haul. This is true whether you’re looking at a traditional professional sitter or an on-demand sitter. There are on-demand contractors who do pet sitting full-time and who may engage in ongoing training, but I don’t get the impression that they are in the majority. I think you’re going to be more likely to find this level of commitment in the traditional professional pet sitting community.
Both the traditional pet sitter and the on-demand pet sitter have their advantages and disadvantages in this area. For the traditional professional pet sitter, caring for pets is usually their primary source of income; they do this full-time, and don’t have other employment or school obligations that might prevent them from being available whenever you need them. On the flip side, if it’s a one-person shop, this individual only has so many hours in the day, and if they’ve built up a decent-sized clientele, their schedule may fill up, particularly on and around holidays. Here’s where the on-demand service can come in handy: If your preferred sitter isn’t available, you don’t need to do a bunch of research to find a temporary replacement, or complete a bunch of new paperwork. Your profile is already in the on-demand service’s records, and it’s just a matter of checking their site for someone whose profile appeals to you and seeing if they’re available. Of course, you have no way of knowing how good this new person will be, but in a pinch, it’s nice to know that you can probably find a replacement sitter quickly.
Ease of Doing Business
Most on-demand pet sitting services on the market today were founded by people in the tech industry. Their online platforms were developed with the goal of making it super easy to book a pet sitter. There is something very appealing about only having to visit one website and being able to quickly and easily search through multiple profiles. In the traditional professional pet sitting world, you’re stuck going to Yelp or Google reviews, and then slogging through each business’ website looking for pricing, credentials, and other signs that this is someone who might be a good fit for your pet sitting needs.
I do think it’s important to keep in mind that traditional professional pet sitters vary greatly in their tech, marketing, and organizational skills, so you might come across someone who is an absolutely amazing pet sitter, but who hasn’t done a great job of building their website. Conversely, Rover, Care, and Wag are pretty darn sleek, and they go to great lengths to make sure their sitters create the most appealing profiles possible. A prettier website and a flattering profile don’t necessarily mean that the person is going to be the best pet sitter, but alas, looks do seem to matter in our decision-making process.
This is the one thing that kept me up at night when I first started Northwest Pets DC. What would happen to the pets in my care if I got hit by the bus? How would I make sure their people were notified so they could arrange to have an emergency contact take over?
My original assumption was that the on-demand pet sitting services must have protocols in place to deal with this unlikely but not impossible event, but I did some research and learned that this isn’t necessarily the case. One of the on-demand services I contacted explained that “Unfortunately, just like any situation where someone is hurt and can’t contact someone, we can only hope that someone will notice a lack of communication and notify us of a sitter being hurt. We have no way of constantly watching a sitter and knowing if one gets hurt.”
I’m happy to say that I was able to develop what I think is a pretty solid solution to this concern when my own pet sitter and I came to an agreement to back each other up in the event of a worst-case scenario. It’s pretty simple – my pet sitter/backup is listed as one of my ICE’s (In Case of Emergency) on my phone, and has access to my pet sitting calendar, in which each entry has contact info for my clients. So if I’m walking along and a piano falls out of a window onto my head, the paramedics will see instructions on my phone to contact my pet sitter, who can then spring into action, notify my clients, and potentially step in to take care of their pets if the clients’ emergency contact is unable to.
These are just a few of the considerations that come to my mind when thinking about the pros and cons of each type of pet sitting service. I happen to fall into both categories – I run my own professional pet sitting service, but I also have a profile on Rover.com. I confess that I have not received any inquiries via my Rover profile, but I would certainly be open to serving clients on that platform. My goal here was to try to be as unbiased as possible, and I hope I succeeded.
When my cat Rikki was diagnosed with diabetes last year, there were a number of considerations and decisions to be made. What type of food was best for diabetic cats? Was there any kibble that was appropriate, or were we going to have to move to a purely canned-diet? Were there any pet sitters in my area who were willing to administer insulin and who understood enough about the disease to be alert to warning signs of hypoglycemia and who knew how to respond? How on earth was he ever going to allow me to stick his ear with a needle to test his blood glucose to make sure his insulin dosage was in the right range? I knew that if I was going to have a shot at accomplishing this last one, I was going to need to have really delicious treats on hand. But what sort of treat is OK for a diabetic cat? Back when I used to have to administer subcutaneous fluids to a cat with kidney disease, I used to keep fresh shrimp on hand. But Rikki isn’t into shrimp, and quite frankly, I didn’t want to have to deal with always having fresh fish or meat in the house. Also, these types of treats didn’t lend themselves to being tossed down a hallway to encourage exercise, which is an activity that Rikki has always adored and that we always performed with Temptations or some other dry treat, which were off-limits to him now.
As luck would have it, I have since stumbled onto two great diabetic-friendly treats via recommendations from friends who don’t even have diabetic cats.
Pure Bites makes these 100% chicken breast treats for both cats and dogs, the only difference between the two being the size of the treats and packaging (the cat treats are much smaller, as are the packages in which they are available). A friend at work turned me onto these and recommended that I buy the dog treats and just cut them into smaller pieces, since this turns out to be much less expensive. I’m happy to report that Rikki loves them (as do some of my canine clients), and that they are well-suited for being chased down a hallway.
These are not fit for throwing down the hallway, but they are really good for sprinkling on top of DM canned cat food to make it more palatable. I discovered these when a friend in Oregon sent me book on clicker-training your cat, and it contained a small packet of bonito flakes in addition to a clicker. (If you have time, check out the story behind this product…it’s quite inspirational!).
I have been buying both of these from Amazon and my local Petco, but just learned that they are also available from Chewy, which is where I get Rikki’s DM canned food and where I prefer to shop for my pet food supplies whenever possible because of their outstanding customer service and user-friendly website.
As always, check with your vet before adding anything new to your pet’s diet!
We got lucky with Rikki; his diabetes went into remission after just three months on insulin, and we are now able to effectively manage his blood sugar levels with diet alone. But it was quite stressful at the outset and I’m grateful that there are some good online resources for diabetic cats; one of the best is FelineDiabetes.com. If you find yourself with a newly-diagnosed diabetic kitty, or “sugar cat” as they are fondly referred to on this forum, take some time to check it out.
Please also feel free to reach out to me – I’ll be happy to share whatever knowledge and resources I have. If you are in my service area and need a pet sitter for a diabetic cat or dog, let’s talk! You can reach me at 202-999-8206, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.