June Pet of the Month: Princess Lucky Star & Captain Luna Galacticat

While I usually call them Lucky and Luna for short, I will sometimes address these two Burmese kitties by their full names because, come on – these are fun names to say! Fun names deserve fun cats, and these sister kitties fit the bill.

Lucky and Luna were about nine months old when I started caring for them in June 2018. In fact, today is the one-year anniversary of my very first visit with them!

As you can see by their photos, these sisters look very similar. It was important that I was able to tell them apart, however, because Luna was getting regular medication for a while, so their humans pointed out that Luna has slightly darker markings, golden eyes, and is a little bit bow-legged.

 

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Of course, once I started caring for them, different personality traits emerged as well. Lucky has the most amazing dinner-time meow. It’s hard to describe, but there is no mistaking that she is telling you that she wants her wet food and she wants it NOW! Initially, Lucky was the more athletic and outgoing of the two, although Luna has come into her own over the past year and now both of them vie for the opportunity to leap into the air after a feather on a wire or a flying worm. There was a brief period during which we thought the girls were vandalizing the paper towel roll, but it turns out it was a gremlin perpetrating the mischeif, and they apprehended him and brought him to justice. However, there was no escaping responsibility for the items being removed from the top of the fridge – I caught them red-handed.

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Lucky and Luna’s humans know how important environmental enrichment is for kitties who spend most or all of their time indoors, so they always have the best toys and food puzzles on hand, but these girls also get to go out for walks with their humans when the weather is nice!

Lucky and Luna have their own Instagram account; if you’d like to follow their adventures (including a long-distance love affair between Luna and a Burmese boy from Texas named Goblin Bob), you can find them at @luckyluna_cats.

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April Pet of the Month – Poppy & Langston

I have been caring for Poppy and Langston for a little over a year now. Their mom originally got in touch with in touch with me in January 2018, not long after she had brought Langston into the household as a companion for Poppy. She knew she would be spending a fair amount of time traveling over the next year and wanted to be sure that Poppy had some full-time companionship when she was away, aside from the daily visits from the pet sitter and the occasional drop-in visits from friends.

I recall being very impressed by her commitment to properly introducing Langston to the household; she did her research and stuck to the schedule that would ultimately ensure that these two became friends (although in the beginning, as is often the case with kitties, they were more like frenemies while they worked out the hierarchy; Langston would find himself the loving object of a grooming session one moment, and the recipient of a firm bite to the neck the next).

My visits with Poppy and Langston usually take place in the morning, when their apartment is filled with gorgeous light from the south-facing windows. As with all my kitty visits, we get the “chores” out of the way first: Food, water, litter, and any cleanup that might be required due to Poppy’s occasionally sensitive tummy.

Langston is an environmentally-conscious kitty who believes that food should never go to waste, and he always does his part to make sure that never happens in this household. However, once he has lapped up a bit of his wet food, he is quick to switch gears to play mode, and will run over to the cabinet that holds his toys and meow insistently until I produce the goods. At this point we typically retreat to the bedroom where Poppy stalks the black feathers at the end of her favorite wand while I hide and drag it behind pillows or just under the edge of the blanket, and Langston chases his favorite gold ribbon or the cardboard bits on the end of the Cat Dancer wire. My visits with Poppy and Langston are very much two-handed affairs. Poppy often trades the chasing of the feather wand for brushes and pets on my lap before too long, and Langston will sometimes join her, kicking back with his belly exposed and purring up storm.

I have spent a great deal of time with these two over the last year, and it is with mixed emotions that I prepare to spend what will likely be my last visits with them for some time to come. They will soon be moving to New York to join their mom, who has taken a job there. While I and their Auntie Marjorie – who has stepped in to provide additional care and company for them while their mom has been transitioning to her new digs – will miss them terribly, I know we’re both very happy that they will soon be spending lots of regular QT with their favorite human in the world:-)

Langston is the dapper short-haired tabby, and Poppy is the sweet long-haired tabby.

Laser Pointers: A Lesson Learned

Image by Chris Winsor/Getty Images

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):

https://www.petful.com/behaviors/why-do-cats-like-laser-pointers-so-much/

Guidelines for Laser Pointer Playtime

  • Please don’t let the laser pointer become your cat’s only toy. You need a range of toys, such as wand toys, that your cat can paw at and capture.
  • During playtime, have on hand some stuffed cat toys that your cat can easily grab or paw. You might even put a little food in some of the toys for kitty to retrieve as a reward.
  • Once in a while, let the red dot of the laser land on one of these other toys and watch your kitty “capture” it. Be sure she has a firm hold on the toy before you take the light away.
  • Never shine the light directly into your cat’s eyes. You can cause serious damage to your pet’s eyes by doing this!

 

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).

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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!

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).

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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.

 

Harness Hell

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 northwestpetsdc@gmail.com.

Local Pet Profile: Pimms

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).

Cat curled up in bed
Photo of Pimms by John Lambrou

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.

Two cats laying on bed
Photo of Pimms and Marliegh by John Lambrou

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.

Cat laying on flagstone outside on sunny day
Photo of Pimms by John Lambrou

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)