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).

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!

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.

 

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.

Professional Pet Sitter vs. On-Demand Pet Service: What type of pet sitter is best for you?

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).

Dog in stroller
Photo via Fastdogs.org

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.

Bonafides

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.

PHA CERT

Availability

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.

Easy button with hand
Photo via LTLFreightcenter.com

Emergency Backup

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.

RelievedCat

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.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

 

Do You Speak Dog?

Full disclosure: I do not yet speak dog.

As the “about” section of Northwest Pets DC’s website indicates, I have lots of experience with cats. I think I can safely say that I speak cat fluently.

But as a pet sitter who hopes to serve my canine community, I need to learn to speak dog. Which is why I was so grateful when a friend in Vancouver, Washington shared a few dog-centric resources with me. This friend is very plugged in to the dog training community, and I trust her recommendations without reservation. Today I want to share with you one of these resources about which I am particularly excited.

ISpeakDog has a highly-credentialed team of writers and dog trainers, including the organization’s founder, Tracy Krulik, who lives in nearby Ashburn, Virginia. You can read all about the team here.

This site is super accessible and contains a wealth of information, including videos. But what makes this resource stand out for me is the step-by-step guidance it gives in easy, digestible bites. I have just begun to explore its offerings, and look forward to really digging in further in the weeks to come.

If you would like learn to speak dog, or just want to brush up, I encourage you to take a look!

Tracy Krulik
Tracy Krulik, founder of iSpeakDog, with her rescue pup, Emma. Via iSpeakDog.org

Pets & Climate Change

Friends and colleagues who know me well tend to associate me with cats and wine, due to my extensive experience and fascination with both. People who know me really well probably also associate me with another topic: climate change.

Photo via bdcwire.com

So, why a post (Northwest Pets DC’s inaugural post, in fact) on pets and climate change? How does the latter have anything to do with the former?

During a recent online course for pet first-aid, I learned of a documentary titled “Mine” about the pets and humans who lost each other in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. I have not yet watched the film myself, but when the course instructor pointed out that people need to have an emergency plan in place for their pets due to the increase in severe weather events caused by climate change, I was struck by the fact that I have never really given much thought to the ways that pets might be adversely impacted by climate change. Hence the catalyst for this post, in which I would like to briefly discuss some ways that our pets are being impacted by climate change; some things that we can do to minimize those impacts; and finally, an appeal to start taking action to mitigate climate change itself, so that all creatures will have a shot at a more livable world.

When extreme weather strikes, things tend to get chaotic. Unfortunately, when faced with a life-threatening situation, we may not always have the luxury of being able to rescue our pets while we’re busy attempting to rescue ourselves and our human family members. Our chances of being able to rescue our pets and care for them in the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster are increased greatly if we have pet carriers, leashes, blankets, emergency stashes of food and drinking water, medicine, flashlights, and a first-aid kit on hand in a central, easy to access location. Please be sure to share the location of these items with your pet sitter, and make sure s(he) has your most updated emergency contact info. I urge you to have a systematic evacuation plan in place for you and your pets, should a worst-case scenario arise, especially if you live in an area that is prone to fire, earthquakes, tornadoes, or flooding (flooding in the DC area tends to occur mostly in the southeast quadrant, and earthquakes are relatively rare, but house/building fires are a risk against which we should all remain vigilant) . Also, if your pet has not been microchipped, please consider doing so, and make sure that you update your information on the appropriate pet recovery website whenever you move. Although tags are also a good idea, your pet can become separated from his or her tags in chaotic conditions, making it more difficult for rescue personnel to track you down. Finally, take pictures of yourself with your pets, and post them on social media. The documentary I mentioned above details the long separation that so many pets and their people had to endure because the animals were carrying no identification. Many of Katrina’s pet victims were adopted out to new families, and by the time their original owners tracked them down years later, the pets and their new families had bonded. So much lost time could have been avoided had these pets been carrying identification, and had they been photographed, so that authorities could match them to their owners more easily.

Excessive heat is another factor brought about by climate change that can be problematic for our furry friends. An increase in the number and duration of heat waves means that it is often just too hot to take our dogs for those walks that many of them live for, especially in the middle of the day. Some dogs have a harder time dealing with the heat than others (pugs, bulldogs, boxers, Saint Bernards, and shih tzu’s fall into this category), but it’s important to be on the lookout for signs of heat distress regardless of the breed. This article provides a good summary of how to identify potential heat stroke or hyperthermia in dogs; how to take action if you suspect a dog is suffering from a heat condition; and, most importantly, how to avoid it in the first place.

There are additional impacts that I could go into, but I think I’ve covered the two that are most likely to affect our pets here in the DC metro area. And as I don’t want to make this inaugural post all doom and gloom and scary stuff, I’ll wrap things up by telling you about a group of people I know who are doing some very important work to try to solve the climate change problem.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby empowers individuals to influence their elected officials to take action on climate change. The organization works with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to push for legislation that will grow the economy, cut emissions, and save lives. I won’t go into more detail here, lest you think I’m making a shameless plug for a personal cause (I am), but please do consider taking a look at CCL’s website, and let me know if you have any questions or thoughts.

Finally, please feel free to share any ideas for future blog posts you might have! My office staff and I would love to hear from you.

Northwest Pets DC Staff