Unsolicited Advice

I generally try to avoid offering unsolicited pet-related advice to my clients. I view my role as that of a caretaker whose primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and well-being of clients’ pets while they are under my care while adhering to the instructions of the pet’s guardians as closely as possible. If I was a parent to a human baby and my au-pair or daycare employee started giving me advice on how best to raise my child, I think I’d get pretty annoyed. So unless I see something going on that is putting a pet in obvious danger or ill-health, I tend to prefer to leave the pet-parenting to the pet parents.

Having said that, there are a few best-practices that I personally feel are kind of important and think that pet parents should at least be aware of so they can research them further if interested, so I’ll offer up my thoughts on them here.

PETS IN MOVING VEHICLES

I wrote a post about a year ago titled Critters in Cars: Let’s Talk Pet Safety. I think if I had to choose one topic that concerns me most, this would be it. I won’t rehash what I wrote here and invite you to read the original article instead, but the main gist is that pets should always be secured properly while in a moving vehicle.

Cat-in-car
Source: http://yandere-simulator-fanon.wikia.com

STICKS AND STONES (AND ICE AND BONES)

I was having dinner with my siblings a few weeks ago, and when I mentioned that I don’t let dogs under my care chew on or chase sticks, my sister rolled her eyes and said “Jeez, can’t you just let dogs be dogs?”. I have no doubt that most dogs would have a lot more fun with my sister than they do with me, at least until they experience one of the many unpleasant-at-best occurrences that are not at all uncommon when dogs are allowed to chew on sticks, rocks, ice, or bones. These include lacerations and infections in the mouth, broken teeth, choking, and perforated or blocked intestines. Stay tuned for a post on some safe chewing alternatives, but feel free to do some online research yourself in the meantime (or ask your vet for some recommendations).

dachshund with stick
Source: Pinterest

AND BLIND CORDS!

Every year, children and pets are killed or end up in the ER because they got a blind cord wrapped around their neck. Cats are at particular risk with their tendency to like to play with stringy things. Please make sure any blind cords you have are well-secured and not left dangling, especially if your kitty is playful.

Cat_blind_cord
Source: Blinds.com

KITTIES: KIBBLE VERSUS CANNED

Pet nutrition is a topic that often sparks fierce debate among pet professionals, and one could lose countless hours and a small fortune researching and trying different pet diets. The one theme that stands out for me in this vast sea of conflicting opinions is that cats do better on wet/canned food than on kibble, and that if you’re going to feed your cat kibble, it should be of limited quantity and heavily supplemented with wet food. You can read (lots) more about why at Catinfo.org, but the main gist is that cats very much need the extra water that is provided by wet food, and they very much don’t need the carbs that come from kibble. (Note: This does not seem to hold true for most dogs, who according to my own vet seem to do just fine on a kibble diet, although I am making no recommendations one way or the other on that topic, so be sure to check with your own vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet).

Dry-wet-pet-food-1706PETmarket
Source: Petfoodindustry.com

LITTER BOXES

Let me start by saying that if your current litter box setup is working well for you, don’t change anything. But please do keep the following points in mind:

  • Cat boxes should be scooped at least once a day.
  • If you use non-clumping litter, the litter should be entirely replaced at least every other day, preferably every day.
  • Choose a low-dust litter. Your cat is breathing in dust particles every time she uses the box, and the least you can do is to limit the number of dust particles she is forced to take into her lungs.
  • Maintain a litter depth of at least 2 inches. Your cat needs to feel like she has adquately covered up her business.
  • Studies indicate that in general, cats don’t have a preference when it comes to whether their litter box has a lid or not. The important factor seems to be that the litter box is large enough for them. So keep a lid on it if it’s working well for you and your cat isn’t having accidents outside the box, but consider going topless if your kitty is having issues. (You can read more about the studies here).
big_cats-small_litterbox
Source: Playrightmeow.com

CLEAN PLATES

I think many of us tend to think that because our pets lick their own butts, this means that their digestive systems can handle anything. While they certainly seem to have more hardy systems than our own,  this does not mean that they aren’t succeptible to bateria and viruses. The National Sanitation Foundation found pet bowls to be the fourth most germ-filled place in the home. Bottom line is, it’s important to thoroughly clean your pets’ food and water bowls daily, and to disinfect them periodically, and this IheartDogs article gives some additional details on the whys and hows.

Catdishwasher
Source: Nicola Alebertini (Flicker)

Well, that’s about all from pulpit for today. Please feel free to share any thoughts you might have on any of the topics raised here.

Veterinary Medicine Counterfeiting

Someone in a pet sitter forum I’m a member of just posted this article regarding the guilty plea of a CEO who was charged with “intentionally trafficking in counterfeit labels and packaging for anti-parasite products and veterinary medicines between July 2015 and December 2016.”

The EPA is aware of this and also offers some guidance here.

For those of you who use flea and tick products on your cats and dogs, please take the following precautions to ensure that the products you have are legitimate:

1) Check the lot number/expiration date on the retail carton matches the lot number on the applicator package and/or the individual applicators.

2) Determine whether the instruction leaflet is included. It provides the following information: first-aid statements, including emergency US or related Merial branch telephone numbers; precautionary statements for humans and pets; directions for use; Frontline Plus from Merial usually has an adhesive calendar sticker with instructions for use and phone number. Treatment frequency is printed behind the front panel. Visual aids and instructions are also included.

3) The pesticide is contained in an applicator package, which is child-resistant.

4) Text on the package is in English only. There should be no stickers on the package. Related country’s approval numbers and phone numbers are printed on the box.

5) Once you open the applicator package, each individual applicator has a label that includes the registrant’s name “Merial;” the product name; “CAUTION”, “Keep out of reach of children”, “For animal treatment only”; Composition of active ingredient(s) (fipronil for Frontline Top Spot products; and fipronil and (S)-methoprene for Frontline Plus products). Text is in English. Note that for Merial Frontline Plus*: Applicator itself has the lot number and expiration date printed in the front.

 

Summer Pet Safety Tips

(Photo: Poki Soaks up the Sun)

The folks at the FACE Foundation shared these helpful infographics from the Arizona Humane Society with tips for keeping pets safe in the summer heat. As we head into the steamy DC summer, I figured now is a great time to share.

To the tips listed here, I would add something I think most of us know but that unfortunately still happens too often: DON’T LEAVE YOUR PET ALONE IN THE CAR!

summer-pet-safety-1

summer-pet-safety-2

The Ant Can’t…

…get to your pet’s food if you place the food bowl into a dish or pan with some water in it (apologies if you had high hopes for something that rhymed).

Basically, build a moat across which the ants are unable to swim.

I learned about this little life hack recently from a friend who had to employ it with her own cat down in the Dominican Republic, and then I got to test it out on a pet sit assignment when I came in one day to find ants beginning to swarm the cats’ food bowls. It worked brilliantly.

With summer coming on, I figured some of you might find this helfpul, but hope that you don’t have to use it!

AntMoatArchie
We haven’t had any ant problems yet this year, and Archie is determined to keep it that way by making sure he polishes off every…last…bit.

 

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!

 

The MuttMix Project

I stumbled across this interesting project via the FACE Foundation’s blog, and invite my readers to participate if they’re interested (or to at least just read about it, even if they don’t want to take the survey/quiz).

From the “About the MuttMix Project” page of the International Association of Animal Behavioral Consultants:

“The idea of breeds and pet dogs are intimately connected…”

“What does this mean for mixed breed dogs? Since these breed categories are so strongly ingrained in our notion of “dog,” naturally our brain tries to put any new dog we meet into one or more of these categories…”

“We take individual characteristics that match our notion of breeds and use those traits to build a box to mentally house our mutt. And, since we have notions about breeds and behavior, we now also have a mental box of behavior we expect from this dog, all based on appearance.”

“Are we actually any good at this? First of all, can we do a good job of judging the mix of breeds in a mutt by looking at them? Second, do our preconceived notions about behavior and physical traits hold true?

This experiment aims to answer the first question. Using genetic markers, and a panel of known pure-bred dogs, we can confidently determine the ancestral mix of breeds represented in an individual dog. All of the images you will be asked to judge in this experiment are of dogs that have been tested, so we know what mix of breeds they represent.

Now, we need your help in finding out how well people are able to guess these breed mixes based on appearance.”

Click here to take the survey

MixedMutt

 

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!