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.

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

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!

 

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.

Critters in Cars: Let’s Talk Safety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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