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Category Archives: Cats

The end of the road: contemplating euthanasia.

I’ve been watching my young dog grow old for a while now, and I hate it. Luce was the first young dog I ever owned as an adult. I picked her out of the shelter based on her ridiculous ears and her serious expression. We took her into the “Getting to Know You” room and she dove snorting into my lap and then covered my face with kisses. I did not need to look further– I had found my dog.

She was never an easy dog. She was reactive, dog-aggressive, and incredibly energetic and athletic. If you turned her loose in a fenced yard, the first thing she’d do was check the fence for any sign of weakness, any loose boards. She was extremely smart and she used that power for naughtiness.

Escape artist

Escape artist

She was the first dog I ever trained, and she taught me so much. She taught me to think outside the box. She taught me that rewarding is more powerful than punishing. She taught me that even a crazy dog like her could learn to behave in public, even around other dogs.

She was the first dog I ever competed with, starting in Rally Obedience where she was on leash the entire time (and I very clearly remember telling my obedience instructor at the time that they could have my leash when they could pry it from my cold, dead hand). We quickly progressed to off-leash levels, and she kicked butt. She finished her career with a laundry list of titles after her name and a very proud mama.

That was years ago.

Now she’s twelve, arthritic, and senile.

Both of her knees are crunchy with arthritis and it’s hard for her to go up and down the stairs. She needs a boost to get into the car or onto my bed. But arthritis is something we can deal with, you know? There are plenty of medication options. There are joint supplements. And if those aren’t enough, there are things like cold laser therapy and acupuncture that might help. We have so many options for treating pain in dogs, so when our first medication choice didn’t do enough, we were able to switch to a second one that might work better.

But the senile part, that’s what I feel so helpless about. She barks and barks at me and I can’t figure out what she wants. She gets up and pees on the floor with no warning instead of asking to go out (and she doesn’t have an infection). She barks about everything. She never used to bark at all, even when the doorbell rang.

She goes off by herself when she used to be my shadow. She lays on the couch and doesn’t move all day.

I have no idea why I'm barking but I'm barking!

I have no idea why I’m barking but I’m barking!

And I question myself about whether she’s happy, about whether this is a good quality of life for her.

I think she is happy, or at least content. She’s old and snoring the day away on a comfortable couch isn’t a bad deal. She loves her food and is happy to spend her time licking canned dog food out of a Kong. She can’t hear, but she can still snag a french fry out of the air without hesitation. She can’t handle hiking anymore, but she loves to go for car rides. She sits up all proud of herself in the front seat and knows that she’s important.

But I see the decline and it worries me whether or not I’ll be able to let go when it’s time, whatever that means. She’s my best friend and more than anything, I don’t want her to suffer. But nor can I imagine life without her. She has slept next to me in bed for 11 years. She has been my constant.

There are lots of suggestions on the internet about how to determine whether it is time to put your dog to sleep. Pick three things that your dog loves, and when she can’t do those things anymore, it’s time. But the things that Luce used to love to do have simply been replaced by things that she loves to do now. So how does that work? Some suggest that when your dog has more bad days than good days, it’s time. But what’s good and what’s bad and where do they equal out?

It’s so hard. I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want her to suffer. But I don’t want to let her go before she’s ready.

Dr. Ron always says “decision of least regret”. And I believe that too early is better than too late. But why does it have to be so complicated?

Why does love have to be this hard?

The word “euthanasia” literally means “good death” and I am so grateful that we are able to give our pets this one last kindness. I am grateful that we can end suffering.

Comfortable old dog.

Comfortable old dog.

If you’re struggling with this with your own pet, please feel free to give us a call. Any of the staff would be happy to talk to you, and if you need more advice than what we can provide over the phone, we can always schedule your pet for a doctor visit. Sometimes a simple physical can lead to a clearer picture– if you’re thinking about putting your old dog to sleep because she is having trouble getting up, maybe pain medication will improve her quality of life. If your old cat is skinny and vomiting all over the place, perhaps he has a medical condition that we can treat. Or maybe it really is just time.

Every path is unique. Everybody’s answer is going to be different.

But we’re all doing it because we love them.

I know I’m not the only one out there who struggles with this– what has been helpful to you in making this hard decision? What are your tips?

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Cats, Dogs, Health

 

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What does “holistic” mean? (And other pet food marketing gimmicks)

Includes fresh fruits.

Includes fresh fruits.

In Part One of our pet food guide series, we talked about the importance of reading labels and what different ingredients really are and some of the games that manufacturers play (such as splitting ingredients) to make you think there is more or less of something in the bag than there really is.

Unfortunately, there are lots of games that marketers can play with words that have meaning… but that meaning may not be what you think it is. My hope with this post is to give you the knowledge to know what you’re looking at when you read the back of a pet food bag, and to make your decisions based on actual information, not fancy packaging.

So, some quick definitions. AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, is in charge of monitoring pet food manufacturing. They have constructed some very specific definitions. For example, did you know that a food marketed as “beef dinner” is a very different food than one marketed as “with beef” or as “beef flavor”? Who knew, right?

A food that is labeled, for example, “Beef for dogs” must contain 95% beef not counting water for processing, and 70% beef including that water. Only the named meat counts toward the percentage. You can’t have a food labeled “Beef for dogs” that is made up of a large portion of, say, chicken.

However,

if the label reads “Beef dinner” (or entree or platter or formula, etc), then there only needs to be >25% of that ingredient. There’s an awful lot of room between 25% and 95%. And more interestingly, the named ingredient (“beef” in this case) does not even need to be at the top of the ingredients list). And if they want to make it, say, “chicken and fish entree for cats”, the chicken and fish must only add up to >25% in combination and there only need be 3% minimum of any single named ingredient. So your “chicken and fish entree” might only be 3% fish.

And there can be more and different ingredients that are not highlighted in the food’s name.

This can be a problem if your dog has a food sensitivity. Someone has suggested that you try a lamb and rice formula dog food for your pup because he seems to have a sensitive tummy. Lamb and rice can be good for some dogs with possible food sensitivities, so you scan the shelves and pull down a bag of Pro Plan Puppy Lamb and Rice. The front of the bag looks inviting. It’s Lamb and Rice formula, “Lamb is the first ingredient”. And it is, but as we learned in our previous food post, ingredients are listed by weight, and when you take the water weight out of a fresh, unprocessed meat, it tends to drop way down on the list. Where’s the real source of protein in this food coming from? Poultry by-product meal (chicken? turkey? duck? who knows!). So much for avoiding ingredients your dog might be sensitive to.

(If your dog doesn’t have issues with specific ingredients, this is much less of a concern!)

It’s frustrating. You shouldn’t need a PhD to read food labels.

In contrast, look at this food: Nature’s Variety Instinct Lamb Meal and Peas. The first ingredient? Lamb meal. Top of the list, no other hidden meats. Fairly transparent. And yes, more expensive, right?

Did you know that “with” also has a legal definition? “With” means there is between 3% and 25% of that ingredient in the food. It was designed as a way to highlight minor ingredients mostly for marketing purposes. Chicken dinner WITH cheese, for example.

And then at the bottom of the list comes “flavor”. “Bacon flavor dog biscuits” need only contain enough of that ingredient to be detectable.

(I am not sure who does the detecting.)

It seems the further you look, the more confusing it gets.

Recently the trend seems to be toward “Natural” and “Holistic” foods. The ads on television want you to believe that Holistic is better for your pet.

But what is “Holistic”? As far as pet food goes, there is no real (legal) definition.

“All Natural” is a funny one. It means that the ingredients must be “derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources” but can be put through any manufacturing process that the company wants it to as long as they don’t add anything synthetic to it… except for that which is unavoidable for processing. Clear as mud, right?

The same thing with “Human Grade”, which AAFCO considers a “false and misleading” phrase, as all ingredients would have to meet both requirements from the USDA for pet food and the FDA for human food. Technically it’s possible, but it’s unlikely that many pet food processing plants actually meet the grade.

Organic is even more confusing. There is no organic certification for pet food ingredients (and thus no official seal from the National Organic Program which certifies human organic foods), and yet AAFCO allows the word to be used on packaging and nobody’s really going to make a fuss about it. So what’s a word worth? Who knows.

I think the best we can do is look with open eyes and let our minds be reasonable. We all want what’s best for our pets, right? But does “best” have to equate with “super fancy high end organic”? Is it worth paying for labeling that uses terms that don’t really mean anything?

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Food, Health, kittens, Puppies

 

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How to get your kitty to drink more (and why it’s important)

Staying well hydrated is important to the health of all creatures (humans are no exception). It is essential to kidney and bladder health. Unfortunately, because cats were originally desert creatures who gleaned most of their fluids from their food, not from drinking water, which was scarce, they did not develop the same “thirst drive” that humans and dogs did. When they are not getting enough fluids, their bodies do not trigger them to go drink some water. Instead, many cats live their lives in a state of chronic mild dehydration.

Potato chips do not contribute to good hydration.

Potato chips do not contribute to good hydration.

This, unfortunately, can contribute to two common health issues in cats– chronic kidney failure and urinary tract problems (bladder stones, urinary blockages). When a cat isn’t drinking enough, it puts stress on his kidneys. Over time, this stress causes damage. It also causes his urine to become more concentrated than it should be. This can contribute to the formation of crystals, which can in turn become stones (sometimes impressively large!) in the bladder, or which can cause a blockage in the urethra, making the cat unable to urinate. This is a life-threatening (and expensive) emergency situation which we all just want to avoid.

So how do we get our finicky friends to drink more? There are lots of ways. Try several and see which ones work best for you and your cat.

Because cats have historically gotten most of their fluid intake from their food, switching from dry food to a canned diet is the very best way to keep your kitty hydrated. We recommend feeding at least some canned food, even if you do not want to feed it exclusively. To add even more fluids, you can mix some water in with the canned food to form a “soup”. Most cats love this.

Because cats have different preferences, try leaving multiple water bowls out in different places throughout your house. Some cats prefer a wide shallow bowl (that their whiskers won’t touch the sides of), so consider using a pie plate or something similar. Offer water in glass or stainless steel bowls instead of plastic, which can sometimes cause water to have a bad taste.

Be sure to clean and refill water bowls daily. Remember, cats can be so finicky! Also, consider offering filtered or distilled water– chlorinated or hard water can have a flavor that cats don’t like.

You can consider adding a few drops of tuna “juice” (the water that canned tuna is packed in) or clam juice to a bowl of water. Make sure to provide plain water as well.

Many cats are attracted to moving water, so kitty fountains are a popular choice to encourage drinking. You can also try a dripping faucet if you don’t mind your kitties on the counters.

Hopefully this post will give you some ideas to help get your kitty drinking more and staying better hydrated. Your kitty’s bladder and kidneys will thank you!

For more tips: Tips to Increase Your Cat’s Water Intake

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Cats, Food, Health, kittens

 

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Flea and tick products: which one is best?

Ah, flea season. How we loathe it. As summer draws to an end, we are seeing the typical spike in flea infestations. Getting rid of the little suckers can be frustrating, and the wide array of products available can be overwhelming. Where to start?

Flea and tick collars available at the pet or grocery store are really not a good choice (but they work great at killing the fleas you vaccuum up if you put one in the bag or canister). They tend to not protect the whole pet, and it is not at all uncommon to see fleas walking right over the collars with no ill effects. Plus they’re not great to have around kids, because the pesticides can be easily ingested.

Cheap topical flea and tick preventatives are, well, you get what you pay for. And these can be tricky. There is actually a product on the market that is marketed as flea treatment, but unless you read the fine print, you are not going to realize that it does not kill fleas at all, just sterilizes the eggs. Toxicity is also a concern. And flea/tick medications sold for dogs should never EVER be used on cats. Cats can be very sensitive, and dog products can cause neurologic problems and in extreme cases, even death.Oakley and Dakota

So what do we recommend?

Frontline Plus is our old standby, a good workhorse that kills both fleas and ticks. It’s been around for a long time, and we see very few reactions to it. There have been concerns about its effectiveness against fleas recently, so some people have chosen different options. The biggest cause of product failure is inconsistency in use, but if you feel that Frontline is no longer working, we do have other options!

Our favorite of the new products is Nexgard, an oral flea and tick preventative that is given once a month. It is only available for dogs, but it seems to do a great job in killing fleas and ticks. Because it is an oral medication instead of a topical one, the flea or tick does need to bite your pet and feed on him, so you will find attached ticks, but they will most likely already be dead. This has become pretty popular since we started carrying it, and almost everyone has been very happy with it.

Advantage II is another topical medication choice if you only need protection from fleas. It’s a great choice for indoor cats, or for dogs who don’t venture into woods or fields where they’re likely to pick up ticks. Advantage is available for both cats and dogs, and it seems to work very well.

If Advantage isn’t seeming strong enough, we are also carrying a product called Activyl. Unlike our other flea and tick products, Activyl must be purchased as an entire sixpack, but for the really tough flea infestations, it seems to make a big difference.

catzillasunrollIf you’re looking for a product that works against more than fleas and ticks, we carry a product called Revolution. Revolution is a topical product that protects against fleas and heartworm disease in dogs (and ticks but not very well) and fleas, heartworm, and ear mites in cats. Because it’s not particularly effective against ticks, we don’t typically recommend it for dogs (who must be heartworm tested or current on oral heartworm medication), but we do have it as an option for those who are interested.

And last but not least, we carry an area treatment for the home that we really like, called Siphotrol. It is a spray rather than a bomb, so you are able to put it in the places where it needs to be, such as the corners of rooms and under the furniture. It is pet-safe once dry, and it dries pretty quickly. It is a great option if you already have fleas in your home, because only a very small portion of the flea population is the adult fleas you see on your pets. The siphotrol will take care of the various life stages of fleas that are living in your carpeting or furniture, and give you a big step up in effectively eliminating the problem.

For complete instructions on how to combat fleas in your home, check out our Dealing With the Dreaded Flea Infestation post from last year. Chock full of excellent information and recommendations on returning your home to a bug-free zone.

 

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Kitten development and orphaned kitten care

Kitten pile

Kitten pile

Every year we have a number of clients who find abandoned baby kittens and take on the project of raising them. This post is an introduction to the development of kittens (physical and social), as well as how to raise a tiny kitty successfully. Baby kitties are so delicate, and they take a lot of work and commitment, but can be a tremendously fun and fulfilling experience as well. Also: kittens are adorable!

So, first an overview of kitten development:

Kittens are born blind and deaf. They are unable to regulate their own body temperature, so if they are without a mom, supplemental heat such as a heating pad set on low is important. They must be bottle fed and stimulated to go to the bathroom (mom cats do this by licking, we recommend a warm wet washcloth).

In their second week, their eyes begin to open. All kittens’ eyes are blue at this point. They are now able to hiss, and their sense of smell begins to develop.

Week three is a big week– their ears begin to stand up and they start to be able to hear. Their teeth will be starting to come in. And now is the time to start kitten-proofing because these little babies are going to be on the move, starting to explore the world. They also begin to purr around this age.

Week four brings increasingly more active and playful kittens, now with a fully mature sense of smell.

Week five is the prime time to introduce the litterbox and “real” food. A cookie sheet or any kind of flat tray with low sides so that kittens can easily crawl in and out filled with either a pelleted litter or a non-toxic clay litter (no clumping litter!) is the best option. It is normal for kittens to try to eat the litter- they’re just trying to figure things out. When introducing kitten food, you want to either offer canned food or kitten kibble that has been soaked in warm water until soft. Remember, these guys have tiny, developing teeth and they need soft foods.kittenkl

The prime socialization time for kittens is between two and seven weeks. It is extremely important that kittens be exposed to a wide variety of people and positive experiences during this time so that they will learn to trust humans and not be afraid of the world.

Bottle feeding abandoned kittens:

From birth to three weeks, kittens should be bottle-fed every 3-4 hours. Use a small pet nursing bottle and KMR or other type of kitten milk replacer. Do not use “Catmilk” or “Cat-sip” as these are not formulated for kitten milk replacement.

Let the kitten dictate when he is full. Don’t worry about overfeeding. Many milk replacers will have feeding guidelines on the container, which is a good starting point, but trust the kitten to know when he is full.

I'm hungry feed my mouth!

I’m hungry feed my mouth!

It may take a few tries before a kitten will take to a bottle. Remember– this is very different from nursing off mom! The bottle doesn’t taste or feel anything like the warm, welcoming belly of a mother cat.

Feed your kittens in an upright position– belly down, not on his back. When kittens normally nurse, they crawl up and lay on mom– they are not cradled like human babies. Pretend your hand body of the mom cat.

Kittens must be stimulated to go to the bathroom after each feeding. Unfortunately, when they are tiny, this doesn’t just happen on its own. Use a warm wet papertowel or washcloth to gently rub the genital area until you achieve success.

Hopefully this will give you some basic groundwork when it comes to nurturing baby kittens. If you have any questions, give the office a call at 665-2338 and we will do our best to help you out!

Additional resource:
Raising Happy Kittens

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2014 in Behavior, Cats, Health, kittens

 

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5 Tips to Help Slim Down Your Tubby Kitty

Obesity is a growing problem across our pet population, but indoor cats seem to be at the highest risk. While a fat cat may be cute, all that extra weight puts these cats at a higher risk offatchloe
health problems such as arthritis and diabetes, and those things are not fun to deal with for anybody. The average housecat (Domestic Shorthair) should weigh about ten pounds. There are kitties with smaller frames and those with bigger frames, so one cat may be chubby at 10 pounds while another is underweight. If your cat is a healthy weight, you will be able to feel his ribs but not see them. He’ll have a waist when you look at him from above, and his belly should tuck up– not hang down– when viewed from the side.

So… what do you do when your cat is overweight? Here are some tips to help your kitty’s weight head in the right direction:

1. Feed a higher protein diet. Digesting protein requires more energy than digesting carbs, which means your kitty will burn off more of the calories she is taking in, rather than storing them in fat. As an added bonus, it will keep her feeling full longer. Higher protein foods are more expensive than foods based on carbohydrates, but the payoff is worth it.

2. Stop free feeding. Many people allow their cats free access to as much food as they want at all times. This combined with boredom can quickly turn into a cat who eats for something to do, consuming way more calories than he is burning off, resulting in weight gain. Measuring your kitty’s food will give you control over the number of calories being consumed. The average indoor cat only requires about 200 calories a day. Many dry cat foods contain 400 or more calories per cup!

Canned food is delicious!

Canned food is delicious!

3. Feed canned food. Canned food is usually higher in protein and lower in carbs (see #1), plus it has the added benefit of providing more moisture. Since many cats are not good drinkers, any way you can add more moisture to their diet is helpful in decreasing bladder and kidney troubles. (Kitty waterfountains work great for encouraging drinking as well.)

4. Go easy on the treats. Treats are fine, but be mindful of the extra calories that they add. Choose treats that are low in calories and only feed a few of them per day. No more than 10% of your cat’s calories for the day should come from treats (and tablefood! if your cats are like mine).

5. Encourage exercise! Weight gain is a simple equation of calories being taken in being higher than the calories being burned. The more active you can encourage your cat to be, the healthier (both mentally and physically) he will be, and the easier it will be to keep him at a healthy weight. Consider feeding meals out of a food-dispensing toy such as the Slimcat Interactive Feeder. Make your kitty work for his meals!

Lots of cats also enjoy a good laser-pointer chase session, or a feather toy on a string. Whatever gets them moving!

I hope these tips make the idea of putting your kitty on a diet more manageable and less overwhelming. It is always easier to keep a cat at an ideal weight than it is to get weight off of him, but weight loss is certainly possible! Do not despair! Your kitty’s body will thank you for it, especially as he gets older.

And if all else fails, there is always the underwater treadmill!

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2014 in Cats, Health

 

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What to do when your pet is lost.

A bunch of clearly tagged dogs.

A bunch of clearly tagged dogs.

It’s a terrible feeling– you look out into the backyard where you left your dog just a few minutes ago, and he is not there. Or your kitty escapes while you’re bringing in the groceries and completely disappears. You’ve walked around your neighborhood multiple times calling and calling and still your pet does not appear. What next?

Ideally, before your pet ever goes missing, you’ll have taken some steps to help him get home. A microchip is a great start, but even better is a collar with tags that include your phone number. A rabies tag or a license can get your pet home as well, but there is an extra step involved (contacting the veterinarian or the treasurer’s office which is in charge of dog licensing). If your pet is clearly tagged with your phone number, the people who find him only need to make one call.

The most important thing you can do is get the word out that your pet is missing. Talk to your neighbors. Take a photo with you! Ask them if they’ve seen your pet.

Contact the police, especially if it is a dog who is lost. The first point of contact in many places for a found or loose dog report is the local police department. Let them know when and where your pet went missing, so that if a call comes in, they’ll know someone is looking.

Call the local veterinary hospitals. Many times a person who finds a pet will call their veterinarian to ask what to do next, or if anybody has reported a pet missing. They might also take that pet in to be scanned for a microchip. If we know your pet is missing, we can help connect you up with the people who have found him!

Call the animal shelters in your area, and go there to look in person. Animal shelters can be busy places, and the people who answer the phone might not have accurate information. Many a dog has been found at the shelter when the receptionist told the owner there was no dog there matching that description.

If your pet is microchipped, notify the microchip company (and there are many– Home Again, Avid, AKC ReUnite to name a few) and confirm that your contact information with them is correct. There is nothing more frustrating than finding a pet with a microchip that leads to a disconnected phone number.

Social media has become a tremendously useful tool in reuniting lost pets with their owners. If you have a Facebook account, post a picture and your contact information (make sure it is a public post, not friends only!) and ask your friends to share it. The reach that Facebook can have in just a short time is astonishing. There are also Facebook communities such as Find Toby in PA that are specifically geared toward connecting lost pets and their owners. Let us know and we will post it on our Facebook. Get your pet’s photo and information out there to as wide an audience as possible!

Hang fliers around your neighborhood. Keep in mind that most people will see these posters as they are driving by, so you want to include only the most important information and make it is big as possible. A large LOST DOG/CAT heading, a photo of your pet, and your contact information are the most important things. Offering a reward may entice people to be more attentive to their environment, or might encourage a person who found your pet and is considering keeping him to return him instead.

And last but not least, don’t give up hope. There are many stories of pets being reunited with their families after weeks or even years! It is possible.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Safety

 

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New weapons in the war on bugs!

Flea season last year was horrible. We saw so many clients with flea infestations who had never ever had flea problems in the past. It was frustrating and expensive for clients, and frustrating for us because they were so hard to treat. While we have an excellent step-by-step treatment guide for dealing with fleas, it seemed that no matter what people were doing, it just wasn’t working.

Recently, a few new products have come onto the market. One is just for fleas, the other is for fleas and ticks. White Oaks Veterinary Hospital is carrying both of them in order to give our clients more options when it comes to fighting the dreaded bugs that our pets can harbor.

The first one is for fleas only and is available for both cats and dogs. It is called Activyl, and we’ve been getting great reviews from clients.

Nobody wants fleas.

Nobody wants fleas.

We are only carrying the flea-only version of the product (the one that also kills ticks is toxic to cats), and it is currently only available for purchase as a pack of six, but at this point it does appear to be a powerful weapon against those dreaded blood-sucking, home-infesting fleas. If you have a kitten and you’re just looking for a general flea preventative, we would still recommend Advantage because it is a bit more gentle. If you’ve been using Frontline or Advantage and it’s working for you– fantastic! No reason to fix something that’s not broken. But we want to make you aware that we do have a potentially more potent option for the really tough flea problems.

Our other new product is something we’re pretty excited about– the first once-a-month ORAL flea and tick preventative called Nexgard.

nexgard

There have been other oral flea preventatives out there for awhile, but this is the first one that works against ticks as well. It is made by Merial, the makers of Frontline, and it has had extremely good reviews. It is slightly more expensive than Frontline, but it’s a terrific option for dogs who swim a lot, are bathed a lot, or have owners who dislike the oily patch that topical preventatives leave.

As with many oral medications, the most frequent side effect is vomiting, but otherwise this product seems to work very well. A number of staff members have tried it and liked it (I love it for my smooth-coated dogs– no mess!) and we are excited to see how it performs this flea season.

As always with tick prevention, checking your pet over after being out and avoiding high-risk tick areas is advised no matter what kind of preventative you are using (and even if you are having your dog vaccinated against Lyme disease because ticks do carry other nasties), but in the area that we live in, ticks are going to be lurking and for many people and their pets, unavoidable.

Nexgard is not available for cats. It is a dog-only product.

If either of these products sounds like something that you might be interested in for your own pet, or if you have any questions about what the right flea and tick preventative for your pets is, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 717-665-2338. We would be happy to help you figure out the best option for your pet.

 

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Getting your scratch on.

Happy kitty.

Happy kitty.

We love kitties. But it can be tough to live with them when they’re destroying your house. Previously, we looked at some ideas to help with inappropriate urination, which loses many cats their home. Another problem we see a lot in pet cats is destructive scratching of furniture, carpets, drapes, etc. This can be a frustrating problem. Who wants to have their new furniture destroyed, after all? No one. Hopefully this post will give you some ideas of how to discourage your destructive scratcher from scratching what you don’t want him to scratch, and instead turn his attention toward things that are appropriate for scratching.

The first thing to look at is what and where your cat is scratching. Does he like to scratch on a verticle surface (the back of your sofa) or a horizontal one (your carpets)? How high up does he scratch? What kind of surfaces is he seeking out? Soft ones? Rough ones? What rooms of your house? All of these things will give you clues to help you select an appealing, more appropriate option for your kitty.

There is a seemingly endless array of cat scratchers available in petstores and online. They run from expensive and elaborate cat trees to inexpensive carboard pads. There are carpet, sisal, and wood options. There are things that lay flat on the floor and others that sit at an angle. If you can imagine it, somebody probably makes it.

Cats scratch for a number of reasons. First off, it’s good for their claws. It helps them shed old claw coverings and keeps their nails healthy. It is also a good way for them to stretch their back and shoulders. And last but certainly not least, it is a way for them to mark their territory. Cats have scent glands in their feet, and so when they scratch on a surface, they are leaving their scent calling card behind.

Kitties in a kitty tree.

Kitties in a kitty tree.

Scratching is a completely normal and healthy behavior for cats. We just need to figure out how to channel it toward the right targets.

Using the clues you obtained by noticing what and where your cat is scratching, buy some things that you’d like your cat to scratch, and that might appeal to him. Take into consideration texture, and whether he likes to scratch on horizontal or verticle surfaces. Make sure that the surface is large enough for him to really stretch out while he scratches. Make sure your choices match his natural preferences. Many cats like rough surfaces that they can shred (so be sure you don’t get rid of a favorite scratching post when it’s well worn in!) If you have multiple cats, you will want to provide scratching options in multiple locations. Different cats have different preferences, and this will also ensure that there will be appropriate scratching surfaces available if one cat takes “ownership” of a certain item (remember that scent marking thing?).

Place your new scratching posts and pads in the locations where your cat is scratching. This is important. Yes, it might be unsightly for a while, but eventually you’ll be able to slowly move them to a more convenient place. In the beginning, though, you want to give your cat every chance you can to make the correct choice. You want to make the new items as welcoming and appealing as possible. If your cat enjoys catnip, a sprinkle of dried catnip or some catnip spray might be inviting. Do not try to force your cat to scratch on the new items. That could scare or offend him and turn him off to them. Let him find it on his own.

And to help him, you want to make his usual favorite spots less appealing by covering them with something like aluminum foil or double-sided tape. On flat surfaces, you can also use a plastic carpet runner placed pointy-side up to discourage little cat feet.

Again, this is not forever. When your kitty is happily scratching away on what you want him to be scratching, you can start to fade away the offensive things, being careful to monitor the situation to make sure that he continues to scratch where he is supposed to. Make the changes slowly and let him make the right choices a number of times before changing things more. With patience and perseverance, you really can train your cat to scratch only appropriate objects and not your new couch.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Behavior, Cats, Training

 

A Beginner’s Guide to Reading Pet Food Bags Part 1

pidgefoodThe pet food business is certainly booming today, and there are so many different options to choose from. There’s everything from Walmart’s cheap Ol’ Roy to the super-premium, super-expensive holistic foods. How on earth do you begin to evaluate what is on all those shelves and pick something that will be good for your pet as well as your wallet? In this week’s blog post, I hope to give you some of the basic information you need to read pet food labels in the hopes that it will help you be able to choose more wisely based on information instead of marketing and attractive packaging.

Before the mid-1800s, pets were generally fed whatever scraps were left over after the humans ate. It wasn’t until a man named James Spratt came along and invented the first dry dog food, completely revolutionizing how pets in this country are fed, that pet food manufacturing became an industry. These days, pet food is a big, complicated, profit-driven business. Everybody is out to attract consumers with what they think will be the most appealing. “Now with chicken!” “Holistic!” “Gluten free!” Cute happy puppies and catchy jingles on tv! But what does any of this really mean, and what is truly important?

The first thing to look for on the packaging of a food is the AAFCO statement. AAFCO is an organization which analyzes pet foods and guarantees that they meet a certain nutrient profile that is deemed to be acceptable for either adult pets or for growth and reproduction. This can be done in one of two ways– either simply by analysis of the ingredients, or analysis done with the addition of actual feeding trials. It is easy to tell which method was used because one of two statements will be printed on the packaging: ““(Name of product) is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles” or “Animal feeding tests using AAFCO procedures substantiate that (name of product) provides complete and balanced nutrition”. Is one better than the other? Potentially. Just because something looks good on paper, so to say, doesn’t mean that it will function as expected when it’s actually ingested. Feeding trials will prove in a real life situation that a formulation really works.hameat

The next thing we’re going to look at is ingredients.

Ingredients are complicated. There are so many games that food manufacturers can play to make their foods look better than what they actually are.

The first thing you need to understand is that ingredients are listed in order of weight. When you look at the meat content of a certain food, and you see that “chicken” is the first ingredient on the list, what you need to remember is that fresh meat is approximately 70% moisture. When you suck all that moisture out during the kibble manufacturing process, the actual nutritional part that is left is going to fall signficantly lower on the list.

However, if you see the words “chicken meal” instead, you’re looking at an ingredient that has already been dehydrated and concentrated. If that is at the top of the list, it’s going to stay there. A named meat meal (chicken, turkey, lamb, whatever) is a great ingredient and something you want to see at the top of the list. Meal is going to offer the highest amount of protein and nutrients.

And the naming of a specific meat source matters. You want to see “Chicken meal”. You do not want to see “Meat meal” or “Meat and bone meal”. Products that list a generalized “meat” ingredient tend to be using whatever they can get the cheapest, and that may change from day to day, from bag to bag. This is especially important if your pet has any food sensitivities.

Another thing to pay attention to is ingredient splitting. Manufacturers will split ingredients (especially grains or carbohydrates) into their individual components, which will move them down the list weight-wise and make them look like less than they really are. Here’s the beginning of an ingredient list from a grain-free dry dog food. Grain-free foods are often marketed as being “better”, but in truth some of them are still relying on carbs, not meat protein, as the bulk of the diet.

Chicken, Potatoes, Yellow Peas, Pea Protein Concentrate, Potato Starch, Chicken Meal, Chicken Fat,

So here we have Chicken as the first ingredient. Remember, though, that chicken is 70% water weight, all of which will disappear during processing. Then come potatoes. Also with a fair bit of water weight to them. But look– down the list– more potato, in the form of starch, and there after that is the coveted Chicken Meal that we should be looking for, because that is where the bulk of your meat-based protein is going to come from. In the middle? Yellow peas, followed by Pea Protein Concentrate. You have to wonder where on the list that chicken would actually fall if the potatoes and the peas were not split up into individual components. Maybe not first, in the spotlight, where people are going to see and and say “oh! This food has lots of chicken in it!”

What about by-products? By-products are looked down upon by some as inferior ingredients, but I think we need to think about what “by-product” really means and what an animal would eat in the wild. Here’s the AAFCO definition for Chicken By-Product Meal: “Chicken By-Product Meal – consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.”
crosbyfood

Sounds kind of gross, but in reality, if left alone with a fresh chicken, a dog is going to eat those squeamish bits too. Chicken feet, for example, are an excellent source of glucosamine, a joint supplement. So while it isn’t what I personally would want to be eating, it is not without nutritional value for an animal. Again, in “meal” form, you have a concentrated source of nutrients.

What it comes down to, at least for me, is that I want a food that gets most of its protein from meat, not grains or carbs. Cats are obligate carnivores. They need to eat meat. Dogs are technically opportunistic scavengers who will eat just about anything, but if you look at their teeth, those are the teeth of a meat-eater. With protein, the source matters when it comes to what the animal’s body is best able to use. Eggs offer the highest and most easily digestible quality of protein, followed by meat, and then followed by grains. Yes, you are going to pay a bit more for a food that is heavy in meat-based protein, but the food will be more nourishing, and you will likely have to feed less of it in order to give your pet all of what he needs. (Which will also result in less poop! Yay!)

At the end of the day, there is no one perfect food. There is no one “best” food. Every cat, every dog, is an individual. What works well for one dog may cause itchy skin in another. What works great for one cat may cause another to lose weight and look unkempt. So there is a little bit of experimentation that goes on in finding the best food to feed your pet. It is ok to switch foods. We always recommend that you do so gradually– start adding small amounts of the new food to the old food, and gradually change the ratio until you’re feeding all the new food. The speed at which you will need to do this depends greatly on your individual pet. The goal is a healthy, active pet in good weight, with a healthy coat, little odor, and a smoothly-running GI system. The right food can do amazing things.

I hope this helps a little bit in the decoding of food labels. It’s a confusing process, and there are so many games that food manufacturers like to play to make their foods more appealing. A little information about the tricks of the trade will go a long way toward helping pet owners be more savvy consumers.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Food, Health

 

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