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Family Matters: Taking care of your cat


Does your cat like to use your couch – or your drapes, or your favorite pillow – as a claw-sharpening device? If so, you may have considered declawing him or her. But before resorting to surgery, you should know that declawing a cat is somewhat of a controversial issue within the veterinary community, and you may be able to alter your cat’s behavior with a few simple purchases and/or behavior modifications. 

The American Veterinary Medication Association, the non-profit association representing U.S. veterinarians, recommends that domestic cats should be declawed only after the owners have tried to keep the cat from using his or her claws destructively. Scratching is a way for cats to mark their territory, groom and stretch, and it’s normal behavior in a healthy kitty. 

Some veterinarians feel that declawing is unnecessarily painful and may change a cat’s personality and behavior. They argue that declawed felines may feel defenseless and may be more likely to mark (urinate on) their territory, avoid contact with others or become aggressive and change their pattern of vocalization (growling, hissing, or increased crying). 

On the other hand, other experts feel that declawing a young kitten will be less traumatic, because young animals are smaller and have less weight to carry on their feet after surgery. They’ll experience less pain and heal more quickly than full-grown animals, and seem to be less affected personality-wise by the surgery. And, some even feel that even adult cats can be declawed without a permanent change in personality. 

If you have a cat with a destructive clawing problem, first consult your veterinarian for advice. But here are some steps to try: 

  • Provide a few “safe” places for your cat to scratch. This might be a cardboard box, a carpet remnant, an old pillow or quilt, or a commercially produced scratching post. For best results, attach the scratchable material to a fixed object, like a wall or post. 
  • Trim your cat’s claws every couple of weeks. This removes the urge in the cat to “groom” its claws, and prevents damage to furniture AND people. You can purchase clippers specially designed for cats. 
  • Give your cats plenty of toys and affection, to keep them from being bored and looking for activity.  
  • Make their favorite scratching spots unappealing. You can spray these spots with a scratch deterrent. These are often herbal- or citrus-scented, and cats don’t like the smell. Or place some double-sided tape or sticky contact paper over the spot your cat frequents.  
  • Use behavior modification: Praise and treat your cat (with liver treats or another favorite goodie) when the cats uses an approved scratching spot. To prevent the cat from using the old favorites, some experts suggest keeping a spray bottle filled with water handy, and squirting it in the cat’s general direction when it appears headed toward a forbidden scratch spot.


Family Matters: Caring for kitty


Cats may seem like the perfect, low-maintenance pet. You give most cats plenty of fresh food and water, a clean litter box, and a couple cozy places to nap, and they are perfectly content.

But cats need health care too. Cats are somewhat less likely than dogs to be taken to the veterinarian annually, according to an AP-Petside.com poll, conducted last fall. So it’s even more important for owners to pay close attention to their cat’s weight, behavior and overall health, so you can catch any minor problems before they become bigger ones.

According to the experts at Nestle Purina Petcare, cats’ needs change over time faster than humans do. After all, since a cat’s average life expectancy is anywhere from 12-15 years, one human year translates into several cat years.

So they suggest owners pay attention to several facets of their cat’s health, to help maintain a long, happy life for your four-legged family member. (And, yes, if you’re a dog owner, these tips also apply to your canine friends!)

Weight-watching: Chubby kitties may look cute, but even an extra couple of pounds can create health problems for a cat. Ideally, a cat should have minimal abdominal fat and just a slight fat pad over their ribs.

Should your cat be a little pudgy, you can begin to control its weight by cutting back on any treats, especially if you have been slipping them forbidden people food, and making sure you are feeding the correct amount as directed by package instructions. If you’re already doing everything right, you might need to start feeding a cat food with less fat and/or fewer calories, such as Purina Cat Chow Indoor Formula or Purina ONE Healthy Weight Formula.

Energy level: Consider your cat’s daily routine. Yes, it may seem they sleep 23 hours out of 24, but the healthy cat also spends time playing. If yours seems sluggish, make sure you offer regular interaction. If the cat doesn’t have any interest in activity, especially those that it formerly enjoyed, consult a veterinarian.

Bad kitty: Cats that suddenly develop behavior problems, such as the occasional missed litter box incident, are most likely just bored. Add a new toy or two, and additional interaction, and see if that helps. However, behavioral problems can also be age-related or health-related.  Cats over age 7 should be switched over to a senior pet food formula, so they receive the nutrients they need for their age. Otherwise, you may want to consider a trip to the veterinarian, to rule out any health-related issues.



Family Matters: Caring for new pets at the holidays


What child hasn’t wished for a new puppy or kitten for Christmas?

Although some experts discourage giving animals as gifts, the holidays can also be a great time to adopt a new pet as a family: The children are home from school, and many of us have extra vacation time, so we’ll be home more to attend to the needs of a new pet.

If your holiday plans include adopting a new family member of the four-legged variety, here are some ideas to help ease the transition during this very busy time of year.

Introduce gradually to other animals in the household. Ask your veterinarian for advice on the best way to introduce your new pet to older dogs or cats, especially if the existing pet has lived alone for some time, or if your pet doesn’t always get along with new animals. At a minimum, be prepared to feed the new and existing pets on opposite sides of the room or in different rooms altogether; provide a new litter box for any new cat; and provide separate sleeping arrangements, whether in a kennel or in a quiet, closed rooms. Never leave the new animal alone with other pets until you’ve had a chance to observe them together, preferably several times.

Avoid adopting new pets right during the busiest part of the holidays.  New puppies, especially, need almost as much attention as a baby for the first few weeks, and during house training. Cats may not adjust well to a new home if there is a lot of commotion, whether from decorations, lights or parties. So, if you expect lots of guests, or if you plan to leave town for part of the holidays, ask the breeder or the animal shelter if you can pick up the animal later in the holidays. If you’ve intended the animal as a gift for your children or spouse, you can provide a photo and some of the gear, like a leash, bowl, toys, and bed, so there is something to unwrap on the holidays itself.

“Puppy-proof” the house first. Consider which rooms you’ll allow the new pet into, and then set about making them safe for a new dog or cat. Until you know how much of a “chewer”  the puppy is, you’ll want to limit the dog’s access to just about anything – electrical cords, shoes, remote controls, throw rugs, pillows. Cats tend to be less potentially destructive, but you’ll also want to secure cords, drapery pulls and other items that could present a choking hazard. Check the placement of houseplants; they can be poisonous to animals. Finally, get plenty of toys, even just some old socks, so the new animal has plenty to keep its attention, and will be less likely to be destructive.

Make sure they have the proper diet. Kittens and puppies aren’t just little versions of adults; they have their own special dietary needs. Puppies, especially, grow very fast, and need extra nutrients to build muscle, bone and organs. You should feed puppy formula, preferably one that matches the size of your dog’s breed, until the puppy has reached about 90 percent of his or her expected adult weight. (For small dogs, this will occur by the time the dog is one year old; for larger breeds, it might take up to 18 months.) Kittens should be fed kitten formulas to support their growth, for at least the first nine months of life and preferably for one year.

Finally, even though it’s tempting, do not feed table scraps, even as a treat. It’s hard to break eating habits learned young, and too much human food contributes to pet obesity and other health problems. If you want to provide treats – which can be a great tool while training your puppy – choose those that are appropriate to your pet’s size and breed, and limit them to special rewards.



Family Matters: Cold-weather flea protection


True or false: Pet owners don’t need to worry about fleas in the winter. 

False! While this may have once been commonly accepted, we now know that fleas can and do survive in colder weather – especially indoors, and especially in the milder climates of the southern U.S. 

In fact, fleas may even be a bigger threat in the cooler months, as many pet owners slack off on the preventative measures for dogs and cats in the fall and winter – meaning more fleas are breeding and just itching to get into your home and onto your pet. 

So, to keep fleas at bay, veterinarians and pet experts advise that pet owners treat their four-legged friends all year long. Otherwise, you’ll risk flea infestations, which can lead to more than just nasty little fleas on the carpet and annoying flea bites. Flea bites can cause allergies, infections, and skin disorders. They can also spread tapeworms, tularemia (a disease spread by fleas and ticks that causes headache, fever, and fatigue), and even Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a potentially fatal illness that can affect both dogs and humans. 

These flea-prevention tips are courtesy our friends at Sergeant’s, which makes many effective flea- and tick-control products for pet and home. 

Prevention goes a long way: Follow your veterinarian’s advice and treat every pet in your household every month, all year long. If you keep fleas from getting a foothold in your home in the first place, you won’t have the more-difficult task of getting rid of them later.  

Treat each pet monthly – preferably on the same date so you don’t forget a dose. Bathe your pet to remove dirt and as a first step in treating flea or tick infestations. A flea comb removes flea dirt (flea feces) and dead fleas. 

Treat the home, too. Regularly wash pet bedding. If you have or suspect an infestation, wash pet bedding again, then vacuum carpets, and treat your home with a household spray, powder or fogger. 

Don’t forget the yard. Spray your yard and your home’s foundation, to kill fleas lurking outside. 

Use an effective anti-flea treatment. Squeeze-on, topical treatments are easy to use and very well tolerated by pets. You can now purchase topical treatments at grocery stores and other retailers, eliminating an extra trip to the veterinarian’s office. For instance, Sergeant’s™ Flea and Tick Squeeze-On protects pets against adult fleas and ticks and prevents eggs and larvae from developing into adults. It contains Bitrex, a bittering agent, to help prevent ingestion. Sergeant’s Evolve™ Flea and Tick Squeeze-On is specifically formulated for the weight of your pet, both in dosage and active ingredients. It not only protects against adult fleas, but also prevents infestation and protects against flea eggs and larvae for up to nine weeks.



Family Matters: Halloween for Pets


Halloween is a fun time for the whole family – except, sometimes, for your pets.

Although some animals, especially dogs, love costumes and parties and parades of trick-or-treaters, other pets get irritated or anxious about all the commotion. And the holiday can bring some risks for pets, too. Our friends at Purina, along with the experts at the ASPCA, offer some tips on keeping your four-legged friends happy and healthy during this festive time:

Costumes? Maybe not. Dogs are often willing to play along and wear a costume, especially if they wear sweaters or other clothing during cold weather. But don’t force the issue if your dog seems scared or exhibits anxious behaviors, like whining or licking, while wearing it. Make sure any costume does not limit your dog’s mobility, including use of his tail, or obscure his vision. Most cats are far less likely to suffer the indignity of a costume; unless your cat is very easygoing, it’s probably best not to try.

 If you really want to play dress-up, almost all dogs (and even most cats) will happily wear a decorated collar or even a bandana, since they’re already accustomed to wearing collars.

Safe decorating:  Don’t let your curious cat get too close to a lit jack-o-lantern or lit candles including Halloween-themed luminaries. They can easily knock one over and start a fire, or even burn their tail or ears. If you want the glow of illuminated pumpkins, look for battery-operated synthetic ones, but avoid those with electrical cords, which animals may play with or get tangled up in, creating a risk of strangulation or even electric shock.

Watch the treats. Watch where you leave the candy intended for trick-or-treaters, especially if it is something you don’t normally keep around the house. Dogs may seize the opportunity to dive right in. And if they’re not too discriminating, they may eat the wrappers right along with the treats, posing choking hazards and intestinal issues.  In large doses, chocolate can even be toxic to dogs. So make sure candy – including the haul your own children bring home – is not left unattended. Put it in a high spot or a closed cabinet that animals can’t reach.  If you want pets to join in on the festivities, get them their own favorite treats, like Beggin’ Strips for dogs and Friskies Crispies for cats.

Meeting and greeting.  Even if you think your very social pet would love to help you greet trick-or-treaters at the door, it’s better for everyone if animals are secured during festivities.  Cats should stay in their kennel or a quiet back room. Dogs should be kept in their crate or in a back room during the busy part of the night, or at least on a leash.

Loose dogs may get frightened and snappish, or may get over-excited and jump on young guests – which can be traumatic for both parties. And, both dogs and cats may take the opportunity to make a break for it and slip out through an open, unwatched door. That’s bad news when there are lots of children and extra traffic in your neighborhood. Finally, do not leave animals unattended in the back yard. The extra noise in the neighborhood may traumatize them, and you don’t want them to be targeted for teasing or worse by pranksters with bad intentions.

Keep your pet safe and you’ll all have a happier Halloween!



Family Matters: Keeping Pets Cool


I’ve always thought the “dog days” of summer were misnamed. What dog, or cat, really enjoys the broiling heat of a typical summer?

In the hot months, you need to take extra steps to keep your four-legged family members cool, healthy and happy. Even dogs and cats used to living outdoors need some special care during our long hot summers. Some ideas:

Water, water, water. If your pet’s water bowl is outside, place it in a shady spot so it stays cooler, and empty it daily to keep it clean. To cool it down, you could place a block of ice in the water bowl each morning before leaving for work. Metal bowls absorb heat and make water hotter, and some animals won’t like the taste. Ceramic or heavy plastic are better. Finally, if your animals spends time both inside and outside, make sure they have a clean water supply in both locations.

Lighten up on exercise: Even if you can handle a noontime run, your dog might not be able to. Switch daily walks to early morning or cooler evenings if possible; take along a doggie water supply if you’re out more than 30 minutes. And don’t let your dog drink from puddles in the street. Even if the water appears clean, it can contain traces of antifreeze,  pesticide or fertilizer runoff, or other chemicals that can sicken your dog.

A summer haircut:  Many breeds need more frequent grooming in summer. Keeping hair about an inch or two long will keep most breeds cooler, but never shave a dog down to the skin. They can get sunburn too.  For cats, especially long-haired ones, brush them more frequently, to remove excess hair that may make them feel hotter. Most dogs also shed more in the summer, so you may need to brush them more frequently in between haircuts, to keep hair from matting.

Sunscreen for dogs? Yes, we repeat: Dogs can sunburn too. If possible, keep your dog inside or in a shady area during the brightest sunlight of the day, about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you’re going to be out during that time – like at the park or the lake – you can rub a bit of sunscreen on the tip of your dog’s nose and ears, and around the lips, where fur can’t protect them.

High-protein diets: Like us, animals may eat less when it’s scalding hot. To make the most of each bite, consider switching to a higher-protein dog food, so they’re still getting the nutrients they need even if they’re consuming less.

Frozen treats: Dogs like cold treats just like we do, but those made for humans are usually filled with things like chocolate and sugar that animals shouldn’t eat. You can make your own. Simply freeze beef or chicken stock in ice cube trays, disposable plastic containers, or plastic cups.



Family Matters: Keeping Your Pets Hydrated


In the sizzling heat of the summer making sure our family stays hydrated is a top priority; but don’t forget your furry family members. With the scorching sun it’s important that your animals stay hydrated. For easy access to water leave multiple bowls around the house both indoors and outdoors. To ensure that your pet’s water does not get too warm, place water bowls in a shading area of your yard. For extremely hot days freeze a few bowls of water overnight and place them outdoors in the morning. The warm sun will melt the ice throughout the day for a cold, refreshing drink for your pet. Older pets tend to pick a spot and stay there all day. Make sure your pet in properly hydrated by occasionally taking them water.  



Family Matters: Quirky Pet Behavior


Don’t you wish your pets could talk? Maybe then they could explain why they do such unusual things! Here are some common behaviors that folks ask about:

  •  Howling Cats: Cats yowl when they are after attention, but sometimes because they’re just plain bored! Try to find some new activities or toys to occupy their time.
  • Howling Dogs:  Dogs often howl in response to an unusual sound, such as a siren. Sometimes a simple distraction helps, such as offering a treat, a tummy rub or a walk.
  • Licking the Carpet: Dogs often do this as a calming technique when they’re stressed.
  • Body Licking: Licking their fur a lot may indicate a rash, allergy or even an infection. Take your pet to the vet for a checkup to rule out any problems.

Source: ASPCA



Family Matters: Dog’s Bad Breath


Dogs love to show their affection for their owners by giving them a sloppy wet kiss, but sometimes their breath is very unpleasant. Bad breath is due to having a build up of bacteria; it could be a simple problem of plaque, where you would just have to get their teeth cleaned, to a serious problem with your dog’s digestive tract. If your dog’s breath becomes unbearable, you may want to set up an appointment with your veterinarian. 

Here are some simple ways to help prevent your dog from having bad breath. What do you normally do when your breath is bad? You probably brush your teeth or place gum or mint in your mouth; do the same thing for your dog. You can brush your dog’s teeth with toothpaste and a toothbrush that is specifically made for dogs. When making your dog homemade treats add a little mint to the treat to freshen their breath. Periodically feeding your dog hard food and giving them a hard chew toy will help reduce the build up of plaque.



Family Matters: Dry Food vs. Wet Food


Dry food versus wet food is a great debate when wondering which kind of food to feed your cat. Before changing your cat’s diet always check with their vet.  One question to ask yourself is, when will I be feeding my cat? If you are going to be gone all day and are concerned about your cat getting hungry you may want to try dry food. With dry food, you can leave it out all day for your cat to snack on without the food going bad.

If you know that you will have time to feed your cat during the day, you may want to try wet food, so you can feed your cat fresh food when they get hungry. Another benefit to dry food is it helps your cat’s teeth stay clean, so you do not have to brush their teeth as often. You may want to talk to your cat’s vet to see if there are any recommendation on a specific kind of cat food that your cat may need.

 



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