Christmas is about family, so we know you can’t forget your furry family members. While having Christmas decorations around the home can be present enough for many cats, please divert them from any tinsel hazards and consider these unique gifts instead.
If you cat is starting to look a little more ‘fluffy’ and rotund than he should be, the Kong Cat Wobbler is a great way of incorporating activity and eating. Perhaps your vet will even stop nagging you to slim down your cat. You can place any dry food or treat inside and your curious feline can play with the ‘tail’ at the top and rock the Kong Wobbler around to get the food out.
This wonderful toy slows down meal-times, while safely allowing your cat to exhibit some normal predatory and play behaviours.
If you want to train your cat up to tackle those big feisty cockroaches, this could be the perfect gift for you…I mean for your cat.
This clever design from New York is a variation on the fishing-cat theme, and allows your cat to jump, pounce and play, while you take a seat and enjoy the show. And while most cats in Australia aren’t fussed about catnip, it does come infused with this cat herb for extra enjoyment. More details about the Roach Rod are available from Go Pet Design.
The fabulous designed Kitty Cot is suitable for cats up to 13kg in weight. If your cat weighs more than this, please refer to gifts number 1 and 2 first!
The innovative design allows your feline friend to sleep right near the window, and is a very efficient use of space. It is easy to install on any window and is made of PVC pipe and mesh, so won’t hide any nasty pests such as fleas or dust mites.
A great idea for an indoor cat, perhaps teamed with a bird-feeder outside the window for some lazy days watching the birds play.
Five Meal Austomatic Pet Feeder
If your cat would prefer you to dedicate all your waking hours to topping up his food bowl, this could be just the gift he needs. The Five Meal Automatic Pet Feeder allows you to feed 5 meals via a timer system and is an excellent way to distribute your cats food, particularly for those cats that are dieting and tend to eat all their food at once.
Cats prefer to eat on average 7 small meals a day, so this timed feeder gets close to that. You may even score a sleep-in if your furry friend doesn’t need to wake you up for breakfast.
If your feline has musical tendencies and some nocturnal habits, perhaps his inner DJ needs to be expressed. This unique DJ Scratching Pad could also save your carpet, particularly if your pet is a horizontal scratcher.
And finally, for those special evenings where your feline needs to look their best, consider a removable bow-tie from Sweet Pickle Designs, it can be attached to a normal collar, but they also have a great selection of unique pet collars for cats.
How could your cat not enjoy Christmas with one of these fantastic gifts waiting under the tree…now just back away from the tree kitty, it’s not for climbing or eating. And that beautiful, sparkly ornament from grandma is not for playing with.
Most cats vomit occasionally, so how do you know when to worry?
This depends on whether the cat is otherwise well or has health problem causing her to vomit. Clear as mud?
Look at it this way. Occasional vomiting can be normal. For example, when a feral cat goes hunting, she gobbles down the kill extra quick before another cat steals it. She digests what she can, and then vomits back the indigestible bits like fur or feather. This is normal, and Mother Nature’s way of keeping her healthy.
There is an argument which says pet cats, just like feral cats, are designed to vomit from time to time. For a lap cat this might be triggered by a hairball, when hair rubbing the stomach lining triggers the vomiting reflex and up it pops onto the lounge room carpet. This is an example of a ‘happy’ vomiter doing as nature intended with nothing much to worry about.
The trick is to recognize when the cat is unwell or has a problem behind the sickness. Let’s take a look at some of the health issues which can cause a cat to vomit.
Why Do Cats Vomit?
That sticky pile on the Chinese rug consists of the cat’s stomach contents mixed with digestive juices. Whatever was in her stomach, is now on the floor, which makes vomiting an efficient way of voiding toxins or spoilt food from her system. Indeed, vomiting is a protective reflex that allows the cat to get rid of noxious substances that might otherwise harm her.
The reasons for sickness can be broadly divided into those problems directly related to the gut and those where ill health produces vomiting as a symptom.
Stomach Related Causes of Vomiting
Anything that inflames or irritates the stomach will cause vomiting, which is where sickness due to medication or food intolerance comes in. Sickness is especially significant if the cat is taken a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, such a meloxicam (a common drug prescribed for arthritis) as it can cause stomach ulcers. If your cat is on a prescribed medication and starts to be sick, notify the vet right away.
However, we shouldn’t overlook common problems, such as intestinal worms, as a cause of gastric irritation. After all, having a stomach full of wriggly roundworms isn’t going to sit well with anybody! Regular deworming is essential. But even then, some worm species can survive certain dewormers, so a stool sample may be necessary.
Food Allergy or Intolerance
Some cats suffer with food allergies or a sensitive digestive system. Their immune system overreacts to certain foods, causing inflammation of the gut lining, and either sickness or diarrhea (or both!) In the same way that a person with a peanut allergy should avoid nuts, the cat should avoid eating whatever it is she reacts too, for her symptoms to resolve.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
A close relative of food allergy is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), indeed food allergy may be one of the causes of IBD – but not the whole picture because factors such as stress or pre-cancerous change can also trigger the condition.
These cats may have a combination of sickness and diarrhea, since most of the gut is inflamed and overly sensitive to anything put in it. Treatment often involves medications to reduce inflammation and a special diet.
Ill Health with Vomiting as a Symptom
Bacterial or viral infections can cause vomiting in cats. Some can be potentially life-threatening so be especially cautious if your cat isn’t vaccinated. Usually these cats are also down in the dumps and lose interest in food and lack energy.
In the most serious cases supportive care with intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and anti-sickness medication are required.
One of the kidneys’ many jobs is to filter toxins from the bloodstream. When the kidneys are failing, levels of natural toxins rise and irritate the stomach lining, causing sickness. These cats are often unwell in themselves, with a poor appetite and weight loss.
Overactive Thyroid Glands
The thyroid glands produce a hormone which regulates the body’s metabolic rate. Too much thyroid hormone and the whole body is overstimulated, including the gut. Aside from vomiting, other symptoms include being hyperactive, eating a lot, but losing weight. Treatments are readily available so chat to your vet about options.
The pancreas produces digestive juices. If those digestive juices leak out of their ‘holding cells’ they will start digesting the pancreas and surround soft tissue, which results (amongst other things) in sickness. This condition can range from mild to life-threatening so play it safe and see the vet.
When to See the Vet
There a many reason why a cat vomits, but don’t worry, it’s not your job to diagnose what’s wrong with the cat. Your job as cat guardian is to recognize she needs to see the vet and then take her along. Key clues that a trip to the vet is required include:
Sudden onset vomiting: If the cat is repeatedly sick and it persists for several hours.
Daily vomiting: A pet cat fed a good diet should be sick no more than one a fortnight or so. If she is sick daily or even weekly, then something is amiss.
Diarrhea: Sickness with diarrhea is a combination which quickly leads to dehydration, so don’t dilly-dally about getting help with this one.
Taking medications: If your vet prescribed a medication and now the cat is vomiting, it’s possible she had a reaction and the vet needs to know about it.
Blood in the sick: At no time is blood in vomitus normal, so see the vet right away.
Pain: If she seems in pain or distressed, see the vet.
Other symptoms: From lack of energy to increased thirst, weight loss to weight gain, if your cat isn’t herself or has signs of ill health, then she should see a vet.
If you are worried about the cat, trust your gut instincts and get her checked over by a veterinarian. You know your pet. Under some circumstances vomiting is normal and nothing to worry about, but if in any doubt please get your cat checked out.
It’s the stuff of nightmares: Your active Labrador jumps for a ball, yelps, and limps away holding up a back leg. OK, perhaps he’s just sprained something. You take him home, put away the leash and insist he rests. But when several days later, he’s still not using that leg and you start to worry he’s done something serious…like ruptured a cruciate ligament.
From pet dogs to Olympic athletes, a ruptured cruciate means a lengthy lay off from doing what they enjoy most. Worse still, especially from a pet parents perspective, a major operation is often required to get their dog back on his paws again.
So what’s so bad about a ruptured cruciate and what can be done to sort them?
Cruciate Facts in a Nutshell
To sort our knees from elbows, and ligaments from tendons, we take a deeper look at what a cruciate ligament is, the job it does, and why they’re so important.
What is a Cruciate Ligament?
The cruciate ligament is part of the knee joint. Its job is to stop the thigh bone (femur) from sliding off the back of the shin bone (tibia) when the dog takes a step. This is done through a simple but clever arrangement with two cruciate (or ‘cross’) ligaments forming an ‘X’ within the knee joint, to allow hinge movements but not sliding.
What’s so Serious about Cruciate Ligament Rupture?
Of the two cruciate ligaments, the most important is the cranial cruciate as it’s under most strain. It anchors to femur and tibia relative to one another (like securing a ship fore-and-aft to a jetty) while allowing some movement. When the cranial cruciate snaps under pressure, the bones are no longer secured, and are able to move in a way nature never intended.
The mechanics of a ruptured cruciate mean that when the dog tries to put weight on the leg, the tibia shoots forward relative to the femur. This pinches the shock-absorbing menisci (cartilage pads) within the knee setting up inflammation. Now the dog not only has a mechanically insecure knee that doesn’t take his weight but one that’s sore and inflamed.
As to why a cruciate rupture is so serious, it’s because the ligament can’t heal itself. In the short term the dog has a hot, swollen, painful knee, and in the longer term it will become arthritic.
What Causes a Ruptured Cruciate?
Now here’s a thing. Although your dog’s injury may seem sudden, the chances are ligament was already weakened, but failed suddenly. Many dogs suffer from cruciate disease as a stretching and weakening of the ligament (like an anchor rope fraying). It copes up to a point, only to snap when the dog jumps or twists with force.
As to why the cruciate weakens…great question! No one knows. There are various theories, including the immune system damaging the ligament, genetics, or hormonal factors, but in truth no one’s really sure.
What are the Signs of a Ruptured Cruciate?
The most common presentation is the dog chasing a ball, which pulls up completely lame on a back leg. However, sometimes there are subtle signs ahead of this. It might be the dog was regularly slightly lame after vigorous exercise but recovered with rest, or he was sound at the walk but lame at a gallop, until one day the ligament broke altogether.
A dog with a ruptured cruciate has a special way of standing. They tend to ‘toe-tip’ or stand with only the tips of the toes of the poorly leg, in contact with the ground.
How is Cruciate Disease Diagnosed?
Your vet does this through a combination of feeling for excessive movement in the joint (the ‘anterior draw’ test), joint anatomy (looking for a medial buttress or swelling on the inner aspect of the joint), and radiographs.
The x-rays help rule out other causes of lameness such as fractures, infection, or bone cancer. In addition the position of the tibia and femur relative to each other, along with the shape of the joint space all give vital clues.
What Happens if You Do Nothing?
Cruciate surgery is painful for the dog and expensive on your pocket. Is doing nothing an option?
For the vast majority of dogs ignoring the problem leads to complications such as severe arthritis in later life. Unfortunately, once ruptured the ligament doesn’t mend, and the best you can hope for is scar tissue eventually stabilizes the joint.
So what are the options?
Wouldn’t it be nice if rest and pain relief did the trick?
Here’s the rub. For small dogs, less than 10kg in weight, there’s a slim chance that six months’ worth of taking it easy may work. Their lesser size and weight means less strain on the knee, and eventually scar tissue will stabilize the joint.
But (and it’s a big ‘but’) there is a risk of premature arthritis developing as a result of bone rubbing on bone. If you decide on this route then consider giving a good quality nutraceutical supplement containing glucosamine and chondroitin. This ‘feeds’ the knee with healing chemicals and may help improve the eventual outcome to minimize damage.
Most dogs need surgery, to improve their mobility and reduce the risk of arthritis. There are lots of different techniques that have developed over time. To summarize, here are the four most relevant options.
#1: Extracapsular Repair
This method involves using long-lasting artificial suture material, attached in a figure-of-8 loop, without entering the joint capsule. The suture stops the bones sliding over one another, whilst still allowing hinging, hence returning a normal movement. This op can be highly effective, especially in dogs under 25kg, and is especially suitable for those under 10kg.
This procedure has the huge advantage of being less invasive (and for this read less painful) than other methods. However, the limiting factor is the strength of the suture, which tends to snap in bigger, heavier dogs.
#2: Over-the-Top Technique (OTT)
This is a tried and tested procedure that’s been around for decades. It requires moderate surgical skills (not a beginner’s procedure, so ask if your vet has done this before!). The technique involves creating a graft using the dog’s own soft tissue fascia, which is passed through the knee joint to form a ‘new’ cruciate ligament.
Although effective, the OTT has fallen from favor as other more modern techniques have developed. Because the joint capsule is entered, this is a sore procedure. In addition, the new ligament takes several months until it reaches maximum strength, so the dog’s exercise is curtailed sometimes for as much as half a year.
#3: Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO)
This operation created quite a buzz when first developed, and with just cause. The thinking is brilliant, which is to change the angle at which the tibia meets the femur, so that when it takes weight the femur holds steady instead of falling off the back.
This requires the top of the shin bone (tibia) to be sliced like a cake and realigned in a new position. Special metal implants hold the knee bone in its new position. This all sounds drastic, but actually bone heals much faster than tendon (as in the OTT procedure) so the recovery time is reduced. In addition, the joint capsule is not entered, so this is less painful than an OTT.
So what’s not to like? Expertise is a must! This is all about angles, and to judge that correctly takes an expert orthopedic surgeon. This means referral to a specialist, which means $$$.
Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA)
This op works on the same basic principle as the TPLO, which is to change the direction of forces on the knee so the femur no longer slides backwards.
The TTA is the love-child of the TPLO and the mechanics are even more complicated, making referral to a specialist even more important. The idea this time is to change the angle of a crest of bone on the front of the tibia, so that the major thigh muscles pull differently. This changed angle supports the femur in a forward direction and stops it rolling backwards.
To Take Things Further
Each dog is an individual and each case is different. Always speak to your vet about which options are best for your dog.
Heartworms are foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs, and major blood vessels of pets. It sounds like something from a horror movie, but worse… it’s a reality. Whilst US dog owners rightly worry about heartworm, this parasite can also infect cats and ferrets, along with wild mammals such as coyotes, wolves, and foxes.
The technical name for heartworm is Dirofilaria Immitis. This heartbreaker spreads from pet to pet via infected mosquitos. When the mosquito bites and feeds, it transfers heartworm larvae into the tissue of its dinner.
Once inside the body the larvae migrate through the tissue and after around 70 days use blood vessels as a super highway to make their way to the heart, its preferred home. Once there, the larvae slowly mature and grow into adult worms.
What are the Symptoms of Heartworm Infection
One of the many problems about heartworm is that infected dogs may not show symptoms until the adult worms fill the heart and clog blood vessels. Indeed, it can take as long as six months from the time of infection until the dog becomes unwell. In the mid-term stages, your only clue may be a dog that tires more easily than he should or has a soft cough.
As the worms grow, they take up more space and physically block blood flow. This results in signs such as:
Coughing, including coughing blood
Inability to exercise
A swollen belly
Heartworm Infection is Complicated
Heartworm can give the owner a headache for so many different reasons. For a start, that six month gap between infection and clinical signs makes spotting there is a problem very tricky.
With heartworm currently found in every US state, any dog aged seven months or older, is at risk of infection. Your vet may become suspicious of heartworm if the dog is not on a preventative medication and shows signs of anemia, distended jugular veins, or crackles in the lungs. The vet may then suggest imaging such as a chest x-ray or an ultrasound of the heart.
Another important puzzle piece is running blood tests to detect the presence of heartworm. The most widely used test looks for antibodies, which are a sign the immune system is trying to defend itself against heartworm invaders. This is a super-helpful test because it can detect heartworm before it makes the dog ill.
However, if a problem is found heartworm treatment is not without risk. With this in mind, if the dog isn’t showing signs of illness, the vet may suggest a second backup test to be certain treatment is 100% necessary. This second test checks for the presence of the actual larvae, the equivalent of catching the heartworm red-handed in the body, and it means treatment is definitely worthwhile.
Heartworm is a frustrating and complicated condition. Indeed, there are a number of facets to treatment which make it quite tricky. These include:
The dog may already be unwell. If the dog is already in heart failure, he must first be stabilized in order to withstand the rigors of treatment
Heartworm carries a nasty bacterial hitch-hiker, which is released as the worms die off. This means antibiotics are needed in addition to killing the worms.
Heartworm larvae go through a phase, lasting around two months, where drugs can’t touch them.
The vet will put together a battle strategy which balances all the dog’s needs. Typically this means:
Stabilize any heart failure as a result of heartworm damage
Starting a preventative treatment so that any new larvae die young and don’t mature into the next generation
Wait at least two months before moving onto the next stage. This allows any larvae to grow through the stage where they are resistant to drugs, to mature and become vulnerable to treatment.
Antibiotics to protect against bacteria in the bloodstream damaging organs. Often a 4 week course is needed
Start steroids a short time ahead of giving a drug that kills adult worms. Steroids are a strong anti-inflammatory which protects the body against an allergic reaction to the presence of dead and dying worms in the blood
Start a drug that kills the adult worms. This is the final step, and usually not undertaken until several weeks after the initial diagnosis. Treatment is by three injections of a drug called melarsomine (Immiticide), over the period of a month.
Complications of Heartworm Treatment
Like any drug, Immiticide can have side effects, which include soreness at the injection site, nausea, and appetite loss. But the bigger worry is what happens to the dead worms. These dislodge and in a worst case scenario, can block a major blood vessel and kill the patient. And dead worms can also cause a foreign body reaction where the immune system triggers a severe allergic reaction.
All in all, any dog on treatment must rest and take things easy. Now is not the time to play fetch or chase Frisbees as raised blood pressure poses an additional risk. Those dogs that respond well in the long term are those cases picked up on routine screening, rather than when they are already sick. For those dogs diagnosed when they are unwell, the outlook can be gloomy, especially if permanent heart damage has already taken place.
Heartworm Prevention is Better than Cure
All in all, prevention is better than cure. Happily, there are several excellent preventative medications that are super easy to give. Remember to dose your dog regularly once a month to keep their protection current.
And if you forget and there’s a gap of longer than two months, then it’s essential to get a screening blood test. This is because larvae may have already entered the resistant phase of their life cycle won’t be killed by the preventative and will go on to mature into adult worms.
However, just to complicate things further, the blood tests can throw up false negatives. This is especially likely in a new infection. Thus, if you’ve had a gap in heartworm protection, your vet may suggest restarting preventatives and getting a blood test after six months, by which time the risk of false negatives is low.
If you worry about giving your dog medication and the effect it has on their body, then don’t. The doses of active ingredient are low and the products have a high safety margin. Thus the benefits far outweigh the risks, and taking preventatives is likely to save your from heartache. Remember, heartworm infection is common and a serious threat to your dog’s health, so take steps to prevent it.
What do FLUTD, kennel cough, and eczema all have in common?
They are all umbrella terms that describe a set of symptoms, rather than nailing down a diagnosis. For example, ‘eczema’ describes inflamed, scaley skin, but it doesn’t tell you the cause; which could be an allergy, infection, stress, hormones, immune-mediated…you get the picture.
Likewise FLUTD (feline urinary tract disease) is an umbrella term. Its shorthand, a way of saying the cat has difficulty peeing…with the six million dollar question being… “Why?”
So is this a case of being pedantic about peeing, or does it really matter? Yes and no.
There are certain actions an owner can take to keep your cat’s bladder healthy regardless of the reason for a cat’s pee problems: So ‘No’ it’s not always essential to find the root cause However, in some cases, ‘Yes’ it’s necessary for the vet to undertake an in-depth investigation and so that specific treatment can be started.
But we’re jumping ahead of ourselves; let’s first find out what we understand by FLUTD.
Find out About FLUTD in Cats
Imagine one day you unexpectedly find your favorite coffee shop is shut, with no explanation. The reasons could include staff illness, rats in the kitchen, no hot water, or the power shut off. Whilst the reasons vary, the outcome is the same: A closed coffee shop.
Similarly FLUTD can arise for any number of reasons, but like that locked door, the symptoms are the same. These include:
• Pain passing urine
• More frequent attempts to pee
• Squatting in the wrong places
• Blood in the urine
• Excessive butt licking
• Behavior changes such as restlessness or grumpiness
• Straining but not passing water
Now curiosity has got the better of you, and like the coffee shop, you want to know the reason “Why?”. In cats the underlying causes of FLUTD include:
• Crystals in the urine that chafe the bladder lining
• Bladder stones
• Urinary infections
• Sterile or idiopathic cystitis that causes inflammation of the bladder lining
• Spasm of the urethra
• A plug of debris in the urethra
• Bladder polyps
• Cancer of the urinary tract
Is Your Cat at Risk of FLUTD?
FLUTD causes discomfort and in the most serious cases, can be life-threatening. Therefore it makes sense to identify the cats most at risk, and be proactive to keep them healthy.
First out, it has to be said that cats of any age, breed, or gender, neutered or entire, can suffer from FLUTD. However, analysis of statistics does point an accusing finger in certain directions. For example, middle-aged, desexed cats top the polls of FLUTD cases.
Also, weight is important. Overweight cats are at greater risk than their lean cousins. In part this is because they’re less active, which is another factor right there…activity levels. Lazy cats that don’t exercise are far more prone to FLUTD to felines who play or hunt. In turn, it’s an almost inevitable consequence that more indoor cats tend to suffer from FLUTD than those with the freedom to roam outdoors.
Another ‘biggie’ is diet. Cats consuming dry kibble are more likely to develop FLUTD than those eating wet food (Did you spot it? A quick fix right there, by switching from dry biscuit to canned food?)
Help! My Cat has FLUTD
If you cat shows signs of urinary discomfort, then see a vet right away. This is crucial because blocked cats (those totally unable to pee) look the same as those with cystitis. However, there’s a world of difference to the outcome because left untreated, a blocked cat will go into renal failure and die.
The two conditions can only be told apart, by a vet examining the cat. This means hot-footing it to the clinic at the first sign of a cat in urinary discomfort.
For a cat with no history of urinary problems, the vet may jump right in with treatment. However, if the cat is a serial offender then the vet will want to seek out the underlying cause.
Investigation involves running a variety of tests, including:
• Urine Culture: The aim is to grow any bugs in the urine, to give a definitive answer as to whether infection is present. This also makes for targeted antibiotic use, guaranteed to kill the bacteria.
• Urine Analysis: From the pH (how acid or alkaline the urine is) to crystals present, this troubleshoots for potential problems.
• Ultrasound Exam: Ultrasound gives a gray-scale picture of the bladder, including how thick the bladder wall is (an indicator of inflammation), and the presence of polyps, stones, or cancer.
• Radiography: Helps identify stones blocking the urethra or old fractures that could interfere with bladder function.
• Bladder Biopsy: In some cases, collecting a small sample of tissue from the bladder wall is important to reach a diagnosis.
What is the Treatment for FLUTD in Cats?
Where possible an underlying cause is found and corrected. For example, if the cat has a urinary infection then antibiotics are needed; whilst crystals in the urine require a diet change to dissolve them. In most cases the vet will prescribe anti-inflammatory pain relief, to make the bladder more comfortable.
For those cats where a blockage is suspected, an urgent anesthetic is necessary to pass a urinary catheter and relieve the obstruction. The subsequent spasm and inflammation of the urethra can take several days to settle, so expect the cat to be hospitalized for a while.
In the longer term, if stress is suspected to be a factor, then taking steps to provide an oasis of calm within the home could reduce the frequency of flare ups.
How Can I Reduce the Risk of FLUTD in Cats?
Anyone whose cat has endured the misery of FLUTD will be keen to prevent it happening again. Since stress is a factor, making the home as feline-friendly as possible is important.
Simple things can make all the difference, such as having multiple litter boxes in a multi-cat household.
Do you know there’s a ratio of cats to litter trays?
The rule is: One tray per cat plus one spare. Three cats means four trays etc.
But more than that, the trays should not be lined up in a row, but separate around the home. And each one needs to be in a private location where the cat feels safe to toilet undisturbed.
If yours is a stressy, anxious cat then try plugging in a Feliway diffuser near her bed. This gives off a synthetic cat pheromone that helps her feel chilled and reassured. For the super-stressy cat consider food supplements such as Zylkene, which have a naturally calming effect.
And don’t forget what we said about canned food. Upping the water intake of your cat by feeding moist feed and providing a cat drinking fountain can make all the difference. And a fountain is certainly cheaper than repeated trips to the vet!
And finally, know that FLUTD is an umbrella term, with many causes. If your cat shows signs of urinary discomfort safeguard your cat’s well-being and always seek urgent veterinary attention.
When you’ve had a bad day at work, where is it you go to relax and recover? Perhaps it’s stretched out on the sofa or hiding under a duvet, but we all have a place we go when things get on top of us.
Actually, this is the idea behind crate training a puppy. A crate is the puppy’s den, a safe nest. Whilst superficially the bars may look like a cage, your pup doesn’t see things that way. What he sees is a warm, cozy cave where he feels able to sleep in safety.
From the pet parent’s perspective, a crate offers a means of keeping a pup safe from household hazards and it’s an aid to potty training. So what’s not to like? OK, when crates are abused by using it to punish the dog or leaving the dog inside for way too long, then it is undoubtedly a bad thing. However, when you know how to crate train a puppy in the right way, everyone is happy.
Before bringing pup home from the shelter or breeder, make some preparations.
First, choose the right sized crate for the pup. Just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the crate should not be too big or too small, but just right (which can also mean buying a second, bigger crate for the adult dog). Ideally the puppy should have room for a super-comfy bed and a water bowl, whilst being able to stand up without banging his head, turn around, and lie down with his legs stretched out.
Secondly, get hold of a blanket that smells of the mother dog, and place it ready and waiting inside the crate. The familiar smell will be a huge source of comfort when the newbie arrives in his new fur-ever home.
Location! Location! Location!
Where you put the crate is also important. Remember, your pup wants to feel connected to the family (rather than isolated) but in a place where it’s quiet enough to rest undisturbed. A great spot is the corner of a lounge room, where he can see the family watching TV but has his own space.
For this reason, whilst a laundry room is OK, it’s not an ideal location. Your pup may feel isolated and cut off from the rest of the house, which may cause him to bark. Also, a washer may suddenly go into spin cycle, which is alarming and may frighten the youngster.
Crate Training Do’s and Don’ts
OK, here are a few basic ground rules about crate training.
DO: Encourage the pup to explore the crate. This means hiding tasty treats and special toys inside for him to discover.
DON’T: Force the puppy inside
DO: Praise him when he sits inside without crying
DON’T: Let him out when he’s crying, as this rewards the noise and makes him more likely to cry in future
DO: Take things slowly and very slowly extend the amount of time pup is left inside the crate
DON’T: Use the crate as a place of punishment or leave him in for hours on end
Getting Started with Crate Training
You bring a new puppy home.
TOP TIP: The first thing to do is take him to the toilet spot, so he knows where he’s supposed to relieve himself. Now take him into the house.
You’ve already placed a few tasty treats inside the crate, so show him where it is. When he’s not looking, hide more treats in the crate. The idea is to have him link the crate to discovering tasty snacks. That way every now and again he’ll break off from play, to run over and see if any more treats have appeared as if by magic.
Also try putting a favorite toy in the crate. Then sit with him and play with the toy whilst he’s inside the crate (with the door open.) Change the toys around so there’s always something new to discover.
Anytime he happens to pop into the crate, be sure to praise him and tell him he’s a clever boy. He’ll lap up the praise and consider popping in just to get attention – exactly what you want.
Try feeding him in the crate. And this is where things pick up pace, because whilst he’s distracted by eating, briefly shut the door. Leave it closed a few seconds and then open it immediately. Gradually extend the amount of time you leave the door shut.
Initially, he will be distracted by eating and not even notice the closed door. If he looks up and is quiet, then praise him. If he whimpers, ignore him. As soon as the whimpers stop, praise him and open the door. He is learning that good, quiet behavior is rewarded whilst crying gets him nothing.
As he becomes more relaxed and accepting of the closed door, move a little away from the crate. In the same way, praise his good behavior, and let him out once he’s calm. As training progresses, start to leave the room…but only return when he’s quiet.
A Word about How Long to Leave Puppy in the Crate
During training, keep his crate confinement short and sweet at a few minutes, gradually building up the time.
Once he’s happy to settle down and sleep, be careful not to overstep the mark by leaving him in the crate too long. As a rule of thumb, a puppy can only hold his toilet for the number of hours that he is old in months – plus one. Confused? OK, a two-month old pup can hold on for a max of three hours, whilst a four month pup can hold a max of five hours.
But…and it’s a big but…puppies need plenty of love, attention, and stimulation. Avoid leaving even older pups unattended in a crate for more than four hours at a time. It just isn’t fair to your best buddy, who may start to resent the crate rather than love it.
Crate training done right is makes for a happy, safe puppy. So keep those tails wagging by making his crate an interesting and comfortable place to be.
Think of skin like a brick wall, with the bricks representing skin cells. Not only do dogs have fewer layers of bricks (their skin is literally thinner) but the bricks are basic and the mortar weak, which makes canine skin less resilient to damage.
Of course, the advantage dogs do have over people is a thick layer of fur. This acts as a protective barrier, the equivalent of clothes on top of the skin. But if this shield is breached by scratches, cuts, or bugs and parasites set up home in the fur, and then the result is often irritated, infected, or inflamed skin.
What Kind of Dog Skin Conditions Are There?
There are a myriad of skin conditions that affect dogs. Confusingly when skin is damaged it has limited ways to respond and tends to either ulcerate, redden, or become infected. This means many conditions look similar, and it’s tricky reaching a diagnosis on physical appearance alone. This is why it’s important to seek veterinary attention if your dog has bad skin. Delaying seeking help often results in complications, when the damaged dermis allows bacteria or yeast to breed and create a secondary infection.
From parasites to cancer, infections to autoimmune disorders, there’s a surprising range of dog skin conditions which can look deceptively similar.
Fleas, lice, and ticks: Some bugs are guaranteed to have us scratching just at the mention of their name. But there are plenty of others that are less well known that also make our canine companions itchy and scratchy; for example fox mange mites, ear mites, waking dandruff mites, and demodex.
What these bugs all have in common is they irritate the surface of the skin. Some also cause allergic reactions to their saliva, when they bite and feed. But aside from raised red lumps and rashes, your fur-friend is going to scratch and chew, which means damaged skin that is ripe for bacteria to invade, leading to skin infections.
Skin is a shield, but a relatively weak one. It has its own immune system that’s designed to fight off infection, but it doesn’t take much to over-whelm it. When a dog’s general health is low or the skin is weakened by inflammation, then so-called ‘secondary invaders’ (think of them as squatters) take advantage. These could be bacteria, yeasts, or even fungi that colonize the skin. Whilst they can’t be diagnosed on appearance alone, they do tend to show tell-tale signs such as:
Bacterial infections: Tend to be moist and exudative, with a sticky discharge. Think ‘hot spots’ for a small scale infection and moist pyoderma on a large scale.
Yeast infections: Often the skin and coat takes on a greasy feel. When yeast infections run unchecked then the skin often thickens and has a blackened cobble-stone appearance.
Fungal infections: Such as ringworm cause hairs to fall out, leading to patches of exposed skin that may be scaly.
A real biggie in dogs is allergic skin disease. This common condition causes intense irritation that leads to chewing, licking, and scratching. It comes about when the immune system overreacts to pollens or other substances in the environment. This is the doggy equivalent of hay fever, except the pollens irritate the skin rather than the nose and eyes.
Our next set of dog skin conditions is internally driven. Seborrheic conditions are those when the skin turnover time is too fast. If this has you scratching your head, it simply means that skin cells are born, mature, and die too quickly. Thus the dog tends to have dry flaky skin, as that new skin cells catapult towards the surface too fast.
A related condition can also affect the grease glands in the skin, making them over active. As you might suspect, this causes a greasy coat as it’s constantly bathed in too much oil. And heck…that grease then attracts certain bacteria, so secondary infections are common.
The skin is an organ, and like any body part it can succumb to cancer. This may be a form of skin cancer caused by excessive exposure to the sun, or spontaneously arising cancers such as malignant melanoma.
Those dogs most at risk of sun-related cancers lack protective pigment in their skin. Thus dogs with pink noses, pink eyelids, or white patches in the coat should be protected from sun burn. And yes, this does mean keeping the dog in the shade in high summer and using doggy sunscreen.
In conditions such as lupus or pemphigus the immune system attacks the skin. For some bizarre reason it tends to attack where moist mucus membranes (such as the gums, lining of the rectum, or eyelids) meet haired skin.
The signs include ulcers, crusting, and redness. Be especially suspicious if this happens around the eyes, lips, or anal ring.
Side Effects on the Skin
Last but not least in our romp through dog skin conditions are those down to general ill health which is reflected in the skin. In a similar way to when you’re sick your skin may break out or look dull, so the health of canine skin dips when a dog is unwell.
Common conditions such as Cushing’s disease or underactive thyroid glands can have a knock on effect on the coat. For Cushing’s disease this can mean thinning skin, blackheads, and bruising, whilst for hypothyroidism the coat is poor quality and bald patches develop.
Keep your Dog’s Skin Healthy
Whilst you may not be able to prevent disease, you can go a long way to keeping your dog’s skin healthy. Simple things, like a monthly bath helps to wash away bacteria and rebalance the skin. Feed a healthy diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants, gives the skin the perfect building blocks for good health. And don’t forget parasite control, since preventing the itch goes a long way to preventing damage.
And last but not least, seek treatment early if your dog’s skin takes a down turn. Postponing that vet visit could mean complications develop, which mean that pesky problem takes longer to bring under control. Let’s hear it for glossy coats and itch-free canines!
Do you have what it takes to be a gerbil guardian?
If you’re looking for a small, caged pet that’s awake when you are and loads of fun to boot, then gerbils are ideal for you! Intelligent, sociable, and with an in-built love of tunneling, gerbils are jolly little rodents that give you plenty to smile about.
Let’s get up close and personal by looking at gerbil biology. Gerbils have a lifespan of 3 – 4 years (sometimes longer), which compares favorably with 2 – 2 ½ years for hamster. Indeed, gerbils are almost the inverse of hamsters, because they love to live in groups (rather than singly) and mostly active during the day (rather than night.)
Gerbils hate being alone and love company, and do best when kept in same-sex groups. However, be warned! Mixing gerbil genders leads to a population explosion, since gerbils start to breed from around three months of age and produce a new litter of 4 – 10 babies every 24 days. Ooops!
Another nice-to-know fact is that gerbils are clean animals. This is on account of their desert heritage, which gifted them with kidneys that are very efficient at conserving water. Although they should always have access to fresh drinking water, they may not drink much and produce dry waste as a result – which is good news when it comes to cleaning out.
Gerbil Fun Facts
• Gerbils are great tunnellers, and love nothing better than a good dig
• Male gerbils make excellent fathers, and play a role in raising their young
• Unlike hamsters, gerbils don’t have cheek pouches
• Gerbils are the kangaroo of the rodent world, with back legs that a way longer than their front ones
• Wild gerbils hoard food in stores weighing up to 1.5kg
The Gerbilarium: Home Sweet Home
The tank gerbils are kept in is called a gerbilarium, but despite the fancy name it’s basically a large tank or aquarium with a a cage on top. However, make sure it has a secure wire lid as gerbils are great jumpers (those long back legs!) and will escape. Indeed, make sure they have plenty of room to play and dig. A basic recommendation size of gerbilarium for a pair of gerbils is 40 – 75cm by a height of 30 cm.
Wire cages are less suitable than glass, mainly because there’s nothing to stop a snow drift of bedding being kicked out when your gerbil starts digging. However, the drawback with a glass tank is the lack of ventilation, which is where that wire lid comes in. But also be ultra-careful to keep the tank out of direct sunlight as the temperature inside soon soars to dangerous levels.
Bedding and Tunneling
In the wild, gerbils escape the desert and scrubland heat by burrowing. They are veritable moles when it comes to underground excavations, digging long tunnels around 3 meters long, complete with lots of side chambers, entrances and exits.
It’s difficult to mimic this in a gerbilarium, but a good deep layer of bedding goes some way. Think along the lines of organic soil or peat, or a deep layer of Timothy hay. Also provide a nesting area, with super-cozy shredded paper inside. It’s best to avoid fluffy materials, since also this look and feel great, they can get tangled around limbs and cause serious harm.
As for a nest box, be aware gerbils love to chew! This means a plastic or wood box will be destroyed in short order. However a great alternative is a small clay flower pot, which is indestructible and secure.
Along with other desert dwelling species, gerbils are used to keeping themselves clean with dust baths. Offer a wide flat container filled with chinchilla sand (widely available from pet stores) so your gerbil can roll around and keep their coat clean and conditioned.
Food and Feeding
Going back to their roots, wild gerbils dine on a diet of grasses, seeds, bulbs, leaves, and herbage. To mimic this, most owners feed part of the diet as a commercial pelleted mix, with part as fresh fruit and veggies.
Variety is great but some foods are off the menu as they make gerbils unwell. Those foods NOT to feed include potatoes, tomato leaves, rhubarb, and grapes or raisins.
However, gerbils can cheerfully chomp on a selection of apples, broccoli, cucumber, carrots, cauliflower, fennel, melon, oranges, and pumpkin. Nom nom.
Heavy ceramic feeding bowls work best, as they are more difficult to tip over. That said, sometimes feeding time can get quite competitive, so to avoid fights it’s as well to scatter food over the bedding and allow the gerbils to forage. And oh yes, don’t worry if they bury their food…this is normal behavior. However, you may need to get rid of moldy foods for them…
When provided with the right conditions gerbils are generally healthy creatures. There biggest weakness is their teeth, which grow all the time. To keep them the correct length provide wooden chew toys or orchard wood (from pesticide free trees) so they can gnaw those incisors down.
And finally, as with any pet, check on them several times a day. Get used to what is normal for your gerbils, and if they seem more withdrawn, stop eating, or otherwise seem unwell then get them checked by a vet.
Is your older cat drinking lots and leaving big puddles in the litter box? One possible explanation is kidney disease. As the saying goes: ‘Common things are common,’ and this is certainly true of kidney trouble in cats.
Think of kidney disease as a: Good news, bad news diagnosis.
The good news is in the early stages treatment slows its progression, whilst the bad news is it can’t be cured.
Far from being all doom and gloom, there are ways of supporting ailing kidneys, especially with an early diagnosis. When treatment starts when the problem is mild it protects the kidney and makes a real difference to your four-legger’s life expectancy. And when the condition is more advanced, you can help your fur-friend by keeping her comfortable and monitoring quality of life.
Why Do Kidneys Matter?
Kidneys work all day, every day and never take a rest, but often we don’t appreciate their hard work until it’s too late.
Kidneys have many vital roles in the body including:
Cleaning natural toxins from the blood
Getting rid of waste products in urine
Recycling water by reclaiming it from blood
Controlling levels of vital electrolytes (salts)
Producing hormones that control blood pressure and red blood cell production
Fascinating things, kidneys! We’re born with two, but get along fine with one (which is why we can donate a kidney without ill effects to ourselves). Those clever kidneys are efficient at their job, and we’re born with a spare!
So how does kidney damage happen?
Causes of Kidney Disease
After years of hard work, the kidneys start to wear out. Active nephrons (filtering units) become damaged and are replaced by scar tissue. Over the course of a cat’s lifetime the amount of active working kidney tissue dwindles, leading to symptoms such as thirst, weight loss, and a poor appetite.
Old age degeneration (often referred to as chronic kidney disease or CKD) is common, but damage also happens for other reasons, including:
Congenital problems such as cysts in the kidney
Damage by toxins or drugs
What are the Signs of Kidney Disease?
Without the kidneys working at full capacity, carefully controlled salt and water levels start to go cock-eyed. Toxins levels rise and anemia develops. But this doesn’t happen overnight because kidney disease is a slowly progressive disease. The body does it’s best to cope and this is where the symptoms creep in.
For example, a leaky kidney is not great at recycling water and the cat produces dilute urine. The body needs to replace this lost water, so the cat drinks more. Get the idea?
Other signs to be alert for include:
Increased thirst: You may spot this indirectly by noticing larger puddles in the litter box
Weight loss: The kidney tends to leak protein which is lost in urine, leading to a general loss of body condition.
Poor appetite: Levels of naturally occurring toxins rise. These are linked to feelings of nausea which puts the cat off her food.
Vomiting: The stomach lining becomes inflamed and the cat struggles to keep food down
Lack of energy: The cat sleeps more
Poor coat: The fur tends to lose its gleam and luster, as the cat’s grooming habit falters
Bad breath: Those toxins make for smelly breath and inflamed gums
There are other effects which may not be obvious to a pet parent, including high blood pressure and anemia.
However, all these signs are quite general so what’s most important is to recognize there’s a problem and get the cat checked by a vet.
How is Kidney Disease Diagnosed?
The vet takes a history and performs a physical exam. This is to rule out certain problems and guide the vet as to the best tests to run. Typically these start with general blood tests, to get the big picture. One complication is that older cats may have more than one problem, so the vet will want to know what’s what before starting therapy.
But kidney disease isn’t an all-or-nothing condition, and ranges from mild to severe. In fact, the vet may well want to run additional tests to work out how far along the line the kidneys are. This may then influence the choice of treatment and how the case is managed.
Your vet may want to run one or all of the following tests:
SDMA: This test is the new kid on the block. It’s a super sensitive way of detecting the earliest hint of kidney disease and acts as a warning the cat needs monitoring
Screening Blood Tests: These check general organ function, along with red cells and white cells. This important information tells the vet if it’s kidney disease alone or if other problems are present.
BUN, Creatinine, Phosphate: Often used as a monitoring test once the problem has been diagnosed.
Urine Analysis: Measuring how dilute or concentrated urine is an important measure of kidney function
UPC Ratio: This stands for Urine Protein: Creatinine ratio, and is a measure of how much protein leaks through the kidney.
Urine Culture: Low grade infection is common but often the cat doesn’t show signs. Culturing the urine lets the vet know if antibiotics would be beneficial
Blood Pressure Measurement: A common complication of kidney disease is high blood pressure. This can cause further damage, along with strokes, so monitoring blood pressure is a wise precaution.
Ultrasound Scan: If a cystic kidneys or cancer is suspected, imaging helps complete the picture.
The vet puts the piece together like a jigsaw puzzle, to decide what stage the renal disease is at. This allows the vet to suggest the most appropriate treatment for your cat.
Managing Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease is controlled rather than cured. This sounds gloomy, but as mentioned earlier, a problem caught early can be well managed and the cat lead a normal life.
The backbone of treatment is diet, so let’s look at this first.
One of the kidney’s most important jobs is getting rid of toxins from the body. Therefore it makes sense to give an ailing kidney as little work as possible. This is where renal foods come in.
These prescription diets contain reduced levels of high quality protein. In practical terms this means the food is ‘purer’ and once digested, there are less waste products to be excreted in urine. Thus, the kidney has less detoxing to do.
But renal diets don’t stop there. They are also low in minerals, such as phosphate, which are difficult to filter and known to encourage scar tissue. They are rich in antioxidants and essential fatty acids, to reduce inflammation and ongoing damage, plus are rich in potassium (which is lost through leaky kidneys) and B vitamins (to help appetite.)
Switching to a renal diet is the first step, but there are plenty of other therapeutic options to explore.
For the cat that steadfastly refuses to eat a renal diet, adding a phosphate binder to their regular food is beneficial. These supplements cling onto the phosphate in food, keeping it within the gut, rather than letting it pass into the blood stream.
Phosphate binders are simply mixed with each meal to reduce the amount of phosphate reaching the kidney.
Water cleans the blood and flushes out the kidneys, therefore encouraging the cat to drink is a good thing. Strategies include giving wet food, providing lots of water bowls, or even a pet drinking fountain.
In the later stages of kidney disease, your vet may even teach you how to inject saline solution under the cat’s skin, to boost her hydration.
An exciting treatment that is an investment in the long term health of the kidney is drugs called ACE inhibitors. These change the blood pressure gradient across the kidney, to help it work more efficiently.
Not all cats are suitable for ACE inhibitors, so your vet is best placed to make a judgement call on an individual basis.
Managing Blood Pressure
Cats with high blood pressure often benefit from taking medication, such as amlodipine, to bring it back to normal. Again, this call is made on an individual basis, but could help protect the cat against heart muscle damage or even a stroke.
Potassium leaks through the kidney and can leave the cat deficient. Potassium is important for muscular strength, and a deficiency leaves the cat weak or even struggling to hold her head up.
Supplements need to be carefully monitored, as too much can cause heart complications, but your vet can advise you on the dose.
Kidney cats are prone to stomach ulcers, which are painful and reduce appetite. There are liquid medications available which coat the stomach lining and improve appetite, or an excellent once daily antacid tablet.
An ailing appetite is sadly all too common as things progress. However, your vet may be able to prescribe medications such as cyproheptadine or mirtazapine to pep up their eating. Injections of B vitamins can also help improve a faltering appetite.
When Things Get Serious
The kidneys work 24/7 and eventually, be it weeks, months or year later, all that work means the cat enters a more worrying stage where her kidneys seriously struggle. This is when her appetite is poor; she can’t keep food down, and becomes dehydrated.
Your vet may suggest intravenous fluids, to flush her body of toxins and give temporary relief. Sadly, how beneficial this is can vary hugely depending on how sick the cat is.
Whilst no-one wants to say a final goodbye, it is vitally important to keep your cat’s best interests as the focus of attention. Be realistic about her quality of life, and keep talking to friends and family about how they perceive her.
Share any concerns with your vet, who can give you the medical perspective on her condition. However, only you know how she is at home, and the weight of the ultimate decision rests on your shoulders. But let’s hope that’s many months and years in the future.
Take heart if your cat is diagnosed with renal disease. Whilst the problem can’t be cured, there are ways of managing the condition which keep those purrs coming!
If your dog has always been, for lack of better words, a ‘licky dog’ then it may just be a normal behavior for your dog. If it is a new behaviour, there can be underlying medical or behavioural issues to address.
Some dogs just tend to lick more than others, and this usually includes licking the air, their lips, objects around the house and quite often your face! As with any behavior, if it is undesirable to you then remember the golden rule of ‘IGNORE unwanted behavior, REWARD wanted behavior’. You can find more info on training your dog here.
It is also worth mentioning that while behavioral causes are possible, one study found them to be a less likely cause than a GI abnormality. Anxiety can lead to obsessive compulsive disorders and air licking can be a symptom.
Abdominal or Gastro-intestinal pain
One possibility, is pain from a gastro-intestinal/abdominal abnormality. Such abnormalities can include pancreatitis, inflammatory bowel disease, gastric foreign body, ulcer, or other cause of abdominal or gastro-intestinal pain. If your dog also has diarrhea and/or is vomiting, this increases the likelihood of abdominal or gastro-intestinal pain being the cause.
Oral Issues can also lead to air licking, such as dental disease (usually severe) or something stuck in the mouth, for example a stick (check the roof of your dogs mouth if they are amenable to this as this is a common place of stick lodgement).
Air licking can also be part of a seizure complex and may indicate an underlying neurological problem, for example epilepsy, other disorders affecting the brain.
What should I do if it is a new behavior?
If you are noticing this new behavior and are unsure about the cause, it may warrant a trip to the vet. Before going to the vet, it is a good idea to take a video recording of the behavior and note down anything that might be causing the behavior. For example if it is right after the dog eats, and recording a short video of the behavior. This could be helpful to find the underlying cause and it is often difficult to show the behavior to the vet in the exam room.