Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Got Summer Vaca and Warm Weather on the Brain? Your Pets Do Too! Make Sure Both of You are Safe this Summer!

Now that the weather is warm, it is reminding everyone that summer vacation is just weeks around the corner. The birds are chirping, neighbors are outside cutting their lawns and people are walking their dogs more than ever. We all have spring fever and so do our pets. This combination can be a deadly one if we let our guard down and become lax with the way we treat our animals.

My family cat, Sassy, enjoying the good outdoors.

The arrival of nice weather does not mean that our brains should go on summer vacation mode as a pet-owner. For instance, I cringe every time I see a person riding their bike while walking their dog at the same time. This is a recipe for disaster. This is a scenario in which the pet and its owner could get seriously injured. For one, the dog leash could get twisted in the bike tire, causing the person riding the bike to flip over the handlebars. The bike or person could fall on the dog and cause serious harm. The dog may also take off running down the street, dragging the bike behind him which would be a path of destruction. The dog or person may fall into traffic. Each time that I see this, I think of the various scenarios that could take place, all of which are never good. Make separate time for your hobbies and your pets.

 While walking your dog, it may be tempting to let him or her off the leash in parks or on trails. Please understand that there are leash laws set in place to protect you and your dog from being sued during a possible altercation. If a person or another animal scares your dog, this could lead to a dog bite and other injuries. Then, you may be sued and the court may order your dog to be euthanized. This horrendous scenario can be prevented by using common sense.

As our pets may want to go outside more often, it is critical to protect them against fleas and ticks this spring, summer and fall. Because we had such a mild winter in upstate New York, some fleas and ticks never died. Thus, they will be out with a vengeance this year. Popular flea and tick preventatives like K9 Advantix, Frontline, etc., are readily available and recommended by veterinarians. If you see a tick embedded in your pet's skin, it is important to be prepared. Check out ARCANATURA's all-natural tick removal kit here. After walks with your pet, make sure you do a basic fur check to see if there are any wandering ticks. Flea combs are available for both dogs and cats.

If your pet spends any time outside without supervision, be that a dog in a backyard or an indoor-outdoor cat, it is very important to provide proper shelter, food and drink for the animal. As we all know, the summers easily reach 80 degrees and your pet will drink abundantly and dehydrate quickly. Check on your pets often and monitor food, water, and proper shelter that provides shade from the hot sun. Do not leave your pets outside for extended periods of time without supervision. It's easy to forget that a pet is outside when we are doing laundry, homework or other chores; don't assume that your pet knows right from wrong when you aren't there or that your pet won't be affected by the heat.

For cats and dogs that spend any time outdoors, please make sure to microchip them or fasten a pet ID to a break-away collar. If your indoor-outdoor cat gets lost or injured, it can be identified at a shelter or veterinary clinic. If your dog finds a way to escape out of the yard, he or she can also be identified quickly by animal control or neighbors. Make sure to list the pet's name and owner contact information on the ID tag. 

Overall, the summer does seem to be the time to relax and unwind with family and friends, but it is important for us to stay diligent with our pets. With proper precautions, our pets can relax and unwind too---safely.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Most Painful Mani-Pedi: Consider an Alternative Before Declawing Your Cat

When I moved into my first apartment after graduating college last year, I faced a lot of decisions regarding outrageous pet fees. Although I lamented these fees and still continue to do so, I understood why paying a deposit was necessary. Just in case my ten year old cat, Cady, decided to destroy the place, my landlord would be able to pay for repairs. However, the odds were in my favor. Cady does have anxiety, but luckily, (or not so luckily,)  he takes it out on me and not my rugs and furniture. My landlord requested a deposit along with a large (and crazy) non-refundable payment because my cat was not declawed.

There is a downside to losing a lot of money as a new college grad who is paying off loans and making entry-level pay; but, it is also critical to weigh-in on another issue at hand: the excruciating pain that cats endure during the declawing process that can affect the rest of their lives and personalities.

Paws off! 
It is easy to forget or displace the fear, anxiety and pain an animal feels when it is declawed because as humans, we drop our pets off at the vet and then they come home to us in one piece. And even better, they can't destroy the house! But wait-it's never that simple, at least not for the animal. First off, declawing a cat is similar to cutting off the first segment of the human finger. Just imagine how painful it would be to lose all ten of your finger-nails and the top parts of your fingers. You would never feel normal sensations on the tips of your fingers again and the process would be extremely painful. Not only would you have to endure that suffering physically, but you would also have to cope with the fact that you can't grasp objects as easily and would have to modify your daily lifestyle.

When cats are declawed, they lose an integral part of their being. They are unable to satisfy both physical and psychological needs. According to, cats scratch as a way to expend energy, to play and to mark their territory inside and outside. Cats become very attached to scratching posts and even card board once they understand that they are allowed to scratch certain things. It all stems from the feline's primal urge to scratch their nails and mark their territory on trees in the wild. Humane organizations, including PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals,) fight against declawing because limiting a cat's natural urge to scratch may make them more aggressive, shy and nervous because they lose the ability to defend themselves. It may also cause other behavioral problems,  such as using the bathroom outside of the litter box. I don't know about you, but my cat thoroughly enjoys scratching around in his litter box while marking his territory.

Lastly, a cat may suffer from severe medical complications that could lead to heavy bleeding, infection or death.The process overall is very painful and a cat may never recover psychologically from this trauma.

I am against declawing cats, especially because there are healthy and easy alternatives that allow you to live your life while your cat doesn't have to suffer the consequences of a painful procedure. For one, provide your cat with plenty of toys, like cat scratching posts, that allow for climbing, clawing and scratching. Buy a blanket and bed specifically made for your cat that allows for kneading without it being an issue. Walk your cat on a harness outside so that he or she can sharpen nails on trees. Bring home old card board boxes for your cat to shred. Consider using Feliway Pheromone diffusers, sprays and collars to curb scratching and anxiety associated with it. For more serious situations, check out Soft Paws' plastic cat nail caps or talk to your vet about behavioral or medical treatment. And always remember to cut your cat's nails often!

I urge you not to declaw a cat because of apartment fees. If you are an animal lover who cannot live comfortably with apartment animal fees, consider waiting to adopt a feline friend or adopting one from a shelter who is already declawed. That way, you don't have to be a direct supporter of this horrendous process and you can still give a cat a loving home. Research all options before making any rash decisions; there are apartment complexes out there that offer more affordable pet fees. Most animal rescue and placement websites, such as, allow you to search specifically for declawed cats if you are interested in adoption.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Buy Your Kids Candy for Easter, Not Bunnies or Chicks

I've dyed Easter eggs every year since I can remember with my family. As a child, I was mesmerized by these decorated eggs and also with the surplus of baby bunnies and chicks in pet stores in the mall. I begged my mother each year for a bunny around Easter time and she always refused. Besides the fact that she knew I had no time or inclination to care for this animal as a 7 year old, we already had 2 cats at home that would love to have a personal meet and greet with this new animal. And that would be the end of my own Easter Bunny.

As an adult, I've seen the overpopulation of bunnies and chicks around Easter time and have noticed another sickening trend: dyed chicks. Chicks are dyed pretty pinks, yellows, blues, greens and other spring colors to catch the eye of children and parents alike. What is better than dyed Easter eggs!? Obviously, dyed Easter chicks! Not. Although I find this tradition completely inhumane and repulsive, I find it hard to believe that parents think this is an OK practice to be involved with. According to this article, by Jennifer A. Kingston, chick eggs are injected with a supposed non-toxic dye in order for the actual chick to be born with wildly colorful feathers, festive enough for the Easter holiday. Kingston adds that most egg hatcheries do not admit their participation in this Easter tradition. I wonder why...

It is also important to note that over-breeding chickens and rabbits in preparation for the Easter Holiday is always a bad idea. The breeding of these animals adds to the over population problem and most parents who buy these pets for their children will get sick of them and will end up returning them, giving them away to unfit homes or not properly caring for the animals themselves. Remember, a pet is forever, not just a temporary purchase. Even these beautifully (and artificially) colored chicks have needs; they are not toys. 

So, I would suggest buying kids candy and other toys for Easter instead of live animals who need constant attention and care. Or better yet, buy them a stuffed animal of a furry friend. Don't support the over breeding and inhumane animal treatment that comes with pet store purchases. Not only will this help the animals, but I'm certain that the Easter Bunny will not be pleased if he sees his fellow bunnies being mistreated and neglected within the home as presents. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Who Says Your Pet Can't Rock Out to Music?

Silence can be terrifying to humans-and their animals, alike. Not only does it allow us as humans to take the time and think about the stresses of our days, but it can also be very lonely. While us humans are working and socializing all day, our pets may be dreading the moment we turn the door knob to leave because of the continual silence.

Cady falls asleep listening to my music. 
It's easy to assume that cats enjoy silence. Why wouldn't they? They love to take naps and why would they want to sleep in a noisy house? To some extent, this holds true. However, while we are out all day, even cats prefer some background noise. Just as we like music in the car while we drive alone, background noise in the house allows a cat or dog to relax and believe another presence is around-even if we are at work.

Through recent studies, it has been suggested that house pets appreciate music in their own way. Not only does it create the illusion that they are not alone, but specific rhythms are soothing when they simulate animal heartbeats. Within Natalie Wolchover's article, "Pets Do Like Music, But Prefer Their Own Picks," she explores what types of music house pets enjoy. Unfortunately, our pets may not enjoy Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Kenny Chesney, Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails. They may not even enjoy the soothing rhythms that come along with classical ballads, according to Wolchover. She claims that it is proven that cats and dogs enjoy music that contains specific pitches and rhythm that mock their species' heart beat, calls and other nature sounds.

If you have cats and are gone during the work day, check out the Music for Cats website here. Listen to the samples with your feline friend. If you want to introduce your canine buddy to a new genre of music, check out this website. Not only will it be entertaining to see your pet's reaction, but it will also mask the silence during the work day.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Cat is Houdini: When You Think You've Tried It All...

As I've mentioned before, my cat, Cady, is not your average feline. During the day, he lives a pretty typical life. He enjoys sleeping as the sun shines through the windows and warms his fur. He sleeps soundly on my bed and when I walk by, he may lift his head to acknowledge me if he feels ambitious. Obviously, I can only monitor part of his days when I'm working full-time.

What I do know is that his relaxing schedule changes once I walk through the door at night. I am instantly greeted by a friendly chirp from the top of the stairs. As I put my bags down, that friendly chirp evolves into a loud screech and then soon after, an ear-piercing yowl. It's not long before I know what he wants: to go outside. I don't know a great deal about what happened to Cady in his past. What I do know is that he's just about 10 years old and has a great yearning for the outside.

I've tried to teach Cady that I will not respond to him until he stops yowling. To a certain extent, this does work and he understands after awhile. According to many cat behavior websites, I have learned that a cat's excessive meowing will be reinforced by anything-even if you yell at him or her to stop. To a needy cat, negative attention is still attention. So, I try my best to ignore him when he gets loud, even when my ears almost start to bleed.

Once Cady has calmed down a bit, he slips into his harness and drags me out the front door. He cannot wait even one second to get outside; I have all to do to lock the door before he takes off. As we approach the lawn,  he starts to sprint (and I try to keep up,) and gets enough leverage to jump half way up a tree while attached to the harness. This is an art that I have adapted to more than he has. He's a natural at climbing trees and I'm a natural at being dragged across the lawn.

What is funny about Cady is that he is at his calmest when he is walking outside. He literally walks about a mile per day. I take him out for 25 to 45 minutes daily and he enjoys every moment of it...that is, until we make the trek home. He tries to chase birds, he smells the air and trees and even bonds with the neighbors. The only con to these journeys is that he never wants to turn around. I have to carry him most of the way home. Cady's innate longing to go outside just compacts his ever-present anxiety.

Once I bring Cady back inside, he may or may not continue to yowl for awhile to go back out. Tonight, I tied a long leash to one of my balcony chairs and he laid on the deck looking around contently. The leash was long enough for him to wander around comfortably, without him getting close to the railings. The last thing I need is for him to jump off the second story deck (and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he tried to do that!). I left my back door open and checked on him every few minutes. Just as I poured myself a glass of juice, I heard a clanging outside. I looked out the door and saw Cady sitting on top of the table, without his harness on! The rascal escaped from a buckled harness. It was as if it were a magic trick. It also hit a nerve in my head.

Cady being a goofball. 
I've tried to help Cady's anxiety for almost a year now through pheromone diffusers, collars, toys, games, outdoor walks, etc. But now, I have reached a point where his anxiety truly worries me. Beyond wanting to go outside often, if I'm gone for longer than usual, (which is never very long,) Cady throws up on the carpet out of worry. If I break his routine even slightly, he is all out of sorts. And recently, his meowing has gotten worse during the night time, because of his strong desire to go outside when he pleases. I brought Cady back to the vet, who recommended that Cady go on a low-dose Prozac to help calm his nerves, especially at night time. It is unhealthy for both Cady and I to be up all night long. And I cannot be the pet owner he needs me to be if I am tired all the time. I ordered the Prozac in liquid, chicken-flavored form. I will continue his walks and routine and see if the medication helps.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by being unable to help your pet, try Googling some pet behavior websites or visit your vet for some help. It is OK to need help from others; for certain situations, you cannot help your pet alone and it is very easy to become frustrated when it impacts your daily life. With the help of a vet, a behavior specialist, books, websites, family and friends, I believe it is possible to trick even my Houdini of a cat into enjoying his life a little more. No pet owner is perfect, but it is possible to keep the magic alive for an animal who loves the outdoors, while providing a stable life in the home.

Click here for some helpful pet behavior tips.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Beauty of Aging: Consider Adopting an Older Pet

It goes without saying that families prefer puppies and kittens to older dogs and cats who have already grown out of the adorable fluff-ball stage. But it is very important to remember that all puppies and kittens mature quickly and grow to be the adult animals you see waiting to be adopted at the shelter.

My 15 year old family cat, Spunky. 
It might be nerve-wracking to adopt an older animal because they may already have emotional, physical, medical, psychological or behavioral problems. However, when given a chance and patience, most adult or senior shelter animals usually adapt quite well and adjust to life in a new home. In fact, they greatly appreciate the attention. Despite doing a good thing by saving an adult or senior shelter animal, when they are often looked over and displaced, you might be pleasantly surprised by the companionship of an older animal.

For one, older animals are often calmer and less destructive. With a younger dog or cat, a pet owner may worry that the animal will rip up the carpet or chew on things during the day when no one is home. Older animals will be more mellow in the home during the work day if toys and stimulation is provided. Also, house training takes patience and consistency so it is important to be home often for puppies. For kittens, they may have accidents outside of the litter box at first. With older animals, they may take some training to get used to the schedule in a new home, but more than likely will have house training down. Shelters try to house break all animals in order to place them in homes quickly.

Also, for families with young children, it is not always recommended to adopt puppies and kittens because just as kids are rambunctious, so are baby animals. The two mixed together can create a dangerous cocktail resulting in scratches, bruises and bites-not because the animal or the child are bad, but because they don't know how to properly interact with each other yet. A child may be better suited with an animal that has matured a bit and won't be so hyper. Overall, an older animal may fit your lifestyle better when you don't have the time to worry about the behavior of a puppy or kitten when you leave them alone or if you already have young children at home full of energy.

Beyond all of this, there is a true beauty and compassion that comes with adopting an older animal. They are eternally grateful and show us what they have already been through in life with their actions, likes and dislikes. Older animals who have been abused, abandoned and neglected have the incredible ability to bounce back and live enriched lives with people who show them love and trust. To see a truly beautiful portrait of aged animals, check out the photography of Isa Leshko here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Don't Play Favorites.

Ryan Klaeysen's Beagle, Miles.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC,) the beagle may be the new star of the show this year as far as being ranked among Americans' favorite breeds of dogs. Naturally, the cuddly lab is ranked as number one, being known as a suitable family dog for decades. The German Shepherd ranks a close second by the AKC for its regal demeanor. The rottweiler has also raised in popularity within American homes, ranking number ten on the AKC scale. The rise in popularity of larger dogs among AKC members and Americans in general seems promising and is very exciting due to the unfair stereotypes that are usually associated with these breeds. Check out other rankings here.

Alex Romano and her Akita, Misa.
Although this is wonderful that larger dogs are finally being recognized as great family dogs, it is always important to remember not to play favorites, no matter how big or small the dog may be. From the beefy, muscular, elegant rottweiler to the spunky, shrimpy, adorable Chihuahua, it is crucial not to make assumptions about what dog breed is better than the next. All dogs who are not trained properly or who are put in a stressful situation may bite. By choosing and listing "favorites," it reinforces behavioral stereotypes about all dog breeds and it gives certain dogs an advantage over others. It is important that all dogs, regardless of breed, get adopted from shelters across the country and are given a fair chance.

Kristen Schindler's Pitbull Mix, Kira, with Red Heeler Mix, Emma.

So, when you are deciding to add a dog to your family structure, do the research and consider what dog breed would be most suitable for your life. Do not base these decisions on misleading breed discrimination. And please, do not forget to consider those dogs who really need our help, like Pitbulls, who are on their way to euthanasia, just because their breed is stereotyped as the "dangerous dog" in the media. In reality, with proper training and care, these dogs are just as family oriented as any other breed.