Three ways you can help improve the treatment of animals
In April of 1866, the charter for American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was signed. Every April since then, this organization has sponsored a month-long initiative to raise awareness of animal cruelty. Here are three ways that you can participate this April.
Set an Example
There is a cultural element to how animals are perceived and treated in any given country or era. For example, even fifty years ago most household pets were thought of as animals rather than “furry children” and treated as such. While people still loved their pets, they were more likely to make them live outside 24/7, feed them whatever scraps were at hand, and let them roam and breed at will. Now, such behaviors are increasingly viewed as unacceptable due to changing cultural norms. This process is still ongoing—there are still some parts of this country where dog fighting and other forms of animal cruelty are rampant. But, by standing up as a responsible pet owner and taking the following actions, you can help change how pets are perceived and treated in America.
- Spay or neuter your pets
- Get an annual veterinary checkup
- Keep animals indoors or ensure adequate water and shelter outdoors
- Don’t let pets roam
- Never keep more pets than you can care for
Support a Cause
The ASPCA is involved in a wide variety of efforts to fight animal cruelty, including public awareness campaigns, political action, and on-the-ground efforts to save abused animals. You can contribute to these efforts by donating money or your time. Some of the top ASPCA efforts include:
- Shutting down puppy mills
- Ending dog fighting
- Rescuing animals from hoarders
- Rescuing animals after natural disasters
- Collecting and analyzing evidence for legal cases
- Ending horse soring
- Improving treatment of farm animals
To show your support of ASPCA in general this April, participate in their “Go Orange” campaign to raise awareness of all ASPCA efforts. Wear orange to work, host a charitable event in your area, or get a snazzy orange collar, bandana, or outfit for your pet to wear in public.
Rescue a Pet
Animals rescued by the ASPCA and other advocacy groups need permanent homes. If you are looking for a new pet, make your local animal shelter your first stop. You can also try connecting with various breed-specific rescue organizations if you are looking for a specific purebred animal. If you can’t adopt an animal yourself, you can still contribute to the effort to care for homeless animals by donating as little as 60 cents a day to the ASPCA.
Your local veterinarian can help your canine companion enjoy less pain and greater mobility
As dogs age, they often begin to slow down, becoming less active. If your dog’s reduced activity seems to be accompanied by swollen joints, stiffness, or difficulty standing, running, walking or jumping, they probably have arthritis. Because these symptoms can also sometimes be caused by other health problems, it’s important to visit your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis of your dog’s condition and an expert recommendation for treatment.
Canine arthritis treatment can be approached in two main ways. First of all, your veterinarian can offer pain relief. Secondly, they can offer various treatments designed to help restore the lost cartilage that is causing the dog’s joint pain.
Supplements: Supplements are primarily used for promoting healthy cartilage and joint health, and may include various combinations of glucosamine, chondroitin, and omega-3 fatty acids. Your veterinarian may recommend simply switching your dog to a special prescription diet that incorporates these nutrients rather than giving them as separate supplements.
Medications: Medication can be used to relieve pain associated with arthritis as well as to promote tissue repair in the joints. Tramadol is one of the safest and most affordable pain medications to use. Injections of Adequan can help your dog’s body repair its own cartilage, but this treatment can be expensive and requires 6 injections over a 3-week period. Steroids may also be used for their anti-inflammatory effect, but only in moderation. Other non-steroidal medications are available but can have severe side effects. Before prescribing any medication, your vet will do extensive blood work to make sure the risks of side effects are as small as possible.
In addition to seeking veterinary treatment, you can help relieve your pet’s joint pain by making some changes to their environment and daily routine.
Weight Management: First of all, if your pet is overweight, cut back on the treats to bring them back to a healthy weight. This will help reduce the stress on their joints caused by lugging around excess pounds.
Stairs & Floors: Stairs and slippery floors can be difficult for an arthritic dog to navigate. Set up a sturdy ramp to help your dog get up and down short flights of stairs and put down rugs with non-skid backings to give your dog a safe route over slippery wood, tile, or concrete floors.
Furniture: If your dog is allowed on the furniture, make sure they can get up there without jumping. If you invest in a small portable ramp you can use it indoors for the couch or your bed and also outdoors for getting into the car.
Bedding: Having plenty of soft padding to bed down on is important to protect your dog’s joints from the pressure of lying on hard floors.
Exercise: Reasonable amounts of low-impact exercise can help your dog maintain flexibility and mobility. The key is to let your pet go at their own pace and tell you when they’re tired. Swimming is actually the best exercise for arthritic dogs because the water keeps their own weight off their joints, but obviously it is only suitable for dogs who enjoy swimming.
Giving your dog more mental and physical exercise can help prevent behavioral and health issues
Just because your dog isn’t overweight doesn’t necessarily mean he or she is getting enough exercise. Dogs need both mental and physical exercise, both in order to maintain healthy weight and muscle tone and to feel happy and content. By providing your pet with more mental and physical stimulation, you can often reduce or eliminate the following bad behaviors:
- Constant barking
- Destructive chewing
- Trouble sleeping at night
- Excessive pulling while on leash
- Lack of focus
These behaviors are common in puppies, but if your dog is an adult and still hasn’t grown out of one or more of these behaviors, he may be trying to tell you something.
The amount of exercise your dog needs will depend on its breed and personality. For most dogs, a walk around the block simply isn’t enough. Here are some ideas helping your dog get rid of excess energy:
Go on a fast walk or a run. Get going fast enough so that the dog is at least trotting if not actually running. Make sure to keep an eye on the dog and let them stop when they appear hot or tired.
Let the dog lead. Instead of picking the route for your run or walk, let your dog lead you. Letting your dog follow their nose will make the walk more exciting and interesting for them. It’s a good idea to signal to the dog that it is their turn to lead with a specific command, so that it’s always clear who’s in charge.
Play a game. Some dogs love to play fetch, while others fetch once and then want to play keep away or tug of war. Either way, engaging your dog in this kind of game will provide both mental and physical stimulation.
Find a doggy playmate. Many dogs love to play chase or wrestle with other dogs. Try visiting a local dog park to find some playmates for your pet. If your dog has not been around many other dogs, you may need to start with a one on one play date with a friendly, well-socialized dog so that he can learn how to behave.
Do nose work. Put your dog somewhere they can’t see you, then get a nice smelly treat like a small piece of cheese or meat and hide it somewhere. Then, release your dog and let him search for the treat. As your dog gets better at this game you can make the treats harder to find by putting them inside boxes or doing nose work outdoors.
Teach your dog new tricks. One final way to help your pet burn off some nervous energy is to continue with training activities even after puppyhood. Reinforce old commands and teach new ones. The energy required to focus and learn should help curtail nuisance behaviors that dogs do out of boredom.
If your dog continues to have weight or behavior issues even after you’ve added more exercise to his daily routine, contact a veterinarian for nutrition and/or behavior counseling.
An annual checkup from your veterinarian can help keep your pet parasite-free
Parasites like fleas, ticks, and worms are not only irritating to pets, but can also carry bacteria and/or spread infections that can be dangerous for people and pets alike. For the comfort and safety of your pets and your family, it’s crucial that you take steps to protect your pets from parasites. Both outdoor and indoor pets should be on flea, tick, and worm preventatives. Also, make sure to schedule an annual visit to your veterinarian to check for infestations and get advice about managing the following pet parasites.
You might think your pets are safe from fleas because they never go outside. The truth is fleas are often carried into the home on clothing or in the fur of mice or rats. Fleas can cause pets to scratch and bite themselves to the point where they may develop skin infections. Also, fleas can carry potentially deadly germs such as Bartonella, and if a pet eats a flea that has fed on a rodent they could get tapeworm. Watch your pet carefully for signs of scratching, comb them regularly with a flea comb, and use a quality flea preventative all year round.
If you or your pets frequently play in forests or fields, you could pick up ticks and bring them home. Ticks are dangerous because they carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever among other diseases. It is important to check carefully for ticks after an outdoor adventure and remove them. Many flea preventatives are also effective against ticks, causing the parasite to die and drop off after biting the animal.
Heartworm is a potentially life-threatening parasite that can enter your pet’s bloodstream through a mosquito bite and damage heart and lung arteries. It is highly recommended that all dogs be given a quality heartworm preventative, even if they do not spend much time outside or if you don’t think your area is prone to mosquitoes. Your veterinarian will administer a blood test to check for infection before prescribing this medication.
Intestinal worms such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms are more common than you might think. An estimated 30 to 45 percent of American pets have worms, and their owners don’t even know it. Pets typically will not display symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, or scooting unless they already have a very high parasite load, at which point the worms will already be affecting their health. Fortunately, a quality heartworm medication will protect against most worms except tapeworms. Pets should have a stool sample checked by a vet at least once per year to check for worms and worm eggs. As a preventative measure, you may want to simply deworm pets annually for maximum protection against these parasites.
Tips to help with a successful adoption
If you’re thinking of getting a new dog or cat, adopting from a local animal shelter can be a great option. However, just as when buying a pet from a breeder, the quality of the source matters, as does the personality of the animal. Here are some tips for choosing a loving pet from a reputable shelter that should help you find the perfect companion.
Check the Web
The first place to start looking for your new pet is online. Many shelters now have websites where you can view pictures of adoptable pets and even search for specific breeds that you may be interested in. However, you should take these listings with a grain of salt, especially if you notice all the pets have very similar descriptions. Many animal shelters are understaffed and may not have time to really evaluate each pet and write an individualized description. No matter what the online description says or how cute the photo is, try not to fall in love until you meet the pet in person.
Check Out the Shelter
Before you visit a shelter to look at pets, find out a little bit about their policies. How much do they charge for adoptions? Do they allow you to bring in any current pets to check for compatibility? Will they let you bring the pet back if it doesn’t work out?
Once you find a shelter that has reasonable policies, you should visit in person. Don’t be fooled by the condition of the shelter’s building. Instead, pay attention to cleanliness and how the staff treats the animals. It’s better to get a pet from a run-down but clean building where the staff really care than from a brand new shelter where pets are neglected.
Keep an Open Mind
You may think you know what breed or sex of dog or cat you want, but don’t let this be your only concern. Instead, evaluate each pet based on its personality first and its looks second. After all, most people would probably be better off with a calm, well-socialized mutt instead of a neurotic purebred. Also, beware of getting a breed that requires more exercise than you can provide or will grow to a size you aren’t comfortable with.
Look for Friendly Pets
If you see a pet that interests you, approach its kennel. A well-socialized pet will approach you with interest, wanting attention. If the pet acts aggressive or cringes away from you, it may take more time and effort than you want to expend to turn it into a well-behaved member of the family. If possible, visit with the pet one-on-one to learn more about its personality. When visiting with the pet, look for any signs of illness such as patchy fur, poor weight condition, or coughing. Ask if the pet has seen a veterinarian at the shelter and if any health issues were detected.
Don’t Expect to Get a Pet on Your First Visit
One final tip is not to get so excited about adopting that you take the first pet that seems even reasonably acceptable. Your forever friend is out there—be patient and you will find him or her!
Pros and cons of pets in bed
Snuggling with pets can have many benefits for humans and animals alike, from stress relief to extra warmth on cold nights, but bedmates can also disturb one another’s sleep. Ultimately, there is no universally applicable policy on pets in the bedroom. Instead, it all depends on the personalities and needs of the individual pets and people involved. Here are some general pros and cons of pets in bed to help you decide how close you want to keep Fluffy or Fido at night.
Companionship: Many people regard pets as part of the family. They miss them when they’re apart, even if it’s just for a night. Studies have shown that seniors in nursing homes felt less lonely after visiting with a pet than they did after visiting with other people! But remember, a pet will be just as happy sleeping in a crate or pet bed. Don’t let them guilt you into providing bed privileges with those “sad puppy eyes.”
Relaxation: Studies have shown that interacting with a pet can have a significant impact on stress levels. One study found that caring for pets helped reduce blood pressure spikes in patients with hypertension. Another found that when faced with stressful tasks, individuals felt less stress when accompanied by their pet than they did when supported by a friend or spouse! When you’re trying to wind down after a hard day, it can be very relaxing and rewarding to settle down with a pet that loves you unconditionally.
Sleep disruption: A survey from the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center found that 53 percent of pet owners who let their dogs or cats sleep in bed with them feel that their sleep was disrupted as a result. Cats can get very active at night, and even a zonked out dog can disrupt sleep by pinning you under the covers and preventing you from shifting positions in your sleep. Plus, animals have their own internal alarm clocks that may not correspond with yours.
Hair, hair, everywhere: If it’s important that you have at least one hair-free haven in your home, you definitely don’t want to allow your pets in bed. Even with frequent brushing some breeds of dogs and cats will coat your sheets, blankets, and pillows with shed fur.
Unexpected guests: Sometimes despite our best efforts pets can get parasites. If you don’t like the idea of there being even a remote possibility that a flea, tick, or worm (even a dead one) could get in your bed, you won’t want to sleep with your pets.
What If You Change Your Mind?
Whenever you change a pet’s routine, patience and positive reinforcement are key. If you want to start keeping your pet shut in the bedroom all night or you want to kick your pet out of bed, be gentle but firm during the adjustment process, and provide treats so that the designated sleep area will have positive associations for your pet.
Tips for helping your cat avoid hairball-related problems
Besides cleaning out the litter box, one of the most unpleasant chores related to indoor cat care has got to be dealing with hairballs. While most cats will faithfully deposit all their waste in the litter box, they may cough up a hairball just about anywhere—on an expensive rug, in a hidden corner where you won’t find it for weeks, or even right in the middle of a heavily trafficked area where someone is likely to step in it. Here are some tips to help you understand why cats get hairballs and how you can make this process as natural and comfortable as possible for your feline friend.
Like it or Not, Hairballs Are Part of Life
As unpleasant as hairballs are for humans, they can be much more uncomfortable for cats. Most cats can successfully rid themselves of the excess hair swallowed during grooming by vomiting or passing the hair through their digestive tract. In some cases, however, hairballs can become “stuck” inside the cat. You may notice your cat repeatedly gagging over the course of a day, appearing constipated, or even having diarrhea. In most cases, the cat will pass their hairball on its own in short order. If not, you should definitely pay a visit to your veterinarian. In rare cases, hairballs can become lodged in the esophagus or the intestine and may require surgery to correct.
How to Handle Hairballs
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to try to reduce the frequency and difficulty of passing a hairball:
Brush your cat: The fewer loose hairs your cat encounters during its daily grooming routine, the less frequently it will develop a hairball. If you have a long-haired cat, try to brush it daily as long-haired breeds will be more prone to hairballs otherwise.
Try a hairball care diet: Certain types of cat foods are specially formulated to reduce hairballs. These foods typically seek to improve skin and coat health and reduce shedding while also adding extra fiber to the diet to help the pass hairballs through your cat’s digestive tract more easily.
Consider a hairball remedy: Hairball remedies seek to lubricate your cat’s digestive tract to further aid the passage of hairballs through the intestine. Definitely seek the advice of a veterinarian before using any kind of hairball remedy.
Address excessive grooming: Sometimes cats engage in excessive grooming behaviors out of anxiety or boredom. Naturally more grooming results in more hairballs. By giving your cat a new toy or making a point of having daily play time, you may be able to distract the cat from excessive grooming and reduce the size and frequency of hairballs.
Help your pet stay healthy with dental care at home and at the vet’s office
We all know the benefits of regular dental care for humans: better breath, stronger teeth, and reduced risk of pain, infections, and tooth loss. Don’t you want these same benefits for your pet? Regular dental care—both at home and at the vet’s office—is vital for the long-term health and comfort of your pet. Fortunately, good dental care for pets is relatively easy to achieve. All it takes is a little bit of training and commitment. Here are some tips to help you make sure your pet is getting the dental care they need.
Check Teeth & Gums Regularly
Like people, pets can develop gum disease, cavities, tumors, and cysts in the mouth that can not only be very painful, but potentially even cause life-threatening complications in the case of an abscess or a cancerous growth. By simply inspecting your pet’s teeth and gums on a regular basis, you can help catch any oral health issues early and get the proper treatment. Your pet’s gums should be pink, not white or red, with no signs of swelling or bleeding. Teeth should be intact, ideally with very little brownish tartar.
Brush to Remove Plaque
Plaque, or the film of bacteria that lives on dirty teeth, can cause cavities and gum inflammation in pets just like it does in people. In order to help keep plaque levels down, you should brush your pet’s teeth at home on a regular basis using a specially formulated pet toothpaste and a cat or dog toothbrush. For best results, ask your veterinarian to help you select a quality toothpaste and to demonstrate proper brushing technique. With time and proper training, your pet will come to tolerate their tooth brushing sessions.
Watch What Your Pet Eats
The types of foods that your pets eat can contribute to or help prevent dental problems. For example, wet pet foods tend to stick to teeth more, potentially leading to tooth decay. Dry foods and specially designed chew toys can actually help remove plaque and tartar to promote healthier teeth. Ask your vet about possible changes to your pet’s diet that may help improve oral health, such as switching to a product like Hill’s Prescription Tartar Control Diet.
Visit the Vet for Regular Dental Cleanings
Once plaque turns into tartar (that brown stuff on your pet’s teeth near the gum line) the only way to remove it is with a special dental cleaning at your veterinarian’s office. Dental cleaning or dental scaling is safe and effective for any pet that is healthy enough to be sedated for the procedure. A professional dental cleaning also provides a good opportunity for your pet to get a thorough dental exam, which will help identify any issues such as cysts, tumors, or severely decayed or infected teeth. These problems can then be addressed with surgery at a veterinary hospital to help your pet feel better and hopefully live longer.
Six tips to help manage your pet’s weight
Pet obesity is a real problem in America today, with some studies indicating that up to 60 percent of pets may be overweight or obese. Just like for people, being significantly overweight can cause medical issues which affect a pet’s quality of life and life expectancy. Because you are with your pet every day, you may not notice that they’ve been gaining weight steadily to the point where it has become an actual health problem. Fortunately, you can take a more active role in monitoring and managing your pet’s weight with these six tips.
Assess Your Pet
First of all, you need to assess your pet’s condition to determine if he or she is overweight. Weighing your pet and comparing that weight to the standards for the breed and age is a good starting point. But because every pet is different, there really is no ideal weight, even within breed categories. Many veterinarians recommend feeling your pet’s rib cage. If there seems to be more padding there than you would feel on the back of the average person’s hand, your pet is probably overweight.
Again, there is no single magic number when it comes to determining how many calories a pet needs. However, you do want to be sure that most of the calories your pet consumes come from a quality pet food rather than treats. Keep track of everything you feed your pet during the day and add up the calories. If pet treats or table scraps make up more than 10 percent of the total, you need to cut back on those items.
Adjust Diet as Needed
Pets’ dietary needs change according to age, environment, and medical conditions. For example, if your pet gets fixed, their calorie requirements will decrease dramatically within just a week. If you don’t adjust their diet, your pet may start gaining weight and eventually become obese.
Give Non-Food Treats
People love to give treats to their pets as rewards or to show affection. However, this adds additional calories to the diet that may push the pet over the edge into obesity. It is okay to give the occasional food treat, but you should also consider ways to reward your pet without giving food, such as a thorough petting, an extra walk, or a few minutes of playtime.
While kittens love to play, it’s a lot harder to make an adult cat—especially an overweight one—exercise when it doesn’t want to. However, if you’re dealing with an overweight dog you can definitely help your pet to get more exercise. Start taking longer walks or extra walks, or engage your pet in play such as fetch or tug that will get them moving.
Consult a Veterinarian
If you are not successful in helping your pet to lose weight simply by reducing calories and increasing exercise, there may be an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to identify and address your pet’s unique nutritional needs.
Both types of food can give dogs the nutrition they need
One of the most common questions dog owners have is what kind of dog food is best for their pet. And typically before you can even get started on how to choose the best brand of pet food, you need to make a decision: wet food or dry food? Both types of food have their pros and cons, and ultimately the decision will probably come down to your pet’s preference. So beware of introducing wet dog food unless you’re really willing to supply it every day for the rest of your dog’s life—some dogs love the taste of wet food so much that they will essentially go on a hunger strike to get more of it, turning up their noses at their dried kibble until their masters relent and give them the good stuff. Here are some additional things to consider when deciding between wet and dry dog food for your pet.
Both wet and dry dog food can provide the necessary nutrition for your pet, assuming of course that you choose a quality brand that is appropriate for the age and health of your pet. However, wet dog food does tend to contain more meat protein and fats and less carbs than dry dog food. And because wet dog food comes in an air-tight package, it doesn’t need to contain synthetic preservatives like dry dog food does.
Many veterinarians recommend dry dog food because crunching up the dry kibble helps to clean teeth and promote better dental health. While this may be true to a certain extent, dry dog food isn’t a valid substitute for professional dental cleanings at the vet. Regardless of whether you feed wet or dry food, you will need to take special measures to care for your dog’s teeth. If you have an older dog that already has dental problems, you may need to feed wet food because dry food would be too difficult or painful to chew.
Wet dog food is sometimes helpful for dogs that need to lose weight. The additional moisture content present in wet food means that they can eat a larger volume of food without exceeding their caloric requirements and feel fuller than they would after eating dry food.
Wet dog food does tend to cost more than dry dog food, which can be bought in bulk at a discounted price.
Many dog owners find dry dog food more convenient than wet food. Because it doesn’t require any refrigeration, it can be left out in the bowl for free feeding without concern about spoilage.