Posts tagged cats

Obvious but Overlooked – Why Grooming Matters

by Jean Hofve, DVM

You know how good it feels when you get home from a camping trip or other grubby occupation, and how much you savor getting all clean again? Well, pets also appreciate being well-groomed.

And just like any parent, you want your “fur-kids” to look and feel their best. Since there are some grooming chores that–like any kid–your pet can’t take care of by himself, so of course you want to lend a hand.

While grooming “how-to” information is widely available, what seems to be missing is the “why-to.” Shifting the focus from simple grooming techniques to the real value of grooming your pet can help you get and stay motivated to give your pet’s grooming and hygiene needs the attention they deserve. Staying on top of those needs will help pets live happier, longer, healthier lives.

Dental Care

Dental disease is the most common problem seen by veterinarians; about 80% of dogs and cats have some degree of dental problems by the age of three. The infections that bacteria can cause in pets’ (and humans’) mouths are known to cause heart disease, kidney damage, and liver problems, and they can even make inflammatory problems like arthritis worse.

Many myths abound about cats’ and dogs’ need for dental care, and one of the most common is the idea that dry food keeps pets’ teeth clean. This isn’t true, and never was. Many pets, especially cats, swallow dry food whole. Even when they do chew it, the kibbles shatter, so contact between the kibble and the teeth occurs only at the tips of the teeth. This is certainly not enough to make a difference in the formation of tartar and plaque, which most commonly builds up along (and underneath) the gum line at the base of the teeth. This causes the gums to become inflamed (gingivitis). Left untreated, bacteria can erode the connection between bone and teeth, and cause serious decay.

Keeping your cat’s (or dog’s) teeth and gums healthy requires a commitment on your part. Special “tartar control” diets and treats are not enough. Bacteria are always present in the mouth, and within hours of a professional cleaning, they are already hard at work creating plaque, a sticky deposit on the teeth. In 24 hours, the plaque starts to harden into tartar (or more accurately, calculus). Daily tooth brushing and regular veterinary checkups are essential. But don’t use human toothpaste; get a toothbrush and paste designed for pets. Your vet can give you instructions on how to brush, along with tips for getting pets to accept the treatment.

There are also dental products have been developed to help combat plaque build-up in pets’ mouths. However, without daily brushing, your pet will probably need more dental care from your vet. To learn more about Dental health care, please click here.

Coat Care

Regular combing and brushing is a must for many breeds of dogs and cats. Brushing is fine for short-coated animals, but for the overly-furred, only a comb or sturdy metal-toothed slicker brush will get down to the skin and pull out the dead hair. It is especially important to be vigilant about grooming during the spring and fall shedding seasons.

Longhaired cats are more prone to hairballs, and often become matted, especially behind the ears and around the tummy and hind end. Longhaired dogs are also victims of matting. Mats start out as small tangles but can rapidly grow to monumental proportions; and as they do, they tighten up and pull on the skin. This is uncomfortable because it pulls when the animal moves, and can’t feel too good when they lay down. Even worse, mats can eventually tear the skin, causing an open wound that may become infected. In extreme cases, the wound will attract flies, which lay their eggs there, which hatch into maggots.

It’s not a good idea to try removing mats with scissors–it’s very easy to accidentally cut the skin. Serious mats should be removed with grooming clippers, a task best left to professionals like groomers or vet assistants. But preventing mats by regular inspection and combing is really the best way to go!

Shorter haired breeds also benefit from regular brushing (as does our furniture!), and it gives each pet parent the opportunity to keep a good eye on their cat’s or dog’s state of overall health. Many subtle health issues can be caught early by vigilant guardians who groom their pets regularly; such as fleas, ticks, and abnormal lumps or bumps on or under the skin. Good grooming tools will make the job easier!

Pads, Paws, and Claws

Dogs and cats need regular manicures–but don’t worry, it’s a much easier process than it is for us humans! You just have to take a look every week or so, and trim where needed.

Cats scratch objects to pull off the claws’ dead outer layers and keep the tips sharp. Regular nail-trimming will dull the claws and minimize potential damage to people and furniture. The easiest tools to use are human nail clippers or scissors-type pet trimmers. Cats’ claws are curved, and can actually grow in a circle and back into the paw pad, causing a painful abscess. So check your cats’ paws regularly.

It’s important to provide a suitable scratching surface, such as a horizontal cardboard scratcher or sturdy vertical scratching post. If you don’t, your cat will pick a surface for itself…such as an expensive rug or your favorite chair. Nearly all cats can easily be trained to use the object of your choice. For those who are more persistent in their unwanted behavior, one of the other many alternatives, such as Soft Claws Nail Caps, furniture protection like Sticky Paws, or pet repellent spray will do the trick.

Unfortunately, some people still take the lazy way out by declawing their cats. They don’t understand that “declawing” is actually amputation of 1/3 of the cats’ paws. To prevent nail regrowth, it is necessary to amputate each toe at the last joint because (unlike humans) the claw grows directly from the bone. Declawing is extremely painful, and is considered cruel in most civilized nations. Medical complications are common, and long-term chronic pain affects many cats. In addition, one in three guardians will discover too late that declawing causes even more serious behavior problems, such as aggression and biting, or failing to use the litter box. Common sense, and a little time and effort, will resolve scratching problems and avoid a needless and inhumane surgery.

For dogs, nail trimming is equally important. There’s a common myth that says that dogs naturally wear their claws down, so there’s nothing to worry about. This isn’t true. Even dogs that walk or hike regularly still need to have their toes attended to, because: • Keeping toenails trimmed can protect skin and furniture as it does for cats. • Long nails are apt to split or break, which can lead to infection. • There are many joints in the paws, and long nails puts stress on them, which can cause arthritis. • Long nails may cause the dog’s toes to splay, creating an abnormal and uncomfortable gait.

If you are willing to do the nail clipping yourself, you’ll need a toenail clipper and good instructions on how to clip without hurting your pet. Your vet’s staff should be able to show you how to do this. If you’re not comfortable with the procedure, let a professional take care of this important grooming need at least every 4 weeks.

Removing Potential Toxins

If your cat gets into something yucky, like oil, antifreeze, trash, tree sap, or paint, don’t let her groom it off herself; use a non-toxic pet wipe to prevent her from ingesting potentially dangerous chemicals.

Dogs, of course, can get into similar problems, and are also frequent victims of skunks and porcupines. If you’re in an area known for skunks, you might want to keep a special cleaner on hand, such as SeaYu De-Skunk Coat Cleaner & Odor Eliminator for Dogs.

Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid walking your dog on dirty wet streets or through road salt or other chemical de-icing products on sidewalks and other paved areas. In addition to using grooming wipes for dogs’ paws, using a good paw balm can protect them from ice and help reduce absorption of toxic residue when used before outdoor outings.

Ear Care

Dogs, and in particular the floppy eared breeds, need regular attention. Our pets’ ears provide a natural sanctuary for bacteria and yeast, which thrive in the warm, moist environment of our pets’ ear canals. Dogs that swim or are bathed regularly need a gentle antimicrobial ear wash used after the swim or bath. Regular ear cleaning with this type of product for dogs and cats can help reduce the buildup of wax, which when it accumulates, further enhances the likelihood that a yeast infection may develop.
Cats don’t typically have many ear problems, so always take red or itchy ears seriously. Ear mites are microscopic, but the debris they leave behind can often be seen; it looks something like coffee grounds. Ear mites are common in kittens, strays, and feral cats, so if you adopt or foster, keep resident felines separated until the newbie gets a clean bill of health. We have articles on ear and eye care on our website, so be sure to check out our links below and visit our Holistic Healthcare Library for more details.

One thing to remember: be careful when swabbing the ears. You can go too deep and rupture the ear drum. Have your vet or tech show you how to clean the ears safely and effectively.

Bath Time

Cats rarely need baths, but dogs more often do. If a bath is needed, never use human products on pets. There are important differences between our skin and that of our pets (different glands, to name just one) Many products that are safe for human skin can be quite irritating to our pets. Many quality natural bath products for pets like shampoos, conditioners, grooming sprays and wipes are available, so be sure you get one that’s just made for pets if you bathe or use clean-up products on your pet at home. Be sure to rinse thoroughly; any residue can be irritating. As well, chlorine and other processing chemicals in tap water may be drying, especially when pets are exposed more often than necessary. In general, cats don’t need bathing, and dogs don’t need it more than every 1-2 months. However, they may be bathed more frequently if fleas, certain skin conditions, or allergies are a problem. Your vet can advise you on products and timing.

Think About Using a Pro

Don’t overlook the benefits of a professional groomer. Some breeds have skin and coat requirements that are better handled by a qualified groomer. A groomer who sees your pet regularly may be the first to notice a cyst, lump, or other potential problem. Even though a groomer’s services cost more, the savings in time and stress may be well worth it!

If you’re looking for more great information on pet health care topics touched upon in this article, please use the links below to explore these topics in more detail through these articles from our Holistic Healthcare Library.
If you’re looking for more great information on pet health care topics touched upon in this article, please use the links below to explore these topics in more detail through these articles from our Holistic Healthcare Library.

See all Dental Care Articles like “Dental Care for Pets
See all Allergy Articles like “Alleviating Your Pet’s Itchy Skin
See all Urinary Issues Articles

Click links below to check out other articles that may be of interest:

Chronic Ear Infections
Ask the Vet: Fungal Infection on Paws
Treating Eye & Ear Disorders Holistically
Ask the Vet: Chronic Anal Gland Problems
When Is It Time to See the Vet?
Ask the Vet: Food Allergies & Diarrhea
Bath Anxiety in Dogs

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Article Highlight : “The Natural Approach to Flea Control” [continued : Killing Fleas in the Home]

This week we have highlighted some of the great flea information from our Holistic Health Care Library, today we’ll share highlights from the article on how to protect your home and environment.

“The Natural Approach to Flea Control” [continued : Killing Fleas in the Home]

Stage 2 – The Household Environment

You cannot rid your companion of fleas by treating him or her alone, unless you are willing to resort to toxic pesticides. Most of the population lives and develops in your house and yard, not on your pet. Treating the environment is essential if you want to win this war.

Carpets, Flooring & Furniture
Vacuuming and washing the hard floors often – daily during the height of flea season – is the least toxic way to control fleas. This will remove most of the adults, and some eggs and larvae. Keep in mind the larvae don’t like light, so vacuum under furniture and around baseboards anywhere near your pet’s favorite places to hang out. Remember to either vacuum some Only Natural Pet All-in-One Flea Remedy or an herbal flea powder into the vacuum bag to kill any fleas in the bag, or remove the bag and discard it in a sealed plastic bag after use.

Some infestations, however, are just too much to be controlled by vacuuming alone, and not everyone has the time to clean all the floors daily. That’s when we recommend using one or more of the natural “powders” available for ridding your home of fleas. The least toxic substances available for this are diatomaceous earth and boric acid products. [Read more about treating your home for fleas]

Bedding

Don’t forget the sleeping quarters! Wash your pet’s bedding in hot, soapy water at least weekly. You can even add some essential oils or Bite This! To the water for extra flea-zapping power. Sprinkle a little Only Natural Pet All-in-One Flea Remedy onto DRY bedding and work it in to help kill the little pests while your companion sleeps.

Stage 3 – Securing the Perimeter (Your Yard)
Last, but certainly not least, treat the yard. This can include simple strategies like raking, using Only Natural Pet All-in-One Flea Remedy or the more interesting possibility of using Beneficial Nematodes. [Read More about protecting your yard from fleas]

The Pre-emptive Strike
One last point to make: don’t wait until you see fleas on your companion to treat your environment! If you live in an area with a predictable flea season, begin the treatment a month before it starts. If you live in the Southern US where flea season is every season, start now and plan to treat your home regularly. Using natural methods takes a bit more work than dropping a spot of pesticides on your cat’s or dog’s back, but in the long run your companion and your environment will be healthier for your efforts.

[Read the whole article]

Also, remember that all of our flea products are on sale through April 30th, 2010!

Day 1 – About Fleas
Day 2 – Killing Fleas on your pets
Day 3 – Controlling Fleas in your environment
Coming up later this month! – Top 10 Common Myths about Fleas

View our Flea Care Kits for dogs and cats.

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The monthly dog and cat news round-up

News from around the web in the world of dogs and cats!

Ellen & Halo Pets to promote a stamp campaign for shelter pets.

Ellen DeGeneres is working with the U.S. Postal Service and Halo, Purely for Pets, her holistic pet care company, to promote a stamp campaign for shelter pets.

“This is a subject that I am extremely passionate about. By working together, we can find good homes for millions of adoptable, homeless and abandoned pets,” said DeGeneres.

Stamps Halo Pets & Ellen

New stamps being offered thanks to Ellen & Halo Pets

Comments : Which is your favorite?

EPA to Increase Restrictions on Spot-On Flea and Tick Products; Cautions consumers to use extra care

“The EPA is committed to better protecting the health and safety of pets and families in all communities across our nation,” said Steve Owens, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances. “New restrictions will be placed on these products, and pet owners need to carefully read and follow all labeling before exposing your pet to a pesticide.”

From the ASPCA on this issue;
“The ASPCA supports the EPA’s focus on clear labeling to distinguish dog products from cat products,” says Dr. Steven Hansen, ASPCA veterinary toxicologist and Senior Vice President Animal Health Services. “This alone could save cats’ lives. Improving the precision of the amount applied will also increase the margin of safety for very small pets.”

Comments : We at Only Natural Pet Store believe there are better ways to handle fleas and ticks (as well as flies, mosquitoes and other pests) without using dangerous pesticides. See our Holistic Health Care Library articles on fleas for extensive information on these hardy insects.

Dogs can tell the difference between growls

Not all growls are alike to dogs, especially “My Bone” growls, according to a new study published in the journal Animal Behavior.

Comments :No surprise to dog lovers; we’ve always known our dogs had an extensive vocabulary. One thing though, the article makes reference to a “freshly cooked, meaty and juicy large calf bone in a bowl.” We would not suggest using cooked bones with your dogs, as they can splinter. Raw meaty bones are a great treat because they do not splinter and they are great for cleaning the teeth and providing extra nutrients, but they should not be cooked.

AT&T sees big cash in small gizmos like dog collars

A wireless dog collar set to hit the market this year is just one of a plethora of new devices the telephone company hopes will catch on with U.S. consumers.
The collar could send text messages or emails to the owner of a pet when it strays outside a certain area, or the device could allow continuous tracking of the pet.

Comments : What do you think? Are you ready to get text messages from your wayward pup?

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Nature’s Herbs Urinary Relief Review

Sometimes we get reviews for products on our websites that just warm the heart and we just have to share.

Natural remedy to break down small struvite and oxalate crystals and help clear kidney and bladder infections and inflammation. Can also be used as a preventative for chronic problems with crystals and urinary tract infections. This is a safe alternative to antibiotics.

“Great item”
By sscemb from enfield ct on 3/8/2010
Pros: Effective, Easy To Use
Best Uses: Daily Care, Older Pets
Describe Yourself: Long-time Pet Owner
Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

“My dog was on the brink of us making the horrible decision as to have him put down. He had no energy, barely ate and seemed to be in pain. We like everyone else in the country are finding it hard to make ends meet and couldn’t afford the vet, so we heard about Only Natural and decided to give it a try. We bought the herb best suited for a urinary tract/bladder issues and gave it a try. Within 2 days he was up and around and is now almost perfect. Thank you very much.”

*Our reviews are handled by a third party company “Power Reviews”. Most reviews get published though some may get rejected due to filters for profanity, readability, etc. Sometimes very positive (5 paw) reviews are reject and reviews are never rejected just because of bad reviews. Negative reviews are seen as helpful both to us as a company and to others who use the website. reviews below are presented for informational purposes only and are not intended as an endorsement of any product. The information is not intended to be a substitute for visits to your local veterinarian. Instead, these testimonials offer the reader information and opinions written by pet owners and / or veterinarians concerning animal health and products that they have used.

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Top Five Only Natural Pet Blog Posts: Probiotics, Coprophagia, Constipation, Fur Loss and Taurine

At Only Natural Pet Store, we are very proud of our informational blog, Holistic Health Care Library, Community Forums and our contributors, including holistic vets, product professionals, our customer care team and dog and cat owners like you!  Occasionally we will be featuring some of the most popular blog posts in a top 5 list as a recap for those that may have missed one of these great articles.

Do you have a particular favorite post or an issue you would like to see explored more in-depth?  Let us know!

Top Five Only Natural Pet Blog Posts, December ’09 through February ‘10

Probiotics for Dogs and Cats

“Probiotics are of special importance in pets with any type of digestive problem, including vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence, and constipation. They are essential for animals who are, or have been, taking antibiotics; they can be given both during the course of antibiotics and for at least 2 weeks afterwards.” [Read More about Probiotics]

Why do dogs eat poop?

“One of the most common issues for canines is stool-eating, technically known as Coprophagia. There are several reasons why a dog may eat feces, and no one answer is necessarily correct. Basically it breaks down into two main categories; behavior and/or nutrition.” [Read More about Coprophagia]

Constipation in Pets

“Okay, so pet poop is not a particularly pleasant topic, but a surprising number of pets have problems with constipation (abnormal accumulation of feces and difficulty defecating). More serious conditions can result from constipation, such as obstipation (complete obstruction of the colon by feces) and megacolon (damaged nerves and muscles in the colon causing an inability to defecate).” [Read More about Constipation]

Fur Loss – What’s the Problem?

“Hair loss from any cause is called “alopecia” (“aloe-pee’-sha”).  Sometimes you’ll actually catch your pet in the act of chewing, or notice that he’s scratching or grooming more than usual, but more often you’ll glance down and suddenly notice a bare patch where the fur used to be. Areas where alopecia can develop without you noticing are the tummy, tail base, and front legs. Dogs are especially prone to work intensively at an itchy area and develop raw, open sores called “hot spots.” When cats do this, they cause even worse damage because of their rough, barbed tongues.”  [Read More about Alopecia]

The Importance of Taurine for Dogs and Cats

“Back in the 1970s, thousands of dogs and cats were mysteriously dying due to a form of heart failure called dilated cardiomyopathy. At the same time, there were reports of cats going blind that were often associated with cats being fed dog food. But within a few years, the same problems were discovered in cats eating a “premium” cat food sold by veterinarians. Finally, in the late 1980s, the problem, in cats at least, was traced to the deficiency of a basic amino acid called taurine.” [Read more about Taurine]

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Solving Cat Scratching Problems

There has been a lot of media attention lately on cat declawing, as the total number of cities banning the practice as animal cruelty rose to 8 by the end of last year. Declaw surgery is no manicure; it amputates 1/3 of the cat’s paws. Declawing is extremely painful for the cat, and medical complications are extremely common. Despite average pain management at the time of surgery, it is now known that serious pain can persist for months or years, leading to physical and behavior problems. Studies show that  33% (1 in 3) declawed cats will develop a more serious behavior problem, such as aggression, or failing to use the litterbox. It’s far better (and more humane) to resolve behavioral problems with behavioral solutions.

What can you do about destuctive scratching without declawing? Fortunately, there are many alternatives, one or more of which is sure to work for any cat.

Keeping Furniture Safe

Surveys recently found that while 95% of cats are declawed to protect furniture, only 52% of cat guardians provided their cat with a scratching post. Scratching is an extremely strong instinctive need for cats, and unless you give them an attractive and acceptable surface to scratch on, they will choose one for themselves—and it could be your sofa or expensive carpet! So the first step in preventing destructive clawing is to give the cat a good scratching object and start transferring the behavior.

To train your kitten or cat to use the post or scratcher, place it next to a problem scratching spot, or near a favorite sleeping spot. Cats like to stretch when they wake up from a nap. Rub the post with catnip if your cat likes it. Gently redirect scratching to the post. No yelling or punishment—they don’t work, and will only confuse and frighten the cat. Praise the cat or give treats for using the right surface. Be patient, and be consistent.

Some cats have a distinct preference for either vertical or horizontal scratching surfaces, which can easily be determined by observation. Cats tend to prefer corrugated cardboard and sisal rope or matting over carpet (the most common post covering). There is an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and orientations available. From simple cardboard scratchers to wall art and exotic cat furniture, you’ll find something here to please any cat! We advise providing multiple options, even for a single cat. All vertical posts should be sturdy, stable, and tall enough for your cat to stretch fully. Make your own scratchers from cardboard, logs, sisal, or soft wood, or try one of these cat-friendly products:

If your cat still prefers furniture to his own scratching objects, loose furniture covers (blankets, towels, sheets), or protective double-sided sticky tape can be used to make the furniture unappealing. Specially made tape comes in strips and sheets, and won’t harm harm upholstery. Don’t worry, these are not permanent measures; once your cat is using the acceptable alternatives reliably, you can remove the protectors.

Keeping People Safe

Another concern is the potential for the cat to scratch a person. For young children, the elderly, immuno-compromised individuals, or people on blood-thinners, this seems like a legitimate reason to declaw; but it isn’t. Studies show that declawed cats are more likely to bite, and to bite harder or more frequently.  Cat bites are far more dangerous to human health than scratches, and are much more likely to become infected.

Children (and some adults!) should be taught how to approach and handle cats gently and humanely. Children can learn, but declawing is for life. Never play rough with a cat or kitten using bare hands or feet. Yes, it’s funny and cute to play with a kitten with your hands (we’ve all seen that YouTube video), but when he’s all grown up with inch-long fangs, it’s not so amusing. Don’t create a bad habit to start with, so your cat won’t have to unlearn it later (which is not so easy to accomplish).

Additional protection for human health can be accomplished by regular nail trimming to keep the claws blunt and harmless. Scissor-style nail clippers or human nail clippers are the easiest to maneuver. It’s ideal to get kittens started young by handling the feet and trimming nails early; but even adult cats can learn to tolerate it. Be patient and go slowly. There’s no rule that says you have to trim all 18 claws at once; one or two when your cat is sleeping or peaceful is also a great way to start.

For even more protection, you can apply vinyl nail caps over the nails. Your veterinarian’s office or groomer can show you how to apply them. Once the nail caps are applied they remain in place for approximately 4-6 weeks. They will fall off with the natural growth of your cat’s nails. We recommend that you check your cat’s nails periodically because usually just one or two fall off at a time and these can be easily reapplied. Each kit contains 40 nail caps and will last approximately 4-6 months per cat.

More Options

There are “repellents” available that will make the unacceptable scratching area less appealing to your cat. Or, make your own using citrus oils or citronella.

If your cat is scratching due to territorial anxiety, natural pheromones can encourage use of the correct surfaces (posts, scratchers)

There’s Never a Need to Declaw

All reasons for non-medical declawing have non-surgical alternatives. There are many humane choices that will protect both human and feline health, as well as sofas and Persian rugs. Those who absolutely insist that no cat of theirs will have claws, can adopt an already-declawed cat (there are many of them in shelters and rescues).

With time, patience, and a little effort, one or more of these alternatives will work for any cat; making it unnecessary and inhumane to use a radical, irreversible surgery to solve a behavior problem.

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Keeping the Holidays Safe for Your Pets

The holidays can be a stressful and even dangerous time for our pets. The routines are upset, visitors abound, and tempting smells are coming from the kitchen! Keeping pets safe is sometimes tricky at this time of year, so here are a few tips and tricks to help everyone enjoy the holidays fearlessly!

The Christmas tree is the first item of great interest on your pet’s Santa list. Many cats find it irresistibly tempting to climb. So, make sure your tree is in a sturdy, tip-resistant stand. (A classic Christmas card shows a cat and two women gazing at a decorated tree that’s tightly guy-wired to the walls and ceiling; one woman says to the other, “No chance of the cat knocking over the tree this year!”)

Most tree stands have a water container—this is another hazard. Aromatic compounds from the tree itself and the chemicals often added to the water are highly toxic to pets; make sure the container is wrapped and taped or otherwise made inaccessible to your feline and canine friends, who will often try to drink from this novel water source.

Christmas lights and wires on the tree and around the home are an invitation to chew for both cats and dogs. For wires that are easily accessible to curious teeth (especially young animals), run them through inexpensive foam pipe insulators that you can find at any home improvement or hardware store.

Metal tinsel is rare these days, but mylar tinsel and garlands can also pose a swallowing hazard. They can cause serious damage to a pet’s intestines. Consider a beaded garland instead. Also, when unwrapping presents, make sure all ribbon and string is safely disposed.

Keep glass ornaments to a minimum if you must use them at all, and place them higher on the tree, with unbreakable ornaments lower down. A broken glass ornament is a minefield for tender paws. If a pet eats all or part of a glass ornament, immediately feed cotton balls or bread soaked in milk or cream; the soft mushy texture will gather up all the sharp pieces and safely “escort” and expel them.

Parties and visitors increase the risk of a cat slipping out through an open door; make sure all your pets are microchipped and wearing collars and ID tags.

You may want to provide a “base camp” for your pet that includes food, water, bed—and for cats, a scratching post, and litter box—in a room that’s less likely to be disturbed. A spritz or two of a pet pheromone spray (Only Natural Pet Phero-Soothe) or flower essences (Only Natural Pet Just Relax Flower Essences, or Spirit Essences Holiday Stress Stopper) will keep the atmosphere calm. But no decorations in that room, please, especially lit candles! (Of course, unattended burning candles are a serious hazard at any time of year!)

Take it easy on the treats. Too many fatty treats like turkey skin or ham can cause serious tummy upset; in dogs, these can trigger life-threatening pancreatitis. Ask dinner guests to refrain from feeding “under the table”—or even better, keep pets safely confined during the festivities. Chocolate, of course, is toxic to both dogs and cats.

For extra comfort, consider adding essences, herbs (like Animals’ Apawthecary Tranquility Blend, or Only Natural Pet Chinese Herbal Blends Calm), or homeopathics (Newton Homeopathics Nervousness & Fear) to meals during the most hectic times.

A little extra care and attention will make this holiday season a safe and happy one for the whole family!

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The Scoop on Litter

Recently I was helping a friend who was recovering from surgery. She asked for a particular type of kitty litter, so off to the pet superstore I went. When I got to the litter section, I was dumbfounded by the sheer number of choices as well as the astonishing variety. Clearly, niche marketing had arrived in a big way. However, many of the litters appeared to distinguish themselves simply by labelling. For instance, one brand had half a dozen sub-types; all the litters looked identical, but had different labels touting one special ingredient or function. There was multiple-cat strength, fragrance or no fragrance, fast or long-lasting odor control, anti-bacterial, low-dust or dust-free, hard-clumping or plain clay–it was all pretty overwhelming. Thank goodness I had a specific order from my friend, or I would have spent all day gawking at that wall!

Since house-soiling is a major cause of cats being abandoned or relinquished, the whole subject of cat litter and boxes is much more important than one might think. Despite the dozens of choices of box size and shape and litter type, the one who really makes the decision about which to use is the cat. Our mission, as humans, is to provide whatever our cat prefers, since the consequences of failing to do so are extremely unpleasant.

So, what do cats want?

  • Openness. Most cats prefer an open box (as opposed to one with a hood). Privacy is not so important to cats, and in fact a wide field of view–so that nothing can sneak up on them–is often a higher priority.
  • Cleanliness. This another human responsibility, and again, the cat will definitely let you know if you’re falling down on the job. Remember, their noses are only inches away from the litter–that gives them the right to be picky! Clay and pelleted litters needs to be dumped and replaced every few days. Clumping litter should be scooped daily, and the whole box emptied and washed at least once a month.
  • Pleasant texture. Since they have to walk on it with their very sensitive paws, most cats prefer the soft texture of scoopable/clumping litter over clay or pellets.
  • Sufficiency. There should be plenty of boxes in a multi-cat home (experts recommend 1 box per cat + 1). Sometimes you can get away with less (my 5 cats shared one enormous box for years–until one day they didn’t!), but if litterbox issues develop, adding more boxes in more places is one of the main ways to solve such problems. But just lining up a bunch of boxes in the basement won’t do. There should be a box on every floor; this is especially important for older cats for whom stair-climbing may be uncomfortable.
  • Comfort. This means that the box should be big enough for the cat to easily turn around in (large plastic storage bins work well). Also, overweight, arthritic or declawed cats may be especially sensitive not only to the texture of the litter, but also its depth. If there’s too much litter in the box, the cat could feel like it’s sinking into quicksand. About 1-1/2 to 2″ of litter is plenty.

Now, within this framework, we can make certain choices. Automatic litterboxes work very well in many households, but some cats just won’t use them; the only way to know is to try, and it’s a potentially expensive experiment. Hooded boxes may be acceptable if you’re diligent enough about keeping them clean, but in a multi-cat home the “ambush factor” can discourage their use. High-sided storage bins are great for preventing litter from being kicked all over the room; but they may be too difficult to get in and out of for very young and very old cats.

Then we’re back to the choice of litter. Most litters are made from clay of some kind, often bentonite (which swells and clumps when wet). However, clay has some serious drawbacks. For one thing, it’s dusty. The dust contains silica, which can contribute to kitty and human lung diseases. Asthmatic cats (and people) should consider alternatives, since scooping the litter stirs up quite a bit of dust. (My own asthma virtually disappeared when we switched to World’s Best.) There have also been scattered (but largely unconfirmed) reports of intestinal blockage from cats ingesting the litter. Young kittens (who don’t know to avoid the wet spots), and cats with a lot of fur between their toes can get quite a bit of litter stuck on their feet; and of course they clean their paws by licking and will swallow whatever is on them. A natural cat litter made from corn or wheat does not carry this risk, as the body can break those materials down.

As a vet, I strongly recommend avoiding clay litter and the dusty clumping varieties, not only because of the health risks to you and your cat, but also because plant-based litters are a renewable resource. Clay comes from strip-mining and is very environmentally unfriendly. There are many natural alternatives available today. Offering your cat a “buffet” of 2 or 3 kinds will be a guide to your cat’s preferences. If you do change litters, remember to do it gradually to minimize stress and increase acceptance of the new product.

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Fur Loss – What’s the Problem?

Is your pet “going bald?” There are many reasons why a pet might lose fur, but in most cases, it’s because the of overgrooming: chewing the hair and breaking it off, or pulling it out completely. Those 12 tiny incisor teeth between the canines (fangs) are designed for grooming, and under normal circumstances, they’re used to “comb” through the hair to remove debris, mats, and parasites.

Hair loss from any cause is called “alopecia” (“aloe-pee’-sha”).  Sometimes you’ll actually catch your pet in the act of chewing, or notice that he’s scratching or grooming more than usual, but more often you’ll glance down and suddenly notice a bare patch where the fur used to be. Areas where alopecia can develop without you noticing are the tummy, tail base, and front legs. Dogs are especially prone to work intensively at an itchy area and develop raw, open sores called “hot spots.” When cats do this, they cause even worse damage because of their rough, barbed tongues.

Parasites

The first essential step is a trip to the veterinarian’s to diagnose the cause of the problem. Far and away the most common reason for both dogs and cats to pull out their hair, especially around the base of the tail, is flea-bite allergy. It only takes a single flea bite to produce an intense and prolonged reaction. Your vet can prescribe an effective and safe flea preventive and help you get rid of fleas and eggs in and around the house, or you can use more natural methods. Once the fleas are gone, the skin will heal up on its own, or you can use homeopathy to hasten the process.

Another parasite that may be far more common than many vets suspect is mites. There are several species of mites that produce a condition called “mange.” Sarcoptes mites (scabies) cause unrelenting, severe itching. They are most often found on the belly, but can wander anywhere. Scabies mites prefer warm, moist areas. Cheyletiella (“walking dandruff mite”) and Demodex may or may not be itchy, but if the infestation grows out of control, they can cause scratching and hair loss. Demodex is a normal parasite of humans and animals (we have them in the hair follicles of our eyebrows–eew!), but if the immune system is weak, it can explode into a nasty infestation. Sometimes cat ear mites will get into the skin, particularly around the head and neck. All of these can cause animals to lick, scratch, rub, and chew to try to relieve the itching. Strengthening the immune system is the most basic support for a parasitized pet.

Most mites have one thing in common—they are easily transmitted, and they are not picky about where they set up housekeeping. In a household with scabies, multiple animals and people are likely to be infected. Your vet will do a skin scraping and put it under the microscope to check for mites, which are very tiny and hardly visible to the eye. However, scabies mites are very hard to find. It’s been estimated that only 20-30% of pets with scabies are ever definitively diagnosed, even by multiple skin scrapings. If there are two or more itchy individuals (of any species!) in the household, treatment for mites may be indicated.

Ringworm (which is actually a fungus) is also frequently implicated in cases of hair loss, especially around the face, feet and ears. It is more common in cats than dogs, and even more so in kittens–but all animals, including humans, can get them. The hair disappears in small patches, and the skin turns dry, gray (or red, especially in people), and flaky. The time between initial contact and the appearance of lesions varies from one to three weeks. Ringworm is extremely contagious! While it doesn’t seem to bother the animals much, in people it can be extremely itchy! Treating ringworm can be difficult and time-consuming.There are a number of effective topical creams that can be used if the lesions are small and localized, but a pet with a major infection may need to be shaved and bathed in a special shampoo for a month or more. Alternatively, there are oral medications or herbs that must be given consistently, usually for several weeks. They have serious side effects, so be sure to discuss the options thoroughly with your vet. Homeopathic treatment can be very helpful.

Internal Disease

Along with parasites, the veterinarian will also consider other potential causes of hair loss. Certain patterns, such as symmetrical hair loss along the sides, may point to an endocrine disorder; i.e., a problem with one of the hormone-secreting glands, such as the thyroid or adrenals.

Localized pain may also cause the excessive licking. A brewing abscess is painful, and will inspire a lot of licking before it opens and drains. Hair loss over joints may indicate arthritis pain. I once examined a cat who had suddenly started licking at one particular spot on her right side. As I mulled over which organs were in that part of the abdomen, I became suspicious, and ransome tests. It turned out she had acute pancreatitis, which we successfully treated before it became a full-blown, life-threatening problem.

Allergies

Contact allergies, while rare, are possible. A new carpet, cedar bed, or different detergent used to launder the pet’s bedding can cause a local allergic reaction that causes the pet to lick at the itchy area. Hair loss and rash will occur in the areas where the pet most frequently comes into contact with the material, such as feet and tummy.

Once parasites and medical problems have been ruled out, there are still two major players to consider. The first is diet. Food intolerances or allergies may show up first in the skin, causing tiny red crusty sores that spread or coalesce as the pet rubs or scratches at them. Secondary bacterial infections are common once the skin becomes irritated. Food allergies are much more common in cats than in dogs. Lesions around the face, feet, and ears are typically seen with food allergies. Allergies to inhaled substances, such as dust mites or pollen, may produce identical signs. A diet trial with low-allergen food, skin or blood test (good diagnostics for dogs but notoriously inaccurate in cats), or trial treatment may be used to assess allergies. Treatment consists of improved diet including added essential fatty acids and other natural products.

“Fat Deficiency”

The skin and coat are also the first to suffer when the diet is inadequate in certain nutrients. Pets on all-dry, “light,” or “low-fat” diets may develop dry, flaky skin, and the coat may be dull or greasy feeling. The skin may be irritated and the coat may become thin because hair is falling out. Or there may be plenty of fat in the diet, but not the right kind of fat.

Supplementation with essential fatty acids and/or Vitamin E may provide a great deal of relief. Omega 3 fatty acids, in particular, found in fish oil and cod liver oil will help calm underlying inflammation, and condition the skin and fur. There are a number of good products for animals, such as Nordic Naturals Pet Omega 3 or Cod Liver Oil.

Many cat lovers have also found that homemade and raw diets, which eliminate the colorings, preservatives and other additives found in commercial cat foods, has done the trick. Simply getting rid of the dry food in favor of any wet food, such as canned, is the ticket in many cases.

It’s All in the Head?

Some herbs have mild sedating or calming effects. There are combinations made especially for animals. These would be appropriate to use if you know what the stressor is, and can dose appropriately whenever the stress will occur. For instance, if your pet gets upset when he’s left alone, you would give him the herbs right before you leave for work or school.

Other Treatments

Hherbs can help soothe and heal the skin.

Homeopathy can also be very beneficial in treating alopecia related to itching.

One of the best and simplest modalities for treating stress on the pyschological level is flower essence therapy.

Alopecia is a  sign that something’s wrong, and it’s often uncomfortable for the pet. While it’s not always easy to find out why your pet is pulling out her hair, it’s very important to get to the bottom of it, and to treat it appropriately.

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The Truth About Heartworms

Veterinarians and pharmaceutical companies have teamed up in a marketing campaign to frighten pet guardians into giving year-round heartworm preventatives to both dogs and cats. They say they’re doing this to improve protection for individual pets, but the facts say they have other motives.

Except for a the warmest parts of the U.S., heartworms are a completely seasonal problem. There is no reason to give heartworm medicine to most pets year-round (except to make money for those who make and sell it!).

Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes. Hearworm larvae, called microfilaria, live in the blood and are sucked up by the bug. Once inside the mosquito, they must further develop before they can infect another dog. For that to occur, outside temperatures must remain above 57 degrees F, day and night, for a certain period of time. The warmer the temperature, the faster the larvae will mature. If the temperature drops below critical level, larval development will stop; but the larvae don’t die—development will re-start at the same point when the weather warms back up. Larvae reach their infective stage in 8 to 30 days (the latter being the entire lifespan of the average mosquito).

In many areas of the country (northern and mountain states, for instance), such warm temperatures simply don’t exist for most of the year, and sustained warm temperatures don’t occur until at least June. In fact, only in Florida and south Texas is year-round heartworm transmission possible. Within 150 miles of the Gulf Coast, heartworm risk exists 9 months out of the year. In the rest of the country, heartworm transmission is possible between 3 and 7 months out of the year. Hawaii and Alaska have each had a few cases of canine heartworm, but the incidence  in those states is very low.

It should be obvious that during seasons where there are no mosquitoes, there is no risk of heartworm. Evidently that little fact escaped the attention of the veterinarian who prescribed heartworm protection—in December–for a puppy living high in the Colorado mountains. At that altitude, temperatures are never warm enough for heartworms!

When an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, the microfilaria are deposited on the skin, where they crawl into the bite wound and enter the bloodstream. Inside the body, they grow and progress through other larval forms. In dogs, the heartworm’s natural host, larvae migrate to the heart and eventually develop into adult worms, reproduce, fill the blood with microfilaria, and pass it on to the next mosquito.

In cats, full-grown worms can develop, but not reproduce. Adult heartworms are over a foot long, and it doesn’t take but 1 or 2 to fill up a cat’s tiny heart and cause serious problems. In 80% of the time, the cat’s immune system kills the larvae at an earlier stage, and clears the infection. However, microfilaria can cause significant inflammation in the lungs, even in cats who never show any signs of infection. Cases of heartworm have been diagnosed in cats living entirely indoors.

Heartworm preventative drugs do not kill adult heartworms, but they do kill microfilaria up to a certain stage of development. Currently it is believed that larvae under 6 weeks old are affected. This means that in order to prevent heartworms from reaching adulthood, the preventative can be given up to 6 weeks after the mosquito bite and still work. The recommendation is to give the drugs every 30 days, purportedly because once-a-month dosing is easier for most people to remember (and, coincidentally, it also sells more drugs). Preventatives should be given starting 4-6 weeks after the earliest possible infection date and continue 4-6 weeks after the last possible infection date. In most states, protection should be continued through November or December. In southern Texas and Florida, year-round preventatives may be needed. Local conditions may vary from year to year.

The most common preventative drugs for heartworm are ivermectin (Heargard®) and selamectin (Revolution®). While these drugs are generally safe and effective, there are always exceptions. Toxicity associated with ivermectin include depression, ataxia (balance problems or unsteady walk), and blindness, but these are uncommon at the doses used in heartworm preventatives. Selamectin is also used to treat ear mites and some worms; adverse reactions include hair loss at the site of application, diarrhea, vomiting, muscle tremors, anorexia, lethargy, salivation, rapid breathing, and contact allergy.

Update 7/15/2010: The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recently reported that mounting evidence suggests that preventatives may be susceptible to a very serious problem: resistance. This is similar to the situation with antibiotics, where massive and unnecessary over-use has caused many bacteria to develop resistance to one or more drugs, creating super-infections, and making many antibiotics useless. The CAPC report states: “There is a growing body of anecdotal reports and experimental evidence that currently available heartworm preventives (macrocyclic lactones) may not be completely efficacious in preventing heartworm infection in dogs. Reports of resistance for dogs in the region [south-central U.S.] have resulted in confusion about how best to prevent infection in veterinary patients.” If ivermectin and related drugs lose their effectiveness, that will be trouble indeed, since these drugs are also used in the treatment of heartworm infections.

Only Natural Pet HW Protect Herbal Formula is a natural product intended for use as a preventative to be used during mosquito season as part of a comprehensive heartworm control program. The formula was designed with two objectives, using herbs that work together to reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites to lower your pet’s risk of becoming infected, and to help eliminate existing larvae-stage parasites in the bloodstream. This tincture was developed to help prevent heartworm infestation using extracts of herbs well known for their mosquito repelling properties, and others well known for their anti-parasitic properties.

References:

Knight DH, Lok JB. Seasonality of heartworm infections and implications for chemoprophylaxis. Clin Tech Sm An Pract. 1998 May;13(2):77-82.

Atkins C. Feline heartworm disease. NAVC Clinician’s Brief. http://www.cliniciansbrief.com/webrief/25.php. Accessed 5/20/2009.

Companion Animal Parasite Council, http://www.capcvet.org/downloads/Heartworm%20Preventive%20Efficacy.pdf. Accessed 7/15/2010.

Pena F, Rosenthal M. Expert shares new protocol to manage heartworm signs. Veterinary Forum. 2008 Aug 1:17-18.  http://www.vetlearn.com/ArticleDetails/tabid/106/ArticleID/3289/Default.aspx. Accessed 7/15/2010.

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