Keep Pets Safe When You Deck the Halls!

Whatever you celebrate this season – Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanzaa – chances are your home is transformed with decorations. The lights, the ornaments, the garland – just know that all those shiny and new decorations look like toys to your pet. You don’t need to hold back on the festive trimmings, but pet safety is something to consider during the holidays. Here are some tips to keep your pets safe while you deck the halls.

  • Protecting Sparky from Sparks. Keep wires and cords out of paws reach. A wire can deliver a potentially lethal electrical shock and a punctured battery can cause burns to the mouth and esophagus.
  • O Christmas tree. Your cat will think Christmas came early as soon as your Christmas tree is up, so how do you keep them off the impossible-to-resist tree of their dreams? Consider an artificial tree, as cats tend to find them less appealing. Choose a corner location or put the tree in a room your cat rarely visits. Be sure to get a sturdy tree stand and anchor the tree securely so it doesn’t tip and fall, causing injury to your cat. Also, consider getting kitty an early Christmas gift – a new cat condo or scratcher so she will be less tempted.
  • I love my new water bowl. Do not add any chemicals, aspirin or sugar to the water for your tree, which may poison or cause upset stomachs in your pet. Also, keep the water fresh to avoid stagnation and the release of bacteria.
  • All that glitters. Pets love tinsel and shiny, light-catching decorations. They might also decide that they look delicious. Don’t spend Christmas Eve in your vet’s emergency room. Keep a close eye on Fido and make sure he has plenty of new and interesting chew toys. Avoid glass ornaments, and keep any homemade ornaments, particularly those made from salt-dough or other food-based materials, out of pets’ reach.
  • Like paws to a flame. Never leave a pet alone in an area with a lit candle; consider using flameless candles instead. Pets can easily burn themselves or cause a fire if they knock candles over. Use appropriate candle holders place on a stable surface.
  • Plant danger. Mistletoe, holly, poinsettias, balsam, pine and cedar are all holiday staples, but they can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea if ingested by your pet. Also, many varieties of lilies can cause kidney failure in cats if ingested. Consider using boughs of just-as-jolly artificial plants.

The bottom line – be aware of all the new, tempting decorations in your house and keep a sharp eye on your fur babies, and everyone if your house can enjoy a safe, festive holiday!

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

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.

Employee Pet Profile – Kelsey’s Bernese Mountain Dog, Brooklyn

For April our employee pet profile will look at the beautiful boy that comes to work in the products department with Kelsey!

Employee First Name: KelseyBrooklyn, the Bernese Mountain Dog
Pet’s Name: Brooklyn
Breed: Bernese Mountain Dog

Favorite Food: EasyRaw, Orijen Adult Grain-Free Food, ONP Freeze-Dried Patties

Favorite Treats: Newman’s Own PB Heart Biscuits, ONP All Meat Bites, Bully Sticks, Raw Bones, Dogswell Veggie Life Treats

Favorite Toy: KONG, West Paw Zogoflex Hurley, Doggles Pentapulls Eco-Friendly Toys

A day in the life of Brooklyn (Favorite Story):

Brooklyn is a one-year old Berner who spends his days in search for new friends!  He starts the morning out early with a stroll around the block in hopes to finding one of his many neighborhood friends, and then it’s off to breakfast where he enjoys a delicious meal of raw, freeze-dried turkey and veggies – EasyRaw! Then it’s into the car and off to camp – he even brings one of his favorite toys, his beloved Kong. At camp he’s set free to play all day with his buddies, lounge in the sun and annoy his camp counselors!

Brooklyn, The Bernese Mountain DogHis chauffeur (me) picks him up after work and we head home where he bribes me for a few of his favorite snacks, Newman’s Own Peanut Butter Hearts or Only Natural Pet All Meat Bites. A quick nap on his favorite Big Shrimpy Bed and its dinner time.  Dinner is a few rehydrated Only Natural Pet Freeze-Dried Patties with Orijen Adult Dry Food & Only Natural Pet Salmon Oil.  Then it’s off to dream-land so he can do it all again tomorrow!

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?

Great Advice : A good diet for Corgis, and all dogs!

The Customer Care team at Only Natural Pet Store is a great and helpful resource for our customers.

Researching and purchasing products online is awesome, but what’s even more awesome is when you get a little stuck and you can email or call a real, live, human who is passionate about your concerns.  Here is an example of a recent email exchange between an avid pet-owner and one our great customer care peeps. One of the many great reasons to consider Only Natural Pet Store for your pet care needs!

Question: Hi – I have 2 Corgis on Honest Kitchen “Preference” & ground beef.  They’re fed once a day & once a week given turkey necks in place of their meals.  Both are in great condition – one is used in herding competitions & both are always getting complemented by people saying “I thought Corgis were always fat & yours aren’t!”  Anyway, I just wanted to know if I’m doing what I should be, if I should have them working on more raw bones (don’t want to have slab fractures in teeth) or anything different….

Thanks for your time – A Happy ONPS Customer

Reply: What you’re doing sounds great!!  I also have a Corgi who has a waistline – how unusual!  It’s a simple concept – just feed a whole food diet and your dog will look and feel great, and this is true for every dog, not just Corgis.

As far as what you are feeding, I recommend rotating proteins on occasion, and even rotating to other dehydrated foods.

My favorite dehydrated food is Sojos Europa Grain-Free Dog Food Mix.  The 8 pound bag of Sojos lasts for six weeks at my house with one very large dog (110 lb White German Shepherd), and one small dog (22 lbs) eating it every day.  I feed a 50/50 proportion of Sojos/protein most of the time, and will include yogurt, eggs, cottage cheese, beans or lentils, mackerel, and sardines as the protein, as well as other kinds of meat.

My Corgi eats mostly chicken meat with raw bones/poultry necks 2-3 x per week.  Both my dogs eat eggs as their protein at least 4x per week (morning meals, mostly).  My big dog eats a completely raw diet with a beef blend as his main protein source.  I bring in, intermittently, things like Stella & Chewy’s Frozen Raw Food for Dogs (duck); ZiwiPeak Daily Dog Cuisine Dry Food (venison or lamb); or Complete Natural Nutrition Real Food Toppers (wild salmon).  So, for example, once a month I would buy one of these products and include it in the meals of my two dogs and cat for a week or so at a time, or until the food runs out.  Then we go back to their normal staple protein.

I also recommend the following supplements:

~ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS are essential!  For joint health, brain development, skin coat nourishment and EFA’s also carry toxins out of the body.  These are important to give every single day!
Ultra Oil Skin & Coat Supplement with Hempseed Oil

~GREENS are loaded with enzymes, and they make food they are added to more digestible and nutritious, and are very cleansing. Excellent for all dogs, and especially dogs that are healing or out of balance.

Dr. Harvey’s MultiVitamin, Mineral & Herbal Supplement (my personal favorite – fantastic ingredients!)

~DIGESTIVE ENZYMES make food much more bio-available and take the burden off the pancreas.  In the wild, canines would eat raw enzyme-rich foods, never having to dedicate their own enzymes for digestion. Since our canines eat cooked and processed food, it’s only fair to replenish these important elements every single day:

Animal Essentials Plant Enzymes & Probiotics –  or
Prozyme

I hope this is helpful.  Please let us know if you have further questions or concerns.

– Sarah in Customer Care

If you ever have a question or concern, absolutely give us a call or email!

Telephone Orders & Customer Service: 1.888.937.6677
Monday through Friday: 7am – 5pm (Mountain Time)
Saturday: 9am – 3pm

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.

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]

How to Solve Canine “Dis”-Obedience

The ways in which a dog can get into trouble seem limitless. These unwanted behaviors cause enormous frustration to the human members of the family. The only thing there seems to be more of is advice—from neighbors, the pet store clerk, books, and of course, online. Yet simply understanding the way learning and behavior occur will go a long way toward solving just about any behavior problem that comes up.

The most basic principle is why a behavior occurs, and there are really only two possibilities: negative and positive reinforcement. Every organism, from single-celled amoebas on up, will move away from an unpleasant stimulus and toward a pleasurable stimulus. No matter how complex the behavior is, fundamentally the motivation is one of these two desires: avoid pain, or increase pleasure.

Much of the popular wisdom about dog training emphasizes the first principle, negative reinforcement, using its most extreme tool: punishment. But for punishment to be effective, it must meet three criteria. It must be:

  • Immediate (within 2 seconds of the behavior)
  • Consistent (every single time the animal performs the behavior, whether you’re watching or not)
  • Effective (stop the behavior without causing additional problems)

The problem is that these criteria are nearly impossible to achieve. For instance, a popular dog behavior site give this advice: “If you decide that some action requires correction, *always* give a correction when you see that action. For example, if you decide that your dog is not allowed on the sofa, then *always* correct it when you see it on the sofa.” But what if you’re in another room, or sleeping, or at work? If you’re not there, the dog can get on the sofa with no consequences. So what do you think the dog will learn if you correct him every time you see him on the sofa? He will learn not to get on the sofa when you are in the room.

Other techniques follow the “alpha dog” theory: you must be dominant. To demonstrate your position, recommendations include staring the dog down, grabbing her by the scruff or neck and shaking her, tapping under the chin, and most famously the “alpha roll,” in which you force the dog down onto her back with her feet in the air, exposing her belly. The problem with these techniques, which are supposedly based on natural behavior in wolf packs, is that they bear no resemblance to wolf behavior in the wild. You will never see an alpha wolf roll a subordinate; rather, this position is naturally and voluntarily assumed by the subordinate wolf as a sign of submission. That’s a very big difference! These techniques will terrify a submissive dog, but worse, they will make a naturally assertive dog more aggressive. Staring an aggressive dog in the eyes will be interpreted by that dog as a direct challenge. These physical techniques, often demonstrated by “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan, have the potential to result in injury to the amateur trainner: you.

“Positive” dog training, which is gaining in popularity, operates from a completely different point of view. This technique recognizes that the reason the dog is doing a behavior is because it gets some kind of reward for it. For example, a dog that gets into the garbage gets a powerful and immediate reward in the form of food. The dog who sleeps on the sofa does so because it’s comfortable. The dog who jumps up on every visitor is getting attention—lots of attention—for doing so.

The best way to correct a behavior is to remove the original reward and replace it with something else that is equally or more desirable to the dog, but also acceptable to the guardian. This philosophy respects and works with, not against, the dog’s needs and nature. Distraction, using a toy or treat, will often successfully interrupt the behavior. Cable TV behaviorist Victoria Stillwell exemplifies this philosophy.

Attention-seeking behavior such as jumping up, barking, play-biting, and incessant nuzzling, generally accomplish their goals. That is, the dog gets attention for it: you’re looking at him, vocalizing (talking or yelling), and perhaps even handling him (pushing, tapping, nudging). As unpleasant as we might think they are, these are actually all strong rewards. To change the behavior, we have to change the reward system. There are two basic steps:

Negative Reinforcer: Withdrawal of Attention. Don’t look at your dog, talk to him, or give him the slightest indication you know he exists. If the dog is jumping up on you (or a visitor), turn away. Most dogs will follow your movement and keep jumping. Keep turning away. Fold your arms, close your eyes, and don’t speak. Do not give him any attention whatsoever. It may take a minute or two, but when the dog fails to get the attention-reward he’s seeking, he’ll lose interest and stop jumping, perhaps to pace or even sit. That’s your cue for the next step…

Positive Reinforcer: Proper Reward. Timing is everything. As soon as the dog stops the unwanted behavior, and is quiet, reward him. Enthusiastic, yet low-key, verbal praise should accompany any reward, such as treats, petting, or a favorite toy, but may suffice on its own. This tells the the dog that the best way to get your attention is to sit or stand quietly.

Judicious use of training treats can do wonders, even for entrenched behaviors. All-meat treats are the healthiest for your dog, but any treat your dog loves will work. If it’s a large treat (jerky slice, for instance), break or tear it in to small pieces for the purpose. Treats contain calories, and may put on the pounds if used excessively. At first, give a treat for every successful behavior. After the dog is behaving reliably, give a treat every other time, and gradually extend and vary the interval. Variable reinforcement is the principle behind slot machines; and can create serious addiction. But in this case, you want your dog to be addicted to good behavior!

Recently, a noted behaviorist commented that “good dogs” are, in a way, losers. They are quiet and obedient, and for that, they are largely ignored. So let’s not forget to tell our dogs how wonderful they are when they are just being dogs…sitting, snoozing, walking on a leash without pulling…these are the times when we need to give them little rewards, so those nice behaviors are rewarded.

Of course, it is important to respect the dog’s other needs: exercise, social engagement, healthy diet. A dog that sits alone in the house all day may justifiably be rambunctious in the few hours the family is home and awake. Fetching games (use a Chuck-It if you don’t have a hall-of-fame throwing arm!), appropriate walks, doggie day care, or a trip to the dog park, will help work off that accumulated energy, and help keep the dog on a more even keel.

Got questions? Post them in our Community disussion boards!

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!