Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Creating a raised feeding platform for your dog is simple, cheap -- and it can fit into your decor

If you haven't heard by now, I moved into a new place a few weeks ago. I've spent the better part of April and May not only trying to figure out where I fit in to these four walls, but more importantly, "What's most comfortable for for Gretchen and Silver?"

The overall the place is quite ideal for both of them, I've had to tweak a few things, and that's no surprise: they are 14 and 16, respectively. Life is very different than it was a year ago, even a month ago. Being extra mindful and flexible is a must at this stage of life.

I spent some one-on-one time acclimating each of them into their new digs, and while that's important, if you've had a senior pet, you know it's about all the little details that make life easier.

Mealtime is still quite manageable for Gretchen, and I want that to continue be as comfortable as possible. After all, she's been able to retain much of her mobility with the help of an anti-inflammatory, and I want that confidence to continue.

I have found that elevating her food bowl slightly does help in making things more comfortable, but I didn't want to go out and buy another elevated platform, as it really didn't make sense. She already has bowls, so finding another approach to get off the ground was the key.

Full disclosure: I'm big on upcycling and thrifting.

During the move, I made a trip to Costco. After unloading the box of necessities that I purchased, I felt like it was a shame to just recycle the box – which previously held a case of avocados – so I decided to upcycle it into a raised feeding platform. After all, it was heavy-duty, and the perfect height and width.

 As with everything else in my new place, I wanted a custom look, and be functional — but on a budget.

I took a trip down to my local hardware store and picked up a can of Krylon Fusion for $2.99 in a shade of green that I love (greens, oranges and yellows dominate that space), then to a thrift shop for a non-skid placemat (50 cents) in a complementary color, and went to work.

No prep or skill needed: I simply spray painted the box, flipped upside down, let it dry for 24 hours and then placed it in the little nook where Gretchen likes to eat. It's a sturdy platform that fits the bill, and with the snazzy non-skid placemat, her bowl will stay in place easily.

You could certainly give the platform a coat of Krylon clear polyurethane after the color is dry to help protect against mess or water, should you feel that's necessary.         
It's a project that took little time and money to do, but this is a great solution to address a very pressing need, and stylishly so.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer, a regular contributor for The Ann Arbor News and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Research indicates link between early neutering and health issues in dogs — so should pet owners be concerned?

The idea of having spay and neuter procedures done early in a pet's life has become the rule with the uptick in pets being adopted from shelters and rescues, and one main reason behind it is certainly compelling: Addressing the overpopulation problem.
There are other reasons that support the idea of having pets spayed and neutered early on. The reduction of the rates of some cancers in both species and sexes is touted, like mammary cancer in female cats. Longer life spans due to decreased risk of death from infectious diseases and trauma are also benefits.

Early spay and neuter procedures – in the case of shelters, very early — have seen their share of controversy in recent years as well, and the reasons why are frequently discussed in hushed tones in my midst at least a couple of times per month. I think that the fact that the topic getting attention at all is important.

One study conducted at UC Davis and published in February of 2013, included over 700 Golden Retrievers and found that males neutered before the age of 12 months were twice as likely to suffer from hip dysplasia, and that three times as many males who were neutered early had suffered from lymphosarcoma than their intact counterparts.

Female Rottweilers, according to research published in the 2009 issue of Aging Cell, who underwent spay procedures after the age of four were more likely to attain a longer life span, as opposed to females who were spayed at an earlier age.

Another study — this one by the Departments of Genetics and Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, University of Georgia, Athens – found that neutering (the more common, blanket term when referring to surgical sterilization of both sexes) was connected with an increased risk of death from cancer.

Most frequently, I'm hearing concerns about the uptick in orthopedic problems in many breeds of dog — mostly cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) tears – and the correlation between those and early neuter procedures.

Pet owners are not alone: Joint disorders are of particular interest to researchers as well.

We know that in mammals, puberty and sexual maturation is crucial in the development of the brain, bones and organs. Canines are of course, specific interest here.

Neutering removes the male dog’s testes and the female’s ovaries, which interrupts production of some hormones that play key, often multiple, roles in important physiological processes –  with the closure of bone growth plates being one of them.

The UC study showed that there was an increase in CCL cases in both male and female dogs who had been surgically sterilized. (There were no cases of CCL injuries in dogs who were intact.)

To be practical, the uptick in joint diseases among these dogs is likely due to a combination of things, like the effect of neutering on the young dog’s growth plates, but also the additional weight on the joints that is associated with neutered dogs.

Chris Zink, DVM, a noted canine sports expert has asserted that we might consider the repercussions of neuter procedures that are done before a pet has a chance to fully develop.

With all of this information and ongoing discussion, it seems prudent to remember that we need to be careful how we extrapolate, examine and use this kind of data when it comes to the health and behavior of pets – and how we make decisions about when and why to neuter them, not to mention what has fueled the practice.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Pro Pet, LLC voluntarily recalls dry pet food because of possible Salmonella risk

Flickr photo by marioanima

Ohio-based Pro-Pet, LLC has initiated a voluntary recall of a limited number of their dry dog and cat food formulas citing a possible Salmonella contamination.

According to an FDA press release, a single field test indicated that products manufactured on a single production line, and during a window of two days may have the potential for Salmonella contamination.

There have been no reported illnesses related to the product.

These types of recalls reiterate two important points when handling pet consumables: the need for safe handling and handwashing techniques, and saving the UPC code information from product packaging.

Salmonella, also referred to as salmonellosis, causes digestive problems, and dogs will typically present with fever, diarrhea, vomiting and weakness. Other symptoms can occur.

Salmonella can affect other animals —  not just the dogs who consume the treats. There is risk to humans just the same, from handling contaminated pet products. People handling dry pet food and/or treats can become infected with salmonella, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the food or any surfaces exposed to any contaminated product.

The product was manufactured by a third party for the company and distributed in Michigan, Ohio and several other states.

The following products are included, and are marked with the following "best by" dates, lot codes and UPC numbers:
  • 40 lb Hubbard Life Happy Hound Dog Food   05 06 14   096 13 SM L2 2A   1219033878
  • 40 lb Hubbard Life Happy Hound Dog Food   05 06 14   096 13 SM L2 1A   1219033878
  • 18 lb Hubbard Life Cat Stars Cat Food   05 06 14   096 13 SM L2 1A   1219033873
  • 40 lb Hubbard Life Maintenance Dog Food   05 06 14    096 13 SM L2 2A    1219033875
  • 15 lb Joy Combo Cat Food   05 06 14    096 13 SM L2 1A    7065407721
  • 40 lb Joy Combo Cat Food   05 06 14    096 13 SM L2 1A    7065407713
  • 40 lb Joy Combo Cat Food   05 06 14    096 13 SM L2 2A    7065407713
  • 20 lb QC Plus Adult Dog Food   05 07 14    097 13 SM L2 2A    2351780103
  • 40 lb QC Plus Adult Dog Food   05 07 14    097 13 SM L2 2A    2351780104
  • 40 lb QC Plus Adult Dog Food   05 07 14    097 13 SM L2 1A    2351780104

Consumers that purchased a recalled packages are urged to stop feeding the product and are asked to contact the Pro Pet at 1-888-765-4190 for more information. Customer service representatives are on hand Monday through Friday 8am - 5pm (CST).

Click here for more on the recall.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wearable technology for dogs? Researchers are working on big things

Flickr photo by Bob Haarmans

Wearable technology is a hot topic right now, and for good reason: It's designed to make life easier and more productive. It's a boon to many, and though it's not a topic that I ever thought that I would be writing about when it comes to dogs, here I am.

When you think of wearable technology, what comes to mind? Google Glass? FitBit?

The advances that are here are pretty interesting to say the least, and the current trends were debated as far as usefulness and safety on a recent segment of the Diane Rehm Show. 

Where this technology is going is exciting, and it goes beyond the FitBit-like Whistle, now available for dogs. 

One application of wearable technology that's piqued my interest for obvious reasons, was with the use of dogs with jobs: those certified as service dogs, sniffing out bombs, cadavers and live victims of catastrophes. 

Thad Starner, technical lead/manager of Google's Project Glass and director of the Contextual Computing Group at Georgia Tech expanded on just one idea during the show that can help with the process of search and recovery efforts.  

Starner discussed his part in 'facilitating interactions for dogs with occupations', or FIDO during the show.

FIDO's purpose is to develop wearable technology to help dogs with jobs convey information more effectively with their handlers. 

What else do they have in store?  

FIDO's others teammates — also with Georgia Tech — associate professor and director of BrainLab Melody Jackson and Clint Zeagler, a research scientist focused on textiles are equally teeming with ideas. 

The team is working to fine tune search and rescue efforts, for example.

"We're making basically vests for these dogs with textiles and sensors in them where, you know, if you have, say, a dog who's out on a search and rescue mission, say, in the mountains in the Sierra Nevadas and you're looking for a lost child," noted Starner. 

(Click here for a transcript of the show.)

Jackson saw that wearable technology could be very useful in this field. 

Currently, search and rescue dogs need to work an area that's within the line of sight of their handler, recognizing hand and voice signals – and using a unit called a bringsel (a device that hangs from the dog's collar). When the canine locates a person, for example, they put the bringsel into their mouth and run to the handler to signal to them. 

"But what if that bringsel was electronic? And if the dog hit it, it would geolocate to a GPS satellite and tell the whole team, the rescue team, the handler, everybody exactly where that person was at that moment," said Jackson in an interview with

"And then the dog could stay with the person and do whatever needs to happen with that person until the team got there."

Other applications bring explored include fine-tuning the abilities of assistance dogs to communicate with their handlers. 

Jackson, who has also trained canines for assistance dog work since 1995, sees many enhanced possibilities in this area, and canines trained in assisting the hearing impaired is just one.

"You can train the dogs to differentiate the sounds, in fact we’re doing that right now with one of our demo dogs, and then they could press a different button the vest for different sounds so you’d know that it’s the tornado siren," continued Jackson.

"So the dog could say, 'That’s the tornado siren,' and the owner could make a much better decision on how to react."

Click here for more on wearable technology and dogs, including where it might go in helping bomb-sniffing dogs do their jobs. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Caught up in the debate over which type of cat food is best? Get the facts

Flickr by hatch.m
I care for a lot of cats in my day-to-day life, and they all have different needs that depend on their health, living situation and stage of life.

I find, and rightfully so, that people have a lot to say when it comes to what their cats are fed — and what everybody else's cat should be eating. In my experience, there is a lot more attention to detail when it comes to the feline diet in comparison to dogs. It's no surprise really. Cats can be quite picky and sometimes they have special nutritional needs.

By and large, most cats are on a traditional adult feline diet, and the feeding directives are easy. The only thing that I really need to be concerned about is how much a cat is eating, since they can become overweight.

Of course, I do ask a lot of questions with regard to the specifics of a feline client's diet, because there are certain situations where a cat may need special consideration when it comes to what they eat.

Knowing that this topic is quite controversial (there are people who will undoubtedly disagree with the information here), it seems important to map out some facts about dry and canned cat food in an effort to demystify the topic, and hopefully debunk some of the advice I've heard some pet store employees give.

There seems to be a lot of dissent as to which is best: canned or dry.

The fact is they're both good, and for different reasons.

Most people feed dry cat food, and it has a lot of benefits. It's convenient, easy to store and generally speaking is a great choice for most cats. It's wonderful for cats that are prone to dental problems. Its dry, crunchy texture, (primarily a prescription dental formula) and because if that, is helpful in keeping kitty's teeth clean.

Underweight cats benefit greatly from dry food because it tends to have a higher caloric content than canned.

Calories count when it comes to outdoor cats, especially in the winter. I have a couple of clients who tend to 1-2 stray/feral TNR cats, and these animals benefit greatly from dry kitten food — it has a higher fat and calorie content than adult food, giving them the fuel that they need to stay warm and healthy in the winter.

Canned food is a great choice for a few reasons.

If you have an overweight cat, they'll benefit as canned food has fewer calories, making it an good choice for achieving an ideal weight. (It seems important to note that research indicates that despite all of the talk about dry food and carbohydrates being behind feline diabetes, it's not the dry food that is a catalyst in the predisposition of diabetes, but obesity itself.)

Felines that experience issues with constipation fare better with canned food, and ditto for kitties who are experiencing urinary issues. The reason? They benefit from the extra moisture.

If you have a cat who is underweight or needs a little coaxing to eat, canned food is superb! Canned cat food has a stronger aroma, and might help if a cat is exhibiting inappetance.

(Pro tip: if your cat has been prescribed medication that can be mixed into food, use a pate-style canned food, as opposed to cuts or fillets. Most cats have a preference for pate-style and medication can be easily mixed in and disguised.)

I'm not going to get into what brand of food is best, because I have no answers for that. Food that is high in quality, and fed in the proper amounts is key. Whether you decide to go with dry or canned — or both — is up to you.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Not confident that you know your dog well? Follow your nose

One of the first things that I ask someone when they call to inquire about my caring for their companion animals is, "Tell me about your pets!"

I like to get a feel for what my newfound furry or feathered friends are like before I meet them, and of course when we have our all-important first meeting, I want to know more.

Sure knowing all of the breed information, their age, overall health and care detail is important, but I want to know the nitty-gritty stuff: Where's their favorite place to nap? Do they prefer to linger and sniff everything on their dog walks, or are they constantly on a mission? For cats do they like catnip? What kind of naughtiness do they typically engage in — did they like to steal and chew on your socks?

Those are the kinds of things that only those that share life everyday with a pet will know. And those things help me to care for them better.

Sometimes I'll get a call from a client (or a reader!) about a distressing situation, usually health or behavior related, and in order for me to ascertain the best direction to send them in, I ask lots of pointed questions. I always end the conversation with, "You know you're pet better than anyone — remember that."

And it's true.

That statement is validated by research. And your nose. No, really.

Deborah L. Wells and Peter G. Hepper with the Animal Behaviour Centre, Queen's University, Belfast, decided to test the olfactory skill of dog owners to see if they could distinguish their own dog's smell from that of a different dog.

In their study, Wells and Hepper gave 26 dog owners two blankets to smell — one that had been infused with the individual odor of their pooch, and one that had the smell of a dog that was unfamiliar to them.

Without the help of visual cues (the humans were blindfolded during the sniff test so as not to give any clues like dog hair left on the blanket), 88.5 percent of the dog owners were able to accurately discern which blanket smelled like their dog. That's pretty good!

We typically give a lot of credit to dogs in their ability to use their incredible sense of smell, but we demonstrate some pretty mad skills in that department, too. This data reminds us that we are smarter than we know when it comes to our pets, even if we need to be reminded of it sometimes.

Click here to read a bit more on the study called 'The discrimination of dog odours by humans', published on

Lorrie Shaw is a freelancer writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What shapes our overall preference for cats or dogs? It's complicated

The first word out of my mouth was likely ‘dog’. This probably isn’t at all surprising to those that know me, and my affinity to provide a better life for animals is closely followed by my interest in people.

When I meet someone that’s new-to-me, the topic of pets invariably comes up because of my profession: ‘That’s such an interesting way to spend your days… I love dogs [or cats]…’, and the conversation goes from there.

What I’m struck by most is learning about the life that the person has with their pet (or in some cases, they might be in-between pets, but they’ll muse about companion animals from their past), and if they’re drawn specifically to dogs, cats or some other species of housepet.

It’s fascinating to hear stories of their preferences that have changed over time. Quite often, people become more open to sharing life with a species that may differ from what they grew up with, or what is completely different than they’re used to even much later in life.

We’re an amenable species.

Recent research has shed some light onto how some people have a preference for cats as opposed to dogs – and more interestingly – what age, experience, and personality traits have to do with it.

Dr. Samuel Gosling wanted to test the theory that those who identify themselves as being more of a ‘dog person’ or a‘cat person’ have personality differences. Dimensions that he explored were extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness.

He pursued a rather large–scale study that included 4565 participants, whom took an online test. The participants ranged in age from 10 to 95 years old and spanned several countries and ethnic backgrounds. From the data that was gathered, Gosling found that the majority of participants were identified as 'dog people' (45.7 percent), another 11.5 percent as having a stronger identification as a 'cat person' and also important, 27.7 percent could be identified as a cat or dog person.

15 percent of those questioned were in the "neither" category -- so perhaps they might be considered those who prefer the company of birds or other exotic animals, a growing demographic.

Dog people were found to have more extroverted, agreeable and conscientious qualities, while those possessing traits like openness and neuroticism were cat people.

It seems important to note that those that participated did so under the guise of completing an online personality questionnaire — they did not have the intention of learning whether or not they are a cat or dog person. At the end of the questionnaire, some questions were slyly posed to allow participants to self-identify with cats, dogs or neither of the two.

There could be a lot of reasons behind the differences. For instance, people may prefer a pet that exhibits like personality traits, or perhaps the fact that one tends to be very conscientious and detail-oriented might have a pull toward canines. Conversely, it may be that those who have more of an openness to things and individualism find it more natural to share life with cats. There are so many variables.

A couple of other interesting findings that were extrapolated from the data include the difference between dog and cat people was greater in men than women, and cat people tended to have a personality profile that is exceptionally distinctive (they stand out from the crowd, in other words) than their dog– loving counterparts.

These findings can give us insight, though as with anything that has to do with human nature, there are exceptions to the rule.

It seems important to say that overall, toddlers and young children seem to have a natural pull towards dogs and for good reason: The way that the animals look.

It's been known that humans have a natural affinity for animals that had infantile faces — those that are rounder, flatter and have large eyes. (Think about how cute babies and puppies look!)

To test this concept, researchers from the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, in Rome, Italy, gathered data from studying a group of children aged 3 to 6 years old. A total of 272 children were included in the study.

The children were shown photographs of humans, teddy bears, cats and dogs with varying constellations of facial features, from infantile, to more adult-looking — the latter having more elongated noses and smaller eyes.

The more infantile in appearance, the more favorable the response.

Typically, puppies rank highest in terms of an infantile appearance, and many canine breeds retain many of the same physical qualities.

Marta Borgi, one of the researchers, noted, "Children in our study preferred dogs over cats in every comparison, and regardless of their familiarity with this species."

Also, the children favored photographs of animals over non-animals.

Click here to read the study, published in the Human—Animal Interaction Bulletin.

Given what all of this data demonstrates, it would certainly seem that from a tender age, we're drawn to cute faces, but as we gain experience and our brains become more sophisticated, we begin to discern, recognize and identify with traits that are more complex, deeper and appealing to us – and perhaps that tells us a lot about how we unfold individually as we age.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.