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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Planning ahead for the Fourth of July holiday can make it safer and less challenging for pets

Summer is officially here, and it's a season filled with a lot of fun for us humans — but from a pet's vantage point, it can prove to be quite difficult — especially during Fourth of July and other gatherings.

Fireworks (and in some cases gunfire) are unfamiliar and frightening to pets of all species.  

Independence Day isn't my favorite holiday because of that. It's hard to see so many pets frightened by the noise and lights associated with fireworks. As we've all experienced, the noise of fireworks doesn't occur just on July 4, and that can be challenging.

This time of year — along with New Year's Eve — are prime times for missing pets, as many become frightened and dart out open doors. Injuries from coming into contact with fireworks can pose a threat during this time as well.  

The onslaught of extra people in the house — or lack thereof, if you're away — can bring on anxiety too, as can the noise that sometimes accompanies the festivities. Here are a few tips that I can offer to keep pets safe, sound and happy:
  • Make sure you have up-to-date photos of your pets. You probably have a lot of photos of your pets either around your home or floating around in your digital camera. Having a picture of each of your pets in different poses and settings could ensure that you'll be reunited with a lost pet. 
  • Be sure that your pet is microchipped. Click here to see how easily the procedure is done.
  • Ensure that your pet is wearing a collar with clearly marked identification that includes the pet's name, your name, address and telephone number. (I often make the suggestion that a client have a tag made with my contact information while they are out of town.)
  • If you're hosting a gathering and your pets have a tendency to be skittish with unfamiliar people, consider keeping them in an area of the home that will be undisturbed by anyone, with the door shut. In the case of a dog, a crate might be an added source of security. Play soothing music, talk radio or white noise to try and block out any unwanted noise that will cause anxiety. A free download for calming music is available by clicking here.
  • If you find that fireworks or other loud noises are troublesome for your pet, consider using what I call "storm treats" to try and curb a negative association with the noise. Directions for playing a game involving storm treats are listed here. Also, a pressure wrap can be helpful. Swaddling and deep pressure have been proven to provide both humans and animals a sense of comfort. Temple Grandin, Ph.D. expands on the topic of deep pressure in animals. Some dogs can benefit from wearing a Thundershirt, or a snug-fitting T-shirt. The theory is that the sensation of deep pressure, (in this case a variation of it) around the torso primarily, or swaddling — modulates the central nervous system, producing a calming effect. 
  • Consider using T-Touch, an approach first developed for horses by Linda Tellington-Jones, and is used worldwide to address a number of issues, including noise phobias in canines.
  • Try dog-appeasing pheromone, also referred to as DAP, a synthetic pheromone produced by lactating bitches. Undetectable and equally safe for anyone outside of the canine species, DAP has been effective in addressing anxiety of various forms for dogs and can be found in a spray form, a collar that is worn and replaced every four weeks or in a diffuser. You might recall my talking about Feliway, the feline version of the same pheromone. DAP helps to attain an overall sense of well being in dogs.
  • Never force a companion animal to be present during a fireworks display. The noise, flashes of light and the smells can be confusing for pets. Scared pets can react by snapping or biting, creating a very unsafe situation for both human and pet.
The great thing about these specific suggestions is that they are easy to implement, and none of them have side effects. Depending on the severity of your pet’s discomfort when it comes to anxiety associated with fireworks, you can tailor a plan of action that works by trying one at a time, or perhaps more than one in tandem.

If your pet is sound sensitive and these other tips don't seem to help, you're not alone. It's advisable to consult with your veterinarian to prepare a treatment plan to make them as comfortable as possible.

Also, a quick inspection of your yard on a regular basis during this time of year is encouraged. Pieces of spent fireworks can land anywhere and curious pets, especially dogs, will readily pick them up and could possibly ingest them. (Don't forget to be vigilant on your walks.)

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.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The peanut butter spread in your pantry may not be safe to give your dog

Peanut butter is a staple on most pantry shelves, and in homes with dogs, it's especially useful. Most of my clients leave a jar designated for their canine family members, and I use that to fill their Kong toys to freeze and enjoy. The ubiquitous product is also a popular vehicle to help administer oral meds to dogs. 

By and large peanut butter is a safe product to offer to our pets, so long as it's simply peanut butter and not coupled with other ingredients. 

It's reasonable to expect that peanut butter and peanut butter spreads that are devoid of enhancements like chocolate or hazelnut spread are safe, but one peanut-based spread came to light recently and illustrates that reading ingredient labels is key when it comes to pet safety. 

A popular line of peanut spreads by Nuts ’N More — most prominently the peanut butter flavor — might easily be dismissed as something safe and offered up without a second thought.

Why are wholesome and healthy products like this one and those produced by other companies a problem?

One word: Xylitol.

The risk that xylitol — a sugar replacement used in many products — poses to canines regardless if it is consumed by getting into candy, chewing gum or other sweets (or in this case, even being given directly to a dog) can be devastating. 

The popular sweetener is toxic to canines because it causes a dangerous drop in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), as well as liver damage, and even death. The exact mechanism is not clear, but what is known is that it doesn't take much to cause serious health problems.

Click here for more facts on the effects of xylitol in dogs.

Bringing this to light is in no way an effort to vilify any company, as these products are intended for use by humans. (In fact, Krush Nutrition has included information on their website pointing out that xylitol is not safe for dogs.) But, because of our inherent desire to share things with our canine friends, it can be hard to know if some products are dangerous to pets — even if they seem natural and basic. Whenever in doubt, take a second to read the label and if the ingredients are not clear and known to be safe, skip it. 

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, June 18, 2015

Persuading reluctant dogs to take a bitter-tasting pill can be a low-stress endeavor

We've plenty of medications available to help keep or make our pets well, and to manage pain. When our veterinarian prescribes a drug for our animal companions, it might come in the form of a tablet or capsule, a liquid suspension or it may even be compounded as a transdermal.

The latter is especially convenient and stress-free for both pet and human (as the medication is administered by applying to the inside of the ear flap), but unfortunately few drugs can be delivered into the body in this way. Thyroid and anti-depressant medications, as well as prednisolone are options, just to name a few. Another caveat is that this method is more expensive, making it prohibitive to many families. 

Tablets and capsules are the most common way that medication is dispensed, and for good reason: they are the easiest to work with, and are the least expensive. 

A well-cloaked disguise

Getting most tablets or capsules down the hatch is usually easy if it's mixed in their food. Using something soft or gooey to hide the pill is helpful, as I've indicated in a previous post. It's important, however, if you're feeding multiple pets, to keep everyone separated and ensure that dog number one gets the medication down, while dog numbers two, three or more do not. 

(I urge pet owners and caregivers to keep an eye out during meal time to watch for any doses of medication that end up fished out of food and discarded onto the floor.) 

Most of the time this easy, stress-free method works great. When it fails, consider using food as a tool, this time in a different context. 

Quantity along with quality 

Starting with bits of food or treats that your pet values highly, it can be pretty easy to get the most reluctant canine to scarf down what's in your hand. Make sure that they are good and hungry (give the treats before a meal), and have 4-5 treats in your hand, ready to offer one after another in rapid-fire succession, ensuring the highest value treats are doled out somewhere in the middle. For example, you might give a crunchy treat, a slightly higher value treat, then whatever you've hidden the medication in, then whatever is left in your hand. Most dogs are too busy thinking about getting the next treat that they don't pay attention to anything, and using this tactic seldom fails.

A little competition never hurts

Using a little peer pressure can help. Few dogs can resist wanting to get in on the action if another creature in the family (animal or human!) is enjoying a yummy treat, so you can use that to your advantage. Using the same tactic as above, but only using pill-free treats for the helpful participants. 

The problem with some medications is that they have a bitter taste, or can cause other unpleasant side effects, like nausea, and in either case can put pets off of food and treats completely. The bitterness of the pain reliever Tramadol had become an issue for Gretchen in early June, despite her having been on the drug for a while with no unfavorable effects. With the medication not being an option for her as a transdermal, and as a suspension, too bitter, finding a workable solution was the only option: at 15 years old, going without the drug at this stage of osteoarthritis was unthinkable. 

A no-fail solution for hyper-aware dogs

In chatting with our acupuncture vet, Monica Turenne, DVM, CVA, she made a simple but ingenious suggestion that made me wonder why I'd not thought of it before.

By taking an empty gelcap — available from any pharmacy for just a few cents — and slipping the pill inside before tucking that into a high value treat or food, any odor or taste is masked. I've been doing this for a few days, and it hasn't failed.

Given Gretchen's past level of suspicion, I totally give this trick a big thumbs up. It's made managing a painful condition much easier and in the end, both of us very happy. 

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

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dog bites can be prevented by understanding canine body language, honoring personal space

Dog bite: those words have an emotional resonance, don't they?
If you've ever been bitten by a dog, you don't forget it. It usually happens so fast that it leaves you stunned.

May 17-23, 2015 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and with the holiday weekend upon us which is sure to include interacting with family pets, it seems important to talk about keeping dogs happy and everyone safe.
The following statistics speak clearly:

  • According to one study, half of children between 4 and 18 years old reported having been bitten by a dog. 

  • The vast majority of victims were bitten by a dog that they knew, not a stray dog roaming the streets, contrary to popular belief.

  • Children and seniors are most likely to be bitten. 

  • Dog bites are highly preventable, and it comes down to humans (both kids and adults) understanding what facilitates them and how to best deal with a dog who bites.
    These incidents happen in all sorts of scenarios.
    The truth is, dogs often bite for one common reason: They are uncomfortable or fearful about a situation that a human has put them in, and the human is not reading the dog's behavior correctly.
    Sometimes it's as simple as a dog being startled from his slumber. Maybe they just don't mesh well with the ever-changing dynamics at a doggie day care facility. Perhaps a human in their midst doesn't understand dogs very well, and they have handled a situation poorly, or deliberately pushed them too far. In many cases it involves a child — young children often lack the skills to understand when a dog is uncomfortable or just wants to be left alone.
    The dog then reacts.
    In most of the cases that are seen, the dog's behavior is misunderstood. The pet may have lacked proper socialization early in life, or perhaps it is because they haven't had proper positive reinforcement training. Because of that, they haven't attained the skills they need to navigate through these type of encounters (with both other pets and humans), and some are actually quite fearful. The latter really requires a deft professional who can help both the human and the canine.
    Misunderstanding these concepts or writing a dog off as merely 'aggressive', 'dominant' (a commonly misused term) or other labels and leaving it at that can escalate situations to a point when a dog bites someone — and that's not an outcome that anyone wants.
    No matter the situation involving a dog bite, it happens because of an oversight on the part of a human.
    It's up to us to learn the cues that dogs exhibit in their body language and to properly socialize pets from an early age.
    Teaching children the rules of approaching a dog — familiar or otherwise — is crucial. Here are two very wise points that the American Veterinary Medical Association makes:
    • Educate children about all things dog at a level they can understand. Don’t expect youngsters to be able to accurately read a dogs’ body language — they lack the mental sophistication to understand. Starting off by demonstrating gentle behavior and talking about that dogs have specific preferences when it comes to interaction and help them gain an understanding of canine behavior that will flourish as they age. 
    • Giving kids too much responsibility for a pet too early can put them a risk of being bitten. Always supervise kids when they are around a pet.
    Click here for a great illustration "How Not To Greet a Dog", by Lili Chin. It's also kid-friendly and can be a super way for kids and their adults to have a good discussion on interacting with dogs. 
    With diligence, proper education and understanding of canine socialization, behavior and body language — and precautions to ensure that dogs are not placed in a situation where they will react by biting — we can keep it from happening. 
    Click here for more comprehensive information on the topic. 
    Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Reach her at 734-904-7279 or 

    Thursday, April 16, 2015

    A dog's mental capacity is more sophisticated than previously thought, study indicates

    Dogs are intelligent.

    They've demonstrated that their mental abilities are on par with that of a 2-3 year old child, but in one area, dogs leap ahead: their ability to pick up on when they are being misled.

    Canines have lived alongside of us for a period of time that would make it seem unlikely that they wouldn't be able to figure out many things about our behavior, but some concepts are quite complex, for example, untruthfulness. A research team from Kyoto University wanted to delve into whether or not dogs could recognize that behavior (or how long it would take to do so).

    The researchers, led by Akiko Takoka, decided to keep things simple, and the payoff was surprisingly telling. 

    A pair of experiments were done in a study titled,  "Do dogs follow behavioral cues from an unreliable human?", with the results appearing in an October 2014 issue of Animal Cognition.

    In the first experiment, 24 dogs were used, and it worked in three phases. (It seems important to note that the team was confident that the dogs would follow the prompts given by the humans in the study.) In the first phase, two opaque containers — one of which had a food treat hidden underneath — were presented to each dog. Phase one consisted of the human pointing to the container with the food underneath. The dog then chose that container and got the food reward. Phase two set out to demonstrate that the human couldn't be trusted to give a reliable cue. To achieve this, the dog was shown which container had a treat underneath and which did not. Once the dog was released to choose a container, they were encouraged to select the one without the reward.

    Finally, the experiment was repeated, but this time the dog was cued honestly. 

    The findings told the story: 

    Phase one yielded what one would expect; the dogs demonstrated trust of the human. But in the later phase, each dog had deduced that the person was not to be believed, with less than 10% of the subjects following where they were cued. 

    Takoka noted that she was surprised that the dogs had caught on to this concept so quickly. 

    But the researchers were interested in learning more about whether or not dogs attached that concept to all humans, or only those that they have had that specific experience with

    Repeating the study would certainly help clarify that, so researchers did so with a new group of dogs, 26 in fact — with each phase done exactly the same way. In the final phase, however, a new person was introduced in place of the untrustworthy one. 

    The subjects followed where the person encouraged them to go. This of course means that dogs are predictive of behavior from individual people, and they adapt as needed.

    It seems that the old adage 'when someone shows you who they are, believe them' is employed by dogs just as their biped counterparts. 

    Takoka noted in an interview with"Dogs have more sophisticated social intelligence than we thought. This social intelligence evolved selectively in their long life history with humans." 

    She went further to say that it would be interesting to see how wolves would fare in a like experiment, as that would shed more light on the effects of domestication on the social intelligence in the dogs that we know today. 

    Comparatively, how do children fare in studies that test the capacity to discern trustworthiness? 

    — at age 3, children are pretty excepting of what they are told, even if the person is dishonest
    — four year-olds exhibit dubiousness in the same situation
    — by age 5, children can more easily discern that what they are being told is not true

    As you can see, the jump in the mental sophistication of humans between ages three and five is vast, and given that an adult canine's mental capacity is said to be that of a 2 to 3 year-old child, a dog's ability to process that concept reliably is certainly intriguing. 

    The outcome of the study reinforces a basic tenet in canine training and behavior: relationship and trust building is paramount in developing good communication and cooperation, thusly helping both the canine and human get the most out of of training exercises and establishing a bond. 

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

    Sunday, April 12, 2015

    Chewing is a healthy, beneficial activity and dogs with beef and other allergies need not miss out

    Dogs love to chew. They need to. It's satisfying, and can mitigate anxiety.

    Indulging this healthy behavior is usually not a problem nor something that we give a lot of thought to since there are so many products on the market that are safe for supervised chew time or when our favorite pups are alone. 

    Of course, we need to take some things into consideration, including how powerful of a chewer a dog is or what their preferences are. 

    Traditional choices

    Beef rawhides are the ultimate in chewing pleasure for dogs, there's no doubt. They're tough, long-lasting and provide they kind of satisfying mouthfeel that dogs crave. They do get a bad rap for their indigestibility and the potential hazard for choking, but honestly I've found that with my own dogs and charges whose owners supply them, they are quite safe so long as chew time is supervised carefully. I simply take the rawhide away when they show evidence of being dangerous. 

    Bully sticks, tracheas, bones, hooves and other beef-based chewing toys are popular choices too.

    Sound alternatives

    But for an ever-widening demographic of the canine population — several of my own charges included — the choices can be somewhat limited because of allergies to ingredients that many chew toys are sourced from. 

    If a dog has allergies to beef, then sadly all of the aforementioned products are off limits, and ditto for chicken-based products and the like if the allergies are more complex.

    But that doesn't mean that dogs with sensitivity to things like beef and chicken need to miss out on a good chew party. There are plenty of suitable products on the market that can be equally satisfying, and best of all, they are easy to find. 

    Available in different sizes, deer antlers are a durable offering for pets that like them. They can be problematic for powerful chewers as they can damage a tooth. 

    Rope toys are fun for chewing and playing games like tug-of-war. Though they're tough and relatively long-lasting, care needs to be taken to ensure that the fibers are not ingested, which could lead to an intestinal blockage. 

    Vegetable-based chews like Whimzees and Zuke's Z-Bones offer sensitive dogs another option that you can feel good about. Choking on chewed-off pieces (and possible indigestibility, though even my old girl, Gretchen does fine with these) is a consideration. 

    Sweet potato chews can provide that leathery, satisfying that dogs love, and while they have that going for them, they just don't last very long. Highly digestible and healthy, you can make your own or buy them from your local pet store. 

    Pig ears are a fun chewy treat that offer a little satisfaction, albeit short-lived for some dogs. Pig skin rolls are an equally favorable choice, and usually last a little longer. 

    Bison rawhide, with all of the qualities that dogs love in a chew, but with a much lower risk of allergy reaction and may be just the right thing when addressing a pet's chewing needs. As with beef rawhide, products derived from bison do require the same level of mindfulness with regard to safety and indigestibility.

    Nylabone products are ever popular, but as with any other type of chew toy, they need to be enjoyed under supervision. Available in edible and non-edible varieties for dogs and puppies, care needs to be taken to see if they're right for your furry friend.

    Attractive options — but on second thought 

    Yak chews are a relatively new product on the market, and they have the reputation for lasting a long time. They also have a taste that is appealing to dogs, which is a plus. With their high protein and fat content, they are not suitable for some dogs. One caveat that might not be obvious is they are not made solely from yak's milk. Cow's milk is also used to create these products, which despite their price are gaining popularity. If your pet has an allergy to beef, these products would not be suitable.

    Finally, synthetic rawhide chews are widely available and since they're largely plant-based (they do contain chicken jerky as well as grain starch and vegetables) by all accounts appear to be a fine option. In theory, yes. Their high level of digestibility is a plus, but in my research, one glaring drawback cannot be ignored: they are made in China. 

    Considering the questions that loom with regard to the safety of pet consumables imported from China, the general consensus is that they not be given to pets.

    All of that said, chewing on appropriate bones and toys is a healthy activity that dogs not only love, but need to indulge in. It relieves stress, helps clean their teeth and indulges an innate need -- and choosing the right product can make it safe.

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

    Tuesday, March 31, 2015

    Indoor pest problems require natural, safe solutions around parrots and other pets

    With the warmer weather making its way to much of the country faster than you think, it brings uninvited guests with it.

    Those who share life with birds can relate to the increase in indoor pests with the weather changes, but one culprit is at the heart of attracting insects: our feathered friend's penchant for not only enjoying their fresh food — which often includes vegetables, fruits and eggs — but flinging it about enthusiastically as they dine. 

    Getting things cleaned up after chow time is certainly helpful in preventing an infestation, though doing so isn't always possible, as birds aren't always in the mood to eat right away when they're given a meal. 

    The good news is that getting things under control can be a lot easier — and safer — than one might think. Birds are a sensitive species, and when it comes to any product, chemical or ingredient that is effective in keeping pests at bay, being choosy is essential. Fortunately, there are some safe alternatives to traditional methods, and they are easy to put into use. 

    General pests, like ants and fleas can be a problem. The former, like other insects, are most often attracted by the food flung from a bird's enclosure, though some households seem to battle them year-round. Fleas tend to be more of an issue in households that have dogs and cats (flea prevention for our furry friends is a must) as well, and it goes without saying that products to address any insect issues that are labeled natural or or environmentally friendly have been deemed so around our four-legged friends, but with our avian housemates, likely not so. 

    Tiny, but mighty 

    Mindful cleanup and vacuuming is certainly helpful, as a start, but a product called diatomaceous earth could be an attractive option in preventing or addressing an infestation of many insects. This finely milled powder, long used to address insect problems, is made from fossilized diatoms. These little gems are included in a group of algae, and what sets them apart from others is that they're encased in the cell wall made of silica. Because of that composition, diatomaceous earth or DM, as it's called, is also used in other applications, like as a filtration aid in pools, in toothpaste, among other things.

    In insect control, it works by way of it's mild abrasiveness and its ability to act as a physico sorptive. In essence, the fine powder wears down the protective exo-skeleton of insects like ants, fleas and roaches, and they dehydrate from sorptive action and then die.

    No ordinary that diatomaceous earth will do: food-grade quality is necessary since this type has not been calcinated, and has been derived from freshwater sources. It's also milled more finely. Here's a link for one resource on where to obtain it. 

    Though food-grade DM is safe for birds (and other pets), it's a good idea to take your feathered friends to a different room while the product is being applied. To use, simply sprinkle the powder on the areas where insects are found.

    Multi-purpose and non-toxic 

    Neem oil has long been used for many purposes, but many are familiar with its ability to repel bugs. Derived from the neem tree, oil contains a component called azadirachtin, which is where neem gets its insecticidal punch from. Azadirachtin acts as an insect growth regulator, among other things. Due to its distinctive garlic-sulfur odor, some people find neem to be unpleasant. Available at health stores and natural food markets, neem can be purchased in different forms — even an extract — and can be diluted and used as needed. Read more about it here

    Create your own traps

    Fruit flies seem to appear out of nowhere and are a common and bothersome site around bird enclosures, which is no surprise: they love the same fresh foods that birds do. Combating infestations of fruit flies naturally is a cinch. These insects are motivated by the aroma of fragrant foods like mango, banana and the like, so using that idea can work as an advantage in getting rid of them. 

    A do-it-yourself trap can be fashioned with a canning jar, some plastic cling wrap and cider vinegar. Pour an inch or so of vinegar in the bottom of the jar, and cover the top with a piece of wrap after making a small depression in the middle, and then poke two or three small holes in the wrap. The flies are attracted to the strongly scented vinegar and eagerly make their way into the trap, but they can't get out. Toss the contents of the trap after a few days and repeat as needed. 

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