Saturday, August 31, 2013

One formula of Purina One pet food recalled due to salmonella risk

dog food.JPG

According to a press release from the Food and Drug Administration dated Aug. 30, one type of dog food is being recalled by the company that produced it, Nestle Purina PetCare Company (NPPC) .

The potential health risk centers around salmonella — the most common catalyst behind pet food recalls.

Purina One Beyond Our White Meat Chicken and Whole Barley Recipe Adult Dry Dog Food produced in a single production run was shipped to retailers in the United States.

Only 3.5-pound bags are affected.

The product bears a "Best By" date of OCT 2014, a production code of 31071083 and a UPC Code of 17800 12679.

No other pet food formulas were reported to be affected.

There are more than 2,000 strains of salmonella. Very young and very old pets are most susceptible to the bacteria and suffer the effects most profoundly. The most common symptoms associated with salmonella are vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Companion animals presenting with symptoms are treated with IV fluids and antibiotics.

Click here to view the FDA press release.

For more information or to obtain a product refund, please call NPPC toll-free, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-473-8546, or visit

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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

New study explores efficacy of vasectomies in reducing feral cat populations

Flickr photo by hehaden
For the estimated 80 million domestic cats that are kept as house pets, there are as many roaming free.

Those numbers shouldn't be surprising, considering the rate at which felines are able to reproduce.

 I've previously written about the overpopulation issue with cats and dogs, and getting these numbers in check has been the focus of many. Spay and neuter programs and protocols are helping to make progress.

First, understand that from a biological standpoint, we are in a battle with pets.

Reproductive success drives evolution, pure and simple. It's the strongest biological factor in any species. Biology has a way of taking over, jumping any hurdle that is put in its path and compensating. The pets themselves have no control over their biological drives, and therefore can't curb their behavior when it comes reproducing.

Feral cat colonies are a supreme example of biology's stronghold.

Comprised of a clowder of free-roaming cats that are the descendants of unaltered tame cats somewhere in their ancestral line, the social structure is by no means random: at its core, it has at least one sexually-active dominant male and fertile females who are often well-bonded and who will help care for their respective litters and each other.

Colonies are often formed around shelter — be it a wooded area, abandoned house, under a porch area that doesn’t get that much foot traffic or something else — and a food source of some sort.

Because of their unique resiliency, feral cat colonies have posed a special challenge.
The structure and reproductive patterns of these groups have piqued the interest of researchers and got them thinking: Could the way that a feline in a feral colony is sterilized impact the overall numbers of new litters that are born?

A new study focusing on one method of sterilizing cats in colonies — trapping them, giving vasectomies or hysterectomies (versus ovariohysterectomy) and releasing them back into the colony (abbreviated TVHR) — offers some insight.

The results of the study, which simulated a cat population of roughly 200, were published in the Aug. 15, 2013 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

But why a computer-simulated study?

First, TVHR is not a common way to address feral cat populations. Trap, neuter and release (TNR) on the other hand, is a more widely-accepted approach to controlling feral cat colony populations, and for a lot of reasons.

Because TVHR isn’t put into use as much and because the life span of feral cats is far shorter — an average of three years as opposed to the 15 that their indoor counterparts enjoy — it’s been difficult to extrapolate the long-term data that helps to give some solid numbers that researchers would be looking for. Each computer run simulated the feral cat population over 6,000 days, tracking individual cats on a daily basis, thus predicting effectiveness of TVHR.

New cats were added to the population as they were born and cats that died were removed, creating a “family tree” of sorts.

But before talking about the results of the study, it’s probably a good idea to flesh out the differences between the two methods and the advantages to both.

Same goal, different approaches

Neutering a male cat entails removal of their testicles — thus leaving them not only infertile, but sexually inactive.

Those two things are very advantageous: the cats don't reproduce, and because they no longer produce reproductive hormones, behaviors like fighting, spraying and howling are reduced, addressing the needs of the community-at-large. (Behaviors like those would be troublesome to anyone who lives in close proximity to a feral colony.)

A possible advantage to vasectomy as opposed to neuter procedure is that though the tube that carries semen is cut, the animal retains their testicles and their reproductive hormones. For that reason, upon being returned to the colony, the cat preserves his dominant position and can continue mating with females without producing kittens — and quite possibly protect their turf from other male competitors that are “intact”.

Conversely, a neutered male loses his dominant position in the colony, and the next most dominant male takes his place — and the cycle continues. (It's important to note that when a female cat that has not been sterilized mates with a male that has had a vasectomy, she enters a 45-day pseudo-pregnancy, dipping the chance of fertile mating even further.)

The findings and commentary

Researchers discovered that with an annual capture rate of 35 percent using TVHR, the population would be cut in half and the entire colony would disappear in 11 years. To achieve the same results with TNR, 82 percent of cats would need to be captured and neutered.

Robert J. McCarthy, D.V.M., lead author on the study and clinical associate professor of small animal surgery at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University hopes that TVHR can be put to the test in a more broad sense, rather than the controlled environments and small colonies that it has been shown promise in.

“This opens up new conversations,” said McCarthy.

“The computer model indicates that vasectomy and hysterectomy should be much more effective at reducing or eliminating feral cat populations than the traditional approach of neutering. The next step is to gather evidence on how it actually works in the field.”

The topic of feral cat colonies and how to manage them is one that brings up a lot of emotion in many communities, and Washtenaw County is no exception.

One thing that is certain is that it’s going to take time in order to see a favorable result, no matter the approach to managing feral colonies.

And, some experts believe that a combination of methods would be advantageous, including Sheilah Robertson of the American Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Welfare Division.

"…a multipronged approach will be required that includes TNVR; programs that use nonsurgical approaches, including immunocontraception and chemical sterilization of male cats; and trap-and-remove. Regardless of the method chosen, it may take 10-15 years of sustained effort to see a positive effect," she said.

Click here to read more on the study from

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

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Experts say that pets grieve after the death of another family pet, and helping them through the transition proves healing for everyone

Flickr photo by Anders.Bachmann

This is been a year of change for a lot of people in my social circle who share life with animal companions.

For most of them, they knew that the inevitable was coming: an aged pet gracefully navigating twilight time, with the accompanying bumps along the way.

For others, death came unexpectedly or early.

None of us who share their life with a pet is immune to seeing them through their final transition.

As one client remarked a few days ago when I shared that Bruiser, our 13-year-old Labrador was recently diagnosed with metastatic cancer, " never seems right that our dearest loved ones live for so short of time." The fact that we all grieve the loss of our animal companions is evident.

But there's more to the equation.

In my experience as a caregiver of varying species of animals, I know that the dynamics among the non-human members of a family change noticeably when a pet dies — or throughout the process of navigating a grave illness.

In my own tribe, I'm already seeing subtle changes as time goes by. Though I wouldn't characterize my two dogs as playmates — not so uncommon — Gretchen seems to defer to her ailing canine housemate a bit more. Having a very strong personality, that's not something that she would normally do.

The need to pay close attention to not just the changing needs of Bruiser has been obvious, and I also feel that it's as important to recognize Gretchen's (and our cat, Silver, who has been more of a buddy with Bruiser) — and our own.

I've previously chronicled the experiences of two families with losing their pets, and one thing is clear: it's not easy, nor the same for anyone in the household.

As the end — which at this point seems at a long arm's length away — looms closer, I find myself honing in on how the animals of the family are behaving.

Experts are exploring what many of us already know: some pets grieve the loss of one of their own, and may exhibit their grief in different ways.

The notion isn't so surprising. Pets have a myopic social structure compared to humans. We have our jobs, day-to-day interaction with people outside of the four walls of the house; things that broaden our periphery.

Even with the availability of ways to enhance a dog's social element, like dog parks and play dates and agility outings, their social periphery is far more condensed than ours. The majority of their time is limited to the day-to-day interaction with the other pets in the household. When you consider the amount of time that our pets spend in each other's midst over the course of years — even a mere few months in some cases — when one animal is gone for good, a huge void is left.

That prospect, coupled with being witness to the showing of grief that humans can't help hide when a pet passes, can contribute.

“We know with dogs, they’re so tuned in to our gestures and facial expressions,” says Barbara J. King, a professor of anthropology at Virginia’s College of William & Mary.

"There’s fascinating research that they’re more attuned than chimpanzees are, and chimpanzees are supposed to be the end-all and be-all of cognition. The problem comes in when some animal grief gets dismissed (on that basis). … The depth of an animal’s response and the length it lasts seem to go beyond responding to people in the home.”

King is author of “How Animals Grieve", published in March of this year.

“I don’t want to say dogs grieve, cats grieve, horses grieve,” adds King, who specializes in animal behavior.

“I say some dogs grieve. Sometimes people contact me and say (they) had two dogs and one died and the other didn’t grieve — why not? It’s animal individuality … the survivor’s relationship to the dead, the survivor’s personality. Sometimes animals recover quickly or do not grieve at all.”

Those who have had a pet experience that sense of loss after an animal friend dies have undoubtedly seen a couple of these responses to the event:

  • Eating less (a marker widely-noted by pet owners in a study done in 1996 by the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
  • Restlessness or sleeping less
  • Lethargy
  • Increased vocalizing (barking, howling, meowing)
  • Becoming clingy

Some pets even seem a bit disoriented or confused, or avoid contact or play with other family members.

It's important to note that these changes in behavior can also indicate an illness, so it's wise to have an examination by the pet's clinician to be sure that there's not an underlying medical cause.

Helping a pet navigate through the process of grief doesn't differ that much from the way that we find it to be helpful for humans.

Time well-spent

Shore up more one-on-one time with your pet. Walks and outings (especially to new areas or routes), playing games, even brushing them can help. The physical interaction promotes a sense of joy and connectedness, and also releases oxytocin, a hormone that increases a sense of well-being and bonding in mammals.

Happy distraction

Providing new things for your pet to do and learn can help occupy his mind and give him a much-needed boost.

Consider hiding new toys that they'll find interesting in a favorite place — even pets love happy surprises.

Foraging toys, like stuffed Kongs and the like are ideal, especially when you need to be away. You can even make them for cats.

The process of learning something new, like a trick (even for senior dogs), or even more involved asstarting agility classes, can help increase a sense of happiness.

For cats, perhaps bringing in a new cat tree for them to perch on can be helpful. Placing it in an area that can give them an exciting vantage point of the outdoors is a good idea. Click here for more considerations with cats.

Don't forget the power of catnip when it comes to your cat. The joyful effect of catnip on a feline — even though it's for a brief period — can provide a lasting emotional boost.

These kinds of things have a secondary benefit: they help us as well. Nurturing our pets in seemingly more intentional ways is healing and reinforces the bond with them.

Just like humans, quite often the appetite can suffer during a difficult time. For dogs and cats, offering an enhancement, like a little warmed canned food or healthy addition like some cooked, bite-size chicken mixed with their usual food can pique a pet's interest. Try a new, safe fruit or vegetable or serve things in an unexpected way for a feathered friend.

Usually, pets bounce back as time passes. But these ideas can help you be proactive during the transition and assist in gracefully settling into the changing dynamic that most often occurs in a multi-pet household after the loss of an animal member of the family.

Click here for more on pets grieving pets, on

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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Two growing scams bilk people of their pets - and even their money

Flickr photo by normack
Scams of all kinds are all too common, and it seems that those behind them become more crafty and heartless as the days go by.

Those involving pets for financial gain — two in particular — are a growing problem.

One that you may have heard of by way of the media in recent months, dog flipping, is harrowing not only for the humans who own the dogs, but the animals themselves.

No acrobatics involved

Dog flipping — essentially when one person finds a lost pet, or worse, steals them — and sells them for a profit (or at least attempts to).

The practice can also affect unsuspecting people who has unknowingly acquired a dog who has been flipped.

With avenues like Craigslist available, it's quite easy for flippers to move the dogs quickly.

Ads posted on sites like this by the dog's “owner” (the flipper) often cite that they can no longer afford to keep the pet, or that they're moving, or any other heartfelt plea that might elicit a lot of interest.

The ad usually indicates that there is a fee to “adopt” the animal because in doing so, the “owner” can be sure of a loving and stable home.

Of course, these strategies often work: who wouldn't want to help a pet in need because their owner has fallen on hard times and can't financially provide for their beloved dog, or are being evicted?

Being consumed by the emotion surrounding an issue like this — this scenario is common because of the economy over the past couple of years — one feels like they have little time to think and ask questions and only to act. Dog flippers count on that.

It's likely that there are many legitimate situations similar to the one I've used as an example on sites like Craigslist, but the important thing is to do your homework when getting a new-to-you pet, should you pursue that avenue.

A wolf in sheep's clothing

More and more people these days are hiring the services of a dog trainer, and this is not only in the case of when a problem arises, but encouragingly, before a puppy or re-homed dog arrives in the household. Families often want to be proactive about getting off on the right foot when it comes to training themselves so that they can better communicate with their four-legged friend.

The problem, in case you're not aware, there is no oversight when it comes to the field of dog training. Sure, there are certifications, but anyone, can call themselves a trainer.

You might be wondering what dog training has to do with an unscrupulous activity like dog flipping.

Unfortunately, there are those who will, while under the guise of being a dog professional, take your money — and your dog — and much like in the case of a dog flipper, it can be hard to get your dog back.

So how do they do it?

There are some dog trainers who will offer “board and train” options for clients at their own facilities. (I prefer professionals who offer private consultations or group training classes. After all, it's all about training the humans.)

Those posing as trainers to get your money — and quite possibly flip your dog — use this premise to achieve both of those goals.

A recent article in The Bark chronicled one family's experience with a thief posing as a dog professional offering board and train services. The man took the dog, the family's money — and disappeared.

How to protect pets from flipping or those posing as dog trainers:

  • Don't leave your dog unattended (in public or in your yard). Dog flippers have been known to brazenly snatch a pet in broad daylight. Pure bred dogs and those who are still intact are very desirable to thieves.
  • Have current pictures of your pets on hand. With the ease of smartphones today, it's a cinch. I take photos of my own pets and my charges often, just in case they become lost.
  • Whether they are a homebody or not, every dog should be wearing a collar with identification tags. The tags should bear your last name, the dog's name, your telephone number (a cell phone number makes most sense) and address. I recommend to all of my clients that they have a tag made up with my contact info should something happen while under my care. Click here for more tips.
  • Should your pet end up missing, time is of the essence. Quickly make up at least a few fliers to take immediately to highly trafficked areas like local veterinary clinics, pet stores and groomers and ask if you can put them up there. Staff in these businesses see and hear a lot of things!
  • Utilize the power of the Internet and social media to get the word out. Facebook pages like Michigan-based For the Love of Louie are useful, and you can contact your local humane society or animal shelter to report your pet as missing. The Humane Society of Huron Valley has a resource to do this online.
  • If your pet is recovered, be prepared to prove ownership. In addition to photos, make sure that your pet's vet records are accessible along with any other verifiable documentation.
  • Microchip your pet. It's a fast, easy and inexpensive procedure that can positively identify your pet — even if their collar slips off or is removed. The key to a microchip's success is to be sure that you've registered the chip once it's implanted, and to update your information with the company that the chip is registered with as necessary. Click here to see how a microchipping procedure is performed.
  • Answering a classified ad about a pet that needs re-homing, online or otherwise? Ask lots of leading questions beforehand, and don't be afraid to ask for proof of ownership. This includes verifiable veterinary records and things of that nature.
  • Considering the services of a dog trainer or other pet professional that would have access to your pet in your absence (yes, even a pet sitter!). Do your homework. Researching most any pet professional online is simple, as is getting referrals from people that you know and trust. Don't be shy about requesting a few references that you can verify after you've had a meeting with them, and ask lots of questions. Keep in mind that transparency is key: a reputable pet professional has nothing to hide and will be happy to dialogue openly about what they do in plain English. Click here for more on things to consider when hiring the services of a dog trainer.

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

Goldfish can be ensured a long, healthy life with the right care and consideration

Flickr photo by genista

When I'm on a meet and greet with a new family, there are always a lot of specifics when it comes to taking care of dogs, cats, exotic birds — and even some amphibians.

Along the way, it's not been uncommon at the end of the visit for client to say "Oh, I forgot about the goldfish. Could you give them a little food each day? They're my son's — he won them at the carnival last year and they're still plugging along, believe it it not."

I usually make good notes on a clients file if this is the case, and ask more questions. I usually hear a quick chuckle at that notion, but I know all too well feeding fish a specific amount of food is crucial.

Overfeeding is never a good idea; too much food can contaminate the water, as well as create a higher output of waste. And being flippant as to whether they have enough food, well to me, that's just cruel.

It's my philosophy that caring for a goldfish is as important as properly caring for any other pet — they're not a novelty.

With that in mind, ensuring the optimal health and well-being of a goldfish is simple really, but it does require a little work and forethought, and doing so can be a great opportunity to interject more dialogue with children, with whom goldfish are so popular.

Goldfish can live a long time with the right care — as old as 13-14 years old — so thinking about their environment as a whole is a good start. And as I wrote in 2012, being mindful of a pet's overall well-being is key to a lot of things, though not every species gets the same consideration.

Size matters

Dr. Greg Lewbart, MS, VMD, Dipl. ACZM, and professor of Aquatic Animal Medicine at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has a few tips to offer, and says that starting with the right sized tank is key.

“A 29-gallon tank is best, and no smaller than 20 gallons,” he says.

And yes, that's for one fish. These creatures need space. And the tank should have a hood. Goldfish are feisty and can accidentally jump out.

The higher the volume of water in a tank, the more time it takes for the water to become compromised by fish waste, excess food, algae growth, even bacteria.

Introducing no more than four to five average sized goldfish to a tank that size is ideal.

“Goldfish are very sociable, but don’t require or need companionship,” notes Lewbart.

“They’re not aggressive fish and typically leave each other alone."

More tank basics

As for the actual water, it's the core of a fish environment, so the quality needs to be optimized. That means when setting up a tank for the first time, adding a dechlorinating agent to the water, and each time that water is added. Lewbart suggests siphoning out 1/3 of the tank water once a month and replacing it with dechlorinated water.

Aquarium salt is of benefit — fish actually prefer a little salt in their water, according to Lewbart. It can make for a smoother transition and help with stress.

Adding substrate, like a colored gravel, to the bottom of the tank is a good start. A power filter will help keep the tank clean, and a thermometer can help gauge the temperature of the water so that if adjustments are necessary (especially as the climate changes here in Michigan), you can do so. A back up heater might be a consideration, especially during a power loss in the cold months.

A fine mesh net meant for fish is the best option to gently scoop your fish or nudge them out of the way if necessary during maintenance.

Lewbart expands on additional suggestions to cultivate an optimal environment for goldfish, like why quarantining fish before introducing them to a healthy, established tank of fish and why it's important that your pet sitter follows your established rules for feeding.

Click here to read more on Vetstreet.

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

Friday, August 2, 2013

'Proofing' is crucial part of dog training, but can often be overlooked

Flickr photo by 23am
Dogs learn valuable skills throughout their lifetimes. Some of these learned skills are the result of experiential learning through interaction with other animals, while others are learned by living amongst humans.

In the latter case, that's a combination of the simple day-to-day exchanges that we have (picking up on cues that we silently give; this is part of socialization), as well as the more obvious training that we initiate.

Training is important for a lot of reasons: it designates clear limits and boundaries, expectations and offers an enhanced way for dog and human to establish communication in this very human world.

Think of it this way: we as the responsible humans understand all-too-well the unpredictability that daily life can bring, and it's up to us to teach and reinforce specific, simple commands that are incorporated into training to help them navigate any situation that might avail itself.

Likely, the most valuable command — "come" (when called), or what's more widely referred to as "the recall" these days — is also one of the most challenging to teach and have resonance.

The reason? Oh, so many temptations, and so many variables that can sway a furry friend's attention. A squirrel, another dog, a human that they want to go and greet — you name it.

Having great recall is essential for obvious reasons, especially so that they can go off-leash say, at a dog park or whatever the case may be.

Anyone with a dog can relate to the sudden recall amnesia that they have at one time or another and that they usually exhibit at a most inopportune time. Oh, yes, I can recall times in Gretchen's young life when I thought that she'd mastered returning to my side whenever I called her if she was off-leash, only to see her ignoring me as she focused her attention on what was going on at the neighbor's, or on whatever.

The important thing to remember is that it happens to everyone, even experienced trainers. It's part of the learning process for a dog.

It's also helpful to keep in mind that simply because a canine masters a skill in a controlled environment, they aren't as good at applying it in every situation that they may find themselves in.

As with all aspects of training, it happens in steps, bit by bit.

A vital part of training — proofing, essentially testing their ability to follow though with responding to the command or prompt in various situations — is as important as introducing the command itself.

In a recent issue of The Bark, Karen London, PhD answered a vexing query from a reader, who asked why her pooch, who had seemed to have recall down pat at the dog park — a command that was reinforced with a high value treat — would suddenly ignore her prompt to come back to her and sprint to another person offering plain old dog biscuits.

London explains:

What you learned courtesy of the treat man at the park is that your dog does not know how to come when called while she was getting treats from somebody else. Furthermore, she seems to have learned that even when called, she doesn’t have to come, which may explain why her recall got worse (let’s not say “fell apart”!) and why she did not come when called even in other situations.

London, who is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) and a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT), went on to say that there's a process that needs to follow teaching a command — proofing — and it takes roughly 100 steps. These steps can mean gradually changing the physical distance that is between the human and the dog, and the venue and the variables. In essence, the backyard is a different environment than the dog park, and there's the dog's best buddy standing on the other side of the dog beach, and so forth.

Further, she offers how to handle a situation when your pet fails to exercise what he has learned, without reinforcing the unfavorable behavior.

Click here to read this and more on recall and proofing from the article, Recall: Does Your Dog Really Know to Come When Called? Recall, Interrupted

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