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.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Location, location, location: New study sheds light on why dogs spend so much time trying to find the perfect place to potty

I joke that much of my time is spent not walking with dogs, but waiting for them.

Although a big part if what I do is geared to my canine charges out for a good romp in the outdoors for exercise, the all-important potty break is vital. That said, I need to pay attention to answer the questions like 'Will they go? Did they? Was it "productive"??' Knowing the answers helps me keep tabs on how a pet is feeling.

For some dogs, finding just the right spot to relieve themselves seems to be a challenge, others get down to business with lightning speed (this past week the cold made it even more challenging for any of them at best). As the one on the other end of the leash, I've developed an insane amount of patience when a pooch is trying to find just the right spot.

A new study may explain at least part of the process, and while it may be a bit unbelievable to some, it may be a lightbulb moment for those who have spent enough time in the elements waiting for their four-legged buddy to finish up their business.

The way that a dog decides to relieve itself may have more to do than changes in the weather, like temperature variances, rain, snow. The Earth’s magnetic field may be at the root.

A team of researchers spent two years tracking the direction of the body axis in 70 dogs as they defecated (1,893 times) and urinated (no surprise, a total of 5,582 times), and many breeds were included in the study.

The discovery: dogs prefer to potty with their body aligned the north-south, indicating clearly for the first time that magnetic sensitivity exists in canines.

The phenomenon isn't static, and that aspect made the initial data seem ambiguous.

But, when researchers reassessed the data and took things into consideration, like the time of day or during a magnetic storm (both affect the Earth's magnetic field), the findings became more clear.

(Fast fact: the Earth's magnetic field experiences longer periods of stability during the nighttime hours.)

Wild creatures like wolves, red foxes, coyotes have superb homing abilities because of the magnetoreception, so it might be safe to say that dogs also express magnetic alignment in other ways than what was observed in the study, too.

No word on whether or not felines share their canine counterpart's habit of aligning in a north-south fashion, and it's likely that we never will. They demand their privacy.

Click here to read more on study in the science journal Frontiers in Zoology.

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.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

How to keep pets safe in extreme cold: Shelter is paramount

It can be easy to misjudge the effects of the elements on our companion animals when the mercury drops.

Outdoor adventures can be fun and safe in the cold weather, but still, the details are up for discussion, such as how age affects cold tolerance, what is acceptable when it comes to a canine living outdoors — or what to do if you see a pet not cared for properly as the temperatures plunge.

It's good to remember that certain age groups — puppies and senior dogs — do not tolerate the cold as well as healthy adult dogs. If your dog is sensitive to the cold due to age or even illness or breed type, take the dog outdoors only to do his or her business.

Though it can be difficult to understand because we don't recognize non-verbal cues that pets exhibit when they are uncomfortable, be assured that they do suffer as much as we do in the outdoors in the winter if not protected.

The plight of outdoor dogs is something that needs to be taken seriously. Some folks see pets as being outdoor-only, but there are other reasons why dogs end up living out in the elements.

In some cases, this kind of arrangement happens because of behavior problems.

Let's face it: canines don't come with an instruction book. Quite honestly, a lot of people who get a dog can feel as though that finding resources for good information and support beyond where to get a dog license can be lacking.

So, it's not surprising that naughty behavior and inappropriate elimination problems rank at the top of the list of reasons that dogs unfairly get the boot outdoors; I and other pet professionals encourage those who have felt it necessary to consider another option.

I recommend finding a qualified behaviorist or trainer who can show you how to overcome the things that are driving you crazy, whether it's house-soiling, uncontrolled chewing or just the ill-mannered exuberance of a dog who doesn't know any better.

For whatever reason that a pooch ends up outdoors permanently, I get emails, tweets and calls regularly from concerned citizens in the winter about dogs that may not be getting adequate care — and what should they do?

Every time someone asks, my heart sinks, because I know that there are many other pets who are in a similar situation.

My advice is always the same: "Call the Humane Society of Huron Valley immediately."

Each year, the organization's Cruelty and Rescue Department handles countless calls of animals left out on the elements without proper housing, nourishment or water.

HSHV Cruelty Investigator Matt Schaecher offers some guidelines for what the law allows, and important guidelines to keep pets safe.

"Even though Michigan state law doesn't prevent dogs from living outside, we remind people that the law does require proper shelter and bedding," says Schaecher.

"During the freezing winter months, we have zero tolerance for dogs found living outside without appropriate protection, and if found to be in danger, those animals will be removed for their own safety."

The law requires adequate bedding be placed inside a weather-proof doghouse (ideally elevated and positioned so that it faces south or east prevent the opening from facing prevailing winds) when temperatures drop below freezing. HSHV Animal Cruelty Investigators suggest using straw instead of wood shavings, towels or blankets because straw holds a dog's body heat longer and doesn't collect moisture and freeze.

Animals that are outside during freezing weather need a constant source of fresh water, so checking the bowl often to ensure it hasn't frozen is important.

Feeding outdoor dogs well is crucial. Even if your dog simply spends a lot of time engaged in outdoor activities, increase his supply of food, particularly protein, to keep him and his fur healthy.

And there's help for pet owners that need it.

"If people need dog houses, they can be obtained here at the shelter," notes Deb Kern, marketing director for HSHV.

"To inquire about a dog house," implores Kern, "call 734-661-3512. Leave a message including your contact information and someone will get back to you."

Kern brought up another program that is helping pet owners: the Bountiful Bowls pet food assistance program. Washtenaw County, Canton and Plymouth residents who are having difficulty meeting the nutritional needs of their pet due to a challenging financial situation have been able to bridge the gap with Bountiful Bowls so that their pets have enough to eat.

Despite all of the added assistance, HSHV strongly recommends keeping pets inside in extreme temperatures.

"Educating the public on proper animal care is our main goal, but we take all complaints of animals subjected to unsafe conditions seriously," adds Schaecher.

"Cases found to be valid will be submitted to the Washtenaw County prosecutor’s office on charges of animal cruelty. If you see an animal in danger and you live in Washtenaw County, call 734-661-3512."

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, January 1, 2014

Resolutions in the new year can easily extend to helping our pets live healthier, happier lives

The prospect of a new year offers up a lot of possibilities, and as we are now into 2014, there are things that surely we would love to do better. Resolutions need not only apply to ourselves. We can apply that mindful intention to our pets as well.

There are things that could help your pet to be happier and healthier in the coming year and beyond.

A weighty issue

We love to feed our pets well. It shows with the growth of the pet food industry, and it's great to see that more care is being taken to offer pets a wider range of high quality diets, no matter the species.

But because of our affinity for feeding our pets, it's easy to feed them too much -- and they are all too happy to eat as much as we'll give them. Barring any chronic medical conditions (like Cushing's syndrome), the reason for weight gain in pets falls solely on our shoulders.

Animals that are overweight are at risk for many of the same diseases that humans are, like heart and respiratory disease, insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes. Too many pets are suffering from debilitating joint problems like osteoarthritis and cranial cruciate ligament rupture (CCR) because they are too heavy.

Even a 10 percent weight loss can improve symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.

Not sure where to begin? A great first step is to keep a journal of what your pets eat for one week, and that means everything — kibble, canned food, treats and scraps. You might be surprised at the amount of food and treats that you give your four-legged friend. Then take that journal along when you have an appointment with your vet (or better yet, a veterinary nutritionist) to talk about the correct amount of food to be offering, and exercise.

Get moving

Walking is a fun and easy activity that most anyone -- dogs and humans alike -- can do.

Sure, this kind of exercise helps with weight loss, but it can be beneficial in other ways. It's a great way to stimulate the brain and the senses, not to mention a way to gain socialization. Socialization is more than just being around other dogs and people: it also means interacting with an environment that one is immersed in. An outdoor environment is teeming with opportunities to experience different smells, noises and the weather, and it's vital that dogs have exposure to all of that.

Cats can benefit from exercise and mental stimulation too, there are plenty of ways to engage your feline friends indoors. Click here for ideas.

Be ahead of the game

Pet insurance is gaining popularity, and is becoming an affordable option to offset the cost of ever-increasing veterinary care. With advances in technology and more options to successfully treat problems that weren't possible in the past, there is an inherent increase in cost. Many families find themselves unable to afford care that can greatly improve the quality -- or save the life -- of their pet.

Pet insurance can help avoid scenarios like that.

Some companies are even offering pet insurance as a perk in their benefits packages to lure desirable talent to their teams.

Take a bite out of disease

Along with recommended professional cleanings and exams for dogs and cats, regular brushing is being touted as a must, and for good reason. Oral health is crucial for the overall wellness of any animal, and poor dentition is a known contributor to health problems.

Unsure how to brush your pet's teeth? Click here for a tutorial.

Dogs and cats aren't the only ones who need help in promoting good dentition. Bunnies suffer from special issues of their own. Click here for more.

Don't be bugged

In study by Banfield, pets living in some areas of the country are more likely to be administered heartworm and flea preventative -- and in turn, they have longer, healthier lives. Northern states like Michigan ranked well in the study, and using preventatives seemed to be only part of the equation: pets that are typically kept indoors have less exposure to disease-carrying mosquitoes and fleas.

Heartworm and flea preventatives are an inexpensive and easy way to keep your pet healthy, so make a point to talk to your veterinarian about the right options for your furry friend.

These are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling when it comes to being more mindful about your pet's overall wellness. What rules of thumb do you live by?

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.