Monday, June 30, 2014

Pet rabbits are fastidious groomers, but sometimes they need a little help to keep their coat healthy

The one thing that you'll notice about pet bunnies is that they are very clean animals -- and have luxurious, soft fur.

Experts note that while rabbits don't need baths (in fact it's not recommended), they do need regular attention when it comes to their coat, as well as a little extra doting on when shedding heavily, which can range from every three months to twice yearly.

While you might think that long-haired rabbits like the Angora need regular brushing (in the case of this breed, it should be done daily) to avoid problems, those with short fur need brushing frequently too.

The regular ritual need not be thought of as simply a chore -- it's a great way to bond with and give them gentle physical attention, and it enables you to give them a good once over to discover any possible health issues.

The type of brush is important; the skin of rabbits is delicate and can easily be compromised. There are bristle brushes designed for bunnies, and those crafted from boar or other soft components are preferable. A rubber grooming tool like the ZoomGroom is great for capturing all of the loose fur, and is gentle to a bunny's skin. A slicker brush that has the ball ends on the tines to dull them is good for Angoras, since their fur is more easily matted and this type of brush can get through the longer hair.

Most people who share life with rabbits know they can be either very accepting when it comes to being handled -- or not. The latter can be a challenge when it comes to grooming their fur, but I've found that using a rubber grooming glove helps offer more ease in handling skittish bunnies as I'm not fumbling with a brush in one hand and using my free hand to keep the animal still.

Most rabbits seem more comfortable sitting on your lap while being brushed as they tend to squirm around less, are less likely to try take off because they are off of the ground and they feel more secure on your lap. That said, a rabbit should never be a great distance from the ground as they are quite delicate and can be easily injured should they get away and jump from your safe grasp.

Finishing up with a damp (not wet) washcloth will help gather any loose fur that has been brushed out.

More considerations

During times of a heavy shed you'll want to brush more often and ensure that your bunny has plenty of fresh, raw veggies -- and as some clinicians recommend, wet greens -- and as always, access to fresh water. Doing so will support good motility and prevent hairballs which can be problematic, as fastidious groomers like rabbits commonly ingest some fur and even more as shedding increases.

Of course, some rabbits shed a lot all of the time, and with others, clumps of fur will come out when they are shedding heavily. So long as the fur grows back in a timely manner it's nothing it be concerned about, but if not, it's likely an indicator of an illness or other problem. Click here for a fantastic, in-depth piece on fur loss in bunnies by Dana Krempels, Ph.D.

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, 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, June 10, 2014

Feedback indicates that pets inhibit sleep, intimacy

The whole culture of sharing life with our pets has changed significantly it seems from past decades. More people do consider their pets to be one of the family, to be included in all that goes on, in and out of the home.

In the past, I've written about the topic of the caveats of sharing our beds with pets, and it was not without considerable backlash. The responses – whether they were in the form of posts or emails countering the idea that doing so might be unwise in some cases — were numerous and at times scathing. I often find myself saying, "don't shoot the messenger!" when it comes to topics like this, and the passion that people feel about them is understandable – and telling.

People want to be close to their pets not just emotionally, but physically.

This mindset benefits humans and the animals alike, but recent research indicates that in two areas of home life, pets might be contributing to some contention.

Sleep is fleeting

We all suffer from the occasional sleeplessness, but there is a substantial portion of the population that struggles with it chronically. Many of those seek help from their doctor in dealing with it, and as a result, sleep medicine clinics stay busy. Whether the root is pulmonary, neurological or otherwise, getting a background and medical testing is helpful in resolving the issue.

A 2013 study conducted at the Mayo Clinic Center for Sleep Medicine suggests that 10 percent of study participants indicated that they experience annoyance because their pets sometimes disturbed their sleep. Commonly cited reasons include snoring, wandering, the need to relieve themselves and medical issues. The research was compared to a study done in 2002 where only 1 percent of participants said that they felt that their pets inhibited their sleep. (Click here for more.)

“The study determined that while the majority of patients did not view their pets intolerably disturbing their sleep, a higher percentage of patients experienced irritation — this may be related to the larger number of households with multiple pets,” noted Lois Krahn, M.D., Mayo Clinic psychiatrist and author of the study.

Too close for comfort

A more complex issue because it doesn't involve an individual person (although sleep issues often affect more than one person in a family), intimacy can be a problem when it comes to pets being present. A recent article highlighted an area of home life that you won't find couples talking about as openly about as other issues where their pets are concerned. If you find it daunting to share the same space with pets while you try to have alone time with your partner, you're not alone.

Here are just a few comments from those surveyed for the article about their experiences:
"The first dog we let sleep in our bed was a dachshund and there is no negotiating with them. They make themselves right at home, under the covers, whether you want them to or not. Yes, it sometimes puts a damper on things. So we put the dogs outside of the bedroom and lock the door and they're pretty good."

"...the cat sits there and stares at us. When she starts sniffing around, my husband pushes her away. We made it work. Now, we have a second cat in the bed and he snores."

"It was never a question about them sleeping with us, that was a given. When we are getting our groove on we make sure to put the 'kids' in another room so it doesn't disrupt us and make anything feel weird."

A happy medium

While there certainly isn't anything wrong with allowing your pets to share your bedroom – or your bed for that matter — it's not out of the question to draw the line in some respects, either.

Though I don't allow my pets to sleep with me (I do have allergies & sensitivity to poison ivy), they have their own posh beds to curl up in. Because they're seniors, there are occasionally disruptions in sleep on my end because of their changing needs. Those are easily addressed by ensuring that last potty break outside and an opportunity to have a good chew session right before bed for Gretchen and some playtime and a light meal for Silver. I also use a fan to create a little white noise to mitigate any snoring. Beyond that, I know that's what I signed up for in the beginning and I just accept any disturbances that might occur.

As for intimacy, couples need to consider each other's comfort levels with regard to that and decide if they're okay with their companion animals being present, or make concessions to keep them occupied for the duration, though the latter might take a little planning if the pets are unhappy with bring kicked out of the bedroom.

For dogs, a walk, then indulging in a chew toy or frozen Kong in or out of their crate could fit the bill. As for cats, some playtime and catnip before shutting the door to burn off some energy.

Marty Klein, PhD, an author on the topic says, "Pet owners can arrange almost anything they want. If you can't train your pet to do what, you need to (teach them) to behave better. People use the uncontrollability of their pet as an excuse. When a couple says to me, 'We have no choice, we don't want to make the pet uncomfortable or we can't make the pet do what we want them to do,' what I hear is, 'We'd rather discomfort ourselves than discomfort the animal.'"

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, June 6, 2014

Does your cat get sick because they eat too fast? Try this simple trick to curb the problem

Diet and eating habits are an important part of the care detail that I need to be clear on while caring for any pet, but cats sometimes have very special needs that need monitoring for various reasons.

Most of the issues surround finicky eaters, cats that are reluctant to eat, others that eat everything in sight, a percentage of kitties who vomit their food (usually associated with consuming a dry food that their upsets their tummy, or eating too fast because they tend to be excited) and finally felines that yes, much like dogs, habitually wolf down their food.

One charge of mine has a particular penchant for inhaling his food, which usually results in everything being vomited up he has eaten not long after. Not fun, nor good for him, certainly.

I've talked before about dogs eating too fast, possible negative outcomes from doing it and ways to get them to slow down a bit to avoid problems. The best way I've seen that allows dogs the opportunity to slow down is an old standby — a food dispensing toy, like a Kong — and provides more stimulation for the mind as well. There are similar products and ideas for cats, and they work well, as I flesh out in a previously posted piece on feline foraging toys. (Click here for more.)

The truth is, some pets really don't like using things like this, but luckily, there was an idea that I stumbled upon when brainstorming a way to get the feline charge, Dhani, whom I mentioned earlier to take his time during meals.

Though Dhani's the only pet in the household, he gobbles up food like he needs to compete with housemates — a scenario that can spur on eating too fast. (In this instance, feeding pets in different rooms can help significantly.) My theory that serving up his food in smaller bowls might be the key proved to be correct, but taking it a step further proved to be a better solution: I used an inexpensive mini-muffin tin.

Portioning out Dhani's meal in smaller increments amongst the individual depressions in the muffin tin has helped him enjoy his mealtime, just more slowly – and no more vomiting up wolfed-down food.

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.