Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dogs have a preference for new toys, but it's possible to make what's old new again

Toys and play are a big part of life with pets, and I'm sure that my household is no different than yours — assorted pet toys, especially dog toys strewn about the house. When mine was a two-dog household, before my Labrador passed last year, it was clear that he and my now 15-year-old St. Bernard/shepherd mix, Gretchen, had different play styles.

Fast forward to now, and things haven't changed much. Gretchen has more toys than ever, and it's not for her being spoiled: with her arthritis ever-advancing, mobility that is changing and a mind that is impeccably sharp, it's important to me that she have the opportunity to use her mental skills and retain as much of her physical ability as possible. She still loves her food puzzles, chew toys and though the occasional tennis ball isn't high on her list, it's hard to ignore the sparkle in her eyes when she was first presented with a "fresh" one.

Yes, even in her twilight Gretchen continues to be an ardent neophile. She's not alone — we know that dogs habituate with their toys and any excitement that they have is short-lived. 

The truth is though I've purchased a lot of products, I always need to be mindful about what I bring home, considering the limitations that Gretchen may have. Some toys have worked great, others lie woefully in the corner. It's few that are in between those two spectrums these days.

I could be daunted by this, and admittedly I am at times, but rather than allowing it to be a perpetual bane to my wallet, I use her interest in all things new to my advantage.
Having had a lot of experience with older dogs, I've learned that improvising when necessary, homing in on what a pet finds interesting and remembering the old adage, "what's old is new again" is a friend.  

There are ways to reboot a dog's new toy experience with one they have already had some fun with, even their favorites.

Rotating toys can help, and it's an easy way to mitigate toy boredom (or habituation). Removing toys after a time and reintroducing other ones that have had previous exposure will keep things a bit more exciting.

Even reintroducing a toy in a different environment — perhaps outdoors — can help the pet see the item in a new light.

How a toy is used can make all of the difference. I was quoted in The Star Tribune for a piece on top picks for hot toys, and I stressed that while toys are great, the human element is a significant factor in getting maximum fun out of play. 

It's important to remember that dogs are social creatures, and the interaction between them and their favored humans can be integral when it comes to their connection with an object of play. In fact, when it comes to an old toy, the act of including the toy while engaging your dog can transform any habituation that they might have with it into a fun, new association.

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

Friday, January 23, 2015

Winter need not be a time of boredom for your dogs — use a life hack for indoor enrichment and fun

Enrichment and playtime is crucial for pets, but during these colder months, it can be a challenge to keep our canine friends occupied. Indoor games can be devised or purchased, but having as many ideas on hand is surely helpful to both dogs and humans. 

I'm always looking for fun ideas to employ with my charges and my now-15 year old pooch, Gretchen, (who cannot play games like fetch as well, due to arthritis) no matter the weather, and one came my way this week by way of a friend, Mary Bilyeu who lives in Toledo.

Food puzzles are a great way to engage a dog's mind as well as their body, and although there are plenty on the market, they can be pricey. Understandably, that can make buying them prohibitive for some families, but it doesn't mean that a dog needs to miss out on some serious fun. Why not make a food puzzle?

I'm a fan of putting resources where are they are most needed in the household, so whenever I can upcycle, recycle or repurpose an item (click here for a recent pet-related life hack), I'm there!

There are tons of things that you can use to create a foraging toy or food puzzle for your furry friend, whether it's an empty cardboard box or plastic water bottle with some holes cut out to allow kibble to drop out as the item is batted or tossed around, but this new idea incorporates more sensory fun.

The Lucas County Canine Care & Control suggests taking an ordinary household item — a clean muffin tin — adding a few yummy treats or kibble to each cup, and then cover each with tennis ball. The lucky pup needs to pick up the tennis balls to get to the edible rewards, and once they've finished, it's likely they'll direct their attention to 6 or more tennis balls strewn about the room. (Squeaky tennis balls would undoubtedly add more fun.)

Also, you might consider saving any fast food drink carriers the next time you head out for a quick bite from your favorite haunt: they are just as useful, and can be equally enjoyable to a dog to tear up after.

Watch the video below to see some adoptable dogs from LCCCC in action with this nifty item.

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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Oma's Pride frozen cat food recalled over potiental Salmonella concerns

Connecticut-based Oma's Pride has initiated a voluntary recall of one of it's products, Purr Complete Poultry Feline Meal as it may be contaminated with Salmonella.

There have been no reported illnesses related to the product.

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

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

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

Pesticide and Plant Pest Management Division of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development discovered that the food tested positive for Salmonella during routine testing.

The product, which is sold frozen, was distributed through retail stores, distributors, and directly to consumers nationwide. 

It is packaged in clear plastic packaging and was distributed in two sizes (listed below with the corresponding UPC codes, with each package bearing a code number 1524. 

•12 oz. (UPC: 8 79384 00017 9)

•2 lb. (UPC: 8 79384 00018 6) 

The product was manufactured on
September 12, 2014 with a "use by" date of September 12, 2015.  

Those who have purchased the food are encouraged to return it to the point of purchase where they can obtain a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-800-678-6627 , Monday — Friday, 9:00AM – 4:30PM.

Click here to read more of the Food and Drug Administration's press release.

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.

Learning how herding dogs work a herd of sheep may yield favorable implications in crowd control, say researchers

Dogs have long been used to work alongside humans, and one of the oldest ways is in herding sheep. 

In order for the effort to be successful, there are two simple concepts that are in place.

Sheep, by their nature as a prey species, employ what is called the "selfish herd theory": putting something — in this case, other members of the herd — between themselves and a threat, thusly making every effort to move toward the center of the group. 

Herding dogs capitalize on the "selfish herd theory" to bring the sheep together and manipulate them to be where they want.

With a joint effort on the part of researchers from Swansea University, Uppasala University, University of London and University of Cambridge were eager to learn how dogs bred for this purpose get the cooperation of the sheep, but their interest went a little further than that. The researchers are hoping that the knowledge gleaned from the study might be able to facilitate new ways that robots are designed and perhaps implemented in helping to control crowds and even clean up environmental catastrophes, like an oil spill. 

To try and learn how herding dogs do their job, researchers used collars fitted with GPS technology and attached them to a flock of 46 sheep and a trained Australian kelpie so that their respective movements could be tracked during herding trials for the study.

Using the GPS data, the math was able to unfold how herding dogs work their magic. 

With that, computer simulations were developed and from there, a shepherding model was born. 

Watch a video of the simulation below.

Click here for more on the study, Solving the shepherding problem: heuristics for herding autonomous, interacting agents

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

Friday, January 16, 2015

Animals process visual input at a rate that differs from humans, according to study

The sensory systems of animals play a crucial role in the way that each animal interacts, whether that is intraspecifically (as in locating a mate or fighting over food) or interspecifically, where animals of different species might compete for resources, like light, or if they are engaged in a predator-prey interaction.

The latter is a good example of how the limitations of sensory systems work within the construct of different species: having the ability to track fast-moving objects like prey, or avoid being an unwitting target becomes essential.

Sensory limitations and spacial acuity in animals have been studied before, but the temporal resolution at which the information that an animal perceives hasn't garnered as much scrutiny. The way that animals process information over fine time scales is basic to how they survive in their habitat.

Researchers from the School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland and Universities of Edinburg and St. Andrews set out to study how temporal information (how time is experienced) might be affected by body size and metabolic rate in vertebrates. In a paper titled Metabolic rate and body size are linked with perception of temporal information, scientists give us an idea of what goes on inside the brains of animals as they process what they see.

By using critical flicker fusion (CFF), the research team was able to measure how the brain processes the information.

In a previous piece, I highlighted how members of different species — dogs, cats and birds — perceive refresh rates of televisions and computer screens. Canines require about 70 images per second, birds need roughly 100 of them and we humans only require 16 - 29.

With that in mind, it could give a little context to how animals coordinate visual information — just one part of how sensory systems work in animals.

As the study illustrated, there are two factors that significantly impact how an animal reacts to what's going on around them — body size and metabolic rate.

The findings indicate a couple of things:

  • An animal's perception of time depends on how fast their nervous system can process information in order to react to its environment.
  • Detecting and processing visual information at a high rate would be key for animals that need to respond to visual stimuli swiftly to avoid falling prey to a predator, or to capture prey. Most often these animals have fast metabolisms and are at the lighter end of the weight scale. (Think winged creatures.) The researchers hypothesize that creatures at this end of the spectrum perceive time at the finest of resolutions. In essence, movements and events will appear to unfold more slowly to them.
There's one thing that stuck out in my mind and could be a plausible driving force for the differences amongst the species: Animals, all having different nervous systems, have evolved to adjust to the changes in their respective environments with something in common — conserving energy.

A hummingbird, with their small stature and own methods of locating food, for example, would need to have a higher perception rate than that of the much-larger elephant, as the latter finds their own food sources much differently and would waste a lot of energy by trying to dart around quickly.

Dogs take in visual information about 25% more slowly than human, seeing a light flash about 75 times per second, which translates into time moving at a slower pace for them. Cats see the light flash around 55 times per second.

The implications that this might have on canine training and how we communicate with dogs, if any, is certainly intriguing.

I don't know about you, but the next time I spy a dog stalking a squirrel in their backyard, I think I'll have more of an appreciation for how each animal is experiencing the situation.

Click here to read more on the study.

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, January 13, 2015

New tool aims to empower clinicians, pet owners in assessing pain in cats

Pain management has come a long way in terms of our companion animals, and it's a three-fold approach: anticipating pain (post-surgically, as an example), accessing any level of pain and of course alleviating it via prescription medication or nonpharmacologic techniques.

We know that the neural pathways and neurotransmitters of animals and humans are similar, so it's safe to say that we experience pain in much the same way. That said, we are able to manage pain for pets using some (not all) of the same medications, however not all drugs are created equal, as they metabolize and affect dogs and cats differently and can even be toxic. For that reason, they are used under the direction of a veterinary doctor.

We partner with vets in managing our pet's health, but accessing if an animal is in pain — not to mention the intensity of their discomfort — can be tough, given the obvious language barrier. It's really up to us humans to be vigilant and decipher what we see as best we can so that we can be of help.

Dogs have had a bit of an advantage over cats in this realm with the development of the Glasgow Composite Measure Pain Scale (CMPS) years ago, though it doesn't seem to hurt that the way that we relate to dogs lends itself to us being able to pick up on cues a little easier.

Cats can now be better understood when it comes to expressing pain, with the implementation of the Composite Measure Pain Scale - Feline, which was developed by Gillian Calvo, a veterinary nurse, along with a team of specialists in pain management.

The first of its kind in assessing pain in cats, it follows the success of the CMPS and uses 6 categories to evaluate pain: vocalization, activity/posture, attention to the wound, response to people, response to touch and demeanor.

Each of the categories is given a score, and from there, a total score out of 16 is extrapolated.

Calvo, along with her colleagues published a paper titled, Development of a behaviour-based measurement tool with defined intervention level for assessing acute pain in cats

“I am absolutely delighted to have been part of the development of this ground-breaking CMPS-F tool which is available for veterinary professionals to use as an adjunct to their clinical judgement when assessing acute pain in cats," said Calvo, a senior practitioner nurse with Fitzpatrick Referrals in the United Kingdom.

"I feel immensely privileged to have had the opportunity to be the voice for so many felines and can’t wait to see the difference the CMPS-F tool will make to the lives of so many cats, vets and vet nurses worldwide”.

The team hopes to implement the aspect of facial expression into the the tool for an enhanced level of accuracy, and that's fleshed out a bit more in the paper, Evaluation of facial expression in acute pain in cats.

To empower yourself in detecting oft-missed pain in your pet, click here.

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.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Head tilt in pet rabbits is a symptom of illness, and with medical treatment it can be resolved

Pet rabbits often live out healthy lives so long as they get diligent care, but they can present with an occasional illness or injury, just like any other pet.

Rabbit owners can find one symptom especially disconcerting: seeing their delicate companion present with a head tilted sideways (which can sometimes accompanied by disorientation, rolling or even not able to move about at all).

Though the causes of what is referred to as "head tilt" can be numerous, the good news is that most often can be treated successfully and your furry friend can go about their business. The key in getting there is getting to the bottom of why head tilt is occurring.

But first, it's important to understand that head tilt, or torticollis, is not a disease in itself, only a symptom of a problem in the vestibular (or balance system). Just as in humans, this is comprised of things like the inner ear, the Central Nervous System (CNS), and even the extremities — rabbits use their sense of touch to coordinate movement. Any damage or illness related to one or more of these areas in the body can result in a bunny whose sense of balance is off kilter.

A visit with a vet who has experience with rabbits is always necessary to have a complete examination to determine the cause correctly.

As Dr. Lyssa Alexander explains, there are a couple of common culprits — middle or inner-ear infections or parasites — both of which require prescription medication to resolve.

They are more prone to torticollis than other animals, but Alexander stresses that "with treatment, most rabbits recover — and treating early is helpful."

A abscess in the brain, tumor and head trauma are seen less often as causes, but are still possible.

"Even with a little tilting of the head, it's important to get in right away" as things can escalate quickly, and progress to a pet exhibiting rolling, which can be quite disturbing to see.

Depending on what your clinician discovers from the examination, they may take a sample of any discharge from the ear for analysis and perhaps a blood sample. Alexander notes though, that in many cases, the symptom of head tilt is treated empirically, with antibiotics (usually Baytril), an anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic drugs, usually with great success.

Pasteurella is a type of bacteria that is ubiquitous amongst rabbits, so it's important to not panic when it's suspected as the cause of the underlying issue (ear infection). Most of the time, it doesn't cause a problem for the animal — but occasionally, it happens — and a bunny's nature is a contributing factor.

"Bunnies, as prey animals, are prone to stress. Stress can impact the immune system, and allow an infection to take hold," adds Alexander, who along with Dr. Holly Zechar, co-owns All Creatures Animal Clinic in Ann Arbor.

For that reason, immune support is often pursued — along with a recommendation to eliminate possible stressors in the rabbit's environment.

It seems important to note that treating with antibiotics that are safe for rabbits is crucial, as not all of these drugs are appropriate. The reason: rabbits have a digestive system that is unusual, to say the least. You can click here to learn more about that, but an important thing to understand is the role of beneficial bacteria in helping bunnies digest food. The wrong antibiotic can disturb the favored gut flora and within a short time, kill the animal.

Alexander reassures that despite the possible length of treatment — several weeks, in most cases —a bunny can regain his health and stability his vestibular system and live out a healthy and full life.

Some residual head tilt is not uncommon, as the doctor clarifies, and she assures that bunnies can still live happy lives nonetheless.

In my research, I did unearth an interesting care plan that might be useful (as someone who has experienced a vestibular disorder, I can attest to it's validity, having had to do it myself). Vestibular physical therapy is detailed in one example in an article by rabbit expert Dana Krempels, Ph.D. and you can read about that and more on torticollis in rabbits, by clicking here.

For help with medicating your ailing bunny, click here.

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.