Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Obtain a urine sample from your cat using this stress-free and easy method

"We'll need a urine sample from your pet, so you'll need to collect one and have it ready..." is a common refrain that's heard when talking to a veterinarian's office.

Urine samples can yield a lot of helpful information from anything from a routine health check up, to sleuthing an unknown illness. They're easy to test and it's an inexpensive way to glean much-needed insight. 

I found that getting one from the dog is relatively easy; I'll quietly follow said pooch outside and reach down with a clean container in hand to snag a sample mid-stream without their knowledge. 

I'm imagining several quizzical-looking faces reading this and thinking, "How does one get a urine sample from a cat?"

Though I'm lucky that at this point, my cat, Silver is non-plussed by my sneaking into his litter box area to catch some urine mid-stream as he's tending to business, it's safe to say that most cats are not as cooperative. It is possible that other cats would be as easy going, but if they're not, there's another easy way to obtain a urine sample. You'll need a clean, empty litter box, a sterile needleless syringe – and some unpopped popcorn (or dried beans).

Simply swap your cat's usual litter box with the clean one and fill with the popcorn kernels instead of litter. Since the popcorn offers a cat the medium in which to do their business but lacks the ability to absorb the urine, it's an ideal way to get a sample for testing. The urine deposited into the litter box can be retrieved by pouring it into a clean catch cup or other container, or by drawing it up into a needleless syringe and then transferring it to a container that way. 

More considerations

In multiple-cat families or due to other circumstances, it may be necessary to confine said cat in a room with the popcorn-filled litter box. And, obviously if your vet needs a sterile sample, they'll need to obtain that manually. 

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, March 21, 2016

Cats are easily poisoned by Easter lilies, but there are safe alternatives to give as gifts

Cats are inquisitive, as anyone who shares life with them will tell you. And while their shenanigans in exploring the great indoors and outdoors don’t typically yield serious harm in the majority of cases, you’d be surprised at what items can cause their well-being to be put into jeopardy.
We all know felines can be seriously injured when they suffer a fall from an open window or can die from ingesting radiator coolant, but one of the most toxic items known to affect cats could already be in your home. 
Lilies are a common sight when entering most homes this time of year, as many hostesses and Moms out there can attest, and soon the botanical beauties will be shooting out of the soil and blooming in our backyards as well. 
Sadly, there are countless cats each year poisoned by Easter lilies and their relatives (Day lily, Asiatic lily,Tiger lily, etc.) by chewing on or eating them. They are pretty, but it's important to note that all parts of the plant are poisonous to cats. This means the petals, pollen, stamen, pistil – even the water in the vase – so cat-proofing your home and yard is essential.
A lot of people aren’t aware of the danger, and by the time their pet shows signs of illness, it can be too late. Prompt treatment is necessary to address the illness successfully. For that reason, a ‘wait-and-see’ approach doesn’t bode well in lily toxicosis. In fact, if an animal doesn’t get treatment within 12-18 hours of ingestion, it can die.
It’s vital that you take note of your cat’s symptoms, document them and convey them to the treating veterinarian immediately.
Symptoms that are consistent with being poisoned by ingesting lilies include: 
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Tremors 
  • Seizures
If you haven’t seen your cat chew on or eat the plant, the only way to be certain that they are suffering from lily toxicosis is to see parts of the plant in its vomit, so if you can, retrieve what you can of the vomitus and put in a small, sealed container and bring it with you to the veterinarian.
Why this is such a problem with felines in particular? Acute renal (kidney) failure takes place, and occurs as early as 36-72 hours after ingestion, and this is even true for young, healthy cats. 
What are the signs of a cat being sickened by lilies? Once renal failure ensues, a cat will experience the following symptoms:
  • increased thirst
  • increased urination initially, followed by lowered urine output, and eventually, no urine output at all
  • dehydration
At this time, the toxic constituent of lilies is not known. 
Treatment objectives for cats with lily toxicosis are limited, at best. Aggressive intravenous fluids to help prevent kidney failure, and in some cases, flushing the stomach can be helpful. This will remove any portions of the toxic agent that are left in the stomach.
Prevention is the best option.
It seems important to note that three types of lilies – including the Peruvian, Peace and Calla – are not deadly but because they contain insoluble oxalate crystals, some tissue irritation to the pharynx, esophagus, mouth and tongue can occur. You'll notice your pet pawing at their mouth, drooling, foaming and perhaps some vomiting. 
There are safe alternatives for Easter plant gifts and outdoor plantings. Here are a few ideas:
  • Gerbera daisy
  • African violet
  • catnip 
  • waffle plant
  • chia plant
  • hyacinth
  • purple passion plant
  • spider plant
  • orchids
  • tulips

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, March 16, 2016

Understanding the habits of skunks can help you and your dog avoid unwanted interactions with them

The minute I open the door, the tell-tale smell is unmistakable. Then I look at the face, and usually there's a note on the counter confirming the unfortunate news: one of my canine charges had gotten tangled up with a skunk in previous days. 

It happens in all sorts of scenarios, and some of the dogs in my life seem to be more prone than others to getting sprayed by a skunk.

Though skunks are active year-round, this time of year seems to be the most prevalent time for the unfortunate interactions. That because we're in the midst of mating season for skunks, which will run through March.  

Skunks, which belong to the Mustelidae family, are peaceable creatures by and large and will avoid confrontation. But when faced with a threatening situation, they will unleash their defense: an oily, smelly musk the can be sprayed to an accurate distance of 10 feet via their anal glands. 

For that, they get a bad rap but it seems important to note that they serve an important purpose as they're helpful in controlling mice and insects populations. 

The current mating season means babies aren't going to be far behind; they'll be along in May and June. Mother skunks are fiercely protective of their kits, hence an additional opportunity for skunking encounters. 

These creatures face few dangers (the Great Horned Owl is pretty much their only predator), in light of their general docility. They do have poor vision, so more often than not if they do meet an early demise it's because they've ended up in a path of a moving vehicle. Rabies is a danger with the species, too; they're the highest carriers of the fatal disease. Given those factors, there are plenty of them around and understanding their habits can help avoid the need to perform the time-consuming task of removing the stinky musk from the affected family members, human and pet alike. 

Skunks are crepuscular, so with that in mind, being more cautious as your pets are poking around during peak periods – around dawn and dusk – is crucial.

Though they inhabit more open areas like clearings and areas that border forests, skunks will seek cover where they can and as necessary. This usually means low in bushes and brushy areas, and unexpected niches like under porch steps – wherever they can hide should they feel threatened. I call them "hot zones". Dissuading dogs, as hard as that can be, from sniffing around those areas is a plus. 

I often extol the virtues of not being distracted while out and about with dogs, and avoiding a possible skunking situation seems like as good a reason as any to have your full attention on what's around you. If you happen upon a skunk, know that they will give warning if they have the chance: they stomp their feet and raise their tails in a physical display. Keeping a pocket of high-value treats handy can help to calmly lure your dog's attention in your direction so that you can make a calm exit from the scene should you be given the chance.

Speaking of warnings, consider making a little noise – tap on the window or door as you head out into the yard and then clap your hands before letting your ever-curious pets outside around first light or as your household is enjoying some outside time near or after dark. While venturing through your canine adventures at peak times, your voice can be an asset. I recommend talking to your dogs as you walk; I find that's sufficient in giving a skunk some warning. If one of the wild critters hears you before you get too close, it can buy them some time to find a suitable hiding spot until you're at a safe distance. 

Though generally I don't use retractable leashes, I find using them in situations where a dog would normally be unleashed, say in a fenced yard or trained on an electric fence, to be a boon. It gives the pooch autonomy to sniff around to get business done while offering enhanced control on my end to mindfully keep them away from potential hiding spots during peak periods. Using a long lead is an equally good option.

It wouldn't seem right to offer the tips that I've used over the years without noting the simple recipe that helps to cleanse and effectively and safely neutralize the organic compounds, called thiols, in skunk spray. Skip the tomato juice. Instead, have a fresh, active bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide on hand, as well as a couple of other common household products, including a clean plastic bucket and liquid soap. Click here for the recipe, created by chemist Paul Krebaum. 

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.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Purina recalls wet dog food products in US and Canada over inadequate vitamin and mineral levels

Nestle Purina has issued a voluntary recall of some formulas of their wet dog food according to a release dated March 9, 2016.
Though many pet food recalls stem from contamination by a pathogen, it's not the case with this recall. Nestle indicates that the products contain insufficient levels of vitamins and excess minerals.

The voluntary recall only involves a handful of brands, which includes Beneful Prepared Meals, Beneful Chopped Blends and 5 varieties of Pro Plan Savory Meals in 10 oz. tubs. They bear a best-by date range of June 2017 to August 2017 and production code range starting with 5363 to 6054 as the first four digits.
A full list of products – which is lengthy – along with the UPC codes, lot codes and expiration dates can be found by clicking here.
Though no illnesses have been reported, the company notes that if consumers have fed their pet food on the list and have concerns, that they consult their veterinarian.  
Consumers who have bought the product are asked to stop feeding it to their pets promptly and dispose of it as they would normal household waste.
Questions about the recall as well as how to obtain a refund can be addressed by calling Purina at 1-800-877-7919. Canadian consumers can go to purina.ca/voluntaryrecall for more information.
To learn about the role of consumers in pet food recalls, click here.

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, March 8, 2016

A gradual approach can help pets and humans adjust to daylight savings time

Before too long, we’ll be relishing longer days, and warmer temperatures  -- but first we’ll be adjusting our clocks. This coming weekend, we’ll be setting our timepieces forward for daylight savings time (DST). Though that task doesn’t seem challenging, we’ll be slogging through the first few days of having lost that hour of sleep. So tough, right?  For many households, it’s not just the biped members of the family that will need to adjust: our pets will right there along with us, and that can throw a wrench into things.

Despite the fact that pets are not on a circadian rhythm as we are (though cats are crepescular), they are very much in tune to our schedules and habits, no matter what those are.

Though mine is very much a household without canines for now, I had to laugh every year during those first few days after daylight savings time when Gretchen -- who was always the kind of dog that was all too happy to sleep in -- would raise her head and give the look of, ‘Just 10 more minutes, please…’

In any case, in my house, the change can make for a rough handful of mornings of early appointments if I don't prepare.

With that in mind, I try to make things easier on myself as a caregiver and on my senior cat, Silver, who needs medication before I head out for the morning. Here are my strategies for staying on track this time of year.

Take a gradual approach

Usually a week or so before we’re due to ‘spring forward’ forward each year, I prepare by tweaking my usual wake time by 15 minutes every other day so that I can adjust, and help my charges do the same. By the time we spring forward, the hour difference poses little problem. Most folks will attest that their pets know when it’s time for dinner, and that they pick up on any deviation. Incorporating the same 15-minute adjustment over a week’s time can help make that transition seamless, too.

Use the extra daylight to your advantage

The longer days, especially once the change occurs, can be an asset. I use that to encourage some additional physical activity (or mental stimulation, given a pet’s abilities) for my charges, which helps them to wind down more easily at bedtime and ease into dreamland. Settling down at night after the time change can be especially difficult, and young companion animals, as well as those in advanced age really need adequate sleep. Consider getting in a hearty walk before sunset, or introduce novel games to stimulate both the brain and body. Fun stuff, like a satisfying chew toy or stuffed Kong are great for any age group of dog. Cats love to have constructive things to do too and a light snack delivered via a foraging toy can help.

Room to rest

In plenty of households, it's common for pets to share their human's bed. While there certainly isn't anything wrong with that, it's not out of the question to draw the line in some respects, either, especially if the transition to daylight savings time is causing a disruption in sleep. Ensuring that your pets have an alternate place of their own to rest their bones if they are finding it difficult to settle in (or having a chew party) at bedtime can be helpful. Click here for more ideas on helping you and your four-legged friends get some shut eye.

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, March 4, 2016

Researchers demystify the secret on how a dog's paws tolerate cold and snow

It's been a mild winter across much of the Midwest in comparison to those in recent past. That despite the snowy weather we've experienced here in Michigan so late in the season. So clement in fact that it has resulted in far fewer days where I've needed to be extra-creative with indoor play for my charges because of the bitterly-cold temperatures. 
It's no doubt that the winter weather can wreak havoc on our outdoor fun, and that of our canine friends. Their paws are a special consideration because they have direct contact with the ground.
I'm seeing the use of dog booties more often. And, since I work professionally with animals, I'm asked about my opinion on them. It seems that though a lot of dog owner's gut instinct is telling them that using booties doesn't seem necessary, they feel like they might not be doing the right thing by forgoing them. They admit part of it is due to peer pressure, which is unfortunate. 
I have to say that for the most part, I find dog booties unnecessary. But before you scoff at my stance, allow me to explain. 
In my experience, the biggest problem with the booties is that they don't fit well. Unless you have nice clunky ankles like a Great Dane, no matter how the booties fasten they don't stay on. And if they don't stay on, the protection that they're intended to offer isn't there, right? 
Speaking of which, the theory on what booties are designed to do is two-fold: they are supposed to protect a dog's paws from salt and ice melter as well as the elements (namely the cold). 
The former is a valid concern, no doubt. I find that in some areas – especially in neighborhoods and on city sidewalks – there's an abundance of product scattered about that can be irritating to a dog's paws. Whether it's the texture or the chemical itself that causes discomfort, dog booties (Pawz brand is tops in my book) can be a boon in keeping pets marching on. Musher's Secret is a nice choice, too. 
In my years chaperoning pets on outdoor adventures and gauging their behavior during and after, there's no indication – barring the below-zero temps that we occasionally see here in Michigan – that their paws experience discomfort from the cold. Why that's the case is supported by findings by researchers out of Japan. 
To begin with, dogs' pads contain lots of fatty tissue. This area doesn't freeze as easily as other tissues, and the blood vessels in dogs' feet are arranged in a way that's unique: they let them serve as living heat exchangers — arteries in the paws are very close to networks of tiny veins, and these allow the transfer of heat from venous to arterial blood.
The research was conducted by Dr. Hiroysho Ninomiya and other scientists at Tokyo's Yamazaki Gakuen University. An electron microscope and four subjects were used to help do the study, which was published in the journal Veterinary Dermatology.
A "counter-current" heat exchange occurs like this: a paw is cooled by contact with frozen ground, and warmth from the arteries in the paw gets transferred to the tiny veins, called "venules." This helps keep the paw at a manageable temperature. It also warms the blood before it flows back to the body, which helps keep the dog's body temperature from falling too low.
This isn't an ability that nature has given only to canines. Penguins and foxes, have it, too. 
The information in the study suggests that dogs may have evolved in cold environments, but this doesn't mean that they should be left out in the elements.
Some pets can be more sensitive than others when it comes to the cold and their paws. If yours is one of them, it's always wise to use your best judgement to help them stay comfortable. 

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.