Friday, January 27, 2017

'NoBowl' Feeding System slated to appeal to a cat's inherent nature as hunters, improve overall well-being

When chatting with a pet owner for the first time, they often describe their cats as finicky eaters, sometimes turning their nose up at food they are offered or just picking away. This leaves their humans alarmed at times, but most often frustrated with the amount of food that can get wasted.

I always recommend that if their furry friend hasn’t seen their vet recently, to do so to rule out any underlying health issues that can be a contributor, especially if it's a departure from their usual behaviorThe good news is that most often, the fussiness over food isn't a sign of a health issue per se; ennui grasps cats easily, especially when it comes to chow time. 

If all is clear on the health front, I encourage a few suggestions that might include tricks that typically pique a cat’s interest (primarily renal kitties): offering canned food that’s been warmed up, trying a different texture (pet food companies offer varieties of wet food in pâté, shreds, chunks and even in a smooth puree and with dry, companies are producing kibble in several pleasing shapes), or even feeding the pet in a new place. 

What might be seen as the ultimate in pickiness makes sense once deciphered: some serving dishes are displeasing to cats. With their long, sensitive whiskers, it can be uncomfortable to dine from a dish that is too deep and narrow. Wide, shallow dishes, preferably crafted from ceramic or glass—plastic can harbor bacteria—provide the perfect balance of comfort and functionality. 

A bigger problem 

Indoor life for pet cats is something that veterinary professionals routinely espouse, and for good reason: there's protection from being injured by other animals or hit by vehicles, not to mention the lessened risk of being exposed to disease. But living solely indoors is by its very nature, incompatible with a cat's inherent nature: they're hunters. But that doesn't mean your cat should be let loose to roam. 

A superior solution

Foraging or puzzle toys, a topic that I've discussed before, are the preferable choice to provide the mental stimulation that felines crave when it comes to getting their food, no matter if one decides to go the homemade route, or buying a commercially produced version. In keeping with that idea, one product that's fairly new-to-the-market grabbed my attention. From the looks of it's design, any frustration that your favorite feline may experience during mealtime would be easily quelled.

The NoBowl Feeding System pushes all of the right buttons; it indulges a cat's inherent need to hunt for their food—a part of the species' constitution that behaviorists have long understood—while boosting activity levels. Mitigating behavior and health issues related to bowl feeding is a benefit as well. Dr. Liz Bales, VMD is just one of the minds behind the successful product, which began as a project launch on Kickstarter in early 2016.

She and I chatted by phone earlier this week, and she emphasized the need to understand the feeding behavior of cats. 

"Cats are solitary hunters; they want to hunt and eat alone," Bales adds that the way that that we feed our feline friends—plopping a bowl of food in front of them, and in multiple-cat households, all together, is counter to their nature. And because they're crepuscular (most active at dawn and dusk), and unlike us humans—who are diurnal—that adds to the problems that cats face in life alongside us. 

"Cats hunt 9 to 20 times in a day [a 24-hour period], and 60-80% of their waking time is spent hunting. They're eating small, frequent meals during those twilight hours, and they'll kill multiple small prey," Bales noted. 

Those small meals amount to about a tablespoon or two each time (a cat's stomach can accommodate that much food), which is far less than cats are traditionally served at one serving in a bowl. And, as Bales points out on the NoBowl website, cats engage in a series of behaviors—referred to as the seeking circuit—that include hunt, catch, play, eat, groom, sleep. 

"Mealtime isn't just about eating; they need to interact with their food. The way that we feed cats today doesn't serve them well. We're overfeeding their bodies, and starving their minds."

(Dr. Temple Grandin touched on the concept of 'seeking' in her book, Animals Make Us Human, and something that neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp wrote extensively about in Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions.)

The design sets the NoBowl apart. Though it's designed to hold a ration of food like other feeders, that's where the similarities fade. The product's tactile design includes a shape and size that mimics that of a bird or mouse, and as importantly, it has a soft skin that allows cats to use their teeth and claws to pick it up and roll it around like they would prey. 

Bales points out that the frustration that cats feel from being bowl fed and not engaging in the seeking circuit isn't limited to diminished emotional well-being. It manifests physically as well. Besides the weight gain (a result of the limited activity), issues in the urinary tract, including Pandora syndrome and cystitis, are suspected to be connected. 

According to Bales, over 13,000 cats are now using the NoBowl Feeding System, and that's a lot of pets who will likely be avoiding complications in health and behavior. 

While attending a veterinary conference, she recalled that at least one of the speakers, after ticking off a list several diseases like cancer, stated, 'What is the number one cause of death in cats?' Their follow-up answer? Euthanasia.

That resonated with Bales, and it ultimately changed the trajectory of her life's work. And so the NoBowl was born.

The unfortunate truth is that each year, countless numbers of cats are regularly relinquished to shelters because of behavioral issues, inappropriate elimination and other problems that families are at a loss to address. In many cases, the cats don't even get that far. Families may decide to euthanize because they feel they've no choice.

"We are raising the standard of care for our cats, and by giving them what they need, we can in a lot of cases reduce the need for medical treatment—and costs."

And by all accounts, far more than that. 

Click here for more details, and watch a video of a cat using the NoBowl Feeding System below.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. She has been a featured guest on the Pawprint Animal Rescue Podcast, talking about her career working with companion animals and writing about her experiences. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Pet behavior professionals can enhance a companion animal's hospice care

Pet hospice is an area of veterinary medicine that is emerging, and for good reason. Our pets are living longer and healthier lives, and when terminal illness and the like rear their head in twilight or even in the prime of life, addressing a pet's comfort and quality-of-life is key. That goes for the family and caregivers in their life, too. That's the work that hospice vets and professionals who are a part of the periphery, but very involved with the day-to-day happenings—such as pet sitters and dog walkers, like myself—strive for. 

It's not uncommon for a family to reach out for some extra help during times like this; work and familial responsibilities don't stop because a pet's needs necessitate palliative and hospice care. Often, experienced caregivers like me fill that void to keep medication doses on track, see that potty breaks and comforts are seen to as well as offering a fresh, clear perspective on how things might be going. Respite for the family members, not to mention a 'hey, how are you feeling? How are you handling things? Any concerns?' is as vital as any care that the pet receives, I assure you. I've been there, and not so long ago.

We can also give insight into options for less stressful ways of medicating pets, including compounded medications and fear-free approaches.

You might be surprised that other professionals, like accredited positive reinforcement dog trainers, animal behaviorists and veterinary behaviorists, can be an integral part of the equation, too. 

'How can that be?', you might be wondering.

In my experience, yes, there's a lot of focus on the pet's health and physical well-being, and their mobility, and their safety—of course. But one core thing that I always ask a family is (and hopefully all of the humans important to the pet are present during that initial consultation) 'So what do they like to do? What's fun to them?? What brings them joy???' 

Usually, when that is unpacked, faces light up. Tensions are released. Voices speak up readily. That familiar joy emerges. 

Ah, yes... it's important to remember that simply because a pet is in a time of life that looks very different than when they were less fragile, they still crave joy and enrichment. They very much do. And the humans need it as much as the pets do. I will admit that often, I'm able to help unearth that part of sharing life with a pet that often gets buried easily. Toys, modified-versions of games that suit a pet's changing needs, thinking outside the box when it comes to what's fun. 

But other times, situations are outside my realm of training or expertise. Maybe there are some cognitive issues that even the hospice or regular vet isn't as in tune to. That's where an experienced and qualified trainer (or, in some cases, a veterinary behaviorist) can really untangle things and come up with solutions to a challenging situation, for example, helping to counter-condition and desensitize a pet to experiences that they troublesome. 

It's not that uncommon these days for companion animals to be part of a multiple-pet household. Let's think about how challenging that could be: each pet has their place in the hierarchy, then an illness or age-related decline shakes things up. I've had households where a cat being treated (reluctantly, at first) feeds some apprehensive vibes to the other cats in the tribe. Those other cats can at times pick up and transfer any tension to humans in the house, or sometimes, other pets, causing physical harm. Does the order of things change with dogs? Certainly, and situations can be complicated. In many cases, a protective tenderness emerges amongst the non-human members of the family. This isn't always the case, though, and the pet needing that extra care can get picked on by one or more of the group. A qualified professional can help sort things out and restore a sense of balance to the household. 

As much as its important with us humans to address emotional well-being when facing profound health changes, it's important not to underestimate the value of bolstering our companion animal's needs just the same. Having the insight of a professional can make a lasting difference for each member of the family. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. She has been a featured guest on the Pawprint Animal Rescue Podcast, talking about her career working with companion animals and writing about her experiences. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Treating osteoarthritis in dogs has come a long way, but communication about it between vets and families is slow

Yesterday, I had meet and greet with a family that included two 14-year old Labs. We had a great time getting to know each other. I'll admit that as we went over the care regimen, I was absolutely thrilled to learn that both dog's osteoarthritis (OA) pain is being well-managed by maintaining a healthy weight, mindful activity and prescription medication. And because their kidneys are doing well, the latter includes a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID).

People love to talk about their companion animals. No matter how the topic of arthritis comes up with a pet owner, as it does often--in my work, even casual conversation in my travels--I find that it's not uncommon that there isn't enough solid dialogue between families and clinicians about the disease and the discomfort and pain that results from it.

"I had no idea that there was medication available to help my dog. And something like acupuncture--wow... who knew? So, I just ask my vet about this, right?"

It's unclear why there's such a disconnect between the two parties, but nonetheless, as a professional who has the unique position of being on the periphery, I do what I can to change that.

The misinformation about treatment options, including what is and is not safe to give both dogs and cats clearly pulls ahead in most conversations--something else that I regularly spend time untangling, too.

The good news is that there are several approaches and modalities to manage OA adequately in pets, even if renal issues make NSAIDs prohibitive in those dogs who are at a stage in the disease where they could benefit from them. (Gabapentin, available by prescription from your vet and is a safe and effective option for these pets.)

Click here for a great article from The Bark that covers what OA is and the facts on treatment. It can be a helpful starting point in talking with your veterinarian about options for your pet.

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. She has been a featured guest on the Pawprint Animal Rescue Podcast, talking about her career working with companion animals and writing about her experiences. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Despite advances in veterinary care, there are limits and that can carry an increasing emotional burden

Health care has been a hot topic in the recent election, and it's no wonder: the cost has risen along with the advances that have been made in medical treatment. Those of us who share life with pets know that the same holds true in veterinary medicine. While the basic medical care and preventative services are fairly affordable, treatment for other things like chronic conditions, surgeries, alternative treatments and care by a veterinary specialist cost more and for some families, they can be out of reach. 

Pet health insurance can help defer the financial burden of medical care. As someone who did not take advantage of that option as it had gained popularity during the latter part of my pet's lives, I admit that I wish I had. I had put away extra money for their care and was able to manage paying for four hospitalizations—which included two surgeries—as well as some alternative treatment to complement the traditional treatment plans to address their needs. If I hadn't, I assure you that would have informed my decision-making processes differently. That was something that was never lost on me. I was aware that my financial situation could have changed at any moment. 

The autonomy that I had with addressing my pet's medical needs didn't afford me having a casual attitude about it. In truth, quite the contrary—I feel that it kept my feet on the ground in terms of gauging what was happening, and made me very conscious about where my pet's limits (and my own) were in terms of medical intervention throughout their life. This was most important during their hospice and end-of-life. 

I had to constantly check in with myself: Just because I could afford the care, was I making the decision because it was mindful one for them, or was I doing so purely from an emotional standpoint? Being actively engaged in keeping an honest eye on any changes I noticed, checking in with myself/my loved ones/my vets about how I was feeling (and how everyone was feeling) about handling things helped me arrive where I needed to be with treatment options.

Sometimes forging ahead with treatment is a no-brainer. Other times, it's murky as Hell and overwhelming. There are also plenty of nuances in between. 

I did understand that at any time, I might hit a point when I wasn't able to consent to proceed with treatment due to financial constraints, or because the pet in question simply wouldn't tolerate it—truly a helpless feeling. In fact, both factors were the case with Silver, my 19 year-old cat, who passed this past summer. 

But one thing that I tried to keep in mind as we navigated this time of life is that medical intervention, medication and alternative therapies have limits, as do pets. (And so do people.)

One might discover that it's simply the end of the road, and continuing with treatment or supportive care isn't even an option. It can be a prompt from the pet—yes, I'm ready. And one shouldn't be ashamed to discover that can be coupled with their own ...I'm ready tooThe circumstance of deciding, after a decline, to have a pet helped along with their vet's assistance before they go into serious crisis would be the best thing is plausible. Perhaps the pet's safety while family is away at work and school is of considerable concern. Though veterinarians strive to make palliative and hospice care plans as simple and streamlined to carry out, the fact is that in some cases, they're not always something that a pet owner can manage—for many reasons. Sudden serious illnesses and accidents occur, and treatment costs can be prohibitive. Families that I've assisted during pet hospice and otherwise have faced these scenarios, and a couple of them are familiar in my own experience.

So, while keeping in mind that yes, while there are more treatment options and resources than ever that can be tapped into when it comes to our pets, there is a plethora of reasons why utilizing them isn't feasible. When the pet's best interest is at the center of a decision, there is no shame in that, nor should there be judgement from any angle.

With over 20 years of experience in pet care and the past 8 of those focused on animal hospice, Lorrie Shaw holds a certification in pet loss and grief companioning, is a Certified Fear Free Professional–pet sitter, and CXO of Telos Companion Animal Services, LLC. In April 2023, she graduated with honors from Animal Hospice Group’s certification program, earning her Certified Animal Hospice Practitioner credential. She can be found at

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Curb a cat's early-morning demands for food while maintaining your sleep regimen and sanity

It’s a common scenario in many households with cats: 4:00 AM, you’re sound asleep and your favorite feline is doing his best to awaken anyone that will give in to demands for food. It's annoying to say the least, but for many, it's a very frustrating occurrence that disrupts a good night's rest. For those who are already sleep-deprived, it can raise the tension level considerably. 

Understanding felines and getting to the root of the behavior 

But it's important to remember that cats are not on the same sleep cycle as we are; as crepuscular animals, felines relate to their days differently. It's not uncommon for pets in their twilight or during hospice to experience sleep changes, and yes, that can affect when they feel hungry or have an interest in food. Pets in the latter category can also experience some cognitive dysfunction, which can contribute to wee-hour calls for food.

That said, giving in to a healthy cat's demands to be fed during our sleeping hours can reinforce the behavior and lead to more behaviors that are unwanted. With regard to pets who are in fragile health, that's far less of an issue obviously, but addressing their changing needs with regard to feeding in a way that keeps everyone happy is a priority. 

Space meals out

Feeding cats once per day can be a contributor to any early-morning cries for food, so switching to a twice-daily regimen can be a boon. In fact, for older or fragile cats, feeding some warm food before bedtime can help induce sleepiness. It can also mitigate any acid buildup in the stomach and subsequent vomiting upon rising that cats in this group can experience. 

Tech to the rescue

No matter if you've a young, healthy cat or one who is experiencing some changes they can't help, there's another solid idea that may help you get the sleep that you need—and you'll not reinforce unwanted behaviors. I'll admit that typically, I'm not big on gadgets and the newest tech when it comes to living alongside our furry friends. But one caught my attention with its simplicity and usefulness: the automatic cat feeder. 

These products have long been a boon for folks whose work schedules are unpredictable, travel for overnight stays and the like. By being able to stock an automatic feeder's compartments with kibble and set the timer to open the lid at a specific time, a cat can be provided a meal (or a ration of their daily intake), and no human need be present to dish it up. The same strategy can be applied in households trying to sleep until an acceptable hour; load the feeder and set the timer to go off whichever time in the wee hours works best. 

Auto feeders need not be limited to dry food. In fact, with a little preparation, cats on canned food—families with renal kitties, I'm looking at you!—can be accommodated, too. Loading the bowls of the feeder with wet food and keeping it fresh and appetizing is easy: simply line a cookie sheet or muffin tin cups with waxed paper, portion out the appropriate serving sizes, place in the freezer until solid and store in a container of choice. Pop out a portion to put in the feeder bowl before bed, set the timer, close the lid and by the early morning, kitty will have a thawed portion of canned food ready to eat without having to wake everyone in the house to get it. 

Though it may take a few nights for a cat to catch on to the new routine, once established, it can be a sanity saver. This strategy has proven successful in recent weeks with a couple of families that I work with, as it addresses the needs of everyone in the household. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. She has been a featured guest on the Pawprint Animal Rescue Podcast, talking about her career working with companion animals and writing about her experiences. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.