Feline Health

Keep your pets safe at Easter

easter-cat

Keep your pets safe and happy during the Easter holiday celebrations.

1.  Pass on poisonous plants. Some popular plants-including Easter lilies-are highly toxic to pets and can easily prove fatal if ingested.

2.  Resist giving animals as Easter presents.  Bunnies, chicks, ducks and other animals are adorable, but people often forget that these cute little animals grow up into adult animals who require a commitment to provide daily care for the rest of their lives.

3.  Get rid of dangerous decorations.  Easter basket decorations-including plastic grass-are dangerous to animals if ingested. The grass can become twisted within a pet’s intestines and can be fatal if not caught quickly enough. Candy wrappers, plastic eggs and small toy parts can also pose a danger to pets.  Use tissue paper instead of plastic grass and do a thorough clean-up after Easter celebrations.

4.  Give your pet some peace.  Loud noises, erratic movements from children and crowds of people can be very stressful for animals. If your pet isn’t up for the chaos of an Easter egg hunt or family dinner, put her in a quiet area of the house when guests are visiting.

5.  Keep your pet out of the Easter baskets and away from candy, including chocolate. Candy can be harmful to pets, and chocolate is toxic to cats and dogs.

Amber and I would like to wish you and your furry family members a very Happy Easter filled with joy, happiness and treats!

 

Where to find reliable pet health information on the internet

The Internet has opened up a world of cheap, fast, and easily accessible data.  With little more than a point and click, pet parents can access vast amounts of information about anything and everything related to pet health.  The sheer amount of information can be overwhelming, and it’s often hard to separate the hype from the truth.  For every site that touts a new cure, there’s a site that talks about the dangers of said cure. 

I’ve found the following sites provide reliable and well-researched information about pet health topics:

VeterinaryPartner.com  VeterinaryPartner.com provides up-to-date animal health information from the veterinarians and experts of the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), the world’s first and largest online veterinary database and community.

HealthyPet.com  The American Animal Hospital Association, an organization of more than 29,000 veterinary care providers committed to giving you excellence in small animal care, has created this site for pet owners.  AAHA knows that your pet is an important member of your family and is dedicated to help you make the most of the relationship between you and your pet.  Among other items, the site contains an extensive pet care library, including articles on behavior issues.

The Cornell Feline Health Center  of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine is a specialty center devoted to improving the health and well-being of cats.  The site has a wealth of information on feline health topics, including a series of educational videos.

While the above sites provide reliable and accurate information, your veterinarian is always your best source of information regarding your pet’s health and should be your first contact whenever you have any questions about your pet’s health.

How to choose healthy foods for your pet

The overwhelming array of choices when it comes to pet food makes it difficult to determine which foods are best for your pet.  In addition, many pet owners stopped trusting commercial pet foods after the massive pet food recall of 2007.  Pet owners began preparing home-made diets for their pets or jumped on the raw food bandwagon.  How do you know what food is best for your pet?

I am not a proponent of raw food diets.  While I acknowledge that there are numerous benefits to feeding raw, unprocessed foods, I believe that the risks for animals outweigh the benefits.  Unless you can be one hundred percent sure that the meat you’re feeding your pet is pathogen and parasite free, you should not be feeding raw meat.  If you want to feed a homemade diet, feed your pet a cooked diet and make sure it is properly balanced.  Petdiets.com provides recipes created by veterinary nutritionists for healthy pets as well as pets with special medical or dietary needs.

Most pet owners still prefer to feed a commercial diet, but they want to feed something that’s “natural” and free of preservatives.  But how do you know whether the food that’s advertised as “natural” really is?  Often, foods are labeled “natural”, but once you check the label, you find that the food really isn’t so natural after all.  A look at the ingredients might show that the conventional brand’s “natural” food is still of pretty poor quality.  Maybe the primary ingredient was changed from poultry by-products to chicken, but the food still contains corn gluten meal, soy meal, and wheat gluten meal, ingredients that are high on the list of culprits when it comes to allergies or digestive problems.  This is why it’s important to not fall for the marketing hype of a “natural” label but read the ingredients.

Another common misconception is that veterinary diets are high quality, healthy foods because they come from a vet’s office.  Unfortunately, when you look at the ingredient list on the veterinary brands, you often find the same things you find in the cheap grocery store brands. Most veterinarians receive very little training in nutrition.  Veterinary schools typically offer only a few weeks of training in nutrition, and the instruction is often sponsored or provided by the same companies that make these veterinary diets. 

Many pet owners are unsure of what makes a food natural, healthy or holistic.  The best way to determine this is to disregard tags such as “all-natural”, “holistic”, “veterinarian approved”, “chosen by top breeders”.  Ignore the cute photos of happy dogs and cute kittens and wholesome looking ingredients on the labels, and look at the ingredient listing instead.  Manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order, i.e., the ingredient with the highest amount is listed first, the one with the smallest amount last.
Quality Ingredients to Look For:

  • Animal proteins – identified by name (e.g., chicken, beef, lamb). 
  • Organic ingredients – meats, vegetables, grains and fruits – these are certified free of pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. Check for the USDA Organic seal on the package.
  • Whole unrefined grains like barley, brown rice, or ground oatmeal for dogs.  For cats, it is best to look for grain-free foods.  Most cats can’t digest grains, and grain-free foods also help alleviate or eliminate hairballs.
  • Human-Grade ingredients – human grade meats tend to be better quality.
  • Whole vegetables and fruits – the less processed the better (for example, whole potatoes are much better than potato starch). These are important sources of natural plant-based nutrients (phyto-nutrients) and antioxidants.

I recommend the following brands:

Wellness, Innova (especially the grain-free EVO line), Merrick, California Natural

These brands and more are available at Only Natural Pet Store and other online retailers.

Two reasons not to use dryer sheets

You make sure you feed your pets a healthy diet, you use pet-friendly, non-toxic cleaning products.  But are you still using dryer sheets? 

The chemicals contained in dryer sheets, fabric softeners and laundry detergents get absorbed by your skin as well as your pets’ skin.  If you wash your pets’ toys, they’ll also ingest these chemicals when they chew on the toys.  Chemicals contained in these products are known carcinogens and neurotoxins.  With the wide variety of natural cleaning products available (I like the Seventh Generation Clean and Clear laundry detergent), there is no reason to continue to use toxic products.

A second reason not to use dryer sheets is that they can present a fire hazard.  Commercial dryer sheets leave a residue on your dryer’s lint filter that is invisible to the naked eye, but can burn out the heating unit and cause the dryer to catch fire.  Try this test:  take the lint filter and run hot water through it.  If the water doesn’t go through, it’s because of the residue from your dryer sheets.  This test was a real eye opener for me.  Wash the filter with hot soapy water and discontinue  using dryer sheets that contain chemicals.

Look for chemical-free dryer sheets, or discontinue the use of dryer sheets altogether.  One of the simplest and least expensive ways to add softness to your clothes without using dryer sheets or fabric softeners is adding a 1/2 cup of white vinegar to your wash (not to the dryer, and don’t use together with bleach).

postreiki
Amber enjoys sleeping on a blanket washed and dried without chemicals.

Vegan pet food – not a good choice

There’s been a recent media buzz about vegan food for pets.  ABC News reported that it might be a bit easier for dogs than cats to live the vegan lifestyle.  A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times suggested a vegan diet for cats as a viable option to reduce the over-depletion of fish stocks.  This was followed a few days later by an article in The Huffington Post titled “Vegan Pet Food – Is It Okay To Raise a Cat Vegan?”, which generated hundreds of comments.

Dogs are omnivores and are able to suvive on plant materials alone, but keep in mind that they are meat eaters by nature and do best with at least some meat in their diet, so a vegan diet is not in the best interest of your canine companion.

Cats are carnivores, and as such, cannot sustain life unless they consume meat in some form.  They are extremely sensitive to even a single meal deficient in arginine, an amino-acid that is a building block for protein.  A cat’s natural diet in the wild consists of mice and birds, both of which are almost all protein.  This is why diets high in protein and low in carbohydrates are best for cats. 

People adopt the vegan lifestyle for a variety of reasons, some of them health related, others as a conscious choice to help the planet.  While I applaud people who choose this lifestyle, it’s too restrictive for me.  I’m mostly vegetarian, but I do eat fish and seafood.  I even occasionally allow myself to give in to a craving for some meat or poultry – cravings that probably have very little to do with any physical need and are more emotionally motivated dating back to growing up on the heavily meat-based diet of my native Germany.

However, no matter what your reasons for being vegetarian or vegan, please don’t subject your cat or dog to the same choice.  They’ll be healthier and happier if they’re allowed to be the meat eaters nature designed them to be.  As for cats depleting the planet’s fish stock, I’ll worry about Amber’s carbon footprint when she starts driving an SUV.

Amber’s preferred proteins are turkey and salmon.

‘Tis the season for – shedding!

Every once in a while I come across a product that is so good, I just have to share it with everyone.  I discovered the Furminator Deshedding Tool about a year ago, and it’s pretty amazing.  When I first started using it, I was afraid I’d end up with bald cats – it really works as depicted in the photo:
furminator2
It works equally well on dogs.  Be prepared for this to make a big mess, so if you can, use it outdoors (or plan to vacuum after you finish).  It’s going to reduce shedding considerably, especially this time of year.  An added benefit for cats is that it virtually eliminates hairballs.  I found some of the best prices on the Furminator here.  For videos on the Furminator in action on dogs and cats, click here.

Amber loves to be furminated!

Meditate with your pet

Meditation is usually viewed as a spiritual practice, but research shows that there are innumerable health benefits as well.  Most physical illness is caused by stress, and meditation provides stress relief by calming down the mind and body.  A regular meditation practice is one of the best things you can do for your mind and body.

I often hear people say “I can’t meditate.  I can’t shut down my thoughts.” 

You don’t have to.   Simply making the commitment to sit quietly for fifteen, ten, even five minutes a day can have beneficial effects.  Don’t judge yourself – if you find that you can’t quiet your mind, try and simply acknowledge your thoughts, and then gently let them go.

Your pets can help you meditate.  If you can’t clear your mind, try focusing on the purring cat in your lap or the sleeping dog by your side.  Focus on the love you share with your pet.  While this may not be what some purists consider meditation, I can guarantee you that it will change your state of mind to one of peace and relaxation.

contemplating-007Amber is meditating.

Spring cleaning

We’re getting a taste of spring here today – sunny and feels like it’s in the mid-70s if not warmer!  All the windows are open and Amber is enjoying the spring breeze wafting in through the screens.

I spent some time outside cleaning up the deck, and while I was at it, I cleaned the house.   I no longer use cleaning products that contain chemical ingredients.  I don’t care to have those ingredients around for my own health, but I especially don’t want them around for Amber.  Many ingredients in household cleaners contain hazardous ingredients that are toxic to pets.  Cats are especially susceptible because of the way they lick themselves when they’re grooming.  In the process, they ingest anything that has come in contact with their fur or paws.

Amber hates it when I clean the house.  She hides in the downstairs bathroom when I run the vacuum cleaner, aka “The Monster”.

Amber is on a diet

cat-on-scales

(No, this is not Amber).  Now that Amber is the only cat again, it will hopefully be a little easier to get her to lose some weight, since I can control her food intake better.  During the last weeks of Buckley’s life, when she was eating so poorly, I left food out at all times, even when I wasn’t home.  Obviously, Amber took advantage of that, since she now weighs over 14 pounds.  I’d like to get her back down to a healthier 12 pounds.  She’s currently eating Wellness canned food, and I’m cutting her back to 2/3 of a can a day.  She’s not too terribly thrilled with this turn of events.

A word about feline diet:  cats should eat canned food, preferably grain-free canned food.  A cat’s natural diet is mice, and mice are primarily protein.  Cat’s bodies are not designed to process carbohydrates and grain, and a lot of the degenerative diseases we’re seeing in cats didn’t start to appear until the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, when commercial dry cat foods high in carbohydrates came on the market.  Some veterinarians say cats need dry food to keep their teeth clean, but that’s simply not true.  Most cats don’t chew their dry food long enough to achieve any benefit from the food scraping the tartar off their teeth.

The more natural your cat’s food, the better.