July 30, 2010

Cats Are Hunters

Filed under: Cat behavior — Dr. Amber Reed @ 8:27 am

All felines, even house cats, have evolved from a long line of predatory animals.  Indeed, many of your cat’s most famous attributes like soft, silent paws, sharp teeth, and superior night vision have evolved to make them better hunters.  As such, the natural instinct to hunt is incredibly difficult for a cat to shake.  Even more interesting, is the fact that the feline hunting abilities are what encouraged the Egyptians to domesticate them in the first place.  Cats were even used on sailing vessels from Europe and bound for the Americas for their ability to hunt and kill pesky mice.

Nevertheless, in the past hundred years or so, cats have gone from being prized as hunters to being loveable house pets.  As you can see, our expectations of cats have changed considerably.  Yet, while we hope to have cute, cuddly, and cherished companions our cats are still hard wired to hunt.  An obvious example of this deeply ingrained characteristic can be seen in the way your cat plays.  In many cases, hunting behavior and play behavior in cats cannot be distinguished.  Stalking, pouncing, scratching, and biting are all natural hunting behaviors.

Have you ever wondered why your cat is insistent upon delivering unwanted gifts to your door?  Just about the last thing any cat owner wants to see is a dead mouse or bird at their doorstep, but even this behavior is a clear indication that your cat is a predator.  Cats will capture and deliver dead animals for a number of reasons.  Some researchers believe it is because they are aware of our inferior hunting skills and that they’re treating us like kittens by delivering our food.  Most cat experts believe that capturing and delivering animals is simply an expression of your cat’s innate drive to hunt and kill prey and that scolding your cat for these efforts is futile.

July 29, 2010

Caring for your Cat’s Teeth

Filed under: cat dental problems — Dr. Amber Reed @ 9:38 am

Just like humans, cats need their teeth in order to maintain proper nutrition.  We spend hours of our life diligently brushing and flossing our teeth so that they always stay healthy, but caring for your cat’s teeth is equally important.  Tartar is a form of hardened plaque that builds up on teeth and causes tooth decay.  Moreover, for cats, the bacterial growth associated with tartar can cause significant health risks as these bacteria can enter the blood stream and lead to organ damage.

Most commonly, as tartar builds up on teeth it damages the gums allowing bacteria to enter the bone and eat away at the periodontal ligament.  Eventually, this can lead to painful abscesses and ultimately the loss of teeth.  For various reasons, caring for your cat’s teeth is an important part of your responsibility as a pet owner.  So what can you do to prevent tooth decay and ensure the health and happiness of your beloved cat?

First of all, there are plenty of products on the market designed to promote healthy teeth and gums in cats.  There are a range of dry cat foods, for example, that are designed specifically to reduce plaque build up and prevent the development of tartar.  The kibble in this food is larger and therefore needs to be chewed before swallowing.  These cat foods also often contain fiber that effectively removes plaque from your cat’s teeth.

Brushing Cats TeethBelieve it or not, you can even brush your cat’s teeth.  Non-foaming pet toothpastes are available at your local pet store as well as a range of chew toys that are designed to clean your cat’s teeth.  Similarly, you can purchase a pet mouthwash or spray that destroys bacteria in your cat’s mouth.  Finally, ensure that your cat has regular dental checkups with your veterinarian who will also conduct a thorough cleaning.

July 28, 2010

Socializing Dogs

Filed under: Behavior — Dr. Amber Reed @ 8:31 am

When a new friend comes to visit you notice that your dog flattens his ears behind his head, tucks his tail between his legs, and maybe even urinates inappropriately.  These are all signs that your dog has immature social skills and may even suffer from anxiety due to shyness.  Dogs that crouch around new people, refuse to make eye contact, or run away and hide are showing signs that they’re nervous around new people, but what can you do?  Basically, you need to help your dog to develop social skills that never fully developed because of insufficient social contact with people as a puppy, frequent changes in ownership, and even abuse.

When your dog reacts fearfully to new people, it is important to start some behavioral modification training.  Because shy dogs can sometimes act out in inappropriate ways, socializing generally helps to create a happier life for your dog.  First of all, don’t coddle your dog.  When you comfort your dog’s fear, this actually reinforces the behavior.  Instead, demonstrate confidence so that he can learn there is nothing to fear.  Alternatively, don’t force your dog to interact with new people because this can actually lead to more anxiety, rather than less.

Instead, you want to gradually expose your dog to social situations and incrementally introduce more social opportunities.  You want your dog to learn that he can cope with these stressful situations without fear and when he has opportunities to remain calm in these stressful situations he will learn not to be afraid.  For example, start by inviting a new friend over and allowing your dog to become familiar with this friend.  Invite the same friend to your home over several weeks until the dog is no longer afraid.  Then introduce your dog to another new friend.  Eventually, try inviting a new friend and an old friend at the same time.

Over time, your dog should socialize effectively but in some cases, severe anxiety may require the assistance of your veterinarian.

July 27, 2010

Understand Your Dog’s Barking

Filed under: Behavior — Dr. Amber Reed @ 8:24 am

Dogs bark for many reasons and sometimes it seems like they bark too much.  Understanding why your dog barks can help you to gain control over excessive barking so that your neighbors stop complaining.  Yet, excessive barking is also a sign that your dog is under some stress so controlling the problem also helps your dog to deal with stress and ultimately be more content.  Remember that barking is a natural dog behavior but excessive barking could be a sign of a more serious problem.

First of all, when your dog is under extreme stress, he will probably bark.  Many dogs bark throughout the day when they suffer from separation anxiety.  Maybe you spend long hours at work or you’re a social butterfly; while that’s great for you, your dog also needs attention and time with you.  To reduce separation anxiety and the associated barking try spending more quality time with your dog.  If you already spend lots of time together, separation anxiety is probably a sign of a more serious mental health issue.  You need to teach your dog to be comfortable when he is alone for the day.  Start by leaving him alone for short periods and then return when your dog is silent.  Also, don’t give him too much attention when you leave home but greet him lovingly when you return.

Dogs will also bark when they suspect there is danger.  If they hear somebody approaching the door they may emit a series of rapid and aggressive barks, possibly mixed with growls.  This kind of barking is usually acceptable but it can easily be confused with territorial barking.  Strange smells of other dogs, frequent visitors like the mailman, and even the sight of the strangers may elicit this kind of barking.  When your dog barks in these situations, a firm “no” and consistent encouragement not to bark may solve the problem.

Most importantly, dogs will bark excessively when they don’t get enough exercise.  They are finding an outlet for their frustrations, so the first thing you should do as a dog owner is increase the number or length of walks in a day.

July 26, 2010

Top Tricks to Teach Your Cat

Filed under: Pet Tricks — Dr. Amber Reed @ 8:23 am

When we think of pet tricks, few of us consider tricks for cats.  Indeed, it is usually our dogs that we take the time to teach tricks but the fact is, cats are highly intelligent creatures and they are also more than capable of learning tricks.  Nonetheless, because of their independent nature, cats can be a bit more challenging to teach as they need to see the inherent reward in these activities.  But, with consistency and patience, you can teach your cat some fun tricks and in the meantime you’ll get more time to bond with your cat and improve your relationship.  Here are the top tricks to teach your cat.

  1. Sit.  Teaching a cat to sit is quite similar to teaching a dog.  First, put your cat on a table or counter and pet her until she is comfortable.  Next, show your cat some kind of reward, like a treat, while you give the command to sit.  As you repeat the command, hold the treat above your cat’s head and move it slightly behind their head.  Most cats will naturally sit in this situation because as they follow the treat with their eyes, they will lean back and sit for better balance.  Finally, when your cat is in the sitting position, say “good sit” and give her the treat.  Repeat this strategy several times over the next few days to teach your cat to sit.
  2. Come.  Simply call your cat to “come” when she is a good distance away.  When your cat begins to approach you show her a treat and call her to come again.  When she reaches you say “good come” and give her the treat.
  3. Wave.  Grab a treat and hold it in the palm of your hand in front of your cat’s nose but just out of her paw’s reach.  Say “wave” and move the treat back and forth as if you are waving with the treat.  While reaching for the treat, your cat’s paw will naturally wave, at this point say “good wave” and give your cat the treat.  Repeat this command until your cat waves for no treat.

July 23, 2010

Grooming Your Cat

Filed under: grooming and or medicating to control shedding — Dr. Amber Reed @ 10:25 am

feline healthy coat Regardless of the type of cat you have or her coat, regular brushing is an important aspect of cat care. Grooming can prevent or minimize hair balls which can be a nuisance, especially with longer haired cats; but grooming can also provide distinct health benefits. Regularly brushing your cat gives you the opportunity to check for fleas and other parasites while ensuring that your cat’s hair is clean and free from contaminants. Furthermore, grooming gives you an unparalleled opportunity to spend quality time with your cat and improve bonding.

Cat groomingRegular brushing prevents the development of knots or tangles in your cat’s hair that are usually very difficult to remove.  In fact, when your cat’s fur gets severely tangled or knotted sometimes the only solution is a visit to an expensive professional groomer.  Sometimes, cats will need to be shaved because of excessive matting and in this case you’ll need to visit a veterinarian.  Clearly, regular grooming can also save you money.

Another benefit of regular brushing and grooming is that you prevent the build up of hair around your home.  Dead or loose hair is removed when you brush your cat so less of it ends up around your house.  Choosing the right grooming tools is important.  A flea comb will trap fleas so they can be removed and will also prevent matting.  You can also use a metal comb with wider gaps between the teeth to further reduce the risk of matting.  Brushes should be used to remove dead skin from you cat’s coat as well as loose hair.  Choose a soft bristle brush for cats with a short coat and harder brushes for dense coats.

Remember that before you start any grooming routine that cats often need to adjust to this new activity.  A grooming glove is a glove with tiny bristles that allow you to remove hair as you stroke your cat and this may be easier than a traditional comb or brush.

July 22, 2010

Top Tricks to Teach Your Dog

Filed under: Pet Tricks — Dr. Amber Reed @ 10:20 am

Owning a dog is an important responsibility and one aspect of that responsibility is training.  Obviously, house training is vital and you also want to teach your dog the difference between inappropriate and appropriate behavior.  For example, dogs might make a mess of the garbage or chew your shoes so training them that this is wrong becomes very important.  On the other hand, training is a great way to bond with your dog and, more specifically, learning tricks can be a fun way to get closer to your dog.  Here are the top tricks and some tips for teaching your dog.
dog shake a paw

  1. Shake a Paw
    Shake a paw is of course, one of the oldest tricks that dog owners teach their dogs and its quite simple for dogs to learn.  Simply have your dog sit and say the command “shake a paw.”  At this point, you should take their paw into your hand and hold it while you say “good shake.”  Let go of their paw and repeat.  If you repeat this command several times every day your dog will eventually learn to shake when he hears the command.
  2. Wave
    After you’ve taught your dog to shake, you can teach him this nifty little trick.  While facing your dog, hold your hand out like you’re planning on shaking his paw.  When your dog lifts his paw, don’t take it, rather say “wave” and give him some kind of reward.  Again, repeat this trick several times over multiple days until your dog waves on command.
  3. Turning Around
    Teaching your dog to turn around is very simple.  Stand with your dog facing you and show him a treat.  While standing, say the command “turn around” and move the treat in a circular motion over your dog.  Most dogs will follow the treat and physically turn around.  When your dog is facing you again give him a verbal reward and the treat.  Eventually, you’ll want to stop leading your dog with the treat so he turns on command.

July 21, 2010

Love Your Pet? Here are the Best Ways to Pamper Your Pet

Filed under: Pamper Your Pets — Dr. Amber Reed @ 10:05 am

It’s not that dogs and cats don’t live pretty lush lives, they usually have loving owners who feed and shelter them, but from time to time it’s nice to treat your pet to a bit of pampering.  Dogs and cats feel stress just the same as humans and over time this stress can really start to weigh down on them.  As such, a bit of special treatment goes a long way to helping your pet live a long and happy life that is free of illness and unnecessary worries.  Here are the top 3 ways for you to pamper your pet.

  1. Everybody loves a good massage and so does your pet.  Who doesn’t remember a time when a dog or cat walked up, nuzzled their head under your hand, and encouraged you to give them a pet?  Petting is a sign of affection but why not take it one step further with a cat or dog massage.  There are tons of books on the market that can teach you how to give a great massage.  Massaging your pet can alleviate stress, restore emotional balance, and can also reduce the pain associated with illnesses like arthritis.
  2. Go for a walk.  Exercise is one of the leading ways that any animal, human or otherwise, can reduce stress in their life.  Not only is a bit of exercise necessary for maintaining the basic levels of health, but it gives your dog or cat a chance to explore a new environment.  On hot days, a walk in the morning or evening also gives your pet a chance to cool down.  Most importantly, regular walks are the ideal bonding experience for pets and their owners.

Finally, try upgrading your pet’s bed.  We all love having a cozy bed to retire to at night and so do your pets.  Buy a bed that is a suitable size and provides relief from hard floors.

July 20, 2010

Grooming your Dog

Filed under: grooming and or medicating to control shedding — Dr. Amber Reed @ 9:49 am

Grooming is an important aspect of pet care that gives you an opportunity to spend some quality time with your dog.  Most dogs enjoy being groomed as it is a practice that has evolved as a central part of their natural social order.  Proper grooming can help to maintain your pet’s health because you can keep an eye out for skin problems like parasites, lumps, fleas, or other problems.  Grooming for dogs with short coats, medium coats, and long coats will help you determine which practices are most appropriate

Dogs with short coats like the Jack Russell terrier or German shorthaired pointer should be brushed with a soft bristle to remove dead hair and skin while spreading natural oils throughout the coat.  Dogs with short coats often have more sensitive undersides and a soft bristle brush is gentle and comfortable.  Choose a brush that is an appropriate size for your dog.

The Labrador retriever and German shepherd are good examples of dogs with medium coats.  Dogs with longer hair need to be brushed but grooming is usually a bit more challenging.  First, groom with a slicker or wire brush to remove dead hair from the undercoat.  A slicker is a brush with a rubber base and metal pins that may or may not have a plastic tip.  After combing your dog to remove hair, give him a good brushing to distribute oil throughout his coat.

Finally, long coated dogs like the Afghan or shih-tzu will require the most grooming to maintain their coats.  You’ll need to brush long haired animals every day to prevent knotting and matting.  If you’re brushing a coat that has been neglected try a mat rake or shedding comb to loosen knotted hair and remove it more comfortably.  When you have removed the tangles from your dog’s hair, use a wire or slicker brush to remove dead hair and the undercoat.  It is important to brush daily because once your dog’s hair becomes matted to the skin you’ll need to visit a professional groomer or veterinarian and your dog will probably need to be shaved.

July 19, 2010

Understanding Dog Diarrhea

Filed under: dog diarrhea — Tags: , , , , — Dr. Amber Reed @ 11:29 am

dogs with diarrhea
Like humans, dogs and puppies experience illnesses too. It’s wonderful when a dog’s health is good, but sometimes they tend to slip out of sight and ingest harmful substances.  The result is often dog diarrhea – a common problem for many pet owners.

Diarrhea in dogs can be mild or severe.  You will know if your dog is suffering from diarrhea if they are frequently having bowel movements and if the excretions are watery.  This could mean they are having stomach problems that must be tended to. Severe cases of diarrhea in dogs can require a visit to the veterinarian and a medical solution. Usually dog diarrhea goes away within a day, but in severe cases it can last more than 3 days.  Less serious cases can be treated at home with prescribed medications or natural remedies.

If you notice you dog is having diarrhea,  determine the cause.  One of the main reasons that dogs get sick is that pet owners can’t help but feed their dogs human food.  Pet owners are discouraged from doing this because they can affect a dog’s health.

Stress can also cause a dog to have diarrhea- or your dog might have gotten into the rotting food in the garbage or the cleaning products under the sink.   If you believe your dog has ingested toxic substances, take him or her to a veterinarian immediately.

If your dog has not ingested a toxic substance and he or she does not seem to be suffering from a serious medical condition, the diarrhea can be treated at home

How to relieve your dog of diarrhea:

  • The first thing to do is to make sure your dog is properly hydrated and is drinking water regularly.
  • Fast your dog for 12 hours or until he or she is no longer having bowel movements.  If the stools are voluminous and continue even when the dog has an empty system, see your vet as if could be a bacterial infection.  Allow your dog to have plenty of water to drink during his or her fasting.
  • After fasting, slowly start your dog on food.  First feed him or her 100% pure canned pumpkin (not the kind with added sugar and spices). The fiber in the pumpkin helps to regulate the bowel and should help lessen his or her diarrhea symptoms.
  • Feed your dog plain boiled chicken (without skin, oil, or seasoning).  This is a gentle food for your dogs stomach.
  • In a few days, start your dog on his or her regular food.  If the diarrhea returns, see your veterinarian right away

There are also medicines that can help relieve your dog’s diarrhea symptoms.  Talk to your veterinarian about your treatment options.

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Disclaimer: CritterCures is an educational resource, and all information herein is strictly for educational purposes. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure diseases, nor is it meant to replace the (prescribed) treatment or recommendations of your veterinarian or healthcare provider. Always inform your veterinarian or healthcare provider of any products that your pet are taking, including herbal remedies and supplements.