Not everybody wants or needs a pedigree dog. That’s one of the reasons why mixed breed dogs have always been (and most likely will remain) so popular among dog lovers. These dogs are truly one-of-a-kind with individual markings, personalities and qualities all their own.
A wealth of resources for general pet health and wellness.
When It Hurts to Move: Helping Your Arthritic Dog Cut the Fat
Sheba, a Labrador retriever/shepherd mix, started “filling out” when she was just two years old, but it wasn’t until she hit midlife that her owner realized the seriousness of Sheba’s gradual but continuous weight gain.
At age seven, Sheba suffered a painful ligament tear in her knee, an injury brought on by her unhealthy size. In five years, she had ballooned to 35 pounds over her ideal weight.
Surgery to repair the ligament was successful — albeit expensive — but Sheba’s owner knew her dog had to shed some pounds to relieve arthritis pain and prevent the ligament in her other knee from tearing.
Unfortunately, cases like Sheba’s are fairly common said Ernie Ward, DVM, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP). A 2007 study done by APOP showed that approximately 43% of dogs — 32 million — were overweight or obese.
Like Sheba, many obese dogs suffer from joint pain that is made worse, or even caused by, the extra pounds. And that can make owners wonder if they’re facing a catch-22: Weight loss will ease their dog’s pain, but because of the pain, their dog just can’t move around enough to lose the weight. Right?
Yes and no. Although painful dogs are understandably reluctant to play a vigorous game of seek-and-destroy the tennis ball — or even amble around the block — Ward said that by combining pain management with low-impact exercises and a strict diet, these dogs can lose the weight they need to.
Sheba is proof. Under Ward’s care, she lost those 35 pounds in six months and has more energy and vitality than ever. Ward also said that Sheba is no longer at risk for obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some forms of cancer.
“Unfortunately, it took a crisis for this to happen,” said Ward, “But now the dog is in better shape than she has been in years.”
That’s great, but how?
Ask the Experts
Before putting your dog on a treadmill, meet with your veterinarian. A weight loss program for any dog should be done under the care of a veterinarian, and this is even more important if your dog has an underlying issue such as arthritis.
Your veterinarian will assess your dog’s body condition and might want to test for diseases that cause weight gain, such as hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease.
You and your veterinarian can then work together to create a safe diet and exercise plan that matches your dog’s needs and limitations. The doctor might also refer you to a veterinary nutritionist.
You might not realize how frequently you hand your dog a treat or table scrap. To see how much your dog really eats, write down every morsel for several days. You may be surprised.
One of the best ways to cut back the calories is to change the types of treats you use. Ward suggests using carrot sticks or fresh green beans because dogs like their crunchy texture.
“If they are in pain they won’t exercise,” said Pam Nichols, DVM, CCRP, at AAHA-accredited Animal Care Center in West Bountiful, Utah. “It becomes a vicious cycle. They will go from fat to fatter because they aren’t moving.”
There are many pain relief options available, including heated dog beds, prescription medications, acupuncture, massage, and Reiki. Your veterinarian will help you decide where to start by assessing your dog’s pain and taking into account other factors specific to your pet, such as medications you may be giving for other health concerns.
Walk It Off
If your dog has arthritis pain, too much rest can do as much harm as too little. Daily, low-impact exercise eases joint pain and stiffness and increases flexibility. The resulting weight loss will reduce the pressure on your dog’s joints, and stronger muscles will stabilize and protect them. [Pet sitters are great at helping your pets get the exercise they need!]
Nichols suggests simply increasing the number of steps your dog takes each day. “Take him out to get the mail with you and have him come with you when you go to another room of the house,” she said.
Another way to add a few paces is to change out the food bowl for a food-dispensing toy. Pushing and following the toy will reduce boredom and keep your dog up and moving.
When your dog is ready for longer walks, look for flat terrain and soft surfaces, such as grassy areas or a track.
Hydrotherapy — using water resistance to improve fitness — is another effective option that most dogs enjoy. The water supports the dog, so weight is taken off the joints. A submerged treadmill will keep your dog moving at a safe pace and can be adjusted as your dog’s fitness improves.
With a strict diet, exercise, and veterinary supervision, a dog can safely lose 7% to 9% of his body weight in a month, Ward said.
For more extensive information and helpful tips, visit our friends at Your Dog Advisor
Yawning – This is often mistaken for contentment. The dog is surrounded by kids, and she lets out a big yawn. Isn’t that sweet? Nope, it’s a sign that she’s in over her head and would appreciate your help.
Freezing – Watch out! Dogs typically freeze right before they snap or bite. That may sound obvious, but one of the scariest things I ever saw was when an owner told me, “Lucy loves to have kids hug her. Look how still she is.” Lucy did not bite, but it was a heart stopping.
Thornton Penny, a Shih Tzu-poodle mix, was increasingly forgetful, often coming into a room and then being unable to find her way out. She slept during the day, wandered at night and showed little interest in eating. A visit to her veterinarian, Robin Downing of Windsor, Colo., found no obvious reason such as an ulcer or cancer for Penny’s behavior.
After ruling out health problems that could cause similar signs, Downing suspected that Penny had cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) — what in humans is called senility or Alzheimer’s disease. She recommended a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other antioxidants and prescribed a drug called selegiline, or Anipryl, which affects attentiveness and the sleep-wake cycle.
“We saw a difference within 30 days,” Downing says. “That medication altered her concentrations of brain chemicals and altered her behavior for the better.”
As dogs and cats live longer — thanks to improved nutrition, better veterinary care and home environments — they’re developing problems of old age that previously were rarely seen in pets simply because they never made it to extreme old age, which is upwards of 20 years for cats and small dogs, and about 12 or 13 years for medium and large dogs.
“The older they get, the more signs they get,” says Melissa J. Bain, a veterinarian at the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine in Davis.
Recent research has shown that nearly a third of 11- and 12-year-old dogs and two-thirds of 15- and 16-year-old dogs have significant cognitive impairment. In cats, as many as 80 percent of those over the age of 16 show signs of senility.
Penny will be 19 in June, so she’s at the far end of the age spectrum for dogs. But physically she’s still in reasonably good condition. What’s important for Penny and dogs and cats like her is that diet and medication, as well as control of underlying conditions that contribute to CDS, can often help slow the progress of CDS and improve quality of life.
Signs of senility
The acronym DISH spells out the behaviors often seen in dogs and cats with CDS:
- Disorientation such as walking aimlessly, staring at walls, getting “stuck” in corners or losing balance and falling, is common.
- Interactions with people change. The dog or cat that once greeted you at the door and loved being petted now ignores you or even hides under the bed.
- Sleep habits reverse. Pets that once snored through the night now prowl and yowl — keeping everyone else from getting any shut-eye — then sleep during normal waking hours.
- House-training goes by the wayside. They seem to forget where the litter box is or how to use the pet door to go outside.
While some of these behaviors can be chalked up to cognitive misfires, others have simpler causes that are treatable with medication or simple environmental changes.
For instance, loss of house-training may be due less to senility than to aching joints.
Coping Tips For Senile Pets…
Here are some steps you can take to help your aging dog or cat:
- Maintain a routine so your pet eats or goes for walks at the same times every day.
- Give medication time to work, at least a couple of months.
- Consider feeding a diet containing high levels of antioxidants.
- Keep your pet’s brain sharp with play and training. In one study, dogs with CDS that received both an antioxidant-fortified diet and obedience training progressed much more slowly than dogs that received neither.
- Add more litter boxes, especially if you live in a two-story home. Steps, a ramp or a cut-out your cat can walk through can make it easier for the animal to get in and out of the box.
- Ask your veterinarian about pain relief for pets with arthritis.
“When they lose their litter-box training, it’s not that there’s anything wrong with their intention,” Gunn-Moore says. “It’s that they can’t get into the box or they can’t crouch their bottom down properly because of arthritis in the hips and knees.”
The same holds true for dogs. A dog with arthritic hips won’t have much incentive to use a pet door that bangs its rear end as it goes out or comes in. Underlying urinary tract infections also can contribute to loss of house-training. Pets with kidney disease or diabetes often have urine that looks sterile under a microscope but may actually be seething with bacteria.
“Unless [vets are] taking a … sample and culturing it, they are missing a lot of urinary tract infections,” Gunn-Moore says. “I’ve had two in the last month with undiagnosed urinary tract infections. Something as simple as the right antibiotics makes such a difference.”
Get their pressure checked High blood pressure is another issue facing older pets. You thought only Grandma Kate got hypertension? Think again. High blood pressure is common in aging pets, especially if they have ailments such as kidney disease or Cushing’s disease, a condition caused by the production of too much adrenal hormone.
How is that linked to senility? Just as in people, hypertension takes a toll on blood vessels in the brain. Many cases of senility in humans are related to chronic high blood pressure, Gunn-Moore says. The good news for animals is that medication can help lower it to safer levels.
The best thing you can do for your older pet is to be alert to changes in behavior. Downing believes that’s why Penny responded so well to medication, becoming more interested in going for walks and interacting more with her owners.
“I think I had a chance to intervene with her earlier than I would have in a typical pet because her owners were so tuned in to her and the subtleties of her behavior,” she says. “They picked up early that something wasn’t quite right.”
by Kim Thornton
Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning author who has written many articles and more than a dozen books about dogs and cats. She belongs to the Dog Writers Association of America and is past president of the Cat Writers Association. She shares her home in California with two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and one African ringneck parakeet.
From the late 20th century to the present, Stress has become a catchword of a generation. For humans, it has become a lifestyle – and indeed the amount we have to do, and the pressure we are under, are worn with pride as a statement of our importance. The cats with whom we share our lives are also not immune to stress, however they do not have the same choices that we do to minimise or manage it. Cats are known to be great stress relievers for humans, lowering blood pressure and decreasing anxiety and depression…it is only fair that we return the favour!
Stress and anxiety are actually adaptive responses designed to save life. The burst of energy given by adrenaline facilitates the “fight or flight response” which can either get you out of danger or allow you to stand up to your adversary. The excess hormones provided were never intended to be used in the body for an extended period, and they can be harmful if present in the case of chronic stress. The harmful effects over time can include reduced immune functioning; therefore it is most important that chronic stress is relieved. What follows is a brief overview of issues in stress: At the end are included a number of possible strategies for its management. Responses from different cats may be variable. However these are the commonly available ones that can be followed up if they seem appropriate for your cats.
The Management of Stress Has Three Components:
Diagnosis – Common Manifestations of Stress in Cats
- Spraying (even in neuters)
- Inappropriate elimination
- Pacing back and forth at perimeters of fences
- Loss of appetite
- Pulling out of fur
- Excessive meowing
- Hiding from the world, under beds, behind curtains etc
- Physical symptoms and illness – some illnesses and disorders (such as acne) have been associated with stress. Stress can also be a response to physical illness, so it is most important to check with your vet to rule out a medical condition
Assessment of Situational Factors – Common Causes of Stress
- Medical conditions/injury
- Overcrowding in multi-cat households
- New family member (human or animal)
- New cat in the neighbourhood
- Moving House
- Cat Shows
- Change of any kind. Cats differ in their responses to stress. Some may take major changes without batting an eyelid, while others may fall apart at the sight of an earwig. Their inherited temperament and early socialisation play a role.
Intervention – Common Methods of Stress Management
- Change the situation causing the stress
- Change the response of the cat
- Combination of 1 & 2
Changing the Situation
Changing the situation may be easy – it is often appropriate if the cat shows stress in a specific situation but seems fine the rest of the time. Removing the stressor or removing the cat from the situation may sometimes be the simplest option. For example, this may involve re-homing the cat if the cat is not suited to a multi-cat environment.
Changing the Response of the Cat
Vet Prescribed / Pharmacological – Discuss with your vet; reserve for severe and chronic problems
- Clomicalm- (Clomipramine) is commonly used by vets to treat anxiety disorders: it is an anti depressant that works best as a long term treatment combined with behavioural therapy.
- Valium- (Diazepam) a tranquilizer. But can have a paradoxical effect that makes the cat more agitated.
Non Vet Prescribed / Behaviors
- Feliway – A synthetic analogue of facial (friendly) pheromones. Especially recommended for spraying problems or inappropriate urination. Can also be used to make areas less threatening.
- Aromatherapy – Lavender essential oil can be relaxing – can be used in a burner as long as the room is well ventilated.
- Massage – Good to use on a daily basis for stressed cats.
- T-touch – A form of tactile therapy often using circular movements of the fingers on the skin. Can induce a trance-like state in some cats, or can send them to sleep.
- Herbal therapies – Valerian is sometimes used to calm cats.
- Homeopathic – Best known is probably Rescue Remedy flower essence.
- Nutritional supplements – B group-vitamins are reputed to reduce anxiety – many cats like the yeast supplements that provide these. There are also liquid and tablet preparations combing ingredients reputed to be relaxing, including amino acid tryptophan and b vitamins.
- Behavioural therapy – Classical conditioning techniques can help the cat to break a negative association with a situation or object by counter conditioning, desensitisation and graded exposure. Cats are presented to the feared stimulus / situation at the same time as being presented with a pleasant stimulus or being relaxed by massage. Operant conditioning techniques of reinforcement and shaping can help cats to relearn responses to stressors. These techniques can be combined easily with other therapies or greater efficacy.
A variety of methods is often the most effective. The environment can be changed, but sometimes the cat has learned the stress response so well that it can remain even when the stressor is removed. Cats can vary in their response to some of these methods and therefore it may be necessary to trial a variety of them to find what works for your cat. Some techniques, particularly the tactile ones of massage and t-touch are very useful for human-cat bonding and can also be relaxing for the human practitioner. Cats are intelligent and sensitive beings, and respond to the situation in the household, picking up tension and anxiety in their humans. Therefore, management of our own anxiety and stress is integral to minimising the stress felt by our feline friends.
By Rita Bruche
Dear Einstein, I don’t know what happened. One minute I was having the time of my life ripping up the couch and the next minute I’m waking up and my feet feel like they’re on fire. It’s been a week and it doesn’t burn as bad now, but those huge paper pellets my humans put in my pan hurt my paws whenever I use it. I don’t want to go anywhere near that box cuz I’m afraid it will hurt me again. Now my humans scream at me because I use the soft carpet instead.
No Longer Claus, just de-Claus
People think that declawing a cat is just an extreme nail trim, but that’s like saying Marie Antoinette had a short haircut. It’s an amputation, or rather ten individual amputations all done at the same time. I wouldn’t do that to a dog. It’s the human equivalent of cutting off all ten of their fingers at the first knuckle. Let’s see your humans work a computer keyboard like that. Or they should try walking with the first knuckle of their toes cut off.
A cat named Descartes once said, “I scratch, therefore I am.” After all, scratching is a natural part of being a cat. If you were a wild cat you’d use your claws to protect yourself, and catch your dinner. You’d also use them to climb trees, mark your territory, stretch and keep your muscles toned.
We kitties are one of the few creatures designed to walk on our toes instead of the flat part of the foot. If part of the toes disappears, that changes the way we walk. A couple of vets told me they see more arthritis in declawed kitties. We can’t balance on things like we used to and we can’t grasp with our non-existent claws, so we fall a lot.
The truth is, your people may have opened a big can of worms, and I’m not talking about the intestinal kind. Many of the kitties dumped at shelters are there cuz of problems that developed after their claws were ripped out.
In one study a large percentage of the toeless kitties left at the pound peed outside the box. As you said, that clunky cat litter they made you use right after your surgery really smarts. (I don’t know many humans who have to walk on gravel with cuts on their feet every time they need to pee.) You figured out real quick that your litter box was causing the pain. To protect your paws you found a quiet little corner where you could relieve yourself pain-free. Some cats go back to the box when their feet stop hurting, others don’t.
Other cats change from Dr. Jeckyll to Mr. Hyde after the surgery. We kitties rely on our claws as our primary means of defense. Without claws to occasionally provide a gentle reminder to stop bothering you, you have no choice but to start with the big guns or rather the canines. Even a minor encounter with the three-year-old kid could end with a bite cuz there’s no gentler way to say, “Don’t pull my tail.” Kitties who enjoyed hanging out with their humans may hide after their toe-ectomy.
It’s too late to put your nails back where they belong, but your humans could help you with the box situation by putting you in a small room or a cage and substitute a cardboard box for your old litter pan. The different smell and appearance might help you overcome your fear of it. Dr. Elsey’s Precious Senior Cat Litter has a very soft and comfortable texture on sensitive toes and it has a special attractant that makes kitties want to pee in it. They should put your food and water on the opposite side of the room cuz nobody, especially a cat, wants to eat near their bathroom.
Your humans should have talked to me before they cut off your toes. I could have given them some advice about how to keep both your feet and their furniture in tact. It takes a multi-faceted approach by a determined human to redirect a determined furniture scratcher. Most kitties will abandon the furniture if their humans give something they’d like to scratch in a prominent location while making scratching the furniture un-fun, and by giving you regular exercise and something to do during the day.
Contrary to human assumption, cats aren’t really sharpening their claws when they scratch the furniture. We’re conditioning them by removing the outer sheath and bringing to bear that really sharp new nail underneath. We’re also getting some exercise while we’re marking the furniture as ours. Oh yeah, we scratch cuz it just feels good.
Because humans are olfactorially-challenged, they don’t realize that when kitties scratch something they’re marking it with scent from their paws. In nature, cats often scratch trees as a warning of danger to other cats. Other times, they’re depositing their scent and leaving visual marks—kind of like gang graffiti. It’s not unusual for declawed kitties to start using the other end to mark, which humans don’t like either.
While we kitties are yanking on the upholstery, we’re keeping our bodies toned. If your people had ever taken time to watch you scratch, they might have noticed that you work every muscle group. I’ve observed that some of our humans could use a little of that same kind of toning.
The most important thing to consider when humans buy cat furniture is it must be heavy enough to support climbing and stretching. When we’re working toward those hard bodies, we don’t want a scratcher that wobbles. We need something that’s going to stay put no matter how much energy we put into it. After all, when your humans go to the gym, they avoid machines that totter. If you sink your claws into a post and it tips, you’ll say “Hasta la vista, baby.” A scratching post is a waste of money unless it stands at least thirty inches and has a heavy, stable base.
Kitties need an acceptable tree substitute. Planting a small forest in the living room would certainly give a cat incentive to abandon the sofa. And while green may be in, that may be more green than most décors can stand. A log with the bark still attached gives kitty the feel of the real thing. And despite their size, kitties also love cardboard scratchers.
If kitty’s giving a sturdy scratcher the cold shoulder, he may not like the way it feels. After all, cats have texture preferences. If a kitty isn’t into carpet, he might like sisal (rope). Others prefer wood or bark, others like fabrics with knobby, looser weaves, still others go after cardboard.
There’s a lot of bad information out there about how to get a kitty to use a scratching post or pad. Humans shouldn’t grab him and put his paws on the officially-approved scratcher to show him. After being manhandled, any self-respecting kitty’s going to say, “That ain’t happening.” Humans are more likely to entice cooperative scratching by running their own fingernails across the scratcher. Kitty’s going to think, “Oh, they’re scratching it; it must be good.” Any cat tree, post or pad should be spiked with catnip. And give him a treat every time he uses it.
A Realtor will tell you, one of the most important selling features of any a house is location. So the humans should put the post right next to the cat’s favorite couch. Once he begins using the scratching post on a regular basis, they can move it a few inches a day in the direction where they want it to rest, preferably in a high profile spot.
Humans have to take time to make your old scratching grounds unattractive. If it’s no longer fun, you’ll abandon it for something more satisfying. Since cats hate touching sticky stuff, double-sided tape like Sticky Paws (which is non-toxic and made especially for upholstery) makes the site un-fun. For really determined scratchers some humans use the adhesive in tandem with spray repellents. Humans think of the sprays as a magical force field like on the Enterprise, but they’re not. They have to constantly be reapplied.
A handful of kitties lose their toes cuz of scratching of the human kind. Kitty might attack hands and ankles cuz he’s got too much predatory energy. Sometimes scratching or biting humans is a habit that’s the human’s fault. It’s cute to let a six-week old kitten take a swipe at you. Not so much when he’s two years old and 10 pounds with machete-sharp claws. So smart humans won’t let a kitty think it’s okay to swat no matter his age.
Kitties may scratch toddlers because the kid won’t leave him alone. Shame on the parents for allowing the kid to torment the cat. Kitty should have lots of high up places where they can escape a little tail puller. While there’s a rug rat learning curve, kids need to be taught early on feline manners. When a cat doesn’t want to be held, a cat doesn’t want to be held. Until kids can be taught feline etiquette, your humans should have kept your claws trimmed. Sometime in flesh-ripping situations, nail caps can help, but owners will have to pay the vet for the pet-icure if kitty doesn’t tolerate nail trimming well.
Some cats get into interior re-design when they’re stressed or bored, which is an occupational hazard of the indoor kitty. In the wild kitties sleep 16 hours a day, but when we’re working, we’re really working. We climb trees, sprint after mice, leap for birds, and scratch up bark. We may not be punching a clock, but that’s a lot of work. A strictly indoor cat scratches furniture, stalks human feet, and climbs the drapes—activities similar to what he would be doing in the wild.
Humans can cut down on aggressive boredom and furniture shredding by getting a toy like DaBird (www.go-cat.com) and playing like crazy for 10 minutes twice a day. People often say, “Oh, my cat has toys.” But we need toys that do everything a live mouse or bird does. The only thing that can fill that need is a real mouse (filled with parasites) or a human with a really cool toy. When your human are away at work, they can put your kibble in a treat ball so you have to push it around to eat. That way you’d be focusing on getting your food (like a wild cat would) and you’d have less for mischief.
A decent scratching post, along with praise and treats for good behavior, would have had you eating right out of human’s hands.
De-Claude, I hope your people can help you become friends with your litter box again. If they’re patient and give you a chance, I bet you and your litter box and your humans can all live in harmony.
Ask Einstein: “Declaw”- Advice Column
Sourced from: Dusty Rainbolt’s Cat Einstein
If you are considering declawing your cat, please read this. It will only take a moment, and it will give you valuable information to help you in your decision.
First, you should know that declawing is pretty much an American thing, it’s something people do for their own convenience without realizing what actually happens to their beloved cat. In England declawing is termed “inhumane” and “unnecessary mutilation.” I agree. In many European countries it is illegal. I applaud their attitude.
Before you make the decision to declaw your cat, there are some important facts you should know. Declawing is not like a manicure. It is serious surgery. Your cat’s claw is not a toenail. It is actually closely adhered to the bone. So closely adhered that to remove the claw, the last bone of your the cat’s claw has to be removed. Declawing is actually an amputation of the last joint of your cat’s “toes”. When you envision that, it becomes clear why declawing is not a humane act. It is a painful surgery, with a painful recovery period. And remember that during the time of recuperation from the surgery your cat would still have to use its feet to walk, jump, and scratch in its litter box regardless of the pain it is experiencing. Wheelchairs and bedpans are not an option for a cat.
No cat lover would doubt that cats–whose senses are much keener than ours–suffer pain. They may, however, hide it better. Not only are they proud, they instinctively know that they are at risk when in a weakened position, and by nature will attempt to hide it. But make no mistake. This is not a surgery to be taken lightly.
Your cat’s body is perfectly designed to give it the grace, agility and beauty that is unique to felines. Its claws are an important part of this design. Amputating the important part of their anatomy that contains the claws drastically alters the conformation of their feet. The cat is also deprived of its primary means of defense, leaving it prey to predators if it ever escapes to the outdoors.
The anatomy of the feline claw must be understood before one can appreciate the severity of declawing. The cat’s claw is not a nail as is a human fingernail, it is part of the last bone (distal phalanx) in the cat’s toe.
I have also had people tell me that their cat’s personality changed after being declawed. Although, the medical community does not recognize this as potential side effect.
Okay, so now you realize that declawing is too drastic a solution, but you’re still concerned about keeping your household furnishings intact. Is there an acceptable solution? Happily, the answer is yes. A big, joyful, humane YES! Actually there are several. The following website “Cat Scratching Solutions” provides many solutions as well as and insight into the psychology of why cats scratch.
by Dr. Christianne Schelling, Copyright 1998 – 2009 All Rights Reserved