Friday, February 08, 2008

Let's Hear It For Real Pet Food!

Bring back real pet food? What do I mean?

Well, if you are a regular visitor to your local pet store you cannot help to notice that there are any number of pet foods out there for every ailment, breed, lifestage or level of activity - but of late there have been many products appearing which mimic human food and the way that is going - added this, added that, reduced this, reduced that. If you have just bought a bag of pet food because the bag or label shouted out at you that this food contained added spirulina, glucosamine, chondroitin ,Omega-3 and Omega-6, prebiotics, probiotics, Cranberry Powder, Dried Kelp, Dried Bacillus Licheniformis Fermentation Extract, Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Extract, CPA Complex™, Mannan-oligo-saccharides, Green Tea, selenium yeast, eye of toad and tongue of newt (I made the last two up!) or anything else that doesn't sound like 'food' then you need to read on, because you are in danger of falling into a great marketing trap!

Well, firstly lets look at the arguement purely from a human perspective, and here I would urge you to get hold of (or get your library to stock) a copy of 'In Defence of Food: The Myth of Nutrition and the Pleasures of Eating

by Michael Pollan, a respected US author and journalist

In the book, Pollan argues strongly for a more sensible approach to nutrition than that being imposed upon us by government, nutritionists and the food industry. Why? Pollan says

'Because most of what we're consuming today is not food, and how we're consuming it -- in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone -- is not really eating. Instead of food, we're consuming "edible foodlike substances" -- no longer the products of nature but of food science. Many of them come packaged with health claims that should be our first clue they are anything but healthy. In the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion.'

The result is what Michael Pollan calls the American paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become.

But if real food -- the sort of food our great grandmothers would recognize as food -- stands in need of defense, from whom does it need defending? From the food industry on one side and nutritional science on the other. Both stand to gain much from widespread confusion about what to eat, a question that for most of human history people have been able to answer without expert help. Yet the professionalization of eating has failed to make Americans healthier. Thirty years of official nutritional advice has only made us sicker and fatter while ruining countless numbers of meals.

So what's happening with pet food?

OK, now let's look at what's been happening on the pet scene in the last few years. Quite honestly, what the pet food industry has been doing is mirroring the human food industry. As health food magazines promote the latest nutrichemical fad and foods become low fat, low salt, low fibre, low taste and low everything else, what has increased has been the ingredient label, as whole foods have been replaced by nutrichemicals. Look at current pet food labels. As an example, and just an example (I'm not saying this is wrong, just typical of this whole marketing thing) look at the ingredients in a bag of Nutro Holistic Food (Holistic, in my definition means 'natural')

Dried Chicken Meat, Whole Brown Rice, Ground Rice, Dried Lamb Meat, Sunflower Oil (min. 4.5%), Poultry Fat (min. 4%), Dried Salmon Meat, Flaxseed, Oatmeal, Dried Alfalfa, Dried Beet Pulp, Dried Tomato, Cranberry Powder, Menhaden Fish Oil (min. 0.5%), Potassium Chloride, Dried Kelp,

Dried Tomato? Cranberry Powder? Flaxseed?Dried Bacillus Licheniformis fermentation Extract? Dried Bacillus Subtilis Fermentation Extract? These are not traditional pet food ingredients. The question has to be asked... Are they actually necessary if the food is good enough quality to offer complete nutrition without them?

Royal Canin now have a bewildering range of foods for lifestages and breeds, indoor and outdoor cats as well as a range of foods for health problems. Are these necessary or just marketing managers pandering to our perceived needs - if scientists tell me I need Omega 3 in my diet I must feed the cat some as well?! What about the cat I grew up with as a child who lived to a ripe old age with no particular health problems. That was achieved on a simple food without all this added chemistry set! What about my Father-in-law's farm dogs, brought up on table scraps, washings out from the dairy and a handfull of fish meal - they worked hard, looked fit and never needed a single visit to the vet.

Breed specific diets? If they are no more expensive than your normal food then fine, but please ask the question otherwise - Is this more marketing hype than necessity?

As to lifestage foods, well there is certainly some sense in this, but maybe not quite as much as some manufacturers would like us to believe. Puppies need a higher level of some nutrients than adults, as do very working active dogs, pregnant and lactating bitches, but not so crucial maybe are the so-called senior recipes. As you and I get older we adjust our diet by eating less as our level of activity goes down. The same should be true for our pets - as they get older they need less to eat so we need to adjust the amount we feed. This can be done by either reducing quantity or changing to a lighter diet, lower in protein and fat - there are several adult light diets that fit the bill.

Let's hear it for a sensible approach to the nutrition of our pets. Three cheers to companies like Burns Pet Nutrition who refuse to go down the route of adding novel chemicals and nutrichemicals to their food just for the sake of it. I want to feed my pets food not chemicals. If the ingredients are not good enough and complete by themselves then why not get that right first before supplementing the diet with unnecessary things.

Remember margarine - it was the healthiest thing since sliced bread, until all of a sudden it wasn't - who's to say Omega 3 won't be next!

Pet Vitamins - Three Important Questions

A dozen generations ago when pet vitamins were unheard of, this good earth was a veritable victory garden. The air was clean, water pure, soil rich with nutrients.

Today the world is different.

Corporate farms coax crops from barren soil using chemicals and pesticides. Food processing conglomerates replace any remaining nourishment with salt, sugar, artificial flavors and preservatives. Humans and animals subsist on a diet of lifeless inert matter in brightly adorned packaging that we call food only because we're brainwashed into eating it... and feeding it to our pets.

But you are to be congratulated. Here you are on the Internet searching for answers. Odds are, if your dog or cat had known how to search the Internet for pet vitamins and supplements, he or she would have done so long ago.

Nobody questions that humans, animals, fish, birds, plants - all living things - need proper nutrition to grow and stay healthy. The big question is which product to put your hard-earned money on. And whose claims to believe.

Here are the three most important questions to ask when searching for natural pet vitamins. We thought you should know the inside scoop because the decisions you make for your best friends are too important for guesswork.

First, how long have the people behind the pet vitamin formula been around?

Many newcomers to the pet supplement arena have not stood the test of time. Many hope to sell their products to inexperienced dog and cat owners who don't know better. A track record of 5 to 10 years is good; 20 or more even better. For over 34 years the makers of my favorite brand have developed products that provide the best form, balance and potency possible.

Second, why should I believe the claims made by pet vitamin and mineral supplement makers?

Some vitamins for pets contain ingredients that are of no value or cannot be assimilated by the animal's system. Some formulations are not laboratory tested to dissolve before being eliminated from the animal's system.

Look for formulations that optimally produce both preventative and therapeutic results. Make sure active components are combined, as they are in nature, for optimal effectiveness. Check to see that after development, all formulations are evaluated and appraised by veterinarians. Buy only formulations with ingredients that are guaranteed to conform to the highest standard of quality, purity, and potency for maximum utilization by the animal's body. Finally, choose only products that have passed sophisticated laboratory testing before the product is approved for your purchase.

Third, will they stand behind their products with a money-back guarantee?

The correct answer must be a resounding Yes! Skip over any formulation that is not guaranteed to meet your complete satisfaction or your money back! The makers of the highest quality pet vitamins must have enough confidence in their product to offer a money-back guarantee with no hassle, no questions asked. If you're not happy, how can any ethical pet healthcare supplier be happy?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Allergies in Cats and Dogs

Due to walking on all fours, pets are closer to the ground than humans. They sniff more than humans. Dust and pollen can stick to their coats more easily than to the slick skin of humans. Consequently, pets tend to suffer from allergies from dust, mites, spores, pollen and molds. The symptom can be sneezing, but the most common and severe reaction is skin irritation. The difference between human allergies and pet allergies? Humans outgrow them, pets just get worse.

Look for these signs:


Chest, abdomen, and armpit scratching

Rubbing face and ears

Runny eyes

Sneezing, coughing, wheezing (mostly in cats).

Before going to the veterinarian, consider the answers to questions he or she is likely to ask: What are the skin problems like? What food does the pet eat? What medicine allergies does it have? Is the problem seasonal? Does it lick the tops of its paws? Does the pet lick the bottoms of its paws or itch all over?

The most dangerous allergic reaction is anaphylactic - to penicillin, incompatible blood transfusions, or insect bites. Anaphylactic reactions can kill by causing cardiovascular breakdown, respiratory failure, and shock. Make sure your vet knows about any reactions to drugs or blood transfusions.

Dogs and cats, like humans, get hives from food or medication. With hives, the tissues around the head swell and other body parts may show round, red places. Signs: the pet itches and rubs its head on the ground to scratch. Give the pet a bath in mild soap and take it to the vet for treatment.

One of the most common allergic reactions is flea allergy dermatitis, which in a sensitive animal can be caused by only one or two fleabites. The most sensitive parts of the body are the base of the tail, the hindquarters, and the lower abdomen. An animal who is severely affected may lose a good deal of hair and be covered with sores. Solutions are control of fleas and allergic treatment. Animals, as well as humans, can suffer from other insect bites. Treat with cold packs and antihistamines. See your veterinarian.

Food allergies can bring about itching, vomiting, diarrhea, and gas. Cats can develop asthma (another allergic reaction) with coughing, wheezing and sneezing. Solutions: feeding of hypoallergenic foods, bronchodilators and corticosteroids.

Contact allergy, most commonly caused by flea collars, makes the skin red and causes sores, infection, hair loss. Take off the causative agent. Bathe your pet with mild soap. Feline acne (pimples under the cat's chin) is contact allergy caused by plastic food and water bowls. Water and feed pets from glass or stainless steel dishes.

Though animals can be desensitized, the treatment is expensive, time-consuming, and often disappointing. The most common treatments are antihistamines, cortisone, and anti-inflammatory drugs. The substance that causes the allergy should be eliminated.

How My Dog Taz Became The Houdini Of Dogs - The World's Greatest Escape Artist

The first dog I ever owned was Taz, a shorthaired, dingo-like medium male mutt with a handsome face and intelligent eyes. I had been married ten years, and had an eight-year-old daughter. We bought our first house in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles , a ranch-style 3 bedroom with a big yard.

At our housewarming party, as is customary in friendly circles, someone gave us a six month old pup saved from the pound. Taz.

Taz had no obvious bad habits. No biting, peeing or pooping in the house. He chewed a couple sofas, that was it. However, Taz always was a bit leery of our family. My wife Cindi is outgoing, always on-the-run show biz exec, never much of a pet person. A dog was just another item any decent house must have, much like a nice china buffet or a wide-screen TV. It's not that she was mean to him, they just didn't connect. I think dog food grossed my wife out, so I was the one who fed him. You can imagine who picked up poop. I loved to scratch Taz's ears and he was affectionate towards me. But, if such a thing was possible, Taz seemed a bit bored by my company. Like he was really way too smart and he had to suffer this fool because I was human and had a house and fed him and walked him. I just thought I was incredibly insecure, imagining things about my dog that could not be true. My 8-year old daughter Chloe was into her own world of reading and imagination. She loved Taz a lot, but her promise to walk the dog every day soon got old as Taz would pull on the leash so hard that she would either have to let go or get dragged along the ground.

So the chore of feeding, walking and training Taz fell to me. I guess I made every mistake in the book. On my daily walks with Taz he pulled the leash. I let him pull, in fact, I would take him to one of my favorite hiking trails nearby -- one that was mostly uphill for the first mile, and let Taz drag me like a one-dog mush team to the top. I was lazy, Taz was exhausted, but triumphant. He was the leader of the pack and I was the alpha dog. Beta really. I think this was the problem. I never established myself as the leader of the pack. I was just this competing male Taz wanted to get away from.

What I should have done first of all was train him to sit quietly and patiently in the house while I attached the leash. If he pulled, I should have just sat down and waited until he calmed down and stopped. Then, instead of heading toward the door, I should have walked him with a loose leash around the house. Finally, we should have practiced sitting at the door, leash loose, until I gave the command to walk out. But I was too ignorant and busy to train him properly, I take all the blame!

Luckily, Taz came to us already house trained, so this was never the problem. In fact he loved the yard a lot, exploring every corner. I was relieved at first, proud that I had a yard large enough for him to explore and stretch his legs. In fact, everything was hunky-dory until one day I spotted Taz through the living room window sprinting away down the street. A whole year of prison-breaks had begun.

I would usually jump into my car and give chase. Taz would spot me and deftly bolt through traffic and into adjoining neighborhoods. Usually I would lose him around a corner. A few hours later, however, I would inevitably get a phone call. We had luckily always had a dog tag with our phone number around his neck. Every person would describe a scratching at the door, and Taz would invite himself in and make himself at home.

I went about sealing every possible escape route from my yard. I then had Taz neutered, which someone said was the possible reason for his wanderlust the smell of females. Despite all this Taz would escape again and again, and within hours I would receive the customary phone call. Everyone loved Taz, and I got to know a lot of people in a one-mile radius from my house. Taz seemed to gravitate to one neighbor in particular who lived at the end of a cul-de-sac by the freeway. The middle-aged husband and wife had three other dogs. The husband was this surly unshaven kind of guy with a big potbelly who wore ill-fitting white t-shirts. The wife was friendly enough, understood, but I could tell the lumpy husband was none too pleased by Taz's frequent visits.

Finally one day, I glanced into the backyard and witnessed Taz deftly climbing a 6-foot tall wall covered with ivy and jumping over the fence. I could not believe my eyes. The dog was part monkey. Someone suggested an electric fence but I balked. I was not running a damn prison. I didn't want to leave him tied up all day. I didn't know what to do but keep Taz in the house.

However, soon even that strategy failed. Taz would slyly wait until one of us would open the door and bolt out at full clip, headed for freedom, like Steve McQueen on a motorcycle escaping the POW camp. Soon we would open the door just wide enough for us to slide through and close it quickly when entering and leaving the house. We felt like snakes.

This seemed to work for a while until one midnight the burglar alarm went off.

We were terrified. The backyard French doors were open. I was about to dial 911 when I noticed Taz climbing the rear fence faster than doggedly possible. I suddenly realized Taz had opened the door himself and escaped. I installed dead bolts in the doors, and all was well for a few weeks until a house guest who was a chain smoker stayed with us. As you might guess, at two a.m. he went out back for a smoke -- another escape opportunity for Taz. I was awakened at 3:00 am by a phone call: the cul-de-sac freeway neighbors were calling. The more friendly wife said Taz had scratched at their door, woke them up, come in, snuggled in bed with them and fallen fast asleep. I could come by in the morning to pick him up The next morning I sheepishly arrive in my car and opened the hatch. The lumpy t-shirt guy came out arms folded and promptly began loudly berating me: "You're a child! You're a child! You can't control your own dog. What's wrong with you? Have you thought about what is wrong with YOU?"

I begged for mercy, and finally was saved by the wife who brought Taz out. I stuffed Taz in back and vowed to never have this happen again. It just so happened that we were going camping the following weekend, and a good friend of my wife who was an actress and dog trainer on the side vowed to cure Taz of his bad habits. She moved in for a few days with her own little black terrier, and soon I was bedazzled by the site of Taz dutifully following orders, sitting, following, stopping (no fetching, the actress thought that too demeaning). Taz stopped running away. I was amazed. She vowed by the time we returned from our camping trip we would have a brand new Taz It was on our way home that we got a call that Taz had escaped once again. This time he was at the dog pound. I walked down the long, depressing row of cages and found Taz, looking awfully glad to see me.

The actress had helped; Taz was better for a few weeks, until one day he slipped out the door when I was taking out the trash and sprinted toward the dreaded cul-de-sac. This time I didn't even bother to follow. Shortly afterward I got a phone call from the cul-de-sac wife. Look, said the woman with all the kindness she could muster, we really love Taz. He sleeps with us in our bed. He gets along great with our other three dogs, and our roommate, a single woman, wants to walk him everyday. What do you say you let us adopt him, no questions asked?

I talked it over with Cindi and Chloe, and at first their natural possessiveness kicked in, as did mine. But I argued, maybe Taz liked it better at the cul-de-sac. Maybe we never were the right family for Taz. We all felt very sad, but finally we all agreed.

In fact I would often see Taz walking with the single woman, looking content. Every now and then I'd see them on that steep hiking trail (not pulling the leash) and Taz would lick me in recognition. As the years went by I saw him less and less, and even once on the trail Taz did not seem to remember me. If this seems like a bittersweet ending, it is. I wish I had known what I know now about dog training. But ultimately, Taz was happier with that family,

and although I alone take the blame, I also am grateful to have known Taz -- and the lessons he taught me about myself.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

How Sensible Is Cooking Your Own Dog Or Cat Food?

The first thing to remember when considering home cooking for your pet is the simple truth that you are NOT cooking for a person, you are cooking for an animal - that might seem obvious, but so many pet owners treat their pets as if they were children.

Dogs, cats and people have different nutritional needs and some foods which are fine for you can be dangerous to them - you must take this into consideration.

Some pet owners begin feeding home cooked food because they find that their pet is not too interested in the commercial food being offered. Eventually they find themselves trapped because the pet will now not eat any commercially prepared food, and home cooking now constitutes 100% of the animal's daily intake. In these cases, arranging a diet composed of foods commonly used in the household may be the only way of delivering a balanced diet to the pet.

In some European countries homemade foods already supply an estimated 35% of cats with 60% of their caloric intake. When the pet receives more than half its daily calories from table foods, the whole diet should then be formulated to ensure a proper nutrient intake and avoid the dangers of obesity or other health problems.

Really, it's up to you and the ingredients that you have to hand, but a good guide to follow would be that given by Veterinary Surgeon John Burns of Burns Pet Nutrition who advises the following proportions of a home made diet for dogs

1/3 rd by volume boiled brown rice

1/3 rd by volume meat (this should be varied regularly using chicken, fish, lamb, beef)

1/3 rd by volume vegetable, again varied using roots and greens and to include some seaweed (dried or fresh)

John Burns adds 'I have less experience in the use of home made food for cats but in general cats need a higher level of protein and less carbohydrate.

'This could be achieved by increasing the meat portion to 50% with the rice and vegetable portions of 25% each. Again, some seaweed should be included to provide trace minerals.'

Cats have a very specific requirement for meat, and can't survive without several essential amino-acids found only in meat. So a vegetarian diet for a cat is really not on. Also limit the amount of liver you feed your cat (to avoid an excess of Vit A) and make sure to cook fish (regular feeding of raw fish can apparently lead to a vitamin B deficiency)

A few good foods to include

Vegetables - Green vegetables are a great way of boosting your dogs immune system, you can feed these raw or cooked. Raw carrot makes a healthy treat. Vegetables are possibly better for dogs than fruit. Potato must be cooked, and mashed potato is a suitable ingredient for home cooking.

Fruit - in the wild, dogs would have scavenged windfall fruit as well as digesting the remains of fruit eaten by other animals when they pick over the carcass, so giving your dog fruit is not as strange as it might sound. Fresh fruit is packed full of anti-oxidants, vitamins and all sorts of other healthy nutrients, so it's great for keeping your dog in top condition. Some fruits are quite acidic (as well as sugary) and may not be good for dogs with skin or digestive complaints.

Grains - Rice is universally recommended, and brown rice preferred, but make sure that it is well cooked so that your pet can get the maximum goodness.

Meat and fish - Vary the protein that you are feeding, so that a good range of amino acids is provided. Fish, particularly oily varieties are a good source of omega 3 and 6 oils.

Yoghurt - this is a great source of protein, calcium and vitamins, and is particularly good for dogs with diarrhoea thanks to the probiotics it contains.

Cottage cheese - another surprisingly healthy dairy food which is great for growing puppies and lactating bitches.

Brewer's yeast - Can be purchased from health food stores or chemists as a food supplement and is full of nutrients and vitamins. You only need to use about 1/2 tsp a day with recipes.

A few things to avoid

There are a few "No's" when it comes to selecting ingredients for home cooking. Veterinary Surgeons would tend to advise against the following foodstuffs, or at least to be wary of feeding large quantities:

Mushrooms: best avoided as some dogs will not tolerate mushrooms well and they can cause serious toxicity.

Chocolate: Chocolate contains theobromine. Theobromine is a similar compound to caffeine and stimulates the heart and nervous system. In dogs it can poison them with death occurring from heart failure. Cats may not metabolise chocolate in the same way as dogs but are also thought to be at risk.

Onions (and garlic) OK in small quantities, but be careful. Can cause blood problems including anaemia.

Cows milk: Cats and dogs along with most other mammals lose, to a variable extent, their ability to digest lactose (milk sugar) with age, because the activity of the enzyme lactase declines with age

Macadamia nuts: The toxic compound is unknown but the affect of macadamia nuts is to cause locomotory difficulties. Dogs develop a tremor of the skeletal muscles, and weakness or paralysis of the hindquarters. Affected dogs are often unable to rise and are distressed, usually panting. Some affected dogs have swollen limbs and show pain when the limbs are manipulated.

Tomatoes: a small amount of ripe tomato is unlikely to cause any problems, but green tomatoes can cause stomach upsets so it's best to avoid them.

Grapes: The ASCPA (Animal Poison Control Centre in the USA) has recently published information stating the toxicity of raisins and grapes in dogs (they do not know how they affect cats yet, but advise to avoid feeding them anyway). Eating just a handful of raisins and grapes has been shown to cause kidney failure.

Fatty foods: Very fatty foods may lead to problems such as pancreatitis. The pancreas releases enzymes to help digest the food. Pancreatitis is a very painful inflammatory condition associated with the ingestion of fatty foods.

You need to be aware that there has always been a voice out there arguing that home cooking is not the best way of feeding. Here is a quote from the Canadian Veterinarian Association pamphlet on pet food, 'A Commonsense Guide to Feeding Your Dog or Cat:'

"Why Are Homemade Diets Not Recommended? Homemade diets are not recommended because there is a good chance that all the necessary nutrients or the proper proportions will not be provided. Incorrect preparation and cooking may also deplete certain nutrients and result in a deficient diet. As well, homemade diets are usually more expensive to produce, without providing better nutrition."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Hummingbirds - Beautiful and Active

Hummingbirds are one of the most beautiful and active species of birds to watch; their colour and the way they dart around are so entrancing to the keen bird watcher.

There are over three hundred species of hummingbirds, native to the Americas and parts of the Caribbean. They are particularly renowned for their mid air hovering ability, sustained by the rapid flapping of their wings, between fifteen and eighty times per second, the humming sound of which gives them their name. They are the only species of bird which can also fly backwards as well as vertically, somewhat like a vertical take off and landing aircraft. Interestingly, their feet are not useful for walking, just perching so if they want to travel, they must fly.

There are seventeen species of hummingbirds which live in the USA, mostly in the warmer parts such as Texas, California and Arizona, although some can be found in the east and others in the Rocky Mountains. Most migrate to the warmer climes of Central and South America in winter but their route and destination is very much dependent on species.

Other than their extraordinary flying characteristics, the appearance of the hummingbird is what makes it so attractive. The iridescent sheen of the feathers and gorgeous colouring of blue, green, pink, purple and almost anything in between are quite irresistible to the bird watcher.

If you have a garden in a hummingbird area, you will know that they love brightly coloured flowers. These vary from area to area but Salvia, Buddleia, Nicotiana and Callistemon (Bottle Brush) are universally popular. Hummingbirds have long curved beaks, designed to suck nectar from plants with bell shaped flowers. While feeding, they will hover in mid air which is quite a spectacle and they need to feed approximately every ten minutes. They also eat small insects and pollen for protein so if you can avoid using insecticides in your garden, it would be much better for the hummers. If you want to provide food for your garden hummingbird population, there are plenty of feeders on the market from which to dispense nectar. Try to choose one which has a moat to prevent ants getting to the nectar.

Some people see orange and brown or zebra striped flying creatures in their gardens which hover and act just like hummingbirds. Don't be deceived - these are probably hawk moths.

Hummingbirds court visually. The male may raise his feathers edging the gorget and shake his head from side to side, all the while, making shrill noises. He also does dive displays, accompanied by various sounds made vocally or by the wing feathers. Alternatively, the male may perform a shuttle dance involving flying back and forth very quickly in arc shapes only about ten inches wide and sometimes right in front of the face of the female.

In some species, the males all group together and sing to attract nearby females into their territory. The males and females have separate territories, the females for nesting and the males usually to protect a source of food.

All in all the hummingbird is not only beautiful and active but fascinating to watch in terms of other behaviour.

Safe Traveling For Your Dog, Cat or Bird

Every pet owner is faced with the prospect of having to travel with their dog, cat or bird at some point. Whether it is a few days or a few weeks, there are steps and products you can employ to make this a comfortable - if not fun - time for your pet!

When traveling, the most important thing to do is to take frequent breaks. Always buckle your pet in with a harness if you are not using a crate while driving. The safest and most comfortable place for your pet during car travel is in the back seat. When you have your pet in the back seat, always have some sort of bar barrier between the front and back seat -such as the 10 Bar Euro Auto Pet Barrier - or use a hammock-style barrier. This keeps your pet out of the way when you're driving.

A great option for keeping your pet occupied during travel is some sort of cushioned booster seat, which are available for dogs up to 30 lbs. These booster seats are calming for animals that stress easily during travel. Your dog or cat will be able to watch the surroundings, and be cushioned for comfort. Some great booster seats are the Lookout I or II. An option for cat traveling is the Kittywalk Cozy Cabin. All have a seat belt harness for added safety.

Traveling with a bird can sometimes prove precarious. The best way to prepare your feathered friend is to acclimate your bird to a travel cage a few weeks prior to actually traveling. If you are using a crate, and your bird is calm around it, you can acclimate them to the crate. We recommend a travel cage when traveling by car. It allows your bird to look out and see you at the same time. This will provide comfort to your bird during the stress of travel. Some birds actually end up enjoying traveling - they get to look out the car window and see a whole new collection of sights!

Another thing to remember while traveling with your bird is environmental control. NEVER leave any animal in a car without environment control, regardless of the weather outside.

Unfortunately, when traveling with exotic birds such as parrots, theft is common. Never leave your windows rolled down or your doors unlocked when you have to leave a bird in your car. Get a few duplicate car keys and wear one around your neck while traveling. If you make a pit stop and you have to leave your car out of your sight with your bird inside, lock the doors with the car still running (for environmental control), and use your extra key to open the door when you get back. Only be gone for a minute or two at the most, and always cover your bird when you leave him behind in your car to deter theft.

Monday, February 04, 2008

I'm Allergic To My Cat!

Having a cat allergy came as something of a surprise to me. Growing up, I had many pets - cats, dogs and birds. My family were animal lovers and pets abounded, so being in contact with animals was a daily occurance. No one ever seemed to suffer from a cat allergy or any kind of animal allergy for that matter.

After my teens and my last pet had died, I wasn't in a position to take on another pet for many years. Then, eleven years ago, a friend of a cousin was looking for a home for their last remaining kitten. And so it was that Kira came into my life. This was a cat with attitude (and still is!) and we bonded pretty much immediately. While she was still a kitten, I'd put her in the kitchen overnight with a little cat bed to sleep in and the litter box close by.

As she grew older, I started letting her sleep in the bedroom. It's surprising how relaxing a cat's purring can be in wee small hours.

A little over a year later, when down with the vet getting some supplies, I heard that there was a kitten that needed a home or it would have to be put to sleep. And so, Fritz came home with me that day.

Unfortuately, Kira was less than impressed with this interloper and I had to keep the two separated for several days before an uneasy truce ensued.

They're an odd pair - Kira has attitude, Fritz is much more companionable; what you'd call a "gentle soul". She's still the Queen around the house and occasionally puts Fritz in his place with a right-hook to the face when she feels the need to assert her authority.

As Fritz matured, he also was allowed into the bedroom. Both he and Kira would sleep there during the day and night, as was their want.

We all know that cats are the greatest creature-comfort-seeking animals on the planet and a comfy place to catnap is one of their major concerns. But the place your cat chooses to snooze may not be your first choice. While I didn't mind the cats sleeping on the bed, I did take exception to Fritz's tendency to charge in from the garden and sleep in a basket of warm, freshly dried laundry straight from the dryer.

The Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine recently conducted a poll of pet-owners on the sleeping habits of their pets and found that 60% of them sleep in bed with one of the family. Where cats are concerned, there are two potential problems here: one is that, somehow, they manage to take up 90% of the bed and the other has to do with allergies.

I found I had a mild cat allergy when I started producing weird wheezing noises any time I was doing something strenuous. Coughing eased it for a few minutes but it would always return. I figured I’d developed a mild form of asthma, probably due to bad air quality and pollution, so I went to the doctor to have it checked out. After listening to my lungs he asked me one question: "Do you have a cat?"

Well, yes, I did. Two in fact.

"You’re allergic to your cats", he intoned.

Then he asked if the cats slept in the bedroom. Of course they did.

"There’s your real problem", he said. "What you’re allergic to is the dander produced by your cats. When a cat sleeps on your bed, the dander ends up in the sheets and the duvet and you breathe it in deeply at night when you’re asleep. Not good. That’s what causes your wheeziness. Stop the cats sleeping in your bedroom for two or three weeks and see if that eases your symptoms. If not, you’ll probably need to use an inhaler for the rest of your life."

Ok, that last sentence kinda hit me between the eyes. Much as I love my two furballs, I didn’t want to suffer a long-lasting health problem that could possibly be avoided.

So why is dander such a problem? It's the layer of dead skin that's rich in animal protein, which is continuously shed by animals. Sebaceous (oil producing) glands in the skin also produce these protein allergens. Male cats have, on average, greater amounts of sebaceous secretions and therefore are more allergenic than female or neutered male cats. This is a result of testosterone hormone effects on sebaceous glands.

So, with that information and the prospect of an enduring health problem, I banned my cats from the bedroom, threw out the duvet (on the advice of the doctor), bought a new one and changed everything on the bed (including getting new pillows). I didn’t get too much sleep the first few nights with the cats meowing and scratching on the door to get in but they got used to the idea, finally. After three weeks in a cat free bedroom, my wheeziness had all but disappeared. The cats haven’t been allowed back in since.

Should you find yourself with a similar cat allergy problem, banning the cat from your bedroom is one possible course of action. Alternatively, you can get your cat his own cat bed and put that somewhere out of harm's way (yours and the cat's).

Since finding out I was mildly allergic to my cats, I've spoken to other cat owners about it and quite a number also suffer some mild form of allergic reaction - sneezing, wheezing, watering eyes, blocked sinuses and so on. Owners appear to become at least somewhat immune to their own cats insofar as the symptoms are not as pronounced as they become when they're around other people's cats.

But, having said that, none of us would ever part with our feline companions and would exhort others to adopt a cat as a pet, as the benefits far outweigh any minor inconveniences.

Animal dander allergy can significantly contribute to respiratory problems involving the sinuses, nasal passages, and eyes, as well as causing upper respiratory tract problems that can result in asthma . These problems can significantly diminish your quality of life despite various medical treatments. For some people, it can be even more serious, leading to recurrent acute asthmatic attacks that can be life threatening, requiring emergency room visits and hospitalizations. The good news is that most people who are allergic to their pets can keep their symptoms under control if they know the facts.

Seven People-Foods You Should Not Feed To Your Cat Or Dog

Growing up in a small farm town had a lot of advantages, not the least of which was a freedom and sense of complete control over one's own contentment and pursuits of happiness.

We had a lot of pets. We had cats, dogs, a white rat, turtles, frogs, and anything else we found or that came to us as hungry strays. Back then, we didn't think too much about what our pets ate. We very often gave our pets "people-foods"; scraps from family meals, treats, etc.

The local farmers always had a bunch of hungry cats and dogs running around their property, feeding on cows' milk, mice, birds, table scraps, and any other bit of fodder they could find (or that someone nonchalantly and innocently tossed their way).

What we did not realize is that we were giving our pets foods which are hazardous for them. For some reason, we believed that if we could eat it so could they. Looking back, that way of thinking, that mentality seems rather ignorant; indeed, even blind to so many things.

Funny, though, because we rarely took any of our pets to veterinarians back then either. Hmmmmm...perhaps they (the pets) knew how to heal themselves from all the junk we gave them. Maybe they knew enough natural remedies (i.e., herbs, berries, fruits, weeds, and other 'anti-toxins') to counteract our poisons.

There was not a lot of information-sharing back then either. Certainly nowhere near as it is today, and things we learned came much slower then, for sure! I guess life was just a whole lot slower and simpler then.

How many adorable pictures have we seen of tiny kittens being fed pure cow's milk, directly from the cow? Now, we are told many cats are lactose intolerant and cannot metabolize the milk properly, so we should not give that to them.

Who knew?

Here are seven "people foods" that should not be given to your cat or dog, as they have been found to be either directly or indirectly "toxic" to them:

Avocado --

Avocados contain persin, which is a derivative of fatty acids. Persin is toxic to cats and dogs, as well as other animals, and especially birds.

Chocolate --

Chocolate is considered to be poisonous to cats and dogs. It contains theobromine, an alkaloid, which can give pets theobromine poisoning, which can lead to death if not treated early.

Cows' milk --

Cows' milk is not considered toxic to cats, but some cats are lactose intolerant, thus milk may give them diarrhea or other digestive symptoms.

Foods containing Xylitol --

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center warns dog owners that products sweetened with Xylitol are harmful to dogs. Xylitol is a naturally occurring sweetener extracted from fibers of fruits and vegetables and is used in a wide variety of desserts, snacks, candies, gums, and the like. Xylitol can cause a rapid and severe blood-sugar drop in dogs, which can lead to seizures, vomiting and weakness. Immediate veterinary attention is required.

Grapes, raisins --

Grapes and raisins should be avoided as pet snacks, as they have been linked with kidney failure, especially in dogs.

Onion, garlic, leek, chive --

Onions contain a substance called N-propyl disulphide, which can destroy red blood cells in cats, causing a type of anemia called Heinz body anemia. Garlic, leeks and chives contain similar substances, although in lesser amounts.

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