Cats Communicate in Many Ways

VSSF Admin - Monday, January 26, 2015

Cats often have a reputation for being solitary and self-absorbed. Many people think cats don’t bond with their humans or that they don’t need or want any kind of social interaction. Those who really “know” cats, though, know differently. Cats, beneath their stoic demeanor, are full of emotion and they convey that to others – cats, humans, dogs, etc., – in varied ways. Understanding them can be an art, but there are a few things all cats do that have specific meaning:

  • Purring – Most think the cat’s purr in a sign of happiness and often it is. But the purr has many meanings. A cat purrs when it feels strong emotion. This can include love, contentment, pain or extreme stress.
  • Meowing – Kittens meow at their mothers, but as cats grow, they tend to save this particular form of communication for their human companions. The meow can mean many things and is a way of garnering attention. Cats meow when they want something – food, petting or for you to open the door and let them outside. Some meows, usually lower in tone and seeming to come from the back of that cat’s throat, are a warning sign that Kitty isn’t happy and might attack if you don’t stop doing whatever it is that bothers her. The meow can also indicate stress or loneliness.
  • Ears – Cats can’t change their general facial expression the way humans and dogs can. There is speculation that this is one of the reasons for their above-mentioned reputation, since humans read facial expressions to judge other creatures’ moods. But cats can do a lot with their ears. A laid-back ear is a sure sign that your cat is angry or afraid and you should probably leave him alone – or at least investigate a possible problem if the cat is reacting to something you can’t see. Perked up ears mean Kitty has heard something interesting that she might want to investigate herself. Perhaps there’s a smaller creature that needs hunting somewhere or someone to play with. A nervous cat will flatten his ears to the side while an annoyed cat will flick her ears.
  • Tails – Just like dogs, a cat’s tail is full of expression. A tail held high and straight in the air is Kitty’s greeting and a sign that he might want some petting. This is especially true if the end of the tail tips over a bit. A relaxed cat might gently move his tail back and forth, but if that tail begins flicking quickly, you know your cat isn’t happy at the moment. If you’re petting him, it’s best to stop to avoid injury.

Mapping the Feline Genome can Help Treat and Cure Human Ailments

VSSF Admin - Monday, January 19, 2015

The latest trend in the feline science world is geneticists attempting to map domestic cat DNA. The initiative began in 2007 with a genome sequence for an Abyssinian cat named Cinnamon. The research, however, stalled due to errors and data gaps. In 2014, finally, scientists published the cat’s complete, high-resolution genome.

Now geneticists have begun the 99Lives project, which entails mapping genomes for 99 different domestic cat breeds. The project is due to the efforts of Leslie Lyons of the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine. So far, the team has mapped 56 breeds’ genomes.

The project has implications in the human world, since cats can develop several conditions that humans are susceptible to and the feline versions are similar to their human counterparts. Some of these conditions are retinal atrophy, type 2 diabetes, asthma and even HIV.

Several sources help fund the project, but it’s expensive – more than $7,500 per cat. Besides grants, the project accepts individual monetary donations. But just as important, the project requires specimens for mapping. If you’re a cat owner who wants to help but can’t afford the cash, consider contributing Fluffy’s DNA.

Lyons’ website on the project, http://felinegenetics.missouri.edu/ninety-nine-lives, includes instructions for donating money and DNA. To donate DNA, you’ll have to ask your veterinarian to draw a small amount of blood in a specific kind of vial. The project needs cats of all persuasions from all around the world, whether purebred or a stray you adopted from your local shelter.

Why Do Dogs Kick their Legs When Scratched?

VSSF Admin - Monday, January 12, 2015

The infamous belly rub – dogs love it. They roll over and beg for it. They smile when you do it. Their mouths hang open, their tongues hanging loose in an expression of pure bliss.

And one of their back legs begins a violent jerking motion.

This is the “scratch reflex,” triggered when something rubs the dog’s “saddle” – flanks, belly and back. Each dog’s trigger point is different and they don’t all kick the same leg.

This kicking is a response to what the dog’s nerves recognize as an irritant that the dog needs to remove. While belly rubs are pleasant, a parasite isn’t. It could be a flea or something else harmful. Just as a person kicks out a leg when the doctor hits the knee in just the right spot, the reaction in dogs is involuntary and out of his control. Veterinarians can use this reflex – whether it’s working – to assess certain neurological issues a dog might develop.

The reflex is harmless and painless, but that jerking leg can inadvertently come into contact with the owner’s face or an errant nail can cause a scratch, so be aware of your dog’s specific reaction and steer clear to avoid injury. And as long as your dog isn’t whining or attempting to escape, most likely he’s enjoying the rub and not in any distress – especially if he rolled over and asked for it in the first place. The only time you need to worry is if your otherwise reactive dog stops kicking when you rub her belly. That can indicate a problem and you should seek medical attention.

New Year’s Resolution Time – Fifi and Fido Need the Gym, Too!

VSSF Admin - Monday, January 05, 2015

It’s the beginning of a new year, all is fresh and free. Everyone is thinking about what they’re going to do to improve their lives and one of the most common resolutions is “lose weight.”

But if you need to lose some extra pounds, there’s a good chance your dog or cat does, too. Maybe you’ve been feeding them little treats through the holiday season, or maybe being extra busy has meant a little less play time or fewer long walks. Either way, if your pet is carrying a little extra weight, it’s time to get serious about losing it.

As always, consult your vet to first confirm your pet needs to lose and second to make sure your pet’s health won’t suffer from fewer calories and more exercise. Once you’ve received the all-clear, go ahead and start restricting food.

If you free-feed your pets, stop. Set specific mealtimes and measure portions. Remove the food after 30 minutes if your cat or dog hasn’t finished eating it and isn’t interested anymore. How much and how often to feed will depend on your pet’s weight and how much your pet needs to lose. Usually feeding will occur two to three times per day. Losses should be gradual – no more than 2 percent a week.

With cats in particular, be prepared for active protest in response to less food. Cats like to eat and they like to eat when they want to eat – or at least when they’re used to eating. Some will find anything they can to make noise to wake up their people if the bowl is empty at 3 a.m.

Dogs complain a little less, but can be just as insistent when meal time comes around. They have their own internal clocks and will let you know if feeding time is coming up or passed without food in their bowls.

Exercise for dogs is straight-forward – more walks and more play-time. This is beneficial to your own waistline, so don’t skimp. Provide your cats with plenty of toys and invest in something you can dangle in front of your cat so he can chase it around. A laser pointer you can shine at a wall and move around is a good choice, too. Just be careful not to shine it in anyone’s (human, feline or canine) eyes.

These simple changes will have your pet in tip-top shape in no time.

A Guide to Performing CPR on Your Dog

VSSF Admin - Monday, December 29, 2014

Just like people, for various reasons dogs can go into cardiac arrest. If there is a medical professional nearby – specifically someone trained in veterinary science – it’s best to defer to that person for help. However, if you find yourself in a position where you must administer emergency treatment, performing canine CPR can save your dog’s life.

There are specific steps you must take for it to be effective and never, ever perform CPR on a dog that does not need it. This can result in your dog’s death.

  1. Lay the dog on a flat surface.
  2. Dislodge any objects in the dog’s mouth or throat.
  3. Breather directly into the dog’s nostrils, using your hands to create a small space around the nose and keep the dog’s mouth closed. Consider the dog’s size when breathing. It will take stronger breaths to get air to a larger dog’s lungs. Blow quickly, five to six times.
  4. For compressions, first check for a heartbeat. If there is none, place your palms on either side of the dog’s heart, which is on the left side. Press 15 to 20 times over 10 seconds. Be gentle, but firm – careful not to break ribs. Do 15 compressions for each breath.
  5. Continue until the dog begins breathing on its own.

Once your dog is breathing on its own and the emergency is passed, take him immediately to a veterinarian for further care.

Happy Chanukah and Merry Christmas!

VSSF Admin - Monday, December 22, 2014






















Choosing the Best Dog for Your Family

VSSF Admin - Monday, December 15, 2014

Many years ago after the movie “101 Dalmatians” hit theaters, parents ran out and bought or adopted Dalmatians and then promptly took them to. They’re beautiful and for the right home, they are wonderful pets. But they are not a breed that is generally good with children.

This is a common mistake people make when they don’t do their research. Certainly, as stated last week, some Dalmatians are great with kids and if you happen across one that is and you want to adopt him, go for it. Don’t, however, seek one out if you have children at home.

The same goes for Chihuahuas and miniature pinschers, to name just a couple. They’re small and toy-like and this makes people think they’re perfect for children. That’s a mistake. Small dogs often are the worst choice for a home with children. Children are loud. They want to pick the dogs up, sometimes they pull tails, ears, hair (this is behavior parents must keep an eye out for and discourage, no matter what, but sometimes accidents happen). Small dogs are particularly nervous about such behavior because they are more vulnerable than larger dogs and it’s more difficult for a small dog to get away.

That isn’t to say that if you have children you can’t get a small dog. Many terriers do well in homes with children, as do English bull dogs. And you may get lucky and find that one in a thousand Chihuahua that loves kids. Beagle is also a child-friendly breed.
Surprising to many, bull terriers are wonderful with children. Years ago, people used them as canine nannies and they are very protective.

If you go for a poodle, make sure it’s the standard poodle and not the toy poodle, which falls into the “small dogs aren’t a good choice” category. Collies and German shepherds also fall into the protective category and will generally put up with a small child’s energy and curiosity. And, of course, there is always the good old mutt with the right personality.

So when choosing a family pet, keep in mind the unique dynamics of your home and lifestyle and research breed traits so that when you finally make your decision, there won’t be any surprises and your new friend will be able to stay with you for life.

So Your Kid Wants a Dog...

VSSF Admin - Monday, December 08, 2014

It’s hard to believe it’s December already and the year is almost over. Now that Halloween and Thanksgiving are behind, we’re ready to turn our attention to Christmas and that means shopping for gifts.

This is the time of year parents start considering a pet for their children. It makes an adorable and fun photo op on Christmas morning, but it’s important to make sure that happy moment isn’t the only one your family has with your new member. It’s important to remember that a new pet is more than a present – it’s a long-term responsibility for a living creature that depends on you.

There are several things to consider when making this decision. One is to think about how much responsibility you want your children to take for the animal’s care, keeping in mind that no matter their ages, most of the care will probably fall on Mom and Dad. Even teenagers will forget sometimes and the pet might not be their first priority. Regardless, dogs need to be walked, litter boxes need cleaning and all animals need feeding. The animal shouldn’t suffer due to a child’s natural lack of responsibility. So while it’s OK to use a new pet as a teaching tool for your children, you should still be prepared to take on the bulk of the care.

In that vein, the next decision you need to make is what kind of pet to get. Dog or cat? Puppy or kitten? Of them all, puppies are going to require the most attention. Kittens tend to be easier, if you’re set on a baby pet, but you should consider your family’s lifestyle in the decision between a cat or dog. Kittens also can be somewhat destructive, though, so be prepared for clawing and chewing.

Do you want to adopt from a shelter or buy from a reputable breeder? If you’re going with an adult animal, you’ll likely be looking at rescues. You can find breed-specific rescue groups through a quick online search if you want a specific or purebred dog or cat; or you can go to a local shelter if you’re not picky about breed. While breeds all have specific common traits, each dog has its own personality, so while Dalmatians aren’t known for being good with children, as a breed, some love children.

If you’ve considered all of these things and still want to bring a cat or dog home for the holidays, all that’s left is to make sure you have all the necessary supplies (especially food!) and enjoy your new friend.
Next week, more about dog breeds and which ones are best depending on your family’s makeup.

Dog Lovers vs. Cat Lovers

VSSF Admin - Monday, December 01, 2014

A study from Carroll University in Waukesha, WI, reveals that there are real personality differences between cat lovers and dog lovers.

Dog lovers, the study says, are more likely to be outgoing and rule-followers, while cat lovers are more open-minded, though introverted and sensitive. Also of note, cat lovers tend to prefer to do things their own way rather than follow set rules and standards. Cat lovers, also, tend to be smarter than dog lovers.
In the study, cat lovers cited affection from their pets as most important to them. Dog lovers cited companionship.

The researcher, Denise Guastello, concluded that people’s preconceived notions of animal stereotypes tend to influence their choice in pets. Cat lovers value independence and a certain amount of caution. People generally think of cats as loners and nonconformists. Dogs, on the other hand, crave attention and validation.

For practical purposes, pet therapy programs can use the study’s findings to better match animals with their therapy subjects. Observing a person and noting whether that person displays traits that identify him or her as a dog or cat person can inform with which owner/animal the program should match the patient.
And if you like both equally? You just might need to wait for the next study to tell you about yourself.

Keep Pets in Mind this Thanksgiving

VSSF Admin - Monday, November 24, 2014
It’s one again that time of year where Americans get together with family they either love or hate and maybe even some friends – who they probably at least like – and stuff themselves with lots and lots of wonderful food. For many it means either traveling or hosting a houseful of people. Either can be stressful for your pets and you must keep them in mind as the food is flying because it isn’t all safe for them.

Whether you are taking your pet with you on a trip or having people to your house, be mindful of your cat or dog’s tolerance and personality. Animals that do fine with adults can be wary and unfriendly with unpredictable and hyper children. You don’t want your holiday ruined by a well-placed cat scratch or dog bite because no one was making sure child-pet interactions were appropriate and safe. Children also are less likely to ask permission before feeding your pet table food. While most traditional Thanksgiving fare is not poisonous, an animal with a sensitive stomach could end up having an accident in the middle of your nice dinner.

And keep in mind that even the most well-behaved dog or cat can become overwhelmed by too much activity that he isn’t used to. Cats can and will generally remove themselves well from a distressing situation, but dogs often want to be in the middle of everything, even if it isn’t the best place for them. Keep an eye on your pets and make sure they are happy and comfortable.

A few traditional foods to avoid giving to your dog are:

  • Meat with the bone still in it.
  • Macadamia nuts.
  • Turkey skin.
  • Onions and garlic.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Nutmeg.
  • Sage.

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