Do Our Pets Love Us?

VSSF Admin - Monday, July 28, 2014

It’s clear when we walk in the front door that our pets are happy to see us. Dogs, of course, run seemingly with a big smile on their faces, tails wagging, to greet us enthusiastically. Cats are more subtle, but usually they will at least make the trek to the door to let us know they’re aware we’ve returned.

The cuddle up with us on our couches and beds. They follow us around the house. They bark or meow in what seems to be an attempt at communication. They even form attachments to each other.

All the signs are there, but one can’t help wondering: do animals love?

Science, it seems, says yes, based on something as simple as monitoring hormones.

When humans feel “love,” the biological process is actually the body producing and releasing oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Studies have shown that humans release this hormone in many situations, from something as intense as caring for one’s offspring as simply having a pleasant interaction with a stranger. It’s what makes humans have good feelings for other humans and it helps humans form attachments, even short, slight attachments. The level of increase in oxytocin levels depends on the strength of a particular relationship and it can increase in increments of 0 to 100 percent.

Scientists took this research and applied it to cats and dogs – not only in their relationships with humans, but also with other animals and the research showed that dogs and cats also showed increases in oxytocin levels when they interacted with other creatures – human, feline, canine or otherwise – with which the animals had strong attachments.

So when your dog runs to meet you at the door or your cat rubs her face against your legs as you stand in the kitchen, it isn’t just instinct or begging for food – it’s true love.

Watch for Symptoms of Common Ailments in Cats

VSSF Admin - Monday, July 21, 2014
One of the biggest responsibilities pet owners have is ensuring their animals’ wellbeing. There are many illnesses cats can develop, but some are more common in your feline friends than others. It’s important to pay attention when your cat begins acting different from her usual self to monitor for these –
  • A cat that has worms might exhibit appetite loss, weight loss, diarrhea, a dull coat and an extended abdomen. There are several different kinds of worms that can come from eating rodents, insects and birds.
  • Upper respiratory infections are most common in cats with flat faces, but can occur in any cat. Stress can be a major factor in development. Symptoms to watch for are congestion, fever, appetite loss, runny nose, nasal discharge and rapid breathing. These illnesses are contagious, so if you have multiple cats, isolate the infected feline until the infection passes.
  • If you notice Fluffy heading to the litter box more often than usual or straining to urinate, he might have urinary tract infection. You may also observe blood in the urine.
If you observe any of these symptoms in your cat, the first thing you should do is call your vet for an appointment. They are all treatable. A course of antibiotics should take care of a urinary tract or respiratory infection and an oral dewormer will banish round or tapeworms.

Independence Day Requires Vigilance and Safety Precautions

VSSF Admin - Monday, June 30, 2014

July 4th is a time of celebration, patriotism, outdoor fun and fireworks – whether you set them off at home or head out to watch a show. But all of these things can cause stress or danger for your pets.

The most obvious concern is fear of the loud fireworks noise. Make sure you have a plan, especially if your pet – usually this is a concern with dogs more than cats – is particularly sensitive to such things. But even if loud noises barely bother your pet, or don’t bother him at all, setting off fireworks at home comes with a whole different set of dangers.

As humans, we understand the danger and most of us take safety precautions and stay away from a lit firework or sparkler. While animals have a natural fear of fire, in the excitement, they may not recognize it in a form different from the norm. Many of us have seen the YouTube video of the dog picking up a lit firework and running around the yard with it playing keepaway. We laugh at the image, but the reality is that is a recipe for disaster. Not only could the dog set that firework down near a person just as it’s about to detonate, but the dog could lose it life once the fuse burns down if the firework is still in his mouth.

So if you’re going to entertain your family with a private firework display, keep your pets either inside or behind a secure barrier and make sure when you set them off that they’re not pointed toward any living creatures – human, canine or feline, especially.

Finally, if your daytime celebration includes outdoor activities and your pet is along for the ride, keep an eye out for signs of heat stroke and be careful not to feed your furry friend any table foods that might cause illness.

Keep Fido from Raiding the Litter Box

VSSF Admin - Monday, June 23, 2014

Something anyone with a dog and an indoor cat can relate to is Fido’s interest in Fluffy’s litter box. For some reason, dogs seem to think cats are leaving special little treats just for the, but the last thing their human caretaker wants is to find that the dog has partaken in such delicacies.

One major problem that can occur when a dog raids a litter box is the cat will stop using it – an issue no one wants in his or her home. And while this is a natural, normal dog behavior, it’s not something most humans tolerate and we all must live together in harmony.

But how do you stop it? Even a covered litter box can leave enough of an opening for a dog’s head to fit through, and it’s nearly impossible to train the behavior out of a dog once he’s taken up the habit. That’s like setting a juicy steak in front of him and expecting him not to eat it because the human said no.

Ultimately, the best remedy is to remove the temptation. That means moving the litter box to a place where Fido can’t get to it. On top of a sturdy table is probably the easiest and most convenient option. Another option is to find a spot in the house with a small opening the cat can fit through but the dog can’t and placing the litter box behind it. Depending on your dog’s intelligence, a pocket door left slightly open is a workable solution. Usually if a house has such a door, it leads to a bathroom or laundry room, which are ideal places for litter boxes. You could also put up a baby gate that sits slightly above the floor – the cat can squeeze beneath. If your dog is small or not a jumper, a baby gate just sitting on the floor will also work, since most cats can jump over something that height with no problem.

Keep Pets Safe in the Summer Heat

VSSF Admin - Monday, June 09, 2014

As the days grow longer, they also grow warmer, the sun hotter and hotter. While this weather change makes being outdoors more pleasant, it also presents hazards, especially for our furry friends. Heat stroke is a real danger. Animals cannot tell us when something is wrong and so we must be diligent in ensuring they stay healthy and safe on outdoor adventures, or even when just hanging around in the yard. Increased humidity adds to the danger, since it prevents moisture evaporation from lungs when panting, which is how animals that do not sweat as people do.

Besides the obvious not leaving pets in hot cars, there are several things you as a pet owner can do to make summer a pleasant time and prevent heat stroke, which can lead to death. Most importantly, ensure your pet has adequate shade and water, especially if your pet spends a lot of time outside. A cool shelter is also important. Invest in a plastic kiddie pool for dogs. Filled with water and placed in a shaded area, they give your dog a place to easily cool himself if the heat becomes overwhelming. You can also find in pet stores cooling body wraps for your pet to wear in the heat or provide cooling treat, such as frozen peanut butter “pops.” If you take your dog to a park, the beach or other outdoor area away from home, be sure to bring along plenty of fresh water and a bowl so your dog has plenty to drink.

Even if you take all of these precautions, your dog can still develop an adverse reaction to the heat and you need to keep an eye on him to make sure he receives prompt and proper treatment If necessary. Some signs of heat stroke are:

  • Heavy panting
  • Trouble breathing
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Lethargy
  • Fever (a dog shouldn’t have a temperature about 104 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Excessive salivating
  • Vomiting
  • Glazed eyes
  • A deep red or purple tongue
  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness

Treat heat stroke immediately before taking your pet to a veterinarian. Move her to a cool area – into air conditioning or shade if that isn’t available. Let her lick ice cubes and apply cold compresses to her head, neck and chest. You can also run cool – but not cold – water over her body. It’s important to act quickly in these circumstances.

Heartworm: Know the Signs, Treat and Prevent

VSSF Admin - Tuesday, June 03, 2014

As summer approaches, one particular pest is making its yearly comeback: the mosquito. This pest leaves humans scratching welts after spending time outdoors, but for dogs and cats, the mosquito carries a greater threat. A mosquito bite to an untreated animal can leave behind the heartworm parasite, a difficult-to-treat, potentially fatal little creature.

Heartworm infection, especially in the early stages, can be difficult to recognize and the symptoms are different between dogs and cats. Most animals will not exhibit any sign of infection for years after initial infection. Advanced signs include, in dogs:

  • Lethargy
  • Exhaustion after mild exertion
  • Weight loss
  • Appetite loss
  • Mild, persistent cough

And in cats:

  • Difficulty breathing or breathing rapidly
  • Gagging
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy

Cat symptoms mimic many other diseases and conditions and so heartworm infection is much more difficult to recognize in felines than canines. Your vet can run a blood test to diagnose heartworms in your pet. Once identified, treatment is possible but not always successful for dogs. There is no approved treatment in the United States for feline heartworm, though cats’ bodies are more able to resist the infection without interference. For dogs, treatment includes a series of adulticide injections and rest.

To avoid having to treat a heartworm infection, make sure your cats and dogs receive preventive treatment. Heartworm preventives, like flea treatments, are available as topical or oral treatments. Talk to your vet about which one is best for you and your pet.    

Beware the Giant Toad

VSSF Admin - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Nature can be a dangerous thing, especially for dogs and cats. Hidden dangers abound and it’s important for pet owners to be alert and aware of things that can threaten their animals.

One such threat is giant toad, also called the marine or cane toad. An invasive species in to the United States, the giant toad’s original purpose was to control white grubs in sugar cane fields. The giant toad will seek out any food source it can find, including pet food. If you leave food outside for your dogs or cats – or to feed neighborhood ferals – it could attract giant toads to your yard and your pet could find them.

Photo courtesy: http://www.wec.ufl.edu/extension/wildlife_info/frogstoads/bufo_marinus.php

A curious dog or hunting cat will find a toad in the yard irresistible. Under normal circumstances, this encounter would be bad news for the toad and probably some fun for the dog or cat. But the giant toad is not your everyday toad. When handled or threatened, the giant toad secretes a toxic substance and one lick can be deadly to a dog or cat.

Symptoms of giant toad poisoning are:

  • Shaking the head
  • Drooling
  • Lack of coordination
  • Crying
  • Convulsions.

Your pet may exhibit one or more of the symptoms and it’s essential to treat the suspected poisoning immediately. Rinse your pet’s mouth with clean water, making sure to prevent the animal from swallowing any of the water, which will only cause your pet to ingest more poison. Once you’ve finished rinsing your pet’s mouth, rub the gums vigorously to remove any remaining toxins, then call your vet for further direction.

Recognize Tick Paralysis

VSSF Admin - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Like heartworms and fleas, it’s both possible and important to use preventives to protect your pets from ticks. Even small amounts of time spent outdoors can lead to at least one tick attaching to your pet’s body and they carry a vast number of diseases they can pass on through your pet’s bloodstream.

One particularly worrying condition your pet can contract from ticks is tick paralysis. Female ticks cause this condition through a toxin in their salivary glands. The paralysis begins in the rear extremities and moves up the body. If it reaches your pet’s diaphragm, it will cause your cat or dog to be unable to breathe and can lead to death through suffocation. Four ticks can cause this condition:

  • Rocky Mountain wood tick
  • American dog tick
  • Deer tick
  • Lone Star tick

Most cases occur between April and June.

Besides using a preventive, any time your pet spends time in a wooded area, check his or her body afterward for ticks that might have latched on and remove them immediately:

  • Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible with fine-tipped tweezers.
  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Twisting or jerking can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If this isn’t possible, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  • After removal, use rubbing alcohol, soap and water or an iodine scrub to clean the bite area.

Removing the tick should prevent paralysis, but it’s possible to miss them, so keep an eye on your pet for paralysis symptoms, which can take up to a week to appear. The first sign is weakness or unsteadiness, but will soon become an inability to move at all. If your pet exhibits such signs, get him or her to the vet immediately for treatment, which usually consists of finding and removing the tick causing the condition. If the toxin has spread to the animal’s respiratory system, supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation may be necessary.

Many Food Contain Hidden Dangers

VSSF Admin - Tuesday, May 13, 2014

It’s tough to say no to puppy-dog eyes, especially when those eyes are attached to an actual puppy dog. Dogs seem to know this fact and so every time a human has food, those eyes come out and the begging starts. Sometimes it includes a sweet little whine and it’s difficult to keep that food to yourself.

In most cases, this isn’t too big of a problem, assuming it’s rare and your dog is a healthy weight. But in some cases, sharing your snack with Fido or Fifi can lead to illness or even fatality.  Keep these foods to yourself and if you grow any of them in your own garden, make sure your dog can’t access them:

  • Avocado contains persin, a toxic (to dogs) substance.
  • Do not give your dog alcohol. It affects animals the same as humans, but because dogs are much smaller, the effects are quicker and more pronounced. This can lead to alcohol poisoning.
  • Onions and garlic can cause anemia. Be careful not to give these to your dog in any form, including cooked into other foods, even if you only used the powdered substance.
  • For unknown reasons, grapes and raisins can lead to kidney failure.
  • Macadamia nut poisoning includes muscle tremors, weakness or paralysis of the hindquarters, vomiting, elevated body temperature, and rapid heart rate. Chocolate amplifies the effects and can be fatal.
  • Xylitol, found in some diet foods, candy, gum and some baked goods, can increase insulin and lead to low blood sugar and liver failure.
  • Chocolate, especially dark and baker’s, can cause diarrhea, excessive thirst and vomiting. In extreme cases, ingesting chocolate can lead to seizures, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors and death.
  • Bones from your steak, chicken, pork or other meat product can splinter as a dog chews, breaking off into the dog’s digestive system and causing perforation, which can be fatal if untreated and require surgery to correct. Also be wary of offering your dog trimmed fat, as it can cause pancreatitis.
  • Fruits containing large seeds can cause digestive blockage and your dog doesn’t know not to eat that part when given the whole fruit.
  • Raw eggs interfere with absorbing a specific B vitamin.
  • Raw meat, including fish, can lead to food poisoning and parasites.
  • Too much salt can cause sodium ion poisoning.
  • The yeast in raw dough can cause a doggy tummy ache as well as alcohol poisoning.

If, despite your best efforts, your dog manages to get ahold of any of these foods, call your vet immediately and monitor your dog for signs of distress. Immediate action can save a life.

Cat-Proof Your Home for Your Cat’s Safety

VSSF Admin - Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The old saying is that curiosity killed the cat. If it’s your cat in question, you probably want to make sure that doesn’t happen. You can’t make a cat uncurious, but you can reduce the risk. Just like you would child proof your home if you have a curious baby-on-the-go, you should also look around for hidden dangers that might attract a cat – that probably likes to chew on almost anything – exploring its territory.

One of the biggest concerns that might lurk in one’s home is houseplants or cut flowers. If your sweetie brought you a dozen roses, find a place to display them where Fluffy can’t go. While not likely fatal, eating a rose will cause some pretty severe digestive issues, including diarrhea. If you have an outdoor cat and want to plant the flower in your yard, keep an eye on kitty’s outdoor activities to make sure she isn’t munching on your bushes. Other common – and often indoor – plants that are a problem for cats if ingested are lilies (in small amounts these can cause fatal kidney failure), rhododendron, schefflera, sago palms, kalanchoe and azalea.

Some human food can also be dangerous to your cat if ingested. Keep him away from grapes, chocolate, avocado and gum – an especially tempting treat for some cats, who will go as far as to dig it out of the bottom of a purse left lying around within reach.

Ingesting household cleaners off the bottom of a paw after walking across a newly-washed floor or countertop can cause poisoning. Inhaling fumes can also cause physical distress. Keep your cats away from wet floors and countertops after washing with bleach or other commercial cleaners. Consider switching to nontoxic cleaners, like a vinegar and baking soda solution. These homemade options clean just as well and anything from a store and are safer both for you and your pets. If you’ve put cleanser in your toilet to soak, keep the seat down or the bathroom door closed until you’ve dispensed it.

Venetian blind cords are a tempting toy, but just like your baby or toddler, a cat can tangle her neck in the strings and hang to death before you find and free her. It’s best to teach your cat to stay away from the blinds, but you can also install breakaway chain connectors, which will cause the cord to pull apart under pressure and prevent strangulation. Any store that sells child safety supplies will carry them.

Plastic bags, tinsel, rubber bands, tooth floss and thread all also pose a danger. A playful cat can suffocate in a plastic bag or ingest the other items, which can wrap around their intestines, requiring surgery or resulting in death if not discovered in time.

The most important thing to remember is that if it’s small, long and thin or it dangles, your cat is going to chew it. Look around for these things in your home and put them out of kitty’s reach, then continue being diligent in keeping your home clear of all these dangers. That way you and your cat will have many happy, healthy years together.

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