Nutritional Supplements for Your Pet

pet supplementsA recent study showed that nearly half of adults in the U.S. take one or more nutritional supplements regularly in an effort to improve their overall health and well-being. Supplements do just as the name suggests – they supplement our diet with the vitamins and minerals that may otherwise be lacking. Ideally, we would get all that we need from the food we eat, but with today’s society of fast, processed and pre-packaged food, that just isn’t the case. So, if people benefit by adding supplements to their daily diet, wouldn’t it make sense that your precious pet would benefit as well?

Your pet’s nutrition is important for living a long, happy and healthy life. As with the food we eat, many of the pet foods on the market today are overly processed and contain fillers to provide non-nutritional bulk. While premium foods are ideal and often provide a well-balanced diet, a bit of supplementation based on your pets needs can be quite beneficial.

Choosing the Right Supplements

The most common supplements for pets are used to aid joint health, condition and protect the skin and coat, improve digestion, and increase overall well-being. While there are several marketed supplements, it’s likely you have what your pet needs right at home in your kitchen pantry or medicine cabinet.

Coconut Oil. We’ve all heard of coconut oil’s many benefits for humans, but did you know it is also safe and effective for your pet? Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a “healthy” saturated fat that boasts antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Fed regularly to your furry friend, coconut oil can clear up skin conditions, prevent yeast and fungal infections, soften and deodorize coats, improve digestion and nutrient absorption, increase energy, reduce kitty’s hairballs, aid in ligament and arthritis issues… just to name a few.

Pumpkin. It’s not just for Thanksgiving anymore! Fiber-filled pumpkin is safe for your pet and can aid in constipation relief; promotes a sense of fullness for pudgy pooches, possibly aiding in weight loss; helps with hydration (pumpkin is composed of 90% water); and is a natural source of vitamins and minerals that benefit day-to-day cellular function. Be sure to use all-natural, canned pumpkin – not pumpkin pie filling!

Vitamin E. Key for healthy skin and eyes, as well as strong immunity in people, those Vitamin E softgels in your medicine cabinet can also be beneficial to your pet. Great for dry skin, softgels can be popped and the liquid inside massaged directly into your four-legged friend’s skin, added to bath water, or dribbled onto your pet’s meal. Vitamin E, when ingested, also benefits pets who experience mild arthritic discomfort.

Yogurt. Plain yogurt is a delicious treat for your cuddly companion. Just as with humans, the live cultures in yogurt keeps the good bacteria in Fluffy and Fido’s gut balanced. If you have a puppy or a dog on antibiotics – both of which are prone to yeast infections – a little yogurt as a snack can help keep the infections at bay. Keep in mind, adult cats are lactose intolerant, so don’t overdo it!

Turmeric. This pungent, bitter flavored spice is used as a supplement for preventing cancer and to reduce inflammation from arthritis. Simply sprinkle on your pet’s food, beginning with just a quarter teaspoon per day, and gradually increase to up to one teaspoon. Introduce the spice slowly to avoid shock to the digestive system, and discontinue if side effects appear.

While the above supplements are safe for most pets, always consult with your veterinarian before using, to determine the proper serving size, and to avoid any possible adverse reactions, particularly in pets taking medication.

Selecting Your Child’s First Pet

pet ratChoosing a first pet for your child can be a daunting task. A young child may not comprehend the needs of a pet or be able to recognize the proper way to handle one. And, with pets having much shorter life spans than humans, introducing a new pet may also result in your child’s first experience with death. Yes, there are many questions to ask yourself before making the commitment to bring a pet home for your child – Is my child old enough? Will he be kind to the pet? What pet would be best suited for him?

If you have a toddler, it likely isn’t a good choice to introduce a pet such as a hamster or fish. Not only do they have short lifespans – which will inevitably lead to the explanation of death – they are small, fragile and require sensitive care. Yes, it may be a good learning experience, but always keep the animal’s safety and needs in mind.

Hermit Crabs. Believe it or not, hermit crabs are actually an ideal first pet for a child. They are interesting, low-maintenance, extremely social and can live ten plus years with the proper care. And their regular molting and new shell growth will likely intrigue your child. Yes, a hermit crab is a great option for introducing your child to the world of responsible pet ownership.

Rats. If you and your family aren’t the skittish type, a rat may be an ideal first pet. Though they come with a negative association, rats are actually quite intelligent, social and easily tamed creatures. They often become emotionally attached to their humans and even enjoy a good cuddle. Despite popular opinion, rats are quite clean, when purchased from a reputable source. They can live up to two or three years, with proper care and exercise, and thrive when they have a rat companion by their side.

Cats and Dogs. Of course, when most of us think of a proper pet for our child, we think of a cat or a dog. Indeed, cats and dogs are wonderful pets, but be conscientious of the fact that cuddly kittens and precious little pups usually aren’t an ideal choice. They require a lot of patience and training in order to grow into well-adjusted adults, and a child likely can’t fulfill that need. Sure, you can take on the task yourself, but do you have the time and the composure to handle a child and a fur baby? Instead, consider adopting a more mature dog or cat. Adult animals are typically more tolerant of children and have likely been trained to some extent, making it an easier transition into your home and into your child’s heart.

A first pet can be a lesson in responsibility for any child. To ensure a pleasant experience for everyone – including the animal – be confident that your child is ready for a pet and do your research before making a pet choice. And, as importantly, be willing and prepared to take on the responsibility yourself, as any pet comes along with certain expenses (food, veterinary care, etc.) and requirements (regular feedings, exercise, training, etc.).

Four Nail Trimming Tips for Your Furry Friend 

pawGiving your four-legged friend a paw-dicure can be quite the task for some. Whether it’s the result of an accidental cut of the quick in a previous nail trimming session or the dislike of having his paws touched, your pet’s aversion to nail care can take a stressful toll on both. Seeing the fear in your beloved pet’s eyes can be heart-wrenching, but if that fear results in flailing, snapping or biting during the nail trimming process, it can also be dangerous for you both. But don’t despair; if your dog or cat runs for cover at the mere sight of nail clippers, there’s still hope!

It’s important to keep your pet’s nails trimmed for many reasons: doing so prevents breaking and bleeding of nails that grow too long; long nails can interfere with normal paw movement; and unkempt nails can scratch your furniture and floors – not to mention you! –  as well as snag your rugs and upholstery. While it’s ideal to familiarize your pet with nail clippers and regular nail trims early on in his life, that isn’t always possible. Teach your furry companion to relax during trim time with these helpful tips…

Begin with a clean slate. Pets often have a negative association with clippers that have been used on them in the past. Think about it… if your mother nipped your skin while clipping your nails as a child, making you bleed, wouldn’t you be a bit hesitant to let her have a go at it again? Try purchasing a new pair of clippers that are distinctly different in appearance from your current pair.

The first time you introduce the new clippers to your pawsome pet, act excited, with a positive and happy tone in your voice; be fun and dramatic; reward him with ample treats, rub downs and cuddles. After a few minutes, put the clippers away, as well as the treats. A few moments later, let the party begin again. Repeat this process as often as necessary to allow Fluffy and Fido to grow a new, positive association with the clippers. It may be helpful to bring the clippers out of hiding periodically, even if it’s not time for a trim, just to reinforce the positive association.

Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t attempt to get all of your pet’s nails trimmed at once. Start with one, and reward your fur baby with a treat. You can even enlist a partner to hold a spoon of peanut butter within licking distance to keep Fido’s thoughts otherwise occupied. Speak as you trim, maintaining a calm and soothing tone, as you progress slowly, working your way from one nail to the next. If you’re weary of accidentally cutting the quick, trim a little bit of each nail at a time, and have styptic powder nearby just in case. Remain mindful of your pet’s body language to alert you if you cut too close or if agitation sets in. If he becomes anxious or uncomfortable, stop the session and start again later, allowing him time to relax and unwind.

Scrub-a-dub-dub. Your pet’s nails soften while being bathed, so clipping after his bath may make the process easier – although this probably won’t help if your fur baby is a feline! If your pet is fond of bath time, try combining the two activities. A friend of mine suggested I clip my ornery Pug’s nails while he was in the tub, his feet soaking in warm water. I was skeptical, but it actually did the trick! The warm water soothed and distracted him, softened his nails for easier clipping, and made the process virtually stress-free for us both. Be sure to clip the nails prior to bathing, to avoid any exposure to soap or other irritants should an accidental bleed occur.

Seek professional help. If all else fails, there’s always your trusty veterinarian. If you or your pet are still weary of nail trimming time, make an appointment for a nail clipping at your vet’s office. The staff there know all the tricks of the trade and will get it done painfully and correctly. After all, it is better to be safe than sorry.

Increase Your Dog’s Daily Dose of Exercise with These Simple Tips

exercise dogAs a pet parent, your dog’s health is your responsibility. And an integral part of keeping your pooch healthy is providing him or her with sufficient exercise. We all know walking has the best benefits for overall health in humans, but what about for our canine companions?

It just so happens your dog’s primal need is to walk! Just as horses need to run and squirrels need to climb, dogs need to walk; it’s in their DNA. Sure, letting Rover run around the backyard can be good exercise, it is no substitute for taking him for a walk. Activities like time in the yard, visiting the dog park and playing catch in the house don’t offer the same mental stimulation your dog gets by investigating every sight, sound and smell when you take him for a walk. As you and your dog walk, he’s gathering information about how his territory has changed since the last time he was there, and taking him to new locations generates a sensory excitement like no other.

So how can you find time in your busy day to give Rover the walking wonderfulness he so craves and deserves? It’s simple ~ find a way to include him in your plans!

In the mood for some window shopping? While you obviously can’t bring Rover with you when you visit the mall, you can take him along for some window shopping in your favorite downtown area or outdoor shopping plaza. As long as he’s well-behaved and securely leashed, you should have no objections from shop owners, fellow shoppers or authority figures as Rover stays by your side as you take in the window views.

Need to chat with your neighbor? Rather than pick up the phone and call your neighbor two streets over to ask if she wants to join you for dinner, throw a leash on Rover so the two of you can walk over to ask in person. It may not equate to a long walk, but a short walk is better than nothing!

Heading to your parent’s house for a family get together? Even if their home isn’t within walking distance from your home, you can still drive and get some stroll time in by parking at a nearby restaurant or store and walking the rest of the way.

Need to pick up a few things from your local grocery store? Enlist a family member or friend to join you and Rover on a walk to the store, where your people partner can take care of Rover while you’re inside picking up what you need.

Is a trip to the hardware store on your weekend to-do list? Take Rover along for the ride, then leash him up and bring him inside. Many hardware stores allow dogs (ever notice the woman at Lowe’s pushing her puffy Pomeranian around in the cart?), so take advantage and bring Rover with you on your next visit (check with the store first, of course!). Either before or after your shopping spree, walk him around the grounds for some extra exercise and mental stimulation.

Craving some ice cream? Most ice cream shops have outdoor seating and welcome dogs. Some will even give Rover a complementary doggy sundae! If you live within walking distance of an ice cream shop, take Rover over for a special treat; if not, drive most of the way and park within a mile or so, then walk the remainder of the way.

Whatever your daily plans, chances are there’s one way or another to include your precious pooch in a way that will allow for some extra activity. Not only will an impromptu walk in undiscovered territory be a thrill for your pooch’s senses, but it will also enhance your already strong bond.

With Cats, a Bite Isn’t Always Just a Bite ~ Find Out What Your Cat’s Nip Means!

CatYour fluffy feline may be the sweetest cat around, but that doesn’t mean a nip here or a bite there might occur. While the action may seem unprovoked to you, it makes complete sense to your cat. Some kitty custodians lovingly refer to their cat’s nip as a “love bite,” while others take it as a form of aggression. Well, both are correct. Here’s how you can determine what your cat’s chomp means and how to curb it.

Play Aggression

 Remember when your kitty playfully nibbled at your toes and you thought to yourself “Oh, that’s the cutest thing ever!”? What may have been cute when Fluffy was just a tiny fur ball, likely isn’t so cute now. Cats stalk, chase, grab, leap and ambush random objects in the name of fun, and to catch vermin. Your bare toes wiggling around may look like something tasty to your cat, resulting in him pouncing and taking a bite.

So what can you do to keep Fluffy from pricking her teeth into your little piggies? Well, the obvious option is to wear socks! But another solution is to use playtime as a learning experience in how to be careful and gentle. Start by inviting your feline friend to a mellow game of play “fighting.” Consistently praise her while she remains gentle, and gradually increase the intensity of the game. As soon as you see Fluffy getting overly excited or exposing her teeth or claws, tone down the play session or quickly freeze and “play dead.” This technique should result in a calmer kitty. If not, and Fluffy proceeds to pounce, abruptly scream “OUCH,” and walk away, ignoring Fluffy. Unexpectedly ending a play session sends a very powerful message. After a few repetitions of this scenario, your cat will recognize that her own aggressive behavior equals the end of an enjoyable play session.

Petting-Induced Aggression

Remember last week when you were sitting on the sofa, watching your favorite TV show with Fluffy in your lap as you gently caressed her from head to tail? And remember when, out of nowhere, she bit your finger and ran? Animal behaviorists theorize that too much physical contact may irritate a cat if she has a low threshold for stimulation.

Watch for warning signs of an impending bite that include a quick turn of the head toward your hand, flattening or rotating of the ears, twitching of the tail, restlessness and dilated pupils. If you notice any of these warnings, stop caressing your kitty and place her gently on the floor. Or, if you realize your cat often becomes over-stimulated at the five minute mark of petting, then stop after three minutes. Be aware of her behavior and you’ll likely be able to foil an attack.

Redirected Aggression

Remember when Fluffy became irritated when she spotted another cat on your patio, and she took out her irritation on you in the form of a bite? That was the result of her perceived inability to defend her territory. Since she couldn’t reach the trigger of her anger (the cat on the patio), she lashed out at you because you were in close proximity.

To keep from being bitten in situations like this one, simply steer clear of your agitated cat. Walk away and give her time to calm down.

There are many solutions for curbing your kitty’s biting behavior, but the most important step to any solution is to be realistic and patient. Don’t push your cat beyond her limits and then get frustrated because she isn’t catching on as quickly as you’d like. As with most things in life, patience is a virtue!

Are Animal Bones Safe for Fido?

animal bones“Like a dog with a bone.” How many times have you heard that saying? Dogs and bones – the two seem to go hand-in-hand, with pet parents giving their canine companions bones for entertainment, to prevent bad breath, to help clean their teeth, and for sheer enjoyment. But are animal bones safe for Fido, or do they cause irreparable damage?

Dental Health. One of the surefire ways to ensure your pet is happy and healthy is to maintain his good dental health. Do you treat Fido with the occasional animal bone in an effort to keep his teeth and gums healthy and clean? Well, you may be doing more damage than good. It’s not uncommon for a pooch to suffer from a fractured tooth when chowing down on a bone. Think about it – a bone that is strong enough to hold the weight of a large cow is pretty tough… which means those very persistent chewers can easily break a tooth or two before the bone gives way.

Besides the risk of possible tooth fracturing, aren’t animal bones good for cleaning a dog’s teeth? Not really! You see, for an object to successfully clean teeth, it needs to scrub the teeth enough to clean off tartar, but not so much that it damages the gums or the protective enamel coating on the teeth. When your dog chews a bone, you’ll notice he tends to use his rear teeth to chew and break the bone, meaning the bone never does what is needed to prevent periodontal disease.

Digestive System Issues. When Fido manages to break the bone apart and swallow the pieces, what damage could it do? The fragments can cause digestive ailments such as esophageal blockages, pancreatitis, gastroenteritis, bowel obstruction and/or perforation, and constipation.

  • Esophageal Blockages. When a dog tries to swallow a bone fragment that is a bit too big, it can get stuck in his esophagus, resulting in difficulty breathing and even vomiting, which can be life-threatening and typically requires emergency surgery.
  • Pancreatitis. As Fido chews on an animal bone, fat that is attached to the bone and within the marrow is ingested as well. An increased fat intake can result in pancreatitis – inflammation of the pancreas – which can be extremely painful and will likely require hospitalization.
  • Gastroenteritis. Once a large piece of bone makes its way to the stomach, it can cause irritation and/or ulcers, which results in vomiting. In most cases, stomach acids will dissolve the bone fragment within a few days, but in the interim Fido can experience abdominal pain, dehydration, lethargy and other symptoms that go hand-in-hand with excessive vomiting.
  • Bowel Obstruction / Constipation / Perforation. On its way through the intestinal tract, bone fragments can obstruct or irritate the colon, resulting in constipation. In severe cases, the colon can be perforated, causing loose/bloody stool.

Bacteria. One last thing to consider before you give your dog an animal bone – does Fido have a tendency to chew for a while then save the bone for later? Once the bone reaches room temperature it is a breeding ground for bacteria, which can result in a plethora of digestive ailments.

While you may be inclined to pick up an animal bone as a treat for your four-legged friend, think twice before you do. There are many other options available for Fido’s chewing pleasure that are much safer and sure to be appreciated!

The Battle Against Bloat

Dog BloatGastric Dilatation Volvulus, commonly referred to as dog bloat, is one of the most heart-wrenching medical emergencies that can be experienced by a pet parent. One moment, your dog is healthy and happy, and the next he is fighting a battle between life and death; a battle in which the odds are stacked against him.

What is Bloat?

Imagine your canine companion’s stomach expanding like one of those balloons clowns use to make balloon animals. Then imagine the clown twisting the balloon to make his animal creation. This is similar to bloat, with your dog’s stomach rapidly expanding with fluid and gas, then being twisted on each end. When this happens, the stomach contents fester, pressure builds, and the blood supply to the stomach is cut off. As a result, a portion or even all of the stomach may die.

Sadly, a domino effect then begins and, if left untreated, bloat can lead to death within just a few short hours. Even sadder, up to half of the dogs who suffer from bloat will not survive, even with emergency treatment.

What are the Symptoms of Bloat?

Keep in mind, some dog breeds are more susceptible to bloat than others, particularly large chested breeds like Great Danes, Weimaraners, Rottweilers and Boxers. If you’re unsure if bloat may be a possible problem for your pooch, consult with your vet.

Bloat develops suddenly and is more common in middle-aged or senior dogs. Often times, the first symptoms may appear after your dog has eaten a large meal, ingested a large amount of water, or has been exercising vigorously before or after eating.

Be aware of these five early warning signs:

  1. Your dog is drooling more than usual.
  2. Your dog is retching, but unable to vomit.
  3. Your dog’s stomach is tight or swollen.
  4. Your dog is visibly tired but can’t seem to rest.
  5. Your dog appears to be uncomfortable or in pain. He may groan, whine or grunt – particularly when his stomach is touched or pressed.

As the problem progresses, your dog may go into shock. His gums and tongue may appear pale, his heart rate my increase greatly, his pulse weaken, and he may experience difficulty breathing, and perhaps even collapse.

Even if you have just the slightest suspicion of bloat, take your pooch to the nearest veterinary clinic immediately. If the stomach has twisted, emergency surgery is the only option.

What Can You Do to Prevent Bloat?

Unfortunately, there is no clinically proven cause for bloat in dogs. There is debate in the pet medical community about genetics, temperament, stress and a host of other factors.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to try to prevent your dog from getting bloat, including:

  • Feed your dog a few times per day rather than just one big meal.
  • Slow down a speedy eater. Try a slow feeding dog bowl or put a tennis bowl in your dog’s food dish to slow his roll when it comes to scarfing down his food.
  • Provide a raised feeding station for your dog.
  • Try soaking your dog’s dry kibble in water, or try a wet food diet.
  • Don’t allow your dog to drink too much water at once.
  • Prevent your dog from exerting excessive energy just before or just after eating.
  • Consider preventative surgery. If your pooch is an at-risk breed or has a close family member who suffered from bloat, preventative gastropexy may be the answer. During the procedure, a veterinary surgeon will stitch the side of your dog’s stomach to the abdominal wall, preventing the stomach from twisting.

Bloat is a scary situation that many pet parents don’t consider, and few are prepared to recognize. Keep your dog’s best interests at heart by doing what you can to prevent bloat and, if the situation arises, to recognize it so that every effort can be made to save your precious pooch.

Believe It or Not, There IS a Right Way to Hold a Leash

Yes, you read that correctly… there is a right way, and several wrong ways, to hold your dog’s leash. Holding a leash may seem like a basic task, but the way in which you do so can mean the difference between the safety of you and your dog, and possible disaster.

I know, right now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Seriously? How can holding my dog’s leash possibly be dangerous?” Many people don’t even think about how they hold a leash; they simply do what’s comfortable. But, consider these tidbits of information:

  • No matter how big or small your pooch, NEVER wrap the leash around your arm, wrist or any part of your body in general. You may feel doing so gives you a good grip, but it can easily result in you being dragged by your dog (say, for instance, Rover spots a squirrel and quickly takes off after it with you in tow), which can lead to something as serious as a broken bone to a minor dislocated digit. Whether you’re a pet parent to a tiny Toy Poodle or a monstrous Mastiff, being pulled abruptly by your pooch can happen, and the results can be disastrous.
  • Rather than wrapping the leash, put only your thumb through the loop of the leash, with the leash lying in the palm of your hand, forming a fist, as shown here. If you need additional support, hold the leash below the handle with your other hand.

dog leash safetyWith your hand properly gripping the leash, hold your hand on your abdomen, its exact position depending on your dog’s size and shape. Typically, it is ideal to hold your hand a bit above your navel, but you may find it best to hold it a little lower if you have a particularly large and/or strong dog. This hand placement will give you better control.

  • Speaking of control, many pet parents think they have greater control over their dog if they hold the leash tightly, but usually the opposite is true. Most dogs tend to struggle against the pressure on the neck when the leash is being held too tightly, which will only cause him to pull harder. Ironically, using just a little bit of control may be the best way to control your dog during your walks. Just remember, a tight leash tells your dog there’s something to be anxious about.
  • If your dog tends to pull, work on teaching him how to heel on command.

Bottom line: when it comes to walking your dog, learn how to take the lead (pun intended!). Proper leash holding and the right amount of control can result in delightful walks for you and your precious pooch!

Enhancing Your Senior Pet’s Quality of Life

Senior

Have you noticed your aging pet’s personality changing? Is Gus becoming grouchy, or has Cutie Pie been more cantankerous? As our cuddly companions age, we have a tendency to tolerate the various changes in their behavior and physical aptitude, conceding to them as inevitable factors of aging, rather than challenge these changes.

Your pet feels the effects of aging, just as we do. Wear and tear on her body takes its toll, making arthritis and muscle degeneration common in our senior canine companions and feline friends. The discomfort that comes along with these ailments can turn Rover from his usual affectionate, gentle self to more of a grumpy loner. And, to make matters worse, the discomfort will likely impede your pet’s desire to move, which will spark further degradation of the muscles, which will reduce bone and joint support. It’s a vicious circle of events!

Accept the Change?

Should we, as loving pet parents, simply sit back and accept these unwelcome changes in our fur friends? NO! The physical and psychological symptoms experienced by pets as they age can come to a halt, and maybe even reverse, with weight control and regular exercise. Here are a few tips that should help Fluffy and Fido feel better in no time:

  • Keep your senior pet dry and warm at all times. Extreme temperature changes and even dampness can cause your pet’s arthritis to flare-up, just as it can humans. Heating pads and warm water soaks can help relax muscles and increases blood flow, which can help alleviate arthritic pain.
  • Help your pet maintain a healthy weight, as added weight adds undue stress to your pet’s joints. Most major pet food companies offer “senior” brands that are lower in calories, higher in fiber, and contain added vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Ask your veterinarian for advice on which brand will be most beneficial to your furry family member.
  • Become a pet masseuse. Massaging your pet will move fluids through his muscles and remove tension from the tendons that surround the joints. One area at a time, rub around the joints to warm the underlying tissue. Next, place your hands over the area and apply gentle compressions over the area, establishing a rhythm as you press and release. Once you complete a full-body massage, end the experience with soft caressing to soothe your pet’s nerves. Regular massages for your pet may help prevent and/or alleviate the stiffness and pain that accompanies arthritis.
  • Invest in an orthopedic pet bed, which provide extra cushioned support and reduce stress on pressure points.

Sadly, there is no cure for the inevitable aging process, but there are effective practices that can make it less stressful on your pet. Your four-legged friend has blessed you with the best years of his life. Do all you can to ensure his senior years are comfortable and pleasant.