Friday, 8 December 2017

Avoid Calamities at Christmas for your Cat

Now that the festive season is upon us there will be lots of preparations for Christmas. Whilst this is a happy time for most of us, it can bring about additional stress and potential problems for our feline family members.

Here is the lowdown on some of the common hazards along with some hints on how to prevent feline foes during the festive period.

Festive Plants
Mistletoe contains toxic compounds and, although considered to be fairly low in toxicity, some cats develop drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort within a few hours after eating it.  The toxic part of the plant is the leaves and stems rather than the berries. In rare cases tremors or convulsions have been reported so it makes sense to keep them well away from your cats.
Poinsettia is a Euphorbia species of plant. Although it does contain a toxin it is less toxic than most other Euphorbia.  Almost half of the cases reported to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service remained well after eating Poinsettia.  However, it can cause irritation to the mouth and stomach with drooling, vomiting and in-appetence.  Occasionally, animals may develop a high temperature and have more severe stomach irritation with bloody vomiting or stools. Keeping plants out of harms reach is therefore a good idea.
Lilies are often included in Christmas bouquets. Many varieties are dangerous as they are highly toxic to cats. Ingestion of any part of the plant, including drinking the water they have been stood in, poses a high risk. Kidney failure and fatalities are a strong possibility. Prevention is very much the advice for this particular plant. Don’t wait for symptoms to arise. Immediate veterinary attention should be sought if you suspect ingestion.

Christmas Trees & Decorations
Christmas tree species include spruce, fir and pine.  These trees are considered to be of low toxicity but if eaten may cause mild stomach upset such as vomiting and diarrhoea, and they could cause gut obstruction if eaten or injury to the G.I tract if needles are sharp.
Loose needles can drop in to ears too.  Signs of this include sudden onset ear irritation and head shaking.
Lametta - Cats and kittens tend to be curious about most decorations but lametta is one of their favourites. It catches the light and oddly some cats like to chew and swallow it. If enough is consumed a tight ball in the gut could cause an obstruction.

Salt Dough Decorations pose the hazard of salt poisoning in dogs and cats. A decoration may contain around 8g of salt per tablespoon which is very high. As well as vomiting and diarrhoea, symptoms can include a raised heart rate, high blood pressure and kidney failure. Consequently prompt veterinary attention is important.
Chocolate: Although it tends to be more common in dogs, chocolate poisoning can affect cats too. Advent calendars and christmas tree decorations are a particular risk. Theobromine is the toxin responsible, with the higher percentage cocoa being the most toxic. Signs include vomiting, diarrhoea, increased thirst and in some cases convulsions. Keeping chocolate away from cats is therefore just as important as it is for dogs.

Feline Stress at Christmas
Scent profile is important for making a cat feel safe and secure. Christmas paraphernalia brought in to the home brings in new and strange smells. This can be very stressful for a cat. In an attempt to restore their own scent, some use urine to mark the house. Rather than scold them, which is likely to make the problem worse, it’s important to help them feel secure again. However prevention is better than cure.

What can we do?
  1. Think about making sure their core territory is not disrupted. This is where they eat and sleep. Avoid bringing any different scents into this area. Also don’t wash their bedding too much at this time of year as this will help retain their own scent in the home.
  2. Prepare for parties by making sure your cats can retreat somewhere safe and secure. Having lots of boxes to hide in away from the noise as well as providing places to climb up on will help too.
  3. Make sure that the cat’s litter tray remains in a quiet place and avoid lots of foot traffic in that location.
  4. Provide house-cats with mental activities. This may help to take their minds off all the comings and goings.
  5. Feliway is a feline pheromone that is said to help promote security. It’s available in a spray or diffuser and can help keep make the environment feel safer. Click here for some useful information on cat behaviour and how to ensure the home is a safe haven for them at Christmas and throughout the rest of the year.
Caroline Clark is a consultant in animal behaviour counselling and you can find more information at

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Canine Food Processor

How we digest our food is very different from the way dogs complete the same task.  Even the food itself is very different.  Some of our food is processed to make it easier to digest.

We gather around the dinner table and between moments of witty repartee, demurely introduce a modest fork or spoonful of food into our mouths, chew it anywhere from 10 to 30 times, and let it slide down the hatch.

A pack of dogs, on the other hand, would gather around the carcass and between moments of fierce competition, rip off a huge chunk of something, chew it once or twice, and as its going down the hatch, be clamping their jaws on another chunk of something.

We’re designed to eat several small meals each day.  Dogs are designed to eat one big meal because, in the old days, they never knew when they’d get their next meal.  It could be a day or two, or even longer, before they’d eat again.

We have relatively small stomachs (for some of us, in our dreams) that accept food which has already been partially broken down; by chewing and mixing with our saliva, which contains powerful enzymes that begin to break the food down. 

The dog has a relatively large stomach with an extremely acidic environment; loaded with powerful digestive enzymes and up to three times as much hydrochloric acid as we have.  Those huge chunks of food are lubricated with saliva and slide down the hatch into a stomach that grinds and liquefies the food.  The saliva itself contains no enzymes.

The liquefied food, called chyme, then passes into the small intestine where absorption of nutrients into the blood stream takes place, aided by digestive juices from the pancreas and gallbladder.  Although the intestinal tract is about 4 times the length of the dog’s body, it’s still shorter than that of a human. 

That’s because carnivores need the food to move quickly through their system because they’ve got work to do and can’t be lying around waiting for their food to digest.  As nomads, they need to patrol and defend a territory, protect mates, offspring and other pack members, and they’re already hunting for their next meal. 

 In the large intestine, or colon, most of the water and minerals from the chyme are absorbed and the last hard-to-digest material is broken down by powerful digestive bacteria.  As it exits the dog, the anal glands coat the waste with pheromones that are the animal’s signature scent.

Most domestic dogs gulp their food the same way their wild counterparts do, barely chewing it.  Nor do they pause to savor the flavor; since they have practically no sense of taste.  Satiated, the next time they think of food will be when they’re hungry, or when you open or cook something and the aromas get their attention. 

We and our dogs look at food very differently.  To us it’s an art form and a focal point of our culture.  We take great pains to optimize how it looks, smells and tastes, and when company comes over, we bring out food. 

To dogs, food is strictly utilitarian.  They eat to live (while many of us live to eat).

Bob Bamberg has been in the pet supply industry for more than a quarter century, including owning his own feed and grain store in South-eastern Massachusetts, USA. He writes a weekly newspaper column on pet health, nutrition and behaviour and his articles appear at

Thursday, 30 November 2017

It's Cool For Men To Love Cats Too!

Pretty much all of us have encountered the term 'Crazy Cat Lady', it's so famous now it's almost a brand and gift ranges have sprung up celebrating it.

What many perhaps don't realise is the popularity of cats amongst men. Many male celebrities openly celebrate their feline love and surveys such as this show that a rise in cat ownership is being driven by males.

Famous men that own cats include:

Ricky Gervais - UK animal lover Ricky has a cat called Ollie who has his own Facebook fan page here
Ed Sheeran - We came across Ed's love of cats accidentally....a tiny Japanese 'cat island' sent out a plea for Ed to visit them after discovering he was a cat lover. Ed's instagram feed is full of kitten pictures and he is the proud owner of a beautiful cat that he adopted as a kitten who goes by the name of Graham.
Norman Reedus - The Walking Dead star not only owns a cat called 'Eye in the Dark' who joins him everywhere but Norman's feline friend even has his own 'fan run' twitter account here

Other famous males that are cat lovers and owners include George Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Nicholas Cage and John Travolta.

A famous historical figure who was well documented as a 'cat fan' was...

Mark Twain - The famous American writer was so infatuated by cats that he owned 19 of them! Twain's love of cats has him credited with some pretty feline friendly quotes such as...

'When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction' and
'If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat'

An interesting cat related tale about Mark Twain states that when one of his 19 cats went missing he took out a newspaper ad that offered a $5 dollar reward. After the cat returned home on it's own a steady flow of people came to Twain's door with feline impostors so that they could meet the great man!

The term 'Crazy Cat Men' may not be as well publicised as it's female counterpart but the above maybe helps to show that men are not too macho to show their love and adoration for our feline friends.

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Friday, 17 November 2017

How Our Five Senses Compare To Those Of A Dog

Our dogs may be deprived of common sense, but when it comes to the 5 senses, we should be in awe and understandably envious, with a couple of exceptions.  We have a better sense of taste, possessing about 6 times as many receptor cells on our tongues as do dogs. If they had as many taste buds as we do, they wouldn’t (you finish the sentence).

I’d also rather have my eyesight than a dog’s. They see better in dim light and hold a slight advantage over us when it comes to seeing beside and behind them, but their color perception is weak.  I’ve seen their color vision likened to our color vision at dusk. A dog’s eyes are 90 per cent rods, and you’ll remember from primary grade science that it’s the cones that provide color perception.

A dog’s hearing is better than ours, though. Not only is the frequency range of sounds they can hear wider than ours, but dogs with upright outer ears are able to funnel fainter sounds into their hearing mechanisms.

The outer ear, besides acting sort of like a satellite dish, is also capable of independent motion (floppy-eared dogs are disadvantaged here). By rotating the ears, dogs are better able to determine where a sound is coming from.

The main difference between a dog’s sense of touch and that of a human is the fact that they have specialized hairs (back on the block we just called them vibrissae) on their muzzles, eyebrows and lower jaws.

These stiff hairs, which are embedded deeper than other hairs, can detect air currents, subtle vibrations, and objects in the dark. It’s possible that they also direct food and other objects to the mouth. I think some of us old human males have these hairs in our ears.

Saving the best for last, there’s no comparing a dog’s sense of smell to that of the lowly Homo sapiens. Heck, a dog can detect butyric acid, a component of sweat, from 1 million to 100 million times better than we can. Jealous?

In humans, the area of olfactory receptor cells that communicate to the brain covers about 1 square inch. In a dog, depending on the length of its muzzle, that area can be up to 60 square inches. And here’s where those “hearing compromised” floppy-eared dogs make up for it.

Those floppy ears allow for more scent to be directed to the nose. What’s more, dogs and other non-human mammals possess a functioning vomeronasal organ (VNO) also known as Jacobson’s organ. We have one, but it doesn’t work anymore.

The VNO’s specialized receptor cells detect pheromones, which are abundant in dog pee and poop, providing a lot of information, including another’s social status and reproductive state.

You’ll see an interesting behavior in dogs, known as tonguing. They’ll click their tongue against the roof of the mouth, the teeth may chatter and there may be a little foam on the top lip. They’re directing molecules of scent to the VNO.

Dogs lift their legs to deposit their urine high up on vertical surfaces so that the scent can be better carried by air currents to the VNOs of others, and also to prevent those yippy little lap dogs from over-peeing the spot.  

Bob Bamberg has been in the pet supply industry for more than a quarter century, including owning his own feed and grain store in Southeastern Massachusetts, USA.  He writes a weekly newspaper column on pet health, nutrition and behavior and his articles appear at

Friday, 10 November 2017

The Top Five Things that are Making Your Cat Fat

“Fat Cat”: It’s a phrase we learned as early as kindergarten when attempting to rhyme words. In fact, it seems like children’s books are particularly partial to chubby kitties.

But that could be a problem.

According to Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, 50 percent of cats are overweight, or even obese. But is that a problem?

I’m afraid so. Packing on too many pounds can lead to all kinds of health issues, including osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, diabetes, and poor cardiovascular health.

So, what’s making our cats so fat? Here are the top five culprits!

 1.Free Feeding

It’s very common for cat-owners to simply pour a bowl of kibble in the mornings and allow their cats to feed throughout the day at their leisure.

While this is very convenient for us humans, it’s extremely unnatural for a hunter! Biologically, cats are designed to work for their food by stalking and catching it. As you can imagine, that burns calories.

When we let our cats just eat whenever they want to, we take away that instinctual need to hunt that helps keep them slim and fit. Cats need to eat set meals each day, rather than graze an all-hours buffet.

2.Too Many Carbs

Just like cats are biologically predisposed to hunt, their tummies are designed to eat meat. They’re carnivores.

Even protein-packed dry cat food typically uses plant proteins, instead of meat, to keep your cat full. Wet cat food, made from animal-based protein -- and even raw meat from the butcher -- is a better alternative.

Of course, consult with your vet before making major changes to your cat’s diet, and to get tips and recommendations on which wet food to buy and how to introduce raw meat to your cat.

Although it might seem gross to us, remember your cat was born to catch small critters, and hasn’t evolved enough to learn how to cook them. So long as you don’t use ground meat (where bacteria can thrive), your cat should be able to safely consume raw foods.

3.Not Enough Exercise

Keeping a cat indoors is best for their overall safety and longevity, but it doesn’t come without downsides. Like I mentioned above, cats naturally burn calories by hunting for their food, and they simply can’t do that when cooped up inside.

If you’re a cat-owner who goes to work all day, you might not be interested in entertaining Whiskers when you get home -- but you must.

Playing with your cat is a great way to encourage your cat to exercise, and by extension, keep your cat healthy.

 4.Boring Indoor Habitat

Even if you make it a habit to play with your cat for 15 to 20 minutes a day, that’s probably not all the exercise your cat needs.

That’s why you should invest in cat trees, scratching posts, and plenty of toys that will help keep your cat moving while you’re away.

The more places your cat has to climb, jump and hide, the more likely she is to stay on-the-go. And a nice variety of toys will give her something fun to do while you’re away


Ouch. Have you noticed that those first four points all have one thing in common? Yep, you -- me -- the cat mom or dad.

It’s hard to admit that our way of “treating” our babies is actually causing them harm, but in the case of feline obesity, it is.

The best way to help your cat stay fit is to make sure you’re doing all you can as a pet-owner to encourage a healthy lifestyle. That means talking to your vet about ways to improve your kitty’s diet, making time each day to engage your cat in play, and investing in toys and cat furniture to keep him occupied while you’re gone.

Your cat is dependent on you! Why not be the best pet parent around so you can enjoy all 9 of her lives?

Author Bio
Natalie McKee rescued her cat, Pumpkin, from living as a stray when he was just a kitten. A decade later she writes at Leaping Cats about ways to keep your indoor cat fit, healthy and happy.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Canine Health – Poisons

Seasonal Hazards (Autumn/Winter)

Now that the days of summer have slipped by we all begin to turn our thoughts to events like Halloween, Bonfire night and preparations for Christmas. There’s lots of activity going on in the kitchen with Christmas fare and warm comforting casseroles being made. Long walks in the countryside with our dogs is also high up on our weekend agendas. So begin aware of hazards in the home and outside is important at this time of year. Check out some of them here.


Grapes and dried vine fruits (currants, sultanas, raisins)
Grapes and their dried products are poisonous to dogs. Eating just a small quantity can result in kidney failure. Foods that have high quantities such as Christmas cake, puddings and minced pies contain high concentrations and are especially dangerous.


If alcohol is left unattended, dogs may help themselves to left-overs! Alcohol is absorbed rapidly in the dog’s system.  They will show similar symptoms to a person when they have drunk too much but problems occur at much lower quantities.  Incoordination and drowsiness are common signs.  Alcohol is a toxin and in severe cases it can cause respiratory distress, a dangerously low body temperature and low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia) leading to collapse and coma.

Onions (including other Alliums: garlics, leeks, shallots and chives – even sage and onion stuffing!)

Foods that belong to the Allium plant family are poisonous to dogs, even when cooked.  Relatively small amounts can cause disturbances to the gastro-intestinal tract. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhoea. The main effect is on the red blood cells leading to anaemia (lowering of red blood cells). Poisoning isn’t always obvious immediately after ingestion but illness can occur several days’ later, making diagnosis more difficult.

Macadamia Nuts

This nut is often used in Christmas cakes. If eaten, they can cause a high body temperature, tremors and stiffness in the limbs.


Most dog owners are aware of chocolate toxicity. Theobromine is the name of the toxin responsible for poisoning. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more toxic it becomes. So whilst all chocolate is toxic, a dog would only need a very small amount of 70% dark chocolate to become extremely ill. White chocolate is generally not a risk as it has very low levels of theobromine. Signs of toxicity include agitation, hyper-excitability, heart problems and convulsions.

Hazards outdoors

Oaks and Acorns (Quercus species)

Oak and acorns contain a toxin called tannic acid. Ingestion leads to gastro-intestinal and kidney problems. Bloody diarrhoea and vomiting are the main signs of poisoning and dogs will often show abdominal pain.

Ethylene Glycol (anti-freeze)

Very organised people are thinking ahead and topping up the car with anti-freeze in preparation for the winter months. It is very toxic to all mammals, especially cats so think about them and other animals that visit the garden. Neat or run off fluids are toxic so make sure that any spills are washed away with copious amounts of water. Signs include vomiting, diarrhoea, an increased heart rate, lethargy and a low body temperature.


Conkers are synonymous with autumn. Although cases are rare, dogs will become ill if they are ingested. Throwing them to play catch can pose a serious threat too. Not only can they cause an obstruction in the gut, they contain a chemical called aesculin – found in all parts of the horse chestnut tree, including the leaves.
Signs include vomiting collapse, diarrhoea, restlessness and abdominal discomfort. Some dogs can go into toxic shock, experience respiratory paralysis and in severe cases can die. Signs of illness can occur within a few hours after consumption but sometimes symptoms don’t occur until after a couple of days.

Fireworks and Glow sticks

As well as the usual health and safety advice for bonfire night, fireworks can contain a number of different chemicals that are dangerous to dogs and other animals if ingested. These include fuels, metals, colouring agents, phosphorous, sulphurs and nitrates.
Signs include vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal discomfort and incoordination.

Around this time of year, glow sticks are also a cause for concern. These tubes are made of a bendy plastic containing a liquid called dibutyl phthalate that glows in the dark. Dogs, especially puppies, might be attracted to them to chew. They are extremely unpleasant to taste and even small amounts will cause excessive hyper-salivation and foaming at the mouth. The liquid is very irritating to the skin and eyes. For ingestion of glow sticks, lots of oral fluids will help dilute the chemical.
Irrigation of the eyes with water or sterile saline is recommended and use luke-warm soapy water for exposure to the skin.

What first aid treatment can you carry out?

ü  Contact your veterinary surgery and tell them exactly what your dog has ingested. They will be able to provide you with the best treatment whist waiting to see them.

ü  Making your dog sick can cause more problems and is often not recommended - Never make your dog vomit if:

·         They are drowsy or having difficulty breathing
·         Are having seizures ,
·         If the poison contains paraffin, petroleum products or other oily or volatile organic products
·         Contains detergent compounds,
·         Contains strong acids or alkalis

ü  Activated Charcoal is often used by vets to absorb the toxin. However there are a number of toxins that are not absorbed by charcoal and for more serious poisons a charcoal biscuit is unlikely to be sufficient.

If you would like to learn more about Canine First Aid follow this link:
OR contact me for more details of hosted and online accredited courses:

This article was written using information from the veterinary poisons information service (VPIS).
The VPIS offers a helpline for pet owners. Details are available by following this link:

Friday, 27 October 2017

Up Close And Personal With Your Cat’s Ears

At one of the events I participated in I met up with a crazy cat lady and got into a discussion about a cat’s sense of hearing.  I know a little bit about it but there was a lot discussed that none of us knew for sure about.  Memo to self:  check with Prof. Google when you get a minute. 

That opportunity came and I got a lot of interesting info, mainly from the petMD and Animal Planet web sites.  The best way to share what I found out is to peel back the onion, so to speak, and look at the cat’s hearing hardware and software from the outside in.

The triangular ear flap, known as the pinna, and the ear canal make up the outer ear.  Those little slit-like folds of skin at the base of each pinna are known as Henry’s pockets, but back on the block we just called ‘em cutaneous marginal pouches.  No one, not even Prof. Google, knows why they’re there.

The pinnae can independently rotate 180 degrees, increasing the cat’s hearing capability by up to 20 per cent and enabling it to locate and identify even the faintest sound in as little as six one-hundredths of a second.  I’ve seen that capability attributed to German shepherds, too.

The pinnae capture sounds, sending them through the ear canal to the middle ear, which is made up of the eardrum and ossicles, tiny bones that correspond to the hammer, stirrup and anvil in our own middle ears.  OK, back on the block:  malleus, incas and stapes
Sound waves cause the eardrum and ossicles to send vibrations to the inner ear, where those vibrations are converted to electrical impulses and transmitted to the brain via the auditory nerve.  Cats can hear sounds at higher and lower frequencies than dogs and people.

The inner ear also contains the vestibular system, tiny chambers and canals lined with millions of sensitive hairs and filled with fluid and floating crystals.  Most mammals are equipped with a vestibular system, but the feline edition is one step better than the others.

When a cat suffers a fall, it’s righting reflex enables the cat to reorient its body to an upright position in less than a second, thus landing on its feet virtually every time.  And the tail helps, too.  But, they’re not born that way; it takes about six weeks for the reflex to develop in kittens. 

So how come white cats with blue eyes are often deaf?  A genetic flaw in the gene that produces white hair and skin, causing it to suppress pigment cells, including those in the tissue of the inner ear. The tissue degenerates and the cells die, leading to deafness. 

 Deafness in domestic cats is most commonly hereditary, although disease, infections, outer-ear and/or inner-ear damage, and aging can be factors. White cats with eyes of different colors are often deaf only in the ear on the side with the blue eye.

And, as cats age, their ear drums thicken and compromises their high frequency hearing.  That’s not particularly problematic for indoor cats, but outdoor cats that rely on their hunting skills for survival are affected.  They often prey upon animals that squeak and chirp at high frequencies.

Bob Bamberg has been in the pet supply industry for more than a quarter century, including owning his own feed and grain store in Southeastern Massachusetts, USA. He writes a weekly newspaper column on pet health, nutrition and behaviour and his articles appear at