Friday, 20 October 2017

Yes, Dogs Can Be Allergic to Fleas!

Fleas are the tiny vampires of the dog world. Like mosquitoes and other blood-seeking parasites, fleas bite their victims to obtain their blood and then live off the rich nutrients found there. It's also the bite that causes the flea allergy process to begin through an immune response within the dog's body.

Antigens: Basic Cause of Flea Allergies
Canine flea allergies are caused by something called an antigen. In simple terms, an antigen is a substance introduced into the body that the body perceives as dangerous. In this case, the antigen would be chemicals contained within the flea's saliva. It gets into the dog's body through the insect's bite. An antigen-mediated flea skin condition in dogs is called flea dermatitis.

What to Look for
Flea allergy tends to affect younger dogs, meaning those aged five and under and it's more prevalent in the fall. Don't assume that it takes an army of these parasites to cause flea dermatitis because that is not true. Potentially, a few of them is more than enough to initiate the problem. Watch for the following:

•             Episodes of intense scratching
•             Biting at the base of the tail
•             Red, raised bumps and reddened patches of skin
•             Patchy or generalised hair loss
•             Hot spots

Also known as moist dermatitis, hot spots are smaller areas of ultra-inflamed skin. Skin will be moist and hot to the touch. These spots can easily become infected.

Flea dirt
This is flea faeces. It resembles flakes of black pepper and is often concentrated around the base of the tail.

Flea Poop or Just Doggy Dirt?
Now it's true that pets go outside and they get dirty, so how can you tell if it's flea poop or just plain doggy dirt? Easy, just put some of the material on an old white plate and spray lightly with water. If it turns red or pinkish, then it's flea poop.

Prevention is Key!
Flea infestation must be eliminated and if possible, prevented altogether. It really is just that simple: no flea exposure, no flea bites and no antigen exposure means that your pet will not develop flea allergy dermatitis in the first place.

Flea prevention regimens
Ask your vet for a recommendation for a flea-control product to eliminate these parasites for use on or in the body. Some preparations are topical; some are oral. Some need a prescription; some don't. Check online for best prices either way. Make sure you understand how to use the product.

Make sure your pet's environment is clean and free of pests as well. Use a good external environment pest control product, intended for pets, as recommended by your veterinarian. You can treat the pet's bed and carpeting, drapes and household furnishings.

Medical Treatment
Your vet will determine if a dog already afflicted with an antigen-mediated flea allergy needs medical treatment. Sometimes just eliminating the offending antigen by eliminating the parasite is enough. If not, expect that the patient may be treated with short-term steroid therapy with a drug such as prednisone. This will effectively alleviate discomfort and promote healing until the parasites can be eliminated from the body and environment.

Flea control is paramount to your companion's health and comfort. There are many effective products on the market today. With your vet's help, choose one, use it properly and then just watch those fleas flee! Remember, your pet is depending on you!

Paul Haines is the author of “My Life With Pets Blog” where he shares his life experiences involving his family and pets.  In addition to his blog, he is the creator and owner of the website is an educational and fun site dedicated to all types of Pets. You can visit the site at  

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Educated Speculation About Why Cats Are So Finicky

In talking about cat food with cat owners like I do most days, the most common point I hear is that “my cat is so finicky.”  And, cat parents, you say it as if your cat is the only one that’s finicky.  Most every cat is finicky.  They must think they have a license to be.

I read an interesting white paper by Dr. Nancy Rawson, a Ph.D. scientist with AFB International (  The company produces palatants for the pet food industry. 

The purpose of a palatant is to optimize the animal’s response to the food.  Make it pass the sniff test.  Palatants can be wet or dry, applied topically or baked in, and used alone or in concert with fats.  However they’re used, they’re largely responsible for the pet’s acceptance of the food. You usually see the palatant listed as “natural flavors” or “animal digest” in the ingredient panel.

As is the case with many aspects of animal husbandry, know one knows for sure why cats are so finicky, but Dr. Rawson made a number of interesting points…mitigating factors, if you will…to suggest that cats aren’t finicky just to be difficult, which is what most of us lay people think.

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they must get their nutrients from animal flesh, while dogs are carnivores with diets that resemble that of omnivores.  Cats have fewer options.  Rawson also points out anatomical and physiological difference in cats that factor into food acceptability.
She says that the cat’s unique genetic makeup drives distinctive anatomical adaptations, nutritional needs, metabolism and sensory biology.  For instance, they lack a “sweet gene” a protein in their taste receptors that, if they had it, would enable the cat to perceive sweetness.

They also lack the ability to digest lactose and other dietary sugars, and they have no lactase, an enzyme that breaks down starch, in their saliva.  This distinction alone, suggests Rawson, could result in the perception of ‘finickiness’ when compared to our human experience of food.

She also puts forth the possibility that cats aren’t finicky at all, but that we perceive them to be because their food behaviors don’t fit our expectations.  She speculatively points the guilty finger at cat owners who can display a certain “hypocrisy” when it comes to their cats behaviors.

“‘Cat people’ often report appreciation for cats’ independence, including their ability to fend for themselves during owner absence. Yet when this same independence and lack of owner-directed behavior occurs at feeding time, we call it ‘finicky’! Do cat owners secretly wish…their cats acted more like dogs?”  Ouch…them’s fightin’ words in some circles, ain’t they?

Dr. Rawson points out another thing that I often think about and talk to cat owners about; free-feeding.  My first objection to free-feeding is that it can contribute to obesity, although a relative had a free-fed cat that was lean and mean right up to the end, at 19 years.  An exception to the rule, perhaps.

Free-feeding may allow the cat to notice subtle differences it might not note when food availability is limited, like it is in the wild. When food is less available, the cat may be less selective.  They take what they can get.

Thus, attempting to please our cats with varied and plentiful food options, we may actually be setting them up to be finicky.   

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

Friday, 6 October 2017

Improve Your Canine Communication Skills With These Top Tips

1. Observe dogs’ body language: You can watch your own dog in the home, when out on walks and during play sessions. See how they interact with you and the world around them. Observe well socialised dogs interacting together and look at the way they communicate too. Video recordings are useful to pick up on subtle body-language and things that you might have missed.

2.Watch how dogs’ use their senses: The dogs’ sense of smell is 10,000 times better than ours. See how they take in information using it. Encourage them to use it with scent games and give them time to have a good sniff when out on walks.

3. Apply up to date methods of communication: It is now well known that trying to act like an alpha dog is an outdated method of training. Alpha rolls and muzzle grabbing only makes your dog think you are unpredictable and someone to fear. This can lead to self-defence aggression. Instead use positive reinforcement alongside quiet, non-threatening body language.

4.Know how to respond if a dog chases or charges towards you in a threatening manner by following these tips:
  • Remain still
  • Remain silent
  • Avoid direct eye contact
  • Present a side-on, closed stance, using your peripheral vision to assess the situation
  • Keep your hands and arms close to your body
  • Quietly and very slowly move away backwards but DO NOT run 

5.Watching dogs’ play is great fun but sometimes things go a bit too far. Knowing when to step in and call a halt to the session is important. Look out for:
  • One dog controlling the play session
  • One dog doing all the chasing with the other trying to escape, crouching or cowering
  • A dog displaying a high body stance – tail held high and ears erect
  • Stiffness in the body and locked eye contact

If you observe any of these signals immediately distract the dogs by calling them away. Reward the recall and put them both under control.

Understanding canine body language is like learning a whole new language so invest time and practice in getting it right.

Caroline Clark is a consultant in animal behaviour counselling and you can find more canine and dog first aid related information at

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Pet Food Ingredients: Their Bark Is Worse Than Their Bite

You turn that bag of dog food over and look at the ingredient panel.  OMG, WTH, YGBKM.  Those aren’t the ingredients, they’re your response…Oh my goodness, what the heck, you gotta be kidding me (you may be familiar with a slightly different version of this texting shorthand).

But they might as well be the ingredients since you can’t pronounce them, either.  You picture some mad scientist formulating the food with toxic chemicals, knowing that dogs are gonna die…bwahaha.

Some pet food labeling has wording for which there is no legal or regulatory definition as it pertains to pet food.  Think “Holistic,” “Organic,” “Super Premium,” “Large Breed,” “Small Breed,” “Senior,” “Low Fat,” “Indoor Formula,” “Hairball Formula,” and other such designations which mean whatever the manufacturer says they mean.

In the US, the only formulations for which standards have been established are: gestation and lactation (puppy/kitten food), maintenance (adult food), all life stages (must meet the puppy/kitten standards), and large breed puppy (dogs 70 pounds or more at maturity).

Then there are ingredients that have vague, loosely regulated meanings.  Think “Byproducts.”  Some people think they’re beaks, feet, feathers and guts all chopped up.  Those people are mostly wrong.  The guts could be in there.
“Byproducts” means anything but muscle meat.  In pet foods, they’re mostly organs…digestive organs, reproductive organs, brains, and assorted other organs that you’re quite happy to let the dogs and cats have, thank you. 

If it’s any consolation, some byproducts are considered delicacies elsewhere; tripe (stomach), sweetbreads (the thymus gland) and tongue for instance.  And they’re nutritious.  Other byproducts you shell out good money for as treats…bully sticks (what bulls have that cows don’t), moo tubes (cattle trachea), porky pumpers (pig hearts), lammy puffs (sheep lung), to name a few.

Then there are the scary sounding ingredients.  Those have very specific meanings and the scientific names must be used to pinpoint the ingredient.  Think of it this way:  there are several types of foxes: red fox, arctic fox, fennec fox, etc.  If you’re talking about the red fox, the scientific name is Vulpes vulpes.  

Requiring the use of that multi-syllable, toxic sounding name is akin to requiring the use of the name “Vulpes vulpes” instead of just “fox.”  So, in spite of how dangerous the ingredients may sound, they’re simply not.

Remember, also, that everything that is ingested has a threshold for toxicity.  You take one blood thinner and it saves your life; you take five and you bleed to death.  That’s why you shouldn’t freak out when you see propylene glycol in pet food or treats. 

Yes, it’s the active ingredient in pet-safe anti-freeze, but the key words are “pet-safe.”  Propylene glycol has a low freezing point and a high toxicity threshold, making it a safer alternative to ethylene glycol, the highly toxic active ingredient in regular anti-freeze.  And, don’t look now, but it’s in some human foods, too.  It’s usually used as a moistening agent.

By law, to be a “natural” food, there can be no ingredients that were made in a lab.  That’s almost impossible, if a pet food is to be complete and balanced.  A truly “natural” formulation may not be complete and balanced. 

A complete and balanced formulation will contain synthetic vitamins and minerals.  What it cannot contain are synthetic preservatives.  That’s why you see “preserved with mixed tocopherols” following the fat.  Tocopherols are what the mad scientists call Vitamin E.

If you’re feeding a “natural” dog or cat food, look closely at the bag.  You’ll probably see the words “with added vitamins and minerals.”   That puts it in compliance with the law.

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 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

My Cat Doesn’t Like Being Hugged- Why?

I’d like to hug my cat but they won’t let me – why?

Here are 10 common reasons why many cats really don’t like too much close and personal handling:

1. Cats prefer choice. This means that if your cat approaches you and wants to get close and have a cuddle, then by all means engage in some mutual loving.

2. Cats do not like to feel trapped and most dislike being restrained especially if they have no option to escape. Try and avoid picking them up and hugging them tightly. If they have all four paws on the ground they will feel happier.

3. Research has shown that if we handle kittens properly they will be more likely to respond to being handled as adults. The crucial time for this is between 3 and 8 weeks. Short, gentle and regular handling sessions throughout the day is recommended. Try and ensure that a range of different people get involved so that they will be socialized to men, women and children (under supervision).

4. Cats generally do not like their tummies being touched. This is a vulnerable area for cats so avoid tickling or stroking them there.

5. A large number of cats have a low threshold for time spent cuddling. Try and have regular but shorter episodes of contact.

6. In cat language, a raised tail in the shape of a question mark is a greeting. If a cat approaches you like this it’s usually an invitation to stroke and pet them.

7. Cats have a number of scent glands on their body. An abundance of these are found on their face. When they rub you, they are exchanging their scent. You can take this as a compliment as they are sharing their scent profile with you.

8. Cats show affiliation to another cat by mutual grooming and licking. If your cat likes to lick you it’s likely that they see you as a member of their social group.

9. Some cats are just not tactile. Many show their affection by choosing to sit close to you. If this describes your cat be content that they are wanting to be around you.

10. A slow blink is another way that a cat will show you affection. Try doing it back – most cats will respond.

So if your cat isn’t the hugging kind, just show them affection in different ways and be grateful that they choose to live with you.
Remember to give them choice and respect their species’ specific behaviours. By doing this your cat is more likely to want to be with you.

Caroline Clark is a consultant in animal behaviour counselling and you can find more information at

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Some Interesting Dog Owning Statistics - Check These Out!

Dog owners are in for a bit of a treat with this post (excuse the pun!). I recently came across a set of statistics that threw up some interesting findings.

For example - Did you know?

Walking our Dogs

Worldwide, the most popular time-slot to walk dogs is around 6pm. A leading dog monitor survey also found that afternoon walks tended to be twice as intense as morning walks. No surprise there for some of the early-riser dog owners perhaps?

Europeans Are More Active With Their Dogs

Statistics showed that Switzerland has the most active dogs in the world. Not to be out-done, dogs belonging to European neighbours in Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and The UK also enjoy a highly active lifestyle compared to dogs in other areas around the world.

These Breeds Are Good Sleepers!

Dogs that scored highly when it came to enjoying a good quality of sleep included Boxers, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and Siberian Huskies. It seems that larger dog breeds love a snooze!

Phobic About Fireworks

Bigger breeds figured highly here too. Monitored activity showed that bigger dogs seemed to be less disturbed by fireworks than smaller dogs. Beagles and Golden Retrievers showed a higher degree of calmness than many other breeds when it came to celebrations involving fireworks.
On the other end of the spectrum Maltese dogs showed a high degree of discomfort and restlessness when it came to dealing with the noise associated with pyrotechnics.

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Friday, 8 September 2017

Why Is My Cat Weeing Outside Its Litter Tray?

As a behaviour counsellor with a special interest in feline behaviour, one of the most common problems I am called about is inappropriate urinating in the house.
Here are ten reasons why this might be happening:

1.            Aversion to the type of litter used. Sudden changes to the type of litter can put them off using it. Ones that have a very strong scent are often not tolerated.

2.            A negative association with using the litter tray. For example if a cat has a urinary tract infection they will experience pain each time they pass urine. This often results in them linking using the tray with something unpleasant and so they start urinating in other places.

3.            Insufficient litter trays. In multi-cat households each cat requires its own tray (plus another extra). Plenty of space between each of them is important too.

4.            Intimidation by another cat. In multi-cat households, a confident cat may prevent another, more timid individual, from using the tray.

5.            Over- zealous cleaning. This can be very off-putting especially if very strong smelling disinfectants are used.

6.            Stress is often linked to inappropriate urination. Urine can sometimes be used as a self-appeasing behaviour. Identifying conflict and the emotional status of the cat is important

7.            Physical pain. Elderly cats can suffer from arthritic changes, making it difficult for them to climb into the litter tray. Because cats hide pain, inappropriate urination can be the first indication that there is a problem

8.            Lack of privacy. Placing a litter tray in a busy place in the house is not a good idea. Some cats even prefer a covered one. Provide them with an open and closed one to assess their preference.

9.            Urine is used as a marker to advertise territory. If urine is primarily around doors, windows and cat flaps it can indicate that the cat feels threatened from something outside.

10.          Cats do not like to toilet close to where they are fed. Place the litter tray some distance away from their core territory.

If you want to learn more about feline behaviour I run full day courses throughout the year. Or if you are experiencing behaviour problems with your cat I can arrange a home visit or if you are out of my area a skype consultation can be arranged.

Caroline Clark is a consultant in animal behaviour counselling and you can find more information at