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

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