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  http://hubpages.com/@bobbamberg

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 BarkAndSqueak.com.  BarkAndSqueak.com is an educational and fun site dedicated to all types of Pets. You can visit the site at http://www.barkandsqueak.com.  

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 (http://afbinternational.com/pdf/Finicky_Cats.pdf).  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  http://hubpages.com/@bobbamberg

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 www.peteducationandtraining.co.uk