Monthly Archives: August 2014

How do You Know if Your Pet has Fleas?

Gross Flea Dirt

Pet’s that are itching this time of year often have fleas to blame for their problems. Flea bite allergy is the most common allergy we see in pets and the bite of just one flea can make them break out for 2 weeks. Even pets that are not allergic will scratch from the irritation of the bugs crawling around on them. How can you tell if fleas are the problem?

The obvious answer is that if you see fleas on your pet then they are most likely causing the itching. While that is true, I cannot tell you how many pet owners have sworn to me that their pet is flea-free only for me to prove otherwise.

The best flea detector is a flea comb. A flea comb has very close teeth that can actually pick fleas out of the fur. A few swipes will often net a couple little blood-suckers.

I have found that it is often difficult to find fleas on dogs who are really itchy. These dogs are no doubt allergic to fleas and do a good job of scratching them off. Other dogs in the same household may have dozens of fleas on them. If there are fleas on one pet in a household then there are fleas on them all!

Many times when I do not find fleas on the pet, I will find flea feces when I use the flea comb. Flea dirt looks like little black specks that are often comma-shaped.

Fleas feed off your pet’s blood and they do not digest it well. Their poop is basically dried blood. If when you flea comb your pet you get black specks off but you’re not sure if it is flea dirt, sprinkle a few drops of water on it. If is dissolves into a red haze, it’s flea poop. If there is flea poop, there are fleas!

Fleas are at their highest populations in the fall of the year in temperate climates. If your pet is itching, then fleas may be the problem. I’ll have more on solving the flea problem naturally next time.

 Have you ever found fleas on your pet?

It’s the Nutrition, Stupid

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According to modern medical dogma, our genes rule our lives. Genes code for the proteins that determine just about everything about us. The thing we are just discovering is that it is not the genes we are born with that are important but rather which genes are turned off or on.

We are often told that our pets are victims of their genes. “Sorry, she was just born that way.” However, diet and lifestyle often play more of a role in their health than the experts realize. Nutrigenomics is the study of how the nutrients a body takes in determine which genes are activated.

According to one study into nutirigenomics1, certain nutrients can have a profound effect on health. One of the researchers, Randy L. Jirtle commented that, “Early nutritional changes can clearly affect adult phenotypes.” The other, Robert A. Waterland, said “Diet, nutritional supplements and other seemingly innocuous compounds can alter the development in utero to such an extent that it changes the offspring’s characteristics for life, and potentially that of future generations.”

They are speaking of research they conducted on mice with a genetic flaw called the Agouti mutation. Agouti mice tend to have a yellow hair coat, diabetes, obesity and cancer. These scientists found that if two Agouti mice were bred, the offspring expressed the Agouti gene – no surprise there.

However, if two Agouti mice were bred and the pregnant female’s diet was supplemented with extra Vitamin B12, Folic acid, Betaine, or Choline, the offspring appeared completely normal. They had the disease-causing gene but the nutrients “turned it off.” If fact, these normal appearing mutants could interbreed and produce normal looking progeny. So this epigenetic factor can be passed on outside the genetic code.

Yes, veterinarians are just now appreciating the true importance of nutrition. According to one expert, “Previously, clinical nutrition was considered adjunctive therapy to common diseases, but in recent years it has emerged as a cornerstone of treatment based on the principles of grade 1 evidence-based medicine…No longer are nutrients simple building blocks, cofactors, or enzymes, but instead regulators of cellular metabolism, gene transcription, or translation.”2

As important as nutrition is, most veterinarians do not place much emphasis on it when dealing with sick or well patients. It is up to the pet caregiver to choose the best diet for her four-legged friend. In my view, a balanced raw diet is best.

1. Walterland RA, Jirtle RL. Transposable elements: Targets for early nutritional effects on epigenetic gene regulation. Molecular and Cellular Biology 2003;23(15):5293-5300.

2. Kirk CA, Bartges JW, Dietary management and nutrition, preface. Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal Practice, 2006;36(6):xi-xii.

Hey, raw feeders out there – tell us about the health changes you saw when you switched your pets to raw food.

Save the Claws!

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It is best if you do not declaw your cat. If tigers can be trained to jump through hoops of fire then surely we can teach our domestic cats to use scratching posts instead of destroying our homes. However, as in the case of the tigers, training a cat does take effort.

The first thing you need to realize is that scratching is a normal, even healthful, behavior of cats. Cats scratch to help shed old claw tissue, to stretch their limbs and spine (kitty yoga), to alleviate stress, and to sharpen their claws. Furthermore, there are scent glands in the feline foot and scratching is a way for these territorial creatures to claim the area they call home.

Your cat will scratch things – you can’t train it out of her. The only question is what will she scratch? Guiding feline scratching behavior requires a two-pronged approach – we need to reward desired behavior and discourage unwanted activities.

The first step is to provide appropriate scratching implements. Posts wrapped with sisal rope work well for many cats. Other felines may prefer wood and still others might favor a horizontal surface for scratching.

It is best to offer a smorgasbord to cover all the bases. An old stump can be used in case your cat is wood-seeking. There are also corrugated cardboard pads that can be taped securely to the floor. Whatever you use, be sure the structure is solid and does not move, wobble, or fall over.

You must realize that just because the labels say “Scratching Post” does not mean that your cat will instinctively prefer them over your couch. Play with your cat near the structures by having her claw at toys that you dangle up and down them. You can also sprinkle the surface of the scratching post with catnip to encourage her to “do the right thing.” Reward appropriate behavior with praise, petting, and treats.

If your cat slips up and scratches in the wrong place, punishment is not likely to help much. First of all, if you hear her scratching in the other room and rush in to stop her, she is likely to stop before you get to her. In that case, she may think that you are punishing her for stopping. “I need to do a better job next time,” she might think.

Even if you are successful in catching her in the act, she will associate you with the punishment. She will quickly learn never to scratch the lounge chair… when you are there. Unless you are constantly home to guard the furniture, that tactic is doomed to failure.

Instead, make the areas of the furniture that your cat is attracted to less appealing. Sticking double sided tape to the area or covering it with aluminum foil works well. Cotton balls sprinkled with a drop or two of lemon essential oil is also said to repel cats. You will not have to use these methods forever as long as you are encouraging the good behavior as outlined above.

To minimize the damage your cat does, you can learn to trim her toenails. Ask your veterinarian to show you how. This procedure is made easy if you train you kitty from the start to let you handle her toes.

To help your cat enjoy her pedicure requires two people. One person holds her comfortably but securely while offering the kitty her favorite treats. The other person carefully trims her toenails. The success of this approach is enhanced by doing it before her meal time when she is extra hungry and the goodies are especially valuable.

An additional level of protection to your furniture can be gained by the use of a product called Soft Paws. Soft Paws are plastic sheaths that are glued onto the freshly cut toenails. They further blunt the nail tips and stay on for about one month.

Living with another species in our homes requires truly understanding their needs and honoring their uniqueness. Cats are wonderful creatures and I can’t imagine living in a house without a feline friend. There are always challenges associated with sharing our live with others. I hope these simple tips help you enjoy your time with your four-legged family member.

What have you found helpful for scratch training your cat?