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Many of us can see the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Maybe your company has announced a return to work date. Maybe you are starting to travel again, either for business or pleasure. But what about our pets? They’ve been by your side 24 hours a day for the past year and will struggle to adjust or readjust to the new normal. How do you help prepare your pet for that eventuality? And how do you help them cope with the adjustment when you do return to normal?

 

How to prepare your pet?

The most important thing to do is start preparing your pet for the coming change now. According to Marjie Alonso, the executive director of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, we have to remember that our pets are individuals and just like us they are having differing reactions to this quarantine. Now is the time to start helping them adjust to the upcoming transition. Here are some tips from animal experts to help you help your pets:

  • Teach your pet independence and how to be alone comfortably.
    • Catch your pet being calm throughout the day, especially when the dog is ignoring you, and reward him or her with calm and pleasant attention.
    • Give your pet something delicious when you leave. Alonso states that “If you start stuffing that Kong with mashed potatoes and roast beef every time you walk out the door, the dog is going to be like, ‘Here’s your coat.’”
    • Provide separation with baby gates or doors for short periods of time, giving your pet a special treat or a puzzle toy, slowly allowing your pet to self-soothe and accept being alone.
  • If you are home all day, make sure you ignore your pet sometimes and do not give him or her constant attention or give in to constant demands.
    • You should not set attention and activity levels now that are difficult or impossible to maintain when you transition back to work, according to Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior researcher at the University of California-Davis.
    • Delgado also states that owners should not work in places (like the sofa) that pets associate with cuddles or play to avoid sending mixed cues to their pets.
  • Make sure your pet has alone time daily.
    • Alonso suggests that you make sure your pet has alone time. If you used to leave for work at a specific time go through your normal preparations (put on shoes, grab purse or briefcase and keys) and leave the house for a short period of time.
    • Dog trainer Tracy Krulik, who specializes in separation anxiety, agrees with Alonso, stating “take time away from your dog daily, even if it is to sit under a tree or take a work call from your car.”
    • Laura Sharkey, a dog trainer in Arlington Virginia, reminds owners that if your dog was previously crated when you went to work, he or she should still have some alone time in their crates. Crate training can give your pet a safe space and can help your pup learn that being alone is ok and is even sometimes preferable.
  • Provide mental stimulation for your pet, both while they are alone and while you are home.
    • Sharkey tells owners to take breaks form work to run through obedience cues or teach new tricks or give meals in food puzzles. It’s important to give your pets mental stimulation so that they are better able to cope with their alone time.
    • Fear Free veterinarians and behaviorists suggest that owners meet their pet’s physical, social and exploratory needs every day with routine, scheduled activities including play, positive reinforcement training, leashed walks, or environmental enrichment.
    • A tired pet is a less destructive pet. Make sure you provide mental and/or physical exercise before your pet spends hours alone. This way they are more willing to settle down for a long nap instead of chewing on your favorite pair of sandals.
  • Make sure your arrivals and departures are not a big deal. If you make a fuss over your pet when you come home or leave they may be more likely to believe it is something to stress over.
    • Dr. Katherine Houpt, professor emeritus of behavior medicine at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, gives owners the following advice: “When you are heading out for your first day back at work, it would be best to give them a brisk walk or a game of fetch before you leave. Before you leave be sure to leave a long-lasting treat such as a rawhide or a Kong toy with frozen melted cheese inside. When you come home don’t greet them until they are calm and not jumping on you or running in circles.”

What to do when you go back to work/school?

  • Continue the routine: As much as possible, maintain the routine you established during quarantine. Take a morning walk or have a morning playtime, get ready for work, then give your pup a frozen Kong or your cat a puzzle toy and head out.
  • Utilize the tools at your disposal: Don’t forget that you can use calming pheromones, supplements, or comfort vests to help your pet stay calm during this transition until they have adjusted to the new normal. This blog post goes into more detail about separation anxiety and the tools that may help.
  • Don’t wait: If your pet is showing signs of developing or increasing anxiety contact your veterinarian. Left untreated, anxiety often worsens over time.
  • Get help: Pet sitters and dog walkers can help with this transition! Pet sitters can come give your cats some socialization and enrichment time to entertain them while you are at work. Sitters can also come play with or walk your dog to help them deal with any anxieties that have resulted from your return to work. Check out our services and rates to find one that fits your needs and let our sitters help you and your pet!

February is Pet Dental Health Month! We all know that we are supposed to brush and floss our teeth regularly to maintain oral health, but did you know that your pets also need regular dental care? Approximately 70% of cats  and 80% of dogs in the United States are affected by dental disease. Dental health is about more than just clean teeth. Caring for your pet’s oral hygiene can help prevent health problems later.

Why Dental Health Matters

According to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), dental disease is “a painful condition that occurs when bacteria, plaque, and tartar build up on the teeth and get trapped beneath the gumline. The bacteria can be absorbed into the bloodstream and wreak havoc on other major organs throughout the body.” The AAHA states that dental disease starts early in life and that the majority of dogs and cats have some degree of dental disease by the age of 3.

Dental disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s teeth and gums; it can also affect the function of other organs and body systems. According to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) periodontal disease is the most common dental condition in dogs and cats and can lead to kidney, liver, and heart changes in your pet’s older years. Neglecting your pet’s teeth can cause chronic pain and may even lead to weight loss and behavioral changes.

Signs of dental disease or issues with your pet’s oral health include:

  • Bad breath
  • Broken or loose teeth
  • Extra teeth or retained baby teeth
  • Teeth that are discolored or covered in tartar
  • Abnormal chewing, drooling, or dropping food from the mouth
  • Reduced appetite or refusal to eat
  • Pain in or around the mouth
  • Bleeding from the mouth
  • Swelling in the areas surrounding the mouth

Always be sure to schedule regular veterinary exams for your pets. Annual exams include a dental check-up, which can help you catch signs of dental disease early. Be sure to mention anything out of the ordinary, like foul smelling breath or excessive drooling, to your veterinarian. Your veterinarian will also provide regular teeth cleanings, extractions, or repairs if necessary to help maintain your pet’s oral health.

Providing regular home dental care for your pets can help prevent problems like bad breath or tooth loss as well as keep any dental disease from worsening, thus causing chronic pain or organ damage.

Not sure how much you already know about your pet’s dental health? Take this quiz from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to find out!

Tools for Home Dental Care

  • Toothbrushes: Be sure to use a pet appropriate toothbrush. You can use soft bristled brushes that look much like human toothbrushes but are smaller or finger brushes with rubber bristles. Some people even use gauze wrapped around their finger, but be careful it doesn’t snag on your pet’s teeth if you do that.
  • Toothpaste: Always use pet safe toothpastes; never use human toothpaste. Human toothpaste includes foaming agents and other chemicals that can upset your pet’s stomach. Pet toothpastes come in a variety of types and flavors. You can get gels or pastes in chicken, beef, liver, mint, or peanut butter flavors to encourage your pet’s enjoyment of the process. There are even some oral sprays that are designed to help break down tartar build-up, but make sure you introduce that slowly to your pet as well because the action of the spray bottle could be startling or stressful.
  • Chews and toys: There are many types of dental chews and regular toys that can aid in caring for your pet’s teeth and gums. Products like Greenie chews or Nylabone toys are frequently recommended by experts. Playing tug with a rope toy can even help “floss” your pet’s teeth.

Check out this helpful video from the AVMA about the tools and tricks for caring for your pet’s dental health at home.

 

Tips for Home Dental Care

Regularly brushing your pet’s teeth is the most effective thing you can do between dental cleanings to keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthy, and may even prolong the period between required dental cleanings. It’s not easy to brush your pet’s teeth every day (I know from experience), but even brushing 2-3 times per week can make a huge difference.

  • Start a routine when your pet is young. We don’t always have our dogs and cats as puppies and kittens, but starting a dental care routine as soon as you become their owner is important. You can always start later as well, but will likely face more resistance from your pet.
  • Start your routine slowly. Buying a toothbrush and pet toothpaste at the local pet supply store and immediately attempting to start brushing your pet’s teeth can be frustrating for you and scary for your pet. For both dogs and cats try to start small and work your way up to a full brushing over weeks or months. Here are some helpful steps from Petco to get you started:
    • Let your pet get accustomed to the toothpaste by allowing them to lick it off of your finger
    • Let your pet check out the toothbrush/finger brush and give them plenty of treats to encourage a good association
    • Massage your pet’s teeth and gums with your finger to get them used to the feeling, both with and without the toothpaste
    • Put toothpaste on the toothbrush/finger brush and brush just one tooth or a couple of teeth
    • Slowly work your way up to more teeth and longer brushing
  • Feed your pet a healthy, well-balanced diet. We know that your pet’s overall health begins with a good diet, but did you know that many dental health issues are caused by malnutrition? Work with your veterinarian to address your pet’s nutrition and develop a healthy eating plan. Consider feeding a VOCH (Veterinary Oral Health Council) approved pet food. Some pet food brands offer specifically formulated dental care foods designed to help reduce plaque and tartar build-up.
  • Offer your pet dental treats and chews. There are many brands of dental treats and chews out there. Try to find brands that are VOHC-Approved, as those have been scientifically proven to help reduce tartar build-up. There are many types of chews for both dogs and cats that are designed to help care for teeth while indulging your pet in some quality entertainment. Be careful with chews (like bones or antlers) that are hard to bend or break easily, as those can potentially result in fractured or broken teeth. While treats and chews cannot replace regular brushing, they can be a great addition to an oral health routine, and lots of fun for your pets!

smiling golden retriever puppy sitting on a deckSeptember is National Pet Insurance Month. Many of us have homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance, car insurance, and health insurance. But what about our pets? Could adding pet insurance for your furry friends be a worthwhile expense?

Pets are a popular part of the American family, with 67% of households owning at least one. The number of families who own pets, despite the potential economic hardship, is on the rise. In 1988, only 56% of households included a pet. Dogs, cats, aquarium fish, birds, reptiles, and other animals are now seen as valuable and integral family members who serve as companions, helpers, entertainers, and even protectors of the home.

With approximately 85 million households in the United States owning a pet, caring for these nonhuman family members has become a $99 billion a year industry, more than doubling since 2010. This statistic not only attests to their popularity, but also to the level of financial sacrifice many pet owners make to keep their pets healthy and happy.

The cost of veterinary care alone is expected to reach $30.2 billion this year. As veterinary care continues to incorporate many of the advanced diagnostic and surgical techniques that are commonplace in human healthcare, the cost of veterinary care will likely continue to rise. And with many pet owners facing economic strains due to the pandemic, a sudden pet health emergency, even if not grave, could have them facing the possibility of “economic euthanasia,” having to put their pets down because they lack the funds to cover sudden veterinary expenses.

What is pet insurance?

An increasingly popular option to prevent this type of situation is a pet insurance policy. Unlike human health insurance, which usually pays out directly to the medical provider, pet insurance works on a reimbursement basis. You must first pay the veterinarian for the procedure needed and then request reimbursement from the pet insurance company. The reinstatement amount is rarely 100% of the cost, although some of the more complete plans cover up to 90 percent of vet costs. The reimbursement process is usually simple, requiring only the vet’s invoice (and sometimes some treatment records) along with a completed claim form.

Like other types of insurance, pet insurance is essentially a package of many different types of coverage. Some packages cover only the bare essentials, while others are more comprehensive and include preventive care and rehabilitation. Dental coverage for pets is rare, but a few carriers are now offering it as an option in their pricier policies. However, nearly all pet insurance policies exclude preexisting conditions and specific conditions such as hip dysplasia. They also can include payout caps on particular procedures, on the yearly payout, or even on the total the policy will pay. Most pet insurers will reimburse you for care rendered by any licensed American vet, but some limit policyholders to certain veterinary clinics and networks.

All pet insurance plans have a deductible of one type or another. Most insurers give their customers a choice of deductibles; policies with lower deductibles cost more. Being able to adjust the deductible allows customers to pick a policy with a monthly payment that fits their budget.

Why consider it?

The cost of veterinary care is increasing due to improvements in technology and higher costs in training, equipment, and facilities. We all hope that our pets will never have an emergency, but the current estimate is that 1 out of every 3 pets will need emergency care every year. If your pet is that 1 pet who requires care, pet insurance can help defray those costs. This could be the difference between getting your pet help and being forced into a decision about “economic euthanasia.” If you have pet insurance and are not worried about a large expense, it may allow you to consider more treatment or diagnostic options. Pet insurance can also help cover the cost of boarding or pet sitting if you are hospitalized, a definite bonus during this pandemic. For more information and some examples of whether pet insurance could be worth it for your fury family member, check out this information from Washington Consumer’s Checkbook.

How to compare policies

There are a wide array of pet insurance policies available to pet parents these days. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are comparing companies to find the best fit for you and your pet:

  • Does the policy provide comprehensive coverage or accident-only coverage? Some companies will allow policy holders to add on wellness and routine care (things like spay/neuter, dental cleanings, vaccines, and flea/tick treatments) and a very few provide that coverage normally. Remember that most policies do not cover hereditary diseases or pre-existing conditions and often have a maximum age limit.
  • What is the total cost? You should compare the monthly price, options for premiums and deductibles, and potential limits on payments/payouts. The average monthly price of pet insurance is $47 for dogs and $29.50 for cats. Keep in mind that you always have to pay the veterinarian out of pocket and then you can be reimbursed.
  • What is in the fine print?
    • Does your policy require you to go to a specific in-network veterinarian or can you visit anyone?
    • Check for any exclusions involving species, breeds, or conditions that are not covered.
    • What is the waiting period for claims reimbursements and what is the reimbursement rate? Many companies will provide up to 90% reimbursement for claims.
    • Is there a payout cap and if so what is it? Is it an annual cap, a per-incident cap, or a lifetime cap?
    • Is the deductible a per-incident or annual rate? Per-year deductibles provide a better value for most pet owners.

Where can you get it?

There are many companies out there that provide pet insurance. You may even be able to combine it with your home or auto insurance from places like Progressive or Nationwide. If you are more interested in companies that specialize in pet insurance, this list can help you get started:

  • Healthy Paws – Ranked #1 for customer satisfaction, no maximum payouts, and fast claims processing, does not raise rates as pets age
  • Embrace – Includes dental care and allows for shrinking deductibles
  • PetPlan – Can begin plan as early as 6 weeks of age, covers up to 90% of some claims
  • Trupanion – Offers one policy regardless of species, covers some hereditary diseases, and has no set limits, does not raise rates as pets age
  • ASPCA – Provides a discount for multiple pets and does not require in-network vet visits
  • PetFirst – Includes preventative care as well as accidents and emergencies
  • Pets Best – Good for elderly pets because does not have an age limit
  • FIGO – A newer company with easy online access and up to 100% coverage
  • Prudent Pet – Covers preventative and wellness care with low deductibles
  • Trusted Pals – Adjustable co-pays and deductibles without requiring in-network visits

Are there other options?

As an alternative to pet insurance, some veterinary clinics, like VCA and Banfield, are providing “care plans” to help owners defray some of the unexpected costs of veterinary care. Many of these care plans provide differing levels based on the age and type of animal, but most include annual exams, vaccinations, lab work or diagnostic testing, and non-emergency office visits.

While more and more pet owners today are looking into pet insurance, it comes down to your personal opinion. Can you afford pet insurance now? Will it likely save you money in the future? And will it provide you the peace of mind knowing that you have help if something drastic or expensive happens to your pet?

Contributing Author:
José A. Sánchez Fournier is a writer with ConsumersAdvocate.org. Previously, he spent 15 years as a journalist with El Nuevo Día, the largest daily newspaper in Puerto Rico.

black and white Border Collie sitting next to brown tabby cat, both looking happily at cameraThe month of August is also known as “Rawgust” for both people and pets. Have you wondered if all the hype about raw food for your four legged friend is real? Have you considered switching from commercial kibble to raw food for your pet? The practice of raw feeding is still highly debated in veterinary, behavioral, and nutritional circles. There are many anecdotes about how well a pet has done with a raw diet and there are just as many veterinarians who do not recommend it.

There’s no “perfect” pet food out there. We all have to decide for ourselves with the help of the experts (of which I am not one!) what is best for our four legged family members. But if you have been curious about the new raw feeding trend, then read on my friend!

What is raw food?

The concept of a raw food diet is based on the carnivorous nature of dogs and cats. We know that dogs are pretty good scavengers (especially when you have steak thawing on the counter) and cats are obligate carnivores, meaning meat is biologically essential to their survival. Therefore, many people have seen a reason to start feeding their pets closer to what their ancestors would have eaten in the wild, raw meats and plants. A raw food diet consists mainly of animal protein, including muscle meat, bones (either whole or ground), organs (such as liver or kidney), and raw egg or eggshell. In addition, raw diets should also include fruits and vegetables, some dairy (like yogurt), and supplements to balance the meal.

According to a US News article, a study on pet diets performed in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom is showing a new trend. “New research found that only 13% of dog owners and about one-third of cat owners exclusively fed their pets conventional pet foods as their main meals all of the time. Nearly two-thirds of dogs and about half of cats were given homemade meals at least some of the time. And more than two-thirds of pooches and more than half of kitties sometimes got raw meals.”Fewer dogs and cats are being fed conventional, heat-processed foods,” said study author Dr. Sarah Dodd, a veterinarian and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College in Canada. “There’s nothing wrong with feeding different food sources, providing that you can obtain assurance that the diet meets nutritional requirements,” states Dodd.”

What are the pros and cons?

Pros:

  • According to Pets-WebMD proponents of raw diets have seen benefits such as:
    • Shinier coats
    • Healthier skin
    • Cleaner and healthier teeth
    • Higher energy levels
    • Smaller stools
  • Raw food diets do not contain additives, sugars, or dyes that could lead to potential digestive issues or health problems.
  • If you feed a homemade raw diet you know exactly what is going into your pet’s diet. You can also adjust the amount of grain in your pet’s food. Many of us have heard about the Dilated Cardiomyopathy scare in dogs in relation to grain-free food. While I am not going to touch on that here, providing your pet with either a grain free or a whole grain inclusive diet can be easy with raw feeding. Whole grains are typically better for dogs nutritionally than highly processed grains such as corn meal, that have often lost many of their nutraceutical benefits.
  • Raw feeding can potentially reduce the risk of bloat, a very serious and often fatal condition most common in deep-chested, large dogs. One study showed that dogs were less prone to bloat when eating wet food and more prone to bloat when eating dry food.
  • Some pets who eat dry food tend to be dehydrated. Raw food has enough moisture to keep your pets hydrated and to reduce the strain on their liver and kidneys that dehydration can cause.

Cons:

  • Many veterinarians and conventional pet food experts cite the danger of raw food pathogens in both commercial and homemade raw food diets. This is a legitimate concern and there is always a risk of pathogenic contamination that is rarely present in processed canned or kibble foods. Although, all of us who feed our pets kibble know about pet food recalls as a result of contamination, so there is no completely “safe” pet food. (For more information about potential contaminants in pet foods, check out this blog post from the Holistic Pet Radio.)
  • Veterinarians are also concerned about the unbalanced nature of raw food. The raw food industry is fairly unregulated at this point, much like the pet food industry as a whole was when it was developing. There are no rules, requirements, or restrictions for any commercial raw food supplier. Veterinarians worry about that lack of regulation in providing complete and balanced nutrition for our pets. Feeding your dog a whole chicken or cutting up a steak for them is also definitely not a nutritionally complete meal. There are a lot of parts to a nutritionally balanced diet for cats and dogs and vets may justifiably worry, particularly with homemade foods, that the diet is not being prepared or balanced properly.
  • Raw feeding is unsuitable for some pets. Dogs with liver disease or kidney failure should not eat raw food due to the high protein content. Dogs with cancer or who are taking immunosuppressant drugs are more susceptible to bacteria and infection. Many experts caution against puppies under a year, especially large breed puppies, eating raw food. It is difficult and extremely important to balance the calcium and phosphorus in a raw diet. If they are not balanced properly the puppy could grow up with bone loss or bone deformities.
  • The final concern with a raw food diet is the potential for an animal to crack a tooth or receive an internal puncture from a bone in a raw meal. Bones can potentially lodge in airways or cause bowel perforations as well. This is a legitimate concern for pets frequently eating whole bones, however, raw bones are much softer than cooked or dehydrated bones and do not often splinter when eaten. Many raw feeders will grind the bones and add them to the pet’s food to get the benefits of bone meal without the dangers of a broken bone.
  • Not to mention that feeding your pet raw food is both time consuming and expensive!

How is commercial different from homemade?

According to Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, the biggest mistake that pet parents make when feeding raw to their pets is not understanding nutritional requirements for canines and felines. Many homemade diets and even some commercial raw diets can be nutritionally unbalanced, resulting in deficiencies in minerals or vitamins and ultimately causing problems for your pet. However, most commercial pet food diets are made to AAFCO standards and include all necessary nutrients for your pets. Pet parents making their pet’s diets at home must learn how to vary protein types, include fiber or roughage as well as fruits and vegetables, and add necessary vitamins, minerals, and supplements to keep their pets eating a balanced diet.

Another difference between commercial and homemade raw food diets is the protein processing. When you purchase meat from the store for your pet you can run the normal risk of having non-sterile meats in your home, just like when you do when you purchase chicken or hamburger for your dinner. There is always the chance of contamination or inclusion of pathogens in human-grade meat. However, many commercial raw diets are created using High-Pressure Pasteurization (HPP) to sterilize the food to reduce any possible pathogens. I’m not saying that process is perfect but it does carry a somewhat lower risk, than accidentally coating your kitchen counter in chicken necks.

Where can you get it?

Many commercial raw foods (either freeze dried or frozen) are available now at your local pet stores. Brands like Stella and Chewy’s, Nature’s Variety Instinct, and Primal are frequently sold in local or small chain pet supply stores like Chuck and Don’s, Bentley’s and Pet Valu. Your Dog Advisor has created a pros and cons list of some of the most popular commercial raw foods here.

Another option for purchasing raw food is a delivery service. Some raw food brands provide a delivery service right to your door. Companies like Darwin’s, Nature’s Logic, and Raw Bistro will deliver frozen raw meals nationwide. For a more comprehensive list of raw food providers look at Primal Pooch’s guide.

The third and final option for purchasing a raw diet instead of making it yourself is a local store. Those of us who live in the Twin Cities are lucky enough to have Woody’s Pet Food Deli, which provides nutritionally balanced and customized raw diets with a variety of proteins. Many of these stores are opening in urban areas and some in smaller rural areas as well. Check with your local pet food store to see if there are any near you.

What are veterinarians saying?

This is one of the most debated subjects in the pet world. (Although don’t even get a veterinarian started on immunizations!) Many conventional veterinarians are opposed to raw food diets. Lisa M Freeman, DVM, PhD, evaluated several raw diets and cautions owners against them due to a lack of science-based research. She states that several of the benefits raw feeders claim, such as shinier coat, are a result of a high-fat diet, which most raw diets are. A commercial high-fat diet would have the same results without the danger of being unbalanced. Freeman recommends a cooked homemade diet with proper supplements created by a veterinary nutritionist for those pet parents who do not want to feed their pets commercial foods.

On the other hand, veterinary clinics like Holistic Veterinary Healing in Maryland utilize pet food therapy on a daily basis and support the feeding of BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) to minimize digestive issues, behavioral issues, allergies, and skin/coat problems. Lisa Pierson, DVM, a well respected holistic veterinarian who focuses on feline care fully supports raw feeding for cats and has even developed specific recipes for pets with Irritable Bowel Disease, Chronic Kidney Disease, or Urinary Tract Infections.

Ultimately, there is no real consensus between the experts in the pet food industry on what is the best type of food to feed your pets. But most agree that varying your proteins and brands to provide a wider and more interesting range of food and doing your research before switching to a new trendy diet is important. Raw feeding is not for every pet and every owner. The vast majority of commercial pet foods, both kibble and canned, are made to be nutritionally balanced and abide by AAFCO standards. There’s nothing wrong with feeding your dog these diets, and in some cases, your vet may recommend a specific kibble diet. You can also supplement their diet with snacks like raw bones and fruits and veggies that pets can eat. They’re healthy and are also a great way to reward your furry family members for being awesome!

 

Disclaimer:

The contents of this post, such as text, graphics, images, and other material contained on this site (“Content”) are for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding the medical condition of your pet. Never disregard professional advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website! If you think your pet has a medical emergency, call or visit your veterinarian or your local veterinary emergency hospital immediately. Reliance on any information appearing on this website is entirely at your own risk. If you have medical concerns or need advice, please seek out your closest veterinarian. 

No one wants to think about when disaster might strike, especially now with the current global crisis. We may not get hurricanes out here in Minnesota, but tornadoes, earthquakes, and other natural or man-made disasters can surprise us. You may not have a disaster plan in place, but now is the time to start thinking about one. June is #PetPreparedness Month and in honor of that, this week’s blog post is about how to prepare a disaster kit for your pets and have a disaster plan ready. I hope you never have to use it, but if you do, you’ll be glad it’s there.

Disaster Planning

It’s not easy or fun to think about worst case scenarios but having a disaster plan can make the difference in keeping your pet safe. Here are some things to think about when making your disaster plan:

  • Know your region’s native disasters:

    • Is your region prone to hurricanes or tornadoes? What about blizzards, wildfires, or earthquakes? Identifying the common natural disasters in your region can help you create a specific disaster plan for your pets and your family.
    • It’s also a good idea to become familiar with local evacuation routes.
  • Write out a pet evacuation plan:

    • Create a pet evacuation checklist that includes everything that you need to bring or have with you and everything that needs to be done to safely evacuate your pet
    • Have plans in place both for when you need to stay put and when you need to get away. If you are staying home know which rooms provide the safest haven (no windows, no flying debris). Remember, if it isn’t safe for you to stay, it isn’t safe for your pets.
    • Identify pet-friendly evacuation shelters in advance so you are ready if and when the time comes to quickly evacuate. If there are no pet-friendly shelters in your area, consider other options such as your vet’s office, local animal shelters, pet-friendly hotels (either in your location or on your evacuation route), local boarding facilities, or a trusted friend or relative’s house.
    • Include all necessary contact information for shelters, veterinary offices, boarding facilities, and hotels in the pet disaster kit.
    • Be sure to have multiple options outlined in your plan. This way you don’t waste time searching for a plan B if necessary.
    • Although your pets may be more comfortable together, keep in mind they may need to be housed separately due to space or supply constraints
    • If you are unable to keep your pet with you, have a plan in place with your veterinarian to help keep your pet as safe as possible in your absence.
    • In the case of sudden emergencies (such as a house fire), place a waterproof “Pets inside” sticker on entry points (front and back doors) listing how many pets are living in your home. Emergency responders will then know to keep an eye out for your pets.
  • Create a buddy system:

    • You will also need a plan if disaster hits while you are away from home. You should identify temporary housing for your pet. Prepare for this by asking a trusted neighbor, friend, or relative if they’re willing to check in on your pet. You can create a buddy system but agreeing to do the same for their pets.
    • Be sure to add their name to your contact list in your disaster kit. And make sure to tell your buddy where your pet disaster kit is located in your home.
    • Designate specific locations, both in your neighborhood and farther away, where you will meet in the case of an emergency.
    • You may also want to consider choosing “designated caregivers” who will take your pet in (or who live nearby and can go to your pet daily) both temporarily and permanently if something should happen to you.
  • Microchip your pet:

    • Make sure you keep the contact and address information up to date in a reliable recovery database. Include contact information for an emergency contact out of the area as well.
  • Practice evacuating:

    • Make sure to get your pet comfortable with their carrier or crate ahead of time. This way, being confined does not create additional stress and your pet will be less likely to attempt to escape their carrier.
    • Practice getting your pets into crates or the car with their kit. This way your pets will be more comfortable if you truly need to evacuate in an emergency.
    • Know where your pet may hide if he or she is stressed or scared. Have a plan for getting your pet out of their hiding space quickly and safely if necessary.
    • For emergencies in which you stay at home, practice gathering and containing all of your pets and yourself in the designated safe room.
  • Know who to contact:

    • For information on evacuation planning, contact your local emergency management office, animal shelter, or animal control to get advice and information.
    • The Humane Society can help with locating shelters near you that can take in pets.
    • Use the FEMA app or NOAA radio to keep track of developing events or situations.
    • Check out this website to see if your state has a pet disaster plan or law.
  • For tips on what to do with large animals and livestock click here.

    • Be sure to have an evacuation plan for large animals as well and include identification, vaccination/medical records, and contact information with each animal.
  • Watch this video from FEMA for more information:

Disaster Kit

It’s important to have a disaster kit prepared for your pets in case of emergency or evacuation. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) this is what you should include:

  • Documents:

    • Photocopies of vet records including rabies certificate, prescriptions for any medicines, medical history/summary, vaccinations, most recent heart worm test for dogs and FeLV/FIV for cats
    • Photocopies of registration, proof of ownership/adoption records
    • Microchip information
    • Your contact information, your veterinarian’s contact information, and addresses and phone numbers for emergency contacts and family/friends/location where you will be staying
    • Pet description (breed, sex, color, weight) and recent photos of pets, sometimes a selfie with your pet helps to prove ownership
    • Waterproof container for all of the documents
    • The CDC has a good document that contains much of this necessary information here: Boarding Document
  • Water, Food, Medications:

    • 2 week supply of food for each pet stored in waterproof containers
    • 2 week supply of water for each pet
    • 2 week supply of any medications if applicable
    • 1 month supply of flea & tick and heart worm prevention
    • No-spill food and water dishes
    • Manual can opener if applicable
    • Feeding instructions for each pet
    • Medication instructions for each pet
    • If your pet has anxiety, reactivity, or sensitivity be sure to include information on their typical behavior and triggers and how to interact safely with your pet
  • Other Supplies:

    • Collar with ID, leash, and harness
    • Toys
    • Waste bags or piddle pads
    • Litter and litter box for cats
    • Pet carrier with bedding, blankets, or towel (be sure to write your pet’s name, your name, and your contact information on each carrier)
    • Cleaning supplies for accidents (paper towels, plastic bags, disinfectant)
    • Pet life jacket
    • Pet paw protectors/boots
    • Grooming items/nail clippers
    • Basket muzzle if applicable (make sure your pet is accustomed to this ahead of time)
    • Pet first aid kit and first aid book. For information on what to include in a first aid kit click here.
    • Flashlight with extra batteries

Be sure to keep your Pet Emergency Kit up to date.

Whenever you get new annual vaccination records from your veterinarian, check the kit and add updated contact information, photos, and perishables (food and medications) if necessary. Write the date on your perishables to make sure you know when you last replaced them.

The Aftermath

Your pet’s behavior may change after a disaster or evacuation. They may become aggressive, defensive, or skittish. Be aware of their well being and environment in order to protect them from hazards and protect others from negative reactions.

  • Keep your pet under your control at all times.

    • Fences, gates, or barriers may have been damaged and will not contain your pet.
  • Disorientation is common.

    • Your pet may be disoriented, especially if the disaster has affected the scent markers they use to determine “home.”
  • Watch for hazards.

    • Be aware of nose and paw level hazards including chemical spills, debris, exposed wiring, or other substances that may not seem harmful to humans.
  • Prepare for an adjustment period.

    • Give your pet time to adjust to his or her new surroundings and environment while keeping a close eye on his/her behaviors. Keep them in a secure space until they readjust. Try to re-establish a normal schedule as quickly as possible.
  • If any problem behaviors persist, contact your veterinarian.

We are all looking forward to that time when things get back to normal; when we return to work or school or a regular schedule. But what about our pets? They’ve been by your side 24 hours a day for the past several months and will struggle to adjust or readjust to the new normal. They won’t understand that this quarantine is temporary and you have to go back to working out of the house for 8 hours a day. They won’t understand the (to them) sudden change and lack of consistent contact. How do you help prepare your pet for that eventuality? And how do you help them cope with the adjustment when you do return to normal?

Labrador retriever standing next to a sitting golden doodle, looking out the window with their backs to the camera

What does Separation Anxiety look like?

There are many symptoms of separation anxiety. Some of your pets may already have some separation anxiety but if not, here are some of the symptoms to look for according to the ASPCA. Be sure to rule out medical problems for any of these behaviors with your veterinarian before treating your pet for separation anxiety.

  • Urinating or defecating: some pets will urinate or defecate in unwanted locations (in the house or outside of the litter box) when separated from their owners
  • Barking or howling: a pet with separation anxiety will often bark or howl persistently to indicate distress when they are left alone
  • Chewing, digging, or other destructive behaviors: typically if these behaviors are a result of separation anxiety they only occur when the pet is left alone, unlike general destructive behaviors of an untrained or young pet. These behaviors can often cause self-injury if the pet gets splinters from chewing furniture or ingests something they shouldn’t
  • Escaping: a pet who attempts to escape from an area in which he or she is confined when alone or separated from their owner is showing signs of separation anxiety. This is another behavior that can cause self-injury as the pet attempts to climb, dig, or push it’s way out of an enclosed space.
  • Pacing: pets who exhibit this behavior will move in circular or fixed patterns when their owner is not present
  • Coprophagia: in some cases dogs will defecate and then consume the stool they have expelled due to the stress of being alone

If your pet is showing any of the above symptoms, have them evaluated by your veterinarian. It may be helpful to video your pet as you prepare to depart from home and when left alone or separated from you. This can help your veterinarian make a plan for treatment.

How to prepare your pet?

The most important thing to do is start preparing your pet for the coming change now. According to Marjie Alonso, the executive director of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, we have to remember that our pets are individuals and just like us they are having differing reactions to this quarantine. Now is the time to start helping them adjust to the upcoming transition. Here are some tips from animal experts to help you help your pets:

  • Teach your pet independence and how to be alone comfortably.
    • Catch your pet being calm throughout the day, especially when the dog is ignoring you, and reward him or her with calm and pleasant attention.
    • Give your pet something delicious when you leave. Alonso states that “If you start stuffing that Kong with mashed potatoes and roast beef every time you walk out the door, the dog is going to be like, ‘Here’s your coat.’”
    • Provide separation with baby gates or doors for short periods of time, giving your pet a special treat or a puzzle toy, slowly allowing your pet to self-soothe and accept being alone.
  • If you are home all day, make sure you ignore your pet sometimes and do not give him or her constant attention or give in to constant demands.
    • You should not set attention and activity levels now that are difficult or impossible to maintain when you transition back to work, according to Mikel Delgado, a cat behavior researcher at the University of California-Davis.
    • He also states that owners should avoid working in places (like the sofa) that pets associate with cuddles or play.
  • Make sure your pet has alone time daily.
    • Alonso suggests that you make sure your pet has alone time. If you used to leave for work at a specific time go through your normal preparations (put on shoes, grab purse or briefcase and keys) and leave the house for a short period of time.
    • Dog trainer Tracy Krulik specializes in separation anxiety and agrees with Alonso. Take time away from your dog daily, even if it is to sit under a tree or take a work call from your car.
    • Laura Sharkey, a dog trainer in Arlington Virginia, reminds owners that if your dog was previously crated when you went to work, he or she should still have some alone time in their crates. Crate training can give your pet a safe space and can help your pup learn that being alone is ok and is even sometimes preferable.
  • Provide mental stimulation for your pet, both while they are alone and while you are home.
    • Sharkey tells owners to take breaks form work to run through obedience cues or teach new tricks or give meals in food puzzles. It’s important to give your pets mental stimulation so that they are better able to cope with their alone time.
    • Fear Free veterinarians and behaviorists suggest that owners meet their pet’s physical, social and exploratory needs every day with routine, scheduled activities including play, positive reinforcement training, leashed walks, or environmental enrichment.
  • Make sure your arrivals and departures are not a big deal. If you make a fuss over your pet when you come home or leave they may be more likely to believe it is something to stress over.
    • Dr. Katherine Houpt, professor emeritus of behavior medicine at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, gives owners the following advice: “When you are heading out for your first day back at work, it would be best to give them a brisk walk or a game of fetch before you leave. Before you leave be sure to leave a long-lasting treat such as a rawhide or a Kong toy with frozen melted cheese inside. When you come home don’t greet them until they are calm and not jumping on you or running in circles.”

What if your pet already has separation anxiety?

Pug sitting on a bed wrapped in a soft brown blanket with only his face showingHappily, many pets have been recently adopted during the quarantine. However some of those pets (as well as current pets) may currently experience separation anxiety, especially if they have been re-homed multiple times. If your pet already has separation anxiety, Steve Dale, a certified animal behavior consultant, suggests that owners take a proactive stance and utilize several tools at their disposal to help their pets both now and during the transition back to “normal.” Those tools include:

  • Pheromone products: Both dogs and cats can benefit from an external source of calming pheromones, like those provided by Feliway or Adaptil. Most pheromone treatments are either diffusers, much like the Glade Plugins you use around the house, sprays that you can put on blankets and bedding, or collars that use the pets’ body heat to stimulate the release of calming pheromones close to the pet’s nose.
  •  Probiotics: Dr. Karen Becker and other veterinarians and nutrition experts have completed studies that show that your pet’s digestive health can affect their psychological well-being and behavior. Probiotic supplements can help alleviate stress in your pets. Several companies, including Purina, have developed probiotics designed to help calm your pet and assist with stress management.
  • Nutraceuticals or supplements: Nutraceuticals are a combination of the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical.” According to Fear Free, nutraceuticals are food-derived substances that are claimed to have an effect on health. They are similar to and sometimes labeled as supplements. Products given the label nutraceutical are not regulated so be sure to do your research to figure out the safe and effective choices. Nutraceuticals and supplements can come in the form of chewable tablets, oils, or powders that promote various physical responses from pets. Calming nutraceuticals and supplements may help your pet with separation anxiety. Some experts suggest CBD products can also assist in reducing anxiety in pets.
  • Comfort vests: Vests like the ThunderShirt work by applying consistent gentle pressure, much like swaddling an infant, to your pet’s torso to help calm their anxieties, fears, or over-excitement. Research has shown that this type of pressure can cause the pet to release a calming hormone such as oxytocin or endorphins. Some pets (particularly cats) may need time to become accustomed to wearing a comfort vest so be sure to allow your pet to adapt to this at their own pace and encourage them to move normally.
  • Background noise: Some dogs seem to like having background noise to help drown out sounds that could be stressful or startling, like neighbor’s voices, garbage trucks, or construction work. Choose something soothing that will not have that type of noise, such as a nature or children’s channel on TV or turn the TV or radio to a station playing classical, light jazz, pop, or other pleasant music. YouTube has several hours long playlists designed specially for pets or you could try a designated “pet radio” from Pet Tunes. Studies have shown classical music and even reggae can be calming for dogs.

What to do when you go back to work/school?

  • Continue the routine: As much as possible, maintain the routine you established during quarantine. Take a morning walk or have a morning playtime, get ready for work, then give your pup a frozen Kong or your cat a puzzle toy and head out.
  • Utilize the tools at your disposal: Don’t forget that you can use calming pheromones, supplements, or comfort vests to help your pet stay calm during this transition until they have adjusted to the new normal.
  • Don’t wait: If your pet is showing signs of developing or increasing anxiety contact your veterinarian. Left untreated, anxiety often worsens over time.
  • Get help: Pet sitters and dog walkers can help with this transition! Pet sitters can come give your cats some socialization and enrichment time to entertain them while you are at work. Sitters can also come play with or walk your dog to help them deal with any anxieties that have resulted from your return to work. Check out our services and rates to find one that fits your needs and let our sitters help you and your pet!

Small furry Shih Tzu walking along sidewalk carrying a scrub brush in it's mouth

 

After so many weeks of social distancing we all might be looking a little ragged. Maybe your hair is too long. Maybe you haven’t gotten that root touchup or the mani pedi you were planning on. Maybe you aren’t sure when you last shaved your legs. We are all going through it, achieving that perfect quarantine cave person look. But your pets don’t need to!

Grooming salons and vet offices are closed or have reduced hours, but that doesn’t mean that your pet won’t require brushing, baths, nail trims, and hair cuts. Many of us pet owners rely on the professionals to keep our fur babies looking neat and clean. What do we do when we don’t have access to those professionals? How do we perform the routine maintenance that our pets need to stay healthy and comfortable?

Here are some home grooming tips to help keep your pet looking and feeling good:

1. Nails:

Nail trims often equal stress, for both pets and their owners. Many owners haven’t learned how to properly clip their pet’s nails and are worried about cutting too short and damaging their pets. It can be an intimidating prospect! But even if you only get a small amount of nail trimmed, your dog will be better off. If nails are allowed to grow too long they can be painful to dogs and cats and cause joint and structural damage. It may take time to get your pet accustomed to the clippers. Use lots of treats and positive reinforcement to first get your pet used to the location where you will do the trimming (make sure its a calm quiet area with a non-slip mat for them to stabilize on), the clippers themselves, the clippers touching your pet, and finally a nail trim. There are plenty of YouTube videos and step by step instructions for clipping your pet’s nails. You may even ask your veterinarian or groomer if they have any resources for you to follow. Here are a few good videos to get you started: (The second video is a bit long but has some great information and explanations)

  • Types of Nail Clippers: There are 2 types of clippers people can use: scissors and guillotine. Chose the type that you and your pet are most comfortable with, you may need to try both to see which you prefer. Be sure to get the correct size as well. It can be dangerous to clip a kitten’s nails with dog scissors because they are too large and unwieldy on tiny nails. If your pet really doesn’t like the clippers you can also try a nail Dremel, which grinds their nails down. You may need to take time to get them accustomed to the noise and feel of the grinder and you still need to be careful not to trim too short or you will hit the quick.
  • What is the quick? The quick is the blood vessel in the nail and if you cut too close your pup could start to bleed, and nails bleed a lot! If that happens don’t panic. Use styptic powder (or cornstarch if you don’t have the powder) to stop the bleeding. Press the powder firmly on the nail that has been cut. Try to keep your pup still and make sure to stay calm and reward your pup for being calm.
  • Scratch Boards and Pads: Cats love their scratching pads! Many are made out of cardboard, sisal, twine, or tough fabric/carpetting. Cats use the scratching pads to both sharpen their claws and to leave scent traces. So if your cat uses their scratching pad frequently keep an eye on his/her claws because they may need a little trim more often. However, for dogs you can do the opposite! If trimming is just too stressful for your pup you can make your own scratching board that your dog can “dig” to file his/her nails! It may take a little while to train your pup to use it but it can be fun, stimulating, and much easier than a battle with the clippers! Check out this DIY Nail Board for your pooch.
  • How often should you trim? According to the ASPCA many dogs require weekly trimming, but pups who tend to walk frequently on sidewalks and paved roads can usually go longer between trimmings. You should trim your dog’s nails when they begin to touch the ground and you can hear them clicking as the pup walks, or if you notice them snagging on the ground or carpet. Cats should have their nails trimmed every 1-2 weeks or if you notice them getting snagged on carpets or blankets.
  • Paw Pads: Don’t forget your pup’s paw pads too. Their pads provide cushion for their joints as well as protection from weather and from rough ground. They can get chapped, dry, or burned just like our skin. Make sure you keep the hair between their pads trimmed and free of debris and dirt to prevent matting. Use a special paw moisturizer (do not use human moisturizer) like Musher’s Secret or Wild Saint Paw Therapy to keep pads healthy.

2. Ears:

Ear care are another task that your pet often does not want you to do but is essential for their health. Ear infections can be caused by debris or water caught in the ear canal and can be very uncomfortable for your pet. If an infection is left untreated it can cause hearing loss and loss of balance.

  • How to clean your dog’s ears: Training your dog to accept ear cleanings can also take a lot of time. Get your pet used to having their ears handled and then slowly acclimated them to the cotton balls and the smell of the cleaner, always using plenty of positive reinforcement. Once your pet is comfortable, gently fold their ear back over their head so the inner ear is exposed. Using a cotton ball with cleaning solution on it gently wipe dirt and earwax that you see on the underside of the ear flap and then very carefully clean the ear canal with the tip of your finger surrounded by the cotton ball or gauze. Watch this video for a good demonstration:

  • How often should you clean them? Depending on the type of ear your dog has, the amount of hair in the ear, or if they produce large amounts of wax, you may need to clean your pups ears every 2-4 weeks. Don’t clean too frequently and be sure not to clean too deeply, inserting anything (especially Q-tips) into the ear canal can cause damage or infection!

If your dog is prone to ear infections your veterinarian might recommend an ear drying solution. Usually containing witch hazel, these solutions can help any remaining water evaporate from the ear canal.

If your dog is a frequent swimmer or gets bathed often you may need to clean their ears more frequently. You can also put a cotton ball in their ear prior to a swim or a bath to help reduce the amount of water that gets trapped in the ear. Be sure to dry the ear thoroughly after a bath or swim.

3. Teeth:

We’ve all heard it. The veterinarian walks into the exam room and starts looking at your pet. She asks “do you brush Fido or Fluffy’s teeth?” And you hem and haw and say, “when I remember” or “she really hates it.” And it’s true. Many pets don’t like having you stick a foreign object into their face and rub it on their mouth. But keeping their mouth and teeth clean is essential for the overall health of your pet.

  • How often should I brush? Ideally you can brush your dog’s or cat’s teeth daily, but that’s sometimes difficult to manage. Aim to brush your pet’s teeth 2-3 times per week for good dental hygiene. Only use pet toothpaste, never human toothpaste. You also only need to clean the outside of the teeth and gums but make sure to get all the way to the back of their mouth on each side.
  • How can I teach my pet to accept tooth brushing? This will take some time and practice for both of you. You can start by gently rubbing your finger along his/her teeth and gums and providing tasty treats as a reward. You can also show the toothbrush or finger brush to your pet and give them treats so they associate good things with the toothbrush. Once they are comfortable with your finger then graduate slowly to the toothbrush. If they balk at this try holding the toothbrush near their face with one hand and rubbing your finger on their gums at the same time so they can start to get comfortable with being approached by the brush. Don’t push too quickly; take your time with each step so you don’t stress out or scare your pet.
  • But she eats Greenies, isn’t that enough? While some dental treats do help, they are not a replacement for brushing. The abrasive action of brushing is what helps fight plaque. If you do use treats be sure that they are the correct size for your pet and try to find treats with cleaning enzymes to be more effective.
  • Alternatives to brushing: Like I said above, nothing is as good as brushing, but if brushing is too stressful for you or your pet or if you cannot brush frequently enough try supplementing with these options from Fear Free Pets:
    • If the toothbrush is scary for your pet, but she will allow you to open her mouth, try using dental wipes that contain mild abrasives like bicarbonate of soda. You can also use a spray or a gel on your finger or a gauze pad but make sure they say safe for cats because not all of the dental sprays are.
    • There are additives to put in your pet’s water but make sure to only put it in a bowl. The additives cannot be used in fountains. You should be replacing the water and additives daily to make sure it stays fresh.
    • For your kitty, try dipping a Q-tip in tuna water and rubbing that on her teeth. The abrasive action will help remove plaque and the tuna flavor may help her enjoy the task!
    • For dogs there are specific dental toys that your pup can chew. Most are bones or similar shapes with rubber ridges that help to scrape plaque and food debris. Some have a place to put toothpaste so that your dog can “brush” his own teeth! Other people and pets prefer rope toys. Rope provides a “flossing” ability for your pet. Make sure the rope toy is in good shape and always supervise your pet with them. Once the rope toy gets ragged, make sure you take it away before your pup ends up getting strings stuck in his teeth.
Check out The Bucket Game, developed by Chirag Patel (an internationally renowned trainer and behaviorist) to help create positive associations with grooming tasks for your pup!

The most important thing to remember is to take your time. If you get your pup to tolerate one ear cleaned, if you can brush your pet’s teeth with your finger, or if you can get two nails on your cat clipped shorter, this is a win! It doesn’t have to be perfection now, but working to maintain your pet’s coat, skin, and nails will keep them happy and healthy. This may seem like a lot to deal with while you are in quarantine, but your pet will thank you! Even a little bit every day will create positive associations for your pet, improve their ability to interact calmly with basic care tasks, and not only make your pet care easier but improve your bond with your pet at the same time!