Pet Advice

Entertaining Your Cat for Health and Happiness

Guest blog by Marci Koski, PhD, Certified Feline Behavior Specialist

Wait a minute, aren’t my cats supposed to entertain ME? Well, yes…that’s one of the reasons that many of us bring cats into our lives. However, we also love cats for many other reasons, including their cattitude in general. And a cat who is well-entertained is a cat who exhibits all the positive aspects of cattitude: she’s confident, well-adjusted, affectionate (in her own way), and alert. By providing her with the right kinds of entertainment, you’ll be giving your cat the gifts of mental, emotional and physical health that can lead to longevity and happiness. And when your cat is happy, YOU should be thrilled!

Think about entertaining your cat as a way to maximize her mental and emotional well-being. When applied to captive animals (including your domestic kitty), behaviorists call entertainment with this goal “enrichment”. Providing enrichment in your cat’s environment encourages her to act upon her natural, biologically-based instincts and has many positive benefits. Besides providing an outlet for physical energy, enrichment activities can reduce stress, and thus help resolve many common behavioral issues that stressed cats exhibit, including aggression, problem urination, excessive meowing, and destructive tendencies that crop up as a result of boredom (eating your houseplants, or shredding your sneakers, for example).

Entertaining Your Cat for Health and Happiness

The best enrichment activities let your cat act on her natural biological instincts. You may have already discovered that (besides snoozing), one of the strongest biological urges that cats have is the desire to hunt. In fact, your cat is one of the most skilled predators on the planet – a finely tuned machine that can gracefully snatch prey from the air using the most acrobatic of leaps and jumps.

All cats, in the process of hunting prey, exhibit a series of actions called the “prey sequence”. Typically, this includes 1) staring, 2) stalking and chasing, 3) pouncing and grabbing, and 4) performing a kill bite. When you provide enrichment activities that promote your cat to perform any parts of the prey sequence, your cat gets certain needs filled. However, the BEST forms of enrichment are those that allow your cat to express the entire prey sequence.

There are various types of enrichment activities and devices. Some of them elicit only certain parts of the prey sequence, which might not be as fulfilling to your kitty. Of course, we can’t provide cats with the opportunity to complete the prey sequence all the time (that would be impractical for most people), and there’s never going to be a single toy or activity that is always the best (that would get boring after a while, right?). However, you can provide her with the opportunity to go through the full prey sequence at least once or twice a day, and give her other opportunities to act on her instincts by herself the rest of the time. Let’s take a look at a few types of enrichment activities and see how they fulfill your cat’s instinctual needs:

- Visual EntertainmentCats can be entertained by simply watching what is going on around them, especially if what captures their attention resembles prey (prey sequence part 1: staring!). Provide your cats with perches like cat trees and/or shelving from which she can watch wildlife through a window (you can even put up bird and squirrel feeders next to your windows if your cats stay indoors).  

Alternatively, some cats enjoy watching fish tanks and even DVDs that feature birds and small animals…made just for kitties!

-   Inanimate ToysThese include small objects such as catnip toys, balls, and furry mice. These toys are generally inexpensive, can be left out all the time, and encourage solitary play. Your cats, if imaginative, can exercise all components of the prey sequence with inanimate toys (especially if they contain catnip), but unless your kitty is super energetic, this type of toy primarily focuses on part 3 of the prey sequence: pounce and grab.

-   Battery-Operated Toys – These toys are powered to move on their own, which can simulate a more realistic prey-object experience. My cats like a toy that features a fabric-covered motor that has a stick and feather attachment; the feather pokes out from under the fabric and moves around in random directions at various speeds. I’ve seen my cats go through the first three steps of the prey sequence using this and similar toys; however, there are several drawbacks – they are a bit more expensive, and batteries will run out quickly if left on all the time.

- Food Puzzles – Food puzzles are a form of occupational enrichment that requires the cat to figure out how to get the prize (food or treats) from a container. This doesn’t so much relate to the prey sequence, but it does get cats to exercise their minds and keeps them mentally stimulated, especially if your cats are on a feeding schedule (as opposed to free-fed). Food puzzles can be as simple as cutting a small hole in a clean yogurt container (with a lid) and putting some treats inside. Watch your cat roll it around to get the treats out!

-   Interactive Toys – These include wand toys which require a human to direct them, and in most cats’ opinions (I’ve asked around…), these are the BEST toys! This is the only type of toy where you can elicit the entire prey sequence. By mimicking the movements of a bird or mouse, your cat will stare, stalk and chase, pounce and grab, and even perform the kill bite (you get extra bonus points if she tries to do the “death kick” on the poor toy attached to the wand)! What about laser pointers? Well, these are ok if you’re careful about not shining them in your cat’s eyes, but because it’s impossible for your frustrated feline to actually catch that elusive red dot and perform a kill bite, the laser pointer will not be nearly as fulfilling as playing with a wand toy. Wand toys: my kitties give them two paws up!

No matter what type of enrichment activities you decide to go with, there are a few things you can do to encourage your cat to play and maintain her interest. First, after your cat has performed a few components (or all) of the prey sequence, cap off your play session with a few treats. Because what happens after a cat performs the kill bite? In the wild, your cat would eat what she has caught! Second, provide your cats with various types of toys (not just inanimate toys, for example), and rotate them periodically so that they don’t get bored with them. Old toys can become new again if you put them away for a little while! And finally, buy a bottle of catnip spray – this works wonders for reviving interest in an older toy, or will even entice your cat to use the scratching post. Whatever you decide to do, have fun giving your cat enrichment opportunities, and she will reward you with her own brand of entertainment for years to come!

Marci Koski, PhD, Certified Feline Behavior Specialist, has more articles and a wealth of information on her blog. Make sure to check it out! Click Here!

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How Can You Tell if Your Dog Has An Ear Infection?

Dog ear infections are very common and will affect most dogs at some point in their lives.  Dogs with floppy ears tend to be more susceptible.  Dogs that get frequent baths, like to swim or haven’t had their ears cleaned properly will most likely get an ear infection. However, there are ways to detect ear infections right away and treat them immediately and further prevent them from occurring.

How can a dog get an ear infection?

Ear infections in dogs are usually caused by an excess of bacteria or yeast. Ear mites, growing hair, trapped water, a tumor or foreign body in the ear canal can lead to an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast. Infections may also develop when allergies, hypothyroidism or an excessive amount of ear wax are present.

Dog Ear Infections Fixed

Below are some of the symptoms that might occur if your dog has an ear infection:

  • Ear scratching
  • Brown, yellow or bloody discharge
  • Odor in the ear
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Crusted or scabby skin on the near ear flap
  • Hair loss around the ear
  • Wiping the ear area on the floor or furniture
  • Head shaking or head tilt
  • Loss of balance

If any of the above has occurred in your dog, make sure to take your pup to the vet.

How Are Ear Infections Treated?

Many ear infections can be treated with a professional cleaning followed by regular cleaning and medication given at home. Your veterinarian may prescribe topical and/or oral medicine. For severe or chronic cases, anesthesia and ear flushing may be necessary.

You can prevent ear infections from occurring by doing the following:

Check your dog’s ears regularly for discharge, odor, swelling and other symptoms of infection.

If your dog’s ear canal appears dirty, clean with a cotton ball dampened with a solution suggested by your vet—but don’t clean so often or deeply that you cause irritation.  (below will explain good cleaning methods).

After baths and swimming, be sure to dry your dog’s ears as thoroughly and carefully as you can.

If your dog is prone to infections, ask your vet if canine ear-drying solution would be beneficial.

If your dog grows hair in or around the opening of his ear canals, periodically tweeze it away (if your dog tolerates it) or ask your groomer to do so.   Inner-ear skin is delicate, so ask your vet to show you the proper method for maintaining your dog’s ear health.

Tips to cleaning your dog’s ears

First get a recommendation of a good ear cleaner from your vet. Ear cleaners should be slightly acidic but should NOT sting your pup.

Place a few drops in your dog’s ear canals (read directions) and then massage the base of the ear for 20-30 seconds to soften and release the debris. Wipe out the loose debris and excess fluid with a cotton ball. Repeat this procedure until you see no more debris. Let your dog shake his head to remove any excess fluid.

When you are through, wipe your dog's ear flap and area below the ear gently with a towel. Depending on your dog's ear condition, you may have to start out cleaning the ears twice a day.

Cotton applicator swabs can be used to clean the inside of the earflap and the part of the ear canal you can see. They should NOT be used farther down in the ear canal since that tends to pack debris in the ear canal, rather than help to remove it.

And, of course, follow the cleaning with your dog’s favorite treat or toy for good behavior!

 Homeopathic Remedies

 Hepar Sulph can be useful for irritable dogs who don’t like to have their inflamed ears touched.

Sulphur is often recommended for long term, stubborn skin conditions and also has some success in ear infection treatment. Excessive scratching or pawing at the ears may be an indicator for sulphur.

Silica is worth considering to help ‘push out’ a excess debros or other foreign object from the ears.

Phosphorus is a good option for those dogs who suffer with cuts or hematomas to the pinna; it’s an excellent remedy for many types of bleeding.

The key to your dog’s healthy ears is to keep them clean. Check your dog's ears weekly. A slight amount of waxy buildup may be present in normal ears. If your dog swims a lot, has pendulous ears, or a history of ear disease, routine cleaning (often once to three times per week) is recommended.

Remember, if your dog is showing severe discomfort, the ears have a bad smell, or the ear canals look very abnormal, take your dog to your vet immediately. If your dog has a ruptured or weakened eardrum, some ear cleansers and medications could do more harm than good so make sure you get the correct treatment.

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Cleaning Your Cats’ Ears- Easy to Do and Important

Our cats are amazing self groomers and tend to keep themselves clean on their own.  However, they can’t reach their inner ears and it’s up to us, their pet parents, to monitor and help them.  Have you looked inside your cat’s ears lately?  If you haven’t, today is the day!  If you see a lot of dirt or a build up of wax, it’s time to clean your cat’s ears.  And, unlike nail clipping, most cats aren’t too averse to that area.

Let’s start with how the outer ear shoud look:

A healthy kitty’s outer ear has a layer of hair on its outer surface with no bald spots, and its inner surface is clean and light pink. If you see any discharge, redness or swelling, your cat’s ears should be checked by your veterinarian.

Cleaning Your Cats Ears

Have you checked my ears lately?

Inner ear exam

You should bring your kitty cat into a quiet room where there are no other pets. Gently fold back each outer ear and look down into the canal. Healthy outer ears will be pale pink in color, carry no debris or odor, and will have minimal or no visible earwax. If you find that your cat’s ears appear to have excessive amounts of wax, have dark colored debris, or you detect an odor, your cat should be examined by your veterinarian.

How to clean your kitty’s ears

Place a little bit of liquid ear cleaner onto a clean cotton ball or piece of gauze. If you are unsure of what to use, ask your verterianrian for a recommendation.  Next, fold your cat’s ear back gently and wipe away any debris or earwax that you see on the inside of the outer ear. Lift away the dirt and wax rather than rubbing it into the ear.  Do not attempt to clean the ear canal-probing inside of your cat’s ear can cause trauma or infection and is best done by a veterinary professional.  And, of course, reward your cat with a treat for good behavior!

If the below is occurring, it could be indicative of an inner ear problem:

  • Persistent scratching and pawing of the ear or surrounding area
  • Sensitivity to touch around the ears
  • Head tilt
  • Frequent shaking of the head
  • Loss of balance and disorientation
  • Redness or swelling of the outer ear or ear canal
  • Unpleasant odor
  • Black or brown wax
  • Hearing loss

Below are some common ear disorders:

Ear mites: Ear mites are common parasites that are contagious among pets. Telltale signs include excessive itching of the ears and debris that resembles coffee grounds.

Ear infections:  Ear infections are usually caused by bacteria or yeasts. Treatment should be administered promptly as ear infections can cause considerable discomfort. Allergies in cats can be a predisposing factor in developing ear infections (so, of course, call your vet).

Ear Hematoma:  An ear hematoma is a collection of blood and serum between the cartilage and skin of the outer ear. They’re often caused by infection, ear mites, fleas or trapped debris that causes your cat to scratch her ears or shake her head excessively. They can occur in association with frequent head shaking in association with ear infections, ear mites, or allergies.

How to give your kitty ear drops:

If your veterinarian has recommended ear drops or ointment for your cat, he or she will usually give you directions on how many times a day and how to administer them.  Below are some basic tips to help.

  1. If there is debris or excessive wax in the outer ear or visible ear canal gently clean the external ear with a cotton ball or gauze moistened with a veterinary recommended ear cleaning solution (see above instructions).
  1. Gently pull your kitty’s ear flap back, squeeze out the correct amount of solution or ointment into the outermost earl canal.  Then you can gently massage the base of your kitty’s ear(s) to help work the medication deeper into the canal. 
  1. Administer the medication according to the label directions given by your veterinarian. Make sure to finish the entire course for recommended treatment to make sure the infection or illness is resolved entirely.
  1. As always, reward your cat with love and a treat afterward.

If you make sure to check your kitty’s ears on a weekly basis, you will be rewarded with a healthy and happy cat!

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Is Your Cat A Finicky Eater?

Cats have the reputation for being finicky about their food with good reason!  While some cats are inherently good eaters, other cats might suddenly turn away from a favorite food or ignore new choices offered that are healthier or just different.  However, if your cat suddenly decides not to eat, there’s usually a reason. The food may just not taste or smell fresh or your cat might have underlying health problems that affect his appetite.   

If you go to the vet and rule out any medical condition, then your cat is just a finicky eater.  Below are some tips to help combat the picky eating:

Many cats become finicky eaters from eating the same food over the long term

Many cats who have been fed a very enticing single food long-term can develop a food preference for that specific kind of food. While your kitty might enjoy it year after year, it can become problematic if the food’s formulation changes (which they often do) or if your cat needs to be placed on a prescription diet for a medical issue. It’s always recommended to vary your cat’s diet by offering various flavors, textures, shapes and types of food.

Finikki Eater

I like this food better!

Cats love a food with a strong scent

It’s the scent, not the flavor that draws cats to food. Those intensely fish-meat-poultry aromas wafting from cat food bring felines running at the first hint of the pop-top can. The smell of chicken or beef broth is especially enticing to the finicky feline. Try spooning some broth over dry food to gives your kitty an appetizing meal. Few cats can resist a taste of freshly cooked chicken, liver or beef. You can offer this in small quantities as a special treat along with his regular cat food or put a little drop on the top of your kitties’ food.

Cats love food with the right temperature and freshness

If you feed your cat food directly from a cold refrigerator, the food can become unappealing. If your cat food is cold, it could indicate to the cat that it’s not very fresh. Cold food also releases less aroma so there’s a decreased scent appeal. Wet food should be served at body temperature or slightly warmer. Dry food should be room temperature.

Try doctoring up your cat food

In order to get your finicky kitty to eat, you might try mixing in some goodies such as chicken, tuna or some other tasty morsels. However, you want to do this moderately as you might have now increased your cat’s taste expectations and he or she will be less likely to eat your regular food without the added treats. Unless your veterinarian has instructed you to supplement the diet, don’t try to trick your cat into eating her normal food by adding table scraps.  As mentioned above, a little change of flavor, or a broth is good for your kitty and might just do the trick.

Below are some other treats you can try to add to entice your finicky kitty:

  1. Sprinkle freeze dried chicken or salmon on top.
  2. Drizzle a little bit of tuna or clam juice drizzled over the food
  3. Add small pieces of cooked meat
  4. Spread a spoonful of meat-based baby food (make sure it doesn’t contain onion or garlic powder) on top of the meal
  5. Add chicken or beef broth to your food
  6. Sprinkle nutritional yeast over the food
  7. Canned parmesan cheese can be spread over the food
  8. FortiFlora (a probiotic) is enticing to some cats. Sprinkle just 1/4 or less of a package on top of a meal.


Establish a feeding schedule for your kitty

If your cat has been eating free-choice (or whenever he or she wants to), try feeding your kitty two meals a day. Most cats are hungry after not eating for twelve hours. They should dive into the first thing you put down after a twelve-hour fast, which should be a small portion of healthy canned cat food. Real hunger is a stimulant and your kitty will probably devour your food on sight!

If you change your cat food, it needs to be done slowly

When it comes to most things in their lives, cats don’t like change. When your cat goes to her food bowl at mealtime, she can become totally thrown off by the aroma, texture and taste of a completely unfamiliar food. Further, abrupt food changes can also cause intestinal upset. New foods should be introduced gradually to your kitty’s current food to avoid an upset stomach.

The key to transition your cat to any new food is to go slowly and be patient. And you may need a few tricks up your sleeve. For some cats, it may take several months while others will adjust easily and quickly.   With time, patience and experimentation, you can get your kitty to eat on a regular basis and be less finicky!

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Did You Know That Brushing Your Dog’s Teeth Is Vital?

We all know how important is it to feed our dogs the right food, take them to the vet for an annual check-up and make sure our dogs get plenty of exercise.  However, what we sometimes forget is how important our dog’s dental health is (just as in humans) and brushing your dog’s teeth can lead to a healthy mouth.  In fact, many dogs show signs of signs of gum disease by the time they're four years old because they have not been provided with proper dental care.

Below are some tips to help you prevent dental illness is in your dogs.

Is your dog’s breath offensive?

As we all know, normal doggie breath isn't particularly fresh-smelling. However, if your dog’s breath is especially offensive and is accompanied by a loss of appetite, vomiting or excessive drinking or urinating, it's a good idea to take your dog to the vet.

Examine your dog’s teeth weekly

Once a week, with your dog facing you, lift your dog’s lips and examine his gums and teeth. The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. His teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar.

Brush My Pets Teeth

Brush my teeth weekly!

Symptoms of dental or gum disease

The following are signs that your dog may have a problem in his mouth and should be checked by a veterinarian:

Bad breath, excessive drooling, inflame gums, loose teeth or bumps on your pups’ tongue.

How to prevent bacteria and/or gum disease in your dogs

Bacteria and plaque-forming foods can cause build-up on a dog's teeth. This can harden into tartar, possibly causing gingivitis, receding gums and tooth loss.  Regular brushing and teeth cleaning can keep tartar and gingivitis away.

Canine Tooth-Brushing Kit

Get yourself a toothbrush made especially for canines or a clean piece of soft gauze to wrap around your finger. Ask your vet for a toothpaste made especially for canines or make a paste out of baking soda and water. Never use fluoride with dogs under six months of age—it can interfere with their enamel formation. And make sure not to use human toothpaste, which can irritate a dog's stomach. Special mouthwash for dogs is also available—ask your vet.

Taking these steps will make brushing a lot easier for the both of you:

1.    First get your dog used to the idea of having her teeth brushed. Massage her lips with your finger in a circular motion for 30 to 60 seconds once or twice a day for a few weeks. Then move on to your dog’s teeth and gums.

2.    When your pooch seems comfortable being touched this way, put a little bit of dog-formulated toothpaste or a paste of baking soda and water on her lips to get her used to the taste.

3.    Finally, apply the toothpaste to her teeth for a gentle brushing.  You can become adept at brushing and it will go quickly.

Potential mouth issues in your pups

If you are familiar with the possible mouth problems your dog may encounter, it will help you determine when it's time to see a vet about treatment:

Periodontal disease is a painful infection between the tooth and the gum that can result in tooth loss and spread infection to the rest of the body. Signs are loose teeth, bad breath, tooth pain, sneezing and nasal discharge.

Gingivitis is an inflammation of the gums caused mainly by accumulation of plaque, tartar and disease-producing bacteria above and below the gum line. Signs include bleeding, red, swollen gums and bad breath. It is reversible with regular teeth cleanings.

Halitosis—or bad breath—can be the first sign of a mouth problem and is caused by bacteria growing from food particles caught between the teeth or by gum infection. Regular tooth-brushings are a great solution.

Proliferating gum disease occurs when the gum grows over the teeth and must be treated to avoid gum infection which can usually be treated with antibiotics.

Salivary cysts look like large, fluid-filled blisters under the tongue, but can also develop near the corners of the jaw. They require drainage, and the damaged saliva gland must be removed.

Canine distemper teeth can occur if a dog had distemper as a puppy. Adult teeth can appear looking eroded and can often decay. As damage is permanent, decayed teeth should be removed by a vet.

Chew toys can help your dog’s dental health

Chew toys can satisfy your dog's natural desire to chomp, while making his teeth strong. Gnawing on a chew toy can also help massage his gums and help keep his teeth clean by scraping away soft tartar. Ask your vet to recommend toxin-free rawhide, nylon and rubber chew toys.

Special diet for healthy teeth

You can also ask your vet about a specially formulated dry food that can slow down the formation of plaque and tartar. Also, avoid feeding your dog table scraps, instead giving him treats that are specially formulated to keep canine teeth healthy.


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