For many of us, cats and dogs are more than just furry friends — they are part of the family. Keep your pets happy and healthy with these tips from local animal experts.
From nose to tail, your pet counts on you for health and happiness.
In the dog world, you are the head of his pack, and in the cat world, you’re her provider and trusted friend.
Today’s dogs and cats are living longer and growing older alongside their people. The affection connection between human and pet is strong and close.
Adoptions at rescue shelters are on the upswing, likely influenced by widespread exposure of the ills of puppy mills and the economy. We’re home more where the dogs and cats are, doing “staycations” and shedding optional frills from budgets and increasingly expanding our families by four paws.
So, we’ve taken your pet care routine to the groomer. Here are some reminders, some new information you may not know and some ideas about keeping your canine happy and healthy and your feline frisky.
Our panel of expert pet people includes veterinarians and trainers, sharing their thoughts about medicine, manners and mental health in the pet world.
Budget cutting is a national pastime, but don’t shave dollars from the essentials of your pet’s care. Tulsa veterinarians outline “must do” basics for Fido and Fluffy.
The vets agreed that vaccinations and regular doctor visits are essential. After the initial series of puppy and kitten boosters, there are some “core” vaccines that may be given every three years. These vaccines help prevent deadly diseases. Discuss frequency and additional tests and vaccines with your vet.
Puppies and kittens begin vaccinations at 6 to 8 weeks of age, which are repeated every three to four weeks until they are about 16 weeks old. Veterinarians check for parasites and plan a de-worming program for moms and babies that begins a few weeks after birth.
Vaccinate kittens against feline leukemia and test for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Be sure FIV testing is done before bringing a new kitty into a home with resident cats, says Dr. Paula Monroe, VCA Cat Hospital of Tulsa.
Testing and prevention
Heartworm testing and preventative medications are worth every cent.
“Get educated on heartworm prevention,” says Dr. Lori Freije, South Memorial Animal Hospital and Physical Rehabilitation Center. “It not only prevents heartworms, but it also protects against intestinal parasites.”
Some less-expensive preventatives on the market might not cover the parasites in your own back yard.
“The money you saved (buying over the counter) may not be worth it if you end up with a veterinary bill to treat whipworm infestation,” Freije notes.
Pets have allergies, too, causing some to pull out fur, scratch ears and lick their feet. Shampoos (don’t use people products), medications and some hypoallergenic foods can help, says Dr. Christine Kunzweiler, Veterinary Associates.
As far as flea and tick control, cats are sensitive to pesticides and certain medications. Dog products including flea or tick preventatives are toxic to cats. Monroe suggests sticking with your veterinarian’s recommendations and not giving human meds to cats unless directed.
Fleas also carry nasty bugs that can be transmitted to cats — unsightly tapeworms and deadly blood parasites, says Dr. Judy Zinn, Feline Specialties Veterinary Hospital.
Spaying and neutering
Don’t postpone spaying and neutering for either cats or dogs.
Cats can reproduce very young and the animal overpopulation problem is overwhelming. Neutering males is just as important as spaying females, Monroe says.
Additionally, spaying and neutering “avoids creating more pets without homes and so much suffering,” says Dr. Colette Crotty, VCA Veterinary Medical Center.
For dogs and cats, it also reduces the risk of breast cancer and life-threatening infections in females and reduces cancer risk, roaming, fighting and urine-marking in males, Crotty says.
Kunzweiler notes that while some pet owners avoid spaying or neutering so that their child can experience the “miracle of birth,” “owners need to think (that) by letting their pet have a litter, they risk a caesarian section at great expense. Some puppies or kittens may die from the litter, so their child may experience that as well. If a home cannot be found, some pets could be euthanized.”
Nutrition and weight control
All the pet experts agree that nutrition and weight control are as important for furry friends as for humans.
“Choose a food made by a reputable manufacturer; avoid bargain basement foods — the nutrient content may be deficient or the food may contain contaminants,” Crotty says.
Dog Dish owner Shelli Holland-Handy says feeding your dog a high-quality food will result in your pet eating a smaller amount. She also recommends learning to read food labels — look for proteins that are animal-specific and food free of corn, wheat, soy and by-products. Better foods lower the risk of allergies and add years to life.
Crotty says measuring servings also is a better method than free-feeding. Additionally, pets need little variety in their diet; they like routine and eating at the same time daily.
“Variety is to fulfill the human’s desire, not the pet’s desire,” Crotty says.
The pet food label also will provide a guide to feeding amounts. Serving sizes may be increased or reduced, depending on the pet’s ideal body weight and condition. People food should be avoided, Crotty says.
Collar tags and chips
An estimated 70 percent of pets leave the safety of home and become lost at some time in their lives. Those with some form of identification are more likely to make it safely home again. Choices are microchips, tattoos and collar tags with your name and phone number.
The City of Tulsa also offers a rabies license discount for microchipped pets. The fee is $5 with a three-year rabies vaccine, compared with $15 without the microchip.
“This is not only a way to cut your pet’s licensing fees, but a great way of protecting your pet if lost,” Kunzweiler says.
And if you need to identify your pet in a hurry, write your phone number on Fido’s collar with a permanent marker.
Four paws up!
More tips, tricks and treats. What the experts want you to know.
Get active with your pet, Freije says.
Exercise promotes health and helps prevent behavior problems. Dogs dig running, walking and playing fetch. Cats like to chase laser lights and “birds” on the end of fishing poles and pounce on objects under doors or covers.
Watch the pounds. Keeping Fido and Fluffy at their ideal weight extends life and prevents or delays the onset of arthritis and other painful, chronic disorders, Freije says. Research indicates that pets that are lean have better quality of life than those that are overweight. For pudgy couch potatoes, consider weight loss diets, portion control or consult an animal physical rehabilitation specialist for an exercise program.
Extra weight leads to back problems, arthritis, diabetes and heart disorders, Kunzweiler says. You should be able to feel (but not see) a dog’s and cat’s ribs.
Exercise pets at least twice daily for 20 minutes, Crotty advises. It’s free and good for physical fitness and mental health.
Freije says to be cautious about Internet pharmacies. The sites may offer lower prices for veterinary prescriptions, but be sure to add in shipping charges. Some drug manufacturer guarantees may not apply if purchased online. Talk with your veterinarian before ordering to be sure your pet gets what it needs. Ask about some human pharmacies that may discount pet prescriptions.
Caring for older pets
Quality years can be added to senior pets’ lives through regular checkups, pain control, dental attention, nutritional supplements and complementary therapies such as stem cell injections, hydrotherapy and acupuncture, Kunzweiler says.
Remember, one human year is seven pet years. Seniors should visit the doctor twice a year. Symptoms of problems may include excessive drinking and urinating, weight loss or gain, vomiting or diarrhea. Others are lethargy, night coughing and lameness or arching the back.
“The earlier that problems are caught, the more that can be done for the pet’s quality and length of life,” Kunzweiler says.
Keeping pets happy
Dogs are pack animals and like the company of other dogs and people, Crotty says. Cats do well with their chosen people or with one or two other cats, if space allows for “spreading out.”
Some tips for cat owners
Enrich your kitty’s environment with these tips from Dr. Judy Zinn, Feline Specialties Veterinary Hospital.
- Play with your cat daily with chase toys.
- Provide window seats (or sills) for watching the outdoor world.
- Run nature videos on TV while you are away.
- Assure your cat has a safe haven for beauty sleep (cats sleep 9.5 hours daily and rest for five-plus more hours).
- Offer puzzle toys that require kitty to hunt for food outside her bowl.
- Sprinkle honeysuckle or catnip herbs on a towel or area rug so kitty can roll and rub.
- Toss a ping-pong ball into a bathtub.
- Grow fresh grass in a flowerpot — a good alternative to chewing houseplants. Watch out for plants such as lilies, which are toxic to cats.
- Train kitty not to scratch the furniture by offering positive rewards (such as treats, kind words and chin-scratching) when she uses the scratching post.
- Booby-trap the furniture with double-sided tape.
- Never strike your cat.
Myth-busters and cats
Dr. Paula Monroe, VCA Cat Hospital of Tulsa
Myth: She’s mad at me and won’t use the litter box.
Reality: Most of the time, cats go out of the litter box because there’s something about their “bathroom” they don’t like; it may not be clean enough (clean it daily) or they could be stressed or anxious because of a significant change in their home. Or they may be reacting to another animal outside.
First, go to the vet to rule out medical disorders causing pain when using the litter box. An older cat may have pain in its back and joints and have trouble climbing the high sides on the litter box, so offer a box with a low entry or lower sides.
Myth: I’m pregnant and must get rid of my cat.
Reality: Toxoplasmosis is the basis of this ridiculous myth. The transfer period from cat to person is very short. People are more likely to be exposed to this parasite during gardening or from eating undercooked meat.
Myth: There’s nothing that can be done for an “older” cat.
Reality: “Being old” is not a disease, but there are disorders that come with aging. Seniors should see the doctor twice annually. For example, not being as active could indicate osteoarthritis. Some conditions, if caught early, can be managed. Many aging disorders can be managed for a longer and more comfortable life.
Myth: Cats don’t feel pain, don’t need pain control or don’t tolerate pain medications.
Reality: This may be the saddest myth. Cats do experience pain but don’t complain about it as much as people or even dogs. They often curl up in a faraway place and deal with it, sometimes even purring to help alleviate their discomfort. Veterinarians can prescribe helpful pain medications (never give human drugs to a cat unless recommended by your vet). Pain medications should always follow surgeries such as spaying.
Just because they cannot talk does not mean they do not hurt!
Is the tail wagging the person?
OK, so Fido’s a healthy, happy dog, but what about the relationship factor?
Annoying, destructive or aggressive behaviors in pets are the primary obstacles to a long and happy relationship between pets and their people.
Similar to human children, dogs benefit from learning essential manners, limitations and how to successfully fit into family relationships and the world.
Two Tulsa dog trainers agree that positive training techniques lead to best friends in the doghouse. Here are some secrets from the dog whisperers.
Tiffany Barnes Talley, Canine behavior counselor (CBC), owner of All Things Canine Behavior Consultations
Focus on what’s right and give dogs a chance to do it. Focusing only on the behaviors that are incorrect inadvertently reinforces those behaviors. When an excited Fido calms down for a few seconds, calmly say “Good boy!” and give him attention while he’s calm.
Make training behaviors a part of everyday life, not only in “training sessions.” Ask for a “sit” before you put on the leash, ask for a “stay” when you open the car door and give him a release command to tell him it is OK to exit the car with you.
Reinforcement is not just treats. Others are praise, going for a walk and letting your dog rush out into the back yard to check the squirrels.
Find the right food that promotes clear eyes, energy and a healthy coat. Have a good relationship with your veterinarian. Some health issues and medications can contribute to abnormal behaviors.
Dogs are social, and when they are left in the yard or isolated from other beings, they tend to exhibit undesirable behaviors. Walks together are enriching and play sessions enhance the mind, skills and endurance. If you have an “only” dog, set up play dates with another dog, take him to a day care facility or obedience classes or walk with a neighbor’s compatible dog.
Enrichment toys that are environmentally friendly and durable can help dogs who are bored or anxious when home alone for long periods. Rolling puzzle toys are entertaining, with holes to hide treats for the dog to find. Treat sticks are strong, pipe-shaped and good for chewers.
Let him “be a dog” and know your breeds. If your lifestyle is lower energy, don’t get a high-energy dog. Talley’s dogs, dalmatians and a vizsla, are both bred for endurance and energy.
“I have great four-legged workout partners that will always keep me going,” she says. “I have smart dogs that exert energy chasing a ball, playing soccer with me and retrieving treats from an enrichment toy. At the end of the day, we’re all tired and they sit with me or curl up and go to sleep.”
Mary Green, Certified pet dog trainer (CPDT), owner of K9 Manners & More of OK LLC
The most common behavior problems are aggression, jumping up, not coming when called and housebreaking issues. Pet owners should seek trainers and classes that stress dog-friendly, positive-reinforcement training methods.
Start young. Puppies will not outgrow bad behavior. Failure in housetraining is generally a result of too much freedom, lack of supervision and no clear way for the dog to indicate that it needs to go outside. Crate training is helpful and dogs can be taught to ring jingle bells when they need to go out.
Jumping up is a natural dog behavior. Owners should teach a solid sit and only pet or engage the dog when it has four paws on the ground.
Train your dog in a positive way with the goal of becoming lifelong companions in a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
Dogs can become fearful, anxious or aggressive if their owners yell, spank and punish. By rewarding good behavior, the dog owner gains the dog’s trust, and the dog begins to offer these pleasing behaviors.
Let your dog be part of the family. Dogs are companions, not lawn ornaments. Probably the most damaging situation is one where the dog spends too long in isolation. Too many hours in the crate or alone in the yard is detrimental. Go on walks for exercise and mental stimulation. Friendly dogs may enjoy the dog park. Play retrieving games and hide and seek and teach them tricks.
- Tiffany Barnes Talley, canine behaviorist/trainer; owner, All Things Canine
- Dr. Colette Crotty, VCA Veterinary Medical Center
- Dr. Lori Freije, South Memorial Animal Hospital
- Mary Green, certified pet dog trainer, K9 Manners & More of OK LLC
- Shelli Handy, co-owner, Dog Dish retail products
- Dr. Christine Kunzweiler, Veterinary Associates
- Dr. Paula Monroe, VCA Cat Hospital of Tulsa
- Dr. Judy Zinn, Feline Specialties Veterinary Hospital