Coconut Oil… The Risks And Benefits To Our Pets

If you’re keeping up with the latest human health trends, you may feel like I do…  every wellness recommendation includes coconut oil.  It seems to be the panacea of the 2010s.

Many animal health sites tout the benefits of coconut oil too.  I was with a friend recently who told me her holistic vet prescribed it for several of her dog’s ailments.

That got me thinking… is coconut oil everything it’s cracked up to be?  Are there benefits to using this oil with our pets?  And are there risks?

Well, there are some definite benefits to using coconut oil.  But also many unfounded claims about its effectiveness. And there can be risks.

The truth

Coconut oil comes from mature coconuts.  It is edible, so it’s used in food.  And these days you can find coconut oil in many beauty products.

This oil is high in saturated fat and is made up mostly of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). That’s where the supposed health benefits are.

The fatty acids that make up MCTs travel directly to the liver.  The liver absorbs those fatty acids and uses them for energy.  They’re not stored in the body.

MCTs contain lauric acid, which is antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral.  They also contain capric and caprylic acids, which are antifungal.

So how can coconut oil help your pet?  It can be very beneficial when used topically.

If your pet has dry, itchy skin, cracked paw pads or a dry nose, you can rub coconut oil into the skin. It’s great for elbow calluses too.   Here’s a link to a recipe for paw balm you can make yourself.

But you don’t have to get fancy.  You can use the oil straight up with no additions.  If you’re using it on dry flaky skin, rub the oil directly into the skin.

You can also use it for a shinier coat.  Take a small amount of oil in your hands.  Rub them together and pat the coat.  Run your fingers through the fur.  Not only will coconut oil improve the look and feel of your pet’s coat, some say it will also help if your pet smells.

Coconut oil is often touted for its antibacterial use on sores and minor cuts.  Be careful with this one.  If your dog has hotspots, using coconut oil can make the problem worse.  Hotspots are self-inflicted when a dog licks obsessively.  If they like the taste of coconut oil, using it on their skin can exacerbate the licking and worsen the hotspots.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that coconut oil has antibacterial benefits but no studies have yet been done on animals.

If your pet has a skin problem, be sure to talk with your vet before using coconut oil to be certain you’re treating the underlying problem.  They may recommend you use the oil as part of a treatment plan that includes other medications.

Coconut oil may be helpful as a parasite repellent.  A small study in 2004 found that a coconut oil-based remedy was effective for repelling sand fleas and reduced inflammation from fleabites. But tests have not been done on the cat and dog flea… the ones that love your pet.

Most veterinarians suggest, if using coconut oil, combining it with traditional repellents.

A 2015 human study found rinsing the mouth with coconut oil every day reduced plaque and plaque-caused gingivitis.  You could make the leap and say it would help your dog’s dental health too.  But the study involved swishing the coconut oil around the mouth and it’s hard to get a dog to swish.

Many dogs like the taste of coconut oil and it may help with dental hygiene… and bad breath too. So if you’d like to brush your dog’s teeth with coconut oil, it probably won’t hurt.

Does your pet have a hard time swallowing a pill?  Here’s another use.  Coat the pill with coconut oil.  It will be easier for them to swallow and they generally like the flavor.

The unsubstantiated claims

Coconut oil is promoted as a cure or prevention for everything from digestive problems to cancer.  Some say it improves cognitive function in older dogs.  Others say it helps with allergies and weight loss.  None of these claims are supported by science.  There have been no studies.

That’s not to say coconut oil can’t be helpful for some of these ailments. But there just isn’t scientific proof yet.

The risks

If the anecdotal evidence is enough for you and you want to try coconut oil with your pet, speak to your vet first.  They can monitor the effects and educate you to the downside.  Because the high saturated fat content can make some conditions worse.  Pancreatitis for example.

The high fat content is also a problem if your dog is overweight.  Some veterinarians say it adds a lot of calories with little nutritional value.  And there’s concern this oil can raise cholesterol levels and block the arteries too.

Although coconut oil is well tolerated by most pets, some may have an allergic reaction. And too much can cause diarrhea.

Remember too that coconut oil does not provide the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids your pet needs in their diet.  So be sure you’re still giving your pet salmon or flaxseed oil, besides the coconut oil.

How much and what kind?

If you give your pet coconut oil, use only the organic virgin cold-pressed kind. Easy to find at any health food store.

Start slow to be sure your pet isn’t allergic and to avoid diarrhea.

Start with ¼ teaspoon a day for small dogs and 1 teaspoon a day for big dogs.  Work up to 1 teaspoon per 10 pounds of body weight per day.

If you have a cat, start with 1/8 teaspoon a day for an average size cat.  Work up to ¼ to ½ teaspoon once or twice a day.

What I’ve learned about coconut oil is that it has some proven benefits.  And it may even have greater benefits yet to be studied.  But I would proceed with caution.

Coconut oil is not a cure-all. Take the advice of your veterinarian before adding any supplement to your pet’s diet.

Do you use coconut oil for your pets?  How have they benefitted? Have they had any adverse reactions?  Share your experience with us at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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9 Autumn Risks To Your Pets

Halloween may be behind us but scary things still lurk.

Autumn is a joyful season in so many ways.  Beautiful weather, changing leaves, the smell of a burning fireplace, pumpkin everything…

But for our pets, there are many hidden dangers.  Things that can make your pet sick and sometimes kill them. You may not have thought of these things as dangerous.  Awareness is the first step in keeping your pets safe.

  1. Costume remnants

Plastic light sabers, swords and masks can become chew toys for your dogs. Small pieces of plastic can be a choking hazard or cause a blockage.

The Halloween makeup that turns you into a zombie can be toxic to your pets if swallowed.

Glow necklaces and bracelets which may keep your kids safe in the dark aren’t safe for your pets to eat.  The liquid inside can irritate your pet’s gums if swallowed.  Drooling, foaming at the mouth, vomiting can all be signs.  Luckily, this is not usually fatal.

  1. Candy… particularly chocolate

If your house is overloaded with candy as mine is, be sure to keep it out of the reach of your pets.  All those gummy candies are choking hazards.

And chocolate can be deadly for both dogs and cats… though cats won’t usually be interested in eating it.

Theobromine in chocolate is poisonous.  How much of this substance is in the chocolate depends on the chocolate.  Dark chocolate has the most.

If your pet eats a sizeable amount, you’ll see the signs within 4 to 24 hours. Besides the usual signs of stomach distress, you may notice restlessness, hyperactivity, rapid breathing, and lack of coordination.  Ultimately, this can cause seizures and death.

  1. Candles

Fall ushers in the holiday season.  And cooler temps and holiday spirit set the tone for candle lighting.  Who doesn’t love the aroma of a pumpkin scented candle?

But a lit candle can injure your pets.  Never leave one within reach of your cat or dog.

And a curious pet can overturn a burning candle.  That’s a disaster!

  1. Parasites

Don’t let cooler weather lull you.  Ticks and fleas are out in full force this time of year.

These little pests aren’t just a nuisance.  They carry disease too.

  1. Raked leaves

In most parts of the country, the leaves are falling from the trees right now.

Maybe you enjoy letting your dog run through the piles after you rake them. It’s not a good idea.  Mold and bacteria grow in the leaves. If your dog ingests these pathogens, they can get sick.

And hidden sticks can injure a dog bounding through the piles.

  1. Acorns and buckeyes (conkers)

The gallotannin in acorns is toxic and can damage the liver and kidneys.

Vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy—common signs of many illnesses—are what you can expect if your dog eats some. Acorns can also cause an intestinal blockage.

Buckeyes—conkers in England—are the seed of the horse chestnut tree.  These are different than the chestnuts we eat. This hard brown nut in a prickly casing can be dangerous to a dog.  If you have a horse chestnut tree in your yard, be sure to clean up the fallen buckeyes before your pet can get to them.

  1. Mushrooms and toadstools

Mushrooms love to grow in damp environments.  The weather this time of year is optimal.  Thankfully, most mushrooms aren’t dangerous. But a few can be deadly.

It’s difficult to identify the dangerous ones so keep your pet away from all mushrooms.   If they’re in your yard, get rid of them.

  1. Shorter days/colder temps

With less sunlight and more unpredictable weather, it can be difficult for your dog to get the exercise they need.  It’s difficult for people too.

If you find your walks are shorter or less frequent, be sure your dog isn’t putting on weight.  Cut back on food and treats if their waistline is growing along with yours.

Remember too that it may be dark when you are walking in the early morning or evening.  It will be harder for cars to see you.  Be sure you and your dogs are visible.  Reflective collars and leashes are available online and in pet stores.

And if your dog is older or one with a compromised immune system, a warm sweater or coat might be a good idea.  This may be wise for smaller dogs as well.

If your dog is arthritic, the colder weather will make long walks more challenging. Keep that in mind if your dog is not eager to walk this time of year.

  1. Rodenticides

The less pleasant side of cooler temps is the need for our rodent friends to seek shelter indoors.  You may find rats and mice taking up residence in your home.

If you have a problem with vermin, hire a professional to help you get rid of them.

Rodenticides (rat poisoning) is deadly if consumed by your pet.  If not placed correctly, your pet could end up eating some when the rodents drop pieces as they’re moving throughout your house.  A horrible thought… I know.

A professional exterminator will know the most effective and safe way to get rid of your unwanted guests.

If your pet ingests rat poison, they will bleed internally.  You’ll see the signs in bloody feces, bruising, and black tar-like poop.  Get to the vet immediately!

If you suspect your pet has swallowed something toxic, the number for the ASPCA Poison Control Center is 888-426-4435.  The Pet Poison Helpline is 855-764-7661.

Has one of these autumn dangers injured your pet?  I hope not.  But if so, share your experience in the comment section at the top.  It may save another pets life.

 

 

 

8 Myths About Spaying and Neutering Your Pet

Pet owners who think they have a legitimate reason for not spaying or neutering their pet will vehemently debate this topic.  But it’s an important part of every pet’s health care.

Spaying is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus in a female.  Neutering is removal of the testicles in a male.

And neutering is also the general term used for the procedures in both males and females.

There is no legitimate reason to not neuter your pet.  Unless you are a responsible professional breeder of purebred dogs or cats breeding to maintain the characteristics of the breed, you should spay or neuter your pet.

Both procedures have lifelong health and behavioral benefits.

Spaying helps prevent uterine infections, and cancer of the breast, ovaries and uterus.  These are all usually fatal in dogs and cats.

In fact, when I was a child one of my dogs died suddenly from a uterine infection.  For some reason unknown to me, my parents didn’t spay her.  I would never repeat that mistake with my own dogs.  It was devastating!

In males, neutering prevents testicular cancer.  And those intact males will roam.  They’ll do anything to find a female.  That includes digging under fences and finding escape routes out of your home.  An animal on the loose can be hit by a car or injured in a fight with another male.

People who choose not to neuter their pet have some misconception about what it means to do so.

If one of these 9 myths is stopping you from spaying or neutering your pet, please rethink your position.

Myth 1:  My pet is a purebred and they’re too beautiful not to breed.

1 out of every 4 pets brought to shelters are purebred.  You are adding to the problem of overpopulated shelters if you breed your pet.  Even if you can find homes for the babies in your litter that means fewer homes for the purebreds in the shelter.

Myth 2: My pet will get fat and lazy.

The only reason pets get fat and lazy is because their owners feed them too much and don’t give them enough exercise.

Myth 3: My pet has such a great personality; I must breed them to get a whole litter of puppies or kittens just like my pet.

There’s no guarantee of that.  The best breeders in the world can’t guarantee the personalities of the puppies or kittens in a litter.

Myth 4:  Spaying/neutering is expensive.

This is not true.  Many states and counties have low-cost spay/neuter programs.  Here’s a link to the low-cost spay/neuter finder at the Humane Society of the United States.

The cost of not fixing your pet is likely to be substantially higher.  A litter requires expensive veterinary care and vaccines.

When your intact male gets out of your house and sustains injuries in a fight or run in with a car, the vet bills will be a lot more expensive than the cost of neutering him.

And another added expense is licensing.  Counties charge higher fees to license an intact dog than a dog that’s spayed/neutered.

Myth 5: I want my children to experience the miracle of birth.

This is not a good reason to add to the pet overpopulation problem.  YouTube is a video treasure trove of dogs and cats giving birth.  If you want your kids to experience birth, have at it.

Myth 6: I don’t want my dog to lose his protective personality.

If your dog has a protective personality, he has that trait because of genetics and environment not sex hormones.  He will be just as protective after he’s neutered.

Myth 7:  I don’t want my male dog or cat to feel less male.

This is your worry… not his.  Pets don’t “feel” male.  He will have no emotional reaction to being neutered and it will not change his personality.

Myth 8:  I’ll find good homes for all the puppies or kittens my pet has.

No, it’s likely you won’t.  Even if you do find them homes, you can’t be sure they’re all good homes.  And you have no control over what happens to those animals once they leave your care.  For all you know, they may end up in a shelter.  Or their puppies or kittens might.

There are many more benefits than drawbacks to neutering your pet.  Besides their health and reducing the pet overpopulation problem, your pet will behave better.

Dogs will bark less, mount less and be less dominant.  You can often avoid aggression problems by neutering early.

Cats will mark less, yowl less, and urinate less often if they’re fixed.

But most importantly your beloved pet is likely to live longer.  A 2013 article in USA Today revealed the results of a study that showed neutered male dogs live 18% longer than unneutered males. Spayed females live 23% longer than unspayed females.

And who doesn’t want to give their pet every opportunity to live a longer healthier life?

When you decide to spay or neuter your pet, speak to your vet about the timing.  The common recommendation is between 5 and 9 months. But studies show benefits to waiting until after puberty.

What are your thoughts about neutering your pet?  Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

Do You Have A Smelly Cat?

If you were a fan of the ‘90s sitcom, Friends, you’re probably chuckling a little inside after reading the title of this week’s post.  As I was writing the post that little tune kept running through my head.

In spite of the funny reference, this is really a serious topic.

Cat owners know one of the many benefits of cat ownership is they rarely smell.

Cats are fastidious groomers.  They use their sandpaper tongues to keep themselves clean and generally unsmelly.

If your cat has an odor, there’s something going on.  And that something can be serious.  Don’t ignore it.  See your vet for a diagnosis and the proper treatment.

If you’re trying to decipher your cat’s aroma so your doc has good information, the odor is coming from one of four places; its mouth, its ears, its rear-end or its skin.

Mouth Odor

Unlike dog breath, cat breath is not usually unpleasant.  If you get close to your cat’s mouth, and it smells bad, a few things could be at play.

Your cat may suffer from dental disease.  This is a particular problem as cats age.  Plaque and tartar accumulate on the teeth.  This can cause inflamed gums that separate from the teeth.  Food can get lodged in the gaps.  And that food can rot and smell bad. It can also cause a stinky bacterial infection.

Loose teeth can cause the same problem by creating gaps between the gums and the teeth.

A foreign object lodged in the mouth, trauma to the mouth, and oral tumors can all cause mouth odor.

Stomatitis is a painful condition that causes inflammation of the mouth and gums, and can cause ulcers.  This can lead to bad breath too.

If your cat’s mouth smells like poop, they may have an intestinal obstruction or liver disease.  If it smells like urine that’s a sign of kidney disease.

Diabetes can make your cat’s breath sweet or fruity smelling.  But as the disease progresses, the stench may be more nail polish-like, if you can believe that.

If your cat’s mouth smells unusual in any way, see your vet.  These conditions can be serious and painful for your cat.  Early treatment can lessen the effects of these afflictions.

Ear odor

When you get your face in there to give your kitty a kiss on the top of their head, it shouldn’t be stinky.

If your cat’s ears smell, they may be infected .  Yeast is often the cause and will have a musty scent.  You may also notice a discharge.

An infection often comes from an underlying problem like allergies, ear mites, an object stuck in the ear, and sometimes tumors.  You must get to the underlying problem to get to the right treatment.  Your vet will figure out the best course of action.

And if you’re uncertain what ear mites are, they look like coffee grounds in your cat’s ear.  An infestation can have a foul odor.

Smelly rear-end

Because cats are such diligent groomers, it’s rare to get a whiff of poop or pee.  If suddenly you do, there could be matted poopin their fur or they could have a urinary tract infection.  This can be especially problematic with long hair cats.

Or maybe your cat is not grooming themselves.  If your cat is sick, overweight or in pain this can happen. It’s just too difficult for them.  If you know they suffer from a condition that makes grooming hard, you may need to step in and help by cleaning their rear-end and bathing them regularly.  Especially if they have diarrhea or soft stool.

If your cat has always been a fastidious groomer andsuddenly stops cleaning themselves, see the vet.  They’re telling you something.

Anal glands are another rear-end problem.  Their purpose is to mark territory with their excretions.  And when your healthy cat is excited or scared, the anal glands may excrete this smelly fluid.

Unlike dogs’ anal glands, cats will rarely have a problem with theirs.  But, it can happen… and it’s pretty stinky.  They can develop the rare infection or possibly a tumor.

The glands can also become inflamed causing the opening to the gland ducts to become blocked.  The fluid in the glands will not drain properly. This can smell.

Cats can have overactive anal glands that secrete more than they should.  This can also cause an odor.

Any concern about secretions from the hindquarters warrants a trip to the vet.

Skin odor

If you can’t locate the specific location the odor is coming from, it’s possible your cat has stopped grooming himself.  As I mentioned before, a sick cat or one who is overweight or in pain may stop grooming.  If so, their coat will look greasy and unkempt.  And they will just be generally smelly.

This is a sign of an underlying health problem.  Talk to your vet to get a proper diagnosis.

Another cause of skin odor is infection, either bacterial or yeast.   Infections can be caused by trauma to the skin.  They can also be caused by an allergy that leads to scratching.

If your kitty is an outdoor cat, or spends any time outside, you should check them regularly for bite wounds.  When cats fight, their wounds can turn into abscesses that swell with pus.  If they burst, they stink.

A wound can turn into an abscess in 24 hours.  So run your hands over your cat every time they come in from outside.  When cats fight they usually bite the base of the tail, the legs, the face and neck, and along the back.  If you touch these spots and your cat flinches, inspect the area.

Once the wound becomes abscessed, your cat will be lethargic and may not eat.  They’ll flinch when touched because an abscess is very painful.

See the vet before the abscess gets so severe it requires surgery.

Because cats generally smell good, a bad smell is a sign of trouble.  Heed the warning and get the help of your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Has your cat been smelly?  What was the diagnosis?  Share your experience in the comment section at the top.  You might help someone else.

 

 

 

 

 

How To Safely Store Your Pet Food

I’ve said often that researching and writing this blog have made me a more informed and smarter pet owner.   Years of pet ownership can lull you into thinking you know all there is to know… or most everything anyhow.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s always good to keep up to date and educated about issues that keep your pets happy and healthy.  And hopefully this blog helps you do that.

Food storage, which seems straight forward, is one thing I thought I had all the answers to.  But some things I’ve learned in the last few days are causing me to question that.  You may find, after reading this, you need to rethink your pet food storage too.

If you read this blog, you’re probably already putting a lot of effort into choosing the best quality food you can afford for your pets.  But do you know the right way to store it so it maintains maximum nutritional value and freshness?

Whether you feed dry, canned or raw there are right and wrong ways to store your pet’s food.

First, always check the “Best by” or “Best before” date.  All pet food has one on the packaging.  Once the food is past the date, it’s time to throw it out.

When you buy your food, choose a “Best by” date that’s far enough out you’ll be able to finish it before it’s spoiled.

Food can go bad even before the “Best by” date if the packaging is compromised.  So check before you buy to be sure bags aren’t torn or open, and cans aren’t bulging or leaking.

If the food doesn’t smell or look right when you open the bag, or if your pet won’t eat it, notify the manufacturer immediately.  If they’re reputable, they’ll refund your money or replace the food.  But more importantly, they need to know if there’s a problem in their manufacturing or packaging process.

Storing dry food

If you feed your pet kibble—which I do—air, light, hot temperatures and humidity can degrade your pet’s food.  Exposure to any of these environmental factors at the least puts your pet at risk of not getting the nutritional benefits from their food.  At worst, they can get very sick from mold, bacteria or rancidity.

High temperatures and moisture inside the bag of food can increase the risk of salmonella and other bacteria as well as mold growth.  This contamination can make your pet sick.  In fact, it can kill them.

I read a story on social media the other day about a family that lost two dogs who consumed moldy food.  After the dogs died, the owners inspected the bag of food and found the food at the bottom was covered in mold.  Somehow, moisture got in allowing the mold to grow.

This leads to another important storage consideration.  Many food manufacturers recommend keeping your pet’s food in the bag it comes in instead of transferring it to a food bin.  The bags are made to absorb any excess fat that accumulates and might turn rancid.

The bags also keep light out.  And moisture, if you are careful about where you store the food… off the floor and in a dry location.  You must also close the bag correctly by rolling the top down and securing it with a clip.

But if you leave the food in the bag, you won’t see all the food before your pet eats it.  You won’t see if there’s mold in the bottom until you get to the bottom. That’s a huge risk.  One I hadn’t considered before I heard of these poor dogs, and one I’m not willing to take.

But I was already using a food bin for reasons I’ll tell you in a minute.

My suggestion for you is to follow the manufacturers recommendation with regard to storing in the bag. You could empty the food, inspect it, and then put it back in the bag.

If you’re worried about fat turning rancid, this is a bigger problem for lower quality foods. They tend to spray the necessary fat in the recipe on the outside of the kibble.  Premium foods, like Husse, use a vacuum process so the fat penetrates the kibble.

If you feed a premium food, the risk of mold is a bigger concern than rancid fat.  So the argument for keeping the food in the fat-absorbing bag may not outweigh the risks of moisture getting in and mold growing.

This is especially the case if the manufacturer uses a micro perforated bag.  These bags have miniscule holes to keep air from building up and inflating the bags in the warehouse.  This can lead to puncture when the bags are stacked.  The holes are small enough to keep pests out but moisture can still get in.

If you opt for the food storage bin, metal or glass are better than plastic.  Plastic can leach chemicals and possibly retain residual fat.

But if you’re already using plastic like I am, that’s okay.  Just be sure to thoroughly clean the container between each bag of food. This assures that you’ve gotten rid of any left over crumbs which will go bad, or fats that have adhered to the container and can turn.

And don’t mix old kibble with new kibble.  Finish the old first.  If it has been over 6 weeks since you opened the bag… throw it out, wash the bin, and fill with fresh food.

Regardless of the container you use to store the food, never store it in the garage.  Summer temps can top 100 in there. And vitamins degrade at 104 degrees.  Garages can be humid too, increasing the moisture risk.

Find a cool, dry location in your house.  Possibly the pantry or another closet.  But storing in the pantry can contaminate other food products if the pet food bag has meal moths.

And that’s why I store my dogs’ food in a food bin.  Since my experience with these annoying critters—read Worms In Your Pet Food… Disgusting But Not Uncommon to hear more about that—I’ve emptied my dog food out of the bag to check for meal worms/moths.  And after reading about that deadly mold, I will continue to do so.

I store my food bins in the coat closet.  That moth infestation was not easy to get out of my pantry and I’d rather not go through it again.

Store the bin off the floor to avoid pests and moisture getting in.

If you empty the food from the bag, save the UPC code, lot number, brand, manufacturer, and “Best by” date in case you have a problem with the food or it’s recalled.

Storing canned food

If you feed your pet food from a can, those cans can stay fresh for years if unopened and stored in a cool, dry location.  Again, below 100 degrees.

But don’t buy more than you’ll use before the “Best by” date.

Once the can is open, it can last for 4 hours at room temperature.  Then you should throw it out.

Refrigerate any unused food for up to a week.  Cover the can with a plastic pet food lid or plastic wrap to prevent moisture loss and odor transfer.

If you don’t think you’ll get through the can in a week, then you can freeze single serve portions.  But freezing can change the texture and taste.

Storing refrigerated pet food

These types of foods have a short shelf life.  Check the “Best by” dates. Once they’re open for 5 days, you need to throw them out.  You may be able to freeze these foods, however.  But check the packaging to be sure.

Commercially produced raw food diets have storage instructions on the package.  If you make your own raw food diet for your pet, you may not be sure of the best way to store it.

Some meats spoils faster than others.  And raw meat contains high levels of bacteria, making proper storage even more critical.

You can refrigerate ground meats—whether beef, poultry or fish—for up to 2 days.  If you won’t get through it in that time, freeze it.

Large cuts of meat can be refrigerated for 3 to 5 days.  You can freeze meat if it’s wrapped well for 4 to 6 months.

Whatever food you feed your pets, be sure you are storing it so they can get the most nutritional benefit, and you can avoid a serious and potentially fatal illness.

How do you store your pet food?  Share your thoughts in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleas and Ticks 101

The summer’s winding down. In some parts of the country, the kids are getting ready to go back to school. If you’ve gotten this far without fleas and ticks feasting on your pets this summer, don’t get too comfortable yet.

The end of summer and early fall is still active for fleas and ticks, and the worst time of year in many parts of the country. If you live in a place that doesn’t get colder than 30 degrees for long periods, you can never get lax about these nasty parasites. Flea and tick season never ends for you.

If you’ve experienced fleas or ticks on your pets, you know it’s no fun. And it can be downright dangerous. These parasites carry disease and discomfort with them.

If you have been fortunate enough to be a pet owner who hasn’t experienced these annoying pests, you may not know the implications of an infestation… or even how to deal with it if it happens to your pet.

Now’s a good time to brush up on your flea and tick knowledge.

How do pets get fleas and ticks?

These little creatures are external parasites. They feast on the blood of your fur baby by biting them.

Fleas come from other animals that enter your pet’s environment. That might mean your yard, but it can also mean the woods where you hike. The park where you hang out with other dogs. Or a kennel where you’ve boarded your pet.

The animal that carries these pests could be a cat or dog. But it can also be a raccoon, rat, or other wild animal.

The female flea lays eggs on the host animal. Those eggs then fall off in your yard or where you’re dog plays. The eggs develop into adults and the fleas jump onto your pet looking for a place to get a good blood meal.

Once the adult fleas have found a home on your pet, they rarely jump to other pets. They’re happy to have a meal and will stay where they are. But the adult females will lay eggs on your pet. And those eggs could fall off in your home, turn into adults, and leap onto your other pets.

Ticks live 18 to 24 inches off the ground in tall grass or low shrubs. When your dog is walking by and brushes against the foliage, they dislodge the ticks that then climb onto your pet.

Can these parasites make your pet sick?

These bugs are not only annoying to your pet, they also carry disease.

The most common reaction to fleas is flea allergy dermatitis. The salivary protein in the fleabite causes an allergic response. Your pet will bite, scratch and even lose their fur.

It only takes a few bites to cause a reaction. And all the scratching can result in a secondary bacterial or fungal infection.

If your pet is infested with fleas, they can become anemic from all the blood loss. An old, ill or very young animal can become weak and even die.

Fleas can also transmit tapeworm to your pet… little rice-like worms found around the rectum, in poop, or on your pet’s bed.

Ticks can transmit more than a dozen very serious diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These can kill your pet.

Tick-borne diseases vary from one area of the country to another. So talk to your vet about which diseases are prevalent where you live.

Are fleas and ticks more common in some parts of the U.S. than others?

Ticks and fleas are worse in some parts of the country. And they’re worse at certain times of the year.

Fleas like warm humid conditions. So they’re not common in dry places like the Southwest. But the Gulf Coast and Southeast U.S. are flea infested.

Fleas are worse during mid to late summer and early fall. Ticks are most prevalent early spring and late fall. But these critters are around any time of year.

Ticks are almost everywhere but are particularly problematic in the Upper Midwest and Northeast where Lyme-carrying ticks are the worst.

How do you know if your pet has fleas or ticks?

There are many species of ticks and fleas. The large ticks are easy to see or feel on your pet. Especially when they are engorged after enjoying a blood meal.

Deer ticks are very tiny… the size of a pinhead. They’re not so easy to find. It’s a good idea to do a careful inspection of your pet if they’ve spent time in an area that’s known to have ticks.

If you live in a tick prone area, do a check once a day.

If your pet has fleas, they’ll scratch incessantly. In cats, you may notice excessive grooming.

Run a flea comb through your pet’s fur. Dump the hair onto a white paper towel. Dampen it with water. Red stains mean fleas. The red is flea dirt—basically poop.  It’s digested blood. Yuck!

How do you get rid of ticks and fleas?

If your pet has ticks and you’ve never removed a tick before, get the help of your vet. You must grasp the tick with a pair of tweezers as close to the mouthparts as you can get. Then apply steady pressure until the tick lets go. You don’t want to pull the tick out and leave the mouth in your pet.

Never use anything to remove a tick that could hurt your pet, like lighter fluid or a match.

Fleas are a nightmare to get rid of. I know this firsthand.

Talk to your vet about treatment. You will likely have to treat several times. Not only must you treat your pet, you need to treat your home, any environment your pet spends time in, and all other pets in your home.

You can have an exterminator fog your house if the infestation is bad.   If it isn’t horrible, you can vacuum the rugs. Throw out old bedding. And launder all other items in hot water.

Can you prevent ticks and fleas?

There are many prevention products on the market. Talk to your vet about the best one for your pet.

Often, one product can prevent both ticks and fleas. They are usually topical treatments. You apply the fluid directly to the skin between the shoulder blades or on the back of the neck.

These products need a prescription from your vet and are generally safe if you follow the directions. But of course, a pet can react to anything applied to their skin.

Over-the-counter flea and tick preventatives are not effective.  Fleas are often resistant to the synthetic pyrethrins in these products. People over apply them because they don’t work. That’s dangerous for your pet, you and the environment.

Remember too, prevention products meant for dogs should never be used on a cat and vice versa.

Talk to your vet about whether you should treat your pet year-round. That will depend on where you live, where you travel with your pet, and what activities your pet partakes in.

There are natural prevention options on the market too. Some work better than others. If you use a natural product, you must also flea-proof your pet’s living environment.

Minimize brush and tall grass in your yard to prevent fleas and ticks from taking up residence. Remove leaf litter.

These bugs don’t like sunlight so don’t give them shady hangouts. Ticks will also hide under shrubs or porches. Try to prevent your pets from laying in those areas.

Keep your pets out of tick habitats like heavily wooded areas and tall grass.

If you live in an area with a lot of ticks, you may need to treat your property with a pesticide.

Fleas and ticks can cause serious illness and make your pet miserable. It’s important to check your pet regularly. And use the prevention methods I’ve mentioned to stay ahead of a serious assault.

Have you ever had a flea infestation? Have you had to remove a tick from your pet? Tell us about it in the comment section above.

5 Common Eye Problems In Cats

The eyes of a cat… they’re captivating, mesmerizing and truly soulful.  But those almond-shaped beauties are vulnerable to problems.

Like any other health condition, early detection of an eye disorder is critical to successful treatment.

Some conditions are more common in cats than others and knowing the warning signs can save your cats vision.

If you notice squinting, blinking, eye pawing, swelling, redness, or a thick discharge these may be signs of something serious.

Here are 5 common eye problems found in cats and the symptoms to look out for.

Conjunctivitis

Just like in humans, this is also called pink eye.  It’s an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid.

The inflammation can be caused by a bacterial, fungal or viral infection.  But allergens like dust and mold can also cause inflammation.

Sometime chemical irritants like pesticides can be the culprit.  A trauma to the eye or an upper respiratory virus can cause pink eye too.

cat-conjunctivitis

Your cat’s eye will look red and swollen.  There may be a cloudy or yellowish/greenish discharge coming from the eye.

This is a painful condition that may cause your cat to keep its eye shut or squint.

Your vet will likely prescribe an ophthalmic antibiotic ointment and an anti-inflammatory.

If you prefer a more natural treatment, there are some helpful herbal therapies.  Check with your vet first to be sure nothing more serious is going on.

Corneal abrasions

The cornea is the transparent layer that forms the surface of the eyeball.  It’s three layers deep.  The outermost layer is the epithelium.  Beneath the epithelium is the stroma, and the deepest layer is Descemet’s membrane.

A break or scratch in the cornea is common in cats.  It’s often caused by a trauma to the eye, like another kitty’s claw scratching it.  Or over zealous rubbing against furniture.

But abrasions can also be caused by an infection like feline herpes or an underlying eye disease.

If dust or some other foreign object gets in your cat’s eye, this can cause an abrasion on the cornea too.

The severity of the condition depends on how deep the abrasion goes.  If it goes through the epithelium, it’s called a corneal erosion or abrasion.  Damage that goes into the stroma is a corneal ulcer.

But if the abrasion goes through the stroma into Descemet’s membrane, this is serious. Descemet’s membrane can rupture.  If that happens the fluid in the eyeball will leak out, causing it to collapse. This damage is usually irreparable.

Corneal Ulcer

If your cat has a corneal abrasion, the eye may look cloudy.  There may also be a discharge or some redness.  And sensitivity to light may force it closed.

It’s a very painful condition.  A cat will rub its eye on the furniture, paw at it, or blink to protect it.

The treatment will depend on how deep the problem is.  Your vet will prescribe a topical antibiotic and a pain reliever to treat an abrasion.  But an ulcer that goes through the stroma or Descemet’s membrane may warrant surgery.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is very serious and can lead to blindness.

It’s caused by an increase in fluid pressure in the eye.  Normal eyes drain fluid continuously.  But if there’s a problem with drainage, the pressure from the fluid builds up.

In cats, glaucoma is usually secondary to an eye disorder like feline uveitis, lens dislocation, tumors or trauma.

Glaucoma in Cats

Your cat’s eye may become enlarged.  The cornea may be cloudy and the pupil dilated. Because glaucoma is a very painful condition, your cat may squint, blink or paw at its eye.

Sometimes the eye recedes back into the head.

To relieve the pressure in their head, your cat may press its head against a stationary object.

There are treatments available for glaucoma.  But get your cat to the vet quickly.  The sooner the vet can reduce the pressure, the better the outcome.

Cataracts

Older cats are more likely to get cataracts.  An underlying eye problem is usually at fault.  An inflammation from trauma or uveitis are often the cause.

Sometimes it’s genetics.  There are breeds that are predisposed to cataracts.

Cataracts in cats

Cataracts are a cloudiness in one or both eyes that causes the lens to lose its transparency.

Your cat may show signs they are losing their vision.  They may be reluctant to jump on the furniture.  Or seem clumsy.  They may squint and their eyes may be watery.

Cataracts look a lot like nuclear sclerosis.  Nuclear sclerosis is a change in eye color common with age.  It does not affect vision though.  Your vet can differentiate between the two.

Treatment for cataracts depends on the cause.  Surgery is an option but may not be necessary.

This condition is more common in dogs than cats.  But don’t disregard a cloudy eye.  See your vet pronto.

Iris melanosis

This is when pigmented cells replicate and spread over the iris, the colored part of the eye, to create dark spots.

Iris Melanosis

Melanosis will appear like a freckle on the eye.

It’s benign but the cells can become cancerous.  A melanosis can turn into a malignant melanoma.  So your vet will want to monitor your cat closely.

Even if it doesn’t become malignant, spreading melanosis can lead to glaucoma, or a detached retina.

Some veterinary ophthalmologists will recommend laser treatment to prevent progression to melanoma because melanoma can spread to other organs of the body.

Like almost all other medical conditions, early diagnosis of an eye problem is key to effective treatment.

So while you’re staring into your kitty’s dreamy eyes, take note of anything that doesn’t seem right. It could save your cat from vision loss.

Has your cat suffered from an eye problem?  Tell us what it was and how you treated it in the comment section at the top of the page.