Pet Advice & Ideas

Pet Food Super Powers

Super girl and dog

Believe it or not, it wasn’t until nearly the 20th Century that pet food was something distinct from scraps derived from human diets. However, only in the past four decades has the emphasis on health-promotion entered the mix. Some of our readers will no doubt recall the “Gravy Train” commercials of the 70’s. Pet food certainly has changed dramatically since those days! More...

Do Dogs Suffer from Depression?

Sad Pug

Pet parents have asked me if dogs can experience depression. In almost every case, the question is prompted by troubling behavior and not just simple curiosity. Well, dogs can most certainly exhibit obvious signs of depression, such as loss of appetite or declining interest in previously enjoyed activities. And then there are symptoms not readily recognized as depressive: anxiety, fearfulness, aggression, various destructive behaviors and even hiding from people. Are these last signs indicative of depression, a complicated emotional disturbance, or do they point to something else altogether? 

In humans, depression ranges from temporary episodes of sadness to severe, persistent clinical depression, which persists for significant periods of time. Both are marked by a depressed mood and a loss of interest and lack of pleasure.

Dogs are highly intelligent, emotional creatures. We know that they can read our facial expressions, learn complex commands, express fear and joy, and can get stressed, but can they be depressed? Behavioral scientists not only say ‘yes’, but are surprised by how prevalent depression is among canines. In fact, in a 2013 British study, scientists discovered something shocking … nearly one in four dogs in the UK was suffering from some form of depression.

Because we cannot simply ask our dogs if they’re depressed, how can we know for sure what’s going on? Well, the experts say, look to sudden changes in behavior which cannot be attributed to a medical problem. In such cases, depression offers the most logical rationale. But, on an emotional level, we also have our own sense of empathy as a guide. As pet parents, we often just intuitively know something’s up.

MORE ON SYMPTOMS

Canines often express signs of depression after loss of a family member, whether it’s a human or another animal. When someone close to a dog is no longer around, they can be listless, lose their appetite, be cranky, pace frantically, regress in house-training, sleep for even longer periods, and even develop destructive behaviors such as digging or chewing. Some dogs can develop anxiety-ridden behaviors, such as prolonged trembling, while others experience a significant change in personality (outgoing, becoming withdrawn and distrustful).

MORE ON CAUSES

Some dogs can exhibit depressive behaviors if they don’t get enough exercise or attention. Even changes in routine, ranging from serious (loss of a caretaker) to the seemingly harmless (changing a pet’s bed) can result in the symptoms listed above.

Unfortunately, changes in behavior can signal an underlying medical problem. Painful conditions such as arthritis, pinched nerves, bladder infections, or gastrointestinal inflammation can elicit behavioral changes, and hormonal conditions such as hypothyroidism can mimic the signs of depression in dogs. If you notice any sudden changes in your dog’s behavior, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. With a physical exam, and any necessary tests administered as warranted (such as blood work, urine testing and x-rays), your vet will be better equipped to determine potential causes and likely treatments.

Sad Shaggy Dog

HOW TO DEAL WITH YOUR DOG’S DEPRESSION

If your dog seems inordinately sad or becomes listless, you do have some options for home therapy.

Be intentional about the time you spend with your dog. Be prepared to dote on your pup, (yes, even more than usual!), and shower them with attention, like you would with a newly adopted dog.

Renew your commitment to exercise with daily walks … sunshine and fresh air can do wonders for both you and your dog. Plus, you’ll be adding a little adventure to your dog’s day. By taking long but unhurried walks, you allow your dog the time and space to roam a bit and smell all the scents. Remember, they can detect a whole host of odors, building timelines and creating mental maps of previous activity in any given spot … think of it like canine storytelling.

While at home, make sure your pup has plenty of good chew toys, and engage in some training sessions to stimulate positive mental activity.

In spite of all this, if your dog is still experiencing chronic depression, your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate medication to help manage, possibly even resolve, the illness. Your vet may recommend a consult with a board-certified veterinarian behaviorist. Certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, these experts are especially good at understanding such situations and knowing which pharmaceuticals will be most effective.

Have you ever known a canine who suffered from depression? How did you know? And what, if anything, were you able to do to help alleviate the condition? We’d really like to know about your experience, so please submit your comments below. You never know … something you share might mean the world to a pet parent searching for a solution, even if it’s simply the solace of knowing others have dealt with similar issues.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

REFERENCES:
In Defence of Dogs: Why Dogs Need Our Understanding, by John Bradshaw, 2011, ISBN: 9780141046495.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/10251465/One-in-four-dogs-suffering-depression.html

Better Boarding Tips

Traveling with pets is much more common these days than in years past. But, for all those times you can’t vacation with your companion animal, boarding offers a sure-fire way to make sure that their needs are provided for. To that end, this month’s episode of Pet Talk offers five practical tips for better boarding!

Dr. Sarah knows plenty about this area of pet kid care, and she’s eager to share her ideas with you. From commonsense practicalities to “gosh why didn’t I think of that” gems, you’re certain to learn something to help make your dog or cat’s next stay pleasant, safe and healthful. Best of all … you’ll be able to rest easy, knowing that your pet kids are too.

Do you have any additional insightful boarding tips for other pet parents? Or, have you ever had a bad boarding experience and wished that you had known to do something differently beforehand? Share your stories with us in the comments section below.

Does Coat Color Predict Feline Behavior?

Lovely Cat

Our companion animal’s coat colors, once only the concern of breeders, have now become the focus of research for other characteristics, including behavior. You may have heard reports that white coat color has been linked to deafness in both dogs and cats. Others have suggested a connection between coat color and aggressive behavior in some dog breeds. Now there’s some evidence of an association between feline behavior and coat color. But is there really anything substantial to this claim? 

First, how do cats get their color? Coat-color pattern genes fall into four categories that control spotting, pigment intensity, orange and agouti color switching, and even patterns. Located on the X chromosome, several sex-linked genes are responsible for controlling fur color, such as orange and black. Female cats whose XX sex chromosomes have a genetic predisposition to orange and black fur display a patchwork coat, yielding what are commonly known as tortoiseshell coloring (affectionately referred to as “torties”). Other varieties of this include torbies (tortoiseshell tabbies) and calico mosaics. Male cats can have these coat colors, but only if they are an XXY, which makes male calicos and tortoiseshells extremely rare.

Researchers have also studied whether behavior can be inherited in the cat as well. A series of studies conducted from 1980s to the 1990s showed that cats inherit some levels of sociability from their fathers. They noted that certain aspects of a kitten’s personality remain relatively constant throughout the first few years of life, suggesting a genetic predisposition to personality (Lowe and Bradshaw, 2001). Type of cat breed influences differences in interactions with humans, for example, Siamese cats are more demanding and vocal toward their pet parents when compared with other breeds (Turner and Bateson, 2000).

There are lots of reports about what cat lovers think about the behavior of their cats and how that relates to coat color. Orange cats are thought to be friendly (Delgado et al, 2012), some perceive black cats to be wild and unpredictable (Huntingford, 2009), and still others claim that tortoiseshells have a combination of stubborness, independence and unpredictability (Delgado, Munera, Reevy, 2012). Way back in 1895, veterinarians were quoted as saying torties were ‘not overly affectionate, sometimes even sinister, and most ill-tempered in disposition’ (Huidekoper, 1895). How rude!

Playful Cat

Certainly, there are anecdotal reports of tortoiseshells and calicos being rather...shall we say...feisty, inspiring personality descriptors like ‘tortitude’ and ‘calico crazies’. However, due to the lack of actual research in this area, veterinary behaviorist Elizabeth Stelow and her team of researchers set out to determine whether coat-color can be truly linked to behavior in cats. The four-month survey disguised the fact that coat color was the primary subject, to avoid bias on the part of the responders. Over 1,400 pet parents filled out the survey, and the results just might surprise you!

Pet parents of kitties reported tortoiseshells, calicos, “torbies”, as well as black-and-white and gray-and-white cats, acted more frequently aggressive toward humans in three settings: during everyday interactions, during handling and during veterinary visits. The researchers were surprised that gray-and-white and black-and-white cats were reported as more aggressive in these settings.

But keep in mind … the behaviorists did not independently observe any cats themselves, so the study was completely reliant on the self-reporting of the cats’ guardians. Furthermore, the respondents were people who might have had preconceived notions about their cat’s behavior. This factor could skew the results for the tortie or calico cats, but what about grey-and-white or black-and-white cats?

Lounging Kitty

The study concluded that coat colors may be associated with aggressive behaviors in the cat but that the differences are actually relatively minor. These findings support some common assumptions about personalities associated with different cat color patterns, and can help people better understand their feline companions. Researchers also concluded that the subtlety of the results of this study suggests the need for additional research on the topic of the relationship between coat color and behavior. Anyone considering adopting a pet should pay attention to the behavior of each individual cat they meet, rather than making decisions about cats based on the coat color. I suppose one could honestly say, never judge a book by its color!

How about you? What do you think about the relationship between behavior and coat color in cats? Do you have any experience with calicos or tortoiseshells? Please share in the comment section below - we’d love to hear your stories!

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals.

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

References

Elizabeth A. Stelow, Melissa J. Bain & Philip H. Kass (2015): The Relationship Between Coat Color and Aggressive Behaviors in the Domestic Cat, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, DOI: 10.1080/10888705.2015.1081820
Amat, M., de la Torre, J. L. R., Fatjó, J., Mariotti, V. M., Van Wijk, S., & Manteca, X. (2009). Potential risk factors associated with feline behaviour problems. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 121, 134–139.
Amat, M., Manteca, X., Mariotti, V. M., de la Torre, J. L. R., & Fatjó, J. (2009). Aggressive behavior in the English cocker spaniel. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 4, 111–117.
Bateson, W. (1894). Materials for the study of variation, treated with especial regard to discontinuity in the origin of species. London, England: MacMillan.
Becker, M. (2012). Is there a connection between markings and personality in cats? Retrieved from vetstreet.com/dr-marty-becker/is-there-a-connection-between-markings-and-personality-in-cats.
Dantas-Divers, L. M. S. (2011). Questions about coat color and aggression in cats (author response). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 239, 1288–1289.
Delgado, M. M., Munera, J. D., & Reevy, G. M. (2012). Human perceptions of coat color as an indicator of domestic cat personality. Anthrozoös, 25, 427–440.
Huidekoper, R. S. (1895). The cat: A guide to the classification and varieties of cats and a short treatise upon their care, diseases, and treatment. New York, NY: D. Appleton.
Huntingford, J. (2009). The color of a cat can determine their personality. Retrieved from petwellbeing.com/ blog/the-color-of-a-cat-can-determine-their-personality.
Kim, Y. K., Lee, S. S., Oh, S. I., Kim, J. S., Suh, E. H., Houpt, K. A. ... Yeon, S. C. (2010). Behavioural reactivity of the Korean native Jindo dog varies with coat colour. Behavioural Processes, 84, 568–572.
Kogan, L. R., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., & Hellyer, P. W. (2013). Cats in animal shelters: Exploring the common perception that black cats take longer to adopt. Open Veterinary Science Journal, 7, 18–22.
Lowe, S. E., & Bradshaw, J. W. S. (2001). Ontogeny of individuality in the domestic cat in the home environment. Animal Behaviour, 61, 231–237.
McCune, S. (1995). The impact of paternity and early socialisation on the development of cats’ behaviour to people and novel objects. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 45, 109–124.
Meier, M., & Turner, D. C. (1985). Reactions of house cats during encounters with a strange person: Evidence for two personality types. Journal of the Delta Society, 2, 45–53.
Podberscek, A. L., & Serpell, J. A. (1996). The English cocker spaniel: Preliminary findings on aggressive behaviour. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 47, 75–89.
Reisner, I. R., Houpt, K. A., Erb, H. N., & Quimby, F. W. (1994). Friendliness to humans and defensive aggression in cats: The influence of handling and paternity. Physiology & Behavior, 55, 1119–1124.
Webb, A. A., & Cullen, C. L. (2010). Coat color and coat color pattern-related neurologic and neuro-ophthalmic diseases. Canadian Veterinary Journal, 51, 653–657.

A Petacular Xmas

More and more, from Millenials to senior citizens, Americans are spending their holiday time and money on their four-legged family members. A generation ago, giving presents to companion animals was fairly rare. These days, buying gifts for dogs and cats is more popular than ever before! And who can blame us? Not only are they cute, loyal and happy, they’re ready for celebration at a moment’s notice. When it comes to presents for pet kids, there’s no waiting in long lines for the latest tech gizmo or sulky indignation over off-brand purchases. Plus, they don’t have expensive tastes that could put the serious hurt on your credit card balance.

This yuletide episode of Pet Talk reveals simple, enjoyable ways pet parents can show their companion animals appreciation during the season of giving. Our staff veterinarian, Dr. Sarah Wooten, DVM, has loads of imaginative ideas about spending quality time with your fur kids. Who knows, you just might discover a brand new family tradition!

If you enjoy Dr. Sarah’s prescriptions for fostering festive fun, be sure to share this link with other pet people, too. As a bonus, check out our previous holiday episodes to keep your companion animals safe and happy, now and into the New Year.

Holiday Safety Tips
Bringing Home New Puppy
Useful Tips for Winter Puppy Care

How do you observe the season of giving with your companion animal? Leave us a comment and share your stories! From all of us here at Life's Abundance, best wishes for a delightful holiday season!

Happy Holidays from Dr. Jane

The holidays are very nearly upon us. As I sit here, writing this post, I can’t help but feel this year has flown past even faster than last year. Like many of you, I’m experiencing the flurry of activity that comes with the close of another year. Things certainly are hopping here at my farm, with all of my chickens, cats, my horse, even my new pygmy goat! As fleeting and precious as time is during the holidays, I consider your reading this holiday message right now an honor and a privilege. 

This year, we’ve enjoyed significant growth, largely thanks to your amazing customer loyalty. With exciting new products on the horizon, we feel confident that you will love us even more! In spite of our company’s relatively small size, more and more consumers consider us a leading purveyor of health and wellness products, both for companion animals and their pet parents. You can be assured that all of us here at Life’s Abundance are working very hard to ensure that our best days are ahead of us. We have every reason to believe that 2016 will be a stellar year for all of us.

Thanks to the hard work of our Field Representatives, the loyalty of everyone who regularly shops at Life’s Abundance, and all of those generous enough to make periodic contributions, our non-profit (The Dr. Jane Foundation) continues to thrive, helping animals in need by supporting small and medium-size rescue organizations across the nation. In 2015, we awarded more than a dozen rescues grants upwards of $20,000. We could not have done any of that if it weren’t for you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you.

We have expanded our pet product line to include more health promoting products, like our premium grain-free foods for dogs and cats. Rest assured, we will continue to develop our line and hone existing formulas, all to give your pet kids the best possible life.

On behalf of all the employees of Life’s Abundance, we wish every Field Representative, customer and blog visitor the happiest, healthiest and most prosperous year yet.

Thank you for all you do to make the world a better place for companion animals,

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Twelve Days of Kitty Kristmas

Even though we appreciate our furry friends year round, there is no time like the holidays to dote on your cat. In the spirit of yuletide tradition, here are 12 ways to holistically improve your cat’s quality of life. 

Day 1 – Food

Feeding your cat Life's Abundance cat food is the foundation of good health. Nutrition is critical to longevity, not only the quality of the food you feed your cat, but the quantity. Obesity is a common affliction of the American indoor cat population. If your cat eats too fast and is left looking for more, try putting food into a food puzzle instead of a bowl to increase mental stimulation and slow down eating. There are also programmable portion control feeders available that will dispense preset amounts of food.

Day 2 – Kitty Clothing

Short-haired dogs appreciate a warm coat during the winter, and cats do as well! A kitty coat is snuggly and cozy. In particular, clothing benefits older cats who have arthritis or experience trouble keeping warm.

Day 3 – Sanitation

Litter box problems are often cited as the leading cause for abandoning cats. Make sure you provide a nice area for your cat to relieve himself. The standard recommendation is one litter box more than the number of cats (for example, if you have 2 cats, have 3 boxes). Be sure the box is large enough to fully accommodate your cat and clean the box regularly. If your cat has any mobility issues (like arthritis), make sure the sides are low enough that she can get in and out of the box comfortably.

Day 4 – Rest

Cats spend a large amount of their lives curled up in sleep. During the winter, cats look for warm spaces, which can lead to tragedy if a cat seeks heat by nesting under the hood of a car. A heated bed makes a wonderful gift for the special feline in your life, but be on the look-out for products that have chew-resistant electrical cords.

Day 5 – Kitty Massage

For the truly pampered feline, there are self-grooming toys that coax cats in for ultimate relaxation. You can find body-stroke groomers, acupressure pads, ripple massagers, bunting combs, and gum stimulators that massage, stimulate pressure points, or clean teeth and gums. These products are self-grooming, and can be used by your cat whether you are at home or away! If you want to participate, try massaging your cat with our Stainless Steel Odor Removing Bar.

Day 6 – Fitness

Just like people, cats can pack on holiday pounds. The best way to combat unhealthy weight gain is with exercise. Cats love to climb and view their surroundings from an elevated perch, so a cat tree makes the perfect gift. Look for something that is tall with several levels, hiding spots, and scratching posts to simulate your cat’s surroundings in the wild. To encourage your cat to climb, hide food or treats at the top!

Day 7 – Skin Care

Soothing Mist helps control minor skin care issues like dry skin. This spray features zinc and a calming blend of aloe vera gel, marigold, lavender and chamomile to help soothe and protect healthy skin and coats. Safe and effective for both dogs and cats, it's even suitable for kittens over 12 weeks of age. If your cat has serious skin issues, however, do not replace a visit to your veterinarian with this product.

Day 8 – Kitty Garden

Bring the outdoors inside for your cat with a grass garden. More than a third of all cats eat plants, and many pet parents notice their cats chewing on house plants. To prevent your cat from chewing on something potentially harmful, grow a potted grass garden indoors, and let your cat graze away! With a few pots, some peat moss, and oat, rye, barley or wheat grass seeds, you can grow an elegant, nutritious and safe garden for your kitty to nibble.

Day 9 – Treats

Kitty treats make wonderful gifts! Our wholesome Cat Treats are made with high quality proteins, guaranteed vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids to promote a healthy hair coat. Best of all, they’re made right here in the USA.

Day 10 – Hydration

In the wild, cats are desert animals. They do not have a strong thirst reflex, and derive most of their hydration from the prey they ingest. Stimulate your cat’s hydration reflex with a water fountain. Cats love to drink from moving water! As a bonus, a drinking fountain also adds soothing ambiance to your home.

Day 11 – Fun

Cats love to chase and hunt. Simulate their favorite activity indoors with a feathered fishing pole or laser pointer. For tips on how to do this safely and have the most fun, watch Dr. Sarah’s video here.

Day 12 – Gifting

Can’t decide on what to get for the special feline or cat lover in your life? Combine several "treats" together in our Holiday Gift Basket, which features food, treats, supplements, toys and a “meow” mug for doting pet parents.

I hope that you will decide to celebrate the holiday season all 12 ways with your feline companion. And, may everyone in your family enjoy the last few weeks of 2015.

Thank you for all that you do to make the world a better place for companion animals,

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Puppy It’s Cold Outside

Winter is coming. For many pet households, that means dogs – and people – spending more time indoors, away from the bitter cold. Even though some will be braving the ice and snow for quick walks, most of us will be staying in the warm, climate-controlled confines of home. Since your canine probably doesn’t enjoy Netflix bingeing nearly as much as you, we’re exploring simple ways to help fight the doggie doldrums.

This month, Dr. Sarah reveals just how easy it is to keep your pup entertained. And we bet that you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you can do inexpensively! Watch as Dr. Sarah demonstrates with her canine companion eight simple activities for inside playtime. Fend off the wintertime blues with fun for everyone!

Be sure to share this video with other pet parents. And if you have any ideas for keeping canine boredom at bay, feel free to share them with the Life’s Abundance community in the comments section below.

Ways to Memorialize Your Pet Kid

Most Americans would agree that tradition has changed from the not-so-distant past when it was standard practice for family pets to be unceremoniously buried in the yard or a nearby natural area - marker optional. There is much discussion and even research about the why’s and how’s of the evolution of pets as part of the family, but for pet parents the heart already knows what the research shows … we love our animal family members deeply and will go to lengths to keep them healthy, treat their illnesses, and to remember them when they’re gone. 

Like the old burial traditions, pet memorial options have evolved, too. There are familiar fixtures like personalized garden stones or benches, a specially placed photo or a spot on the mantel for an urn. But, in an effort to find comfort in the face of loss, pet parents are turning to a new variety of personally meaningful remembrances, some of which cost big bucks.

1. Burial, Interment & Funeral Services $90 - $3,000+
Formerly reserved for humans, pet funeral services now are an option for grieving families. Whether an intimate service at home, or a viewing at the funeral parlor, the full scope of traditional services and accompaniments (like fully dressed caskets and floral arrangements) are available, with over 300 listings nationwide for pet cemeteries. However, cremation is still the most popular means of handling a deceased pet. Increasingly easier to come by, for around $200, columbariums provide an affordable way to permanently inter ashes. For those considering a columbarium, it will be important to check the size of the vault before ordering a specialty urn.

2. Memorial Art $200 - $3,500+
For that once-in-a-lifetime pet, a commissioned art piece may be the ultimate tribute. By sharing a few photos of your dog or cat, an artist can create a life like plush sculpture of your pet starting around $1,800. There are also foundries that will produce cremain-infused glass sculptures, urns, vases, or stained glass panels either of their design (starting around $200) or tailored to your specification. And, while it may be common knowledge that artists are available to paint a portrait of fur babies past and present, did you know that ashes can be mixed with the paint used to create said portrait?

3. Memorial Jewelry $15 - $17,000
Websites like etsy.com showcase an array of simple and affordable engraved or otherwise personalized trinkets in a variety of styles and materials. Pet parents can take the customization a step further by opting for glass beads that incorporate the pet’s ashes for about $85 per bead. For those with aching hearts and deep pockets, a memorial manufactured diamond crafted from your beloved’s cremated remains can be purchased for $750 for about 0.0275 carat, up to $17,000 for a 2 carat stone.

4. Extraordinary Services $850 - $10,000
Sadly, in most states it is against the law to bury human and animal remains together. But a few out-of-this-world companies give pet parents the chance to plan for a combined burial…of sorts. For the avid outdoors person, or retired military or police personnel, combined (or individual) cremains can be turned into live ammunition for use in a salute, hunt or other activity that may have had meaning for the deceased. If conservation is a passion, there is a service that will incorporate remains into a coral reef habitat. According to the company’s website, including pets within this tribute is the number one request they receive. For those who prefer to look skyward, consider one of the space flights that can deliver “a symbolic portion” of remains to the Earth’s orbit where it will descend as a shooting star, or send your loved one all the way to the moon in a tribute you can gaze upon forever.

Wherever your budget falls, it is surely our memories of the four-legged companions we’ve lost that carry the truest and deepest meaning. Of the multitude of options (DIY, purchased or commissioned), what have been some of your most meaningful tributes for a pet kid? Please share your personal stories in the comments section below.

Kitty Play Time

In last month's episode of Pet Talk, Dr. Sarah provided us with fun and simple ways to tap into a cat's innate problem solving skills while helping avoid the behavioral and physical consequences of sedentary living. If you missed this video on making safe but fun DIY toys for cats, be sure to watch that next.

This month, Sarah’s back with more in-depth info on why it’s important for your cat to have regular play times. It’s partly due to their unique evolution, but also because their minds require stimulation for a long and healthy life.

Be sure to share this video with friends and family, especially if they are cat lovers. And, please leave your comments if this Pet Talk episode is helpful to you.