Pet Advice & Ideas

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.

Do Dogs Experience Guilt?

Dog in Time Out

If you have had the opportunity to share your life with a dog, then you are probably familiar with ‘the guilty look’. Dog lovers will instantly recognize this classic expression as the one your pup adopts when you discover that he’s gotten into the trash, chewed up your good shoes, or dug a deep pit in your yard. But is he experiencing feelings of guilt behind those puppy dog eyes?

We certainly seem to think so. Seventy-four percent of dog lovers believe that their pups experience some form of guilt. But is it the same sort of guilt we feel, or is it a complex canine behavior that has been anthropomorphized, and is perhaps triggered by something else entirely?

This question is so hotly debated, canine behavior researchers decided to test the theory, and hopefully provide some answers. Consider two recent, credible studies that explored ‘the guilty look’.

In both, researchers ingeniously set up conditions to discover the origins of guilty behaviors in dogs. Based on their findings, they ascertained that the dog’s reaction is tied to the owner’s scolding, not the previous misdeed. This certainly seems to back up what many of us suspect, that humans have a natural tendency to want to interpret animal behavior in human terms.

There is plenty of evidence for what scientists refer to as primary emotions, such as happiness and fear, in non-human animals. Empirical evidence for secondary emotions like pride and jealousy, however, is extremely rare in animal cognition literature. The argument usually given for this lack of evidence is that such secondary emotions seem to require a higher level of cognitive sophistication, particularly when it comes to self-awareness or self-consciousness, that may not exist in non-human animals.

Put simply, guilt is complicated.

A group of canine cognition researchers from Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, published several studies in Applied Animal Behavior Science investigating ‘the guilty look’. In a 2009 study, pet parents reported that their dogs sometimes display guilty behavior when greeting owners. They claimed to be unaware of their dog doing anything bad, and asserted that it was the dog’s guilty behavior that told them about the dog’s infraction. However, researchers found there was no significant difference between obedient and disobedient dogs in their display of ‘guilty looks’ after having the opportunity to break a rule when the pet parents were absent.

Dog Looking Guilty

But wait, say pet parents. ‘Guilty look’ behaviors are displayed even when dogs aren’t scolded. So, in a 2015 study these same behaviorists investigated whether the dogs' own actions or the evidence of a misdeed might serve as triggering cue for the guilty behavior. If the ‘guilty look’ was based on some sort of ‘guilt’ as often claimed by dog lovers, then the cue triggering this behavior would have to be linked to the dog’s own action, namely whether the dog has or has not done something “bad”. They tested this by manipulating whether or not dogs ate a ‘forbidden’ food item and whether or not the food was visible upon the return of pet parents. The findings indicate that the dogs did not show the ‘guilty look’ in the absence of scolding. So, at least in this study, the ‘guilty look’ was not influenced by the dog’s own bad behavior.

So, we have ample anecdotal evidence from pet parents, but little evidence from published studies to support this claim.

What do you think? Can dogs express the complicated emotion of guilt, or is it a series of subordinate behaviors that originate from the social cues given by their pet parents? Leave your comments in the section below!

References

Hecht, J., et al., Behavioral assessment and owner perceptions of behaviors associated with guilt in dogs. Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. (2012), doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2012.02.015
Horowitz A (2009). Disambiguating the "guilty look": salient prompts to a familiar dog behaviour. Behavioural processes, 81 (3), 447-52 PMID: 19520245
Ljerka Ostojić, Mladenka Tkalčić, Nicola S. Clayton Are owners' reports of their dogs’ ‘guilty look’ influenced by the dogs’ action and evidence of the misdeed? Behavioural Processess Volume 111, February 2015, Pages 97–100

The Inside Scoop On Homemade Pet Food

Girl thinking about what to cook

If you’re reading this, chances are it’s not the first time you’ve given some degree of thought to the concept of a homemade pet diet. Whether you regard this topic with interest or with repulsion, a series of pet food recalls combined with the ‘foodie’ movement have resulted in growing discussion among pet parents about the costs and benefits of becoming a personal chef for one’s pet kids. 

So, what are some of the reasons pet parents turn to making their own pet food? While motivations can be deeply personal, they commonly fall into these categories:

1. Your veterinarian prescribed food that your pet kid won’t eat
2. You have made specific dietary choices and want to extend them to your animal family members
3. You only trust food which comes out of your kitchen
4. You are hoping to alleviate the symptoms or severity of a medical diagnosis
5. You are ambivalent about commercial pet food and curious to see if you could get better results
6. A belief that you could save some money

While these questions provide some food for thought, motivation alone is not an assurance of health and wellbeing for pet kids. When deciding what to feed their companion animals, pet parent’s choices must be backed up by expertise and solid knowledge. So, what actually does go into the decision to take the plunge into homemade pet food?

Pet Parent Education: Intensive

In the era of Pinterest, there are loads of DIY pet food recipes and enthusiastic testimonials. Some of these recipes give the appearance of being well-balanced and reasonably easy, and may even have a cute name.

But chances are that the vast majority of these will not provide pets with the nutrition they need. In an independent 2013 study of 200 homemade adult dog food recipes gathered from the internet, cookbooks and veterinarians, only five (2.5%) of them were nutritionally balanced. All five balanced recipes had come from veterinarians with advanced training in nutrition.

The takeaway here is that it is critical to involve a holistic or integrative veterinarian and/or a veterinary nutritionist to ensure the nutritional needs of your furry kid are being met.

Cost Analysis: Moderate - Intensive

If the financial bottom line is a priority, time should be spent doing an analysis of the daily cost to feed pet kids a balanced diet. With a quality recipe in hand, pet parents can take to the internet and local grocery stores to estimate the cost of the homemade meal before ever investing in buying the ingredients. The cost of any special equipment, like a meat grinder or food processor, and food storage containers, should also be factored in.

Ingredient Sourcing: Intensive

A balanced recipe from a qualified Veterinary Nutritionist is sure to include proteins, carbohydrates and a list of added vitamins and other nutritional supplements. As with any consumable product, there is great variation in the quality of all of these ingredients as well as variation in what is appropriate for different species. What many fail to realize is that improperly balanced nutrients can actually lead to a host of disease states, essentially creating toxicity within the body. To ensure maximum benefit, be certain that your nutritionist is explicit about cuts of meat and which supplements to purchase, and ensure that all of these questions are addressed:

1. What form should each supplement be in; liquid or powder?
2. What source is okay for each supplement; synthetic, natural, purified, etc.?
3. Are there certain varieties of supplements that should be avoided; Cod Liver Oil or Krill Oil vs. Fish Oil?
4. Are your personal dietary requirements being met; grain-free or vegetarian?
5. Which cuts of meat are optimal, acceptable and should be avoided; white meat, dark meat, lean or fat?

Food Preparation & Storage: Moderate – Intensive

If you’ve ever done batch cooking for your human family, you’ll have an idea what it’s like to make your own pet food. This exercise takes advance planning, time management, practice and possibly endurance depending on how large a batch is being made.

This time commitment will vary by recipe, quality of equipment being used, size of the batch being prepared, and with fine tuning over time.

Food Serving: Minimal

Home prepared foods are refrigerated or frozen and may require warming to room temperature to serve. At issue here is the commitment to the frequency of this task more so than the amount of time required.

Given the level of difficulty in preparing home meals, and the expertise to get the formulas right every time, this probably isn’t a viable option for most pet parents. If you’re seeking holistic nutrition plus convenience and value, I urge you to consider the premium nutrition offered by any of our Life’s Abundance pet foods.

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

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

Feline Food Fun

Who among us hasn't started munching on a bag of chips to suddenly and unexpectedly find the bag empty? Just like us guilty humans, cats will often overeat due to boredom or stress. In this month's episode of Pet Talk, Dr. Sarah provides fun and simple ways to tap into your cat's innate problem solving skills while helping avoid the behavioral and physical consequences of sedentary living.

These DIY toys will both keep kitty's body busy and let her use her predatory instincts to exercise her brain. So, get ready to dig into your recycling bin and replace some of those feline snack habits with fun and games!

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.

Biking with Your Dog

Have you ever seen someone biking with their dog and thought, “Wow, that looks like fun … but where did they learn how to do that?” If so, this month’s episode of Pet Talk was made just for you!

In this short video, Dr. Sarah will help you to gain a basic understanding of how to safely enjoy this outdoor activity with your dog. Our Staff Veterinarian explains exactly what gear you’ll need (a minimal investment), plus all the necessary steps to train a dog to become comfortable near a moving bicycle. Trust us when we say that wheeling around with your dog really is loads of fun!

Be sure to share this video with friends and family, especially if they love pursuing new and exciting leisure pastimes. And, please leave your comments if this Pet Talk episode is helpful to you.

The Special Bond Between Cats and Women

Girl playing with cat on rug

Have you ever wondered why women and cats have such strong relationships? Specifically, why some women (a very few, mind you) tend to collect large numbers of cats? While you’ve heard the term “crazy cat lady”, you never hear of “crazy gerbil ladies” or “crazy ferret ladies”!

In fact, some behavioral researchers wondered the same thing. A recently published study in the journal Behavioral Processes indicates the answer lies in a special bond that exists only between cats and women. Scientists from the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna took a hard look at the behavioral interactions between 41 cats and their human companions, using individual personality assessments of both their human and feline subjects. Their findings might very well cause a paradigm shift in our understanding of these relationships. 

Rather than being standoffish and selfish (as cats are often portrayed), the study showed that there was real attachment between cats and their pet parents. Of course, any cat parent will tell you these findings are not surprising in the least. As expected, the cats demonstrated food-seeking behavior, but the researchers also noted that cats and their people signaled each other when they wanted to receive or even give affection. Cats also demonstrated that they were able to keep track of how their physical and emotional needs were being met. Further, felines were more likely to remember kind gestures and respond to their human companion’s emotional needs if the human had previously responded to their own.

While these interactions were noted with both women and men living with cats, cats clearly approached women and initiated contact (i.e. jump in laps) more often than with men. In fact, a cat’s relationship with a woman mirrored that of a human-human bond more than a human-animal bond, in that cats could tell their humans when to feed and interact with them and the humans would do it! Like a human infant, cats were seen to control when they were being fed. It is interesting to note that a cat’s mewl for food sounds eerily like that of a human infant.

The results of the study showed that cats and their pet parents, particularly women, influence each other strongly. In some ways, they can actually control one another’s behaviors. "A relationship between a cat and a human can involve mutual attraction, personality compatibility, ease of interaction, play, affection and social support," said co-author Dorothy Gracey of the University of Vienna. "A human and a cat mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other's inclinations and preferences." While I wouldn’t go so far as to say cats can manipulate women, the results of this study certainly provide food for thought.

Knowing that cats have a much shorter evolutionary history of living with humans than dogs makes these findings even more astounding! Is it possible that women who provide homes for many cats simply cannot help themselves? There are so many new questions! Obviously, this study only scratches the surface of the complexity found in human-cat relationships. So, the next time you interact with your cat, I challenge you to ask yourself who is really running the show.

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

Dr Jane Bicks  Dr. Jane Bicks, DVM

References

Wedl M1, Bauer B, Gracey D, Grabmayer C, Spielauer E, Day J, Kotrschal K. Factors influencing the temporal patterns of dyadic behaviours and interactions between domestic cats and their owners. Behav Processes. 2011 Jan;86(1):58-67. doi: 10.1016/j.beproc.2010.09.001. Epub 2010 Sep 15.

Six Steps to Fear-Free Vet Visits

For some pet kids, trips to the veterinary clinic can be quite traumatic. Some dogs and cats even seem to have a sixth sense, trembling in fear when an appointment approaches.

Fortunately, we have an inside voice to give us tips for calming vet-visit fears … our very own Staff Veterinarian! If your companion animal experiences mild-to-severe apprehension when it comes time for a check-up, you will not want to miss this episode of Pet Talk! In this video, Dr. Sarah reveals six measures anyone can take to ensure fear-freeTM visits to the veterinarian.

Thank you so much for watching and check back next month for a new episode of Pet Talk with Dr. Sarah. And be sure to submit your comments below.