Senior citizens and pet ownership

A recent poll by Preeti Malani, M.D found some interesting facts about pet ownership. Pets included dogs, cats, birds, fish, and other types of pets. The physical and mental benefits were evident as has been indicated by other studies, however this study found some interesting information that families as well as an elderly person should consider when deciding if it is a good idea for an elderly family member to have a pet.

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We know that the positive reasons to have a pet include but are not limited to:

  • Companionship
  • Social connections
  • Source of enjoyment
  • Feeling of being needed and loved

Some of the negatives to consider are:

  • Difficulty to travel
  • Enjoying activities outside the home
  • Putting pet’s needs ahead of their own health needs
  • The cost of pet health care, especially for older pets
  • Owner health issues that make keeping a pet difficult
  • Owner or other family member’s allergies to the pet
  • A need to move into a facility that does not allow pets
  • The risk of falling because of a pet

In some cases family support will allow an elderly person to keep a pet. If the family agrees to take the pet and care for it if the elderly person must move to a care facility, that will ease the mind of the pet owner and allow them to keep the pet as long as possible.

If the pet owner can arrange for someone to care for a pet while on vacation, this will solve the vacation issue. The pet owner in most cases will be home more than they are away so watching a pet for them may not be a huge task.

If the pet lover cannot have a pet due to financial reasons, they may volunteer at a local shelter or offer to pet sit for friends. This will give them some quality time with pets without the expense. Another consideration if the person likes birds, is to feed the wild birds. A feeder near a window can be a source of joy with little responsibility. Many people enjoy bird-watching which is a year-round activity.

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A visitor to one of my bird feeders

Often if the family will “think outside of the box” a happy solution can be found for whatever difficulties may be present.

Cleanliness at veterinary practices and home

In view of the current corona virus pandemic, I thought this study is very interesting and important for everyone to read and share. Jason Stull, assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine at The Ohio State University, Armando Hoet of Ohio State’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Gregory Langdon of the College of Public Health did a study about cleanliness in veterinary clinics. What they found is interesting. Please read the entire article that is referenced.

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For over a month, using a dye only visible with a black light, they studied how thoroughly surfaces were cleaned. They found that it was almost impossible to clean 100% of the surfaces at the clinic. For the current work, Stull and colleagues assessed almost 5,000 surfaces over the course of the study. On average, 50 percent of surfaces were cleaned, with broad variations by type of surface and hospital location. The human-touch surfaces were the least likely to be cleaned such as medical instruments, dog run handles, and computer mice and keyboards.

I believe it is impossible to completely clean everything in your home so that it is germ free. What I do is use a Fresh Air Surround that kills all virus and bacteria. I have used it for years and I believe my family has had less illnesses as a result. I started using it mostly for my allergies since it cleans the air very well. I also notice that it removes any odors that may occur. The real benefit is that it cleans every surface in your house continually. This is something that every veterinary practice, or any other public place can use. I am not suggesting that it should replace regular disinfecting practices, but it is a great addition and easy to use.

Scruffy Paws Nutrition for Cats

I was contacted by Scruffy Paws Nutrition for Cats to see if I would test and review their products. After reading about the company and their philosophy as well as their attention to specific health issues for cats, I was impressed, and as my regular readers know, I am very critical.

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I was offered the opportunity to try a product of my choice on my cat. Unfortunately my cat would not eat the vitamins, she is very fussy. You don’t want to know how many brands of wet food I tried to find one that she would eat along with her Annamaet dry food.

Here is a quote from their site: “Each supplement has been specifically designed for a certain ailment. So instead of a ‘Jack of all trades’ vitamin supplement that may not do any real good… Ours laser target feline conditions to make a real difference. Using our wealth of knowledge and experience, we formulate a nutritional top up that will supercharge the organ health, and help the body heal itself.”

However, I feel that I should share these products with my followers and hopefully you will check them on the Scruffy Paws web site.

Cat scratch fever in humans

In a recent study at North Carolina State University a human adolescent who suffered from a rapid onset of schizophrenia symptoms was found to be suffering from a Bartonella henselae infection which is associated with cat scratch fever.

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This person was treated by an array of doctors for 18 months before one doctor noticed lesions that are associated with Bartonella. When tested it was found that Bartonella was the cause of the schizophrenia like symptoms.

This is an important discovery since now researchers are going to investigate other psychiatric disorders and their connection to viruses and bacteria infections. This could lead to cures for afflictions such as Alzheimer’s disease and other medically complicated issues.

Cats that have Bartonella can infect a person from scratching, biting or even licking a person. Strictly indoor cats are less likely to have it. The symptoms typically are flu-like which include:

  1. a bump or blister at the bite or scratch site.
  2. swollen lymph nodes near the bite or scratch site.
  3. fatigue
  4. headaches
  5. a low-grade fever, which is above 98.6°F (37°C) but below 100.4°F (37°C)
  6. body aches.

Sperm damage in both humans and dogs due to pollutants in the home

New research by scientists at the University of Nottingham suggests that manmade contaminants found in the home and diet have the same adverse effects on male fertility in both humans and domestic dogs.

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This study was done to explore the cause of the declining human male fertility in recent decades with studies showing a 50% global reduction in sperm quality in the past 80 years. A previous study by the Nottingham experts showed that sperm quality in domestic dogs has also sharply declined.

The researchers found that two chemicals, the plasticizer DEHP which is in most homes, found in carpets, flooring, upholstery, clothes, wires and toys, as well as the chemical polychlorinated biphenyl 153 which is banned but still present, even in food to be at least partly to blame.

No studies have been done to see if these chemicals have the same affect on cats or other domestic household pets. What we can do is keep abreast of the latest research and hope that these chemicals will be altered or banned.

Is it time to say “Goodbye” to your pet?

This is a tough topic for many people to deal with. It is charged with emotions that often cloud our ability to decide what to do. With veterinarian medicine as advanced as it is, we can keep our pets alive much longer than we could years ago, but to what end?

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There are a few things that you need to consider when trying to decide if it is time to euthanize your pet or not.

  1. Is your pet in pain? This is not always easy to determine since animals in general do not show pain until it is severe. The signs may be subtle and come on gradually as age and illnesses increase. Your veterinarian can help you determine what illnesses your pet may have, and how it impacts their life, but that will be a generalization because every animal is different. Some tolerate pain much better than others. In the case of birds they may not show signs of illness until they are very sick.

 

It helps if you pay attention to your pet’s behavior. Do you notice that your pet does not move as well as before? Does your pet refuse to jump onto things whereas before they would fly through the air? Do they walk slower, run less, and are less active in general? Has their appetite and water consumption changed? Has their breathing changed, for example they pant more or sooner than before? Do they seem to hold part of their body still when they breathe? These are all signs of pain and/or illness.

  1. Does your pet have difficulty keeping food or water down? Has their overall appetite decreased? Is your pet eating a normal amount of food but losing or gaining weight?
  1. If your veterinarian suggests treatments you have to determine what the outcome will be for your pet. Will the treatment cause pain and suffering? How long can you expect your pet to live after the treatments? Will your pet be hindered for the rest of its life because of the treatments? If the treatments are painful or cause suffering such as a loss of appetite or physical difficulties is it worth it for your pet? You also must consider the cost of treatments and weigh if they will help your pet or just prolong his suffering.
  1. Has your pet’s toilet habits changed? A change in toilet habits can be a sign of dementia in a pet. A pet who cannot get up to go out or cannot control his bowels and bladder and will eliminate and lay in it, is a good sign that it is time to let them go. A pet that has abnormal eliminations, such as blood in either stools or urine, weak or strong urine, or who has trouble eliminating is a candidate for a serious evaluation. Has your pet’s stools and urine decreased or increased yet they eat and drink the same amount? This of course depends on what your veterinarian determines the problem is.
  1. Does your pet act as if they are lost? Some will cry out as if they are calling, “Where are you?” Some pets may stand with their face in a corner and not be able to find their way out. Some will stare at walls or have a blank look in their eyes. Some may not recognize their family members. Some may wander around the house or yard and not seem to know where they are. A pet may not respond to commands that they always responded to before, even though they hear you. These can be signs of mental degeneration.
  1. After all the considerations are evaluated, you must determine if the quality of your pet’s life is going to be better, tolerable or only prolong suffering.
  1. The most difficult part of the decision and perhaps the most important is determining how much of your own emotions are playing a part in your decision making. Are you trying to keep your pet alive because you cannot tolerate the thought of losing your pet? Are you keeping your pet’s well being as the main decision maker? This is the most difficult part of the decision-making process, separating your emotions and feelings from what is good for your pet. The biggest fear that many people have is that they are not making the right decision. Or they feel that they are letting their pet down by giving up, that something more can be done. This is why it is important to go over the points in this article. We all hope for a miracle, but they rarely happen. Letting a pet go is sometimes the kindest thing we can do for them. It helps if you have a friend who is not emotionally involved that you can go over the situation with, to help you see what is going on.

I know that sometimes it is hard for me to make that decision. For this reason I talk to my veterinarian before my pets age and let them know what I want to do in the event that my pets get a terminal illness or injury. Even though we cannot foresee the future, it helps my veterinarian guide me when the time comes. This helped me with a 17 year old cat that I dearly loved. When I took her to the veterinarian, she was having a cardiac arrest. I could not say the words to tell my veterinarian to put her down. But he knew my wishes ahead of time. It made it just a bit easier for me to not have to say it.

Deciding to let a pet go is never easy. No one wants the grief and loss that it brings. We all know that it may take a long time to heal and get over the pain. I know because I have had to go through it many times. For me, I take comfort in knowing that my pets will be in Heaven waiting for me, that they are going to a better place. This is one reason why I wrote my book God’s Creatures which you can see on my website, www.sbulanda.com

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We all must deal with the loss of a beloved pet in our own way. As our pets come into our lives and then leave us, one after the other, the loss- and decision-making process never gets easier. But as good stewards of our pets, it is up to us to do what is right for them, even if it means our loss. Doing this is the deepest and most unselfish kind of love.

Once we lose our pets we have to deal with the grief. Everyone handles it in their own way. In the case of a pet who has suffered a prolonged illness, some people grieve for awhile before the pet dies. In those cases it can make the actual loss less painful. If there was no time before losing a pet to grieve, the full emotion of grief will come on right away. The pain can at times feel like physical pain. There are many ways to handle your feelings. Talking to someone who understands how much a pet can mean to you is one way. Attending a grief counseling group can also help. Some people find that volunteering at a shelter or rescue group helps.

If you know that your pet is getting on in years, getting a new pet before the pet passes can help ease the loss for some people. Providing of course that the new pet isn’t going to stress or harm the resident pet. Some people find that writing about the lost pet helps or designing a photo album dedicated to the pet. These are just a few ideas about how to go through the grief. The main thing to keep in mind is that time does heal. We may never fully get over the loss of a pet, one particular pet means more to us than any others, but we can enjoy the fond memories and love that the pet has given us.

Roaming cats worry their owners

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Exeter, found that owners who allow their cats to roam freely outdoors worry about their cat’s safety. Why then do they let their cats roam? The study shows that many cat owners feel that their cats need to roam and hunt. They feel that a cat would not be happy or fulfilled if they are kept indoors.

 

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A feral kitten we rescued a few years ago. We found her in the road on a cold, snowy Christmas eve. She was adopted to a good home. 

Unfortunately these sentiments can be detrimental to a cat’s health and even it’s life. Cats do not need to be free outdoors to roam and hunt. Cats can and do live a happy and productive life indoors. It is up to the owner to provide interactive toys or play with their cat to satisfy the cat’s need to hunt and attack prey.

Cats also need companionship, either from another animal or their owners. Most cats are very social although not in the same way as dogs are.

There are videos made for cats to watch. If a cat owner feels strongly that their cat should spend time outdoors there are cat containment systems that allow a cat to go outdoors and be safe. You only need to google “cat outdoor yards” or “cat containment systems” to find a wide variety to meet your cat’s needs.

There are a number of reasons why a cat should not be allowed to freely roam outdoors. Being outdoors, even in a city or urban environment subjects the cat to predators which can range from dogs, other cats, hawks, foxes, coyotes and other wild animals that will attack a cat either aggressively or defensively. There are also evil people who make it a sport to trap and torture or kill cats.

If a cat kills wildlife, they are exposed to various parasites and diseases. If they come in contact with other outdoor cats, they can be exposed to various cat borne diseases which could be fatal. If a cat kills and ingests some of the blood of a rodent that has eaten rodent poison, the poison in the rodent’s blood can kill the cat.

Being exposed to injury, diseases and parasites, can make the cat sick and cost the owner multiple veterinarian bills. Not to mention subject the cat to preventable suffering and death.

If the cat is not spayed or neutered, letting it roam freely will cause pregnancy and add to the feral cat population. Contrary to what many people think, feral cats do not live a good life. They are subjected to all the above-mentioned diseases and death. Most feral cats do not live past kittenhood and if they do, only live about two very harsh years, struggling to find food, water, warmth and to fend off predators.

In conclusion, there is no positive reason to let a cat roam freely outdoors. There is every reason to trap, spay, neuter and adopt feral cats.

Catnip may help cancer patients

Many of us have seen how catnip also known as catmint makes cats act like a kitten. I have seen cats who played like crazy and some who seemed to get angry and aggressive when given catmint.

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Now scientists have discovered what the chemical process is that makes cats go gaga over catnip.

It turns out it is a two step process that has never been discovered before, where the plant produces nepetalactone, a chemical called a terpene. Other plants such as peppermint, have terpene. By understanding how this chemical is produced, scientists will be able to recreate chemicals such as vinblastine that comes from the Madagascan periwinkle and used for chemotherapy. If scientists can unlock this mystery they will not have to rely on the actual plants for medicines.

Again, our pets have helped us unlock the mysteries of medicine and we will benefit from this research. The lesson for me from this study is that researching something that seems to have no benefit can unlock lifesaving techniques for both humans and animals. After all, who would think of studying catnip?

Canine genetics and behavior

Dog owners and breeders know that certain behaviors dominate certain breeds. For example herding dogs have the instinct to herd. Hounds have the instinct to hunt with their nose, some breeds are better guard dogs and the list goes on. This is what makes breed traits what they are. But it has been somewhat of a mystery about how this happens genetically because not all dogs in a particular breed have the same strength of the trait for that breed and some lack it entirely.

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In a new study, James A Serpell of the University of Pennsylvania and colleagues Evan L. MacLean of the University of Arizona, Noah Snyder-Mackler of the University of Washington, and Bridgett M. vonHoldt of Princeton University conducted a study to try to unravel how genetics affect breed trait behavior.

Their study concluded that genes do play a large part in breed behavior, and those gene most affect the brain rather than other bodily tissues. However, they stressed that there is a large margin to allow for the differences between individual animals.

What this means to the dog owner, and especially the potential dog owner, is that getting a dog from a reliable, ethical and trusted breeder is critical to your dog’s behavior. The genetic tendencies can and do vary from line to line. It also means that if you adopt a mixed breed or purebred dog, you will have no idea what it’s genetically controlled behavior will be.

This is important to understand because if behavior issues arise, you will have to allow for the possibility that it is genetically influenced. The method that you use to alter any unwanted behavior that is genetically influence will be different than simple training methods. Always consult a certified behavior consultant. You can find one at www.iaabc.org.

Also keep in mind that genetically influenced behavior is not limited to dogs but is a part of the makeup of all living beings. Yes, environment and learning also comes into play.

Parasite from cats killing sea otters

For decades scientists have been studying why some California sea otters are dying. Recently researchers led by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine’s Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) have linked feral and domestic cats as the source of Toxoplasma that is killing sea otters.

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The parasite forms egglike stages referred to as oocysts. Feral cats eat rodents and birds that have the oocysts in their bodies. From there the oocysts live in the cats until they are passed through the cat feces. The feces are washed into the sea and live in the kelp. Then snails eat the oocysts and the sea otters eat the snails.

People who own cats can help by keeping their cats indoors. Cat feces should not be flushed into septic or public wastewater systems since they will cycle back into the ground.

The oocysts are also washed into the waterways by rainwater, therefore preserving wetlands, forests and grasslands will help keep the parasite and other pollutants out of the oceans. Managing storm water runoff and replacing pavement with permeable surfaces will help.

If all cat owners in California, especially those who live near the ocean, do what they can to help, we can reduce the death rate of sea otters.