Chiggers Those Hellish Creatures

 By guest blogger, Vi Hummel Shaffer a 28-year veteran SAR/R K9 Handler specializing in K9 Forensic Human Remains Detection, an instructor, consultant, and speaker. She is the author of K9 Teams: Beyond the Basics of Search and Rescue and Recovery published by Brush Education.

Technically, chiggers are not insects – they are “arachnids” in the same family as spiders and ticks. Chiggers are also known by other names around the world: some call them berry bugs, red bugs, harvest mites, harvest bugs, harvest lice, mower’s mites, scrub-itch mites and others. Their scientific name is “trombiculidae mites” and there are approximately 30 species known to attack humans and other animals.

Where They Can Be Found       

Chiggers like areas of high humidity. They live in every country around the globe except in high elevations or where it is too hot or dry. Fortunately, North American chiggers don’t seem to be carriers of major diseases unlike in East Asia and the South Pacific. In those areas’ chiggers can cause scrub typhus also known as Japanese river disease. This disease can cause fever, muscle pain, headaches, rash, gastrointestinal problems and coughing.

Chiggers live in damp areas such as grass – like fields, lawns, forests, along the edges of wooded areas, swamps, bogs, rotten logs and stumps, overgrown briar patches and other moist habitats near lakes and streams. However, although chiggers may be heavily concentrated in one spot, they can be virtually absent nearby areas.

When   

Chiggers are most abundant when weeds, grass and other vegetation are substantial – usually in spring, summer and early fall when temperatures are in the 70s and 80s. But they avoid temperatures hotter than 99⁰F (37.2⁰C) and become inactive at temperatures below 60⁰F (15.5⁰C) and 42⁰F (5.556⁰C) will kill the biting ones.

Who and How They Attack    

Only the larvae (baby chiggers) are parasitic! Nymph and adult stages do not “bite”. While adult chiggers average about 1/60 of an inch long (0.4mm) the larvae are only 1/100 to less than 1/150 of an inch (10.15 to 0.3 mm) in diameter. They are bright red, hairy, have six legs (larva pictured). Adult and nymph chiggers have eight legs. Some species of chiggers are yellow or straw-colored. After the chigger eggs hatch into larvae they don’t move very far by themselves. They congregate in groups on grass blades, low plants and bushes and small clumps of soil. They attach themselves to small mammals, birds, reptiles, rodents and humans (their least preferable host) who walk through the infested vegetation.

Larvae mites have claws that help them latch on to the host they choose – such as the shoes, clothing, fur/hair – and skin of animals. Generally, they crawl around and explore the host, sometimes for several hours, seeking a safe place before they feed. Bites can happen on any area of the body but mainly where there are folds, wrinkles or where skin in thinnest and easier to penetrate. Those areas are commonly where clothing is tight – around ankles at the sock line, around the waist, near the groin, behind knees, under the armpits – inconvenient places like panty lines, bra straps and there have been cases where they have made their way on to “private parts.” Chiggers can leave hundreds of bites on a host in just one exposure!      

Prevention 

Other than staying out of chigger infested areas – which isn’t always possible – searchers and those working in the field should wear long-sleeved shirts, tall boots with their trousers tucked into their socks and a belt to minimize chiggers’ ability to connect directly to skin under a shirt.

Insect repellent is also suggested. But even repellents that specifically state they repel chiggers may only afford some degree of protection. Over-the-counter insect repellent effectiveness usually lasts for several hours before needing reapplication. Those containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) may be applied directly to exposed skin but avoid getting it around or in the eyes. All repellents should be used according to label directions. If sunscreen is also used it should be applied first, rubbed into the skin and let absorb before using a repellent.

Long-lasting products such as those containing permethrin should only be sprayed on clothing (not on skin) and allowed to dry on the clothes for a couple of days before wearing. Permethrin sprays on clothing will remain effective even through a couple of washings. It is important to follow all label instructions. For double protection in heavily infested areas, it has been suggested to use repellent with DEET on your skin, and permethrin treated clothing. Sulphur powder applied to clothing has also been mentioned as providing some protection. But it has a horrible smell like rotten eggs.  

Author’s Note: Being the recipient of thousands of chigger bites through the years, and although trying various repellents, I have found one thing that has truly lessened them. Bounce Dryer Sheets! I have used them for years, shared them with others in the field, and they have helped! Take two fresh dryer sheets and wrap them around each ankle – that’s two sheets per ankle – under your socks. I also tuck some in my waistband and then sprayed myself with repellent. I don’t know if the “fragrance free” sheets or if any other brands work since I have only used the scented Bounce sheets.

“Bite”     

As previously stated, the larvae, not the adults or nymphs, are what does the damage. Chiggers don’t really bite nor do they “suck blood” or burrow into the skin. The larvae have tiny, sharp mouthparts that pierce the skin – poking a hole where they inject saliva containing digestive enzymes. Those enzymes break down and liquefy skin cells causing the human immune system to respond by hardening the cells all around the hole creating a hard feeding tube structure (referred to as a “stylostome”). It is through that tube that chiggers gain access to the digested skin cells where they constantly secrete saliva to liquefy new tissue. The larvae continue to feed sucking up the fluid until they are engorged. The enzymes are what causes the intense, relentless itching that begins several hours after the initial bite.

Because of the delay between the actual puncture and the itch, the host may not at first, associate it to their exposure to chiggers. The result of these bites will be clusters or groups of red pimple-like bumps or blisters whose itching usually peaks around 24 – 48 hours after the original piercing. Chigger larvae typically feed for three days before dropping off to find a place to digest their meal and molt into their next stage of life.

After Exposure: Clothing, shoes, gear (and dog) should be thoroughly brushed off immediately upon returning from the field. Once home, that clothing should be isolated from the rest of the laundry then washed in hot, soapy water. Boots should be left outside until cleaned. Dog bedding or vehicle kennel pads should also be cleaned.

A hot shower or bath should be taken as soon as possible with repeated soaping and vigorously scrubbing with a washcloth to dislodge any larvae that remain on the body. Although some chiggers may be forced off, the itching from the enzymes in the “tube” will still exist.

Some information sites suggest a cold shower should be taken, rather than hot, to help reduce inflammation from the bites and help relieve itching.

What to Do/Human Treatment (Note: This treatment information is a compilation of ideas from reputable sources. It is not medical advice.)

First of All, Don’t Scratch. Scratching can cause a secondary infection.

Don’t put clear fingernail polish on the bites to try to “suffocate” the chiggers. The chiggers may already be gone. Remember it is the enzymes already in your skin that cause the itching.

Don’t put bleach on the bites it doesn’t work! 

All itch relief remedies provide only temporary relief. The following suggestions are the most authoritative.

Unfortunately, No one remedy works equally well for most people and, even less encouraging it can take two to three weeks for chigger bites to heal!

Rubbing alcohol will burn when it touches a wound but it may have a little benefit and possibly kill any larvae if they are still attached.

Hot (or cold) showers and baths

Cold bath with a few scoops of colloidal oatmeal

Cold compresses

Applying wrapped ice to the bites

Over-the counter anti-itch creams, ointments and sprays.  If any contain hydrocortisone, consult with a doctor before using on children under the age of 12, or if pregnant or nursing.

Calamine or Pramoxine lotions

Menthol ointments (Vicks VapoRub)

Apple cider vinegar

Antihistamine pills such as Benadryl

Analgesics (pain relievers) may provide itch relief.

Ground up aspirin paste or baking soda paste applied to each bite.

Camphor Oil

In addition, antiseptic ointment will help prevent infection for bites that have been scraped by clothing or scratched.  For severe cases of chigger bites a physician should be consulted. Steroid shots may be prescribed to alleviate the itch and if infected, antibiotics may be needed.

Chiggers on Dogs

Although a dog’s fur can protect it from some chiggers they still latch on to other areas. Those less hair-covered places such as around the dog’s eyes, ears, legs and stomach are particularly vulnerable. Once on-board they will crawl around and also climb around down into the fur looking for a good, safe place to feed.

Chiggers or Fleas

Fleas prefer warm-blooded hairy animals. They can jump eight inches high and thirteen inches horizontally. Fleas feed on blood so there may be some “flea dirt” (dried blood from bites) present on the dog’s body as can be seen in this photo. There are usually three or four bites lined up in a row in an area. They are small red bumps with a halo-like ring around them.

Photo from PulpBits website

Chigger bites are in large, random clusters and look similar to small pimples, welts, blisters or hives.

Photo from University of San Francisco webpage

Sometimes chiggers can be identified by observing what looks look like paprika on the dog’s fur. Those almost microscopic reddish dots are larvae.

Indications of Chiggers on Dogs

Intense itching/scratching – typically starts three to six hours after exposure – that lasts for days is the most apparent indication. While not all dogs react with itching, some may develop an allergic reaction with hives or facial swelling.  As with humans, the itching enzymes will remain although the larvae will fall off after feeding for three or four days.

Clusters of Small, red crusty pimples, welts/bumps on skin which occur after several hours.

Red patches on exposed skin (can even be visible under their hair).

(If unsure of what the problem is, since other skin conditions may cause bumps, consult a veterinarian who can make the diagnosis.)

Treating Chigger Bites on Dogs

As previously mentioned, the dog should be brushed/wiped off immediately after returning from the field. It is recommended a soft cloth or vet-approved skin wipe be used around the sensitive areas. Chiggers can also infect a dog’s inner ear.

There are products/shampoos on the market to treat chigger bites on dogs but it is important to review them for safety and results. There are home-remedies (with mixture directions online) which may or may not be effective such as: bathing the dog in Epsom salts, a warm Colloidal Oat or Brewed Green Tea bath, Wrapped Ice Packs or Cold Compresses. Before using human treatments, a veterinarian should be consulted. The Vet may prescribe anti-parasitic sprays, dips, topical medication or suggest an antihistamine. In cases of severe infestation steroids may be prescribed. Remember continuous scratching can develop into bacterial infection which then would require antibiotics.

Prevention Veterinarian approved, dog medications for killing ticks and mites (Frontline, NexGard, Seresto, etc.) may help fend off chiggers. If chigger infested areas are within the dog’s home territory – Keep the dog away from them for about two weeks while those places are treated with pet-safe products.

Chiggers and the Ecosystem

After much research, due to curiosity about the “benefits” of chiggers, the most learned is that they feed on different foods at their different life stages. Larvae are parasitic while nymphs and adults feed only are various plant materials and smaller arthropods in the soil. Natural predators of chiggers (and other mites) are spiders, beetles, birds, lizards, centipedes, salamanders, certain species of ants and other small creatures which live in areas populated by chiggers.

Note from Susan: While this article applies to people and dogs, chiggers can bite cats and other animals as well.

CBD for dogs

In a study at Baylor College of Medicine the researchers found that giving dogs with arthritis cannabidiol, or CBD brought relief from arthritis. It has also been used to reduce anxiety in dogs. As an aside, I know that when I give it to my dog before a thunderstorm, he is much calmer. It does seem to take about a half an hour to work but it does help.

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Dr. Matthew Halpert, of the Department of Pathology and Immunology at Baylor conducted the research about arthritis and found that nine out of the ten dogs tested benefited from CBD. They also noted that the pain relief lasted for about two weeks after the treatments stopped.

It seems that CBD significantly reduces the production of inflammatory molecules and immune cells associated with arthritis. The improvement in the quality of life for the dogs was documented by both the dog’s owner and veterinarians. Since the structure of arthritis in dogs is similar to humans, the study supports future scientific evaluation of CBD for human arthritis.

However, it should be noted that the researchers found that the effect was quicker and more effective when CBD was delivered encapsulated in liposomes than when it was administered ‘naked.’ Liposomes are artificially formed tiny spherical sacs that are used to deliver drugs into tissues at higher rates of absorption. This means that buying CBD over the counter may not work as well or as quickly.

If you would like to try CBD, talk to your veterinarian first. It is never a good idea to administer any type of medication, natural or otherwise, without first checking with your veterinarian. I know from personal experience that although veterinarians use human medicines and herbal formulas for dogs, the dosage can be radically different for a dog.

How to find a lost dog

Losing a dog can be devastating. A person’s first reaction is usually fear, confusion and panic. However, with a good plan in place, looking for a lost dog can be less stressful and more successful. There are a few simple points to consider when looking for a lost dog. However, prevention is the key ingredient. The most important thing you can do is have your dog micro-chipped and have a collar on your dog with his name tag that includes a way to contact you. If someone in your area finds your dog, they will not have a microchip reader and will rely on a name tag.

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1) If you organize a group of people to look for the dog, use all safety precautions so that the volunteers do not become lost as well. Stay in touch using cell phones or handheld radios. The radios can be purchased for a nominal fee at any store that sells outdoor equipment. Radios will work in areas that cell phones may not, however, they have a limited range so be sure that a chain of people can relay messages over distance. Also, establish radio protocol so that one person does not tie up the frequency preventing communication with others. Communication is essential to let the other volunteers know what is going on, if the search is being suspended, or the dog has been found. Because people feel safer and calmer if they know what is going on, this will allow the volunteers to do a better job.

Be sure that volunteers wear the appropriate clothing, (long pants and long sleeves), hats, and substantial footwear. Each volunteer must carry a snack, water, leash, bath towel, bowl, enough water for themselves and the dog, canned cat food or treats and a flashlight. Flashlights are necessary during the day to check dark places.

The canned cat food should have the strongest aroma, (or a similar treat) to lure the dog. Small cans of cat food work well because they can be carried easily and kept fresh.

A bath towel can be used to carry the dog if he is injured, exhausted or to wipe the dog if he is wet or dirty. If the dog is cold, he can be wrapped in the towel.

Volunteers must always work in pairs for their own safety, and in the event two people are needed when the dog is found. A meeting area and time should be established in case communications break down. No one should leave until all are accounted for.

2) A dog that ran away because he is frightened will bolt in any direction, but usually to the least noisy, darkest area. Given the choice of an open field or woods, the dog will go for the woods. If the dog is lost in the city or suburbs, the dog will look for a dark, quite spot to hide after it has run to exhaustion.

Therefore, try to estimate how far the dog will run (this varies with the dog’s size, breed and condition) and add a mile to that. On a map of the area mark where you last saw the dog as the center of a circle and draw a perimeter around that point, based on the furthest point where the dog could be. The circle will encompass the area to start looking for the dog. If you saw the dog run, you can focus in that direction. Be sure to check small dark areas: under porches, stairs, garages, sheds, etc. If you have several people helping to look, have some start at the perimeter of the circle and some from the center. Be sure to look for the dog, never assume that the dog will come when called.

3) If a dog runs away, they usually run into the wind. That means that the wind will be blowing toward the dog, into the dog’s face. Check with a local airport to see what the wind direction was when the dog ran away. Then start looking into the wind from the point where the dog was last seen.  If your dog is a hound, he may follow a game trail. In this case he could travel miles and because he is so focused on following the scent, can get lost.

Dogs who wander away will usually meander along unless they find something to chase or something that interests them. This means that the search area will be smaller. If searching in the woods or a park, look for a game trail and look for fresh dog tracks to see if the dog went that way. If you do find tracks, you will not be able to tell for certain if they are from your dog, so do not give up searching in the rest of the area. If you are searching in an urban or suburban area, listen carefully if neighborhood dogs are barking. Often, they will bark at a stray dog. If you hear a lot of barking in one direction, check that area first.

4) When searching for a dog, travel slowly and make frequent five to ten-minute-long stops. Many people will drive around in a vehicle, calling to the dog. Unless the dog is within a few seconds of your location, he will not be able to find you if you move too quickly. Keep in mind that a dog can hear you calling from quite a distance away. They need time to determine the direction of the sound and then get to it. Wind and other environmental elements can distort the direction of sound (tall buildings, large hills, etc.) making it difficult for the dog to find the source of the sound. By stopping and continuing to call for about five to ten minutes, the dog will have time to find you.

5) When you see the dog, do not act excited and/or run toward the dog. Sit down or stand still and let the dog approach you, even if it is your dog. Sometimes a dog can become so frightened, hurt, or weary that they may not think straight. Their survival instincts may take over, making them more cautious than they would be at home. Depending upon the direction of the wind, you could be downwind, and the dog may not recognize you right away.

Give the dog time to feel safe. Running to the dog may make him run away from you and lose what little trust in humans that he has left. If you feel it will work, you can, at a distance, slowly move so that you are upwind of the dog, and then open the can of cat food, but still let the dog come to you. When the dog comes to you do not try to grab the dog. Let the dog stay there and relax. Slowly pet the dog until you can attach a leash without frightening the dog. If the dog does not want to be caught, you will most likely not be able to grab the dog fast enough to catch him, even if he is next to you.

6) If the dog does not approach you, do not give up. Stay in that area and/or return to that area. You can leave food etc. but do not try to catch the dog.

7) If you leave food for the dog, do not assume that because the food was eaten that it was eaten by the dog. Other animals may eat the food, so continue to search the area. If you can, spread sand around any food that you leave so that you can check for footprints to determine if a dog ate the food. If sand is not available, loose soil will work as well.

8) If you have to search for the dog over a period of time, keep a log of the weather and the location of water sources. The dog will generally head into the wind and seek water.

9) Never forget to advertise. Use every means possible to let the people in the area know that there is a lost dog. Contact all veterinarian clinics, shelters, pet supply stores, and rescue groups. Also post signs in stores with bulletin boards, on telephone poles, especially where children congregate, by public transportation and any other place that you can think of. Be sure to post on social media.  Many newspapers will run a lost dog ad at no cost. Place an ad in every newspaper that is available in your area.

If your dog is not found right away, about every two weeks call everyone you notified, such as the local rescue groups, to let them know that the dog is still missing. This will keep your dog fresh in the minds of the employees.

Always have an up-to-date photo of your dog. If the dog is a breed that looks like others in the breed, a similar picture will do. Remember, the average pet lover will not notice the fine differences between your dog and others of the same breed. So do not panic if you do not have a recent photo. Be sure to expand the area that you advertise in to at least five miles from the point where you last saw your dog.

Keep all your bulletins up to date. If the lost signs that you post look old or weathered people will think the dog was found. When you find your dog, it is important to call all the organizations that you originally notified to let them know that the dog was found. Also remove all your postings.

10) Lastly, never give up. Dogs have been found months after they disappear. Sometimes people find the dog, think it is abandoned and keep it or turn it into a rescue group. This is why advertising is critical.

New strain of canine distemper in wild animals

A new strain of canine distemper has been found by pathologists with the New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Lab at the University of New Hampshire. The infected animals were from New Hampshire and Vermont. The animals infected are fishers, two gray foxes, one skunk, one raccoon, and one mink. This is a distinct strain has not yet been found in domestic dogs. There is no way to determine how many animals are or have been infected that are undetected by veterinarians and researchers.

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Symptoms of distemper in domestic dogs include respiratory disease, oral and nasal discharge, gastroenteritis and in advanced stages, neurological disease. If your dog should show any of these symptoms, take it to your veterinarian immediately. It is very important that you get your dog’s yearly shots to prevent infection.

What is important to note is that pathologists discovered that this distinct strain was identified in one raccoon in Rhode Island in 2004. This means that the disease has traveled.

The questions now are how far it will travel and how likely is it that some domestic dogs will catch it and spread it among the pet dog population. Dog owners should be diligent in watching their dogs, especially if they have an encounter with a wild animal.

Pets and autism

It has been fully documented that children who suffer from autism can benefit from living with a pet. However, a new study by Gretchen Carlisle, a research scientist with the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine has found that the parents of autistic children also benefit from having a pet in the family. Having a pet reduces the stress in parents despite the extra responsibility of owning and caring for a pet.

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The study goes on to stress that the right type of pet should be selected that will help the autistic child. They suggest that in some cases a quieter cat may be better than an active dog. Certain types of birds or small animals might also qualify as a pet. They also suggest that the child be included in the selection of the type of pet.

As a certified animal behavior consultant, I want to add that if the family decides to adopt a pet, extra care must be taken to ensure that there are no behavioral issues with the pet that could cause an extra level of responsibility for the parents. For any child, being forced to rehome a pet due to behavioral issues after the child becomes attached to the pet is not a desirable situation.

This is why it is important to thoroughly research the types of pets as well as the individual animal to make sure it is suitable for the spectrum of autism the child has. One way to do this is to consult with a qualified dog, parrot or cat behavior consultant (iaabc.org) or an experienced dog trainer if a dog is a consideration.

Petting zoos pose a risk of infection for humans and animals

Professor Shiri Navon-Venezia of Ariel University, Ariel, Israel and colleagues conducted a study to see if there is a risk of infection to both humans and animals. “Extended spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) and AmpC-producing Enterobacteriaceae (AmpC-E), which are resistant to a number of commonly used antibiotics, have become a matter of great concern in both human and veterinary medicine, so understanding the likelihood of them colonising the animals is critical to evaluating the risk that may be posed to visitors.”

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The researchers also found that if an animal was treated with antibiotics it was seven times more likely to shed MDR bacteria.

Petting zoos are important for educational purposes as well as bringing happiness to both adults and children. However, it is important that petting zoos provide hand washing stations. People who go to petting zoos should wash their hands before and after interacting with the animals.

While this study focused on petting zoos, the same rules should apply to fairs where livestock is housed for show and competition. Many people pet the livestock or walk near their stalls. It is important to note that some of the bacteria comes from the animal droppings, so care should be taken to clean the bottom of shoes before you enter your car or home. If you wear flipflops or another type of open shoe such as a sandal, it would be wise to wash your feet as well. This is critical if you own pets.

If young children are allowed to interact with animals, be careful that they do not put their hands on their faces, in their mouth or handle food before washing thoroughly.

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.

Raw meat diet for dogs–risky for dogs and humans

A study by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the National Veterinary Institute to determine the safety of raw meat diets for dogs found that the raw meat diets contained harmful levels of bacteria for both dogs and humans.

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All 60 samples tested contained Enterobacteriaceae species, which are indicators of fecal contamination as well as other contaminants.

The samples were from 10 different manufacturers, and originated in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany and England. The raw meat was from at least one source including: uncooked meat; edible bones and/or organs from cattle, chicken, lamb, turkeys, pigs, ducks, reindeer or salmon. Some of the products also included vegetables, vegetable fiber and minerals. For humans the various bacteria found in the raw diets are especially dangerous to infants, the elderly and those whose immune systems are weakened.

Similar studies have been done in the US with the same results and conclusions. Another report states, “Proponents of raw diets for dogs point out that dogs are biologically similar to carnivorous wolves, and claim that the benefits of this type of diet include healthier skin, coat and teeth, more energy and smaller stools, according to PetMD. However, there is very little scientific evidence to support these claims. In fact, most of the scientific research on raw meat diets for dogs shows that they could do more harm than good.”

I have said this before to my clients, dogs and other members of the wild canine family can only eat what is available to them. That does not mean that it is the best diet for them. For example, if wolves and foxes could cook their meat, or if they had other types of food available, they would eat a different diet. If a “natural” diet was that healthy they would live more than the few years that the do. Think about it.

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.