Cats prefer free food rather than work for it

According to a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, even active cats would rather have “free” food rather than work for their meal.

The researchers offered a sample of cats, the option of getting their food from a food puzzle or having access to their food on a tray. All of the cats preferred the easily available food on a tray.

This was true for active cats and cats used to using a food puzzle. The researchers added that the food puzzles used in the study may not have stimulated their natural desire to hunt and ambush their prey.

The researchers added that this does not mean that cat owners should stop using a food puzzle.

Cats, the new source for genetic research

Scientists use dogs and other animals to learn about genetically related diseases and illnesses that are common to animals and humans. By developing a cure for an animal disease, they often have breakthroughs for curing similar human diseases. One species that has been overlooked in this process is the common domestic cat.

Leslie says Lyons, of the Department of Veterinary Medicine & Surgery at the University of Missouri has explored this option. According to Lyons, cats can be an important asset in understanding the genetic “dark matter” that makes up 95% of DNA. Lyons has found that cats have genetic diseases that are related to the dysfunction of their genetic dark matter.

Lyons feels that cats could pay a role in developing precision medicine for genetic diseases. This could allow scientists and medical personnel to fix the actual gene and what the gene does instead of treating the symptoms.  

Cats will play in the snow

          December in many parts of the world often means snow. Almost everyone who is an animal lover knows that most dogs love to play in the snow, but do you know that cats can enjoy the snow too? Many people believe that cats do not like any form of liquid, whether it be a bath, the rain, a swimming pool or even riding in a boat, but there are cats who do find these things fun to do.

          My cat is one of them. It all started when I was shoveling the deck and she saw a chipmunk run from under the bird feeder and dive into the snow. In a moment of excitement, she leaped off the deck and dove into the snow chasing the chipmunk. I stopped my shoveling to see what would happen. It wasn’t long before her head popped up through the snow, the flakes covered her ears, face and nose. She shook herself and started to come back to the deck. But as she walked, tiny snow balls started to cascade down the sides of her path through the snow. She stopped suddenly and pounced on them with both front feet, like cats do.

Playing in the snow chasing little snowballs

          I could see by her body language that she had discovered a new game and was enjoying it very much. She was oblivious to the fact that some of the snow was melting on her body, making her wet.

          As the winter progressed and we got more snow, she decided that she liked to follow me as I did my outdoor chores and pounce on the little balls of snow that slid into my footprints. She also joined the dogs for their romps through the snow. It is quite a sight to see her walk in the paths that they make, ever alert for sliding snow with her tail above the snow, standing straight up with a slight hook at the tip.

          The lesson I learned from this is that a pet of any kind may enjoy playing in circumstances that you would not expect them to like. In the case of my cat or a small dog, I am careful to keep a close eye on them because they could become disoriented in deep snow, become exhausted and not be able to get back to the house. In very windy conditions they may not hear you call, so it is also important to be able to walk to your pet while they play outside in the winter. I have taught my dogs to come to a sheepherding whistle which carries up to a mile.

          It is also important to be sure that your pet does not become too cold.  Dogs will play outside even though they are cold and wet, to the point of shivering, and not want to come indoors. Cats, however, seem to be more willing to come indoors when they get too cold.

          All pets that go for a walk on paved surfaces may have problems with salt, so it is a good idea to wash their feet when they come indoors. A dog can become cold and wet even if you put a dog coat on them.

          The bottom line is, let your pet have the opportunity to experience safe play, even if it is not the type of play that you think they would like. You never know.                 

Breeding Dogs Part Two – Registries

The following is the second part in a series of eight articles about breeding dogs. Although it applies to a dog, it also applies to cats. People do not realize that there are cat mills which are similar to puppy mills. Note that these articles are based on my years of experience, my opinion and that I do not intend to refer to any individual. Please read the entire eight articles to glean a full understanding of breeding.

Part Two

Understanding registries is important because who a dog is registered with will give you a clue as to its legitimacy. There are a few types of registries.

  1. Nationally recognized registries. These are established organizations that register purebred dogs. In the United States it would be the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club. In some cases, there are breed registries that are legitimate. The way to determine if a registry is recognized is if other countries or registries accept a dog registered with the organization.
  • Non-recognized registries are those that anyone can establish. In the United States there are registries that cater to puppy mill breeders so that the AKC cannot shut down puppy mill operations.
  • Breed registries are those that are recognized but are designed to register certain types of working dogs. An example would be some of the working stock dog registries.
  • Anything goes registry are those that will register any type of animal for any reason.

Most people who own a pet dog feel that their dog is worth more if it is registered. They only understand that the dog has “papers.” They do not understand the value or uselessness of the papers. The non-recognized registries have used this lack of understanding to legitimize dogs by giving them “papers” that are not recognized by any national or international recognized registry.  

It is important to note that no registry can guarantee the quality of a dog or puppy. They can only guarantee that as reported to them the records have been accurately kept. If the breeder owns both the sire and dam, they can list any dog as the sire and dam of a litter. For example, I had a client who made an appointment for training and told me that he had a Rottweiler. When I questioned him, he assured me that he had AKC papers. When his breeder found out that he was coming to me for training, he admitted that the dog was a Rottweiler/German Shepherd cross, the result of an accidental breeding. Yet the dog had recognized registration papers because the breeder owned both the male and female. The real ethics depends on the honesty of the breeder.

Ethical breeders will only register their dogs with recognized registries.

What to know before bringing home your first pet

by guest Blogger Brandon Butler

After falling in love at your local animal shelter, you’re thinking about adopting your first pet. Whether it has four legs or two, fur or feathers, a pet is a great addition to any home — but it’s not a decision to take lightly. Pet ownership is a big responsibility, so it’s important to prepare!

image via unsplash

How Do I Know If a Pet Is Right for Me?

Instead of paying attention to how a pet looks, think about how its needs fit into your lifestyle.

Small Mammals

Small pets such as hamsters and guinea pigs are a great choice for people with limited space. Since many small pets tend to get stressed if they live alone, it’s usually best to adopt small mammals in pairs. Keep in mind, however, that not all small mammals like to be handled — luckily, they’re very entertaining to watch!

Birds

Birds are beautiful, bright, and exotic. They’re also high maintenance.  Birds need a lot of interaction and some species live 20 to 30 years or more, making a pet bird a major commitment! Birds aren’t the best choice for first-time pet owners, but if you’re set on a feathered companion, consider a budgie or even backyard chickens.

Cats

Cats have a reputation as low-maintenance pets, but don’t be fooled: Cats like to exercise, play, and even go outdoors with a leash or catio! If you want a companion but can’t keep up with the exercise needs of a dog, a cat may be the right choice for you.

Dogs

Dogs are the most popular pet: 38 percent of all households in the US own a dog. However, dog ownership can be difficult for people with full-time jobs. If you do have the time and energy to devote to a dog, you’ll never have a more loyal companion!

What Does a Pet Cost? Do I Need Pet Insurance?

Between adoption fees, vaccinations, and spay or neuter, the first year of pet ownership is expensive. However, the costs don’t stop there. Cats cost $92.98 a month on average, while dogs run $139.80 monthly. Pet insurance defrays costs in veterinary emergencies, but most policies don’t cover routine care. For that reason, every pet owner should have a pet fund.

You should also factor the costs of pet sitting into your budget. A trusted sitter is a great resource when traveling, but the costs can be hard to swallow if you don’t budget for it. Research local pet sitters and learn their costs to estimate what you’ll pay for pet care.

What Type of Veterinary Care Does My New Pet Need?

New pet owners should schedule a vet appointment within a week of adoption. Your pet’s first vet visit is an opportunity to meet your vet, get vaccines, and make sure your pet is healthy. If your pet isn’t spayed or neutered and microchipped, schedule those services too. Spaying and neutering not only prevent unwanted puppies and kittens, but it’s also good for your pet’s health.

How Can I Protect My Home from Pet Damage?

Some first-time pet owners wonder if they should declaw their cat or keep their dog outdoors, but there are more humane ways to protect your home from damage.

  • Provide cats with some appropriate scratching surfaces such as cat trees, scratching posts, and cardboard scratches.
  • Clean furniture regularly to prevent fur and odor build-up. If you don’t want to tackle this job yourself, outsource to a professional upholstery cleaner who will typically charge  $150 to $200 for this service.
  • Groom pets regularly. A shedding brush is a dog owner’s best friend!
  • Keep cleaning supplies handy. Even well-trained pets have occasional house accidents. Keep pet stain remover on hand and always blot, don’t rub, when cleaning urine out of furniture and carpets.

These tips will help you be the best pet parent you can be, but there’s one more thing you can do to be a responsible pet owner: Adopt, don’t shop! Adopting a pet isn’t just cheaper than buying, it also saves lives, reduces pet overpopulation, and improves your local community. The Humane Society of Tampa Bay saves 87% of the more than 10,000 animals it intakes every year. By choosing to adopt love, you can help save even more!

NOTE: An excellent article, thank you Brandon. Before getting a dog, cat or bird, it is a good idea to locate a competent dog trainer and/or cat and bird behavior consultant in the event that you need help. You can find one at iaabc.org It is also important to select the veterinary hospital in your area and establish yourself with them. Various clinics handle a variety of pets from dogs, cats, birds and exotics.

Cats bonding with people

In a recent study conducted by the University of Sussex, Dr Tasmin Humphrey and Professor Karen McComb, animal behaviorists discovered that it is possible to communicate with cats through a slow eye blink. The blink creates a bond with a cat. They found that strange cats are more likely to approach a human who slow blinks first.

They also found that cats attract and manipulate human attention through purring. Cats also know their names even if someone other than the owner calls them and cats are sensitive to human emotions and may head butt an owner who feels sad.

Keep in mind that cats have a range of personalities just like other animals and humans. Some cats show more affection than others. Some cats like to be held and others do not. But no matter what personality your cat has, they still bond with their families and show affection in their own way.

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.

Early childhood adversity lasts a lifetime

A study by scientists at theUniversity of Notre Dame on baboons has shown that early adverse conditions such as famine, abuse, neglect or the death of a parent in early childhood are not reversed by support in adulthood. They feel that things such as elevated stress hormones take a physiological toll on the body, and remain, even with a healthy, supportive relationships in adulthood.

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Because the subjects of the study were baboons, scientists measured life experience against levels of glucocorticoids (fGCs) — hormones that regulate physiological functions such as metabolism and immune function, and moderate the body’s response to stress. They found that the levels of fGC’s were 9% higher in subjects that had three or more adverse experiences and 21% higher than subjects that had no harsh experiences.

I have to wonder how this study relates to other animals. Does this mean that pets who are abused or experience harsh situations as youths, will not ever fully respond to kind treatment when they are adults? Will the stress always be with them? What comes to mind are children who are given up for adoption at birth and then suffer from attachment disorder. While further research is needed and on a wider subject base (other animals) this is important information to keep in mind when trying to rehabilitate abused pets. This may mean that failure is not the result of poor rehabilitation techniques, but is a result of the chemical changes in the subject.

Toxoplasma gondii from cats

It is fairly common knowledge that pregnant woman and people with compromised immune systems should avoid cleaning cat litter boxes to avoid getting toxoplasma gondii from cat feces. Toxoplasma can also be introduced to the body through the consumption of contaminated food and water.

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Leonardo Augusto, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and lead author on the National Institutes of Health-funded study about toxoplasma has discovered the way the parasite takes control of a person’s cells and uses them to transport itself throughout the body.

This finding is important because once scientists discover how a parasite spreads, they can focus on a cure. This particular parasite infects about 1/3 of the world’s population making it a serious risk. What is especially dangerous about this parasite is that it can stay dormant in a body until the immune system weakens.

With the new understanding about how toxoplasma spreads through the body researchers are one step closer to finding a cure for this disease which can infect the brain as well as other organs.