By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Feel like talking or not? If not, tell people you sell insurance! Several years back, while traveling extensively to promote pet health insurance, I noticed something interesting. Everyone that travels has had the experience of going on a flight and after you are seated you or the person next to you ask where you are going? Are you going home, traveling on vacation or on business? Then they will invariably ask you what your occupation is.
For many years at parties or social gathering, I was reluctant to offer my occupation, not because I was ashamed, but because I would be overwhelmed with stories about pets or asked for medical advice on pets. Flying was the same. If I told my fellow passenger that I was a veterinarian, then a litany of pet stories would ensue and sure enough, I would be provided some pet symptoms and asked for my medical opinion. I found I could not read, contemplate or get any work done.
Quickly I discovered that if I wanted to read or work or simply did not feel like talking due to some major issue that I was pondering, I would tell my fellow passenger that I sold insurance. That ended the conversation! I must have given that answer to over 100 people over a 20 year period. And, you know, not ONE person asked what kind of insurance I sold. I guess they were afraid I would try to sell them an insurance policy.
In fact, I never really liked insurance or the thought of insurance ever since I was a senior at Veterinary School and was bombarded by all the University ex jocks who sold life insurance. They descended upon soon to be graduates like a lynch mob in the Old West. But here I was, a veterinarian who sold insurance. I always distill things down to the basics and it was true, like so much in life we never know where life will take us. Yet, I slowly and deliberately chosen my new career path and was not about to change. I was helping many hundreds of thousands of more pets than I ever could have done in my pet practice and was providing a service that protected family bonds and pet health. But my method sure stops people from chatting if you are ever on a plane and not in the mood to talk!
I Sell Pet Insurance
Telling people I am a veterinarian has one path of continued dialog, telling them I sell insurance ceases all dialog; but tell them that I sell Pet Insurance and watch out. At first, they just sit or stand there, with their mouth partly open; pondering the dichotomy of a vet, who is generally held in high regard or even revered by some and combined with selling insurance which is similar to being a used car salesman, although with more education. Then, after a few seconds of silence, their whole face brightens up and they say, “That is a wonderful idea. Did you think of that?” Their first impression, which they do not share, is “that is the dumbest thing I ever heard.” But during that silent pause to be courteous, they realize that pet insurance is a good idea. Why? I think because everyone in America and throughout the more urban societies is starting to recognize the REAL VALUE of pets. As we leave more rural areas and agricultural societies to dwell in urban societies we lose the ties of family and small close knit groups who help one another. We also lose the interaction with animals that has been rooted in our biology over many thousands of years. We have more time from labor intensive activities; we have more complex relationships that create stress and emotional upheaval which causes us to seek solace and non critical companionship. It is easy to understand why pets with their unconditional acceptance of us play a vital role in our health and well being.
Not sure? Animals, especially pets have a biological relationship with us that has developed over the eons of time. This longstanding relationship has created positive biochemical and hormonal reactions within us that helped us survive and cope. We have known for some time that pets can lower our blood pressure. In fact studies have shown that simply sitting in front of a fish tank will lower our blood pressure.
Petting even a strange pet will increase good hormones, chemicals and neurotransmitters and decrease stress hormones in our bodies. It also results in an increase in serotonin levels in the brain, which is a natural antidepressant. Pets are so good for us, that innately we want to provide for them. Often my wife will tell me that she wishes I would respond to her greeting as enthusiastically as I do to our pets greeting. She is right and it is a good reminder of my deficiencies as a husband. But our pets display the same overwhelming exuberance when I am gone from the house for a few minutes as they do when I return from a long trip. They are simply glad to see me and they have to outdo one another in their greeting. Whenever my wife or I return form a brief trip to the store or from a long trip we receive the same “pack welcome”, which makes us feel good. Think how many times you are anxious to go home and see your pet, because of their greeting. Just the thought of your pet greeting you at the door is enough to make you smile. Watch pet owners who talk about their pet, they are smiling. Stop and think of your pet now or describe some episode with your pet and you will smile. Each of us has our own special memories or daily activities with our pets that make us happy.
Oxytocin is a natural human and animal hormone. We think of it as only being a hormone for women that increases with pregnancy and is responsible for helping mothers give birth. In fact, oxytocin is given to animals to stimulate birthing. But men also have very small amounts of oxytocin, which is one reason why men and women are different. Oxytocin also is thought to be primarily responsible for the feeling of “warmth and comfort,” in men and women. Oxytocin has much higher levels in women and is thought to be the reason why women are more responsive to children.
Petting your pet increases the oxytocin levels in our bodies, even men! It gives you that feeling of well being and warmth. Don’t worry men; your level will not increase enough to cause you to want to give birth. But it will give you a glimpse into the feelings that women have for children.
“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”
Posted by Pets Best on 2/23/2006 in Scratching Post Articles
Did you know that our domestic feline friends are believed to be direct descendents of the African wild cat and that cats were domesticated about 5000 years ago! During this time period mankind had began to settle down in villages and abandon the nomadic lifestyle, when vermin were began to become a nuisance with mountains of stored grain, fruits and vegetables. Canines were already mans companion but were no help in protecting stored food since they would devour the food, a carnivore was needed and the domestication of the cat began.
This life changing event took place in what was the upper region of Egypt and the Pharaoh, considered a king god, named all the cats demi- gods, half mortal and half god. This created cats being ranked higher up in society then humans. If a house was on fire cats were saved first, if a human killed a cat it was punishable by death. Once a cat passed away a priest had to determine if it was a natural death, and the towns people would endure a ritualistic mourning process, going so far as to even shave their eyebrows and beat on their chest. Of course the cat was mummified and today more cat mummies have been discovered then human mummies. Furthermore cats were able to spread all over the world by sailors smuggling cats out of Egypt and were even traded as highly valued treasures due to their ability to control vermin.
Over the years cats and humans have had a love for each other as well as hatred. The dislike for the cat is partially responsible for the widespread outbreak of the bubonic plague during the 14th century. The plague is a bacterial disease of rodents spread by fleas. Signs include swollen lymph nodes, painful lumps, fever, headache, chills, and extreme tiredness. The disease is still present today but the invention of the antibiotic has drastically lowered the mortality rate. During this time period cats were disliked and a great majority were killed leading to an overpopulation of rodents. As the disease spread even more cats were destroyed since they were believed to be associated with Satan and were partially blamed for the massive amount of deaths. As more cats were killed the number of rodents grew creating a massive epidemic. Once the cause of the disease was discovered cats were again held in high regard and loved by humans.
The cat was again persecuted and associated with Satan during the middle ages. Cats typically were companions of elderly single woman who could be considered witches. Older woman during this time were considered useless since their bodies prohibited hard physical labor and childbearing. If the year was bad for crops it was believed a witch was the culprit and a witch hunt would take place. In many cases the older woman and her cat were tortured and killed together, some would be drowned, hung or even burnt to death. It was even believed at this time that sealing live cats into the walls of buildings would bring good luck.
Cats are complex solitary mammals that are motivated by their survival needs. They are quite talented at becoming close with humans and part of the household as well as reverting back to their wild nature when humans decide they no longer adore felines. Cats generally avoid encounters with strangers but if an encounter arises they will convey messages with the use of body language and some vocalizations. Slight changes in body position can send broad messages to another feline. An aggressive cat will spit, hiss, growl, swat, arch the back, swing tail, and even flatten the ears. If the feline is feeling confident and aggressive most likely the cat will hold the tail straight up, narrow the pupils, perk the ears up and may even prance sideways to appear larger, and might try to pounce the other animal. If the cat is feeling fearful it will generally flee the scene, if it isn’t too afraid it may freeze in place, and may even lose control over the bladder. A happy cat typically purrs, blinks slowly, and partially closes the eyes. The feline is known to be one of the most sensual of all mammals, with terrific eyesight, hearing, smell and with a great many taste and touch receptors. Whiskers can actually be a great tool to tell a cat what the environment is like. They are used to aid in navigation as well as sensation; it is thought they can even pick up on air currents. Whiskers are also used to convey messages, if the whiskers are held flat against the face the feline is most likely defensive or aggressive, if the whiskers are forward the feline is most likely friendly and inquisitive. Compared with humans felines are a quite species, but if you watch them closely you can probably catch a cat communicating with the use of the body.
The domestic cat has come a long ways over the years evolving into quite a unique creature. The cat has been a member of our household as well as persecuted by man. Cats have become a social creature that still have many wild traits allowing them to enjoy the comforts of a home and still be able to survive as a feral cat.
Sources: animalplanent.com, wikipedia.org, HSUS.org, cdc.gov, wikipedia.com; about.com
Posted by Pets Best on 2/16/2006 in General Articles
Before adopting or purchasing a new pet, make sure you and your families are prepared. Pets take a lot of time and work, they need daily exercise, routine feedings, create clean up duties and most require professional training. In addition a new pet is probably a ten to twenty year commitment, making this a big decision. Once you have thoroughly thought about and decided on a new pet, evaluate your lifestyle and try to pick breeds that would suit your lifestyle, always take into account your home environment; apartments are generally not suitable for large dogs and the majority of dogs need a roomy fully fenced yard. Keep in mind a certain breed is not a guarantee of behavior, all animals have unique personalities.
The best place to begin a search for that new companion is at your local animal shelter. One in four animals dropped off at the animal shelter are purebreds, and puppies can even be found. Adoption fees at the local animal shelter are generally quite reasonable and the majority of pets at the shelter are there for no fault of their own. If the local shelter does not have what you are looking for keep in mind pets enter on a daily basis, so it never hurts to keep checking in.
Good quality breeders are also an option for finding a new pet. A breeder with quality puppies typically does not make a profit off the puppies and cares very much for the dogs well being. A good breeder will not sell to just anyone with money and many times will require a home inspection. Furthermore a quality breeder has few puppies available and the majority of the litter is already spoken for. Many times a prospective buyer will need to get on a waiting list and at times it can even take a year to acquire that puppy, but it is well worth the wait. To find a breeder ask your local veterinarian, dog trainers, breed clubs or check with the American Kennel Club Association. Once you have found a breeder check out the puppy’s environment and meet the parents. Be cautious of the local pet store and newspaper ads, many times these pets were born in puppy mills, which can affect health and temperament. It is always best to obtain a pet from a professional; it can heartbreaking if the pet has serious defects.
When searching for the right pet be extremely cautious not to purchase from a puppy mill. Puppy mills are a business of substandard commercial breeding of dogs and selling the puppies for a profit. Unfortunately this is rarely done in a compassionate fashion and the dogs end up suffering. The goal of a puppy mill is to breed and sell as many purebred dogs as possible therefore very little affection or expense is given to the dogs. Many times puppy mill pets are available in the local pet store, off the internet and in the local newspaper. A mill will not label itself a puppy mill but if there is a large amount of animals being breed outside the home, and the parents or facilities are unavailable to meet or inspect then be suspicious that the breeder may actually be a puppy mill.
The condition of the typical puppy mill can be very concerning. Overcrowding, over breeding, inbreeding, lack of veterinary care, poor quality of food, insufficient shelters, lack of temperature controls, killing of unwanted dogs, and lack of socialization are all common problems. The quality of life for the breeder dogs is quite poor, they spend their entire life in a small cage, constantly are being breed until they can’t reproduce anymore and then are disposed of. The typical mill generally has sixty five to seventy five dogs, but some have thousands of dogs. The states known for having puppy mills are Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania. Most puppies that have been born in a mill are sold to a broker who then sells the puppies direct or to a pet store. Puppies are usually pulled from their mother at a very young age and shipped long distances in mediocre conditions to their destination for sale. Most have had to become accustom to sitting and sleeping in urine and feces making these pets extremely hard to potty train. It is common for puppy mill pets to be unhealthy, possess serious genetic defects, and major behavior issues. By purchasing a puppy mill victim a good home and quality of life may be provided for that pet but the money used to purchase that pet contributes to the ongoing crisis and opens up a slot for another puppy to fill.
There are organizations and government acts in place to help alleviate the massive problem, but the number of inspectors and enforcers is just too small to combat the large scale problem. Also, if a mill does get shut down it puts a lot of stress on the humane society in that area to provide care to all those animals. The best way the public can end this upsetting problem is to avoid purchasing puppy mill dogs, lowering the demand and thereby decreasing the amount of breeding.
Puppy auctions are another concern when searching for the perfect pet. Auctions generally take place close to puppy mills and are a way for mill owners to buy and sell breeding animals as well quickly rid the mill of any unwanted puppies. Intact adult breeders are typically unhealthy, have been over bred and the puppies found at these auctions are known for having serious defects making them undesirable for the general public. In addition when you purchase from an auction you are contributing to the overall problem allowing mill owners to continue and profit from the business.
Backyard breeders should also be avoided. A backyard breeder typically lacks the proper knowledge to breed healthy dogs with good temperaments. Many times these dogs have serious behavioral and medical problems that can wreck havoc on your home, heart and pocket book. The motive for most backyard breeders is profit, and the majority of puppies born will miss important early life experiences that a quality breeder can provide. Additionally, many backyard bred puppies have been mishandled by children at a very early age.
When beginning that search for the perfect companion take your time and do your research. There are experts around every corner that are more then happy to help an eager owner find the right pet for the right household. By purchasing a quality purebred or rescuing an animal in need can eliminate expensive veterinary bills, and save your heart from being broke by a young loving pet with genetic disorders. Once you have obtained the new companion remember to make regular visits to your local veterinarian and contact a professional trainer to get the pet off to the right start.
Sources: HSUS.org, ASPCA.org; prisonersofgreed.org; msnbc.com; gglrc.org; veterinarypartner.com
Posted by Pets Best on 2/16/2006 in General Articles
Pet ownership offers many rewards, one of which is participating in healthy physical fitness activities with your pet. One of the most common activities owners participate in with there pet is running and walking. Running or walking your pet is something your pet usually finds irresistible and provides exercise as well as further develops the human animal bond. Animals also benefit greatly from activities that stimulate their brain function even reducing problem behaviors. By spending quality time with your pet exercising and being involved in fulfilling activities can create a confident and well mannered canine.
…Running and walking with your pet dog is a great way to stimulate your dog with structured exercise…
Running and walking with your pet dog is a great way to stimulate your dog with structured exercise. It allows your dog the chance to get out of the house and get that much needed energy out of their system and provides an opportunity to manage you pet in a controlled fashion in a changing environment. Your pet must learn to travel at the owners pace as well as ignore outdoor distractions aiding to establish a good pet citizen. It provides your pet with an outlet for reserved energy as well as burns calories keeping you pet in good health. A proper weight is when the ribs are not visible but can easily be felt.
Stimulate your Pet
If you are unable to physically exercise alongside your pet there are plenty of other options. An average pet needs approximately thirty to forty minutes of a cardiovascular workout three or more times per week, depending on their size and fitness level. Also all pets needs daily mental stimulation, in which they feel there is a job to be accomplished and new behaviors to learn. One way to get your pet some of that much needed structured exercise is to teach your pet to retrieve. This is a low impact exercise for the owner but can be quite exhilarating for your pet. Also, you can practice working on teaching your pet to track items or people by scent. Again, low impact for the owner and is a great way to let your pet move around and stimulates the brain as well. Retrieving or tracking can also be handy when the weather is bad or if something unexpected happens to the owner limiting physical abilities. Don’t forget in addition to physical exercise pets need daily mental activities and challenges. Break up a boring pet routine by making dinner a scavenger hunt, hiding food in appropriate toys, purchasing interactive toys and scheduling monitored play dates. Pets can even be trained to be a service pet which can be especially rewarding for a disabled owner in which the pet can pick up items, open doors, and retrieve needed objects. Other options that allow a pet to obtain some much needed exercise can be sought by joining dog clubs, participating in agility classes, tracking classes or schutzhund training. These activities require regular attendance, a work out for the pet, mental challenges, and a social activity for you and your pet.
A Bored Dog
A canine companion that is not provided mental challenges and regular exercise is sure to become a problem pooch. Dogs can be extremely inventive when they are faced with boredom. Problem behaviors can be learned and established as a routine behavior when a pet has nothing else to do. Behaviors such as digging, chewing, barking, nipping, and jumping have a direct correlation with physical and mental stimulation. If your dog already has problem behaviors changing their routine and adding fun exercises can easily lessen those undesirable habits. Dogs are pack animals and need group activities with humans as well as other animals. In addition dogs were breed with a purpose that today is rarely needed. The canine still has a drive to exhibit that purpose whether it is herding sheep, killing vermin or accompanying a prison guard.
Take Precautions when Exercising Pets
There are many safety factors to consider when exercising with your pet. Always watch the temperature outside, if it is too hot your dog can easily become overheated and be headed to your local veterinarians office. Did you know dogs can’t sweat, making it harder for them to cool down? Black dogs have a tendency to dislike direct sunlight and arctic breeds can have a tough time not becoming overheated on a run on a summer day. An overheated pet can easily turn into a veterinary emergency and has taken the life of faithful friends in the past. It is also important to consider the environment you will be taking your pet into. Be aware of dangerous weeds, surfaces that are too hard on pet’s paws, fast cars, wildlife, etc. Additionally be cautious when roughhousing with a pet, most of the time rough play with people or other pets creates a pet that is extremely wound up, typically structured exercise such as a controlled leash walk is best and rough housing should be kept to a minimum. In addition you must take into account your pet’s fitness level and body condition, if your pet has a weight issue start out slow with just walking your pet for a short distance. Once your pet becomes fitter, losing unneeded weight and building muscle mass then increase the exercise level. Furthermore be cautious not to go overboard and create a stressed and anxious pet. Too tough of an exercise routine can be too harsh and too difficult of mental challenges can create frustration. Keep your pet active and having a good time at the appropriate level for that pet and make sure the pet continues to have fun and feel successful.
Always be a responsible pet owner when taking your pet to public locations. Keep your pet on a leash unless off leash trained, keep your pet off private property and always pick up any messes your pet makes. Any questions or concerns about exercising your pet should be directed to your local veterinarian and if you need help getting started with an exercise routine and daily challenges contact a local professional animal trainer. Animal trainers can also help extinguish those pesky problem behaviors.
Posted by Pets Best on 2/16/2006 in General Articles
Natural disasters such as hurricanes, fires and floods have a reputation for catching people unprepared, costing lots of money, destroying lives, plus injuring and even killing a huge number of companion pets. Too often pets are left behind in a home designated unsafe for any living being and must fend for themselves; unfortunately a vast majority are lost. Some pets are wiped out by the effects after a disaster strikes, some will slowly bleed to death from injuries sustained, some end up starving to death locked in a deserted home in an evacuated town and others will die from bad weather forced upon them.
The best thing a pet owning household can do to protect themselves and their pets is to be prepared. Don’t put disaster preparedness at the bottom of the “to do” list, make it urgent, any city anywhere at any moment can be struck with a deadly disaster. In order to accomplish this task the household needs to develop a plan that includes the pets. If an order to evacuate happens in your neighborhood where do you go? Do the work ahead of time, organize a list of pet friendly hotels, relatives or friends that will allow you and your pets to stay with them and plan pet friendly rest stops. Be prepared to travel quit a distance and plan to stay for an extended length of time, some people never return home after a natural disaster. Don’t plan to be able to hire a pet sitter or board the animals. Kennels that are safe will be full fast, if you leave your pet anywhere you may never be reunited and most kennels are not safe if they are in the path of the disaster. Remember if your home is not safe for you to stay in it during a natural disaster it is not safe for any animal. Also have disaster kits set up and accessible that contains first aid supplies, these may need to be grabbed at a moments notice.
A disaster kit needs to be kept in a location where it will be easy to snatch if you are in a hurry to vacate the property. Also it must be keep up to date if it is going to be safe to use therefore it should be checked and updated every two months. The kit should contain food, water, utensils, a can opener, pet dishes, extra means of identification for pets, photos, any medications, towels, plastic bags, extra leash and collar, flashlight and batteries, litter and box for felines, dish detergent, and a first aid kit. Food and water will need to be checked and possibly changed every two months to keep it fresh and safe to use. Also small animals need to have a kennel readily available and each small animal should have their own kennel, avoid placing two animals, even if friends, in the same kennel. Stress can cause animals behavior to change and being forced in close quarters could create an unneeded problem. In addition make sure all pets have a way to be identified if something happens to their owner or if they escape. Furthermore keep pets up to date on vaccines to help prevent disease transmission. Disease transmission always seems to be on the rise after a disaster attributed to many unvaccinated animals running loose and even breeding.
After the terror of Hurricane Katrina came through many issues came forth that involved pets who survived the disaster. During the evacuations in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana pets were not allowed to be housed in any shelters provided for humans. The consequence was many companions were left behind possibly as many as a quarter of a million left to fend for themselves. Fortunately more then six thousand have been rescued, but a great many survivors are still loose on the streets fending for themselves and multiplying. The reason for the growth on the streets and in the shelters was due to unaltered animals running loose. Shelters were seeing as many as seventy five animals come in daily and were finding a new age group, these were born a couple of months after the hurricane hit. Currently it is also a problem getting owned animals in the disaster area altered since owners are afraid to let their pet out of sight, worried they may not see them again. A concern with the growth of all these young animals is on the numbers of animals in the shelters and the spread of disease. These puppies may have been born without any antibodies to protect against preventable disease and there parents were exposed to horrible conditions including toxic water and heartworms. Heartworm has been found in a huge number of Katrina survivors and is expected to be spreading across the country as a result of rescued pets being adopted across the United States.
In addition to the health effects a natural disaster can have on animals there is a large amount of evidence that a traumatic event can affect an animal’s psychological well being. Evidence even suggests animals can experience post traumatic stress disorder. The psychological scars can run so deep that without rigorous training intervention the damage can drastically affect behavior especially when an animal stress level is increased. An event that reminds an animal of the stressful event may trigger undesirable behaviors even behaviors that are dangerous for the pet. Loud noises, thunder, heavy rain have been known to affect some pets that have survived natural disasters; some animals will act extremely strange and have even been known to jump out of closed windows trying to escape their fears. Signs of post traumatic stress include barking, crying, hiding, aggression, eliminating in an inappropriate location, and even pacing. These signs can show up right after living through a catastrophe while some animals will not show signs for weeks or even months after the disaster. Again the best thing you can do to protect any animals that you are responsible for is to keep them with you and when told to evacuate leave with the animals.
Natural disasters have been around as long as mankind, but with today’s modern society one would think with a warning loss of any living life could be kept to a minimum. Yet even as recent as Hurricane Katrina the loss of human and animal life was astonishing. Preparing your household for an unexpected catastrophe can greatly improve your odds for survival and by evacuating with your pets you can save their lives and minimize the danger created when mankind must try and rescue your pets after the disaster strikes.