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Pet sitting insights

Posted on: January 3rd, 2008 by

By: Arden Moore

The benefit of sharing my home with two dogs and two cats is that I get to enjoy the antics of this “furry fab four,” and they get to have a member of their own species as a pal.

The downside is when I need to travel. Hiring a professional pet sitter can cost more than the price of an airplane ticket or hotel stay – depending on the duration of the trip. Still, I consider it money well spent. My pets get to remain in their own homes and get to be catered to by a professional who is licensed and bonded.

In picking a pet sitter, I’ve learned to be, well, picky. Just because someone tells you that they love pets, doesn’t make them skilled in dealing with companion animal issues. Facing a lot of trips this year, I knew I could not afford to have just any person stay at my house and care for my pets.

I contacted two national organizations: Pet Sitters International and National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. Both referred me to local pet sitting companies who belonged to one – or both – of these organizations. The information on the websites of these local companies provide me with their fee schedules and pet policies.

In picking a pet sitter – and hiring that person for future trips, I considered the following factors:

Punctuality of the prospective pet sitter for the initial face-to-face meeting with me and my pets.
Availability of the pet sitter for future trips to provide continuity for my pets.
Comments from others who had hired the pet sitter in the past.
Knowledge of cat and dog behavior.
Acceptance that my pets are not perfect. My dog, Chipper is afraid of skateboards and will turn into a 60-pound puddle at the sight of one on a walk.
Willingness to provide daily walks for my dogs and daily brushings for my cats.
Receptiveness to meet close neighbors who keep an eye on my house and are available should an emergency arise.
Accessibility by phone or email to provide me with daily updates on my pets.
The body language of my pets when they were around the pet sitter. The person I chose brings out pure joy and goofiness in my dogs and dignified acceptance from my cats.

The next time you face a business trip or a long-awaited vacation, please plan ahead and make arrangements for your stay-at-home pets to receive the best possible care. Hiring a professional pet sitter helps reduce the chance of coming back home to a behavior problem.

Hairballs 101

Posted on: December 26th, 2007 by

Posted by Sally Deneen on 12/26/2007 in Scratching Post Articles

It is the sound no cat owner wants to hear — the gagging, the hacking. Then the hairball seems to always land on the new carpet, never on easy-to-clean surfaces. Just why do cats develop hairballs? Even more importantly, what can owners do to reduce them?

First, face the feline facts. Hairballs are common and develop because of how cats groom. As cats lick their fuzzy bodies, the tongue’s tiny barbs pull off excess hair, explain veterinarians. Inevitably, cats swallow some hair. Ideally, it passes through the body and ends up in stools, but hairballs form when hair instead wads up in the belly. The cat vomits to expel the wad, digested food, saliva and gastric secretions.

Usually harmless to pets and just a messy annoyance for owners, hairballs can become a serious medical problem, however, when they’re not expelled. Marni Bellavia of Sunrise, Fla., learned that the hard way when her Himalayan Ragdoll named Princess developed a hairball mass in her esophagus, requiring surgery to remove it.

“I was so freaked out,” says Bellavia. “It was really disgusting. After surgery, Princess, fortunately, was fine.”

Hairballs, it seems, can become so big that they cause blockages in the stomach or intestines. If a cat is dehydrated, its stomach contents can become dry and form a blockage, explain veterinarians. Curious cats who swallow string can suffer from blockages as the string mixes with hair and minerals to form compact hard obstructions called trichobezoars.

Immediate surgery is a must if the intestine becomes blocked. Vomiting and possibly pain would occur if the hairball were located in the stomach. Constipation would occur if the hair were in the colon.

Some hairballs can be removed by anesthetizing the cat and inserting a scooping tool into the mouth and down its digestive tract to retrieve the mass. Sometimes, surgery in which a veterinarian makes an incision into the abdomen and/or stomach is required.

Emergencies “fortunately are quite rare, but they can happen. Usually, hairballs are very simple problems,” says Linda Ross, DVM, an internal medicine specialist at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass.

Here are five ways to tame hairballs:

1. Bring out the brush. Good regular brushings are an important basic step, even for short-haired cats. Brushings reduce the amount of hair cats swallow. Rubber curry brushes are excellent for removing loose hair. For cats who detest brushes, try stroking gently with nub-covered grooming gloves. Strive to groom longhaired cats daily and treat shorthaired cats to a minimum of weekly groom sessions.

2. Intestinal lubricants, such as Laxatone, are a popular second basic step to employ to help hairballs pass through the digestive tract. Some cats consider it a treat. The gels come in flavors like tuna or malt. Be sure to use enough.

According to Drew Weigner, DVM, who operates a cat-only practice in Atlanta, the biggest problems with intestinal lubricants are not using enough each time or not using it frequently enough. In almost all cases, the most effective dose is a two-inch strip from the tube of lubricant twice daily for two days. Yet, this is far more than indicated on the label. His advice: For cats who like the taste, giving them an inch every day or two will prevent hairballs. If they don’t, just give the above dose for two days. When hairballs return, repeat the initial dose.

3. If all else fails, intestinal lubricants can be given along with a prescribed drug called Metoclopramide, which facilitates the emptying of the stomach, Dr. Weigner says. “Generally, hairballs should be resolved within 48 hours with this regime,” Dr. Weigner says. “If not, either the problem is not hairballs, or a hairball is lodged and may need to be removed surgically.”

4. Avoid home remedies, especially mineral oil, which “can be dangerous,” advises Dr. Ross. “You don’t want to give your cat a liquid oil like mineral oil or baby oil directly in the mouth.” Cats tend to inhale such oils into their lungs because they’re practically flavorless and they don’t signal that they’re edible.

5. Consult your veterinarian about commercially prepared “hairball diets” that have received mixed results. These higher-fiber foods are intended to help cats pass hairballs in their stools.

In the end, be prepared to go through a process of trial and error to help your cat – and don’t give up. Same goes for your hairball-assaulted carpet. The good news, Dr. Weigner says, is cleaning hairball stains from carpet is relatively easy. The mess is relatively dry, after all.

“Even in problem situations,” he says, “the material can usually be vacuumed up after it dries.”

Yikes! My Dog Can’t Cope With Being Alone

Posted on: November 23rd, 2007 by

Posted by Kim Campbell Thornton on 11/23/2007 in Dog Behavior

Dogs are pack animals, and they love to be with their people. That’s one of the many reasons they make such great companions. In some cases, however, a dog’s need for human attention becomes extreme, making him prone to separation anxiety when no one’s home to keep him company.

If your dog pees or poops in the house when he’s left alone, chews destructively, especially at doors and windows, or the neighbors report that he barks when you’re gone, he’s not necessarily misbehaving. He may have separation anxiety, a behavior problem that affects up to 15 percent of the nation’s 73.9 million dogs.

Dogs with separation anxiety are unable to cope with being alone. They may have been poorly socialized, lack self-confidence, or simply have never learned how to be alone. Besides being noisy or destructive, dogs with separation anxiety may drool excessively, pace, lick themselves incessantly, or refuse to eat or drink. When their people are home, they may be clingy, insisting on being as close to them as possible. While separation anxiety can be frustrating, behavior modification can help.

It is vital to teach your dog that arrivals and departures are nothing to worry about. Whether you’re leaving or coming home, be matter-of-fact. Overly emotional greetings or farewells can teach your dog that your absence is something to worry about.

Set up cues that will help your dog feel comfortable with your departure. Give a treat or a special toy before you depart, leave a t-shirt with your scent that he can snuggle with, or turn on the radio or a CD.

To use music as a way of calming your dog, start by playing it during a relaxing time of day, such as when you’re getting ready for bed. Your dog knows that you’re going to be there for a while, so he’ll settle down and go to sleep. Choose something like soothing harp music. Give your dog a few days to associate the music with this relaxing time, then set up a departure conditioning experience, combining the music, a special treat, and your departure and quick return. Your dog learns that good things happen when you leave and that you come back right away.

If you start early, you can teach a puppy that being home alone need not involve chewing the woodwork, barking, or licking himself raw. With patient conditioning, older dogs and newly adopted shelter dogs can learn this lesson as well. If your dog is crate-trained or in the process, put him in the crate while you’re doing housework or otherwise going in and out of the room. Seeing you go out and come back every few minutes reassures him that you’ll always return.

If you have an older dog with some obedience training, place him in a down-stay as you go in and out of the room. At first, you may only be able to leave the room for 10 seconds before he breaks his stay and comes in search of you. Don’t scold, but place him back in position and leave again. Return quickly before he has time to get up. As he becomes comfortable with this, gradually increase the amount of time you’re gone: 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, and so on.

You can also condition your dog to short periods of your absence by taking him with you on errands. Leave him in the car while you pump fuel, run into a convenience store for a quart of milk, or make a bank deposit. Your dog learns automatically that you’re gone for a minute or two, you come back, and being left alone isn’t a big deal. Of course, it’s important to take into account the weather and your schedule. On hot days, cars heat up rapidly, even with the windows cracked. Never leave your dog in the car on a hot day unless you can see the car and know you’ll be only a few minutes—picking up the dry cleaning, for instance. And don’t take your dog if your errand will take more than five minutes.

For dogs alike, part of successfully staying alone is the ability to entertain themselves. Whether your dog stays in a crate, in an exercise pen or dog run, behind a baby gate or is well-trained enough to stay out on his own, he needs toys or activities that will stimulate his mind without encouraging destructive behavior. Treat-release toys, or food puzzles, are ideal solutions. These toys all work by extending the time it takes a dog to get a treat or kibble. He focuses on getting at the food rather than being anxious or distressed by your absence. Match the food puzzle to your dog’s personality. You don’t want to make it so easy that he doesn’t have to spend any time at it or so difficult that he gives up in frustration.

Give your dog plenty of attention and play when you’re home. That way, he’ll be more satisfied and comfortable when he needs to stay by himself. Get involved in a dog sport such as agility, teach him to track, go for a walk at the same time every day, or simply set aside a regular time for the two of you to be together while you read or watch television. Even a regular grooming session is a good way for the two of you to share quality time.

The ability to hang out comfortably while you’re away is one of the most important skills your dog can learn and will benefit both of you throughout his life. With training, exercise, and preventive measures, you can help him develop the self-confidence he needs.

– By Kim Campbell Thornton, author of 10 books. She writes a monthly pet column for MSNBC.com and lives in Lake Forest, Calif.

Making the skies feline friendly

Posted on: November 16th, 2007 by

By: Arden Moore

In my role as editor of Catnip, the author of 17 books on cats and dogs and an animal behavior consultant, I travel coast to coast to make presentations about pets. Usually, I fly solo and hire a professional pet sitter to take care of my two cats and my two dogs. They seem – well, the cats, Callie and Murphy – quite content to stay home while I hop form one time zone to the next.

My two dogs, Chipper and Cleo, are always up for any trip – be it a road trip, on a boat or on a plane. They just love sharing the chance to get from here to there with me.

I am about to embark on a national multi-city book tour to promote my latest releases, The Cat Behavior Answer Book and The Dog Behavior Answer Book. The tour is aptly being called, “Arden Moore Unleashed for a Pet-Friendly America.”

One of the “pre-tour” trips called for me to appear in New York City and to discuss cat behavior for a satellite media tour. About 20 big and small television news stations all over the country lined up to ask me about why cats do what they do.

The sponsors of this satellite media tour requested that I bring one of my own cats to New York. Murphy performs a lot of tricks, but unfortunately, she gets motion sickness and tends to make anything-but-pleasant vocals inside a carrier. The natural pick was Callie, my 12-year-old calm calico.

Callie has flown before – but it was seven years ago. So, I took the necessary steps to ensure her flight was as stress-free as possible. I booked a non-stop flight from San Diego and New York City and verified with the airlines that Callie was indeed listed as my travel mate. I recommend you do the same because airlines limit the number of pets who can travel in the cabin. Sometimes, that number per flight is as low as four.

I also had Callie receive a head-to-tail physical examination by my veterinarian who signed the necessary health certificate that airlines require. I also trained Callie to enjoy being inside a soft-sided, airline-approved carrier by feeding her favorite healthy treat inside it.

Callie’s packing needs included a harness, leash, an ID tag on her collar that listed my cell phone number (she also has a microchipped ID), an absorbent pad (in case of an accident), treats, collapsible water bowl and a small, comfy bed.

What I didn’t anticipate was the new rule at airport security screening areas. We’re all now used to taking off our shoes, pulling out our computer laptops and putting loose change and metal objects in the trays.

In addition, you are ordered to take your cat out of the carrier and hold her as you walk through the security sensor door. I was at a crowded airport full of impatient people wanted to get to their gates. I tried to remain calm as I removed Callie out of her carrier and held her tightly in my arms as we were screened.

Once I put her back in the carrier, I realized how lucky we were. Imagine if she had panicked and wiggled free and ran loose in a large airport?

The lesson I pass on to those of you who find the occasional need to have your cat join you on an airplane is to always fit your cat with a harness before putting her inside the carrier. At the airport, attach the leash to the harness as well. This way, when you are told to remove your cat from the carrier, the chances of escape are minimized.

As for Callie, her trip to the Big Apple was full of adventure. From the hotel window sill in our 20th floor room, she could watch tourists in Times Square and actually look down as some birds. She flirted with the TV cameras and tolerated being oohed and aahed and petted by feline fans at the studio and inside the hotel.

Now, it’s time for me to pack my suitcase and begin the official launch of the book tour. Callie is happy to remain and enjoy the comforts of home.

It’s Potty Time! Tips for Housetraining a Puppy or New Dog

Posted on: November 16th, 2007 by

Posted by Kim Campbell Thornton on 11/16/2007 in Training Tips Articles

Successful housetraining has one simple rule: consistency. Housetraining your puppy, or even an adult dog, will go more smoothly if you establish a potty schedule from day one. Taking a puppy out at the same times throughout the day helps establish in his mind that outside is the proper place to eliminate.

Let’s rundown seven tips for success, which apply to both puppies and adult dogs:

1. Recognize that puppies have a physiological need to eliminate when they wake up, after they eat, and after they’ve been active. Take your puppy out first thing in the morning, right after he eats, as soon as he wakes up from a nap, and after he’s through playing.

2. Don’t just send your pup outside and expect him to know what you want. Put him on leash and stay with him until he potties. Then praise him. “Good go potty!” This is how he learns that you want him to pee or poop outdoors.

3. Be determined. If your puppy doesn’t pee or poop when you take him outside, bring him back in and put him in his crate. Try again in 20 or 30 minutes. Don’t let him loose in the house until he has eliminated outside.

4. Heap on the praise. Bring a clicker and some treats with you every time you take the puppy out. As soon as he starts to potty, click once. When he’s finished, give him a treat. Puppies learn quickly that good things happen when they go outside to potty.

5. Understand your puppy’s physical limitations. Until a puppy matures physically, his bladder isn’t able to hold urine for long periods. Take your puppy out as often as possible. Set a kitchen timer as a reminder to take him out every hour or two when you’re home. When you’re not home, confine him to a crate or leave him in a puppy-proofed room, preferably one with an easy-clean tile or linoleum floor. Put papers on the floor to make cleanup easy.

6. Watch your puppy carefully. His body language can signal that he needs to go potty. Puppies who are good communicators may stare at you or jump up on you. Others stand at the door and look outside. Hang a bell on the door and ring it every time you take your puppy out to potty. He’ll soon learn to ring it himself when he needs to go out. If you see him sniffing and circling, hustle him outside fast!

7. Teach your puppy or dog to stay comfortably in a crate. Dogs are programmed not to eliminate where they sleep. Choose a crate that’s big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in but not so big that he can potty at one end and sleep at the other. To create positive associations, give your puppy a treat when he goes in the crate, feed him inside his crate, and don’t let the kids don’t bother him when he’s in it. He’ll view it as a cozy hideaway all his own.

Parting advice: Puppies need time to grow up. Don’t expect your tail-wagger to be reliably housetrained until he’s at least a year old and has had the benefit of a consistent schedule, consistent expectations, and consistent praise when he does the right thing.