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All Dogs and Cats Need Routine Veterinary Care


All Dogs and Cats Need Routine Veterinary Care

You should select a "family" veterinarian who is familiar with the species you have chosen. Your local veterinary associations, friends, and neighbors, or the yellow pages can help you find the right veterinarian for you and your animals. You may have to speak with several veterinarians before you find the right one for your circumstances. Staying with one veterinary group allows them to get to know you and your animal and provides continuity of care for your animals.


Physical examination

Animals do not always let us know when something is wrong until the disease is quite advanced. Many species provide only subtle signs of disease. Some of these problems can be detected early through annual examinations or more frequent examinations if any problems are seen by a caretaker. This visit is also your chance to ask any questions about your animal's health, nutrition, flea control, behavior, etc. One area often overlooked by caretakers is dental care of their animals. Dogs and cats benefit from having their teeth brushed and can develop severe dental disease before you are aware of the problem. Your veterinarian may recommend a dental cleaning with polishing or a plan for home cleaning. Your veterinarian can also tell you if your animal is overweight. Each visit to the veterinarian provides a record of your pet’s weight that can be used to see if your pet seems to be gaining or losing weight. He/she can offer suggestions on optimal feeding or how to get your animal to lose weight.


Periodic vaccinations are important for all dogs and cats to help prevent disease. Vaccinations are especially important in puppies and kittens that are not fully able to protect themselves from serious diseases, with the specific schedule generally starting at 6-8 weeks of age and continuing until the pet is 12-16 weeks of age. These diseases can be fatal but are infrequently seen because of the widespread use of effective vaccines. Just because you have never seen these diseases does not mean you do not need to vaccinate your dog or cat because some of them can survive in the environment for long periods, waiting to be picked up by an unprotected animal. Clinics are available to provide vaccinations without examination but annual examinations are still recommended even if you choose to obtain vaccinations elsewhere.
If your veterinarian feels that your dog or cat has a problem that would be best handled by a veterinarian who specializes in that field, he/she may refer you to a specialist in cardiology, behavior, surgery, internal medicine, etc.  In case of emergency, some veterinarian will take these calls or may refer you to an emergency clinic that can provide care during hours most clinics are not staffed. If you see anything out of the ordinary (such as changes in appetite, water intake, urination, or significant change in behavior) or any obvious injury or illness, call your veterinary hospital to see if they feel an examination is needed.

Routine home check-up

You should check your pets’ body daily for lumps, cuts, swelling, or any other changes. Your veterinarian may find abnormalities that you miss, but generally animals have their veterinary physicals only once a year.Animals can't describe their difficulties, so it is important to be alert and spot problems early, and seek veterinary attention when needed.
Important Reminder:  An annual examination is always needed for the general health and maintenance of your pet. Just because your pet does not seem ill does not mean you should skip his/her annual checkup. Your veterinarian can spot problems before it’s too late.  A thorough examination would include listening to the heart, checking the teeth, ears, eyes, stomach, kidneys, liver, etc.

Remember, they can’t tell you how they feel until it’s too late so it’s up to you to take care of them.


Pet Fire Safety


Pet Fire Safety

Half a million pets are affected by home fires every year; establishing a pet-friendly fire escape plan can save your pet’s life.

How to Keep Pets Safe at Home

Since not all fires can be prevented, a little advanced thought and preparation is a good idea. From including your pets in your family’s disaster and emergency evacuation plans to helping to equip your local fire department with pet-specific oxygen masks, there are some important steps you can take to improve your pet’s chances of survival in the unfortunate event that a fire strikes your home.

  • Take an afternoon and draw up a disaster preparedness plan for your family. Be sure to include the non-human members of your crew, as well. Conduct annual “dry runs” of your evacuation plan with your family.
  • Have plenty of smoke detectors throughout your house, ensuring that you’ve got at least one on each level. Test them and replace the batteries regularly.
  • Put “Pet Alert” stickers on the inside of your front door windows so that firefighters and other first-responders will know that there may be animals inside that may need saving.
  • If you’re like most people, and spend a lot of time outside of your home, consider having monitored fire and smoke detectors installed throughout your home. This way, the fire department will know to respond even if you and your neighbors aren’t home.
  • Keep a leash, carrier, or even a spare pillowcase near where your pets sleep. These can help you control them and lead them to safety in the event that an evacuation needs to happen in the middle of the night.
  • Contact your local fire department and ask if they have pet-specific oxygen masks. If they do, great – thank them. If not though, help them raise the funds to get some. This can be a great school or scout project for your kids to initiate. Or collaborate with your veterinarian and/or pet supply store to create a local fundraising drive.


Cognitive Dysfunction in Cats


Cognitive Dysfunction in Cats

Cognitive Dysfunction in Cats

By: Ramona D. Marek, MS Ed
As seen in: AWM Vol. 16 Issue 4 


If you have an older kitty, you may have noticed a few changes in his behavior. Maybe he's a bit more vocal than he used to be, occasionally acts as if he’s confused or lost, or seems to have forgotten how to use the litter box. Once physical health issues have been ruled out, the diagnosis may be cognitive dysfunction (CD).

People experience mental changes as they age, and so do cats and dogs. We and our animals experience actual neurological changes in our brains as we get older. “The brain loses some mass just as muscles do,” says veterinarian Dr. Nancy Scanlan, adding that CD in senior animals is akin to Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
“Certainly with aging there is a loss of brain cells,” says veterinarian Dr. Vicki Thayer. “Cats are less studied than dogs, but researchers have seen increased amyloid (protein) deposits in the brain that are associated with cognitive dysfunction and probably effects on memory.”


There is currently no diagnostic test for CD. Diagnosis relies on anecdotal reports of behavioral changes and the exclusion of other possible causes for the changes. These behavioral signs often include loss of litter box training, a general sense of seeming “lost” at home, an inability to find the food bowl, an increase or decrease in appetite, an avoidance of once favorite foods, and increased nighttime vocalization.


Cognitive dysfunction is progressive and has no cure. After it has been diagnosed, treatment usually involves learning how to positively manage it so the cat will have a higher quality of life. From a conventional medical perspective, there is no drug treatment approved for cats, although canine medications have been cautiously used in some cases.
Research in humans and dogs has shown that diets enriched with antioxidants and essential fatty acids reduced amyloid production and improved cognitive function. These benefits are presumed to carry over in cats.
“Nutrition is the basis for many of our tissue biochemical pathways and cycles,” says Dr. Thayer. Nutrients necessary for increased cognitive function include potassium, vitamin D, B1 and B6 and manganese. “SAM-e has also been studied to help treat cognitive dysfunction in dogs and cats,” adds Dr. Thayer. “Give supplements that increase circulation and decrease inflammation, such as antioxidants, and support mitochondria with CoQ10,” says Dr. Scanlan. “Avoid artificial flavors, colors and preservatives in food.”
Be sure to work with a holistic or integrative veterinarian before giving your cat any supplements, so you can ensure he receives the right products and dosages for his individual requirements.


For a cat experiencing accidents because he cannot find the litterbox, the simple act of relocating it near where the cat spends most of his time will help. Sometimes, a senior cat may just forget “to go”, so periodically taking him to the litterbox may act as a reminder. Since CD affects older cats, increasing the number of litterboxes in the home is helpful; this way, they don’t have to remember the way to the only box.

Remember to use positive reinforcement and not punishment during the retraining period. The cat may not learn everything you expect him to, but at least the time you spend together is loving and rewarding, and that helps strengthen your bond and improve the cat’s quality of life.
Refrain from making a lot of environmental changes in the home, such as rearranging the furniture.

A calm, regular everyday routine helps reinforce the cat’s sense of place and reduces that “lost” feeling.

It’s expected that older cats, including those with CD, will slow down and sleep more, but it is important to provide at least a moderate level of exercise and mental stimulation. “To slow CD, enrich your kitty’s environment with toys and games like chase the light, or hiding treats in boxes,” says Dr. Scanlan. “Cats with active minds have more nerve connections. This gives them some extra brain function that can serve as a ‘backup’ system.”

Thanks to improved nutrition, veterinary medicine and lifestyle management, cats are living longer. We therefore see age-related cognitive dysfunction more often than we used to. Though it can’t be cured, it can be successfully managed, delayed and perhaps even prevented with a nutrient-rich diet, antioxidant supplements, an enriched environment, and regular exercise and mental stimulation. Implementing these factors as early as possible in your cat’s life will help ensure he stays mentally sharp well into his golden years.


Disorientation. The cat appears lost, disoriented or confused in his own home and may no longer recognize family members.

Interactions. Affected cats may prefer to stay by themselves. There is a decline in social interactions with people or other family animals.

Sleep changes. The cat may sleep longer during the day and elicit “lost” behaviors at night, often with increased vocalization.

House soiling. Affected cats often forget their litter box training or where the litterbox is located. They also tend to groom themselves less.


Preventing Litter Box Problems


Preventing Litter Box Problems

Keeping your cat's litter box up to his standards is very important. The following suggestions should keep your cat from "thinking outside the box."

Location, location, location

Most people tend to place the litter box in an out-of-the-way spot to minimize odor and prevent cat litter from being tracked throughout the house. But, if the litter box ends up in the basement next to an appliance or on a cold cement floor,your cat may be less than pleased.

So you may have to compromise.

Keep the litter box in a spot that gives your cat some privacy yet is also conveniently located. If the box is too hard to get to, especially for a kitten or an elderly cat, he just may not use it.
Avoid placing litter boxes next to noisy or heat-radiating appliances, like the furnace or the washing machine. The noise can make a cat nervous, while the warmth of a dryer or furnace can magnify the litter box smell, which could make him stay away from it.
Put the box far away from his food and water bowls. Cats don't like that smell too near their food and may not use the box.
Place at least one litter box on each level of your house. That way your cat has options if access to his primary box is blocked (the basement door is closed or your dinner party has him holed up in the bedroom.)  If you have more than one cat, provide litter boxes in several locations so that one cat can't ambush another cat using the litter box.
If you keep the litter box in a closet or a bathroom, be sure the door is wedged open from both sides to prevent your cat from being trapped inside or locked out. Depending on the location, you might consider cutting a hole in a closet door and adding a pet door. 

Pick of the litter

Research has shown that most cats prefer fine-grained litters, presumably because they have a softer feel. The new scoopable (clumping) litters usually have finer grains than the typical clay litter and are very popular because they really keep down the odor. But high-quality, dust-free clay litters are fairly small-grained and may be perfectly acceptable to your cat.

There are several different types of cat litter on the market. The most popular ones are: traditional clay litter; scooping/clumping litter; crystal based/silica gel litter; and plant-derived/bio-degradable litter. 

If your cat has previously been an outdoor one and prefers dirt, you can keep him out of your houseplants placing medium sized rocks on top of the soil and/or by mixing some potting soil with your regular litter. A cat who rejects all types of commercial litters may be quite happy with sand. Once you find a litter your cat likes, stick with it. Switching litters constantly could result in your cat not using the litter box.

Smelling like a rose


Many people used scented litter to mask litter box odors, but those scents can put off many cats. For the same reason, it's not a good idea to place a room deodorizer or air freshener near the litter box.

A thin layer of baking soda placed on the bottom of the box will help absorb odors without repelling your cat. And if you keep the box scrupulously clean, it shouldn't smell. 

If you find the litter box odor offensive, your cat, with his keen sense of smell, probably finds it even more offensive and won't want to go there.

How many?

The general rule of thumb is one box for each cat plus one more. Then none of them will ever be prevented from eliminating in the litter box because it's already occupied.

It's not possible to designate a personal litter box for each cat in your household, as cats may use any litter box that's available. That means a cat may occasionally refuse to use a litter box after another cat has been in it. In this case, you'll need to keep all of the litter boxes extremely clean, and you might even need to add additional boxes. However, it's best not to place al the boxes in one location because your cats will think of them as one big box and ambushing another cat will still be possible.

Under cover

Some people prefer to provide their cats with a covered litter box, but doing so may introduce some potential problems. To discover which type your cat prefers, you may want to experiment by offering both types at first.

Some cats, especially those who are timid or like privacy. may prefer a covered litter box. Others will not, especially if it's not clean. Covered boxes can decrease the amount of litter that flies from the box when your cat buries his business.

Pros and cons:

  • You may forget to clean the litter box as frequently as you should, because the dirty litter is "out of sight, out of mind."
  • A covered litter box traps odors inside, so you'll need to clean it more often than an open one. A dirty, covered litter box is to your cat what a port-a-potty is to you!
  • It may not allow a large cat sufficient room to turn around, scratch, dig or position himself in the way he wants. It may make it easier for another cat to lay in wait and "ambush" the user as he exits the box.

Other types of litter boxes


There are wide variety of litter boxes on the market today. Keep in mind that some fancy litter box innovations are for the owner's convenience, not the cat's. In fact, some of these features may actually turn your cat off. It's really best to keep it simple—a basic box, litter, and a scoop.

Keeping it clean

To meet the needs of the most discriminating cat, you should scoop feces out of the litter box daily. How often you actually change (replace) the litter depends on the number of cats you have, the number of litter boxes, and the type of litter you use.

Twice a week is a general guideline for replacing clay litter, but depending on the circumstances, you may need to replace it every other day or only once a week.

If you clean the litter box daily, you might only need to change clumping  litter every two to three weeks. If you notice an odor or if much of the litter is wet or clumped, it's time for a change.

Scrub the box every time you change the litter. Use detergent mild dish liquid to clean it, as products with ammonia or citrus oils can turn a cat off, and some cleaning products are toxic to cats.

Liner notes

Box liners are strictly a convenience for the owner; supposedly, the liner can be gathered together and tied just like a garbage bag, but the truth is that most cats shred it to bits while scratching in the box. However, it might work if your cat doesn't work too hard to bury his waste.

Depth of litter

Some people think that the more litter they put in the box, the less often they'll have to clean it, but that's a mistake. Most cats won't use litter that's more than about two inches deep. In fact, some long-haired cats actually prefer less litter and a smooth, slick surface, such as the bottom of the litter box. Adding extra litter isn't a a substitute for scooping and scrubbing.

"Litter Training" cats

There's really no such thing as "littertraining" a cat in the same way one would housetrain a dog. You actually don't need to teach your cat what to do with a litter box; instinct will generally take over. You do need to provide an acceptable, accessible litter box, using the suggestions above.

It's not necessary to take your cat to the litter box and move her paws back and forth in the litter. In fact, we don't recommend it, as such an unpleasant experience is likely to make her afraid of the litter box and you.

If you move, however, you will need to show your cat where the box is, though his sensitive nose will probably find it first.

Solving problems

If your cat begins to go to the bathroom outside the litter box, your first call should always be to your veterinarian. Many medical conditions can cause a change in a cat's litter box habits. If your veterinarian examines your cat and gives him a clean bill of health, your cat may have a behavior problem that needs to be solved. See ways to solve litter box problems here »

Punishment is not the answer, nor is banishing your cat outdoors. For long-standing or complex situations, contact an animal-behavior specialist who has experience working with cats.

Adapted from material originally developed by applied animal behaviorists at the Dumb Friends League, Denver, Colorado. All rights reserved.