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November 2016

Why do dogs pant?

 by lucy on 30 Nov 2016 |
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Dogs pant when they’re excited, scared, and even when they get too hot. It’s a normal physiological function for our pets, but too much panting can be a sign something’s wrong. To determine whether Fido’s heavy breathing is natural or if it’s a symptom of a larger health issue, pay close attention to what’s causing your pet to pant.   Unlike humans, who sweat when we heat up, dogs cannot release moisture through their skin. With their thick coats, our canine companions need a way to cool off, so they turn to panting. Breathing quickly circulates air throughout dogs’ bodies, resetting their thermostat to a lower temperature. This not only cools dogs down after a game of Frisbee in the park, but allows our canine companions to lower their body temperatures on hot summer days or in heated rooms. If your dog is seeking out shade and cool spots in the house, his panting is most likely a response to temperature.   Heaving breathing can also indicate your dog is excited or nervous. He may start panting suddenly during a thunderstorm, for example, and could exhibit other signs of stress such as whining, pacing, lip licking, trembling, or repetitive yawning. This type of panting is a short-term response to a stressful event and allows our pets to prepare to fight or take flight, if necessary. Longer-term, chronic fear can cause your dog both physical and emotional distress, however, and should be addressed with your veterinarian’s help.   The real cause for concern arises when a dog begins panting excessively for seemingly no reason. If your pet has taken a break after exercise and continues to pant heavily, he may be experiencing heat stroke. Especially common in older dogs, heats stroke can damage a pet’s organs and even cause death, so it’s crucial to move your dog to a cool spot and seek veterinary help immediately. Panting can also indicate poisoning or a severe allergic reaction that is hampering your dog’s ability to breath. If you suspect this is the cause of your dog’s heavy panting, call your veterinarian immediately. If you know what your dog ate, you can also call a Pet Poison Hotline to find out the level of risk your dog is facing after eating something he shouldn’t have. A sudden onslaught of unwarranted panting can signal more long-term medical issues, too, from obesity to heart and lung disease, anemia, Cushing’s disease and other disorders.   Remember, panting is a normal response for dogs that are hot or feeling stressed. Bring plenty of water along on walks and don’t worry unless your dog starts panting for seemingly no reason. If you cannot diagnose the cause, make an appointment with your veterinarian ASAP.

Why do cats knead?

 by lucy on 24 Nov 2016 |
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If you’re a cat owner, you’ve no doubt experienced your feline friend kneading away as he purrs on your lap. A soothing behaviour for cats and owners alike, kneading starts long before our pets are independent adults, when they relied on their mothers for both food and protection. Kneading describes the rhythmic motion cats make when they alternate pushing their paws in and out against a soft, pliable surface. Not all felines knead, and those that do don’t all knead in the same way. Some cats make the motion with their claws out, for example, while others never use nails during kneading. Some felines knead with all four paws, while others use just their front two feet. Regardless of your cat’s style, his kneading behaviour stems from his time as a kitten. Before they’re able to feed on their own, cats instinctually knead at their mother as a way to stimulate milk production. Though the behaviour doesn’t yield a tasty treat for adult cats, our pets forever associate the motion with the comforts of nursing. This helps explain why your cat makes a habit of kneading you when he’s feeling happy, content or displaying affection.   Cats don’t just stretch their paws when they’re at peace, however, and also use kneading as a way to limber up after a long nap. Kneading likely provided our felines’ ancestors with a way of bedding down, too, helping to work down tall grasses while scoping out the area out for snakes and other unwanted visitors. Kneading also served another role for feral felines, who used scent glands in their paws to mark their territory. In the same way wild cats use their scent to demarcate their property, then, so do our domestic pets knead to release their scent on surfaces that want to mark as their own— including their favourite humans. Female cats are also known to knead when going into heat as a way to signal to tomcats that they are ready and able to mate. Though kneading is a sign of affection, it can be quite painful when Kitty digs his claws into your leg. If this becomes an issue, simply place a soft barrier such as a thick blanket between your lap and his claws. You can also try trimming your cat’s nails or using nail guards to cover his claws. Never punish your cat for kneading, though— not only does he not realize it hurts, but digging his claws into your leg is your cat’s way of showing affection.

Help! My cat’s an escape artist

 by lucy on 18 Nov 2016 |
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Safety from predators, oncoming traffic and disease are just a few of the well-documented benefits of keeping cats indoors. Unfortunately, our feline friends don’t always see their indoor lifestyles as the luxury it is. If your cat makes a mad dash every time you open the front door, he’s at risk of being hit by a car, attacked by another animal or getting lost— making door-darting behaviour a problem that should be addressed.   Many cat owners consider keeping their companions inside to be a restrictive lifestyle, but cats can have a stimulating life without venturing outdoors. Equip your feline friend with plenty of climbing spaces, hiding places, perches and even a bird feeder outside the window to keep him entertained. Engage him in several minutes of play each day with a laser toy or kitty “fishing pole” to help satisfy his hunting instincts. You may even want to consider giving your cat a companion, such as another cat or a dog, to provide an extra outlet for play, exercise and affection while you’re away from home.   Even after creating an indoor oasis, however, some owners have trouble with cats that make a mad dash every time they open the door. If your cat comes running, there are several techniques to try to remedy his bad habit. For starters, stop giving Kitty any attention at the door. While you may be tempted to lean down and greet him as soon as you get home, this gives your pet an easy opportunity to slide outside. Instead, set up an official “greeting area” further inside the room. You can accomplish this by calling your cat to the assigned post and rewarding him with a treat immediately until he forms an association with the spot.   If Kitty continues dashing for the door, however, you will need to take more serious measures. Try offering him a treat or toy just before leaving, which should distract him from the open entryway. Some cat owners attach a rolled newspaper to the door and bang it loudly whenever Kitty comes running to help scare him off. Others leave a squirt bottle of water just outside the door and peak in before entering, giving the cat a quick spritz if he is waiting right at the entrance. If you try this technique, be sure to shut the door immediately, though, as you don’t want your cat associating you with the squirt bottle. Remember, cats in heat and tomcats who catch a whiff of a fertile female are more likely to try to escape, so spaying or neutering your cat can also help when it comes to solving cats’ escape artist behaviour.

Why does my dog kick the ground with his hind legs?

 by lucy on 09 Nov 2016 |
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Many dog owners are puzzled when their canine companions tear at the ground with their hind feet after eliminating. Often, they assume the behavior is similar to a cat’s— that their pooch is attempting to “cover up” his mess. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, though. As the act of eliminating itself is one of your dog’s ways of marking his territory, so is the foot shuffle that follows. Foot scraping is a relic of dogs’ past, when their wild ancestors needed to mark off vast swaths of territory. Compared to humans’ 5 million scent glands, dogs have a whopping 125 to 300 million— meaning their sense of smell is magnitudes higher than our own. Dogs have glands in their feet that secrete pheromones—chemical signals that help animals communicate with each other— and a few backward scratches in the dirt releases those chemicals into the area and the noses of other hounds. This likely came in handy when our canines’ relatives needed to mark and protect territories too large to for them to patrol on a daily basis. Feces loses its scent once it dries out, after all, but the scent from dog’s feet lasts longer. This not only may have helped our canines’ ancestors protect valuable hunting grounds, but also guard fertile pack mates.   Dogs’ foot scratching almost always follows defecating or urinating, and this makes sense when we consider our pets’ behavior surrounding the ritual: Every owner has patiently waited as his dogs picks the perfect spot to perform his duty, after all. Eliminating is just one way your dog leaves his scent behind, and hind-leg scraping is Fido’s way of doubling down on his territorial cues. Because this is about marking his property, rather than asserting dominance, dogs of both genders and with a variety of temperaments are known to engage in foot scuffing.   Hind-leg scraping is a normal, non-destructive behavior, so there’s no need to try to change your dog’s habit. In fact, the only cause for concern should be if your pet normally scuffs his feet and suddenly stops. A shift in behavior can signal something is hampering your pet’s mobility and can lead to more serious problems down the road. If, however, your canine companion continues business as normal, your only concern should be waiting for him to stop his back-foot shuffle before picking up after him— lest you get dirt or something much worse kicked up in your face.

Teaching Your Dog Table Manners

 by yunus on 02 Nov 2016 |
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No one wants a dog that jumps on guests or begs during a dinner party, or that growls at other pets during his own meals. Teaching our canine companions mealtime manners is important, then, both during our meals and their own.   Dogs are scavengers by nature, so vying for food comes easily to them. Having a pet that begs, whines or whimpers while you’re eating is exasperating, however, and can be embarrassing when you have guests over for dinner. Fortunately, teaching Fido to respect your space during mealtime is simple with some consistent training. Start by having him go to his sleeping area or a favourite spot, and then give your dog a command such as “go to your spot” with a treat. Soon, he’ll start associating the command with that space and a tasty reward. Once you’ve mastered this step, you can add the “stay” command, starting from just a few feet away from his spot and slowly working your way backwards. Over time, you will be able to give the command and leave the room entirely, freeing you to enjoy your meal without a barrage of begging. If your dog does approach the table after you’ve told him to “stay,” lead him back to his spot as many times as necessary to get him to stay put. After dinner, be sure to reward your pet for staying in place with plenty of praise and a treat.   Mealtime manners aren’t limited to your own spreads, however, and should also be part of your dog’s own dining routine. Growling at another dog, or you, is unacceptable and you need to teach your pet to respect those around him during dinner. The solution is simple: If your dog misbehaves by growling, fighting or guarding his food, simply remove his dish. Rather than letting Fido go hungry, however, replace his bowl with your hand. Hand feeding doesn’t just strengthen your dog’s understanding that his food comes from you, but also reinforces the idea of mealtime as a positive experience. After a few rounds of hand feeding, trying giving your pet his food dish back. If he’s still acting out, take the dish away again and try hand feeding him for a longer period before giving the bowl back. If, however, your pet’s bad behaviour has vanished, you can reinforce mealtime as a positive experience by slipping him an extra treat in his food bowl.   Remember, establishing a routine is key to teaching your dog mealtime manners. Serve his food at the same time each day so he learns to distinguish his dinnertime from your own. Never give in to begging, as this will only reinforce bad behaviour. Do reward good behaviour, though, with plenty of treats and praise.
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