he past few weeks, I've been talking about improving our pets' health and highlighting different "sports" in which our pets can participate. Last week we looked at canine agility; this week, I'm happy to welcome a guest who works with her cats in agility. I'm pleased to bring this post written by Allison Hunter-Frederick. The photos are of her cats: Rainy at left and Cinder in an agility tunnel at the end.
The instant I open our basement door, two of our cats race from their resting spots to join me. They meow and clamber over one another to be the first allowed downstairs. Why are they so excited? They know that an agility session awaits them.
January’s pet calendar is highly focused on the health of dogs. It’s a time when owners are encouraged to walk them and train them. But cats have health needs too.
According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 60% of America’s cats are obese. In addition, the pet insurance company Nationwide reported in 2017 that nearly 20 percent of its members’ claims were for conditions and diseases related to obesity. Two factors that contribute to obesity in cats are too little mental stimulation (which results in overeating) and too little exercise.
Cat Agility, Really?
Agility is a fun activity that helps to address a cat’s physical needs. In this team sport, your cat will race through tunnels, leap over jumps, weave between poles, and more. Agility benefits cats because it makes use of their senses and skills. Cats have excellent visual focus and accuracy, which they exercise to the fullest as they race through obstacles. They also have strong sprinting and jumping abilities, which they can make use of and hone through an agility course. Additionally, cats excel in learning a skill, remembering it, and adapting it to new situations. This knack to problem-solve enables them to easily learn each new agility course.
Although their independent nature can work against cats, it can also work for them. As their owners, we simply need to tap into their independence by giving them a reason to do agility. Treats, toys, and the obstacles themselves can all serve as motivation.
Lucy’s Learns Agility
My initial venture into cat agility happened in the early 2000’s when I became a first-time cat owner. Inspired by watching my husband and our toy poodle compete at agility trials, I taught our calico cat, Lucy, the basics of agility. Some obstacles such as jumping she caught onto after one training session, while others such as tunnels and weaves took several training sessions.
I began by teaching Lucy one obstacle at a time in our living room. First, I lined up a row of chairs and placed a treat under each. Once Lucy got used to the idea of running through the chair ‘tunnel,’ I’d just throw one treat to the opposite end for her to race after. Then I bought a child’s hoop from the Dollar Store. I held the hoop so that its bottom touched the floor and I coaxed Lucy to step through the hoop with a treat. Over time, I gradually increased the distance from the floor and the bottom of the hoop until she was jumping through the hoop. Next, I bought some empty pop bottles and spread them a few feet from each other. Each time I lured her around a pop bottle I rewarded her with a treat. Once she became proficient with weaving, I increased the difficulty level by rewarding her only after two bottles, then three and four, until she could weave a course of six. When Lucy had mastered all three obstacles, I combined them to create an amateur course in our living room.
Agility Continues at Home
With our current cats, Cinder and Rainy, I became more serious about training. This is why our family now has an agility course cut in our basement. Although such a project can involve large pieces of equipment, you can create an economical one in your home. Foam agility dog jumps and training agility tunnels run about $50 each. Most agility weave pole sets are designed for outdoor use, but I found a set of six indoor weaves and a hoop at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Friends of mine have used traffic cones or even toilet plungers as weave poles. A dog agility course will typically also include a teeter, A-Frame, a cat/dog walk, and table. I have yet to find economical options for a teeter and a cat/dog walk, but I created an A-Frame by pushing together two sets of small pet stairs and a table by using a sturdy cardboard box.
Training is the highlight of every afternoon for my cats. I take about fifteen minutes with each cat. On their turn, I run them a few times through a course in addition to teaching them obedience and tricks. Both receive lots of cat treats and praise as rewards. At the same time, I let each cat dictate the pace. If one of them struggles with an agility obstacle, I work specifically on it. By the same token, if either of them loses interest, I move into a different type of training or I end the session for the day.
Is it a Sport for You and Your Pet?
For any pet owner, there are three reasons to take up agility. First, it’s fun. Second, because agility is a team sport, it will strengthen the bond between you and your pet. Third, all this activity will be good for the health of both you and your pet. Whether you use just a few or several obstacles, your cats will love being active with you.
Interested in doing cat agility? Feel free to ask questions in the comments.
Watch Allison and Rainy go through agility on YouTube; clink the link here to see them in action: https://youtu.be/4NgAtiAQob8
Allison Hunter-Frederick is an administrative assistant, pet blogger, and cat therapy handler. She hosts an animal welfare blog at lincolnpetculture.wordpress.com/. She is also taking classes on cat behavior. Readers can follow her cat Rainy on Instagram @rainythetherapycat. Allison’s goals are to strengthen the human-pet bond and increase pet retention. She is available for guest posts and freelance pet writing.
Summer is approaching, and in many parts of the U.S. the season has already arrived, with highs in the 90s and above. Spring and summer warmth can impact our pets, in big and small ways, including tiny, pesky pests.
Fleas and ticks can cause significant irritation and great harm to our dogs and cats. According to Web MD, fleas, though tiny, can eat 15 times their own weight in blood, causing anemia in a dog or cat. Fleas cause itching and are known to be the most common cause of skin disease in dogs and cats. Ticks can bring Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever not only to humans, but to our pets as well.
During the nicer weather of spring and summer, many of our animals spend more time outside. Running through grass, exploring woodlands, and encountering other pets while outdoors can bring your dog or cat into contact with fleas and ticks. And your pets can bring these pesky critters into your home. But, you can restrain that exposure.
A myriad of preventive programs can curb these pests, and therefore, decrease a pet parent's worry. Talk with your veterinarian about how to prevent fleas and ticks from infecting and affecting your dog or cat. You can purchase preventive measures from your vet directly or from a local pet supply store and even online. You may also want to consult the Pet MD website for more information on fleas and ticks, which includes a Flea and Tick Survival Guide: http://www.petmd.com/flea-tick-survival-guide#.
Learn more about fleas and ticks and their impact on pets at http://pets.webmd.com/ss/slideshow-flea-and-tick-overview.
These aren’t the only minute pests to be concerned about. Biting flies and gnats can be obnoxious to humans and their animals and may sometimes carry disease. Mosquitoes also pester people and animals. Fur provides some protection, but ears and noses are vulnerable. Living and spending time near a water source makes you and your furry friend more susceptible to swarms of mosquitoes; therefore, protect yourself and your pets from these blood-suckers. Mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus as well as heartworm, a major disease affecting dogs; cats can get heartworm, too. This disease is now in every state, not just the southern part of the U.S. as it once was. View heartworm incident maps at https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/incidence-maps, and learn more about heartworm prevention at this website: http://www.drsfostersmith.com/pic/article.cfm?articleid=580.
Dogs and cats can be allergic to tiny problematic creatures like ticks and mosquitoes. My springer/cocker mix, Mary, for example is allergic to many environmental objects, including grass, some trees, and mosquitoes. The only way my husband and I knew what allergies she has was to get her tested. Yes, it's an outlay of money, but we now know how best to help her and we know to protect her from mosquitoes. So, when we plan to travel to a lake or river, my husband and I make sure Mary is protected from mosquitoes, biting flies, and other tiny, potential disease-carrying pests.
Being outdoors is fun for us and for our pets, particularly our dogs. But remember there are tiny creatures out there just waiting for a warm body, ours and our animals, on which to inhabit. Therefore, take the needed precautions and purchase those preventative remedies to keep your pet from being infected by fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. Talk with your veterinarian about how to keep your furry friend safe and healthy.
As noted in last week’s post, many people make resolutions for the New Year, and one of those is to get more exercise. Did you know our pets can help us with this endeavor? Dogs especially encourage people to be more active because most dogs also want to be active. From throwing Frisbees to pitching tennis balls, from walking to hiking, and from the kennel club arena to the backyard, there are many activities we can enjoy with our canine companions.
A person can even take a cat for a walk on a leash, and playing feather toys or chase the laser pointer can engage our feline friends – and make us humans move as well.
Because there are so many varied and enjoyable activities for dogs and their humans, this article will focus on those. Here’s a short list of ways humans and their dog friends can enjoy exercise together (some are event American Kennel Club – AKC – sanctioned events):
Agility: this exciting, fast-paced activity showcases a dog’s intelligence and stamina as well as its connection to its owner. Agility events happen throughout the world and many are AKC recognized events. Learn more, including tips for starting your dog in agility, at http://www.animalplanet.com/pets/10-tips-dog-agility-training/.
Dock Diving: one of the fastest growing sports for dogs, this event open to canines that are not AKC-registered (through the North American Diving Dogs program); however, the AKC does recognize this activity.
Flyball: this relay race for dogs features four dogs on a team. The sport began several decades ago and continues to be a canine activity enjoyed by many people and their animals. Learn more at https://flyballdogs.com/FAQ.html.
Freestyle Musical Dance: a relatively new sport, this activity involves obedience and dance, with the handler and dog performing dance-oriented footwork in time to music. Learn more at http://www.dogscandance.com/.
Obedience: All dogs should have some obedience training. How far you want to take it is up to you –competition in obedience trials or just a dog who will obey commands during daily life. Either way, you and your dog will enjoy the benefits of better communication and an increased bond. Learn more at http://www.pet360.com/dog/behavior-and-training/can-dog-training-save-your-poochs-life/Oi_m4yZ6_EKJV1xasL9h0w.
Skijoring: a team sport between handler and dog, this activity involves skiing by the person and running by the dog(s). The canine(s) needs to be obedient and the activity takes a lot of practice. Learn more at http://www.petguide.com/petcare/dog/need-to-know-tips-getting-started-in-skijoring/.
Tracking: this canine sport showcases a dog's natural ability to recognize and follow a scent; it’s the foundation of canine search and rescue work and involves training dogs to use their highly-developed sense of smell through which they find lost humans or animals and/or detect drugs, bombs, and other things. This is also an AKC-recognized event. Learn more at http://www.akc.org/events/tracking/.
Other activities include AKC Rally a course sport, Flying Disc Dog, by which a dog captures a disc or Frisbee-like object in the air, EarthDog tests, a way to assess and engage terriers and other digging dogs’ ability to find and trap quarry, and Field Trials, through which hunting breeds like pointers, setters, and retrievers find game. There are also a variety of harness activities, from carting to dogsled mushing.
One doesn’t have to participate in Kennel Club-offered events nor have a purebred, registered pup. For example, tracking can be done in your backyard or the local park, in which you hide a smelly object, like peanut butter treats in a ball or an article of clothing (like a mitten stuffed with peanut butter) and have your dog find it – this can be done in the snow for an even greater challenge! Also, you can set up agility equipment in your yard and simply run your dog through a course. Play Frisbee with your dog or take him/her skiing, hiking, or running. There are many ways to engage your furry friend in a fun activity that you both can enjoy – and you both will get exercise along the way!
Find more information on fun activities to enjoy with your pet at http://bestfriends.org/resources/fun-things-do-your-dog.
Whether you’re gone a day, a week, or more, pet parents need reliable people to take care of the furry members of the family. Perhaps a local doggie day care (or kitty care center) is great for the time you’re at work, but what if you must go out of town for business travel? Or you’re taking the kids to Disney World for a week? Or your sweetie to the Bahamas for Valentine’s weekend? To where and whom do you turn for longer times away from home? Who do you trust to take care of your four-legged friends?
Friends can help, but maybe not always and maybe not when you need them… or for as long as you need them. Boarding at the vet’s can work, but if your animals aren’t sick, do they need to be stuck in cages for a week? That’s almost like being at the animal shelter. Perhaps there are other boarding options in your community, like a communal “pet lodge.” But, then again, maybe not anywhere close to you. What are some other options?
Online searches reveal several sources for pet sitting. Here are three:
Rover.com – through this site you can find critter sitters who take care of pets in your house (so also house-sitting) as well as in the sitter’s home. This site comes in handy when you travel with your pet as well – you can find Rover sitters in many large (and small) cities. My husband and I have used this service a few times, in particular when we’ve been to a city and wanted to go out and do things that could take us into the wee hours of the morning (like concerts and ballgames). We have found Rover to be a reputable site and have had great experiences with the three sitters we’ve used; we plan to use a Rover sitter again next summer when we travel.
DogVacay.com – specializing in pet care needs, like Rover.com, this site offers sitter referrals, including boarding, daycare, and walking services. I’ve not used this site or sitter services, but it has been featured on NBC’s Today Show, on CBS, and in several print publications, such as Forbes and USA Today.
Care.com – this site features not only critter sitters, but also nanny services, elder care offerings, and housekeepers as well as errand runners. Although I’ve not used this site, I’ve heard positive things about it and since the site offers many types of caring help, it may be a good one for multiple needs.
SitterCity.com – this site also offers several options, including pet care, elder care, and special needs care. I don't know much about this site either, but I learned it started in 2001 as a Boston-area-focused resource; it has grown significantly to a national service.
Many of these critter sitters will not only feed and water your pet, but also spend quality time with your furry friend, such as walking the dog, taking Fido to the dog park, or playing mouse and feather toys with your kitty. Often the pet parent receives photos of the fun (and rest) the pet is experiencing. It’s always a relief for a pet parent like me to know the four-footed companion is in loving, capable hands.
With the holidays upon us and many people planning their 2017 vacations, now is a good time to consider “who will look after the fur-kids while we’re gone?” Spend time reviewing these sites, consider all your options, and don’t rely on friends’ and families’ good intentions. Pet sitting is a strong enterprise with very reputable and caring people who want to have a small business and who love animals. Consider these services before your next adventure and let Fido or Fluffy have their fun, too – with a good pet sitter.
Spring weather can be wild and wacky, but one thing is for sure: warming weather means more time outdoors. But this better weather and outdoor time spring can also bring out nasty pests that harm our pets.
Fleas and Ticks
Fleas and ticks can cause not just irritation but also great harm to our dogs and cats. According to Web MD, fleas, though tiny, can eat 15 times their own weight in blood, causing anemia in a dog or cat. At a minimum, fleas cause itching; they are known to be the most common cause of skin disease in dogs and cats. Ticks can bring Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever not only to humans, but to our pets as well.
With warming weather, many of our animals spend more time outside. Running through grass, exploring the wonderful Wyoming forests, and encountering other pets while outdoors can bring your dog or cat into contact with fleas and ticks. And your pets can bring these pesky critters into your home. But, you can restrain that exposure.
There are a myriad of preventive programs to curb these pests, and therefore, a pet parent's worry. Talk with your veterinarian about how to prevent fleas and ticks from infecting and affecting your dog or cat. You can purchase preventive measures from your vet directly or from a local pet supply store. You may also want to consult the Pet MD website for more information on fleas and ticks; the site includes a Flea and Tick Survival Guide: http://www.petmd.com/flea-tick-survival-guide#. Learn more about fleas and ticks and their affect on pets at http://pets.webmd.com/ss/slideshow-flea-and-tick-overview.
Flies and Mosquitoes
Fleas and ticks are not the only minute pests to be concerned about. Biting flies and gnats can be obnoxious to humans and their animals and may at times carry disease. Mosquitoes, too, not only pester people, but they also bother our animals. Fur provides some protection, but ears and noses are vulnerable. If you live near a water source or take your dog to your favorite fishing hole or to the lake, you should be concerned about mosquitoes and your pet. In fact, mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus as well as heartworm, a major disease affecting dogs; cats can also get it. Although Wyoming is not typically a heartworm prevalent state, incidents have risen during the past decade, according to researchers (view heartworm incident maps at https://www.heartwormsociety.org/pet-owner-resources/incidence-maps).
In addition to the diseases that our pets can obtain from fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, dogs and cats can be allergic to these tiny problematic creatures. My springer/cocker mix, Mary, for example is allergic to many environmental objects, including grass, some trees, and mosquitoes. The only way my husband and I knew what allergies she has was to get her tested. Yes, it's an outlay of money, but we now know how best to help her and we know to protect her from mosquitoes. So, when we plan to travel to a moist, humid climate or to a lake or river, my husband and I make sure Mary is protected from mosquitoes.
Being outdoors during spring and summer is fun for us and for our pets, particularly our dogs. But remember there are tiny creatures out there just waiting for a warm body, ours and our pets, on which to inhabit. Therefore, take the needed precautions and purchase those preventative remedies to keep your pet from being infected by fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. Talk with your veterinarian and keep your furry friend safe this season!
We’ve moved our clocks ahead and spring is set to start in about a week (March 20th). With the beautiful weather predicted for the Casper area this weekend (highs in the mid to upper 60s, the weather forecast says!), it’s a great time to get outdoors and exercise. And, when you do, take your dog along!
Activities such as walking, jogging, and bike riding doesn’t have to be a solo adventure. Your dog, too, receives many physical and emotional benefits from activity, from sunshine and warm temperatures.
Casper has two dog parks now, one fenced-in and one open. Morad Park isn’t fenced so your dog isn’t safe from the flowing waters of the North Platte River, but there is more room for running. Lake McKenzie Dog Park, located off Bryan Stock Trail, is a two-acre completely fenced dog park that opened in November 2014. Here your dog isn’t as likely to jump (or fall) into the river but this park is smaller than Morad. However, there aren’t bike riders or joggers to deal with either. Whichever park you choose, you and your dog are apt to enjoy the outing, meeting other canines and their special persons and walking (or jogging) the trails.
Breathing clean, fresh air, relishing sunshine and warm temperatures on a Saturday or Sunday at the dog park is a wonderful experience for dogs and their owners. Socializing with others, be they human or canine, can also be a fun and engaging experience – who knows but that a solid friendship may just develop between dogs and/or people from a visit to the dog park?
Spending time on Casper Mountain, where it won’t be 60 degrees (but still a warm spring-like day at 7,000 to 8,000 feet in elevation) can also be a fun way to spend the weekend. Snowshoeing and cross country skiing with dog in tow again provides exercise for man and beast. Just make sure your dog is allowed in the area where you hope to be.
So, spring into exercise with your dog this weekend and feel healthier emotionally and physically … together!
The dawning of a New Year results in resolutions by people to eat healthier and get into better shape. Although many often break those declarations before month-end, perhaps you and your pet can become healthier together, thereby sticking to your resolution and helping your pet stay healthier and happier in the process.
Just as people need nutritious foods to keep them healthy, so do our pets. Just as there are a wide variety of foods we can choose to eat or not, so, too, are there many types and brands of foods from which to choose for our pets. Whether you go to your vet’s office, shop at a grocery or big box store, or buy your pet food from a pet supply store, you are bombarded by the many flavors, brands and special diet foods. With the numerous options, it can seem overwhelming to tackle the question, “What should I feed my pet?”
Pet food recalls make pet lovers recoil and question what companies to trust and what those companies are putting into our pets' food. The best way to combat doubts and questions is to research. Look at the brands in the store and discuss with the store staff. Inquire of trusted friends who are pet owners what they feed their animals, and of course, talk with your vet, especially if your dog or cat has a health issue, such as diabetes. Then, get on the Internet and read about the company from their website as well as learn more about pet food from the Association of American Feed Control Officials (http://www.petfood.aafco.org/). Ask your pet food supplier for samples to try as you learn what food is best for your furry friend.
You can read the labels, however, the order of ingredients on a pet food label is often based on the precooked weight (water and its contributing weight), not on the finished product weight. For example, if chicken is listed as the first ingredient, which we all think is good thing, how much chicken is really in the kibble? Processing chickens to create dry dog and cat food takes the moisture out of the meat and carcass. What is the percentage of chicken actually in the product – 10 percent, 25 percent, 40 percent, more than that? How much corn meal or wheat does the product contain? Some pets are allergic to wheat and corn. Are there synthetic vitamins and minerals in the food? Pets cannot always completely digest synthetic materials. And where is the food processed? Remember the pet food recall involving melamine and China in 2007?
In addition to food selection, here are a few other tips to keeping your pet healthier and happier this year:
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.