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Month: June 2015

Simple Steps for Housebreaking Indoor Pets

With the right equipment and techniques, you can train your cat or dog to “go” in the right place every time.
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Having indoor pets can be wonderful — but what should you do when you find a little yellow puddle on the floor?

Urinating in inappropriate places is a common problem among indoor pets, says Melissa Aguilar, a pet trainer and owner of Mutt Maniacs in Los Angeles. This is partly because dogs and cats often can’t tell the difference between indoor and outdoor urination. “If you’re that little, everything seems huge,” Aguilar says. “The house might as well be outside to them.”

However, training pets to “go” in the right place is not as hard as you make think.

A Kitty-Litter Box Primer

For cats, Aguilar says, no special litter-training techniques are usually required — just introduce your cat to her litter box and the rest should take care of itself. However, some cats can develop “outside-the-box” habits when owners fail to change the litter on a regular basis.

“The big key is keeping that litter box clean,” Aguilar says. “If it’s too soiled and messy, they won’t use it and will find other areas to go.” For extra assurance of litter training success, locate the box away from where your cat eats and sleeps and, if you have a large house, consider keeping two litter boxes in separate parts of your home.

Getting Your Dog to Go Outdoors

Training dogs to urinate in the right spot often involves crate training, which teaches them urinary control. To do this, introduce the dog to the crate gradually by feeding him his meals in or near it, and leaving him inside the crate for short periods. Once he has adjusted to staying in the crate for a half-hour at a time, he can be left in it briefly while you leave the house — and you won’t have to worry about accidents. However, be sure to take a dog outside to relieve himself on a regular basis.

For puppies, here’s a rule of thumb: Use the dog’s age in months minus 1 for how often to take him out. “If he’s 3 months old, take him out every 2 hours,” Aguilar says. “A 4-month-old would be every 3 hours, and so on.” Dogs over a year old can usually hold it for at least 5 hours, she adds.

Dogs can also be taught to urinate indoors in litter boxes or plastic-backed “pee pads,” but if you go this route, make sure that the designated area is far away from anything that might confuse the dog. “Set up the potty area as a very clear, separate space in your house,” Aguilar says. “Don’t put it near an area rug. That’s one problem I see a lot — the dog begins to think that the rug is a pee pad, too.”

When Accidents Occur

If an accident happens, react swiftly without going overboard. “If you catch them in the act, you can interrupt it and sort of make a fuss and scold them,” Aguilar says. “But never lose your cool. Just take the dog outside immediately.” For cats, wipe up the urine with a paper towel, place the towel in the litter box, and put the cat in the box, gently scratching its front paws in the litter.

If you see the puddle several minutes after it has occurred, don’t bother trying to scold your pet. “If you find the accident even 5 minutes later and correct them, they will have no idea why they’re in trouble,” Aguilar says. “So watch them carefully.”

Both dogs and cats should be praised for eliminating in the correct place. Some pets may also enjoy a small treat. “Dogs like to work for praise and attention,” Aguilar says. “They’ll actually move along a lot faster that way.”

If an otherwise trained pet suddenly begins urinating in inappropriate places, a little investigation can often locate the reason for the behavior. Even small changes in a pet’s life can have a big impact. “I had a client who rearranged her living room furniture,” Aguilar says. “Their dog flipped out. For two weeks he was peeing all over the house.” Other causes can include bladder infections, sudden dietary changes, and not being spayed or neutered.

A pet trainer can be very helpful in working with pets to solve urination problems. While so-called “dog psychologists” and animal behaviorists may offer similar services, in many cases they are not necessary. “Even on those pet TV shows, a lot of the problems I see are common problems that are pretty easily solved with a trainer,” Aguilar says.

To find a knowledgeable trainer, ask associates at pet supply stores or your veterinarian for recommendations, and always inquire about their qualifications. “Seventy-five percent of dog trainers have no professional training,” Aguilar says. “They just maybe shadowed someone or did even less than that. Ask them who they’ve studied with and if they’ve done a mentorship. You’ll find a lot of them haven’t.”

With practice, patience, and praise, training pets will be a rewarding experience for you and your four-legged companion.

Your Guide to Choosing Healthy Pet Food

Labels on pet food reveal a lot about its nutrient content — but actually understanding the labels can be a challenge. Here’s how to wade through the pet food aisle and come out with the best food for your pet.
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Trying to choose the best pet food for your animal can be confusing. Do you really know what nutritional claims like “real beef flavor” and “all natural” mean? Actually, animal protein in pet food can come from the scraps and by-products left over from meat processing, and that expensive bag of “premium” dog food could actually contain chicken feet as one of its protein sources.

Pet food ingredients are regulated on a state-by-state basis. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) establishes a national standard for ingredients, definitions, and nutrient levels, but the organization has no enforcement authority. This means that AAFCO does not regulate pet food, but it does provide standards for what goes on pet food labels. The bottom line? If you want to choose the healthiest pet food, you should understand the basics of their labels.

A Pet Food Label Primer

Unfortunately, pet food labeling can be misleading. Knowing what to look for can help:

Name equals content. Pet food cannot be named “Beef for Dogs” unless it contains at least 95 percent beef. If a pet food clearly states a type of meat, it is usually safe to assume that is what your pet will get.
Beware of doggy “dinners.” The exception to the 95-percent rule is when pet food manufacturers combine a meat name with the terms “dinner,” “platter,” “entrée,” “nuggets,” or “formula.” When pet food manufacturers use these words, the meat may make up as little as 25 percent of the pet food.
Steer clear of the terms “flavor” and “with.” When a pet food says “Beef Flavor Dog Food,” it means that the product just needs to taste like beef and might be beef meal or beef by-products. The word “with,” as in “with real beef,” means that manufacturers only need to include 3 percent beef by weight.
Ignore superlatives. Terms like “premium,” “gourmet,” and even “super ultra premium” are not regulated, so they don’t mean anything.
Know the difference between “natural” and “organic.” The term natural is not an official definition, so it can be used indiscriminately. Organic, on the other hand, does have a strict legal definition and cannot be used unless the pet food meets the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards.

4 Tips for Choosing Healthy Pet Food

Here are more tips that can help:

Read the ingredients list. The descriptive names of pet foods can be misleading, but the AAFCO also asks pet food manufacturers to list all the actual ingredients in descending order by weight on their product can or bag. The ingredients list is where you can find out how healthy the pet food actually is.
Buy dog and cat food that contains meat protein. They are carnivores, so they do best with real meat. The AAFCO says cows, pigs, goats, or sheep should be the meat sources for dog and cat food. Make sure that a whole meat source is listed as one of the top two ingredients.
Pick wet pet food over dry. Wet pet food is packaged in cans or pouches and tends to be fresher, have more protein, and be of higher quality. Dry pet food is often sprayed with fat to give it more taste. Mixing dry food with water or other liquids may allow bacteria on the surface of dry food to multiply, which is bad for your pet’s health.
Avoid animal by-products. Meat by-products are not handled as safely as whole meat and may include lungs, spleen, bone, blood, stomachs, and intestines. Poultry by-products include necks and feet.

Stay Vigilant for Your Pet’s Health

Despite your best efforts, giving your dog or cat a healthy pet diet can be challenging. Pet food manufacturers use many terms in their labeling and, although regulations do exist, there have been many incidents over the years of pet food making pets sick. In March of 2007, for example, more than 100 brands of pet food, including some of the most prominent names in the industry — like Hill’s Science Diet, Iams, Eukanuba, and Purina — were contaminated by melamine, a chemical used in fertilizer and plastics and, in this case, imported into the United States from China. Thousands of pets got sick, and about 20 percent died from kidney failure. The incident led to indictments of individuals in both countries.

Protect your pet by learning the right pet food terminology and reading the ingredients list carefully. The person most responsible for your pet’s health is you.

Understanding Pet Food Labels

What’s in a food label? When picking out pet foods, there are a few important things you can find out — if you know how to decode the label’s lingo.
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Reading and understanding a pet food label is challenging. “Chicken n’ Fish Gourmet Dinner for Cats,” “Yum-Yum Premium Quality Chef’s Special Chicken De-Lite Puppy Chow,” “Brand X All-Natural Happy Paws Dog Food.” You’ve seen it all before: the catchy labels, the TV ads that try to make pet food look as tasty and appealing as what you serve your family to eat. But just what’s in that stuff? And whether it comes out of a can, a box, or a foil packet, how do you compare the nutrient values on different pet food labels? What does it all mean?

Product Name and Product Ingredients: 95 Percent, 25 Percent, or 3 Percent?

It should be pretty easy to tell what’s in a serving of pet food; alas, it requires a little work. The first order of business is to figure out if you’re getting what you think you’re getting. If the label says “beef,” how much is actually beef? The Center for Veterinary Medicine of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides a summary for consumers of pet food labeling rules.

There are three basic rules:

The 95 Percent Rule

If a product bears a name such as “Beef for Dogs” or “Tuna Cat Food,” the rules require that at least 95 percent of the product consist of the named ingredient – in this case, beef or tuna – not counting the water added for processing. If the name includes some other food, such as “Chicken ‘n Tuna Cat Food,” the two food items together must comprise 95 percent of the total weight, and the first-named product must be the one that predominates. (In other words, it can’t be called “Chicken ‘n Tuna” if it has more tuna than chicken.)

NOTE: This rule applies only to ingredients of animal origin. So, a can of “Chicken and Rice Dog Food” must contain at least 95 percent chicken.

The 25 Percent Rule

But suppose the label says “Shrimp Dinner.” If there is a qualifying word, such as “Dinner,” Entree,” “Platter,” “Formula,” etc., the named ingredient(s) must comprise at least 25% of the product – again, not counting added water – but less than 95 percent. This can be important. Suppose your cat doesn’t like fish (not all cats do). You might think that it will go for a food labeled “Chicken Dinner.” Not necessarily. That food may be only 25 percent chicken. Much of the rest may actually be fish. In fact, it may contain more fish than chicken as long as the two ingredients together comprise at least 25% of the whole.

The 3 Percent Rule

A third wrinkle in the labeling rules has to do with a seemingly simple innocent word: “with.” If a pet food label contains that word in its product name, there only has to be 3 percent of that product – not 95 percent or 25 percent – in the package. For example, while a product called “Tuna Cat Food” must contain 95 percent tuna, a product labeled “Cat Food with Tuna” only has to contain 3 percent tuna. So, it’s important to read the label carefully.

Ingredients vs. Nutrients: ‘Guaranteed Analysis’

OK, now you know what ingredients are in the can. But what about things like protein, vitamins, minerals, and the other substances that your pet needs for proper nutrition? This is where “guaranteed analysis” comes in.

The FDA rules require that pet food labels state the minimum percentages of protein and fat, and the maximum percentages of crude fiber and moisture. Many manufacturers also list other nutrients as well. Dog food labels frequently include the minimum percentage levels of calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and linoleic acid. Cat food labels will usually also list the quantities of taurine and magnesium, two nutrients that are essential for feline nutrition.

Moisture Content

The story would end there but for one complication: Different pet foods have different moisture contents. Dry pet foods have the least, “moist” pet foods have more, canned pet foods have the most. So, when comparing different labels, don’t mix apples with oranges. Compare one canned food with another, one dry food with another, and so forth. If you want to compare two different types of foods, you’ll have to do a calculation that takes into account the different moisture contents of the foods. If you’re feeling ambitious, the FDA website will tell you how.

A Comprehensive Approach

As important as it is to know what’s in your pet’s food, remember that there’s more to good nutrition than reading pet food labels. You also have to know what your pet’s nutritional requirements are. Check with your veterinarian for pet-specific advice. He or she is your best source of information.

Pet Obesity Is on the Rise

People aren’t the only ones facing an obesity epidemic in America — our dogs and cats are more overweight than ever.

Some small studies have hinted that about 40 percent of America’s dogs and cats were overweight and obese. But a large-scale study conducted in October 2008 shows that things are even worse than had been suspected, according to Ernie Ward, DVM, founder of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

The second annual study found that 44 percent of dogs were overweight, including 10 percent that were obese. Things were worse for cats. “That is what we were fearful of,” Ward said. He said 57 percent of cats were overweight, including 17 percent falling into the obese category. The results come from a study using data collected by 95 U.S. vet clinics in which weight data was collected on 870 animals.

Ward, who practices in Calabash, N.C., said the population was representative of the veterinary patient population: two-thirds dogs and one-third cats. The pets’ weight was ranked based on ideal ranges. “We now have the most accurate and up-to-date snapshot of the pet obesity problem in this country,” said Ward.

Ward said many vets have been hesitant to bring up obesity. “They thought their clients would be offended — that they didn’t perceive there was a problem,” he said. He said his research shows that clients correctly perceive that their dogs and cats are obese. “The reality is that the clients get it,” he said. “And they’re looking for help. Unfortunately sometimes, their veterinarian is not giving them that assistance.”

For more on obesity in pets, visit the Web site for the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.

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