Welcome to National Cat Health Month

National Cat Health Month

It’s a new month and a new year. It’s also National Cat Health Month. As a cat mom or dad, you already do so much to give your fuzzy friend a great quality of life. Despite the unfair reputation cats have as being aloof and self-centered, they are amazing companions who entertain us, snuggle with us, and provide us with unconditional love. Your cat may even try to groom you, which means he really thinks you’re the cat’s meow. In recognition of this month-long awareness event, we would like to offer you the following cat care tips:

• Cats have an inborn need to scratch and aren’t trying to be naughty when they claw up the furniture. You can save your skin, furniture, and sanity by redirecting your cat to several scratching posts placed around the house. If destructive scratching becomes a major problem, resist the urge to declaw your cat. We are happy to recommend alternatives to this major surgery.
• Make sure that your cat has several places throughout the home to hide and sleep. Part of the reason people misunderstand cats as aloof is that they need their privacy and alone time. Hiding spots also come in handy when your cat feels fearful or stressed and prefers to retreat from the situation.
• More than half of American housecats are overweight or obese. Although remaining indoors is better for their health, it also eliminates much of the activity that can help them maintain a stable weight. Be sure to provide an enriching indoor environment for your cat that includes several toys. Cats often like simple, inexpensive toys the best such as a piece of string or pretend mouse. A cat perch satisfies the natural desire to climb and look outdoors.
• Spend several minutes every day interacting with your cat by petting her and talking to her. This helps deepen your bond.
• Check the labels on your cat’s food to ensure that you make a nutritious selection. Avoid foods with artificial fillers since they add no nutritional value. The occasional treat is fine, but your cat should have to earn it. Try hiding the treat close by so she can smell it or place it inside a toy. This provides your cat with exercise and satisfies her hunting instinct.
• Consider getting your cat microchipped, even if he remains indoors. He could slip outside when the door is open and lose his collar and tag, making it unlikely you will ever be reunited.

Bring Your Cat to See Us for Regular Check-Ups
According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, more than 50 percent of cats don’t see a veterinarian consistently. The study indicates that three out of four cats see a vet before their first birthday but the visits drop off dramatically after that. Cat owners tend to reserve veterinary visits for injuries or severe illness, possibly due to their pet’s behavior when it’s time for an appointment. 
 
At Grantsburg Animal Hospital and Wild River Veterinary Clinic, we encourage you to bring adult cats in for an annual preventive care exam. Kittens need several visits their first year to get off on the right paw.

 

Photo Credit: Leoba / Free Digital Images

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Did You Know That January is National Train Your Dog Month?

National Dog Training Month
 
The companionship of a dog can bring years of enjoyment and a deep love for an animal you probably didn’t realize was possible. However, few dogs are ideal house pets without a major investment in training. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, dog owners report the following issues as being most problematic: 
 
Excessive barking 
Jumping up on people 
Pulling on the leash while walking 
Aggression 
Digging up the yard 
Eliminating in the house 

Before you give up on your dog, you may want to consider professional training. This is an especially good time since January is National Train Your Dog Month sponsored by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Some people realize too late that dealing with these behaviors are more than they bargained for when getting a dog. They quickly become frustrated and surrender their pet. Unfortunately, this makes things even more challenging for the dog’s next owner if she is lucky enough to find one. During National Train Your Dog Month, sponsored by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, we urge you not to give up on your dog and to make an investment in professional training if necessary.

What Causes Problem Behavior in Dogs?
What looks like deliberate misbehavior to you can make perfect sense to a dog. Take aggression, for example. Your dog barks and lunges at other dogs to protect his turf and human family. Often, a problem behavior is the only way your dog knows how to cope with the stress in his life. You should never take your dog’s actions personally. Animals don’t act out of revenge or spite as people can because their behavior is instinctual. Working with a professional trainer can help you understand the motivations for your dog’s problem behaviors and devise a plan to modify them.

Dog Training with Operant and Classical Conditioning
Operant and classical conditioning are two tools that professional dog trainers use to modify behavior. The first type involves using positive reinforcement as well as non-physical punishment when necessary. Trainers never punish a dog for reflexive behaviors outside of her control.

With operant conditioning, your dog gets a reward each time he displays a desired behavior. Over time, you decrease the rewards so your dog only gets recognized for the best behavior. This strategy, called intermittent reinforcement, encourages him to keep trying to please you to get a reward. Negative reinforcement may include taking something away that your dog enjoys, such as a favorite toy. Eventually he gets the message that engaging in a certain behavior makes the toy disappear.

Dog trainers who use classical conditioning also refer to it as associated learning. As an example, dogs learn early in life that their owner grabbing a leash and heading towards the door means it’s time to go for a walk. It takes consistency to teach your dog that one action equals another action.

Check Our Canine Library or Ask for a Referral

If your dog isn’t at the point of needing professional intervention, we encourage you to check out the resources available in our canine library. We have teamed up with Veterinary Partners to bring you this valuable information. You simply look up the topic you’re interested in to find articles with more details on dog training. Another option is to go directly to the website for the American Association of Dog Trainers. 

We wish you success in your dog training efforts and know that you can do it. Nothing beats the reward of living with a well-trained dog. 

Photo Credit: TransientEternal  / Getty Images

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Winter Pet Safety: Plan for the Best and Prepare for the Worst

Winter Pet Safety

Cats and dogs have different needs when it comes to staying safe in the winter. Even cats who spend time outside during warmer weather often have little interest in going outside when the ground is covered in snow. Fortunately, cats have little reason to go outdoors in the winter when they have food, water, a litter box, and an enriching indoor environment.

It is a different situation with dogs. In addition to eliminating outdoors, they need daily walks and the opportunity to play outside to release their energy. Dogs can become destructive if denied these opportunities. Although going outside in the winter is unavoidable for dogs, we encourage you to limit their exposure to Wisconsin’s sub-zero temperatures.

You can prevent hypothermia and frostbite by dressing your dog in a hat and warm clothing. He may protest, but will eventually come to accept it if he wants to go outside. The snow and ice can be hard on your dog’s paw pads, so make sure you check them regularly. Cracking or bleeding means that ice has gotten stuck on his paw pads and caused damage. One way to avoid this is by staying clear of piles of ice when you walk your dog.

It is also important to trim the tiny hairs between each claw so it doesn’t become matted with snow and ice. Putting protective footwear over each of your dog’s paws keeps them warm and dry. Another good reason not to allow your dog on ice is that she may slip or fall through ice that isn’t strong enough to hold her weight.

Plan for Winter’s Worst
It is rare to get through a winter without at least a few severe weather events. Because of this, we encourage you to create a disaster kit with the needs of both the people and pets in your family in mind. It should contain a minimum of five days’ worth of your pet’s medication, food, and water in case you become stranded in your vehicle or lose power in your home.

Anti-Freeze Can Be Deadly for Pets
To a thirsty dog or cat, anti-freeze looks like a refreshing drink. Besides having a clear appearance, anti-freeze has no discernable odor to send a clue that it isn’t water. Drinking even a small amount of anti-freeze can poison your pet and cause him to become severely ill or die. Be sure to keep your pet indoors away from your car if you are unable to clean spills from your garage floor or driveway right away.

Your Pet Will Let You Know When It’s Time to Come Inside

Shivering, whining, and walking slowly are some of the signals your pet will send you that he is getting too cold. He may also act highly agitated or anxious. When running errands in the winter, it is best to leave your dog at home if you are unable to bring him inside with you. Too much time in a cold car in the winter can have disastrous consequences just like being left in a hot car in the summer.

Please don’t hesitate to contact Grantsburg Animal Hospital or Wild River Veterinary Clinic if you have additional concerns about your pet’s health and safety this winter.

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Have a Safe and Happy Holiday with Your Pet

preview full Have a Safe and Happy Holiday

From a pet’s perspective, everything changes at this time of year. Between the decorations that suddenly appear and the delightful smells of holiday baking, dogs and cats are curious and eager to take part in your traditions. Unfortunately, this natural instinct to explore could get your pet into a situation that could harm her. The tips below will help keep her safe so you can enjoy a worry-free holiday season.
 
Ornaments, Lights, and Tinsel on the Christmas Tree
Both real and artificial trees have their benefits and drawbacks. One thing to keep in mind with live Christmas trees is that your dog may try to drink the water. Drinking water isn’t a bad thing, but insecticides the grower sprayed on the tree could make their way to the water and cause your dog to become ill. If you’re giving someone a gift of food, your dog may rip open the package and eat the contents before Christmas arrives. It is best to save wrapping these types of gifts until the last minute.
 
Putting a tree in a cat’s home with many bright things dangling from it may be subjecting him to more temptation than he can handle. While batting at Christmas tree decorations is fun and harmless, chewing or swallowing them can be dangerous. To avoid a potential choking hazard, be certain to tape down all wires and place all dangling ornaments at the top of the tree where your cat is unable to reach them. Since tinsel can cause extensive damage to the digestive tract, it might be best to avoid decorating with it altogether.
 
Menorah Candles
If you celebrate Hanukkah, your dog or cat will likely be curious about the Menorah candles. With a live flame, it only takes a quick bat at the candle or swish of the tail for your pet to start a fire or become seriously injured. For pet owners and parents of small children, we recommend using a battery-powered candle if possible. If that would detract from your celebration too much, just make sure to closely supervise pets and kids around burning candles.
 
Holiday Food Hazards
The powerful aroma of cooking food and seeing people with holiday treats may turn your dog or cat into a terrible beggar. No matter how much your pet begs or gives you sad eyes, don’t give in and share seasonal food and treats unless you know they’re safe.
 
Chocolate is especially toxic for pets. Some meats are okay to share in small amounts as long as they don’t contain any seasonings or bones. You can expect your pet to zero in on people dropping food or wrappers in the kitchen. The best way to prevent potential choking is to keep him in another room until people are finished eating and everything has been put away.

Be Patient with Your Pet

Your dog or cat is bound to pick up on the excitement and stress of the winter holiday season. This may cause her to misbehave to get your attention. Try to keep your pet’s routine as normal as possible and be sure to spend at least a few minutes of one-on-one time with her each day. While you can’t ignore bad behavior, don’t go overboard with punishment either. 

If you experience an emergency this holiday season when our clinics are closed, please call our after-hours line at 1-800-924-0588. 

Photo Credit: Ljupco / Getty Images

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