It seems like the most natural thing in the world—our pets need food, water, medical care and lots of love. But dogs and cats have other needs, too. Our furry friends need ample physical exercise and mental stimulation to lead truly full and happy lives.
“They need jobs,” says Kristen Collins, CPDT, ASPCA Animal Trainer. Dogs and cats need to stay busy and engaged, but unfortunately most pets are unemployed—they sit at home, chronically bored, waiting for their humans to return from work. And as we all know, an idle pet can quickly turn into a naughty pet when restlessness becomes overwhelming.
“With nothing to do, dogs and cats are forced to find ways to entertain themselves,” explains Kristen. “Their activities of choice often include behaviors we find problematic, like excessive barking or meowing, gnawing on shoes, raiding the garbage, eating houseplants and scratching furniture.”
To prevent behavior and health problems, Kristen recommends the following physical and mental workouts—both when you’re there to join the fun and when your pet is home alone.
- Move it! Healthy adult dogs need at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise twice a day. Jogging, swimming and playing at the dog park are all great ways to burn excess energy.
- Get Their Games On: Engage in structured games, like fetch and tug-of-war—they’re not only great exercise but also teach your pet impulse control and strengthen the bond between you.
- Engage in the Hunt: Keep your dog occupied when he’s home alone by giving him a food-stuffed puzzle toy, like the Kong, or some tasty chew toys.
- Let’s Get Physical: Like their canine counterparts, cats also need plenty of aerobic exercise. Get kitty fit with rousing play sessions, such as chase and fetch with furry toys, small balls or toy mice.
- Feline Pastimes: Encourage your cat’s favorite home alone activities, including bird watching, exploring paper bags or boxes, watching cat videos or spending time in secure outdoor enclosures.
- Teach Your Cat New Tricks! Felines are quick studies and can learn practical skills like coming when called, sitting up, rolling over and even using the toilet!
Kristen adds: “The bottom line is that you’re responsible for enriching your pet’s life. Providing opportunities to exercise your cat or dog’s mind and body will keep her healthy and happy—and enhance your relationship, too.”
For more information about enriching your pet’s life, please check out expert advice from our Virtual Pet Behaviorist.
Posted: Just One More Pet
Monthly Feature: BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS IN DOGS
- How to Build a Pet Agility Course
- Interesting Cat (Pet) and Bird Houses
- Company Will Start Building “World’s Most Pet-Friendly House” But Here Are Some Tips For All Pet Owners
- Crate “Training” – Blessing or Abuse?
- Shock Collars, Crate Trainng, And Needing to Control
- Excessive Barking: A Common Problem
- 101 Dog Tricks
Warm weather and humidity can wreak havoc on a good bag of pet food!
Dry dog and cat foods usually have a one-year “shelf life.” That means the food is “good” for up to one year after the manufacturing date. Many dry foods stamp a “best if used by” date on the package. This applies only to unopened bags. High-quality dog food companies use bags that provide protection from oxygen and moisture. If the bag is intact, not enough oxygen and moisture can migrate into the food in one year to cause significant oxidation or microbial growth problems. Though problems can occur between the manufacture of food and the customer opening the bag, it’s what happens after the bag is opened that we are most concerned with in this article.
What happens after you open the bag of dog food? As soon as you open a bag of food, oxygen, moisture, light, mold spores, storage mites, and other potential spoilers enter the bag.
Oxidation of fats
Oxidized fats may cause cancer and contribute to many chronic health problems in humans. The same is true for dogs.
Dog food companies use antioxidants (sometimes vitamin E and other natural sources) to forestall oxidation. Every time the bag is opened, oxygen enters. Eventually the antioxidants are all oxidized (used up) and some of the fats are damaged, starting with the more fragile omega -3 fatty acids.
Degradation of all micronutrients
Vitamins particularly susceptible to oxidation and damage due to long term room temperature storage include vitamin A, thiamin, most forms of folate, some forms of vitamin B6 (pyridoxal),vitamin C, and pantothenic acid. The nutrition in the food at the bottom of a bag left open 39 days will be considerably less than the nutrition in the top of the bag. Fresh is best.
Molds and mycotoxins
Storing open bags of dry dog food for 39 days in warm, humid areas (most kitchens) promotes the growth of molds. Some of the waste products of these molds (mycotoxins) are increasingly being implicated as long-term causes of cancer and other health problems in humans, poultry, pigs and other animals. Dogs are particularly susceptible to these toxins.
When dry dog foods absorb moisture from the surrounding air, the antimicrobials used by most manufacturers to delay mold growth can be overwhelmed, and mold can grow. The molds that consume dry pet foods include the Aspergillus flavus mold, which produces Aflatoxin B1, the most potent naturally occurring carcinogenic substance known.
You can’t see low levels of mold, and most dogs can’t taste it. While many dogs have died shortly after eating mycotoxin-contaminated foods, mycotoxins kill most dogs slowly by suppressing the immune system and creating long-term health problems in all organs of the body.
Bugs, storage mites, mice, and other unpleasant invaders thrive on dry dog food. Recent research has shown that allergic dogs are frequently allergic to the carcasses of storage mites, which may infest grains, especially those grains used in low cost dry dog foods. So, daily, allergic dogs ingest a substance to which their immune system reacts negatively.
Keep food fresh!
1. Keep food in its original bag, even if you use a container. Plastics can leach vitamin C out of the food. The components of the plastics themselves may leach into the food. Rancid fat, which lodges in the pores of plastics that are not food-grade, will contaminate new batches of food.
2. Buy small, fresh bags of food; only enough to last 7 days. Look for manufacturing or “best if used by” dates on the bag. If you don’t see one, or can’t understand the code, write the manufacturer and ask where it is or how to interpret their codes.
3. Keep food dry. If the food looks moist, throw it away.
4. Keep larger bags in the freezer. This is the only way we think large quantities of food may be kept safely.
5. If the food has off color, throw it away.
6. If the food smells rancid or like paint, throw the food away.
7. If your dog says no, do not force her to eat.
8. Don’t buy bags that are torn.
Consider the value vs the risk of buying bags of food that are too large for your pet(s) to finish before the expiration date. Sometime paying a little more to buy smaller bags as you need them can save you a lot of money and heartache in the long run!
Follow these simple recommendations to radically reduce the deadly toxins your dog or cat encounters.
For those of you that are relocating with your pet; ship some of your pet’s food ahead so you have it when you get there. Not all brands are available everywhere. This will save on an upset stomach in a new country or town.
One of my favorite books on the right way to feed pets is “See Spot Live Longer” by Steve Brown and Beth Taylor. Below is an excerpt from Ms. Taylor’s website that I thought was important to share with companion pet owners.
2000+ Dog Books And All Things Dog
It’s hard to believe a houseplant could harm a tough cookie like the Woytek family’s Lab mix, Amber. A survivor of Hurricane Ike, the young pup was diagnosed with distemper in the months after her adoption from the Houston SPCA in September 2008. But according to Laurie Woytek, Amber defeated the often fatal virus—and went on to form a tight bond with her canine “sister” and partner-in-crime, Scout, a one-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback mix.
Early last month, Laurie discovered that Amber had eaten parts of a sago palm plant. Sago palm—with its dark green leaves and hairy trunk—has become a popular houseplant in recent years, but unbeknownst to many green-thumbed pet parents, it’s also highly toxic to cats and dogs.
Immediately ill, Amber was hospitalized at a nearby emergency clinic. Says Laurie, “I was very scared, but thought, ‘She’s tough—she’ll make it through.’” After several days in the hospital, the emergency veterinarian delivered the heartbreaking news to the Woyteks—Amber had developed jaundice and life-threatening liver failure.
“We took Amber to our regular veterinarian to discuss our options with him,” explains Laurie. “She suffered seizures in the car on the way, and we ultimately made the very difficult, yet humane decision to let her go.”
Sadly, Amber’s story is all too common. Since 2003, the ASPCA has seen an increase by more than 200 percent of sago palm and cycad poisonings, and 50 to 75 percent of those ingestions resulted in fatalities. According to Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, veterinary toxicologist and vice president of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, all parts of the plant are toxic, not just the seeds or nuts, and common signs of ingestion include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, depression, seizures and liver failure.
Before the Woytek family said their final goodbyes to Amber, they took her home to see her best buddy, Scout. “As Amber lay still on the floor, Scout kept nudging her as if to say, ‘C’mon, get up,’” Laurie says. “They weren’t just ‘sissies’—as we referred to them—they were best friends.”
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” reflects Laurie. “Amber is truly missed and will forever be in our hearts. She was our little princess.”
In memory of Amber, and to mark the end of National Poison Prevention Week, March 15-21, the ASPCA reminds all pet parents to stay informed about protecting pets from accidental poisonings. Please read our poison prevention tips online.
Additional Common Names for the Sago Palm are: Coontie Palm, Cardboard Palm, cycads and zamias
Animal Poison Control Center
If you can’t reach your vet or don’t have a 24-hour local facility to call, they are your best resource for any animal poison-related emergency, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call (888) 426-4435. However, a $60 consultation fee “may” be applied to your credit card. Have all your emergency numbers listed and handy.