What it means to be a responsible pet owner

It’s easy and relatively cheap to acquire a pet, but it takes a lot more than simply owning a dog, cat, bird, rodent or reptile to be a responsible pet owner. We derive pleasure and a whole host of benefits from pet ownership – physical exercise, emotional stimulation, social fulfilment, and security – but responsible pet ownership makes this a two-way street. There is a lot we need to give, and it’s not just bowls of food and water.

As a responsible pet owner, you aim to take care of your pet’s (or pets’) every need – not just their basic needs, but also their mental and emotional needs, and their need for safety and belonging. You are also 100% responsible for your pet in public, as you would be of yourself or your human children. Responsible pet ownership means recognising the privilege of caring for an animal and ensuring you give them the best quality of life you can afford, while enjoying the benefits of the human-animal bond.

1. Research the breed before adopting

The first step in responsible pet ownership is educating yourself on the breed of animal you want to adopt. They are not just an object you want today and can discard tomorrow. A pet is a long-living animal whose daily, annual and lifelong needs must be considered before you bring them home. Their life experience depends entirely on your awareness and empathy.

Considerations of the responsible pet owner before you bring a pet home:

  • Can you afford the monthly, quarterly, annual and emergency costs of pet ownership?
  • Do you fully understand the needs and characteristics of the breed of animal you want to adopt?
  • Does this potential pet align with your lifestyle? For instance, are you active enough to adopt a border collie or a Labrador? Are you at home for long enough periods of time to own an indoor cat? Do you have the space indoors to house a bird (who needs daily flying experiences)?
  • Can you comfortably and hygienically accommodate your desired pet?
    • Are your home and yard large enough for a dog?
    • Do you have the space and resources to build a cattio for your indoor cat to experience the outdoors, instead of letting her roam?
    • Do you have the space for a rabbit hutch or rodent enclosure? A tiny cage is not sufficient.
    • Do you have a dedicated space in your home to allow your pet bird to fly safely, without risk of escape? A bird is not meant to live in a cage 24/7.
  • Do your long-term future plans include your pet? Can you picture yourself with this pet in 15 years’ time?

2. Ensure you can meet your pet’s basic needs

The most basic pet needs include:

  • the best quality pet food you can afford
  • constant supply of fresh water
  • assurance of safety from harm, neglect and abuse
  • being kept clean and hygienically groomed
  • a clean and sanitary pet environment – which includes picking up dog poop, scooping the litterbox, regularly changing a small pet/rodent’s bedding, cleaning your bird’s cage and putting down fresh paper
  • adequate shelter – a comfortable bed or space they can retreat to
  • adequate physical exercise for their breed, age, and energy levels
  • adequate mental stimulation to exercise their mind and protect them from boredom and emotional distress
  • access to healthcare (especially emergency care) when they are hurt, injured or sick
  • dedication to offering your pet a satisfying life experience

3. Build the relationship between your pet and the vet

The vet is essentially your pet’s GP, which means they are not only there for emergencies, but to attend to your pet’s long-term wellbeing. It’s your responsibility as pet owner to foster a relationship between your beloved pet and the person who will know their health, inside and out. Your approach towards veterinary care needs to be a proactive one, which means:

  • registering your pet with the vet as soon as possible, and taking them for their first check-up
  • giving the vet the opportunity to establish a health baseline for your pet
  • keeping your pet’s vaccinations up to date
  • having a microchip implanted, to ensure your pet can easily find their way home, should they get lost
  • providing preventative treatment such as dewormer, and tick and flea medication at the correct intervals
  • spaying or neutering your pet to prevent unwanted reproduction
  • taking your pet for an annual check-up
  • being kind enough to euthanise your pet if they are suffering (whether from incurable disease or at the end of their life)

As a responsible pet owner, you understand the need to sterilise your pets – both to prevent certain types of cancers, and in the context of the huge pet overpopulation problem we have in South Africa. Wanting your children to ‘witness the miracle of life’, thinking your pet should have at least one litter or that you can make a quick buck off puppies or kittens, are no longer suitable reasons to breed your pet. Why? Because it’s impossible to ignore the numbers: approximately one million dogs and cats are unnecessarily euthanised in our country every year (that’s around 2700 pets killed per day) because shelters are full. There are too many animals and not enough good homes. As a responsible pet owner, you may have nothing to do with the source of the pet overpopulation problem, but you do not have to contribute to it.

4. Understand your pet’s safety and social needs

Pets can experience severe anxiety if they feel unsafe or threatened in their home environment, so it’s your responsibility to socialise your pets. Socialisation teaches your pets to have confidence in the face of new experiences – with people and with other pets. This confidence can help them to find their place in their ‘pack’ at home, as well as to feel self-confident and unthreatened out in public.

As a responsible pet owner, you’ll also understand that not all pets are equally sociable, and sometimes they will just want to have a solo relationship with their owner. Being responsible is not simply about socialising your pet against their will, but about understanding your pet’s needs and meeting them where they are. Not all dogs enjoy other dogs; not all cats get along; and not all dogs and cats can accept each other. Get to know your pet’s own individual social needs and help them to feel at home in your home.

For indoor pets to live and behave socially appropriately in their pack (whether with you or other pets), you must ensure that:

  • dogs and cats are house-trained and litter trained
  • your pets are socialised as far as other adults, children and pets are concerned
  • your pets are socially enriched – not dominated, bullied, teased or ostracised
  • your pets’ needs are met by instilling a routine: make sure that meals, toileting, playtime, naptime, training and exercise happens more or less at the same time every day – this is a huge confidence booster

Introducing a routine helps your pets’ lives to feel stable and predictable, which builds their trust and confidence and helps them to thrive. So even in the face of upheaval – such as moving house, having a family member come to stay, or introducing a new pet to the household – if you maintain the basic routine, it gives them a sense of predictability and that life goes on as normal, even if there are changes in the environment.

5. Give your pet enough physical exercise

As a responsible pet owner, you understand that giving your pet ‘enough’ exercise means different things for different pets. You’ll need to determine how much exercise and activity your pet needs, and then give them enough to meet those needs and stay healthy. For some pets, too much exercise can injure them, while for others, not enough exercise can result in destructive boredom – in which your pet resorts to chewing, scratching, digging, or vocalising as a means to get rid of pent-up energy and to stimulate themselves mentally.

Different dogs will also enjoy different types of games – not all dogs desire a game of fetch, nor do all dogs enjoy swimming. Similarly, some cats love chasing fluffy toys, while others enjoy stimulating games with other cats.

If you insist on adopting a pet bird, understand that it needs to fly. A pet bird that does not get the opportunity to spread its wings is like a perfectly able human being confined to a chair all day. Physical and mental health consequences will follow. As a responsible pet owner, you understand the complex physical and emotional needs of your chosen pet, and will meet those needs in order to ensure their wellbeing.

6. Give your pet enough mental stimulation

Pets are intelligent creatures who need to have their brains exercised as much as their bodies. They need to engage in problem-solving activities such as games, or they need to be given a ‘job’. Some dogs derive huge pleasure and purpose from being service or therapy dogs, taking part in agility competitions and keeping their owners happy through obedience exercises.

Birds also rate highly on the intelligence scales and need nearly constant engagement and activity. They learn to mimic sounds, love playing games, and can learn to solve puzzles. Birds are active, social creatures who love to spend time doing the things their human is doing. Sitting in a cage all day is mental hell for them.

Rodents are also very intelligent – rats can be trained to perform tricks in the same way that dogs do: through positive reinforcement. Pet rats can be taught a whole routine of commands and tricks, which is just as good for building a bond with them as it is for their physical and mental health.

7. Understand the importance of training your pet

As a responsible pet owner, you understand how important it is to train your pet – that training encompasses:

  • learning the art of communication between you and your pet
  • building a bond of trust between you and your pet
  • an incredibly healthy blend of physical, mental and emotional stimulation, which is vital to your pet’s wellbeing

When your pet knows what you expect from them, they will do what they can to please you. The responsible pet owner never stops training their pet – it’s a lifelong activity that is reinforced daily when simply spending dedicated time with your pet, putting that training into action.

8. Be responsible for your pet in public at all times

As a responsible pet owner, you understand that you are responsible for your pet in public, at all times. Unless your dog has perfect recall, doesn’t bother strangers or charge at other animals, keep them leashed at all times, as this will help you to maintain control over your pet.

It is your responsibility to:

  • keep your pets under control in public
  • respect others’ property by keeping your pets off it – it’s unacceptable to allow your pets to roam freely
  • ensure your pets are not a nuisance to other people and animals. Don’t simply allow your dog to approach another dog or person because “she’s friendly”. You need to ask permission before your pet imposes herself on others
  • adhere to municipal bylaws: pick up your dog’s poop, keep them leashed, and don’t allow your dog to bark and bark, creating a noise disturbance

As a responsible pet owner, you need to take full responsibility for your pet’s behaviour and its consequences.

Conclusion

Pet ownership is a constant lifelong lesson with your pet – it’s not going to be a perfect experience from the start. As a responsible pet owner, you accept that you’re doing the best you can with what you have, and that there is always room to improve and grow. Whatever your experience with your pet is today, you can be a more well-rounded responsible pet owner again tomorrow. If you do need help with certain aspects of pet ownership, speak to the vet for advice on your pet’s health and wellbeing.

Nervous system

As we explore the bodily systems of our furry and purry friends, there is one system without which all the others would not be able to function: the nervous system. The nervous system consists of the brain, spinal cord and all the nerves and connective tissue that runs between them and the rest of the body’s organs. Think of the nervous system not only as the electrical wiring that powers the house, but with its own power source and smart system – the brain – that maintains equilibrium in every room.

In this article, we explore the structure and function of the nervous system in our pets, as well as disorders of the nervous system and how they affect our pets’ lives.

The canine and feline nervous systems are relatively similar in structure, so we’ll be referring to both in general, unless otherwise specified.

The structure of the nervous system

The nervous system is made up of a few parts, which are connected by structure and distinguished by function. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. Connecting the central nervous system to the rest of the body is the peripheral nervous system, made up of sensory neurons and motor neurons.

Sensory neurons carry signals from the body’s sensory organs to the brain, while motor neurons carry response signals from the brain to the muscles (of limbs and organs) and to glands (like the adrenal glands). Motor neurons make up the somatic nervous system, which is responsible for voluntary movement (chewing and running), and the autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for involuntary movement (heartbeat and digestive motility).

The autonomic nervous system further splits into the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system, which control the involuntary responses to stress and calm, respectively. The whole nervous system is made up of neurons or nerve cells, which connect limbs and muscles, organs, tissues and skin to the nervous system and allow the various body parts to communicate with the brain (in a nutshell).

Let’s take a high-level look at each part of the nervous system and its function:

Central nervous system

The central nervous system is the control centre of the dog or cat’s body. It consists of the brain, which not only controls voluntary and involuntary movements, but also receives and interprets sensory input, produces thoughts, stores memories and initiates responses to stimuli.

The central nervous system is also home to the spinal cord, which is the information signal superhighway from the brain to the rest of the body… and back again.

Peripheral nervous system

The peripheral nervous system comprises an intricate network of sensory neurons and motor neurons.

  • Sensory neurons are specially designed to transfer sensory information (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) to the brain, allowing the animal to sense and interpret their external environment. What do they see? What do they smell? – Is breakfast ready? – What do they taste? Are they warm or cold?
  • Motor neurons transfer response signals from the brain to the limbs and organs, creating a voluntary or involuntary reaction to the sensory information.

Example: Your dog is sleeping. He hears the sound of the front door opening and closing (sensory input), and opens his eyes (motor reaction). He sees you walking into the house (sensory input) and wags his tail, puts his ears back and gets up to greet you by licking your hand (motor reaction).

Motor neurons: Somatic & autonomic nervous systems

Movement in the body is not only voluntary (controlled by the somatic nervous system); there are thousands of involuntary movements happening in the body every day. Your pet doesn’t have to think about their heart beating or their food moving through their digestive system. They don’t have to think about relaxing and contracting their muscles when breathing, voluntarily adjusting their blood pressure, or moving waste through their elimination system. These involuntary movements are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, and they happen in order to keep the body and its systems in equilibrium.

Example: Your cat walks over to her food bowl and starts eating. Taking the food into her mouth, chewing and swallowing are voluntary movements (somatic nervous system). The swallowed food is automatically moved along the digestive tract by peristalsis – the involuntary contraction of muscles that create a wave-like motion from the oesophagus to rectum (autonomic nervous system). A few hours later, she will go and scratch in the litterbox (somatic nervous system) because she has the urge to poop (autonomic nervous system).

Autonomic nervous system: Sympathetic & parasympathetic nervous systems

The involuntary movements in a pet’s body are controlled by two different systems, depending on what the external sensory input is telling the animal.

  • The sympathetic nervous system controls the involuntary movements involved with the animal’s survival response. In a ‘fight, flight, freeze or fret’ situation, the sympathetic nervous system triggers the release of hormones – adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. These hormones further trigger body systems that prepare the animal for physical activity (fighting, running away, or pacing): an increase in blood sugar, heartrate, lung capacity and muscle tension. There is also a decrease in digestion (the energy is diverted to the muscles) and elimination.
  • The parasympathetic nervous system kicks in when the threat is over. It triggers the release of acetylcholine, which counteracts the effects of the cortisol and adrenaline and stimulates the ‘rest and digest’ process. This slows down the heartrate, reduces blood pressure, relaxes muscles, and stimulates digestion again.

Example: Your dog hears an intruder in the house and goes to investigate. His muscles tense (his pose is stiff and upright, with hackles raised), he has a sudden rush of energy, his heartrate increases and his lung capacity expands, as more oxygen will need to be sent around the body faster. The blood vessels in his digestive system constrict and the vessels in his muscles dilate – removing blood from the digestive function and sending it to the motor function. Adrenaline is pumping around his body, readying him for a fight for survival.

When your dog sees that the intruder is, in fact, you, his parasympathetic system counteracts the survival response and his body relaxes. His pupils dilate, his muscles relax, his ears lie flat and his tail wags. It takes him a little longer to calm down than it did for him to go into survival mode, so when you put your hand on his chest, you can still feel his heart racing.

The function of the nervous system

From the structural description, the function of the nervous system can be summarised as follows. The nervous system:

  • receives sensory stimuli internally and externally (sensory neurons)
  • interprets the sensory stimuli (brain)
  • initiates a response to the sensory stimuli (motor neurons, hormones)

Essentially, the function of your pet’s nervous system is to control his body – each and every gland, organ, muscle and system sends and receives signals using the nervous system.

Disorders of the canine or feline nervous system

Given that dogs and cats are biological organisms that are subject to disorder and disruption in their physical biology, pets can experience disorders of the nervous system. These disorders can be caused by:

  • genetic or congenital defects (they are born with neurological problems)
  • traumatic injury
  • infections
  • nutritional problems or deficiency
  • degenerative issues (progressive deterioration over time)
  • inflammation
  • cancer
  • metabolic problems
  • blood supply issues that affect neural tissue

Since neurological disorders can have so many different causes, and can originate in different parts of the nervous system, we’ll cover a few common examples, but this list is by no means exhaustive.

Idiopathic epilepsy

‘Idiopathic’ refers to there not being a known cause for the pet’s seizures. Dogs are more likely to have genetically inherited epilepsy than cats. However, cats can have seizures for a variety of other reasons, such as brain injury, poisoning or disease. Seizures occur when there is abnormal brain activity, especially during a heightened or changing state (such as when the pet is excited, eating or about to fall asleep).

Hydrocephalus

Hydro (water) -cephalus (head) describes the condition in which cerebrospinal fluid does not adequately drain from the brain, giving puppies and kittens an abnormal dome-shaped head with an open fontanelle (soft spot on the head). When the skull bones eventually harden, this can cause pressure on the brain that leads to other issues such as blindness, weakness, abnormally ‘quiet’ or simple behaviour or inability to house train. In puppies, hydrocephalus is mostly due to congenital defect (which often goes hand-in-hand with other problems with their anatomy), while in kittens, it’s caused by in utero exposure to ringworm medication or to the virus that causes feline distemper. Animals with mild hydrocephalus can lead relatively normal lives with treatment. Severe hydrocephalus can lead to death of brain tissue and the resulting complications. Each case will be individually assessed and treatment determined by the vet.

Meningitis and encephalitis

Meningitis (inflammation of the membranes of the brain and spinal cord) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) can develop as a result of infection by bacteria, virus, fungus or parasites. They can also be caused by a compromised immune system, chemical toxicity or trauma, as well as septicaemia.

Signs of meningitis and encephalitis include fever, muscle spasms, partial lameness, circling behaviour, loss of balance, loss of consciousness or difficulty performing everyday functions. The vet will test for meningitis and encephalitis by analysing cerebrospinal fluid from a lumbar puncture procedure.

Vestibular disease

Vestibular disease occurs when there is a sudden-onset disturbance of a pet’s ability to maintain balance. The vestibular system consists of an area in the lower brain, called the medulla, and the inner ear. Nerves in the fluid-filled canals of this system constantly send feedback to the brain that corresponds with the animal’s head position and the effects of gravity. When disease, infection, head trauma, tumours or toxicity affect this carefully co-ordinated system, the dog or cat can show signs of imbalance, head tilt, disorientation, jerky eye movements and vomiting.

The vet will perform a range of tests from blood and urine, to X-ray, blood pressure measurement and even MRI and CT scans. Treatment will depend on the cause of the disease.

Intervertebral disc disease

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a degenerative condition that affects the spine as pets age (it is more commonly seen in dogs, but also affects some cats). It’s characterised by vertebral discs that rupture, slip or herniate. The condition can gradually deteriorate without major symptoms until the pet makes a bold movement (such as jumping to catch a ball or climbing on/off of furniture) that damages the affected vertebral discs and causes acute pain.

The vertebral discs are supposed to cushion the bones of the spine, but IVDD causes them to harden and subsequently pinch or compress the spine. IVDD can also damage spinal nerves, leading to poor bladder and bowel control or even paralysis – depending on where in their spinal column the discs are damaged.

IVDD in the neck causes pets to hold their necks low, arch their backs, and even whimper. They are unable to walk properly or at all. IVDD in the mid-back area can cause pets to hold their bellies tensely; they also show walking difficulties and tend to cross their back feet when walking. IVDD in the lower back can lead to hind leg paralysis, incontinence, and an inability or difficulty with jumping. In order to diagnose IVDD, the vet will need to take some X-rays or even an MRI to see if there are any vertebral discs bulging and where they are located.

Dementia (cognitive dysfunction)

Just like humans, dogs and cats are susceptible to cognitive decline, which is the result of plaque deposits on the brain which has an impact on their brain’s ability to perceive, remember, recognise and learn. The symptoms are similar too:

  • spatial disorientation
  • changes in appetite
  • confusion around basic activities (such as cats forgetting where the litterbox is, or dogs forgetting they just ate and wanting more food)
  • changes in behaviour – either becoming less or more affectionate towards their owners, or less tolerable of once familiar pet friends
  • changes in their circadian rhythm (sleep and wakefulness)
  • mood changes
  • disinterest in once exciting activities

Dementia is not curable or reversible, but diet, activity and some medications can slow its progression. It’s also important that pet owners keep things familiar, not scold or punish pets for soiling the house, and keep up with enrichment activities, which naturally stimulate the brain. Food puzzles are a great activity for ageing dogs and cats who may have experienced changes in appetite, mood and sleep/wake cycles.

Hypothyroid neuropathy

Metabolic disorders like hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can put pets at risk of developing neurological complications. Hypothyroidism is seen more often in dogs than in cats, and it is associated with the development of neurological symptoms like head tilt, vestibular disease, strabismus (cross-eyed), dry eye (where facial nerves are affected), and reduced muscle tone because of neurological weakness in the limbs.

Cancers in the nervous system

Tumours in the nervous system – such as nerve sheath tumours – can easily affect the front legs and be mistaken for pain from injury or overuse. These types of tumours can arise in the peripheral nervous system, but also in the cranial nerves, which affect the jaw. If the tumour grows too large before being surgically removed, it can be fatal.

How to protect your pet’s nervous system

Pets are susceptible to a very wide variety of diseases and disorders of the nervous system – some of which are genetic and unavoidable. However, for overall nervous system wellness, exercise is the number one recommendation to keep the nervous system healthy. It’s not just about healthy muscle tone and good cardiovascular health, but exercise also reduces stress. Chronic stress can weaken a pet’s neurological health, and it’s also bad for their immune system.

A healthy diet can also help to properly feed and support a healthy nervous system to ensure it functions optimally. Good gut health is directly linked to brain health, so make sure your pet’s gastrointestinal health is in tip top shape.

Also ensure your pet is receiving a healthy dose of B vitamins, which are neurotrophic in nature – supporting the healthy functioning of the nervous system. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities that also help to support brain and nerve functioning.

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How to keep ticks and fleas away from your pets for good

Ticks and fleas may be tiny, but they can have huge consequences if they are not kept in check. These external parasites live off the blood of mammals, so it’s only a matter of time before your pets attract them, host them and then bring them indoors. Ticks and fleas are drawn towards the cosy confines of a pet’s fur coat, where they can make themselves at home, bite into the skin and enjoy a blood meal, which is the first step before they start breeding. Once the breeding cycle begins, it can be very difficult to rid your pets (and home) of an infestation.

The feline digestive system

The feline digestive system is similar in form and function to the canine digestive system. However, there are some differences in their diet that account for variances in how they absorb and use energy, and how long their digestive process takes.

Cats are obligate carnivores, which means that in order to survive, they need a diet that is primarily made up of meat. They can eat carbs and fats, but their health will deteriorate if they don’t get enough animal proteins to maintain their energy, lean muscle, tendons and ligaments, fur, skin, nails, hormonal balance and many other body organs and systems. Despite around 10,000 years of domestication, there is little that has changed in their protein-dominant diet. Therefore, their digestive system is primed to ingest, digest, absorb and eliminate based on a meat-based diet.

Cats’ stomach pH is highly acidic – almost twice as acidic as humans’ stomachs – to help break down proteins faster and neutralise bacteria in the meat they consume. Dogs’ stomachs are slightly less acidic due to their omnivorous diet, but still more acidic than humans’.  

Let’s take a quick look at your cat’s digestive system: the organs it’s made up of, how it works, how you can help your cat’s digestive system to remain healthy, the issues that could arise, and when to see the vet about any cat digestive ailments.

Organs of the feline digestive system

Your cat’s digestive system starts at her mouth and ends under her tail. The components and organs of the feline digestive system include:

  • mouth
  • oesophagus
  • stomach
  • liver (and gall bladder)
  • pancreas
  • small intestine
  • large intestine (colon)
  • rectum
  • anus

There are many complex organs involved in what we presume to be the simple process of eating and eliminating.

How does a cat’s digestive system work?

The aroma or anticipation of eating triggers the production of saliva in the cat’s mouth, which helps to moisturise her oral membranes and to lubricate the passage of food through the oesophagus and into the stomach.

When a cat has chewed up a mouthful of food, the contents she swallows are called a bolus. The bolus travels along the oesophagus and into the cat’s stomach. The muscles of the oesophagus contract involuntarily in a one-directional wave – a process called peristalsis – that carries the bolus through the digestive system.

When the bolus reaches the stomach, the digestive process begins, thanks to the presence of highly acidic gastric juices and digestive enzymes. The bolus is partially processed by the highly acidic gastric juices of the stomach as well as secreted digestive enzymes – this process can take a few hours – and the resulting chyme is gradually released into the small intestine. Chyme is more liquid than the bolus, and facilitates the further breaking down of nutrients, preparing them for absorption in the intestines. 

In order to help the process of fat absorption, the liver and gall bladder secrete bile into the first part of the small intestine (called the duodenum), which reduces the acidity of the chyme and aids the absorption of fat. The pancreas produces insulin to stabilise blood sugar and support the metabolism. It also secretes bicarbonate to alkalinise the digestible substances, and digestive enzymes to aid digestion.

In the next segment of the small intestine (the jejunum) the lining of this organ is covered in villi and microvilli – tiny ‘fingers’ that secrete digestive enzymes, absorb nutrients into the bloodstream, and prevent the absorption of waste materials. This is where amino acids (proteins) are absorbed into the bloodstream so they can be processed in the liver and used for physical energy and tissue and muscle maintenance in the cat’s body.

Peristalsis continues to push unabsorbed material through the last part of the small intestine – the ileum – that connects to the large intestine (colon). It is here that the last bit of moisture is extracted from the undigested material, which now accumulates and firms up as faecal matter. The colon moves this faecal matter into the rectum, out of the anus and in your cat’s litterbox. 

How long does it take for food to pass through a cat?

From top to tail, ingestion, digestion and elimination in a cat can take from 10 to 24 hours. Various factors will affect this timeline, such as the age of the cat, as well as its size, activity levels and overall health. The quality of the food is also important.

How do you take care of your cat’s digestive system?

Feed your cat high-quality, protein-rich food

As long as your cat is eating high-quality cat food that is rich in protein and moisture, she should be relatively healthy. Is kibble or wet food better for cats? It’s not a question of either/or, but rather the correct ratios of both. While kibble provides nutrient-dense feed and wet food provides additional beneficial moisture, it’s a combination of both wet and dry food together that will meet your cat’s need for a healthy diet. The important part is to ensure your cat is getting a balanced diet and that her caloric intake is meeting her nutritional needs. All cats need the highest quality food you can afford, to meet their energy needs and to support a healthy digestive system.

Make sure your cat is hydrated

Wet food is more easily digestible, especially since cats get more hydration from wet food, and it makes it easier for them to use the litterbox more regularly. That being said, dry kibble is also good for your cat – just make sure she drinks enough water, and always ensure she has access to fresh, clean water. Some cats may seem like they don’t want to drink water or are not thirsty, but what they really mean is they don’t like stagnant water. In these instances, you may find your cat enjoys drinking from a running tap, a bespoke kitty drinking fountain, or even your indoor fish pond. Cats that don’t drink enough water are at risk of urolithiasis – or bladder stones.

Feed your cat a prebiotic

Prebiotics and fibre) are a good supplement to add to your cat’s food. It boosts the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which helps to balance the digestive processes. If your cat suffers from hairballs and other digestive upset, a prebiotic supplement can support better motility in the digestive tract to help move those problems along. 

Exercise your cat daily

As with humans, an integral part of good digestion in cats is physical activity. This stimulates the digestive system to improve its motility (moving food along the small and large intestines) and to actively extract nutrients from food in order to use the caloric energy. A sluggish, sedentary lifestyle is not good for cats’ digestive health at all – so whip out a wand toy, bouncy balls or even a laser light to get your cat moving! Make sure you encourage your cat to play a few times a day and have fresh water available to keep her hydrated.

Do cats have digestive problems?

Your cat’s digestive process is the foundation of her health and wellbeing, but it’s also the system most susceptible to problems. Whether it’s a genetic issue, something caused by stress, indiscriminate eating (especially when hunting outdoors), allergies, poisons or food sensitivity (among other causes), many digestive problems have similar symptoms.

How do you know if your cat has a digestive problem?

There will always be some obvious signs and symptoms when your cat’s digestive system is under attack – the two most obvious being vomiting and diarrhoea. A distended belly and/or constipation, fever, reduced appetite, abdominal pain and/or a change in behaviour can also indicate digestive distress.

Common digestive issues in cats

The many various organs in the feline digestive system present many different areas in the body where issues can arise. Here, we focus on the more common digestive issues that cats may experience:

  • Hairballs – Since cats spend a large portion of their day grooming, it’s safe to assume they are going to swallow some of their groomed fur. Usually this fur can pass safely through their digestive system, but sometimes too much fur collects in the stomach and is vomited up. For cats that regularly experience hairballs, there is prescription cat food for hairballs that helps them to ingest and safely pass their excess fur. Regularly grooming your cat can also help the excess fur to not collect in your cat’s digestive tract.
  • Indiscriminate eating – Some cats will eat dodgy food from the garbage, a dead bird or rodent in the garden, or consume table scraps. These items may cause your cat to have an upset stomach – from mild to severe – so keep an eye on what your cat is consuming. Also make sure your cat has regular meal times so she doesn’t need to scavenge.
  • Stress – Most cats may seem indifferent to the life stressors around them, but when cats do suffer from stress, it can affect their appetite as well as their digestion. Stressors may include changes in the household, a new pet, your sudden absence, or loud experiences like thunder and fireworks. To help your cat with preventable stress, consider using a pheromone product a few weeks before a stressful event (such as moving house or adopting a new pet). Speak to the veterinarian if you suspect your cat may be suffering from stress, as she may be at risk of more serious conditions such as dehydration and weight loss.
  • Inflammation in the digestive tract – From gastritis (stomach) to enteritis (intestines) and pancreatitis (pancreas), cats may experience infection and inflammation anywhere in their digestive tract. Veterinarians don’t always know what causes this inflammation, but often food allergies and sensitivities are to blame. Medication, long-term dietary changes and supplements can help to restore balance and prevent future flare-ups.
  • Internal parasites – Grooming, exploring (and subsequent contact with faeces), hunting – these are all cat activities that can introduce parasites, viruses and bacteria to a cat’s digestive system. Internal parasites like roundworm, tapeworms, hookworm and whipworm can all be prevented by regularly deworming your cat and limiting her roaming. An overgrowth of intestinal parasites can have a negative effect on your cat’s digestive health, so it’s important to keep an eye on your cat’s whereabouts and ensuring she has regular vet check-ups.

There are many different causes of digestive upset in cats. If you are concerned about your cat’s vomiting, diarrhoea, lack of appetite, lethargy or any uncharacteristic behaviour, rather make an appointment with the vet to get her checked out.

When should you see a vet about a cat’s digestive system?

A single bout of vomiting or diarrhoea is relatively normal in most cats, and is a normal physical reaction to a toxin or substance your cat is sensitive to. But if your cat continues to vomit and show signs of digestive distress, treat it as a veterinary emergency. Cats can quickly become dehydrated from continuous episodes of watery diarrhoea, and if you see any blood in their stool, this could be a sign of a much more serious condition.

Similarly, chronic constipation can also have a number of simple or serious causes (such as inactivity in obese cats, or dehydration from kidney disease). If you notice that your cat is struggling to pass stool, rather take her to the vet before it becomes a medical emergency.

If your cat simply appears to not be acting like her usual self and her eating and elimination seem to be affected, make an appointment with the vet… just in case.

Conclusion

This brief overview of the feline digestive system, its form and functioning, shows just how important it is to look after your cat’s eating and elimination habits. As part of a carefully calibrated collection of systems that make up Your Cat, the digestive system has a direct influence on the optimal functioning of those other systems too. We will cover those in future articles, so check back regularly to learn more about your cat’s body and how it works.

© 2024 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

 

Common dog illnesses and how to know your dog is not well

While some dogs live exceptionally healthy lives, the majority of our furry friends will experience an illness, allergic reaction, or some kind of system imbalance that requires veterinary treatment. Dogs are well-known stoics – they don’t want us to know they’re sick and will hide their symptoms; after all, in the wild wolf pack, the sick and the weak jeopardise the survival of the strong. By the time you notice the signs that your dog is not well, it’s very likely that they have felt unwell for much longer.

The canine digestive system

Dogs require not only high-quality food, but – equally importantly – healthy digestion in order to absorb the maximum amount of goodness from their nutrition. Let’s take a closer look at your dog’s digestive system: the organs it’s made up of, how it works, how you can help your dog’s digestive system to remain healthy, the issues that could arise, and when to see the vet about your dog’s digestive system.

Organs of the canine digestive system

Your dog’s digestive system starts at his mouth and ends… under his tail. The components of a dog’s digestive system include:

  • mouth
  • oesophagus
  • stomach
  • liver (and gall bladder)
  • pancreas
  • small intestine
  • large intestine (colon)
  • rectum
  • anus

This shows just how many organs are involved in what we assume to be the simple process of eating and eliminating.

How does a dog’s digestive system work?

The aroma or anticipation of eating triggers the production of saliva in the dog’s mouth. Human saliva contains an enzyme (amylase) that starts the digestions process of starches, but dog saliva’s only function in the digestive process is to keep the mouth membranes moist and to lubricate the passage of food through the oesophagus and into the stomach.

When a dog has chewed up a mouthful of food, the contents he swallows are called a bolus. The bolus travels to the dog’s stomach along the oesophagus. The muscles of the oesophagus contract involuntarily in a one-directional wave – a process called peristalsis – that carries the bolus through the digestive system.

When the bolus reaches the stomach, the digestive process begins, thanks to the presence of highly acidic gastric juices and digestive enzymes. The stomach can hold a large amount of food, which is the evolutionary result of dogs not feeding regularly and the stomach being used to store food until they need to use the energy. Interestingly, swallowed food stays in the human stomach for far less time than in a dog’s stomach, but overall, our digestive process takes longer. Food passes through the human stomach in about 30 minutes; while it takes about six hours in a dog’s stomach (or less or more, depending on their size and digestive health). 

After the bolus has been subjected to processing in the stomach, it’s turned into a mushy substance called chyme, which enters the small intestine. Chyme is more liquid in consistency than the bolus, making it easier to break down and digest in the intestines.  

The small intestine is responsible for further breaking down and digesting food, but it’s also where nutrient absorption takes place. In order to help the process of fat absorption, the liver and gall bladder secrete bile into the first part of the small intestine (called the duodenum), which reduces the acidity of the chyme and aids the absorption of fat. What helps a dog digest food? The pancreas produces insulin to stabilise blood sugar and support the metabolism. It also secretes bicarbonate to alkalinise the digestible substances, and digestive enzymes to aid digestion.

In the next segment of the small intestine (the jejunum) the lining of this organ is covered in villi and microvilli – tiny ‘fingers’ that secrete digestive enzymes, absorb nutrients into the bloodstream, and prevent the absorption of waste materials. This is where amino acids (proteins) are absorbed into the bloodstream so they can be processed in the liver and used to support physical activity and maintain lean muscle in the dog’s body.

Peristalsis continues to push unabsorbed material through the last part of the small intestine – the ileum – that connects to the large intestine (colon). It is here that the last bit of moisture is extracted from the undigested material, which now accumulates and firms up as faecal matter. The colon moves this faecal matter into the rectum, out of the anus and onto your lawn. 

How long does it take for food to go through a dog's digestive tract?

Depending on the size and age of the dog, your dog’s food journey from mouth to rectum can take from eight hours (for small dogs) to 12 hours (for large dogs). This time directly correlates with the length of your dog’s digestive tract as well as their energy needs.

Puppies grow extremely fast, which requires a lot of energy. This fast absorption of nutrients means they need regular feeding to keep up with the energy demands of their rapid growth. Older dogs have a slower metabolism than younger dogs, which means their digestive process takes longer, especially since they don’t have as much of an energy need as younger or more active dogs.

How do you take care of your dog’s digestive system?

Feed your dog good food

All dogs’ digestive needs will be different, but the one rule of thumb for every dog is that they need high-quality food. In the early days of dog domestication, commercial dog foods didn’t exist, which meant that dogs were fed table scraps, waste foods, and sometimes – if they were lucky – the same foods that humans ate. Their digestive systems have adapted to ingest and digest whatever is available, but that doesn’t mean they automatically thrived from it. All dogs need the highest quality food you can afford, to meet their energy needs and to support a healthy digestive system.

Provide a probiotic

Many dogs also suffer from digestive upset and sensitive tummies, so their diets have to be adapted to ensure maximum nutrient absorption in spite of the problems. These dogs can benefit from a probiotic to help stabilise their gut bacteria. Similarly, some dogs will need digestive enzymes added to their food to help in the breakdown and absorption of nutrients, but these should not be over-used. Always confirm with the vet whether digestive enzymes could help or hurt your dog’s digestion. If necessary, the vet will recommend a prescription diet to help your dog with digestive issues.

Get daily exercise

As with humans, an integral part of good digestion is physical activity. This stimulates the digestive system to improve its motility (moving food along the small and large intestines) and to actively extract nutrients from food in order to use the caloric energy. A sluggish, sedentary lifestyle is not good for dogs’ digestive health at all – both humans and our canine friends can benefit from vigorous daily exercise and/or long walks!

What issues can arise with a dog’s digestive system?

Since digestion is such an integral part of a dog’s wellbeing, there are quite a number of problems that can occur in the digestive system, which are caused by genetics, allergies, poisons, stress, or simply bad food. Many of the symptoms of digestive upset are similar, since the body uses these processes to get rid of the toxin or allergen and to regain equilibrium, so it’s important to be aware of your dog’s habits, behaviours and what’s going on in their environment.

How do you know if your dog has a digestive problem?

There will always be some obvious telltale signs when your dog’s digestive system is being challenged – the two most obvious being vomiting and diarrhoea. A distended belly and/or abnormal noises in the gut (called borborygmi) can also indicate digestive distress. The less obvious signs include pain and inflammation, which may cause a lack of appetite or disinterest in food.

Common digestive issues in dogs

Since there are so many organs involved in a dog’s digestive system, there are many sites in the body in which issues can arise. Here, we look at a few of the more common digestive issues in dogs:

  • Obstruction – Dogs swallowing bones, a piece of food that is too large, or an inedible object can result in obstruction in the throat or oesophagus. They may retch or vomit to dislodge the obstruction. This is their body’s way of restoring equilibrium. Where an obstruction becomes stuck or embedded in the oesophagus or gut, surgery may be necessary for successful removal.
  • Mega-oesophagus – This is one of a number of structural issues that can occur with a dog’s oesophagus, making it difficult to eat and/or keep food down long enough for it to pass through the stomach.
  • Gastritis – Irritation or inflammation of the stomach can be caused by any number of things, but it disrupts the stomach’s ability to function normally. From bacteria and fungi, to toxins, viruses and even trauma, stomach inflammation can cause pain, vomiting, and changes in appetite.
  • Pancreatitis – While the underlying cause of pancreatitis can be many different things, an acute bout of it can be triggered by fatty food or some medications. Vomiting and diarrhoea are common symptoms of pancreatitis.  
  • Enteritis – Irritation or inflammation of the intestines caused by trauma, parasites, toxins or poor diet can cause vomiting and/or diarrhoea or other stool changes.
  • Constipation – Poor diet, not enough fibre, not enough water, or a problem with your dog’s motility could cause him to strain (painfully) and not produce any stool.
  • Diarrhoea – There are many, many causes of diarrhoea in dogs. See below about when to see the vet about your dog’s diarrhoea.

When should you see a vet about a dog’s digestive system?

A single bout of vomiting is relatively normal in most dogs, and is the primary way for a dog to get rid of a recently-ingested toxin. But if your dog vomits more than three times in a 24-hour period, or produces a yellow-greenish vomitus (which indicates the presence of bile), then it’s time to hurry to the vet, as this could be the symptom of a more serious problem.

Your dog may experience gastroenteritis at some point in their life, but gastro in puppies can quickly become dangerous to life-threatening. It’s best to treat digestive upset in puppies as a very good reason to visit the veterinarian.

Similarly, a bout or two of diarrhoea are nothing to worry about, but continuous episodes of watery stool can result in too much excreted water and the onset of dehydration, which is dangerous. If it doesn’t clear up after a day or two, take your dog to the vet. If you see blood in your dog’s stool, this indicates a more serious problem such as an ulcer, colitis, haemorrhagic gastroenteritis, pancreatitis or other intestinal damage or disorder. Never ignore excreted blood. Take your dog to the vet immediately!

Gastric dilatation-volvulus, bloat or torsion in dogs is a life-threatening medical emergency. It’s caused when the stomach (containing air) twists and blood supply to the surrounding organs is cut off. The dog can quickly go into shock and the condition may be fatal.

Chronic constipation can also have a number of simple or serious causes. If you see your dog struggling to pass his stool, it warrants a visit to the veterinarian to get him checked out.

Conclusion

This brief overview of the canine digestive system, its form and functioning, shows just how important it is to look after your dog’s eating and elimination habits. As part of a carefully calibrated collection of systems that make up Your Dog, the digestive system has a direct influence on the optimal functioning of those other systems too. We will cover those in future articles, so check back regularly to learn more about your dog’s body and how it works.

© 2024 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

 

Your pets and the holidays

Silly season has arrived, which means the end of the year is in sight. Some of you will be going away on holiday, some will have friends and family over to visit, while others may take time off work, stay in and get some much-needed ‘me-time’. Whatever your plans are for the holidays, they spell a change for your pet/s.

In this article, we offer a friendly reminder to be mindful of how the holidays may affect your pet’s emotional and physical wellbeing, and what you can do about it.

When pet parents go on holiday

Thankfully, there’s more and more pet-friendly accommodation available in South Africa, which means that your furry family can accompany you on holiday. While many pets prefer the comfort of the home and routine they’re used to, going on holiday with you is by far the preferred option to being boarded at kennels.

If your pets can’t go with you, ask a reliable friend or family member to pet-sit for you in your own home. Another option is to ask the vet to refer a reliable pet-sitter in your area and interview them well in advance of your travel plans. Introduce the pet-sitter to your pets and allow them to spend time together in your presence so your pets feel (quite literally) at home with them.

Tips for travelling with pets

  • Get a car seat (for small dogs) or a car seat hammock (for larger dogs) to keep them comfortable and safe during the car ride. Pets should not have free access to the entire vehicle – this can be very distracting to the driver, which makes it dangerous on the road.
  • Never drive with a dog on your lap – for the safety of you, your dog, and other road users.
  • A cat should travel in a carrier or crate to help them feel safe. Make sure they are comfortable in the crate long before they need to travel in it for the first time.
  • Make frequent stops to give your pet/s a pee break and let them stretch their legs. Always put them on a leash before you exit the vehicle.
  • If they take the opportunity for a poop break, pick up and dispose of their waste responsibly.
  • Keep a water bowl and fresh water in your vehicle to keep pets hydrated.
  • Feed your pets a yummy treat a few times throughout the trip to positively reinforce their experience, especially if they are calm and well-behaved.
  • Make sure your pets are microchipped and wearing a collar with an ID tag clearly showing your contact details. Make it as easy as possible for your pets to find their way back to you should they go missing in an unfamiliar environment.

Tips for your pet’s routine at your holiday destination

  • Pet-friendly accommodation comes with conditions – for instance, that pets are calm and well-trained, and don’t cause any damage to property. Your pet must be under your control at all times, especially on someone else’s property.
  • Take your pet’s bedding, grooming tools, food and water bowls, and any other necessities with you. This will give your pet a feeling of familiarity in an unfamiliar environment.
  • Try to keep your pet’s routine as consistent as possible. Keep their feeding times, playtimes and nap times consistent – this reinforces your pets’ confidence and reduces any fear or anxiety. Even if his environment is unfamiliar, just knowing he will be fed, walked and played with consistently is enough to keep him calm.
  • Make sure you take enough pet food and treats along with you to last the whole holiday. If you run out of food while away from home, it might be difficult to find the same food brand and variety in an emergency.
  • Make a note of the nearest veterinarian at your holiday destination and save their contact details and emergency/after-hours phone number in your phone. Just in case.

When pet parents have friends and family over

Most pets prefer the comfort of their own home and thrive on the consistency of a daily routine. If you’re going to enjoy the holidays at home and host friends and family, keep the following in mind for your pets:

  • There will be more people around, which can either be very exciting or very scary for your pet – depending on how well-socialised they are or whether they prefer a quieter environment.
  • Advocate for your pets – if they become distressed with too many people around, remove them to a quiet space while the humans are socialising.
  • Visiting adults and children should respect your pet’s space and need for proper handling. Do not tolerate teasing or indiscriminate feeding of your pet/s.
  • Let your guests know that some foods are poisonous for dogs and cats, and that to ensure your pets are safe, they must not offer table scraps or any other treats to your pets (to avoid this, teach your pets to not beg for food at the dinner table). The only one who should feed your pet anything is you.
  • Fireworks are dangerous to pets and people. Do not allow your guests to light fireworks on your property. Not only could they be contravening municipal bylaws, but they could injure and traumatise your pets.
  • Under normal circumstances, household cleaners, medications, alcohol and other toxic substances should be kept away from your pets. When guests are staying temporarily in your house, it increases the risk of your pets getting hold of something they shouldn’t. Make sure your guests understand these risks and keep their belongings safely stored away.
  • Ask your guests to be mindful of small objects like Christmas tree decorations, children’s toys, deflated balloons and other objects that may be dangerous should pets swallow them. It’s also a good idea to train your pets to leave non-food objects alone and to not eat anything unless it’s in their food bowl.
  • If fireworks shows are unavoidable on New Year’s Eve, ask the vet about which calming medications are best suited to your pet’s needs. Calming sprays, gels and collars containing pheromones can be given in the week or two leading up to a stressful event, to help keep pets calm on the evening of the fireworks.
  • If your guests want to bring their own pets to your property, it’s crucial that both parties’ animals are suitably socialised. Trying to keep pets separated on the same property for the duration of your guests’ stay could be unpleasant and stressful.

Tips regarding ‘holiday food’

The festive season is about rest and relaxation, but mostly it’s about enjoying festive food. Many Christmas foods are highly toxic to our pets, so while it’s a treat to have these on our table, they must be kept far away from pets at this time of year:

  • chocolate
  • alcohol
  • raisins/sultanas
  • garlic/onion
  • citrus fruits
  • xylitol
  • bones
  • avocado
  • macadamia nuts

When pet parents stay in for the holidays

If you’re staying at home and getting some high-quality downtime at the end of this year, your pets may be overjoyed at this prospect. They may take full advantage of you spending more time at home and obviously you’ll enjoy all the benefits of being around them more during the holiday (lowered blood pressure, reduced stress levels, slower heartrate and deeper breathing, muscle relaxation, etc. – all documented effects of petting your furry friend for just 10 minutes).

Having more time available for your pets means more playtime and opportunities for training; but their companionship in general offers huge benefits and can make your holiday at home absolutely worth it. Keep in mind, however, that any new routines that get established while you’re spending more time at home will need to be maintained in the new year. What happens to your pet’s wellbeing and expectations when you return to work? Most pets are highly adaptive, but they thrive on a consistent routine, so be mindful of any changes implemented during the holidays and how they may affect your pets in the long run.

Tips for keeping pets safe during fireworks

Many pets become extremely frightened and traumatised during fireworks displays and thunderstorms. Some pets will go to extremes to escape this experience – jumping through windows, escaping their yards, getting stuck in fences, running into traffic, etc. There are a number of ways to try to keep your pets calm during fireworks and thunderstorms:

  • ‘ThunderShirts’ or anti-anxiety wraps
  • calming pheromones (which need to be administered in the lead-up to an event to reduce anxiety)
  • prescription medications
  • desensitisation training
  • distracting your pet with music and/or playtime and treats before, during and after a stressful event

Each pet will respond differently to noise and lights stressors, and therefore will respond differently to the above calming methods. If you are concerned about your pet’s safety during fireworks displays and thunderstorms, speak to the vet about the most appropriate solution for your pet’s wellbeing.

© 2023 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Managing your pets’ anxiety

The holiday season is fast approaching and while for many people that means spending more time at home with your furry friends, it also means that your and your pets’ routine is about to change. Perhaps extended family are coming to visit (or you and your pets are going away to visit them). If so, more people (potentially strangers) will be in your pets’ space; there will be more noise and longer days of visiting. Your pets are even sensitive enough to detect any changes in family dynamics – especially around holiday time!

All of this, as well as the danger of the loud noises and bright lights of fireworks and thunderstorms, mean that your pets may get anxious. Mild anxiety may be easily overcome with reassurance from you, but for many pets, anxiety can feel like the end of their world. Here’s what you can do when pets are suffering from anxiety.

What are the signs your pets are anxious?

Dogs are quick to explicitly show how they are feeling. If you have an anxious dog, you will immediately notice some or all of the signs:

  • panting
  • yawning
  • trembling
  • drooling
  • whale eyes with their ears pressed back
  • irritability
  • snappiness or even aggression
  • urination or defecation in the house
  • tucked tail

Different dogs will display different types of anxious behaviour. It’s important to notice whether your dog’s behaviour is out of the ordinary during an anxious episode. Is your normally indifferent dog now very needy and unable to leave you alone? Maybe they are hypervigilant and sensitive to even the smallest changes or movement in the room. You’ll notice when your pup is acting out of sorts.

Cats may show similar signs of anxiety and will display behaviours such as:

  • hiding
  • excessive grooming
  • vocalising (mewling or growling)
  • trembling
  • drooling
  • dilated pupils/hypervigilance
  • excessive licking of the nose
  • rapid breathing
  • pica (eating things that are not food)
  • diarrhoea/vomiting

What causes pets to become anxious?

When your pet has a consistent routine and a predictable environment, they are calm and confident because they know what to expect. When new variables are introduced to their comfortable routine, they may become anxious because suddenly they don’t know what to expect. Things feel unpredictable and scary, which can be perceived as physically threatening.

If your quiet home is filled with new people during holiday time, your cat may feel like she’s lost control of her environment, or your dog may feel unsure of how to behave, who needs protecting, and how to deal with new people. Pets may feel overwhelmed by new stimuli, especially if they are approached by pet-friendly strangers who want to pet and engage with them. Sometimes even the most socialised pets will become anxious by this.

Loud noises – whether from fireworks, Christmas crackers, or jovial socialising – can be very scary to your extra sound-sensitive pet. Pets can be photosensitive too, which, coupled with loud noises, can be particularly fear-inducing for your dog or cat.

How do you calm a fearful dog?

From as early on as possible, puppies need to be socialised with as many different people and animals as possible in a range of different environments. Ultimately, this will help them to build confidence and not be so fearful of new situations, people and other pets. That being said, even the most well-socialised animals can still experience anxiety in unpredictable situations. The following solutions can help to decrease their anxiety levels:

Take them out of the stressful environment

If you’re having a dinner party, remove your dog to another room, away from the noise and lights, and give him a chew toy or a comforting plushie. If he’s trained, give him the ‘place’ command and reward him with some treats for going to his bed.

Do a quick training routine

With a handful of treats, give your dog the ‘sit’ command and reward him. ‘Down’, ‘stay’ and other behavioural commands with rewards for obedience can completely change your dog’s demeanour and bring him out of his anxious state.

Don’t reward the stress

It’s important to give your dog a job to do (‘sit’, ‘down’, ‘paw’) before giving him treats as a comfort for his anxiety. By giving him treats or a toy without a command, it could be seen as rewarding the anxiety, which can become problematic in the long run.

Exercise and play

If you’re anticipating your pup getting anxious around the guests and noise, spend some time exercising and playing with him earlier in the day. Pent-up energy can worsen the effects of anxiety, so tire him out first. The serotonin from the enjoyment of playtime can help your dog to relax. If your dog is nervous and withdrawn while your guests are around, spend time playing with him afterwards to get rid of his anxious energy. 

Pheromones in the environment

Calming collars, diffusers, sprays, gels and tablets can help to regulate your dog’s anxiety with the distribution of pheromones. If you’re anticipating a large dinner party, family members coming to stay, or a fireworks display, start giving your dog pheromone therapy for a week or two in advance. This can help to keep him calm when these holiday events arise.

Calming music  

Dogs respond well to calming music – classical music works exceptionally well and can be used to calm a dog down ahead of time or during an anxiety-inducing event.

Desensitisation

If you’re anticipating a thunderstorm or fireworks and you know your dog is going to be terrified, try a desensitisation strategy a few weeks in advance. Play the sounds of a thunderstorm – quietly at first and gradually increase the volume over time (hours or days) as your dog does not display signs of anxiety. If he becomes aware of the sounds, reward him with a treat or playtime – this will help to change his response to the noise. Done thoughtfully and consistently, desensitisation can offer your dog relief from the anxiety associated with loud noises.

Veterinary assistance

If your dog is extremely anxious and shuts down completely or is uncontrollably stressed, arrange a visit with the vet to address the problem. Make a note of all the strategies you’ve adopted that have not been effective. The vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication and suggest behaviour therapy and counter-conditioning with a behavioural specialist.

How can you help your cat with anxiety?

Cats can do equally well with socialisation and exposure to different people and animals. However, cats – more so than dogs – are either sociable or more independent and will choose when they prefer the company of others (or not). If your cat is anxious when there are lots of people around and especially lots of noise, try some or all of the following to relieve her anxiety:

Take her to a safe space

If you often find your cat hiding in the linen cupboard or behind the couch when you have company over, it should give you an indication that she needs a safe space away from the crowds and the noise. Provide a comfy cat ‘cave’ if your cat likes to hide; or a tall cat tree or window perch if she likes to be away from the party, but to still observe her surrounds.

Exercise and play

Engage your cat’s hunting instincts with a feather toy, laser pointer, wind-up mouse or catnip toy. This will encourage engagement with reward-based behaviours, which help to reduce her anxiety.

Keep the litterbox clean

Some cats’ anxiety is elevated by a soiled litterbox. Double up on the frequency of scooping the litterbox or even put out another litterbox just in case.

Pheromone therapy

As with dogs, cats may respond well to the relaxing effect of pheromone diffusers, sprays, food additives and tablets.

Natural remedies

From catnip to CBD oil and valerian herbal remedies – there are a range of natural remedies that can help to calm down anxious cats. Speak to the vet about which remedy could be most effective for your cat. Be very careful of essential oil diffusers, as these may release fumes that are toxic to pets.

Calming music  

Like dogs, cats also have super-sensitive hearing, and respond positively to soft, calming music. When playing music to counter the effects of thunderstorms or fireworks, also close the curtains and make sure your cat’s environment is safe and muted.

Veterinary assistance

If your cat does not seem to be responding positively to your anti-anxiety efforts, schedule a visit to the veterinarian to discuss possible solutions. The vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication, but a long-term strategy will need to be devised to reduce your cat’s anxiety in a healthy way, and increase your cat’s quality of life in the long run.

© 2023 Vetwebsites – The Code Company Trading (Pty) Ltd

Mange in cats

What is mange?

Mange is a skin condition that develops when there is an infestation of parasitic mites or an overpopulation of mites on or in a cat’s skin. The presence of these mites, some of which burrow into your cat’s skin, causes itching, redness, and other uncomfortable symptoms. As with dog mange, cats can suffer from different types of mange based on the types of mites present on their skin. In this article we explore the different types of mange that cats can get, how the different types of mange are diagnosed and what can be done to treat the mange. 

Types of mange

Cats can experience a number of different types of mange, caused by different types of skin mites. These include:

  • Sarcoptic mange (canine scabies)
  • Notedric mange (feline scabies)
  • Demodectic mange (demodex or red mange)
  • Otodectic mange (ear mange)
  • Cheyletiellosis (walking dandruff)
  • Trombiculosis (chiggers)

What causes mange in cats?

The different types of cat mange are caused by tiny mites that infest the skin surface or burrow into the skin. These mites usually come from the outdoors and contact with other animals, or cats pick up the mites from the environments where other carrier animals have been. Mange is not as common in cats as it is in dogs, but its effects on cats’ health is just as serious. Here, briefly, are the causes of the various types of cat mange:

Sarcoptic mange 

Sarcoptic mange is caused by an infestation of the scabies mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) that is typically found in canine scabies. The mite has a flat round body and is known for burrowing into the skin to lay its eggs. It’s this burrowing that causes an intense and insatiable itch; and the combination of burrowing and the cat’s persistent scratching causes inflammation, redness, hair loss and other skin symptoms. Cats usually contract canine scabies from infected dogs, which is why all animals in the home should be checked and treated for scabies even when only one animal is showing symptoms. 

Notoedric mange 

Notoedric mange is caused by an infestation of another type of scabies mite, Notoedres cati. This is also a burrowing mite and, while rarer than sarcoptic mange, notoedric mange is highly contagious among cat populations when it does occur. It is also contagious to humans, but – as with sarcoptic mange – the mites cannot burrow into human skin to complete their lifecycle, and only cause intense itching and redness for a few days. When humans are no longer around cats with notoedric mange, their own symptoms subside.

Demodectic mange

Similar to demodex in dogs, feline demodicosis is caused when the cat’s immune system is compromised by another illness or malnutrition, and is not strong enough to control natural populations of demodectic mites – Demodex cati and Demodex gatoi. These mites are a natural part of the cat’s skin microbiome, but without proper immune control, mite populations can become excessive and cause skin issues. Signs of demodex include hair loss on the legs, paws and around the eyes, which is accompanied by a severe itch.  

Otodectic mange

Otodectic mange occurs in and around the cat’s ears and is characterised by itching and redness in their ear canal. These mites – Otodectes cynotis – can be found on the rest of the cat’s body, but primarily affect the ears, and can put the cat at risk of damage to their eardrums, especially when they scratch persistently. A telltale sign of ear mites is a lot of ear scratching and head shaking. 

Cheyletiellosis

Unlike demodex and the scabies mites, ‘walking dandruff’ – as Cheyletiella mites are known – are visible on the cat’s fur and skin, and appear as small white flecks in motion. They live off of skin oils, dander and other skin matter; feeding and breeding on the skin’s surface. Walking dandruff is very contagious to other animals as well as people, creating a skin rash that lasts a few weeks. 

Trombiculosis

Cats are also susceptible to Trombiculidae mites – more commonly known as ‘chiggers’ during their larval stage. These tiny red-orange mites cause a nasty bite through which they feed on blood before dropping off their feline host when they’re satiated. They leave red bumps, crusty skin, and severe itching even long after they’ve departed. Chiggers are also contagious to humans and are responsible for bites commonly seen around the waist and ankles.

What are the symptoms of mange? 

If you’re curious as to how you would know if your cat has mange, the signs and symptoms for the different types of mange are relatively similar. Despite a specific skin mite being responsible for each type of mange, their presence on your cat’s skin will trigger the same kind of response:

  • severe itch – whether due to the mite burrowing into the skin, or the cat’s immune system producing an allergic response to the mite
  • scratching the head and ears
  • debris in the ear canal and on the skin
  • redness and inflammation
  • bumps and pustules
  • hair loss
  • thickened skin, where scratching and hair loss takes place
  • restlessness (a result of the itching)
  • excessive grooming

How is mange diagnosed?

Just because a cat is very itchy, scratches a lot, and has patchy hair loss doesn’t mean the vet will diagnose them with mange and send you on your way with a skin cream. Each type of mange will require a specialised treatment, so it’s crucial that the vet find out exactly which type of mite is affecting your cat. 

The vet will consider all the physical signs of mange as well as take a skin scraping from your cat and identify the mite by looking at the skin scraping under a microscope. From there, they will diagnose your cat’s specific type of mange and suggest the best treatment to get rid of the mites and help your cat’s skin to heal.

How do you treat mange?

Depending on the type of mange the cat has as well as the intensity of the infestation, the vet may prescribe any number of medications – from an antibiotic to an anti-parasitic, anti-inflammatories, topical cream, a spray, shampoo and/or dip. Many tick and flea medications can also be used to combat mite infestations on your cat. 

Take special note of the veterinarian’s advice on isolating your infected cat from other pets in the house, but make sure your other pets’ parasite control medication is up to date. Wash and sterilise all pet bedding, toys and socialisation areas to ensure all traces of the mites that caused the cat’s mange have been eliminated. 

How to prevent mange

Many cats are roamers, so it’s not always possible to keep them out of environments where they may contract certain types of mites. It’s therefore recommended to keep your cat’s parasite control medication up to date, but to also make sure your cat is healthy and their immune system is functioning optimally. High-quality cat food, adequate exercise, fresh water and even health supplements may all work together to boost your cat’s immune health. Keep their environment clean and healthy, and also groom your cat regularly to take the opportunity to examine their skin condition.