Hamsters were found in Syria in 1839 and have been held captive as “pets” and test subjects since the 1940s. They are believed to have originated in the deserts of east Asia. They inhabit semi-desert regions around the globe where soft ground allows burrowing.
In the wild, these nocturnal animals spend most of their evening digging and foraging for food. During the heat of the day they live in underground burrows, consisting of numerous tunnels and chambers with separate eating and sleeping rooms. They are solitary animals. Some will fight to the death to defend their territory.
Hamsters eat nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, berries and grass. They use their large cheek pouches to store food until they return to their underground burrows.
Many hamster species are fast runners, capable of escaping most predators. They can easily retreat into their burrows because the size and shape of their hind feet allow them to run as quickly backwards as forwards.
More than 20 different species of hamster live in the wild. The Russian dwarf hamster is the smallest. The common Syrian hamster is the largest.
Because of their size, hamsters are mis-perceived as being “low maintenance” animal companions. But being solitary animals and nocturnal, bonding with humans can be a challenge. Hamsters often bite and do not make good companion animals for children.
Like all rodents, they can carry rabies and other diseases and, if released into the wild, pose a threat to established ecosystems.
If, after carefully considering these factors, you are sure you want to bring these delicate creatures into your home, avoid pet shops and adopt from a shelter or rescue agency.
Hamsters require proper housing, food, temperature, and exercise and prefer to be alone or with their own kind. A large wire-mesh cage with a solid base works best. More than one hamster in a small space often leads to deadly fighting. Colorful plastic cages may be enticing, but they are difficult to clean, and hamsters may chew their way out.
You’ll need a water bottle, nonwood-based bedding such as straw or shredded white paper, chew toys and an exercise wheel. Wooden ladders and toilet paper rolls also make great toys.
A hamster’s diet should consist of a variety of greens, fruits and seeds, some of which are available in packages formulated for hamsters or birds.
Their teeth never stop growing, so it is imperative that these animals be provided with hard, digestible items to chew.
Do not let hamsters become too cold or they will go into hibernation.
We hope that those we leave behind will care enough about us and what we would have wanted for our beloved companion animals to take them in and give them a loving home. Some families will do the right thing, but many others surrender their deceased family member's animals to high-kill shelters or even have them euthanized.
It is the responsibility of all animal guardians to provide for their animals in the event of their death or serious disability. But be aware that the law sees an animal as a piece of personal property. Therefore, a companion animal cannot inherit in a will. For the same reason, you cannot name an animal the direct beneficiary of your life insurance policy. Because of these restrictions, it is important that you make arrangements for the care of your companion before you die. If you have a trusted friend or family member that cares deeply about animals, you can name that person in your will, make them a beneficiary of your life insurance, or set aside monies in a payable-on-death savings account with the understanding that they are to use the funds for the care of your animal until its death. If you have considerable assets to set aside, a “pet trust” could be the better choice. The following questions and answers should help you decide if a trust is right for you and your animal.
What is a “pet trust”?
A pet trust is a legal technique that can be used to ensure that your companion animal receives proper care after you die or in the event of your disability.
How does a pet trust work?
You (the “settlor”) set aside enough money or other property to a trusted person or bank (the “trustee”) that is under a duty to make arrangements for the proper care of your companion animal, according to your advance instructions. The trustee will deliver the animal to your designated caregiver (the “beneficiary”) and then use the property you transferred to the trust to pay for your companion’s expenses.
There are two main types of pet trusts. The first is a “traditional pet trust,” and is effective in all states. You authorize the trustee to pay the beneficiary for the animal’s expenses, as long as the beneficiary takes proper care of your companion in accordance with your wishes.
The second type of pet trust is a “statutory pet trust” and is authorized in over 45 states. A statutory pet trust is a basic plan that does not require the animal guardian to make as many decisions regarding the terms of the trust. The state law “fills in the gaps”, making a simple provision in a will such as, “I leave $10,000 in trust for the care of my dog, Pip” effective.
Which type of pet trust is “better”?
Many animal guardians will prefer the traditional pet trust because it provides them more control over the animal’s care. For example, you specify who manages the property (the trustee), the animal’s caregiver (the beneficiary), what type of expenses relating to the animal the trustee will pay, the type of care the animal will receive, what happens if the beneficiary can no longer care for the animal, and what arrangements are to be made for the animal after the companion dies; i.e. burial or cremation, disposition of the body or ashes, memorials, etc.
What if my state does not have a special law authorizing pet trusts?
If your state does not have a pet trust statute, you may still create a traditional pet trust.
When is a pet trust created?
You may create a pet trust while you are still alive. This is called an “inter vivos” or “living” trust. Or, by including the trust provisions in your will, a “testamentary” trust will be created when you die.
Which is better – an inter vivos or testamentary pet trust?
Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.
An inter vivos trust takes effect immediately and thus will already be functioning when you die or become disabled. This avoids delay between your death and the property being made available for the animal’s care. However, an inter vivos trust can be costly. There are attorney fees when the trust is created and administration fees after that.
A testamentary trust is the less expensive option, because the trust does not take effect until you die and your will is probated (declared valid by a court). However, there may not be funds available to care for your animal during the gap between when you die and when your will is probated. Probate takes time. The estate cannot be closed and funds distributed until a sufficient time has passed to allow any creditors to apply to the estate for payment of debts. And be aware that a testamentary trust will not protect your companion if you become disabled and are unable to care for your animal. A testamentary trust will only take effect after you die.
What does it mean to “fund” your pet trust?
The trustee will not be able to provide for your companion animal without funding. Funding means to transfer money or other property into your trust for the care of your companion. If you choose a testamentary trust, it would be in the animal’s best interest to place enough money in a bank account that is payable on death to the chosen guardian, with the understanding that the money will only be used for the care of the animal until the estate is settled.
How much property do I need to fund my pet trust?
There are many factors to consider in deciding how much money or other property to transfer to your pet trust. These factors include the type of animal, the animal’s life expectancy (especially important in cases of long-lived animals such as parrots), the standard of living you wish to provide for the animal, the need for veterinary treatment, including any out-of-the-ordinary expenses for special-needs animals, and whether the trustee is to be paid for his or her services.
The size of your estate must also be considered. If your estate is relatively large, you could transfer sufficient property so the trustee could make payments primarily from the income and use the principal only for emergencies. On the other hand, if your estate is small, you may wish to transfer a lesser amount and anticipate that the trustee will supplement trust income with principal invasions as necessary.
You should avoid transferring a large amount of money or other property to your pet trust. Such a gift might provoke contention among your heirs and cause them to contest the trust. If the court considers the amount of property left to the trust to be unreasonable, the court can reduce the amount at its discretion.
When do I fund my pet trust?
If you create an inter vivos pet trust, that is, a trust that takes effect while you are alive, you need to fund the trust at the time it is created. You may add additional funds to the trust at a later time or use the techniques discussed below.
If you create a testamentary pet trust, that is, the trust is contained in your will and does not take effect until you die, then you need to fund the trust by a provision in your will or by using one of the techniques discussed below.
How do I fund my pet trust?
If you create your trust while you are alive, you need to transfer money or other property to the trustee. You need to be certain to document the transfer and follow the appropriate steps based on the type of property. For example, if you are transferring money, write a check which shows the payee as, “[name of trustee]”, trustee of the “[name of pet trust]”, “in trust” and then indicate on the memo line that the money is for “contribution to ‘[name of pet trust]’”. If you are transferring land, your attorney should prepare a deed naming the grantee with language such as “[name of trustee]”, in trust, under the terms of the “[name of pet trust]”.
Direct Transfers: If you create the trust in your will, you should include a provision in the property distribution section of your will that directly transfers both your companion animal and the assets to care for your animal to the trust. For example, “I leave [description of animal] and [amount of money and/or description of property] to the trustee, in trust, under the terms of the [name of pet trust] created under Article [number] of this will.”
Pour Over: If you create your pet trust while you are alive, you may add property (a “pour over”) from your estate to the trust when you die.
Life Insurance: You may fund both inter vivos and testamentary pet trusts by naming the trustee of the trust, in trust, as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. This policy may be one you take out just to fund your pet trust or you may have a certain portion of an existing policy payable to your pet trust. This technique is particularly useful if you do not have or anticipate having sufficient property to transfer for your animal’s care. Life insurance “creates” property when you die which you may then use to fund your pet trust. Be sure to consult with your lawyer or life insurance agent about the correct way of naming the trustee of your pet trust as a beneficiary.
Payable On Death Accounts, Annuities, Retirement Plans, and Other Contracts: You may have money in the bank, an annuity, a retirement plan, or other contractual arrangement that permits you to name a person to receive the property after you die. You may use these assets to fund both inter vivos and testamentary trusts by naming the trustee of your pet trust as the recipient of a designated portion or amount of these assets. Consult with your lawyer, banker, or broker about the correct way of naming the trustee of your pet trust as the recipient of these funds.
How do I decide on the individual to name as my companion’s caregiver?
The selection of the caregiver for your animal is extremely important. Here are some of the key considerations:
Dedication to the rights and well-being of all animals.
Willingness to assume the responsibilities associated with caring for your companion.
Ability to provide a stable home for your companion.
Harmonious relationship between the caregiver’s family members and your animal.
Should I name alternate caregivers?
You should name at least one, preferably two or three, alternate caregivers in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve as your companion’s caregiver. To avoid having your animal end up without a home, consider naming a sanctuary or no-kill shelter as your last choice.
What types of instructions should I include in my pet trust regarding the care of my animal?
Here are some examples of the types instructions you may wish to provide:
Food and diet.
Medical care, including preferred veterinarian and whether or not you had pet insurance. If you did, provide all policy information.
Compensation, if any, for the caregiver.
Method the caregiver must use to document expenditures for reimbursement.
Whether the trust will pay for liability insurance in case the animal bites or otherwise injures someone.
How the trustee is to monitor caregiver’s services.
How to identify the animal (all nicknames and pet names).
Whether or not the animal should be euthanized if determined by a veterinarian to be suffering without hope of recovery and disposition of the companion’s remains, e.g., burial or cremation, memorials, and where the body or ashes are to be interred.
Who should be the trustee of my pet trust?
The trustee needs to be an individual or corporation that you trust to manage your property prudently and make sure the beneficiary is doing a good job taking care of your animal. A family member or friend may be willing to take on these responsibilities at little or no cost. However, it may be a better choice to select a professional trustee or corporation, which has experience in managing trusts even though a trustee fee will need to be paid.
Should I name alternate trustees?
You should name at least one, preferable two or three, alternate trustees in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to serve as a trustee.
Is it a good idea to check with the trustees before naming them in my pet trust?
Serving as a trustee can be a potentially burdensome position with many responsibilities associated with it. You want to be certain that the person and all alternates you name as your trustees will be willing to do the job when the time comes.
What happens to the property remaining in the trust when my companion animal dies?
You should name a “remainder beneficiary,” that is, someone who will receive any remaining trust property after your animal dies. Note that it is not a good idea to name the caregiver or trustee because then the person has less of an incentive to keep your companion alive. Many animal guardians elect to have any remaining property pass to a charitable organization that assists the same type of animal that was covered by the trust.
What happens if the trust runs out of property before my companion dies?
If no property remains in the trust, the trustee will not be able to pay for your animal’s care. Perhaps the caregiver will continue to do so with his or her own funds. In case the caregiver is unwilling or unable to do so and none of the alternates you named are willing to take the animal without compensation, you should indicate in your pet trust the shelter or sanctuary that you would want your animal to go to. However, try to choose a caregiver and alternates that would not even consider this last resort option.
How do I get a pet trust?
You should consult with an attorney who specializes in estate planning and, if possible, who also has experience with pet trusts. You may find it helpful to give your attorney a copy of this article.
Providing for a surviving companion is the last act of love that you can perform for him or her as part of the ongoing responsibility of companion animal guardianship. Making an informed choice will maximize your animal’s chances of living a long, healthy, happy life without you. Talk with your family to get a sense of how they feel about caring for your animal. Sometimes a friend is a better choice. Having the conversation can spare your companion trauma, abuse or even death. We are their protectors and their voice. Protect them and speak for them.
The topic of feral cat predation on wildlife, especially birds, has become a battleground of competing opinions on whether feral cats should be trapped, neutered and returned to their environment, or if they should be viewed as invasive species and eradicated. A careful analysis of the science concludes there is no strong support for the viewpoint that cats are a serious threat to wildlife, except in certain instances of fragile populations in isolated or fragmented ecosystems.
Hundreds of news outlets reported on a Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service study in 2013 claiming “free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds and 6.9 to 20.7 billion mammals annually” in the U.S. The absurd estimates presented in the study of bird mortalities represented 28.5 to 75.5% of the estimated 4.7 billion landbirds in all of North America. If these figures were even remotely accurate, birds would have been wiped out in North America long ago. A careful examination of the mathematical model developed by the researches revealed one inflated input after another. Yet, this bad science continues to be quoted over and over again by the media and wildlife organizations.
Too often, very flawed science is used to wrongly blame cats for declining wildlife populations and to bolster the false case against Trap-Neuter-Return. The so-called “Wisconsin Study” is one of the most misquoted and misunderstood of these studies. It is not reliable scientific research. The Wisconsin Study is not even a real study—in fact, it is a proposal for a study that never actually took place. The Wisconsin Study’s “data” has never been peer-reviewed, and only parts of it have been selectively published.
The authors published several articles attempting to project the potential impact of free-ranging cats on the bird population in the state of Wisconsin. The authors themselves identify their estimates of cat predation on birds as guesses. When interviewed about the estimates of cat predation from the study, one of its authors, Dr. Stanley Temple, disavowed them, saying, “Those figures were from our proposal. They aren’t actual data; that was just our projection to show how bad it might be.”
As this false data circulates, people aren’t getting the truth about wildlife and cats. The American Bird Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other groups have carelessly wielded these flawed statistics when opposing Trap-Neuter-Return. Such high-profile sources have a responsibility to properly examine their sources and provide Americans with scientifically-supported information.
Worse, the data is circulated by unknowing media. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have repeatedly cited statistics attributed to the Wisconsin Study in the past—but their reporters and editors have apparently failed to investigate the accuracy of these numbers.
Bad science robs communities of real solutions—and costs cats their lives. Trap-Neuter-Return is the only effective approach for managing feral cat colonies. Sound policy decisions about animals’ best interests cannot be made based on unsound science.
Real science shows that removing feral cats creates a “vacuum effect”: Cats from neighboring areas move into the newly available space to take advantage of food and shelter. These cats soon begin to breed to capacity. Before long, just as many cats can be found in the area as were there before.
Scientific research has observed the vacuum effect across many species. Removing cats from an area is a futile effort—one that cannot succeed. Municipalities engaged in any type of catch and kill efforts are fighting a cruel, endless, losing battle against nature that is a gross waste of taxpayer dollars.
One of the few documented efforts to remove a population of cats by catch and kill occurred on a uninhabited (sub-Antarctic) island: Marion Island. It took 19 years of ruthless methods—methods impossible to recreate in areas inhabited by people, such as introducing disease and poisoning—to clear the island of cats. Over those 19 years, scientists noticed that when cats were cleared from a “preferred” area of the island, cats from another area took their place. In other words, even as scientists worked to kill the cats, they observed the vacuum effect.
Trap-Neuter-Return avoids the vacuum effect. Trap-Neuter-Return stabilizes the population, which then decreases over time. It also improves the cats’ health by ending the stresses associated with mating and pregnancy.
Exotic animals - lions, tigers, wolves, bears, reptiles, non-human primates - belong in their natural habitat and not in the hands of private individuals as "pets." By their very nature, these animals are wild and potentially dangerous and, as such, do not adjust well to a captive environment.
Because the majority of states do not keep accurate records of exotic animals entering their state, it is impossible to determine exactly how many exotic animals are privately held as pets. The number is estimated to be quite high. Certainly 6,000 to 7,000 tigers are held by private individuals.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all expressed opposition to the possession of certain exotic animals by individuals.
Exotic animals do not make good companions. They require special care, housing, diet, and maintenance that the average person cannot provide. When in the hands of private individuals the animals suffer due to poor care. They also pose safety and health risks to their possessors and any person coming into contact with them.
Individuals possessing exotic animals often attempt to change the nature of the animal rather than the nature of the care provided. Such tactics include confinement in small barren enclosures, chaining, beating "into submission," or even painful mutilations, such as declawing and tooth removal.
If and when the individual realizes he can no longer care for an exotic pet, he usually turns to zoos and other institutions such as sanctuaries to relieve him of the responsibility. However, all the zoos and accredited institutions could not possibly accommodate the number of unwanted exotic animals. Consequently, the majority of these animals are euthanized, abandoned, or doomed to live in deplorable conditions.
THE EXOTIC ANIMAL PET TRADE
Every year, a variety of sources provides millions of animals to the exotic pet trade. Animals are captured from their native habitat and transported to various countries to be sold as “pets”. Others are surplus animals from zoos or their offspring. Backyard breeders also supply exotic animals.
It is absurdly easy to obtain an exotic pet. Internet sites offer to sell and give care advice. The sellers of these animals, however, make no mention of the state or local laws regulating private possession of exotics, or of the dangers, difficulties, physical and physiological needs of the animals they peddle. The suffering of the animals in the hands of unqualified and hapless buyers appears to be of no concern in the lucrative exotic pet trade.
PUBLIC SAFETY RISK
Exotic animals are inherently dangerous to the individuals who possess them, to their neighbors, and to the community at large. Across the country, many incidents have been reported where exotic animals held in private hands attacked humans and other animals, and escaped from their enclosure and freely roamed the community. Children and adults have been mauled by tigers, bitten by monkeys and asphyxiated by snakes.
By their very nature, exotic animals are dangerous. Although most exotic animals are territorial and require group interactions, an exotic pet typically is isolated and spends the majority of her day in a small enclosure unable to roam and express natural behaviors freely. These animals are time bombs waiting to explode.
Monkeys are the most common non-human primates held by private individuals. At the age of two, monkeys begin to exhibit unpredictable behavior. Males tend to become aggressive, and both males and females bite to defend themselves and to establish dominance. Reported have been many monkey bites that resulted in serious injury to the individual who possessed the animal, to a neighbor, or to a stranger on the street.
Non-domesticated felines, such as lion, tigers, leopards, and cougars, are commonly held as pets. These exotic animals are cute and cuddly when they are young but have the potential to kill or seriously injure people and other animals as they grow. Even a seemingly friendly and loving animal can attack unsuspecting individuals. Many large cats have escaped from their cages and terrorized communities. Several of these incidents have resulted in either serious injury to the persons who came in contact with the animal, or the death of the animal, or both.
Reptiles, including all types of snakes and lizards, pose safety risks to humans as well. Many incidents have been reported of escapes, strangulations, and bites from pet reptiles across the country. Snakes are the most common "pet" reptiles - about 3% of U.S. households possess 7.3 million pet reptiles - and have the potential to inflict serious injury through a bite or constriction. More than 7,000 venomous snake bites are reported annually in the United States (it is uncertain how many of these snakes are pets), 15 of which result in death.
HUMAN HEALTH RISK
Exotic animals pose serious health risks to humans. Many exotic animals are carriers of zoonotic diseases, such as Herpes B, Monkey Pox, and Salmonellosis, all of which are communicable to humans.
80 to 90 percent of all macaque monkeys are infected with Herpes B-virus or Simian B, a virus that is harmless to monkeys but often fatal in humans. Monkeys shed the virus intermittently in saliva or genital secretions, which generally occurs when the monkey is ill, under stress, or during breeding season. At any given time, about 2% of infected macaque monkeys are shedding the virus. A person who is bitten, scratched, sneezed or spit on while shedding occurs runs the risk of contracting the disease. Monkeys rarely show any signs or symptoms of shedding, making it nearly impossible to know when one is at risk. Monkeys have also been known to transmit the Ebola virus, monkey pox, and other deadly illnesses.
Bites from non-human primates can cause severe lacerations. Wounds may become infected, with the potential to reach the bone and cause permanent deformity.
Around 90% of all reptiles carry and shed salmonella in their feces. Iguanas, snakes, lizards and turtles are common carriers of the bacterium. Reptiles that carry salmonella do not show any symptoms, thus there is no simple way to tell which reptiles play host to the microbe and which do not, because even those that have it do not constantly shed the bacterium. Salmonellosis associated with exotic pets has been described as one of the most important public health diseases affecting more people and animals than any other single disease. Salmonella infection is caused when individuals eat after failing to wash their hands properly after handling a reptile or objects the reptile contaminated (this can be either indirect or direct contact with infected reptiles). Salmonella bacteria do not make the animal sick, but in people can cause serious cases of severe diarrhea (with or without blood), headache, malaise, nausea, fever, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and even death - especially in young children, the elderly, and those with immune-compromised systems. In addition, salmonella infection can result in sepsis and meningitis (particularly in children) as well as invade the intestinal mucosa and enter the bloodstream causing septicemia and death.
LAWS GOVERNING PRIVATE POSSESSION OF EXOTIC ANIMALS
The sale and possession of exotic animals is regulated by a patchwork of federal, state and local laws that generally vary by community and by animal. Individuals possessing exotic animals must be in compliance with all federal laws as well as any state, city and county laws.
Three federal laws regulate exotic animals - the Endangered Species Act, the Public Health Service Act, and the Lacey Act. However, these laws primarily regulate the importation of exotic animals into the United States and not private possession.
Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) it is illegal to possess, sell or buy an endangered species regardless to whether it's over the Internet or not. The ESA does not regulate private possession, it merely allows the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) to prosecute individuals who illegally possess endangered species. "Generic" tigers (subspecies that have been interbred) are not considered endangered and, as such, can be legally bred and possessed.
The Public Health Services Act prohibits the importation of non-human primates and their offspring into the United States after October 1975 for any use other than scientific, educational or exhibition purposes. However, unless it can be proved that the non-human primate in question or his ancestors entered the country after October 1975, the Act is unenforceable. Most individuals are unaware of their animal's heritage and it is next to impossible to trace the animal's origin.
The Lacey Act allows the U.S. government to prosecute persons in possession of an animal illegally obtained in a foreign country or another state. Again, this Act does not regulate private possession, it merely allows the USFWS to prosecute individuals who have illegally obtained exotic animals.
State governments possess the authority to regulate exotic animals privately held. Laws vary from state to state on the type of regulation imposed and the specific animals regulated. Some states ban private possession of exotic animals (i.e. they prohibit possession of at least large cats, wolves, bears, non-human primates, and dangerous reptiles); some have a partial ban (i.e. they prohibit possession of some exotic animals but not all); some require a license or permit to possess exotic animals; and while the remaining states neither prohibit nor require a license, they may require some information from the possessor (veterinarian certificate, certification that animal was legally acquired, etc.).
Many cities and counties have adopted ordinances that are more stringent than the state law. Generally, the city or county have determined that possession of certain exotic species poses a serious threat to the health, safety and welfare of the residents of the community as a result of a recent attack in the area, an escape, or by the virtue of the animals' physical attributes and natural behavior and, as such, adopts an ordinance regulating or banning private possession.
Some people often sidestep existing laws or bans by becoming licensed breeders or exhibitors under the USDA and/or by having their property rezoned. In addition, individuals often move out of city limits or to a new state once a restriction or ban is imposed.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
You can do several things to help stop private possession of exotic animals:
For the animals' sake and for your health and safety, do not buy exotic animals as "pets."
If you observe an exotic animal being abused, living in deplorable conditions, etc., report it to the appropriate animal control agency.
Educate others. Write a Letter to the Editor. Share information with friends and family.
Support legislation at all levels to prohibit private possession of exotic animals. Find out how your state, city and county regulates private possession of exotic animals. If your state, city or county does not prohibit private possession, contact your state senator and representative or your city and county council members and urge them to introduce legislation banning possession of exotic animals.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, distressed animal guardians across the country call the Pet Poison Helpline. In addition to dealing with the stress of an emergency situation, they are often forced to cope with feelings of regret in light of a mishap that, in most cases, could have been avoided. It takes only a few minutes to educate yourself on how to pet-proof appropriately and avoid the inevitable heartache that so often happens when a beloved animal is accidentally poisoned.
Awareness is the key to preventing poisoning emergencies. Most animal poisonings involve dogs – a testament to dogs’ curious nature and indifference to eating just about anything. Most of these poisonings involve ingesting human medications. It’s clearly wise to keep medications out of their reach, but there are many other common, household substances toxic to dogs and cats.
The items below are presented in order of frequency, with number one being the item that causes the most emergency calls to Pet Poison Helpline.
Dogs: Top 10 Toxins
Chocolate: Dark equals dangerous! Bakers and dark chocolate are the most toxic, and milk chocolate if ingested in large amounts.
Xylitol: This sweetener found in sugarless chewing gum and candy, medications and nasal sprays causes a rapid drop in blood sugar and liver failure only in dogs (not cats).
NSAIDs: Ibuprofen, naproxen, etc., found in products like Advil, Motrin, and Aleve. Dogs don’t metabolize these drugs well; ingestions result in stomach ulcers and kidney failure.
Over the counter cough, cold and allergy medications: Those that contain acetaminophen or decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, are particularly toxic.
Rodenticides (mouse poison): These may cause internal bleeding (brodifacoum, bromadiolone, etc.) or brain swelling (bromethalin), even in small amounts.
Grapes and raisins: These harmless human foods cause kidney damage in dogs.
Insect bait stations: These rarely cause poisoning in dogs – the bigger risk is bowel obstruction when dogs swallow the plastic casing.
Prescription ADD/ADHD medications: These amphetamines such as Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse can cause tremors, seizures, cardiac problems and death in companion animals.
Glucosamine joint supplements: Overdose of products typically only cause diarrhea; however, in rare cases, liver failure can develop.
Silica gel packets and oxygen absorbers: Silica gel packs, found in new shoes, purses or backpacks, is rarely a concern. The real threats are the iron-containing oxygen absorbers found in food packages like beef jerky or pet treats, which can cause iron poisoning.
Cats: Top 10 Toxins
Lilies: Plants in the Lilium species, such as Easter, Tiger, and Asiatic lilies, cause kidney failure in cats. All cat guardians must be aware of these highly toxic plants!
Household cleaners: Most general purpose cleaners (e.g., Windex, Formula 409) are fairly safe, but concentrated products like toilet bowl or drain cleaners can cause chemical burns.
Flea and tick spot-on products for dogs: Those that are pyrethroid based (e.g., Zodiac, K9 Advantix, Sergeant’s, etc.) cause tremors and seizures and can be deadly to cats.
Antidepressants: Cymbalta and Effexor top the antidepressant list. Cats seem strangely drawn to these medications. Beware – ingestion can cause severe neurologic and cardiac effects.
NSAIDs: Cats are even more sensitive than dogs to drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen. Even veterinary specific NSAIDs like Rimadyl and Meloxicam should be used with caution.
Prescription ADD/ADHD medications: These amphetamines such as Adderall, Concerta, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse can cause tremors, seizures, cardiac problems and death.
Over the counter cough, cold and allergy medications: Those that contain acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) are particularly toxic, as they damage red blood cells and cause liver failure.
Plants containing insoluble calcium oxalate crystals: Common houseplants like the peace lily, philodendron, and pothos can cause oral/upper GI irritation, foaming at the mouth, and inflammation when ingested, but severe symptoms are uncommon.
Household insecticides: Thankfully, most household sprays and powders are fairly safe, but it’s best to keep curious kitties away until the products have dried or settled.
Glow sticks and glow jewelry: These irresistible “toys” contain a chemical called dibutyl phthalate. When it contacts the mouth, pain and excessive foaming occurs, but the signs quickly resolve when the cat eats food or drinks water.
The best thing concerned animal guardians can do is get educated on the most common companion animal toxins, which are listed above, and then pet-proof their homes. However, accidents happen and if a companion may have ingested something toxic, Pet Poison Helpline recommends taking action immediately. Contact a veterinarian or Pet Poison Helpline at 1-800-213-6680.
Fragile tropical fish, born to dwell in the majestic seas and forage among brilliantly colored coral reefs, suffer miserably when forced to spend their lives enclosed in glass aquariums. Robbed of their natural habitat, denied the space to roam, they must swim and reswim the same empty cubic inches.
The popularity of keeping tropical fish has created a virtually unregulated industry based on catching and breeding as many fish as possible, with little regard for the fish themselves.
In the Philippines, the source of most saltwater fish sold in the U.S., many fish divers collect their prey by squirting cyanide or other poisons into the coral reefs where fish live. Meant to stun them so that they will drift out of the reef for easy collection, the cyanide kills as many as half of the fish on the spot. Many others die from cyanide residue after being purchased. The poison also kills the live coral where the fish live, which can take thousands of years to grow back.
Most of the freshwater fish sold in the U.S. are easier to breed than their saltwater cousins and are bred on "fish farms." These breeding centers, seeking new market niches, create fish breeds that would never occur in nature. Treating fish as ornaments instead of as live animals, some fish breeders "paint" fish by injecting fluorescent dye into their bodies to make them more attractive to buyers.
Fish are wonderful creatures with individual personalities and attributes that most people know little about. They communicate with each other, form bonds, and grieve when their companions die. Fish communicate with one another through a range of low-frequency sounds from buzzes and clicks to yelps and sobs. The sounds, audible to humans only with special instruments, communicate emotional states such as courtship, alarm, or submission. Sadly, the pumps and filters necessary in many home aquariums can interfere with this communication. "At the least, we're disrupting their communication; at the worst, we're driving them bonkers," says ichthyologist Phillip Lobel.
Most fish enjoy companionship and develop special relationships with each other. One South African publication documented the relationship between Blackie, a goldfish with a deformity that made it nearly impossible for him to swim, and Big Red, the larger fish who shared his tank. Big Red daily put Blackie on his back to swim him around, and when they were fed, Big Red swam Blackie to the surface, where they ate together.
Fish enjoy tactile stimulation in their relationships and often gently rub against each other. Divers tell of gaining the friendship of fish by lightly scratching their foreheads they've found that the fish then recognize and regularly approach them.
Don't support the pet fish trade by purchasing fish. If you must have fish, adopt - never shop.
If You Already Have a Fish
If you already have fish, biologists say there is no safe way to return them to their natural environment because of the difficulty in locating such a habitat (often in a far-off country) and the possibility of introducing disease to the other fish there. However, you can make their lives easier by duplicating their natural environment as closely as possible. While no confined fish can live a natural life, the following tips will help make them as happy as possible.
The more space that fish have, the happier and healthier they will be. Allow a minimum of 12 square inches of water surface per inch of fish.
Treat tap water properly before putting it in the aquarium. Even trace amounts of chlorine can cause breathing difficulties, nervous spasms, or even death. The type of chemicals you should use depends on your area's water; consult with a local tropical fish supply store to determine the proper treatment.
Before putting the fish into the aquarium, let the filter and pump run for two weeks to allow bacterial cycling and other environmental adjustments.
Different types of fish require different pH levels. Check the pH level daily for the first month and weekly thereafter.
A filter is necessary to remove waste particles and noxious chemicals from the water. An air pump will provide oxygen.
Fish need a constant temperature, usually 68 to 74 degrees. A 74-degree temperature is right for most fish, but you should check with a fish supply store for information specific to your fish. An automatic aquarium heater will monitor the water temperature and turn the heater on or off as needed. Attaching a small thermometer to the tank will tell you if the heater is functioning properly.
Clean the tank regularly, about two to three times a week. The natural waste of fish emits ammonia, which can accumulate to toxic levels. Also be sure to clean the glass well with a pad or a brush so that algae don't grow there.
Never empty the tank all at once; fish are most comfortable with water they are used to, even if it is dirty. When cleaning the tank, change only 10 to 25 percent of the water at a time.
Plants provide oxygen, shelter, and hiding places, and fish enjoy snacking on them as well. Provide live plants, not plastic ones.
Create places for your fish to hide and explore. Ceramic objects, natural rock, and plants all work well. Make sure that all objects are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before putting them in the tank. Do not use metal objects, as they will rust.
Be aware of the environment outside the aquarium. Suddenly switching on a bright light in a dark room can startle fish, and vibrations from a television or a stereo can alarm and stress them. One study found that fish repeatedly exposed to loud music can develop fatal liver injury.
Keep all harmful chemicals away from the aquarium's vicinity. Cigarette smoke, paint fumes, and aerosol sprays can be toxic if they are absorbed into the aquarium water.
Place the aquarium in a spot where temperature and light are constant and controllable. Tropical fish supply stores may be able to advise you on the best degree of light for your fish to live in. Remember that direct sunlight and drafts from nearby doors or windows may change the water temperature, and fumes from a nearby kitchen or workshop may injure your fish.
Don't overfeed; uneaten food and waste material are broken down into ammonia and nitrites, which are toxic. One expert recommends sprinkling in only as much food as your fish can eat in 30 seconds.
If your fish seems sick or lethargic, take him or her to a vet. Fish can be medicated, anesthetized, given shots, and operated on, just like other animals. Bring along a separate sample of the tank water when you go.
Most fish enjoy companionship. If you have a single fish, check with friends and neighbors to find another loner whom you may be able to adopt (but don't support the fish trade by going to a dealer).
The excitement of gift-giving, family get-togethers, party preparations ... it's all too easy during the holidays to temporarily forget the needs of companion animals.
If you are traveling for the holidays and plan to leave your animals in the care of others, provide written instructions for feeding, medicating, exercise, and handling emergencies. Leave the phone number of your veterinarian or veterinary emergency clinic with the other "essential" phone numbers. Notify your vet of the dates you will be away, the name and number of the sitter, and emergency contact numbers.
If you plan to board them at a kennel or other facility, visit first and make sure you are comfortable with the enclosures your animals will be kept in, the degree of cleanliness, and the professional care they will receive. If there are specific diet or other instructions, make sure they can be carried out. If your animals have special dietary needs, bring your own food and written feeding schedule. Ask if you can leave a familiar toy or blanket with your companion animal to provide some comfort in your absence.
COMPANION ANIMALS & HOLIDAY PARTIES
As most care givers of dogs and cats know, companion animals don't like change. Unfamiliar people, strange decorations, rich food, drinks, smoke, odors, noise, and gaiety can turn a companion animal's environment upside-down. Add a few small children running around in the seasonal excitement and a dog may well react with barking, biting, digestive upsets, or worse. Cats will likely hide under the bed, but may streak outside while the front door is open, so keep an eye on them!
If a party is planned, it may be best to confine your companion animals in a quiet part of the house along with their comfortable and familiar bed blanket and toys. Or leave your dog at a familiar neighbor's or relative's house. Companion animals should never be put outside "just while the party's going." An animal accustomed to the warm house will suffer when the outdoor temperatures are lower than he or she is used to.
If your companion animals are nearby during a festive meal, ask your guests to refrain from "just giving them a little treat." Rich table scraps may upset a companion animal's digestion and result in vomiting or diarrhea. If serving the traditional meals for the holidays, make sure those turkey or chicken bones are dumped in the outside garbage where your dog or cat can't get to them. And outside trash bins need to be secured against plundering by other outdoor animals.
Keep out of harm's way such party treats as chestnuts, peanuts, and candy (especially chocolate, which in large quantities can be fatal to a companion animal). Holiday plants such as poinsettias and mistletoe are also poisonous to animals, and should be kept out of their reach or replaced with artificial replicas. And budgies and some other caged birds, if allowed out of their cages, may suffer ill effects from nibbling on Christmas trees.
ALCOHOL & COMPANION ANIMALS
As with other drugs, keep alcohol away from companion animals. You'd be surprised how many cats and dogs will drink wine, beer or sweet mixed drinks. Only a little can intoxicate a dog, and too much can affect his breathing, put him into shock, even cause his system to shut down. Even if the dog survives, his system will have an unpleasant hangover to deal with. Keep alcohol - including those half-full glasses left over from the party - away from companion animals.
GIFTS FOR COMPANION ANIMALS
Gifts for companion animals should be considered from their perspective. A toy that seems wonderful in the store may be so small a puppy or kitten might swallow it. A luscious treat contrary to a companion animal's accustomed diet may cause discomfort and possibly even disastrous consequences such as diarrhea, vomiting or pancreatitis.
Instead, give dogs "practical" gifts, such as new collars or leashes, and treats such as home-made dog biscuits. Cats can almost always use new scratching posts or litter boxes. And toys that can be easily batted about will stimulate a cat's natural hunting instincts.
CHRISTMAS TREES & COMPANION ANIMALS
Puppies and kittens (as well as adult animals) often see the baubles and branches of a Christmas tree as an invitation to climb the tree, or pull at the branches or ornaments. When decorating the tree, use only garland on the lower branches and keep fragile ornaments, lights and tinsel up on higher branches. (When swallowed, tinsel can cause digestive upsets and intestinal blockage, it may be best to avoid it altogether).
A small latticework fence (available in the gardening section of hardward or discount stores) around the base of the tree helps keep dogs and puppies away. Some chemicals used to extend the life of the Christmas tree are poisonous and lethal to companion animals, so even if there's no room for a fence, the treated area should be covered with a small section of window screen.
Electric cords that light up the trees or other decorations can shock companion animals, and a chewed cord is a serious fire hazard. Keep electrical cords hidden away from curious companion animals by routing the cords through special cord protectors, foam tubes or PVC pipe (available at local hardware stores).
Declawing increases the risk of long-term or persistent pain, manifesting as unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate elimination (soiling/urinating outside of the litter box) and aggression/biting.
Declaw surgery (onychectomy) is illegal in many countries but is still a surprisingly common practice in some. It is performed electively to stop cats from damaging furniture, or as a means of avoiding scratches. Side effects of the surgery include lameness, chewing of toes and infection. Long-term health effects can be even more devastating.
According to research published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, declawing increases the risk of long-term or persistent pain, manifesting as unwanted behaviors such as inappropriate elimination (soiling/urinating outside of the litter box) and aggression/biting. This is not only detrimental to the cat (pain is a major welfare issue and these behaviors are common reasons for relinquishment of cats to shelters), but also has health implications for their human companions as cat bites can be very serious.
Inappropriate toileting, biting, aggression and overgrooming occurs significantly more often in declawed cats than non-declawed cats. A declawed cat is also almost 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with back pain than a non-declawed cat (potentially due to shortening of the declawed limb and altered gait, and/or chronic pain at the site of the surgery causing compensatory weight shift to the pelvic limbs).
The surgical guideline for performing declawing, as recommended by Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, is to remove the entire third phalanx (P3), which is the most distal bone of the toe. Despite this, P3 fragments are found in 63% of declawed cats – reflecting poor or inappropriate surgical technique. While the occurrence of back pain and abnormal behaviors is increased in declawed cats, even optimal surgical technique does not eliminate the risks. The removal of the distal phalanges forces the cat to bear weight on the soft cartilaginous ends of the middle phalanges (P2) that were previously shielded within joint spaces. Pain in these declawed phalanges prompts cats to choose a soft surface, such as carpet, in preference to the gravel-type substrate in the litter box. Additionally, declawed cats may react to being touched by resorting to biting as they have few or no claws left to defend themselves.
Scientific evidence proves that declawing is more detrimental to our feline patients than originally thought. Veterinarians should reconsider declawing cats. The procedure is unethical and inhumane.
"Pet shops" use the natural appeal of puppies, kittens and other animals to sell them at an inflated price, often several hundred dollars for "purebred" animals.
The vast majority of dogs sold in pet shops, between 350,000 and 500,000 a year, are raised in "puppy mills," breeding kennels located mostly in the Midwest that are notorious for their cramped, crude and filthy conditions and their continuous breeding of unhealthy and hard-to-socialize animals.
Other common problems in the pet shop industry include selling sick and injured animals to the public, failing to provide proper veterinary care, unsanitary conditions and inhumane methods of killing sick and unwanted animals.
You can help bring about changes in local pet stores, if you know what conditions to look for and what steps to take.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Healthy young animals are usually energetic and shiny-coated. Look for signs of ill health, such as listlessness, diarrhea, emaciation, dull coats, runny eyes and dry noses. Sick animals should never be housed with healthy ones.
Check the general sanitation conditions; notice signs of cockroach infestation, rodent droppings on the floor and rusty or dirty cages.
Also look for algae or scum in water bottles, empty water containers, or animals having difficulty drinking from them.
Dogs and cats must have water (it can be in a bottle), and there must be some sort of solid flooring (if a tray is used, it must be flat on the floor). There should be no more than one large dog in a single cage. Look for signs of distemper and parvovirus: runny stool and clogged, dry noses. Cats should have an elevated surface (above the litter area) to rest upon. Water must be in a clean water dish rather than in a bottle. Also, watch for signs of upper respiratory disease (eyes covered with inner membrane, runny eyes and nose and sneezing).
Rabbits should have a water bottle, not a dish. They should not be listless. If an animal is sick, you may notice other animals in the cage walking over him/her. Watch for runny noses and excessive sneezing.
Birds must have a properly sized perch (birds' feet should go three quarters of the way around the perch). Check for others beating up on one - especially common in zebra finches (you may see feathers missing from head, back, etc.). A bird should not be resting on the bottom of the cage (a sign of illness or of having been thrown off the perch by others). Cages should not be overcrowded.
Check fish tanks for overcrowding. Generally, an inch-long tropical fish requires a minimum of 12 square inches of water surface to breathe comfortably; a two-inch fish needs at least 24 square inches of surface area, and so on. Look for dead fishes in aquariums.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Find out who in your town, county or state enforces the anti-cruelty codes. Report abuses to them. Often, these people work for local humane societies or animal shelters. Once you have located the proper law enforcement officials, provide them with a concise, factual, written statement of what you have observed, giving dates and approximate times. Try to get short, written statements from witnesses. Statements should be notarized. Ask sympathetic veterinarians to visit the pet store and write an "expert statement" as to the conditions and health of the animals.
If you have been sold a sick or injured animal, go to your local courthouse and fill out a small claims form (no attorney needed). When you file the form, you will be given a court date. At the hearing, present all your veterinary and related bills. (Be sure to get a statement from your vet.) Though it's difficult to put a monetary value on your animal's health or life, this simple action can bother a pet store owner enough to prevent him or her from being irresponsible and inhumane in the future. Also, file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. If the store is in a shopping mall, complain to the mall manager (and ask all of your friends and neighbors to do the same). Ask the mall management not to renew the store's lease.
Find out if a division of your county or state health department licenses pet shops and, if so, request that they conduct an inspection.
Even if the health department does not specifically license pet shops, it should still inspect for dirty conditions that may pose a health risk to the public. If the pet store sells wild or exotic animals, it is required to be registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and violations should be reported to the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) office in your state (usually in your state capital). To locate your state office, look in the federal government section of the phone book under U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Educate the public: Write letters to the editor, distribute leaflets outside the store, organize a demonstration, etc. Department stores that have a pet department may be especially susceptible to a boycott, since the revenue from the pet department may not constitute a large portion of overall profit.
If all else fails, contact local television and radio stations and newspapers and try to interest reporters in the story. A news story may force officials to act or scare the person causing the abuse into stopping.
Above all, don't patronize pet stores. You can purchase supplies for companion animals from "pet" supply stores or catalogs which carry full product lines but don't treat living beings as merchandise.
About 4 million "excess" dogs and cats will be killed in shelters this year, while millions of homeless animals live short, hard, hungry lives on the streets, only to die miserably from disease, injury, or predation. About 1/3 of animals in shelters are purebreds, either intentionally or accidentally bred.
By being a responsible caregiver and sterilizing your companion animals, you avoid contributing to this terrible problem of pet overpopulation. Unsterilized (intact) dogs and cats usually find a way to get out and breed. Then, even if you could find good homes for the entire litter, each of your babies would displace another puppy or kitten that will then have to die.
Not all kittens and puppies taken to a shelter get adopted. If you take your litter to a typical, overcrowded shelter, it is likely that the entire litter of kittens or puppies will go straight from your hands to the killing room - they must be destroyed immediately, due to lack of cage space. (And don't think you can avoid the fatal consequences by taking them to a "no-kill" shelter - they may not have space. Even if they do accept your litter, that means other animals will be turned away, and taken to a shelter that may indeed kill them.)
WHY SPAY & NEUTER
Dogs and cats should be surgically sterilized to prevent unwanted pregnancies as well as undesirable mating-related characteristics and behaviors. In females, this operation is called "spaying" and involves removal of the ovaries and uterus through an abdominal incision. For males, "neutering" involves surgically removing the testicles. In most cases, your animal companion will be able to go home either the same day or the next day, and within a few days will be fully recovered. Young animals bounce back much quicker from these surgeries than older ones.
HEALTH BENEFITS OF SPAYING & NEUTERING
Neutered cats have a much lower risk of being infected by the deadly Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) (also called "Feline AIDS"), because they are much less likely to engage in fighting, which spreads this disease. Decreased roaming and territorial behavior in cats also lowers the risk of bite-wound abscesses. Neutering male cats stops spraying or urine marking in over 90% of cats, and solves this problems in female cats, who often will begin spraying when they go "into heat."
Spaying eliminates the "heat" cycle, which causes crying, pacing, and erratic behavior, especially in cats. Dogs in heat also produce a bloody vaginal discharge that can stain furniture and carpets. Cats and dogs in heat can attract persistent and often obnoxiously loud "suitors" from all over the neighborhood, even if they're kept indoors.
Spayed females are not susceptible to life-threatening uterine infections and reproductive tract cancers that can occur in breeding females, as well as mastitis, ovarian cysts, miscarriages and delivery complications. All these can be expensive to treat, and dangerous to your animal's health. Almost half of unspayed female dogs will develop breast cancer, while spaying before first heat reduces the incidence to almost zero. Even later spaying greatly reduces the risk. Spaying also decreases the risk of developing breast cancer in cats, for whom it is usually fatal.
Neutered male dogs are less apt to develop prostate cancer, and the risk of testicular cancers is eliminated. Up to 60% of older, intact dogs will get enlarged, painful prostates. Neutering male dogs greatly decreases the potential for aggressive behavior and biting, and tends to calm overactive dogs as well. It also decreases or eliminates "humping" behavior.
Some people think that their female dog or cat "should have at least one litter" before she is spayed, that it "settles" a dog or cat, or that she "needs" this experience to be a good household companion. This is completely untrue and there is no evidence, medical or factual, that supports this belief. Spayed and neutered dogs and cats are calmer, less frustrated, happier family members.
WHEN TO HAVE YOUR ANIMAL SPAYED OR NEUTERED
In the past, veterinarians recommended that a cat or dog be at least six months of age before they were sterilized. However, many cats and dogs reach sexual maturity before they are six months old, and many unplanned litters have resulted from this standard. Today, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends "early spay/neuter," which is the sterilization of puppies and kittens between 8 and 16 weeks of age. This has proven to be very safe, with rapid recovery. Many shelters now require adopted animals to be spayed or neutered before they can go home. This policy has begun to make a noticeable difference in the number of unwanted litters, but overpopulation is still a very serious problem.
CHILDREN & THE "MIRACLE OF BIRTH"
This is a completely unjustifiable excuse, as there are numerous videotapes available for children to watch if they are interested in seeing animals being born. There is no guarantee that the mother won't give birth in the middle of the night, or while the children are at school. To experience "the real thing," consider doing foster care for your local shelter. Foster homes willing to take pregnant or nursing animals are rare - they will be delighted to hear from you!
SPAYING & NEUTERING PROBLEMS
People often worry that sterilizing their dog or cat will cause obesity. It's true that spaying and neutering does change an animal's metabolism - more or less instantaneously - but it may take the animal several weeks to adjust its appetite "thermostat." A spayed or neutered animal requires fewer calories for maintenance than an intact one. Some experts recommend cutting the amount you feed by 1/4 to 1/3 for 4 to 6 weeks post-operatively. By doing this, chances are good that he or she will be able to self-regulate at that weight the rest of his or her life. Also, animals, just like people, need exercise and physical activity to maintain their ideal weight. We as caregivers are responsible for keeping our cats and dogs active. A companion animal's metabolism, just like that of humans, tends to slow down as we get older. Therefore, less food and more exercise may be appropriate for your cat or dog as he or she matures.
THE COST OF SURGERY
It is actually much cheaper in the long run to have your companion animal spayed or neutered. If your female does get pregnant, you would bear the cost of veterinary care, raising and placing the litter, and medical bills for the mother should pregnancy or delivery complications arise. For males especially, infections and fight wounds can take a bite out of your wallet. There are also all the other health risks for intact animals. In many communities, the law requires dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered unless a special license or breeder's permit is purchased. Annual license fees may also be significantly less if your animals are altered. Spaying and neutering are preventive measures that will save you money.
If the expense of the surgery is a problem for you, there are many low-cost spay and neuter clinics throughout the country, and many veterinarians offer discounts. Contact your local shelter or animal control agency for a referral.
The most widespread form of interspecies bonding occurs between humans and dogs. These intelligent, social, emotional and playful creatures have learned to communicate and interact with humans in a way no other species can.
The genius of dogs is that they use humans to get what they want. At one point in wolf evolution, a group of wolves decided to take advantage of humans. Dogs domesticated themselves through a natural process and have become a part of the human family.
No other species can read our gestures as well as dogs can. It allows them to be incredible social partners with humans. Their ability to interpret our gestures also helps them complete tasks they can’t complete on their own.
FASCINATING DOG FACTS
The largest breed of dog is the Irish Wolfhound. The St. Bernard is the heaviest.
The world’s smallest dog breed is the Chihuahua.
Dogs experience all the same emotions humans do, especially love.
While dogs are better at living in the moment than humans, it's a myth that dogs have no sense of time.
Dogs have their own complex language that includes vocal sounds, body postures, facial expressions and scent.
Feral dogs have figured out how to use subways to travel to the best food sources.
Dogs chase their tails for a variety of reasons: curiosity, exercise, play, anxiety, predatory instinct or fleas.
Different smells in a dog’s urine tells other canines whether the dog is female or male, old or young, sick or healthy, happy or angry.
Male dogs raise their legs while urinating to aim higher to leave a message that they are tall and intimidating.
Puppies have 28 teeth, while adult dogs have 42.
Dogs and humans have the same type of slow wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) when sleeping. Twitching and paw movements are signs that a dog is dreaming.
Dogs can be trained to detect epileptic seizures and diseases.
Dogs’ eyes contain a special membrane that allows them to see in the dark.
Dogs can detect when storms are coming.
A dog’s normal temperature is between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dogs only sweat through the pads of their feet.
Dog nose prints are as unique as human finger prints and can accurately identify them.
Dogs have three eyelids: an upper lid, a lower lid and a third lid which keeps the eyes moist and protected.
A dogs entire body, including the paws, is covered with touch-sensitive nerve endings.
Dog noses secrete a thin layer of mucous that helps them absorb scent. They lick their noses to sample the scent through their mouth.
Petting dogs is proven to lower human blood pressure.
A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 – 100,000 times more acute than humans.
When dogs kick after defecating, they are using scent glands on their paws to further mark their territory.
Dogs can detect cancer too small to be detected by a doctor, and can detect lung cancer by sniffing a human's breath.
A LONG HISTORY OF COMPANIONSHIP
The keeping of dogs as companions has a long history. Dogs began from a single domestication thousands of years ago. They are not a descendant of the Gray wolf as previously believed. They were originally domesticated from a now extinct wolf.
Dogs were the first domesticated animals and have been widely kept as working, hunting and companion animals. Domestic dogs have been selectively bred for millennia for various behaviors, capabilities and attributes. There are currently up to one billion dogs around the world.
Domestic dogs inherited complex behaviors from their wolf ancestors which were pack hunters with complex body language. These sophisticated forms of social cognition and communication may account for their trainability, playfulness and ability to fit into human households and social situations.
Dogs still share some behaviors with their wild relatives. They defend their territories and mark them by urinating, serving notice to other animals that it is their territory. Many dogs also bury bones or toys for future use, just as wolves bury a kill to secure the meat for later.
Modern dog breeds show more variation in size, appearance and behavior than any other domestic animal. They are highly variable in height and weight. The smallest known adult dog was a Yorkshire Terrier that weighed only 4 oz. The largest known dog was an English Mastiff which weighed 343 lb. The tallest dog was a Great Dane that stood 42 inches at the shoulder.
Most dog breeds have good vision. Dogs do see in color, but not the same way that humans do. A dog's vision is similar to people with red/green color blindness, meaning they can see bluish and greenish shades but not reddish ones.
Dogs can detect sounds far better than humans, hearing sounds at four times the distance. They have ear mobility, allowing them to rapidly pinpoint the exact location of a sound. Eighteen or more muscles can tilt, rotate, raise or lower a dog's ear.
While the human brain is dominated by a large visual cortex, the dog brain is dominated by an olfactory cortex. The olfactory bulb in dogs is about forty times bigger than in humans, with 125 to 300 million smell-sensitive receptors. Their sense of smell is one hundred thousand to one million times more sensitive than a human's. Their wet nose is essential for determining the direction of the air current containing the smell. Cold receptors in the skin are sensitive to the cooling of the skin by evaporation of the moisture by air currents.
The average lifespan of dogs is 10 to 13 years, however, many live much longer. The world's oldest living dog lived 26 years, 9 months.
Dogs are omnivores and can adapt to a wide-ranging diet. They are not dependent on meat nor a very high level of protein as was once thought. Dogs will healthily digest a variety of foods, including vegetables and grains. Unlike wolves, dogs have adaptations in genes involved in starch digestion that contribute to an increased ability to thrive on a starch-rich diet.
PART OF THE FAMILY
Companion dog populations grew significantly after World War II as suburbanization increased. In the 1950s and 1960s, dogs were kept outside more often than they are today. From the 1980s, there have been changes in the role of the companion dog, such as the increased role of dogs in the emotional support of their human guardians. The broadening of the concept of the family, and a better understanding of dog intelligence and emotions, have led to dogs actively shaping the way a family and home are experienced.
Studies show dogs help to mediate family member interactions. Most dogs also have set tasks or routines undertaken as family members. Increasingly, humans are engaging in activities centered on the needs and interests of their dogs. An estimated 1 million dogs in the United States have been named the primary beneficiary in their guardian's will.
Dogs have the same response to voices and use the same parts of the brain as humans to do so. This gives dogs the ability to recognize emotional human sounds. They have over 100 known facial expressions, many of them made with their ears. They also communicate with a variety of vocal sounds. One of the primary functions of a dog's tail is to communicate their emotional state.
It is estimated there are 77.5 million people with dogs in the United States. Nearly 40% of American households have at least one dog. 67% have just one dog, 25% two dogs and nearly 9% more than two dogs.
Every year, between 6 and 8 million dogs and cats enter US animal shelters. Approximately 3 to 4 million of those dogs and cats are euthanized yearly in the United States. However, the percentage of dogs in animal shelters that are adopted has increased since the mid-1990s, from around 25% to 40% or more.
Cats have long been valued by humans for companionship and are the most popular companion animal. There are over 500 million domestic cats throughout the world. Descended from African wildcats, they began to share homes with humans about 10,000 years ago.
Domestic cats are still similar in anatomy to wild cats, with strong, flexible bodies, quick reflexes, sharp retractable claws and teeth adapted to killing small prey. They have excellent hearing, sense of smell and night vision.
Cats are felids, which are mammals that include lions, tigers, cougars, jungle cats, wildcats, mountain cats, sand cats and other wild cats. They all share a common ancestor that lived around 6–7 million years ago in Asia. Domestic cats are not radically different from wildcats, so they can interbreed. Unlike dogs, cats have not undergone major changes during the domestication process. They are still capable of surviving in the wild.
Despite being solitary hunters, cats are social animals and communicate with a variety of vocalizations, as well as cat pheromones and body language. They are known for their love of play. They also engage in play fighting with each other, other species and humans.
FASCINATING CAT FACTS
A group of cats is referred to as a "clowder", a male cat is called a "tomcat", an unaltered female is called a "queen" and a baby cat is referred to as a "kitten".
Most cats weigh between 8.8 and 11 lb, though some, such as the Maine Coon, can weigh over 25 lb. Very small cats can weigh 4 lb or less. The largest cat on record weighed 47 lb. The smallest adult cat on record weighed 3 lb.
The average lifespan of a cat is 12.1 years, while some live much longer. The oldest cat on record lived 38 years.
Female cats tend to be right pawed, while male cats are more often left pawed.
Cats have the cognitive ability to sense human emotions and mood.
Cats can travel at a top speed of approximately 31 mph over short distances.
Cats greet one another by rubbing their noses together.
Cats usually only meow to communicate with humans, not other cats.
Cats sleep 70% of their lives.
Cats make over 100 different sounds.
Cat brains are 90% similar to human brains — more similar to human brains than dog brains.
Cats have survived falls from over 32 stories onto concrete, due to their “righting reflex.”
The ability of cats to find their way home is called “psi-traveling.” Cats either use the angle of sunlight, or magnetized cells in their brains, as compasses.
Most cats don't have eyelashes.
Cats dislike the water because their fur does not insulate well when wet.
Cat noses are ridged with a unique pattern, just like human fingerprints.
Cats rub against humans to be affectionate and to mark their territory with scent glands located around their faces, tail area and paws.
Adult cats have 30 teeth; kittens have 26 teeth.
Cats are extremely sensitive to vibrations and can detect earthquakes 15 minutes before humans.
Eating grass rids a cats' system of fur and aids digestion.
In one litter of kittens, there can be multiple fathers.
A cat's back paws aren’t as sharp as their front paws because the back claws don’t retract and thus get worn.
Cats have 1,000 times more data storage than an iPad.
Cats can change their meow to manipulate humans.
Cats can detect cancer.
Extra lumbar and thoracic vertebrae account for the cat's spinal mobility and flexibility. Unlike human arms, cat arms are attached to the shoulder by free-floating bones that allow them to fit through any space they can fit their heads. A cat's skull is unusual among mammals, having very large eye sockets and a powerful and specialized jaw. Within the jaw, cats have teeth adapted for killing prey and tearing meat.
Cats, like dogs, walk directly on their toes, with the bones of their feet making up the lower part of their leg. They are capable of walking very precisely by placing each back paw directly in the spot of the corresponding front paw, minimizing noise and tracks. This also provides sure footing when navigating rough terrain. Unlike most mammals, cats move the two legs on one side of the body before the legs on the other side. Camels and giraffes also walk this way. As their walk speeds into a trot, a cat's gait changes to that of most other mammals.
Cats have protractable and retractable front claws. In their normal position, the claws are retracted to keep them sharp by preventing wear. This allows the silent stalking of prey. Cats can voluntarily extend their claws on one or more paws for hunting, climbing, self-defense, kneading or for extra traction on certain surfaces.
Cats are able to tolerate quite high temperatures. They conserve heat by reducing the flow of blood to their skin and lose heat by evaporation through their mouths. They can only sweat a little, with sweat glands located primarily in their paw pads. They pant for heat relief only at very high temperatures. Their kidneys are so efficient they can survive on a diet of meat alone, with no additional water, and can even quench their thirst by drinking seawater.
Cats are carnivores and have difficulty digesting plants. About 20% of a cat's diet needs to be protein. They are dependent on a constant supply of the amino acid arginine and cannot produce taurine. They do eat grass occasionally. Since cats cannot fully close their lips around something to create suction, they lap with their tongues to draw liquid upwards into their mouths. Cats have relatively few taste buds compared to humans and cannot taste sweetness. Their taste buds instead respond to bitter tastes, acids and amino acids.
Cats have excellent night vision and can see at only one-sixth the light level humans require to see. Unlike some big wild cats, domestic cats have slit pupils. They see in color, but have limited ability to distinguish between red and green.
Cats have excellent hearing and can detect an extremely broad range of frequencies. They can hear higher-pitched sounds than either dogs or humans. They do not use this ability to hear ultrasound for communication, but it aids in hunting since many rodents make ultrasonic calls. Cat hearing is extremely sensitive and is among the best of any mammal. Their movable ears amplify sounds and help them sense the direction from which the sound is coming.
Cats also have an excellent sense of smell. They are very sensitive to pheromones which they use to communicate through urine spraying and marking with scent glands.
To aid with navigation and sensation, cats have dozens of movable whiskers on their bodies, especially on their faces. Their whiskers are highly sensitive to touch and provide information on the width of gaps and the location of objects in the dark. They work by touching objects directly and by sensing air currents. They also trigger protective blink reflexes to protect the cat's eyes from damage.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
Free ranging cats are active both day and night. A house cat's activity is quite flexible and varied, and often synchronizes with their human family. Cats allowed outdoors are known to establish territories from 17 to 69 acres in size.
Cats conserve energy by sleeping more than most animals, usually 13–14 hours per day. They dream often throughout the day.
Cats use many vocalizations for communication including purring, hissing, growling, snarling, trilling, grunting and many forms of meowing. Different body language, including position of ears and tail, relaxation of their body and kneading of paws, indicate their mood. No one knows how a cat purrs. Cats have no unique anatomical feature that is known for causing the sound.
Cats are known for their cleanliness, spending many hours licking their coats. The cat's tongue has backwards-facing spines which act like a hairbrush.
Cats hunt small prey, primarily birds and rodents. They use two hunting strategies, either stalking prey actively, or waiting in ambush until the animal comes close. Many present their prey to their human guardians. Some experts believe this is done because the cat is trying to teach its human to hunt, or is trying to feed their inept human.
Most cats have a fondness for perching in high places. In the wild, a higher place may serve as a concealed location to hunt from and gives the cat a better observation point. During a fall from a high place, a cat can reflexively twist its body and right itself using its acute sense of balance and flexibility.
Among domestic cats, males are more likely to fight than females. Cats arch their backs, raise their fur, turn sideways and hiss to appear more impressive and threatening. Often, the ears are pointed down and back to avoid damage and to listen for any changes behind them. They may also vocalize loudly and bare their teeth to further intimidate their opponent. Fights usually consist of grappling, slapping and biting. Serious damage is rare, as the fights usually don't last long.
Female cats are seasonally polyestrous, which means they may go into heat over and over during the course of a year. The mating season begins in spring and ends in late autumn. Heat periods occur about every two weeks and last around 4 to 7 days. Multiple males will be attracted to a female in heat. The males will fight over her and the victor wins the right to mate. Cats are superfecund; that is, a female may mate with more than one male when she is in heat, and different kittens in the litter may have different fathers.
The gestation period for cats is about 66 days. The size of a litter is usually three to five kittens. Babies are weaned between six and seven weeks old, and teens normally reach sexual maturity between 5–10 months. Females can have two to three litters per year, so they can produce up to 150 kittens by the time they reach ten years old. They can be spayed or neutered as early as 7 weeks to limit unwanted reproduction. This surgery also prevents undesirable sex-related behavior, such as aggression, marking (spraying urine) in males and yowling (calling) in females.
Feral cats are domestic cats that were born in, or have reverted to, a wild state. They are unfamiliar with and wary of humans and roam freely in urban and rural environments. There are 25 to 60 million feral cats just in the United States. They usually live in colonies, occupying a specific territory with a source of food. A grass roots effort to humanely reduce the feral cat population is called 'trap-neuter-return'. Cats are trapped, neutered, immunized and then released. Volunteers continue to feed and care for the cats throughout their lives. An established colony helps to prevent other feral cats from moving into an area.
On Veterans Day, we honor all Americans who serve or served in the military, past and present. On Memorial Day we remember all those who died in active military service. These are also days to remember the dogs of war. We must not forget their acts of duty and heroism. These are just five of the dogs who bravely served their country.
Chips, a Collie–German Shepherd–Siberian Husky mix, was the most decorated dog of World War II. This canine hero saw action in Germany, France, North Africa, and Sicily. Among his heroic exploits are his assault on an Italian machine-gun nest and his help in capturing 10 enemy Italian soldiers. For his actions, Chips was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Purple Heart, and the Silver Star. Sadly, the commendations were revoked due to military policy at the time that did not allow such recognition for an animal. This brave canine soldier returned to his home in Pleasantville, N.Y., in 1945.
Kaiser was a German Shepard who served in Vietnam with his handler Marine Lance Cpl. Alfredo Salazar. Kaiser and Salazar did more than 30 combat patrols and participated in 12 major operations together. Kaiser was killed in action in 1966, while on a search-and-destroy mission with “D” Company. They were on patrol and were ambushed by enemy forces. Kaiser was hit in the initial barrage and died while trying to lick Salazar’s hand. Kaiser was the first war dog to be killed in action during the Vietnam War.
On December 4, 1966, Nemo, a German Shepard, and Airman 2nd Class Bob Thorneburg were on patrol at a cemetery near the company’s airbase in Vietnam when the two came under enemy fire. Nemo took a round to his eye, and Throneburg was shot in the shoulder after killing two Viet Cong guerillas. Despite his wound, Nemo attacked the enemy, giving Throneburg the precious minutes he needed to call in reinforcements. After Throneburg fell unconscious, Nemo crawled on top of his fallen handler’s body to protect him from harm. The dog would not let anyone touch Airman Thorneburg. It took a veterinarian to remove Nemo. Both Nemo and Throneburg recovered from their battle wounds. Nemo was later given a permanent retirement kennel. He died in December 1972. He was 11-years-old.
Not all dogs of war are big or male. Smokey was a female Yorkshire Terrier who saw action in the Pacific during World War II. Smokey was initially found in February 1944, abandoned in a foxhole in the jungles of New Guinea. This little fighter was included in a dozen combat missions and survived more than 150 air raids. Like famous World War I veterans Rags and Stubby, Smoky used her sharp sense of hearing to warn of incoming artillery shells. One of Smokey’s most famous exploits was at a crucial airstrip on the Philippine Island of Luzon. Smokey bravely pulled a telegraph wire through a narrow 70-foot pipe. Her actions saved construction time and kept workers and engineers safe from enemy fire. When not in harm’s way, Smoky entertained the troops with a variety of tricks and antics. Smokey lived to be 14-years-old. She passed away on February 21, 1957. Smokey’s adoptive guardian, William A. Wynne, chronicled her life in a lovingly written biography of the tiny heroine, “Yorkie Doodle Dandy”.
Probably the most famous war dog, this American Pit Bull Terrier was the only dog to be given the rank of sergeant. Found as a stray on the Yale campus in 1917, Stubby was smuggled to France during World War I by his adoptive guardian, Cpl. John Robert Conroy. Stubby’s service record includes participating in 17 battles, four offenses, and improving troop morale. He also used his keen senses to warn his unit of poison-gas attacks, incoming artillery fire, and to locate downed soldiers on the battlefield; Stubby even captured a German spy lurking in the trenches. The Pit Bull-centric website, StubbyDog.org, is named after him, as is the Stubby Award for Canine Heroism. Stubby died in his guardian’s arms in 1926.
Rags, a small shaggy mixed-breed, was found on on the streets on Bastille Day of 1918 by Private James Donovan, a Signal Corps specialist with the American 1st Infantry. Private Donovan stumbled over what appeared to be a pile of rags, until the rags gave a sad whimper and a small bark. Within two weeks, both soldier and dog were sent off to the 2nd Battle of the Marne. Donovan's job was to string communications wire. When the wires were ripped and shellfire was still incoming, the only way to get messages through was by runner. But runners were frequently killed or wounded. Donovan realized that a little dog could do the job and survive. Rags soon learned to take messages towards the sound of the American guns. Near the end of the war, Donovan and Rags were in the Argonne Forest, bound in by a thick fog. Rags was sent back with a message. He had just set off when the Germans began firing mustard gas shells. Rags was mildly gassed and hit in the paw with a splinter from a concussion shell. His right ear was badly mangled by this same shell and a needle-like sliver of shell fragment was embedded under his right eye. An American infantryman found him dazed and confused and delivered both the wounded little dog and the message. Donovan had also been gassed, but far more severely. He was carried back to the rear and reunited with his dog. Rags had the shell splinters removed from his paw, but he would remain blind in his right eye and deaf in his right ear for the rest of his life. Donovan was not as fortunate. He died in 1919 from the lingering effects of the mustard gas. Rags was awarded a special ribbon recognizing his wartime service and achievements. His biography took its place among other official records of the Great War. Rags joined his beloved Private Donovan on March 22, 1936 at the remarkable age of twenty years old.
Iguanas are native to the jungles of the Caribbean and central and South America. Green iguanas are forest lizards who live high in the South American rainforest tree canopy. Young iguanas live lower in the canopies, while older adults reside higher up in the tree tops. Iguanas bask in the sun, with little need to visit the forest floor below other than when female iguanas lay their eggs.
The green and brown scales of iguanas allow them to blend extremely effectively into the surrounding forest. Iguanas will remain extremely still, going unnoticed, until predators pass by. They often chose basking spots on tree limbs hanging over water so they can dive into the water to escape predators. Iguanas are excellent swimmers and go beneath the water surface to avoid predators.
Iguanas have excellent sight able to detect movement from incredibly long distances to seek out prey and detect approaching predators. They use visual signals to communicate with each other through a series of rapid eye movements. They are considered omnivores, but most iguanas in the wild tend to eat an herbivorous diet. They feed on ripened fruit and leafy green plants.
These large, docile lizards are often a popular choice as exotic “pets”.
Green iguanas are some of the most frequently abandoned companion animals, likely because people find out too late what is required to care for them. A properly cared for iguana can live for more than 20 years and grow to be more than 6 feet long. The enclosure for a full-grown iguana should be at least 18 feet long, humidified, and maintained at a particular temperature with specific timetables for darkness and ultraviolet light.
Common problems for captive iguanas are metabolic bone disease from calcium deficiency, mouth rot, respiratory disease, abscesses, and ulcers. Wild iguanas do not suffer from any of these illnesses. They’re also strict vegans, limited to a very specific range of greens and fruits.
Costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year. It takes about a year of daily interaction to socialize an iguana, and even then, sexually mature males will be very aggressive six months out of the year if they see their own reflections or if confronted with other iguanas.
There is a health risk associated with keeping any reptile. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a reptile into your home—even healthy looking animals may be carrying the disease. Many reptiles are brought into the country with little or no inspection or quarantine.
Purchasing a reptile caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a reptile as a companion animal, adopt from a local shelter or rescue group.
Gerbils are small rodents, similar in many ways to hamsters and mice. They are naturally found in the sandy plains of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Originally known as desert rats, they were commercially introduced to North America and bred as “pets”.
Gerbils have long tails that they are able to shed, allowing them to escape predators. Their tails also help them balance when standing on their hind legs.
They have sharp claws they use for burrowing into desert sand to escape predators by quickly disappearing under the sand. Gerbils build extensive networks of tunnels and rarely surface other than to find food and water.
Over 100 different species of gerbils live in the wild. Most “pet” gerbils are Mongolian gerbils, found in their natural habitat in the 1860s and first captive-bred in the 1930s. Most gerbils are diurnal (active during the daytime), though pet gerbils are often more nocturnal.
Because of their size, gerbils are mis-perceived as being “low maintenance” animal companions. Gerbils often bite and do not make good companion animals for children.
Like all rodents, they can carry rabies and other diseases and, if released into the wild, pose a threat to established ecosystems.
If, after carefully considering these factors, you are sure you want to bring these delicate creatures into your home, avoid pet shops and adopt from a shelter or rescue agency.
Gerbils do not like to be alone and live in families of up to 20 members in their natural habitat. If kept in a solitary environment, a captive gerbil will become depressed. If you’re planning to adopt gerbils, two males or two females from the same family will bond together.
Their dietary needs include a variety of greens, fruits and seeds, some of which are available in packages formulated for hamsters or birds. Their teeth never stop growing, so it is imperative that these animals be provided with hard, digestible items to chew.
A large wire-mesh cage with a solid base works best. Colorful plastic cages may be enticing, but they are difficult to clean, and gerbils may chew their way out.
You’ll need a water bottle, nonwood-based bedding such as straw or shredded white paper, chew toys and an exercise wheel. Wooden ladders and toilet paper rolls also make great toys.
Only use solid exercise wheels for gerbils, since their long tails can become entangled in wire wheels.
Do not let gerbils become too cold or they will go into hibernation.
Rain, snow, and winter temperatures are just as hard on cats as they are on people. Young or old cats - especially arthritic or sickly - should be brought inside for the winter if at all possible. Cats should also be brought in the house or into heated garages or enclosures at night. Bring cats inside during cold snaps or when it rains.
If cats cannot be brought inside for the season, create a wind proof, waterproof enclosure. Put the enclosure against the house and cover with a tarp, tied down. Provide plenty of clean, dry bedding. Check weekly or after a major storm for leaks, damage and wet bedding.
Outdoor cats may need more calories to maintain their weight during winter weather. Safflower or vegetable oil mixed in with the cat food will help prevent your animal's coat and skin from becoming dry. Older cats on a low-protein/low-fat diet may do better on regular adult food for the winter, but get advice from a veterinarian first. Kittens or pregnant/nursing females may have special needs during cold weather. Again, seek a vet's advice.
An outdoor cat needs plenty of fresh (not frozen) water. Avoid metal water bowls, since a cat's tongue can stick to the freezing metal. If low temperatures have frozen the water in a bowl or bucket, replace it with fresh water. Frozen water is unavailable water. Snow is not a substitute and neither is "wet" food. Dehydration becomes a real risk for outdoor animals in very cold weather. One solution to frozen water is a "pail de-icer," available from pet supply stores and online.
A warm shelter, preferably in a south-facing or sunny area, is vital for an outdoor cat. Face the entrance away from prevailing winds or drafts. The shelter should be well insulated and the floor should be elevated several inches off the ground. A cat will hold body heat inside the shelter if extra bedding, such as hardwood shavings (not pine or cedar) or straw, is provided. Old rugs or blankets should not be used for bedding - a cat will track in moisture on her feet that can turn to ice. Heavy fabric or pieces of carpet attached to the top of the shelter entrance will cut down on drafts (beware of protruding nails or hooks). Throwing an old blanket over the top will increase the insulation factor. The shelter's roof should be slanted or angled so that rain and snow will not collect there. At least weekly, check the inside of the shelter for damp bedding mold and mildew. Cut ventilation slits in the shelter walls to help get rid of mold and mildew.
Fleas can thrive on a thick-haired outdoor animal even in the depths of winter. See your veterinarian about a recommended schedule for flea and tick preventives. In areas that do not completely freeze, fleas may be a problem year-round.
Antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is the most common winter poison danger, and can be fatal to companion animals, wildlife, and even children. Most commercial antifreeze contains ethylene glycol that has a sweet taste many dogs and cats can smell at a distance and will actively seek out. A tiny amount can be fatal - less than two ounces is enough to kill a dog, one teaspoon enough to kill a cat, and as little as two tablespoons can be hazardous to a small child. Most companion animals - and wildlife - will rapidly drink many times the fatal dose.
The first symptom is acting "drunk" - staggering, vomiting, copious drinking, and urination, often followed by a period of apparent recovery. One to three days later, there will be signs of kidney failure such as not eating, depression, vomiting, dehydration, coma and eventually death. If you are even a little suspicious that your companion animal has consumed antifreeze, see your veterinarian immediately. Early detection can save a life. Treatment must be started within hours to prevent irreversible and fatal kidney damage.
Fortunately, antifreeze poisoning is totally preventable. A small amount of diligence and effort can save lives:
Dispose of drained antifreeze properly, in an environmentally safe manner. Before dumping it in sewers and septic tanks, make sure it's safe and legal to do so.
Don't leave an antifreeze container open, even for a minute. A minute is all it takes for an animal - or a child - to drink a lethal dose.
If possible, hose down and dilute boil-overs. If it is still green, it is still toxic!
Store concentrated antifreeze in tight containers, out of reach of animals and children.
Repair leaky car radiators, hoses and water pumps.
Use a non-toxic antifreeze, such as Sierra, which contains propylene glycol. This substance can still cause illness, especially in cats, but is far less dangerous than ethylene glycol.
CATS SEEKING SHELTER IN OR NEAR CARS
Warm car engines can be hazardous to cats. Outdoor or stray cats seeking warmth and shelter often make the fatal mistake of climbing up near a car's engine to sleep. Prior to starting your car, be sure to bang on the hood of your car or beep the horn to roust any cat that may be inside.
Turtles are reptiles with hard shells that protect them like a shield. Their upper shells are called a ‘carapace’. Their lower shells are called ‘plastron’. The shell is made up of 60 different bones all connected together. Many turtle species are able to hide their heads inside their shells when attacked by predators. Their hard shells enable them to live without fast reflexes and elaborate predator avoidance strategies.
Turtles are highly intelligent and social animals. They sometimes switch between monogamy and promiscuity in their sexual behavior. They enjoy playing. They have good eyesight, hearing and an excellent sense of smell. Their shells contain nerve endings, aiding in their sense of touch.
Some aquatic turtles can absorb oxygen through their skin so they can remain submerged underwater for extended periods of time. They can even hibernate underwater.
The largest turtle is the leatherback sea turtle, which can weigh over 2000 lb. Several species of turtles can live to be over a hundred years of age, including the American Box Turtle.
Some turtles lay eggs in the sand and leave them to hatch on their own. The baby turtles make their way to the top of the sand and scramble to the water while trying to avoid predators. In some species of turtle the temperature determines if the egg will develop into a male or female. Higher temperatures lead to females; lower temperatures lead to males.
Most of the North American species of turtles available in pet stores have been taken from their natural habitats. Other species are usually captive bred—most likely in Louisiana, which has dozens of turtle factory farms. Most states have laws either banning or restricting the sale of turtles, so it is likely that any you see at a pet store have suffered illegal capture or were raised in less than humane conditions. Since parasites, bacteria, and fungi prey on weak or stressed turtles, the health of a store-bought turtle is questionable.
Just like any other reptile, a turtle’s needs are very specific: thermostatically controlled temperatures, enough water to swim in, a large housing area, and a varied diet. The average lifespan of an aquatic turtle is 25 years, while a land tortoise could outlive you.
There is a health risk associated with keeping any reptile. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a reptile into your home—even healthy-looking animals may be carrying the disease. Many reptiles are brought into the country with little or no inspection or quarantine.
Welcoming a reptile into your home means a commitment of time, space and money. You’ll need to provide the right temperature and humidity and specific light/dark cycles that may not coincide with your own or be convenient to you. Backup power is necessary to keep a constant temperature in the event of a power failure. In all, costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year.
Purchasing a reptile caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a reptile as a companion animal, adopt from a local shelter or rescue group.
Geckos are small to medium sized lizards naturally found in temperate and tropical regions. They are more commonly found around the Equator and in the Southern Hemisphere. Some species also live north of the Equator in warmer regions. They live in a wide variety of habitats including jungles, rocky deserts, rainforests, mountains, grasslands and even urban areas.
There are over 2,000 known different species of gecko found in a wide variety of colors and markings. They range considerably in size. Geckos are able to walk up vertical surfaces because they have feet covered in tiny hairs that stick to surfaces like suction cups.
They are carnivorous reptiles, feeding on insects, worms, small birds, reptiles and small mammals. Some geckos eat plant matter such as moss.
Snakes are the main predator of geckos. Large spiders, mammals and birds also feed on geckos.
Female geckos lay 2 sticky eggs with a soft shell that quickly hardens. Within 1 to 3 months, depending on the species and habitat, babies hatch.
Many gecko species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and pollution and the exotic pet trade. Geckos are very popular reptiles in pet stores. These small, frail-looking lizards can often live up to 30 years and require a very particular environment without the slightest variance in temperature. They feed on insects and baby mice.
There is a health risk associated with having a gecko. Seventy thousand people in the U.S. contract salmonellosis from direct or indirect contact with reptiles and amphibians every year. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk of serious illness or death. If you or anyone close to you is in one of these categories, rethink bringing a gecko into your home—even healthy-looking animals may be carrying the disease.
Welcoming a gecko into your home means a commitment of time, space and money. You’ll need to provide the right temperature and humidity and specific light/dark cycles that may not coincide with your own or be convenient to you. Backup power is necessary to keep a constant temperature in the event of a power failure.
In all, costs for food, an enclosure, lighting, and vet bills can total hundreds of dollars per year.
Purchasing a gecko caught in his or her natural habitat encourages the removal of wildlife from delicate ecosystems. Buying captive-bred animals only encourages breeders to replenish their stock. If you must have a gecko as a companion animal, adopt from a local shelter or rescue group.
The fate of the world’s richest biodiversity of salamanders and newts is in the hands of “pet” collectors across North America. At issue is salamander chytrid disease, caused by a fungus that infects both salamanders and newts with near total lethality. The fungus, known as B.sal, infects the skin, causing wart-like lesions. As the disease progresses, the animal stops eating, becomes lethargic, loses control of its body movements and eventually dies.
Originally from Asia, the disease – spread by the pet trade – has completely wiped out wild populations where it has appeared in Europe and the U.K.
Experts are raising the alarm, urging immediate action. The threat is similar to invasive fungal disease that all but wiped out entire species of frogs in South and Central America, and white nose disease, which has killed entire colonies of bats – millions of animals – across North America.
Scientists are warning people who already keep salamanders or newts to make sure any water or cage wastes are properly disinfected before discarding them. Always seek appropriate veterinary care for sick salamanders and newts.
The fungus makes little zoospores that can even swim on their own a short distance. They can live in water and in mud and are easily spread.
Experts advise to never handle wild salamanders, and never, ever release pet animals into the wild.
With their shy nature, salamanders keep a low profile that belies their importance to the ecosystem, where they occupy a niche similar to that of frogs and toads. They eat insects and other aquatic invertebrates and are in turn eaten by fish, birds and small mammals.
Amphibians are key components within the food web. A decline or elimination of even one species will have some impact, a trickle-down effect on other species within that food web.
Many people appreciate the mystic and beauty of exotic animals such as reptiles, amphibians, birds or mammals of non-native species or individuals of native species that have been raised in captivity. They succumb to the temptation of purchasing critters, reptiles, amphibians and other exotic animals, often on impulse. Too often little thought is put into the care and commitment necessary to properly provide for these animals. Parents frequently purchase the animals as learning aids or entertainment for their children who are far too young to be responsible for an intelligent, emotional, living being.
If you have the time, resources and compassion to make a home for a critter, reptile, amphibian or exotic animal, adopt rather than supporting the inhumane pet trade industry. Like dogs and cats, millions of mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, reptiles, exotic animals and "pocket" pets are available through humane societies, shelters and rescue groups each year.
Dogs are social animals, just as we are. In the wild, dogs live in packs and form bonds among themselves. But domesticated dogs were bred, over thousands of years, to form strong attachments to human family groups. Yet in the U.S alone more than 200,000 dogs (this number could be much higher) are chained, tethered or penned outside 24/7. This is inhumane treatment. It is solitary confinement in shackles.
Tied-up and isolated dogs become lonely, bored, depressed and anxious - the same feelings human prisoners in solitary confinement feel. Otherwise sweet and friendly dogs will often become neurotic and aggressive. Studies show that chained dogs are much more likely to bite than unchained dogs. And if you care at all about your dog, consider that a chained dog is at the mercy of predators like coyotes or those humans that would harm them. Tethered dogs have also harmed themselves by pulling at their chains. They develop neck problems at the least and, at the worst, can hang themselves trying to escape.
It is morally wrong and incredibly selfish for anyone to actually acquire a dog with the intent to keep it outside as protection for a home or property. This is not the role of dogs in our lives. If you have security fears, buy an alarm system that has no need of love, companionship, warmth or shelter. Dogs are also put outside because the people who have them could not, or would not, address bad behaviors such as soiling or nipping. It is the responsibility of everyone who has a dog to train the animal. If you are unable to train your dog, take the animal to obedience classes or bring in a trainer. If you don’t have enough money for this, then do the right, humane and kind thing. Find the dog a new home. Never surrender your dog to a pound or high kill shelter. This is the coward’s way out. Contact a no-kill shelter or rescue group in your area. Be honest about any behavioral problems. People devoted to rescue are willing to work with most animals.
Another all too common reason that dogs are chained or penned outside is because someone in the family, or even a regular visitor, has allergies. If you suspect that anyone in your household will not be able to tolerate the presence of a dog (or cat) inside your home, find the animal a new and loving home. If you choose to place the animal yourself, never advertise a dog or cat in a newspaper or online without charging a small purchase amount. Few people value what they get for free. Also, there are the horrible people known as “bunchers” who acquire “free to good home” animals and sell them to laboratories for experimentation. This is the worst fate possible for your animal. Place your animal with compassion and care and donate the purchase price to your local shelter or an animal welfare organization.
Not only do tethered and penned dogs suffer from isolation, but they also are very likely to have poor, if any, shelter, dry bedding or even clean water. As people learn that chaining or tethering dogs is animal cruelty, a growing number of anti-cruelty laws and ordinances have been passed in communities nationwide. These laws include "adequate care standards" that make it illegal to keep a dog outside in inclement weather or dangerous temperatures without proper shelter. “Dog House” ordinances, as some are called, also require the guardian of the dog to provide dry bedding and clean water. If you see a tethered dog that you believe is being exposed to extreme heat or cold, call animal control in your area. Even if the dog's guardian is not violating any laws, an animal control officer or cruelty investigator may be able to convince the dog guardian to take steps to improve the situation. However, the best outcome is always to persuade the individual to voluntarily give up the dog. No one that keeps a dog outside 24/7, chained or fenced in, should ever have an animal.
You can make a positive impact in your neighborhood by educating people about the cruelty of tethering and the needs of dogs that spend their lives outdoors.
If we can reach the heart of just one person who keeps his or her dog chained, and that dog’s life is made better, then we will have made a difference. For all those who love animals, spread the word. Please help chained dogs wherever you find them, and prevent more dogs from suffering this sad, solitary life.