A gecko for your terrarium? Or a tortoise? Or would you rather have a snake? Reptiles are exceedingly popular as “pets”. The illicit pet trade is booming. Between 2004 and 2014, official imports to the EU alone came to just under 21 million live specimens, more than six million of these ended up on the German market. These also include a large number of representatives of threatened species that can be sold at extremely high profits. Some collectors are quite willing to pay prices of several thousand euros for such rarities.
An international team of experts has now documented the implications of such transactions. The great demand from the European market is already endangering the survival of a great number of species all over the world is the warning issued by these researchers.
They are some of the rarest reptiles in the world. According to the latest surveys, there are not even 250 adult ploughshare tortoises left to crawl through the dry forests of north-west Madagascar. This means that the species, known by the scientific name of Astrochelys yniphora, is on the brink of extinction. The government of this island state created the Baly Bay National Park in 1997 especially to protect the remaining individuals of the species. The international trade with this species is completely forbidden, but this does not seem to deter trappers and smugglers. For example, 54 Madagascan ploughshare tortoises were confiscated at the airport in Bangkok in March 2013. Demand by reptile hobbyists in Asia, Europe and the US threatens to undo thirty years of conservation work.
This tortoise is not an isolated case. 37 scientists, conservationists and customs officials from 22 countries have compiled numerous other examples of species for which the pet market has become a serious problem, even though the Washington Convention (CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is intended to prevent nature being sold off in such a way. This Convention, that to date has been signed by 182 states including the EU, regulates the international trade in threatened fauna and flora. Appendix I to the Convention lists particularly highly endangered species; imports or exports of these species for commercial purposes is no longer permitted. Appendix II contains a large number of other endangered species; a special permit is required for trading in these species.
More than 90 percent of reptile species are, however, not even covered by CITES. To date, biologists have described more than 10,000 reptile species worldwide. A mere 793 of these species are presently covered by trade regulations under CITES. Many other endangered reptiles that are included in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), on the other hand, have so far not made it into the Appendices of CITES. Orlov’s viper (Vipera orlovi), for example, is considered threatened with extinction; less than 250 adults are still crawling through a small region in the Caucasus. Yet the international trade in these snakes is not regulated, nor is the trade in various rare geckos from Madagascar and New Caledonia.
It is specifically such species that are in particular demand among collectors. Even though they enjoy rarity value, they can still be purchased legally and without any great degree of bureaucracy. So why does CITES not apply to all endangered animals and plants? In many cases the inclusion in the appendices fails only on account of economic interests or lack of political will.
Even if a species is listed by the Convention, it is, nevertheless, not necessarily out of danger. After all, the illegal trade in wild animals has become a crime that is just as lucrative as trafficking in drugs, weapons and human beings. There is a correspondingly strong incentive to circumvent the protective provisions. One possibility, for example, is to manipulate documents. This way, a CITES-listed species becomes an unregulated relative at the drop of a hat. Or an animal captured in the wild becomes one allegedly bred in captivity. A large number of monitor lizards from Indonesia or chameleons from Madagascar come onto the market using this strategy.
But time and time again, there are cases where smugglers do not bother with any paperwork. Interesting species are secretly taken across borders in suitcases or on the smuggler’s body, often by "hired tourists". There is an amazing level of ingenuity involved. One US citizen was arrested for smuggling three Fiji banded iguanas (Brachylophus bulabula) in his prosthetic leg.
The persons involved are very much aware which animals reach the highest prices: rarities are always in great demand. For this reason, it is not only protected species that are targeted but frequently also new discoveries by the scientific community, as are endemic species that only occur in a very small distribution area worldwide. It is therefore not surprising that Cnemaspis psychedelica, a gecko species that was unknown until 2010, quickly became popular. After all, this little reptile not only adorns itself with colors reminiscent of tripping on drugs but lives exclusively on Hon Khoai, a Vietnamese island of only eight square kilometers in size. They have been offered for sale in Europe on a regular basis since 2013 - one pair for 2500 to 3000 euros.
Regions that are home to a large number of such unique reptiles attract particular attention from smugglers. These include, for example, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Madagascar. In many of the countries affected, poverty, poorly equipped authorities and a lack of controls make illegal trade particularly easy. But even in the US, Australia and New Zealand, countries that have strict protective legislation and an efficient law enforcement system, unique fauna is not spared.
According to studies, reptile smuggling can have dramatic effects, particularly for species with small populations and extremely limited distribution areas. But even larger populations cannot cope with over-harvesting. For instance, tortoises and large lizards are very long-lived and have low reproduction rates. The ability of these populations to compensate for massive losses from trapping is therefore limited.
So what should be done to prevent a reptile clearance sale? On the one hand, stricter regulations are needed committing all CITES member states to better protection for their own incidences. On the other hand, main importers must adopt responsibility. An example is the highly sought-after Borneo earless monitor lizards (Lanthanotus borneensis) for which European reptile hobbyists are currently willing to pay up to some 3000 euros per pair. While this species is protected in their home country, it is to date not included in the CITES appendices. This means that smugglers only have to get such animals out of Borneo. They can then be offered for sale quite openly on the European market. In the US, in contrast, trade in species that are not included in the CITES appendices but are protected in their home countries is also forbidden.
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.
The flea has been around for about 40 million years. It is such a tenacious pest because it reproduces explosively. One female flea can lay more than 800 eggs in her six-week lifetime. An egg can become an adult flea in less than three weeks, ready to reproduce. Within only 30 days, just 10 fleas can produce 250,000 children and grandchildren.
The flea's diet consists of blood - animal or human, the flea doesn't care. Each flea feeds about once every hour, so an animal with only 25 fleas could be bitten as much as 600 times in one day.
Besides disease - fleas and the rats they lived on transmitted the bubonic plague, or Black Death, to humans in the 14th century, wiping out a quarter of the European population. Fleas also carry other parasites, such as tapeworms.
As little as one adult flea on a dog or cat means a major infestation. Only 5% of the flea population is in the adult stage. The other 95% consists of pupae, larvae, and eggs - that "salt" in the salt and pepper residue visible in a companion animal's bedding or after combing. The "pepper" is flea excrement.
An excess of fleas can make your companion animal anemic. The constant scratching can cause hair loss. Allergies to fleas can cause hot spots. Animals can also develop large open, oozing wounds due to flea bites. All of which is dangerous to a companion animal's health and expensive to treat.
RIDDING A COMPANION ANIMAL OF FLEAS & TICKS
Fleas and ticks are at their worst in the summer. Fortunately, prevention and treatment is fairly simple. Companion animals should be checked at least once a week for ticks, fleas, or skin irritations that could lead to serious problems.
If a tick is discovered, don't twist it out with thumb and forefinger or the head will break off and stay under the skin to do further damage. To remove it, use a pair of tweezers as close to the skin as possible.
The fine teeth of a flea comb will pull most of the adults and eggs off a companion animal. Combing your animal regularly will quickly determine whether or not fleas are present (and incidentally it will help you and your companion animal form a stronger bond).
Flea shampoos are an effective means for killing fleas on a companion animal, but they are species specific. (Never use a shampoo meant for dogs on cats.) Follow the instructions carefully. For best results, start lathering at the neck and work back to the tail. Be sure to soap the tail, legs, and underbelly completely. When done, rinse your companion animal as thoroughly as possible and towel dry.
Flea shampoos are better than flea powders or sprays or dips, since when properly rinsed no flea toxins remain to make your companion animal ill.
A flea collar may help kill fleas, but it's little more than a poison strap worn by a companion animal. Also, its effectiveness against fleas deteriorates over time and it must be changed regularly.
After treatment, prevention is necessary. Even immediate killing of grown fleas is ineffective because flea eggs or pupae can stay "on hold" for months, growing to maturity when conditions for them "improve." You must get rid of them now, both inside and, if your animals are indoor/outdoor, outside as well.
FLEAS INSIDE THE HOUSE
Vacuum regularly. Because fleas thrive on the contents of the vacuum cleaner bag, sprinkle some flea powder on the floor or carpet and vacuum that up too. Dispose of the bag after vacuuming.
Flea bomb every room in the house. Use a flea bomb that contains an Insect Growth Regulator (IGR), which confuses flea larvae so they never grow to be adults. Look for the chemical name Precor. IGRs prevent flea larvae from reaching the pupae stage in your carpet for up to seven months, and are non-toxic to animals and humans. Follow the instructions on the can carefully.
Once the house and companion animals are clean, keep fleas away through preventative medicines available at your veterinarian's office. Some medicines offer a six-month regimen for your animal, of one pill or liquid supplement a month, that inhibits the growth of flea larvae into adults. Some can be applied directly to the skin on the back of the neck for cats, between the shoulder blades (and, for larger dogs, on the top of the rump) for dogs. In a day or so, it spreads over the whole body, then dries to form a matrix over the animal. It will kill 98% to 100% of the adult fleas within 24 hours.
FLEAS OUTSIDE THE HOUSE
Fleas and ticks love tall grass so mow and edge the yard well to eliminate this perfect breeding ground.
Recently, an all-natural outdoor flea control spray was developed that kills fleas within 24 hours and keeps working up to a month. The secret ingredient is beneficial nematodes, micro-organisms that prey on pre-adult fleas. They're so safe, children and companion animals can play in a yard that's just been sprayed with them. They exist only until they run out of prey. When all the fleas in the yard have been eliminated, the beneficial nematodes cease to work and biodegrade. It's important to spray with nematodes monthly, and be sure to keep them moist (not wet).
Another remedy is diatomaceous earth, a natural product consisting of fossilized one-celled plants called diatoms. While harmless to animals, this talc-like material scratches the waxy "skin" of insects, causing dehydration and death. Buy it from an organic gardening supply - do not get the diatomaceous earth that is sold for swimming pool filters - and apply as a dust all over your yard about once every couple of weeks. You can also use it inside the house.
If you spray your yard with chemicals, read the instructions carefully. What's heavily toxic to fleas will kill even beneficial insects, and may harm companion animals or family if exposed. Spray outside at dusk or later, to avoid killing bees and other beneficial insects. Keep the spray below knee-level, because fleas can jump only nine inches high. When you're through spraying, wash out your equipment thoroughly. Wash your hands and change your clothes if they have become wet in the process. Keep your companion animals off the lawn for about 24 hours or at least until it has dried. Take care in how you dispose of the leftover bottles and cartons.
STOPPING THE CYCLE
The above will only take care of the immediate problem. You must break the larval/flea cycle. To kill any dormant eggs or larvae, repeat the above steps in about two weeks. From then on, occasional maintenance should ensure a summer free of fleas for companion animals.
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.
The domestic ferret is believed to be native to Europe, a subspecies of the polecat. They were domesticated about 2,500 years ago to help farmers hunt rabbits by crawling into rabbit burrows and scaring the rabbits out of their holes. In the wild, ferrets feed mainly on mice, small rabbits and small birds.
Most ferrets sleep 18 hours a day, about six hours at a time in between playing and eating for about an hour. They are often most active at dusk and dawn.
Pet stores typically purchase extremely young ferrets, who are as charming as all baby animals, in order to increase their sales. To meet this demand, ferret breeders often prematurely spay, neuter, and de-scent ferrets, which can result in medical problems and even premature death. During shipping, many ferrets die or become ill. In such cases, pet stores merely ask for replacements.
The novelty of having a ferret, often purchased on impulse, can quickly wear off. When ferrets become too difficult to handle, they are often abandoned outside or entrusted to overcrowded animal shelters.
If you are willing to open your home to a ferret, adopt from a shelter or rescue group rather than supporting the inhumane pet industry. Ask your local Wildlife Department, Fish and Game Department, humane society, or veterinarian about the legality of keeping a ferret where you live and whether you will need to obtain a permit if you adopt one.
If you have young children, be sure to monitor their interaction with the ferret as closely as you would with a dog. If more than one ferret will be living in your home, expect “dominance fighting” to take place in the beginning. Fortunately, ferrets can usually coexist peacefully, and even amicably, with cats and dogs. Of course, supervision is a must, for safety reasons. Ferrets aren’t typically compatible with birds, fish, rabbits, reptiles or rodents.
Even for a ferret with free range of the house, a cage is a smart thing to have on hand. A cage or other enclosure can help your ferret learn how to use a litter pan. Although ferrets generally don’t take to using litter as quickly as cats do, they can learn. Start your ferret out in a small area, such as the cage, and expand his or her space gradually as he or she learns. Train ferrets with praise and treats—never use punishment. Once your ferret has learned to use litter pans, place them throughout your home. Don’t use clumping litter, which can easily be inhaled and can also cause rectal blockages.
Ferrets must eat a high-protein cat food, but keep in mind that most ferrets dislike fish flavors. The food must contain at least 32 percent protein and 18 percent fat. Unless your ferret is overweight, make food available to him or her at all times. Vitamin supplements such as ferretone and linatone and small amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t strictly necessary, especially if you provide a high-quality cat food, but they can contribute to good health if they are supplied in the proper amounts. To help your ferret pass indigestible objects that he or she may ingest, such as rubber bands or Styrofoam, you may also want to give him or her small doses of a cat-hairball remedy regularly. Chocolate, licorice, onions, and dairy products are not recommended for ferrets. Ask your veterinarian for more information about food and supplements.
KEEPING YOUR FERRET HEALTHY
Spaying or neutering soon after your ferret turns 6 months old is a must. Neutering greatly decreases a male’s odor, preventing him from marking his territory in your home and making him less aggressive (males “in season” may kill other ferrets). An unspayed female who doesn’t breed while she is in heat may die of anemia. Do not let your ferret reproduce and add to the overpopulation crisis. De-scenting is not necessary and may be harmful.
Brush your ferret’s teeth twice a week with a small cat toothbrush and an enzymatic toothpaste to control plaque and tartar buildup. Nail-trimming is best left to a veterinarian, unless you are confident that you won’t nick a blood vessel. Do not declaw your ferret.
Ear-cleaning should be done once every month with a cotton swab dipped in sweet oil or an alcohol-based ear cleaner. Ear mites are common parasites. Your veterinarian can recommend treatments. Do not use dips or sprays to combat fleas. These products are very dangerous.
Maintaining a ferret-proof home can be even more arduous than baby or child proofing. Unlike children, ferrets don’t learn to avoid hazards as they grow older. Imagine having to baby-proof your home for 10 years—ferrets can live that long!
Exercise caution, especially with the following tempting, potential dangers in your home:
Cabinets and drawers, which ferrets can open
Heaters and furnace ducts
Recliners and sofa-beds (ferrets have been crushed in their levers and springs)
Anything spongy or springy, such as kitchen sponges, erasers, shoe insoles, foam earplugs, Silly Putty, foam rubber (including the foam rubber inside a cushion or mattress), Styrofoam, insulation, and rubber door stoppers—swallowing these items will often result in intestinal blockage
Human food—even ferret-safe human foods, including fruits and vegetables, are harmful in large quantities
Filled bathtubs, toilets, and water and paint buckets, in which ferrets can drown
Toilet paper and paper towel rolls, in which ferrets’ heads can easily become wedged, resulting in suffocation
Plastic bags—if you choose to let your ferret play with bags, cut off the handles and cut a slit in the bottom
Tiny holes behind refrigerators and other appliances with exposed wires, fans, and insulation
Your dishwasher, refrigerator, washer, and dryer
Common—and often poisonous—houseplants
Ferrets love to rip the cloth covering the underside of box springs and climb inside, where they may become trapped or crushed. Put a fitted sheet on the underside of the box springs and anchor it in place with small nails or brads, or attach wire mesh or a thin piece of wood to the underside of the box springs.
When you aren't home to supervise your ferret, you may decide to enclose him or her in a ferret-proof room or in a roomy, metal mesh cage—one that is at least 18 inches long, 18 inches deep, and 30 inches wide, though larger enclosures are preferable. Whatever you decide, your ferret will appreciate ramps, tunnels made from dryer hose or black drainage pipe, a “bedroom” made out of an upside-down box with a cut-out doorway, and hammocks made from old jeans or shirts. Line the cage bottom with linoleum squares, carpet samples, or cloth cage pads, and use old T-shirts and sweatshirts for bedding—never use cedar or pine shavings, which are toxic to small animals. Don’t let the temperature in their living quarters climb too high. Even at 80ºF, ferrets can get sick. They are more comfortable in temperatures around 60ºF.
Don’t forget that ferrets can go for walks on a leash attached to a harness.
Some 5 million family companion animals are reported missing annually. Based on "pet theft" reports, it is conservatively estimated that approximately 1.5 to 2 million of these missing companion animals are taken forcibly, or by deception, through so-called "Free to Good Home" ads.
Dogs and cats are sold to many different clients for many uses, including dog-fighting rings as fighters or as bait, to puppy mills for breeding, as meat for human consumption, as prey for exotic animals, as fur for clothing or accessories, as protective guard dogs, or for cult rituals. However, the most consistent and highest-paying client is often the research industry. Hundreds of thousands of cats and dogs are used as laboratory subjects in universities and testing and research institutions every year. Research institutions prefer to experiment on animals that are accustomed to humans, as they tend to be docile and much easier to handle.
Some pounds, shelters and humane societies may sell "surplus" dogs and cats to Class B dealers and/or research facilities - a practice commonly called "pound seizure." Only a few states have outlawed pound seizure. In those states where pound seizure has not been banned, it is up to each city or county (depending on whether a facility is city or county run) to decide whether or not to allow or mandate pound seizure.
Whether or not a state-wide ban on pound seizure exists, some pounds or shelters practice pound seizure illegally - some even acquiring the animals illegally. There are known cases of family dogs and cats being picked up as "strays," being "laundered" through the pound, shelter or humane society system (by withholding them from view or taking them to an out-of-town facility to fulfill the required five-day holding period), and later sold to a dealer or research facility.
Having a pound, shelter or humane society that practices pound seizure in your area means that every companion animal is worth money, and increases the chances of pet theft occurring in your community.
Your dog loves to go for walks. He stops at every tree, shrub and weed to “read the news” of his neighborhood. But these happy times can be dangerous to your friend. Sadly, chemically treated lawns are a reality of suburban life and many animal guardians do not realize how toxic a treated lawn can be. Every time your dog sets foot on a treated lawn, whether freshly sprayed or dry, he or she is being exposed to environmental toxins like pesticides and herbicides.
Most dogs love a carpet of thick green grass. They smell it, run around on it, roll on it and dig at it. We launder our clothes and bathe regularly, but dogs don’t shower every morning or change their fur and footpads every day. So, whatever collects on their feet or coat stays there until the next time you give them a bath. Every time your dog licks his paws or stomach - anywhere that touched a treated lawn - he is ingesting chemical residue. As he smelled the lawn, he inhaled it and as the chemicals settled in his fur, they were absorbed through his skin. When your dog comes inside, the chemicals are deposited on multiple surfaces in your home, including carpeting, rugs, furniture and your dog’s bedding. When your dog's outdoor environment has been doused in potentially toxic chemicals, it is easy to see how normal canine behavior can turn to deadly risk.
It is also clear that there is chemical drift. Toxic chemicals are commonly detected in grass residue from untreated lawns. This means that even if you don't use lawn care products or a service, your dog could still be at risk from chemicals that blow into your yard from a nearby property.
If you think your dog has rolled on chemically treated grass, bathe her as soon as possible. If you've walked your dog in a suspect grassy area, giving her a foot soak as soon as you get home should flush away any chemical residue that may be clinging to her feet and lower legs. If your dog is low to the ground, wash her belly, chest and tail too.
Contrary to what lawn care companies would like you to believe, herbicides (weed killers) and other pesticides are not "magic bullets" or programmed drones that kill only targeted species. Herbicides and pesticides are broad-spectrum biocides that by their very nature can harm all organisms, including homeowners, their families, neighbors, animals, both wild and domestic, and all other forms of life. The pesticide industry downplays this by claiming their chemicals are heavily diluted, but doesn't mention that the toxins are still extremely dangerous, even in small amounts. The industry is also unwilling to mention all of the chemicals in their mixtures. Many components are classified as "inert", but inert does not mean inactive. These components are more than just fillers or solvents, but companies are not required to list inert components on product labels, thus leaving the public unaware of them. Some, such as benzene and xylene, are more toxic than the chemicals actually listed.
Active ingredients in lawn care products can be nerve-gas type insecticides and artificial hormones, some of which the federal government has even prohibited from use on its own properties. Also among the listed active chemicals are the components of defoliants like Agent Orange. This now infamous defoliant was used during the Vietnam War to destroy forest cover for the enemy and also their food crops. Agent Orange has since been revealed to cause a wide range of serious health issues, including rashes, psychological problems, birth defects and cancer. During WWII, a pesticide was developed known as 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid, or "2,4-D. This chemical was one of two active ingredients in Agent Orange. Yet, 2,4-D is still used on athletic fields, golf courses, landscaping, timberland, right-of-ways and various crops. Despite decades of scientific studies associating 2,4-D with cancer in humans and animals, the chemical continues to be one of the top-three pesticides sold in the U.S. More recent studies have linked the chemical to hormone disruption that increases the risk of birth defects and neurologic damage in children.
Many pesticides are not safe even when dry. The water in lawn care solutions may evaporate, but most pesticides remain and continue to release often odorless and invisible toxic vapors. In areas where lawn spraying is common, these vapors accumulate as toxic smog throughout the entire season. Exposure to pesticides is widespread. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a study of 9,282 people nationwide, found pesticides in 100% of the people who had both blood and urine tested. The average person carried 13 of 23 pesticides tested. We do not have similar data for companion animals, but it is easy to imagine a similar result.
Common groups of lawn pesticides and their effects on animal health include:
Organophosphates: Organophosphate compounds include some of the most toxic chemicals used in agriculture. Fat-soluble and easily transmitted throughout the body, this group of pesticides is defined by their inhibition of the enzyme cholinesterase. Examples of this class of chemicals are Chloryprifos and Diazinon. Poisoning symptoms in animals include excessive salivation, "wet" respiratory sounds (because of increased bronchial secretions), vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, slow heart rates and miosis (pinpoint pupils). In serious cases, respiratory failure and death can occur.
Carbamates: Carbamates cause a reaction similar to organophosphates because they inhibit the same enzyme pathway. This group includes the commonly used insecticide carbamyl. Exposure causes convulsions, dizziness, labored breathing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, unconsciousness, muscle cramps, and excessive salivation. Toxicity of these chemicals depends on the path of exposure.
Phenoxy: Phenoxy and benzoic acid herbicides like 2,4 D, MCPP, and MCPA affect the central nervous system. Poisoning symptoms include involuntary twitching, loss of sensation, vomiting, stomach pains, diarrhea, weakness, fatigue, dermatitis, and aching muscles. Dogs and cats that don’t excrete acids as efficiently are especially sensitive to this chemical. An EPA-funded study found that 2,4-D is easily tracked indoors, exposing children and animals at levels ten times higher than pre-application levels. Another study showed that exposure to phenoxy-treated lawns and gardens appeared to dramatically increase the risk of bladder cancer in Scottish Terriers.
Pyrethroids: Pyrethroids are listed as possible carcinogens by the US EPA and affect the central and peripheral nervous systems. Commonly used chemicals like Permethrin and Resmethrin are in this group. Poisoning symptoms include muscle tremors, hyperexcitability, depression, ataxia, vomiting, seizures, anorexia, and death. Exposure to Resmethrin caused increased thyroid and liver weight in adult dogs, and exposure to these chemicals is linked to harm in neurological development.
Protecting Your Animal from Toxic Pesticides
Don't apply pesticides to your yard, and if you use a lawn care service, don't allow them to use pesticides. Weed killers are herbicides and no herbicides are safe. Also avoid lawn care and other gardening products that contain insect growth regulators (IGRs).
If you live in a townhouse or community that applies chemicals to common areas, detox a patch of grass in your backyard by watering the chemicals down into the soil. If you can’t keep your animal on a leash (and on the sidewalk) when walking, then bathe, bathe, bathe.
Freshly treated lawns are the most toxic. Twenty-one states have adopted laws requiring notification of lawn, turf and ornamental pesticide applications by hired applicators. They must post signs on treated lawns to let neighbors and passersby know that chemicals have recently been used.
There are alternatives. You can still have a beautiful lawn without the use of dangerous chemicals. Optimize growing conditions in your lawn by following lawn care practices that will establish a healthy, dense lawn, one that will be naturally resistant to weeds, insects and diseases.
Improve the Soil
Test - The first step is to test the soil's pH. It should read between 6.5 and 7.0, which is slightly acidic. Soil that is too acidic will need a sprinkling of lime. Sulfur can be added to soil that is not acidic enough. You can buy a pH tester for $40 - $60 or have your soil tested. Call your extension office. They will often provide soil testing as a free service.
Aerate - Lawns grow best in loamy soils that have a mix of clay, silt and sand. Too much clay in the soil mix can compact the soil and prevent air and nutrient flow. Compacted soil may need aeration, a process of lifting small plugs of turf to create air spaces. For best results, rent an aerator or hire a lawn service to do the job. Aeration is best done before top dressing and fertilizing.
Add organic matter - Organic matter, such as compost and grass clippings, will benefit any type of soil. It lightens soil heavy in clay and builds humus in sandy soils to help retain water and nutrients. Use a mulching lawn mower that chops the grass clippings and disperses them as you mow. Grass clippings are high in nitrogen.
Choose a locally adapted grass - Grasses vary by the type of climate they prefer, the amount of water and nutrients they require, their shade tolerance and the degree of wear they can withstand. Ask your local garden center to recommend the grass best adapted to your area.
Mow often, but do not cut too short - Giving your lawn a "Marine cut" is not doing it a favor. Surface roots become exposed, the soil dries out faster and surface aeration is reduced. As a general rule, don't cut off more than one-third of the grass at any one time. Most turf grass species are healthiest when kept between 2.5” and 3.5" tall. When the lawn is finished growing for the season, cut it a bit shorter to about 2". This will minimize the risk of mold buildup during winter.
Water deeply but not too often - Thorough watering encourages your lawn to develop a deep root system that makes it hardier and more drought-resistant. Let your lawn dry out before watering. As a rule of thumb, the color should dull and footprints should stay compressed for more than a few seconds. When watering, put a cup in the sprinkler zone. The cup should collect at least one inch (2.5cm) of water. Most healthy lawns require only 1" of water per week. The best time to water is early morning, when less water will be lost to evaporation. Ideally, it is better to water the first half-inch or so, then wait for an hour or two before watering the second half-inch.
Control thatch build-up - Thatch is the accumulation of above-soil runners, propagated by the grass. This layer should be about 1/2" (1.25cm) on a healthy lawn, and kept in balance by natural decomposition, earthworms and microorganisms. Too much thatch prevents water and nutrients from reaching the grass roots. However, before resorting to renting a dethatcher, effort should be made to improve aeration. Aeration brings microorganisms to the surface that will then eat most of the thatch. If you don't aerate, the roots stay near the surface, contributing to thatch buildup. When you aerate once a year, it breaks down the thatch, allowing the roots to grow deeper in the soil. This leads to thicker grass, which naturally smothers weeds. While a dethatcher will reduce thatch buildup, be careful not to strip and thin the grass so much that it reduces competition between the grass and weeds, allowing the weeds easier germination. You can also reduce thatch with a steel rake.
The dangers outside your door are not always obvious. Stay informed and share this information with friends and family. Being an animal advocate can be as simple as spreading the word about an issue like lawn care toxicity. You are your companion’s guardian. Protect them and use your voice to help protect them all.
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.
For every puppy or kitten born, a puppy or kitten in a shelter or in the care of a rescue group will not find a forever home. There might have been time to prevent those unwanted births, if communities and individuals had acted responsibly.
Each year, in the United States alone, 27 million cats and dogs are born. Because homes cannot be found for all of them, between 10 and 12 million of these animals will be euthanized - healthy, lovable animals, destroyed just because there are too many of them. The only way to solve the problem is to reduce the numbers of unwanted animals by neutering and spaying. Attitudes must change and we should all share information. We should educate, encourage and speak out, until neutering and spaying cats and dogs becomes the norm.
It is human nature to rationalize the bad decisions we make, but can there ever be a good reason not to spay or neuter? There are parents who allow their cat or dog to have a litter because they want their children to experience "the miracle of birth". By making this decision, those parents have failed to teach their children the value of life. There may be people who are otherwise good animal caretakers, but who are genuinely uncomfortable with neutering. They may believe that they are "taking away the masculinity" of a companion. Unless this guardian is always vigilant, accidental mating can happen. But the worst excuse not to spay or neuter is one of money. There are low-cost options available. Call your local animal shelter for a list of providers of this service in your area or go online. If you can afford any extras beyond food, shelter and medicine, you can afford to spay or neuter. If you are too poor to spay or neuter, you are too poor to have a companion animal. Being a caretaker to a companion animal is a life-long responsibility and commitment. No one should have a cat or a dog if they cannot afford veterinary care. The only good reason not to spay or neuter is when the surgery would put the animal’s life at risk.
REDUCING FERAL CAT POPULATIONS
Feral cat colonies exist almost everywhere and their numbers are growing. The problem of feral cats can be directly laid at the doorstep of irresponsible animal guardians that do not spay or neuter and allow their cats to wander. Many of these cats never come back, giving birth in the wild and forming the colonies that struggle for survival, while producing litter after litter of kittens. Communities should establish Trap Neuter Release Programs to humanely trap feral cats, take them to be neutered, and then release them to the original site of the colony. If found early enough, kittens can be socialized and placed in homes. But again, each of these kittens rob another kitten of a home, so make certain that those you rescue now are the last kittens born to the colony. Trap, Neuter and Release all remaining adults.
“Free kittens” signs mean that sweet innocents are at risk and that irresponsible animal guardians allowed their cat to breed. If you know anyone with a cat that is going to have kittens, encourage them to have the mother spayed as soon as the kittens are weaned and try to convince the person to find a no-kill shelter or rescue group willing to take the kittens. Let the person know that offering any animal for “free” invites disaster. There are people who are on the lookout for free food for "pet" snakes. And there are the awful "bunchers", who take free animals and sell them to laboratories for horrific experiments. Even if the animal is taken to be a companion, people often do not value something that costs them nothing. If no rescue group can take the kittens, it would be better to advertise them at a reasonable price, and do the best possible job of screening anyone wanting to adopt them. You can donate the money to a local animal shelter or charity.
KNOWLEDGE IS THE BEGINNING OF CHANGE
Knowledge is the beginning of change. Share with others what you learn about responsible and humane animal guardianship. You can save lives by helping to educate your community, friends and family about companion animal issues.
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).
Trap-neuter-return (TNR) is recommended only for colonies of feral cats who can be returned to supervised sites where long-term care can be assured. Stray, domestic cats need to be re-socialized and placed in homes. Spaying and neutering colonies of cats: stabilizes the population at manageable levels, eliminates "annoying" behaviors associated with mating (fighting, yowling, and "spraying toms"), helps make the animals easier to deal with over the long term (re: trapping for future veterinary treatment), is more effective and less costly than repeated attempts at eradication is humane to the animals and fosters compassion in the community.
The community, the caretakers and the property owner where the cats reside, should organize and carry out this plan. Money may be available from an established organization or may have to be raised by voluntary contributions. Local governments should be approached and asked to contribute to the fund, as TNR will save them money over time. The initial cost may seem high but the long-term costs are less than those spent on repeated eradication attempts. The major expenses are for equipment, veterinary services, and food.
Identify all those who feed the cats and all feeding sites. Make a list of all the cats, their state of health, and whether females are pregnant, or feeding kittens. Identify the cats who are only occasional visitors or who are friendly, as these may be companion animals. All neighbors should be notified of your procedures before trapping begins to prevent them from thinking you will harm the cats. The location should be evaluated as to whether or not it is an appropriate environment in which to keep the colony. Buildings scheduled for demolition or areas too close to major highways may not be suitable. For the most part, the area where the cats are living is the best place to keep them. If relocation is necessary, find a suitable new location. However, relocation should be the last option. The planning group may be very creative in finding a solution. Euthanasia is only recommended for very sick cats who cannot be treated.
Make arrangements for kittens and cats that may be tame enough to be domesticated after veterinary treatment. Rescuers and colony caretakers should sterilize all cats and kittens prior to adoption. They should charge an adoption fee which will help recover part of the cost. Early-age sterilization can be performed on kittens eight weeks old or two pounds in weight. Obtain humane traps and transfer cages, and learn how to properly use them. Make arrangements for transport, overnight stay, and delivery to and collection from the surgery.
Don’t leave the cat in an unprotected trap and never leave the cat where she might be threatened by other animals, people, or weather. Immediately cover the trap with a towel or blanket when the cat is caught in order to calm her down. When one cat has been trapped, it can be moved to the transfer cage so that the trap can be used for a second cat. Do not trap in inclement weather, especially during heat waves - traumatized cats are very susceptible to heat stroke. The use of "rabies poles" and tranquilizers are discouraged. Tranquilized cats may leave the area before the tranquilizer takes effect and can get into situations that could endanger their lives, such as wandering onto busy streets. Do not trap lactating mothers, if possible. If, however, a lactating mother is trapped you need to make a decision on whether to have her spayed - she could be hard to retrap. If you keep her, find her kittens as soon as possible.
Discuss the plan with the veterinarian and a possible fee reduction for the whole colony. Confirm beforehand that the veterinarian and technicians are aware that these cats are feral and prepared to treat them. A squeeze-side cage is an option for the clinic to use. A moveable panel in this type of cage immobilizes the cat allowing her to be tranquilized before handling. It is much safer for the veterinarian to tranquilize the cat through the bars of the trap. To avoid the necessity of a second trapping, dissolvable sutures must be used. Males should be fostered overnight and females, if possible, should be kept for two to three nights before returning. All cats to be returned must be identified by clipping one quarter inch off the top of the left ear. If the ear is properly cauterized, this procedure is trouble-free. All cats should be treated for worms and earmites, inoculated with a three-year rabies vaccine and distemper vaccine, and given a long-term antibiotic injection. Remember to inform the vet. that the cats are to be returned to their colonies.
Taming & Domestication: Although some older feral cats can be domesticated, the best time to tame ferals is before they are eight weeks old. While it is possible to domesticate some older kittens and cats, if no homes are available and your local shelter is killing unwanted domestic kittens, a more humane and practical solution is to sterilize feral kittens from 12 weeks old, vaccinate, and return to colony.
When returning to the original site is not possible, relocate the cat to a different site, such as a farm, a riding stable, or even a back yard, as long as new caretakers are willing to take responsibility for consistent food and shelter. Relocating may take several weeks or months and must be undertaken with the utmost of care. “Dumping” of feral cats in rural areas is strongly discouraged as the cats will, in all probability, move off and be unable to a food source. They may starve to death. If you do not confine the cats properly for 2 to 3 weeks, they may not remain on the property. This can lead to a similar situation as mentioned above.
The long-term management of the colony should include arrangements for daily feeding, fresh water, and provision of insulated shelters as sleeping places with waterproof covers and straw. Dust bedding with flea powder to prevent infestations, and keep feeding areas clean and tidy. It may take several months to bring a large colony under control and achieve stable groups of contented and healthy cats. Any new cats attaching themselves permanently to the colony should be trapped and sterilized. Many of these may be tame, domestic strays. These should be resocialized and placed in homes. Feral cats can be re-trapped a few years later for booster rabies vaccinations, health check-ups, teeth cleaning etc. At this time, they will be more trusting of their caretaker and can be tricked into cages and traps. A plan should be worked out with the veterinarian where mild illnesses can be treated in the colony with antibiotics placed in moist food, to avoid re-trapping.
Research proves that feral cats do not suffer harsh lives, pose a risk to other cats, or threaten public health. Feral cats live full, healthy lives outdoors. Claims that feral cats “suffer” outdoors are based on isolated incidents and are not supported by scientific evidence. Research of feral cats in high-volume spay/neuter clinics spanning nearly a decade found the need to euthanize for debilitating conditions was less than 1%. Anecdotal reports by caregivers bolster these findings.
Feral cats are just as healthy as “pet” cats—studies show they have the same low rates of disease. Despite recent media reports, there hasn’t been a confirmed case of cat-to-human rabies transmission in more than 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Rabies in cats is extremely rare; in 2010, less than 5% of all reported rabid animals cases were cats, according to statistics from the CDC. Rabies vaccination is part of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) protocol, making successful rabies prevention programs even more effective.
FIV and FeLV are also extremely rare in feral cats. Major scientific studies of hundreds of feral cats found rates of these diseases to be just as low as companion animal cats.
Science shows feral cat colonies pose no disease risk to humans. Rumors about the spread of infectious disease by cats to humans is based on myth and misunderstanding, not science. Infectious diseases from cats can spread to humans only via direct contact, and that’s extremely unlikely among feral cats, who avoid humans. In people, incidences of these diseases often have other causes. Toxoplasmosis, for example, is almost always caused by consuming undercooked foods.
Trap-Neuter-Return makes feral cats even healthier. Trap-Neuter-Return ends the breeding cycle, as well as the strains of mating and pregnancy, which improves the cats’ overall health. Studies of cats cared for through TNR show they have healthy body weights and fat distribution. One long-term study of a TNR program showed 83% of cats had lived in the colony for more than six years, indicating a healthy lifespan comparable to companion animal cats.
When outdoor temperatures reach the 80s, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to well over 100 degrees in just minutes—and asphalt temperatures can reach 140 degrees, causing pain, burns, permanent damage, and scarring on dogs’ paws after just a few minutes of contact. Locking dogs in parked cars and walking them on hot pavement places them at risk of deadly heatstroke.
If you see a dog showing any symptoms of heatstroke—including restlessness, heavy panting, vomiting, lethargy, and lack of appetite or coordination—get the animal into the shade immediately and lower the dog’s body temperature by providing the dog with water, applying a cold towel to the animal’s head and chest, or immersing the dog in tepid (not ice-cold) water. Then immediately call a veterinarian.
Remember: When dogs’ long tongues hang out, it means they are uncomfortable, even in danger.
Follow these suggestions for safeguarding animals during hot weather:
Keep dogs indoors: Unlike humans, dogs can only sweat through their footpads and cool themselves by panting. Soaring temperatures can cause heat stress, injury, or death.
Provide water and shade: When outside, animals must have access to fresh water and ample shade, and the shifting sun needs to be taken into account. Even brief periods of direct exposure to the sun can have life-threatening consequences.
Walk—don’t run: In very hot, humid weather, never exercise dogs by biking and making them run alongside you or by running them while you jog. Dogs will collapse before giving up, at which point, it may be too late to save them.
Avoid hot cars: Never leave an animal in a parked car in warm weather, even for short periods with the windows partially rolled down. Dogs trapped inside hot cars can succumb to heatstroke within minutes—even if a car isn’t parked in direct sunlight.
Never transport animals in the bed of a pickup truck: This practice is dangerous—and illegal in many cities and states—because animals can be catapulted out of a truck bed on a sudden stop or strangled if they jump out while they’re tethered.
Stay alert and save a life: Keep an eye on all outdoor animals. Make sure they have adequate water and shelter. If you see an animal in distress, provide him or her with water for immediate relief and contact humane authorities right away.
Avoid hot pavement: When outdoor temperatures reach the 80s, asphalt temperatures can reach 140 degrees, causing pain, burns, permanent damage, and scarring on dogs’ paws after just a few minutes of contact. Walk on grass when possible, and avoid walking in the middle of the day.
Some people enjoy taking their dogs along on errands, but leave them in the car. This can be deadly. A little heat outside the car can quickly make it very hot inside. On a summer's day of only 85 degrees, for example, even keeping the windows slightly open won't stop the inside temperature from climbing to 102 degrees in 10 minutes, to 120 degrees in 20 minutes. A dog whose body temperature rises to 107-108 degrees will, within a very short time, suffer irreparable brain damage - or even death. Never leave your dog alone in a car, even for a few minutes, in the summer months.
If you see a dog alone in a hot car, write down the car’s model, make, color and license plate number. Attempt to have the animal's guardian paged in the nearest buildings and call the police. Don’t leave the scene until the dog has been rescued.
Heatstroke symptoms to look for are thick saliva, heavy panting, lethargy, restlessness, dark tongue, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lack of coordination, excessive thirst, lack of appetite, rapid heartbeat and fever.
Provide the dog with drinking water. Spray the dog with water, immerse him in a tub of cool (but not iced) water for a couple of minutes, or apply wet towels to the stomach, chest, paws and groin area. Do not use ice or cold water, and don’t overcool the dog.
If the dog shows any symptoms of heatstroke, get her to a veterinarian immediately.
How To Legally Help Dogs In Hot Cars
What can you do, within your legal rights, if you see an animal in distress in a locked car? The Animal Legal Defense Fund, a legal advocacy organization for animals, has some tips.
If you see an animal in distress, call 911. Most states allow a public safety officer to break into the car and rescue an animal if its life is threatened. Calling 911 is the first step to saving that animal’s life.
Know your state laws. More and more states are adopting “hot car” laws that prohibit leaving a companion animal unattended in a parked vehicle. Although 22 states have some form of “hot car” laws, the laws differ drastically from place to place. Only four states—Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio and Tennessee—have “Good Samaritan” laws that allow any person to break a car window to save an animal.
In 17 states, only public servants such as law enforcement and humane officers can legally break into a car to rescue an animal (Arizona, California. Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington.) In New Jersey and West Virginia, although it is illegal to confine an animal in a hot car, no one has the authority to break into a vehicle to save the animal, not even law enforcement.
Legislation is pending in California and New York to give any concerned bystander the legal right to help an animal in distress. Pending legislation in Pennsylvania would make it illegal to confine a dog or cat in a vehicle in conditions that would jeopardize its health and would empower a police officer, a volunteer or professional fireman, a humane officer, a security guard, or a first responder to rescue the animal.
Penalties for hot car deaths of companion animals are still limited. Most states limit penalties to misdemeanors or civil fines and infractions, even for repeat offenders. Maine and South Dakota’s laws don’t impose a penalty at all (although an animal guardian in Maine may regain custody of an animal removed from their vehicle only after they pay all charges that accrued for the maintenance, care, medical treatment and impoundment of the animal).
Let people know it’s not okay to leave their animal unattended in a car. When an animal dies in a hot car, most of their humans say they left them “just for a minute.” If you see someone leave their companion animal in a parked car, tell them that even if it’s a pleasant day outside, the temperature inside the car can skyrocket fast. Cracking a window doesn’t eliminate the risk of heatstroke or death.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fireworks are meant to represent “bombs bursting in air”—and to dogs and cats, that’s exactly what they sound like. When animals hear the cracks and booms in the sky, many of them panic and jump over fences, break chains, or even break through glass windows in an effort to escape the terrifying sounds.
Many animals who run in fear are never found. After fireworks displays, animal shelters nationwide report an increase in the number of lost animals, some of whom have bloody paws from running, torn skin from breaking through wooden fences, or other serious injuries. Some animals are hit by cars or killed in other ways as they attempt to escape.
Take the following precautions to ensure the comfort and safety of your animal companions during fireworks displays:
Keep cats and dogs indoors, and if possible, stay with them.
Leave your animals at home during the celebrations—never take them with you to watch fireworks displays!
Never leave animals tethered or chained outside—they can hang themselves if they leap over a fence while trying to run from the noise.
Close your windows and curtains. To help drown out the sound of the fireworks, turn on fans and air-conditioning units as well as the TV or a radio that’s tuned to a classical-music station.
Consider purchasing a Thundershirt to help your dog or cat cope with the stress of the fireworks.
Other ways to keep animals calm include playing specially formulated CDs from Through a Dog’s Ear and giving them a natural supplement called melatonin, which is available at your local health-food store (but consult your veterinarian first).
Make sure that your animal companion is microchipped and wearing a collar or a harness with an up-to-date identification tag—just in case.