Cat Scratch Struggle

Ah, the unending struggle between human and cat. You bring home a new set of furniture and your cat thinks you’ve actually bought them the largest jungle gym / scratching post ever. I used to struggle a lot with scratching when I first brought Percival home, not necessarily with the furniture, but with the carpet. Percy used to be quite clingy (he still is at times) and would scratch at the carpet outside the bedroom or bathroom door when he wanted to be with me. I even thought about getting him declawed because he was basically ruining my chances of getting my security deposit back from my landlord. But it’s such an expensive and involved surgery with a long recovery time and potentially negative side-effects that I didn’t want to put him through it. I wouldn’t say I am vehemently against declawing, but it’s definitely not a decision to be taken lightly. Anyway, that’s how I discovered that by putting clear Gorilla tape on the areas of carpet that he was scratching at, I could simply prevent damage. And I don’t think it looked too tacky, being it was clear.

In our new apartment, however, we have all wood floors. In turn, Percy has now taken a liking to scratching our sofas. Granted they are not particularly fancy sofas, but we would prefer that they don’t look all tattered and shredded to pieces. If you find yourself in a similar situation, then here are some suggestions on how to stop your cat from clawing at your valuable stuff. Often based on my own experiences and experimentation, these suggestions are broken down into two main categories: (1) redirecting the behavior and (2) discouraging unwanted scratching.

Don’t stop the behavior. Redirect it.

First of all, scratching is a natural behavior and you don’t really want to stop your cat from scratching all together. Instead, you want to encourage them to scratch on appropriate items. That’s why buying scratching posts or mats is the most recommended tactic. You can buy them in a variety of materials and forms depending on your cats preferences. I have a cardboard one that worked fairly well, until Percy got bored with it, which inevitably happens. Just like any animal, your cat needs variety to stay interested in their scratching posts and toys. Personally, I find that buying such items in the pet store can be very expensive, although they certainly look nice and it is the convenient option. But for someone like me, who is trying to save some money, I am going to try to find some fabric or carpet that Percy should like and use it to alter my current scratching mat. I’ll let you know how that turns out.

The next step is to entice your cat into actually scratching on the the expensive thing you just bought. Like I said, different cats may have different preferences, but there are certain things you can do to encourage them to use the designated item. First of all, put the scratching post or mat next to the objects that your cat has been clawing at. Then, one of the most popular ideas is to use catnip to get them to interact with the scratching post. You can also use a toy to pique their interest. Some cats might even let you move their paw in a scratching motion or respond to you demonstrating scratching on the item yourself. I’ve tried this with Percy and he does watch me when I use my nail to demonstrate scratching, but it doesn’t usually result in him trying it himself.

Discourage them from unwanted scratching.

Once you have appropriate places for your cat to scratch, the final step is to deter them from scratching the inappropriate places. If you catch your cat in the act you could make them stop by using a loud clap, sharp “no”, or even tossing a bag of marbles or pennies in their direction to startle them. The problem with this is that your cat may come to associate you with the noise and then learn to scratch only when you’re not around. This is what has happened with Mr. Percival. Now if I clap he looks at me nonchalantly and then continues to sharpen his claws. The nerve! If you can somehow startle your cat without them knowing it’s you that would be ideal. I am moving onto a spray bottle which I will attempt to use sparingly and so my cat doesn’t see me. That way he simply associates scratching with a spritz of water.

There are also many passive tools you can try to deter your cat from scratching. These include double sided tape, called “Sticky Paws” (which I have also tried and Percy proceeded to just tear it up and chew on), plastic floor runners with the knobby side up (which I was also not successful with), citrus sprays which some cats dislike the smell of, and plastic caps to put on their claws, often called “Soft Paws.” It’s also important to keep your cats nails trimmed regularly. Once you have interrupted your cat’s scratching try redirecting their attention to either a toy or their new scratching pad.

These are just the most popular ways of dealing with your cat’s scratching. There are many more tricks out there if you look. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of trial and error and you may find yourself constantly having to adjust. I know it can be frustrating (believe me, I know!), but just remember to not lose your patience with your cat. Don’t rant and rave at them, and definitely don’t hurt them in any way. They don’t realize that they are doing something wrong and more importantly, unlike dogs who seem to want to please their owner, cats really don’t care what you think anyway. So yelling at them will only succeed in damaging the wonderful bond that you can have. Good luck!

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Cute Animal Therapy

My boyfriend and I have been a little stressed lately. We are making the best of it, but I don’t need to tell you how it feels when things don’t seem to go your way. One of the bits of bad news that we received recently is that Case did test positive again for heartworm disease. We expected as much and plan on treating him again, but we still dread putting him through that process again. For those of you who don’t know, the injections for heartworm disease can leave your dog feeling pretty under-the-weather and they have to be on strict exercise restriction for about a total of 2.5 months. We just hope that the treatment is successful this time because we want him to have a long, healthy life.

So, I was feeling a little down this past weekend as my boyfriend and I went to do our weekly grocery shopping. We stopped in at the pet store to do the grocery shopping for the critters and, lo and behold, there were the most adorable 6- and 8-week old kittens there that were being put up for adoption! Immediately, I felt the sadness and the stress melt away as a big smile lit up my face. Just watching the kittens play with each other and come over for a little scratch under the chin eased the tension for both me and my boyfriend. I mean really, there a few things in the world cuter than a kitten. Later that day we took Case to the dog park, too. The weather was finally nice; We could feel the sun warming our faces. Case loves to run and to me he seems like the fastest dog in the world. It makes me laugh to see him sprint around, ears blowing back in the breeze, legs flying everywhere (and on that particular day, covered in mud).

Sometimes animals, who seem to have such pure emotions, help to remind us of the joy that can be found in simple pleasures. Even if just for a few minutes we can forget our complex, often self-created, problems and remember what it’s like to just be alive. The next time you are feeling down maybe take your dog for a walk and, instead of looking at your phone every few seconds, just look around you and observe what it is like to be outdoors. Or pet your cat and don’t do so absentmindedly, but notice how soft they feel and the rumble of the purr when you scratch under their chin. There, you just brought joy to someone else’s day. And lost yourself in a moment. This is essentially mindfulness.

It’s Springtime and Life Abounds

This winter has seemed quite long. At least here in Ontario the snow is gone (I know my family is not so lucky in New York), but the temperature seems very reluctant to increase. Still, you begin to notice little changes and the sunshine that we’ve had the past few days makes me feel like we have turned the corner into spring.

With spring comes the feeling of new beginnings. The birds have been returning in steadily increasing numbers so now I wake up to bird song rather than that serene icy stillness. The squirrels are frolicking outside, of which my cat Percival is a huge fan. He likes to watch them through the window and makes that excited chattering noise that some cats do. The path that I like to walk Case on has a view of the river. So, enjoy watching the mallard ducks paddle around in pairs. There’s also Canada geese that like to hang out there and I’m sure everyone has seen them flying over head recently in their way back north.

I like geese. Whenever I see them flying in their iconic v-pattern, honking away it gives me the same feeling you might get from watching a military march. They’re just so serious and on a mission; It makes me want to cry out, “fly geese, fly!” to cheer them on. I also admire how protective they are of their nests. They have adapted well to highly populated areas, but if you get too close don’t be surprised if they lower their head and hiss at you. Geese are also monogamous and generally mate for life. All of these traits become more endearing when coupled with the fact that geese are slightly awkward-looking birds. I wouldn’t necessarily call them majestic or regal.

Thinking about geese made me realize that I wasn’t even sure of where geese migrate to during the winter or why sometimes it’s seems like you see geese all year round. I finally researched it a bit and learned that the breeding (spring and summer) ground for geese ranges from the northern part of the US and throughout Canada. But in temperate climates stretching from California to the Great Lakes some geese have become nonmigratory due to the availability of food and lack of predators. The southern three quarters do the US then acts as the wintering ground for the migratory birds. Some geese are also early migrators whereas some prefer to leave later. That must be why in certain areas it does seem like there are geese year round, but for the most part I still see many leave in fall and return in the spring. So they remain a sign of the change in seasons.

Obesity in Pets (Plus a Quick Update on Case)

Here’s a brief update on our dog Case and how we plan to deal with his heartworm disease: After talking with our vet, we decided that the best option would be to put him through the melarsomine treatment again since this is the most effective way of dealing with heartworms. The American Heartworm Society only suggests two different treatments; One is the three-injection protocol that we followed last time and the other is called the “slow-kill method.” This is basically where the dog is kept on heartworm prevention and over an extended period of time (two to three years) you hope that the worms die off. This method is not generally recommended. Justin and I have decided that we will wait two months before we have him treated again. We will have him re-tested at that point and maybe there is a small chance he’ll test negative. It will also give us time to get our finances more in order since, for those of you who don’t know, I haven’t been working for several months because I was waiting to receive my Canadian work permit. In the meantime, Case seems to be happy and healthy! We’ve been better about taking him to the dog park to run around and now we can only hope that some spring weather will come soon.

Speaking of Case, a few people recently have told me how they think he’s gaining weight. I am very skeptical as whether he has or not recently. He has definitely gained weight since we adopted him, which I don’t think is a bad thing, since he was quite skinny then. However, their comments did make me think about the importance of having your pets maintain a healthy weight. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention estimates that 59% of cats and 54% of dogs in the US are overweight. And obesity in animals can lead to similar effects as it does in people such as diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, cancer, and an overall lower life expectancy [1].

So, just like you take your health seriously please take that of your pet’s seriously. No doubt you want them around for as long as possible. And loving them doesn’t always mean indulging them. Here are some tips for helping them maintain a healthy weight.

  1. Determine if your pet is at their ideal weight. If you feel competent doing this yourself, you can follow the guidance of a body condition scoring chart. There is a nice one for cats a dogs on the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention website at https://petobesityprevention.org/pet-weight-check/. Otherwise, you can talk to your vet about how your pet is looking.
  2. Control the calorie intake of your pet. Again, to get expert advice you should talk to your vet about your pet’s ideal weight and work with them to formulate a diet. For my pets, I find that the simplest thing to do is to just follow the feeding instructions on the whatever food I buy them. This is generally based on their weight. I do try to take into account any extra treats I am feeding them. If I see that they slightly gaining or losing weight I adjust the amount of food I give them accordingly. The most important thing, is to measure your pet’s food. I keep a scoop right in the food bags and I feed them a specific amount in the morning and the evening. Animals love routine anyway and if you do this consistently, it will pay off.
  3. Decide on their diet. There are so many options for pet food out there now. From traditional dry food, to canned food, raw food, or food you make at home, it’s a bit like grocery shopping for yourself! Yes, I took Animal Nutrition in college a long time ago, but I am no expert so if you are really interested in this I would again, recommend talking to your vet. However, I can tell you that the best advice I was given, is to find what works for your pet. There are extremely high quality foods out there and also not-so-good quality foods. But if you are on a bit of a budget, you shouldn’t feel guilty about not buying the super high-end stuff as long as your pet likes the food and has no health issues. If you are trying to get your pet to lose weight you could try a weight management diet which usually has few calories per volume. A vet that I used to work for also told people that were trying to get their pet to lose weight, that wet food might keep them full longer because it contains water. I feed wet food to Percy at night in an attempt to keep him full and sleep longer, but he still wakes me up. There are also a lot of grain-free options now and the potential benefit of these is that they are lower in carbohydrates and higher in protein. Just like with people, this may help your pet feel full for longer. However, you don’t have to believe the hype about all specialty diets. For example, most vet’s don’t believe that grain-free, organic, or raw diets are necessarily healthier. [1]
  4. Exercise! Don’t forget the importance of staying active, especially if your pets spend a lot of time indoors. Exercise is not only good for their body, but also for their mind and your human-animal bond. It is recommended that dogs get about 30 minutes of physical activity per day while cats should aim for three five-minutes intervals of intense play. [1]

For more information I’d recommend checking out the website of the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. I really liked their website and that is where I got most of my data. The link is below. Your veterinarian should also be one of your go-to resources for questions. Or feel free to message me and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction. Spring is right around the corner, even if it doesn’t seem like it sometimes. So, lets take this time of new beginnings and get out there and get healthier!

[1] The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. https://petobesityprevention.org/

The Mystery of Case’s Heartworm Disease

Hello everyone. Sorry it’s been quite awhile since I have posted and honestly it’s because I was having trouble coming up with a topic that I felt strongly enough to right about. However, at the end of last week inspiration struck, although not exactly in the way I would have hoped.

When Justin and I first adopted Case from the Humane Society he had been positive for heartworm disease, a common enough problem in dogs not given the proper prevention especially when they are from places like Texas where it is much more prevalent. He had already been treated with a two-injection protocol, generally effective, before we adopted him. We were simply told to continue giving him heartworm preventive and then take him to the vet in a few months to have him tested to confirm that the treatment was successful. Unfortunately, when we took him to the vet he tested positive. There are essentially two tests for heartworm disease, one that tests for the baby worms in the blood (called microfilaria) and an antigen tests that tests for the presence of adult worms in the heart. He had tested negative for microfilaria and positive for the antigen.

The vet decided to retreat him following the recommended three-injection protocol which is highly effective. Now, the treatment can be quite unpleasant for the dog. The injections go at the base of their spine and can be rather painful, so they are generally put on anti-inflammatory medication as well. It can also result in lethargy and upset stomach among a number of more serious, but rare side-effects, so they are kept at the vet clinic under observation for the day. Luckily, Case responded fine to the treatment except for feeling a bit under the weather. Dogs treated for heartworm disease then have to be kept on strict exercise restriction for several weeks following the treatment because as the worms die and break down they can cause clots in the blood vessels.

We made it through all of this and Case appears to be a happy healthy dog. In November, it came time again for him to be tested for heartworms. He was only tested for microfilaria then and he tested negative – good news! About a week ago we brought him back to the vet to draw blood for the antigen test to determine the presence of adult worms. He was such a good boy. There’s a picture of him resting after his trip to the vet with his little pink band-aid on. However, much to our dismay, he tested positive…..again. This is somewhat of a mystery and our current vet is now looking into how we should proceed because, although the treatment isn’t necessarily 100% effective, it is still highly unusual that this should happen. I have read that sometimes it may take a long time for the antigen to fully clear the dog’s body, but there is little information on what to do in this circumstance.

Every time I look at Case now I feel so sad for him (of course he has no idea that he is sick!). He seems perfectly healthy and has no symptoms associated with heartworm disease, but I just want him to be normal dog that can run around and exercise without restraint. The good news is that the treatment should at least have killed most of the worms, therefore decreasing the stress on his heart. Still, if heartworm disease goes unresolved it can have serious implications on the functioning of his heart and lungs and therefore his quality of life.

Animals can play so many different roles in our lives. This experience has reiterated the fact that to me my animals become like family and I feel so responsible for them. I’m glad that Justin and I are on the same page in the sense that we are determined to solve this mystery. So, I will keep you posted on what we learn from the vet and please keep Case in your thoughts. Also, if anybody has dealt with this same situation I would be very grateful to hear about your experience!

Hey, That’s Mine! Dealing with Food Possessiveness in a Multi-Pet Household

The past couple weeks I have been working with Case a lot on his food possessiveness. I chose the word possessiveness instead of the more commonly used, aggression, because I don’t want to make the situation sound worse than it is. With his dry food, Case is actually fine with me petting him and putting my hands in the bowl while he is eating. It’s our cat Percy’s presence around his food bowl that makes him anxious. He has never hurt Percy, but I don’t like the way that he watches him if he thinks he is getting to close. Sometimes he’ll chase after him and a couple times he has even growled. He has also growled at me a couple times when I went to go pet him while he was eating a very tasty treat.

There are two causes of food aggression; one reason is because the dog feels dominant is therefore being aggressive, the other is because the dog feels insecure. I am sure the latter is true for Case since he is a very timid dog. It’s not surprising considering that he was a stray and nearly everything scares him. Unfortunately, I feel like the possessiveness over his dry food has gotten worse over the last few months. I’m not sure why, but it could be because of the location of his food in our new apartment. I’ve also noticed that he hasn’t been eating his food regularly. He will let it sit there throughout the day and watch over it, but not actually eat it. Overall, he just seems quite unsettled while eating. Poor dog!

The most common piece of advice I found while researching this issue is to teach your dog the command “leave-it.” So when he is eating his food or a treat I will go over with an even yummier treat and tell him to “leave-it.” When he turns his attention away from the food in his possession, I give the special treat. I also do this when he looks like he wants to chase Percy away from his food. When he turns his attention away from Percy then he gets a treat. This uses positive reinforcement to direct his attention and also shows him that he never has to worry about “losing” his food. If you want more detailed information on how to deal with food aggression and teaching “leave-it” I have found resources from both Cesar Millan and the AKC helpful.

Along with teaching “leave-it” I have also tried moving his food bowl so he doesn’t have his back to the rest of the room while eating and I do subtly move Percy if he starts sniffing around Case’s food bowl so it doesn’t overly stress him out. Another important factor is that I have found adding water to his food makes it so much more appealing to him and he will gobble it right up. I’m not sure if he just likes it more or if his teeth are hurting him a bit. He is due for a cleaning and we’ll get that taken care of as soon as we have the means.

So far these tricks haven’t been a magic cure (granted, Case is a hound mix and it takes him forever to pick up on things), but I have seen some definite improvements. First, of all I’m glad that I’ve found a way to get him to eat his food regularly. I certainly don’t want him to go hungry. I also really think he is grasping the concept of “leave-it” so I am able to distract him from Percy about 90% of the time. And I can now pet him while he’s eating a treat without having him growl.

Changing your pet’s behavior takes time and is a good workout for your patience. This hearkens back to some of the benefits of working with animals that I mentioned in my last post. I have found myself really trying to get into Case’s head to figure out what he is thinking and feeling. I have to remind myself to be calm and not get frustrated, which is challenging for me because I tend to be a worrier. When he doesn’t succeed, even though I sometimes feel upset (or get my feelings hurt, like when he growled) I tell myself that it is not his fault. I must approach the situation with patience and compassion. And I think that’s something we could all do a little more of when dealing with our fellow creatures (HUMANS INCLUDED).

So we’ll keep working at it, building up Case’s confidence and mine one step at a time!

Working Animals – a Discussion of Ethics

I recently finished reading The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben. Since he is a forester/farmer, the book is filled with many fascinating anecdotes and observations about animals. It would be a good book for people wanting to learn more about how intelligent and competent our fellow creatures are. I knew going into this book that I wouldn’t necessarily agree with all of Wohlleben’s perspectives since, based on the description, I knew he would lean more toward the condemnation of industrial and conventional practices for raising, working with, and cohabitating with animals. Still, I think we should challenge our mindsets and I truly went into reading this book with the intent to learn something new. Don’t get me wrong, I DO think there is a lot that can be improved by better understanding the animals around us and this book does a good job of starting an important discussion. However, I felt that Wohlleben often digressed from the intent of his book which was to discuss evidence for animal emotions. Instead of building up evidence to make a point, I thought that he resorted to telling several unrelated, but interesting stories. I also began to feel dreary with his relentless criticism of human behavior. It did, however, inspire me to write about a topic that I have thought about many times in the past, the morality of having animals work and provide for us.

When I say “work” I mean situations like riding horses or using them to pull carts. As well as dogs used for herding, police work, and as therapy animals. I’m sure you can think of other examples where people “ask” animals to do something outside of their normal behavior. I think the first question to address in approaching this topic is whether or not animals enjoy these activities. Coming from my own experience and stories I have heard from others, my answer would have to be – yes and no. I think that some animals love to work. For example, my dad’s dog Snoopy, an Australian Shepherd, a herding dog, just adores being busy. He will be there with his people faithfully while they look after the goats, go out to the woods to cut wood, etc. If we had trained him to actually herd, I’m sure he would like that as well. I think this is common with herding and working dogs who it can actually be detrimental to if they are not kept busy. On the other hand, I have definitely been on the receiving end of a horse’s (or mule’s, since that’s actually what I had growing up) annoyance at having to be ridden. And let me tell you, it is not fun. Although, generally once you get underway they accept (or resign) themselves to the situation, just like people do. Along the same lines, when you are initially training a horse to ride, even though many advanced and gentle techniques of accomplishing this are used today, it inevitably puts some stress on the animal. And is that ok?

The next question this leads to is whether or not some stress on an animal is ultimately a good thing or if it is unethical to force an animal to do something that they don’t necessarily enjoy. To address this, I am going to assume that most animals that we work with have similar emotions to humans, which I believe that they do. That’s one thing that Peter Wohlleben and I could agree on. I believe that it is important to minimize stress for animals, but I would argue that not all stress can be avoided and that some stress can actually be good. Generally when animals are working, they are getting some sort of exercise. We exercise both mentally and physically to stay healthy and the same is true for animals. It’s important that domesticated animals stay active, just like their wild counterparts. A bored animal, as you may have experienced, often uses their excess energy to get into some bad behavior. And an animal that isn’t physically active can become overweight. Obesity in animals is becoming a major concern (just like humans!), and it carries those same health concerns. Exercise is essentially a form of stress because we are challenging our minds and bodies. So perhaps, as I eluded to before, could an animal’s initial grumpiness at having to work be similar to our own difficulty in getting motivated to work out? But then afterwards, you feel so much better!

I obviously can’t be sure about how animals feel after working. I can however, attest to the fact that I have worked with animals all my life and never felt like they were truly suffering because of what I asked them to do. In fact, I felt that working with animals, even though one of us would occasionally get frustrated, ultimately strengthened our bond. That segues into my next point, which is my belief that interacting with and working with animals has numerous benefits for people (and therefore probably animals as well, although that is more difficult to elucidate). Reported health benefits include lowering blood pressure and facilitating social interactions among many others (1,2). In the right environment I could also add practicing patience, teaching children responsibility, and fine-tuning your communication skills. There is something so fundamental and natural about working with animals. It is what inspired me to start this blog. Many benefits of interacting with animals have been scientifically supported, but I can’t help but to think that there is some other less explainable, spiritual benefit as well.

The last aspect of this topic I want to discuss is the fact that, even if an animal enjoys doing work for us, didn’t we just breed them to be that way, to fill our needs? What exactly gave us a right to do that? There are many people who believe that messing too much with nature is wrong. I myself, think that selective breeding goes too far when it results in health problems for the animals themselves. But, let me ask you this, how much do you think we have evolved to adapt to the animals around us? Dogs have been intimately linked to our lives for over 14,000 years. I remember that in one of Temple Grandin’s books, Animals in Translation, she discussed the theory that we have actually adapted to the presence of dogs just like they have adapted to ours. Could it be that as our strength became critical thinking, the dog literally became the eyes, ears, and nose of the operation? Maybe animals are more of our partners than our servants. I certainly believe that they deserve such respect.

I considered writing a paragraph on the negative aspects of working with animals, since this entire post may just seem like a justification of how I chose to live my life. However, the con of working with animals (when you’re not sure if they enjoy it) is obviously the unnecessary stress that you put on them. And if you believe that we should never put stress on an animal and therefore, stop using animals for our purposes, then by all means live your life that way. It is a valid point of view and I have spoken with people who felt that way. I do choose to live my life differently though, because I have always found there to be so much beauty and joy in the relationships I’ve shared with animals.

I know this post was a bit long and philosophical, so I will keep it lighter next time. But, I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts on the human-animal bond!

* The picture above is of me with my dad and the Belgian draft horse named Major. My family used to use the horses in the woods to skid logs. Major has since passed away, but I remember loving him. And even though I was holding onto the lines, I didn’t really have to do much, since he new the routine.

1: Baun, M.M., Bergstrom, N.; Langston, N. F., Thoma, L. Physiological Effects of Human/Companion Animal Bonding. (1984). Nursing Research. Retreived from https://journals.lww.com/nursingresearchonline/abstract/1984/05000/physiological_effects_of_human_companion_animal.2.aspx

2: Wood, L., Giles-Corti, B., and Bulsara, M. The Pet Connection: Pets as a Conduit for Social Capital? (2005). Social Science and Medicine, 61(6), pages 1159-1173.

Three things to consider for a peaceful relationship with your cat

Cats certainly have a mind of their own, but if you understand what they need in terms of housing, companionship, and entertainment you will have a happy cat!

Although we have been coexisting, and typically sharing our homes, with cats for about 10,000 years these intelligent creatures still remain somewhat of a mystery1.  Unlike dogs and many other domesticated animals, cats are independent and really don’t take direction well, as most cat owners are probably all too familiar with.  It is for this reason that some researchers suggest that, despite their efficacy as mousers, cats may not have been purposely domesticated by people, but simply accepted into the community1.  This sets the stage for a very interesting, often humorous, and sometimes tense relationship with our feline companions.  Holding the title as the most popular pet throughout the world, humans seem inexplicably drawn to these adorable and intriguing little animals and if we give them the care that they need it can turn out to be quite a rewarding relationship.

  1. Kitty-fy your house

Making your cat comfortable in your home goes beyond simply making sure they have a warm bed and access to food and water. Allowing cats outdoors may offer them more stimulation, but it also exposes them to many other stresses and potential dangers.  Indoor cats may be safer, but they can become bored more easily, so it is important to understand what they need in the absence of their natural environment.

  • Make sure your cat has enough space to themselves, as they are territorial animals and need somewhere to roam.
  • Have places that they can jump to in order to gain a better vantage point, like a cat tree or cat condo. This will help keep them entertained and to feel more comfortable.
  • Make sure they have access to a window. Cats love to watch out of the window, which can provide hours of entertainment.  Look into buying a window seat
  1. Provide a social life

Cats are generally independent, but that does not mean that they don’t require companionship.  Having more than one cat can be a way to give them the socialization they need.  However, it is important that the cats have enough space as well as places where they can escape to in order to be alone.  Too many cats (or other animals for that matter) within one territory may introduce a certain amount of stress, but if you only have one cat, then you will be responsible for being their best friend.  Commonly cats enjoy affection and can be affectionate in return, but often a new pet parent makes the mistake of overstimulating their cat by petting them too roughly or being too pushy.  Cats prefer soft pats around the head and scratches under their chin.  It’s important to let them guide you.  Cats can tolerate being handled if you are respectful of their space and take the time to build up trust.   In general, move slowly when you go to handle your cat, especially when picking them up, and be sure to support both of their back legs so they feel secure.  Would you like being picked up around the middle with your legs dangling?  There may be times when you need to transport your cat, clip their nails, or brush their teeth.  You can find more detailed guides on how to pursue this from your favorite cat magazine or your local veterinarian.

  1. Prevent boredom

Cats are playful and extremely inquisitive.  They are hunters by nature so the way that you play with them should imitate what it’s like to stalk and capture prey.  There are many different options for toys and it could take some time to determine your cat’s preferences.  Some suggestions:

  • A wand with a feather attached is a good way for you to interact with them.
  • If you have to be away for a portion of the day, there are toys that you can get that will move on their own or require your cat to search for a hidden treat. Kong and Catit are a couple examples of brands that make toys such as these.
  • Videos you can play on your TV that will prompt your cat to chase an image on the screen. Youtube has its own channel called “Videos for Your Cat.”
  • The key is that they toys generally need to be moving.
  • It also may be a good idea to rotate toys since your cat will easily get bored with toys just lying around.

Many people may find a cat’s aloofness tries their patience or that their strong predatory instinct is at the least unpleasant and at the most potentially damaging to wildlife.  Owning a cat might not be for everyone.  Even those of us who love cats still need to realize that we are often asking a lot of them, to live in an environment under conditions that are not natural from them.  Some researchers would even suggest that cat behavior is going to need to change in order for them to remain such a popular pet2.  While it is impossible to know exactly what the future holds, we do know that one of the most rewarding aspects of having pets is developing an understanding of a different creatures’ nature.  With time and patience we can learn to communicate with our cat friends and appreciate them for what makes them unique.

There are many different resources out there to help you provide your cat the enriching life that they require.  Picking up a cat magazine at the pet store, doing a simple google search, or talking to your local veterinarian are just a few suggestions.  The most important thing to remember when dealing with your cat that you will get a lot farther by working with them, rather than expecting them to blindly do what you say.  By giving them the respect and love that they deserve (and demand) these fascinating creatures can become truly good friends.

1 Driscoll, C.A., MacDonald, D.W., and O’Brien, S.J.  (2009).  From wild animals to domestic pets, an evolutionary view of domestication.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, 16: 106, Suppl 1, 19971-8.

2 Zuckerbrot, Daniel and Zuckerbrot, Donna.  (2015).  The lion in your living room.  In Daniel Zuckerbrot, Donna Zuckerbrot and Joshua Zuckerbrot, The Nature of Things.  Canada: CBC.

Let it Snow, Let it Snow

I don’t know about you, but I love snow. Yes it’s winter and it’s cold, but you can stay inside nice and warm and drink hot chocolate. Or you can bundle up in all those fun scarves and hats and brave the elements. There’s something so special about this time of year and having a bit of snow seems to just add to the sparkle. 

Case apparently likes the snow too.  When he catches a whiff of some interesting smell he likes to dig through the snow to get to the bottom of it. The only thing he doesn’t like is the salt put down on the sidewalks. I’ve been doing some research on booties and balms you can put on your dog’s paws to protect them during winter. The salt can actually be quite bad for their pads or if you are out in the cold for extended periods of time, some added protection is definitely worth looking into.

The one bad thing about snow is that it does make travelling more difficult. So, I just wanted to take this time to wish everyone Happy Holidays and safe travels if you are having to trek somewhere to be with loved ones, like my partner and I are doing. If you are taking your pets with you on your journey make sure you have all of their health records and give yourself plenty of time so you’re not rushed. If you must leave your critters behind, make sure you spend some extra time with them before you leave. I know it’s hectic before the holidays, but your animals will appreciate the attention. Besides, they usually know something is up when you start packing. 

Case, Percy, and I will check in after the new year.  In the meantime go do what you’re going to do and make the most of these last days of 2017!

Struggles with the Job Search

Sorry it’s been longer than usual since my last post.  I needed some time to think about what I wanted to write about.  In the end I decided to not write about animals, but something else that is near and dear to my heart; struggling to find a job.  Occasionally you hear that many Americans and Canadians have trouble finding a job, even with a university degree, or that millennials have difficulty finding work and are saddled with debt.  Although I don’t like to blame my circumstances on a statistic, this is in fact what I have been experiencing (and as a consequence, so is my partner).

I graduated with my Master’s degree in Animal Science in 2015.  Since then, I have only had one job that was in my field and that was as a Food Inspector for the US Department of Agriculture working in a beef plant.   Even though I think this experience benefited me in many ways and most of the people I worked with were wonderful, it certainly wasn’t what I had envisioned doing.  I was also significantly over-qualified for the job and longed to be challenged so I could feel proud of the work that I was doing.  I worked as a Food Inspector for a little over a year.  There was a gap of about 7 months between completing my MS and becoming a Food Inspector where I was first, unemployed and then later, working at a grocery store.  I had moved out to Colorado to be with my partner and wasn’t able to find a job before moving.

About 3 months ago I quit my job as a Food Inspector and moved again, this time to Ontario, Canada.  My partner and I made this move for a number of reasons that I won’t get into now.  Essentially, we moved to a place that is a better fit for us, except for one thing, I am unemployed again!  The immigration process, which you think would be easy between the US and Canada, has been more frustrating than I can describe.  Long story short and for whatever reason, I have been unable to find an employer who is willing to consider me for a position before I have a my work permit in my hand.  I have applied for a work permit and thought I would have it by December, but I made a tiny mistake in my application and as a result it probably will be more like March.  Needless to say, this puts my partner and I in a difficult situation financially, and leaves me feeling like an unproductive useless lump.

So, what to do?  Try to stay focused, try to stay positive.  At least that’s what the wonderful people around me tell me, including one of my amazingly inspirational aunts who has helped coach me through a lot of  this.  But it’s not easy, let me tell you, especially for someone who tends to be extremely hard on themselves and a bit of a pessimist.  I do believe I have had some bad luck when it comes to finding a job.  I mean other people my age seem to find good jobs.  What bothers me is that I know the struggles in my life pale in comparison to those of some other people, but it doesn’t stop me from doubting myself or asking the Universe, “why me”?  Like, maybe it’s not bad luck.  Maybe it wasn’t meant to be.  Maybe it’s my outlook or lack of confidence in myself.  The job search can make you wonder what is wrong with you.

In an effort to use my free time productively (because I do want to do something useful), I have been working on my self-confidence and trying to learn some new skills.  I volunteer on a poultry farm, I study about animal welfare, I started this blog!  I am even learning to make soap using hops from my partner’s new hop farm and goat’s milk, in preparation for when I can raise my own goats one day.  The picture at the top of this post is me making soap for the first time.  It looks like a mess, but the end product did look like soap!  I am also going to start being a volunteer visitor for the elderly.

Interestingly enough, in the process of writing this post I had somewhat of an epiphany.  Both times that I have been unemployed in my life, it’s because I chose something over finding a job.  The first time, it was more important for me to move to be with my partner who I had been in a long-distance relationship with for over 2 years then land a job in some other random corner of the country.  The second time, it was more important to leave a job and a place that I was unhappy with in order to find a home that I felt a connection with.  Now, despite the difficulties, I am with the person I love living in a place where I can foresee myself settling.  All that’s left is the job…and the house…and the wedding, if I’m honest.  But the point is, I think I’m ready.  I’m ready for a good job.  Something that I’m passionate about.  Something that I can be proud of.  I know it will come, because giving up is not an option.  The hard part is just not knowing when.