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What NOT to feed your cat.

Gizmo eatingClients often ask me what they should feed their cats. It sounds like a simple question, but the answer is far from straight forward. The biggest debate amongst veterinarians at the moment is whether or not a cat should be fed dry food or wet food, or both. Personally, I tend to lean towards wet food as it seems to be the more natural option for a lot of different reasons that I won’t go into in this article. But I don’t necessarily recommend that to all of my clients. My own cat, for example, loves almost any dry diet but seems to hate wet food, so this is clearly not a good option for her. Being fussy creatures by nature, in most cases, the best food for your cat is the one that they will eat. But this isn’t always the case. Read on to see some examples of what NOT to feed your cat... “I feed my cat only the finest fillet steak! Costs me a fortune, so it must be good for her, right?” Short and long answer to that one – absolutely not. It’s true that in the world of well-balanced, scientifically formulated complete pet foods, you generally get what you pay for. More expensive foods, on the whole, tend to be of better quality than cheaper ones. But that only applies to complete, well-balanced pet foods. Just because a human food is expensive (ie, humans really like it and therefore are willing to pay a high price for it), doesn’t mean it’s going to do your cat any good at all. Sure, a bit of steak here and there isn’t going to hurt them, but by feeding your cat exclusively the muscle meat of any animal, they will quickly become deficient in a wide range of vitamins and minerals. There is, for example, very little calcium in muscle meat, to name just one. Other expensive human foods can even be dangerous for cats, even in small volumes. So if you ever feel like splashing out on your cat’s diet, put back the caviar and foie gras and ask your vet for their recommendation instead. “But sometimes all she’ll eat are her treats, so I just give her those!” The problem with this one is that unless your cat is extremely ill and you’re happy to get them to eat anything at all, this simply isn’t true. Cats are absolute masters when it comes to training their owners at mealtimes. And they’re not stupid. A normal, healthy cat will not starve itself. But they’ll certainly have you believe that they will. A normal cat (again, we’re not talking about sick cats here) who only eats treats, or some rubbish, unbalanced cat food, does so because their owner keeps providing it. Take it away and offer a balanced cat food, and eventually they will eat it. They may make you feel like you are the most horrible human on the planet for denying them their favourite food, but they will eat it. OK, you may have to try a few different flavours before you find one that they won’t argue about with you, but there is a good cat food out there that they will eat. And they will thank you with their good health, though not necessarily in any other way... Look at it another way, if somebody offered you a salad and a chocolate bar, you’d probably choose the chocolate bar. But that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t eat the salad tomorrow if that’s all there was! A word of caution though, if you try to change your cat’s diet, always do so gradually by mixing it in for a few days to avoid stomach upset. And if they really do go for more than 24-48 hours without eating their new food, speak with your vet for advice because it can be dangerous for a cat to not eat for too long and there may be an underlying medical problem that you didn’t know about. “My cats deserve a special treat, so I give them tuna for dinner every night” And I’m not talking about a complete and balanced tuna-flavoured cat food here, but tinned tuna for humans. In this case, it’s not the tuna itself that’s the problem (unless of course your cat is unfortunate enough to be allergic to tuna), rather the fact that it is fed as a meal every night. Too much fish can have inappropriate levels of calcium and phosphorus, and could lead to other problems like thiamine deficiency if raw fish is fed too often. There can also be low levels of toxins like mercury in some fish that won’t harm you if eaten occasionally but can build up if eaten in large quantities. It’s also worth noting that it is particularly important not to feed more than just the very occasional small treat of liver, as eating too much liver can cause serious vitamin toxicities. Like most things, moderation is key. Again, you might enjoy eating pizza for dinner every night, but it probably wouldn’t do your body any good. If you’d like to give your cats a treat, try giving them a different treat each time, provided each one is safe and not too high in fat, and give just a small amount of it, not a whole meal’s worth. “I’m sorry, did you say crisps?” Of course, there are some human foods that shouldn’t even be fed in moderation. You’d be amazed what some people will admit to feeding their cats as treats ‘because they really seem to like it’. Sure, your cat may love crisps, but they have absolutely no nutritional value for them (or us, really...), and are simply high in salt, fat, and carbohydrates. They may not necessarily hurt them, but they certainly don’t need them, and it’s not difficult to find them a more appropriate snack. Common human foods that probably shouldn’t be fed to cats in any quantity, no matter how much they seem to like them, include sweet or savoury biscuits, processed sandwich meat, and chips among many other things. You could also add milk and cheese to this list, although I haven’t had much luck convincing clients to give these treats up as they are used so commonly. Cats would not and probably should not naturally drink milk, and can in fact be allergic to it, it is only our domestication of them that has created this ‘need’. And then there are things like onions, chocolate, alcohol, tea, coffee, grapes and raisins that can be toxic in even small quantities so these should never be given to cats. Daisy pinching foodWhether the problem is finding a food that your cat seems to like, your cat constantly crying out for food, or your own overwhelming desire to treat them to something you think is nice, it’s important to remember that as the carer of this domestic animal you are generally in control of your cat’s diet. If your cat is overweight, chances are you’re feeding it too much, no matter how much they tell you they’re starving. If your otherwise normal, healthy cat will only eat the most expensive smoked salmon, it’s because you offered it to them and they decided it was good enough to hold out for. And if you’re unlucky enough to have a cat that hunts you down and cries for a tasty treat even though you know they shouldn’t have it, be strong and walk away, or better yet, try some kind of distraction such as a toy or a good stroke. It’s not always food they’re crying out for, sometimes it’s the attention of being fed. But if it persists, be sure to take them to the vet for a checkup because constantly crying out for food can actually be a sign of hyperthyroidism or other serious illness. Whatever the cause, if you find yourself with a feline feeding issue, speak with your vet because many times the solution is easier than you think. And remember, just because your cat wants it, doesn’t mean it’s in their best interest to have it! If you are worried about any specific symptoms your cat may be showing, talk to your Vet or try our Interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help assess how urgent it may be.
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What NOT to buy your pet for Christmas!

The nights have drawn in, Merry Hill is heaving and the carols have already been playing for weeks – it’s Christmas! If you are anything like me and leave everything to the last minute, you don’t have much time to plan the ideal gifts and sometimes you buy things that aren’t always that suitable. Now, I can’t tell you what not to buy for your Dad (although I’m guessing he doesn’t really want socks again) but I can tell you what not to buy for your pets! Dogs are intelligent, social, active creatures who are, and this is important, in possession of extremely efficient furry coats. This means that they do not need an extensive wardrobe of clothes! The range of outfits you can buy for them is truly astonishing and yes they might look cute dressed up as a Christmas fairy or in a t-shirt that says ‘The Dogfather’ (!) but who is it really for? Not the dog, who invariably looks miserable trussed up, but for their owner. Brodie's toyThe irony of course is that although these outfits are bought as an expression of love for the pet, they are often over-indulged animals who, as a consequence of being spoiled, are not always that pleasant to be around. Of course, some dogs do feel the cold but a simple padded jacket is fine, or (and this is a ground breaking suggestion) once you are out, get them running around, they’ll soon be warm then! Doggy accessories that are worth purchasing are decent collars and leads, haltis for those who pull and a few sturdy toys to keep them occupied on walks or in the home. Cats could not be more different to dogs (good luck to anyone who tries to put an outfit on their moggy!) but they are still valued members of the family and often have something under the tree! However, don’t buy them one big expensive toy, get them several cheaper ones instead. Cats will play with anything new that appears but once they have done this for a couple of days, they are likely to ignore it. So, having a box of lots of toys and changing them round regularly will ensure they always have something to keep them interested. Loki fishingAlso, don’t buy your cats a double feeder of any variety, they are truly pointless. Not only will a cat rarely drink where they also eat (an instinct from hunting which stops them drinking from water near where they catch their prey, would you want to drink where a rat had probably wee’d?!), they also hate to eat with other cats and forcing them to share from a double feeder encourages them to gorge on their food so they don’t have to stay long and increases stress levels. Great buys for cats include activity toys like fishing rods or anything on a string, igloo beds (cats love to hide but make sure you put them somewhere high up) and water fountains. Finally, rabbits. There are loads of great activity toys in the shops for rabbits so there is absolutely no excuse to fall back on the usual Christmas failsafe of treats! Obesity is a big health problem in bunnies and causes all sorts of issues from dirty bottoms to arthritis. Also, too many treats can mean they don’t eat enough hay which can cause problems with their teeth. Great gifts for rabbits include willow chew toys and the biggest cage and run you can afford! Alternatively you could give a gift to yourself and rabbit-proof all the wires if they are kept indoors, which should ensure there are no unexpected interruptions during the Christmas TV scheduling! I hope you and all your pets have a Happy Christmas and a Healthy 2012! If you have any questions about your pet, you should always contact your vet. If you are worried about your pet over the Christmas period and are unsure whether your need to see a vet you can always call them for advice, or try our Interactive Symptom Guide to see how urgent the problem may be.
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Living in a Multi-Cat Household – Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Many people share their homes with more than one cat, and if all the cats get along they can provide everybody with companionship and entertainment.  Sadly, however, it isn’t always that way.  Cats are relatively solitary creatures by nature and serious problems can arise when more than one cat is asked to share a small living space such as a house and garden.  Acquiring the cats at the same time can help, even more so if they are siblings.  It also helps to introduce them while they’re young, and it’s often easier to get a male and a female kitty as opposed to two of the same sex.  Just like people, newly-introduced cats need some time to get to know each other so don’t expect everybody to get along from day one.  If you and your feline family are going through a bit of a rough patch, be it the occasional stare down or full on cat fights, read on... Recognise the problem and try to identify the cause
  • Speak to your vet for advice, and to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing any excessive grumpiness.
  • Think like a cat.  Consider their how the world looks to someone their size, their likes and dislikes, and how they spend their days.  Understanding a bit more about their lives will help you recognise potential problems and come up with insightful solutions.
  • Observe their behaviour toward each other and toward you, and learn to recognise signs of feline stress (tense body posture, twitching tail, dilated pupils, hyper-vigilance or staring in an intimidating manner, etc.).
  • If you notice signs of stress after an interaction with you, try to alter your own actions accordingly.  For example, some cats love grooming, but most only appreciate it for a short period of time and on their own terms.  Also, very few cats actually enjoy being picked up and cuddled tightly although they may tolerate it well.  Trying to comfort your cat in this manner can actually add to their stress levels as they like to feel more in control of their interactions.
  • Never punish your cats for fighting with each other.  The fight undoubtedly started because of some sort of stress in the first place, and your punishment will only make the situation worse.  Stay calm and try to distract them rather than yelling or throwing a shoe at them.  Have a basket of toys at hand to distract them and break up any potential fights before they occur.
Create a less stressful and more cat-friendly environment
  • Cats like options, especially safe ones, so provide several of each resource (litter trays, feeding stations, beds etc.) around the house for them to choose from.  This will help reduce competition and therefore reduce stress.
  • Ensure there is plenty of vertical space (such as cat trees, accessible tall furniture or cat-friendly shelves) for everybody to use.  They often feel safer when they can observe things from above and it will allow them a place to escape to if they feel stressed out.
  • Home renovations and frequent visitors can be very stressful for cats so provide hiding spaces at ground level too, and even in the garden if necessary.
  • Scratching posts can be placed in particularly vulnerable areas like doorways and the top/bottom of the stairs.
  • Provide plenty of toys to play with inside the house and entertain them yourself when you’re at home, but otherwise try to keep their environment as a whole as constant as possible.
  • Create a playground of cardboard boxes, paper bags (with handles removed) or other safe objects and rotate them frequently to keep things interesting.
  • Feed cats in separate rooms, or at least on separate sides of the same room, as feeding time is a major source of competition and disagreement.
  • And last but certainly not least, try a calming pheromone product such as Feliway.  This comes in a spray or a plug-in diffuser and can really help to reduce overall stress levels in the house.  Some cats don’t seem to respond to them and it certainly won’t stop every fight, but many owners find that it makes a big difference.
Of course sometimes, in rare cases and despite your best efforts, things just aren’t going to work out.  If they simply cannot stand the sight of each other and frequently act on it to the detriment of everybody’s health and happiness, then you may have to consider finding a new home for one of them.  Some cats will solve the problem themselves by leaving home and moving in with the kind little old lady next door, but other times you may need to arrange alternate accommodation.  Don’t be too hard on yourself if this happens, as long as you’ve made every effort to fix the problem that is.  Some cats, just like some people, will just never get along and it’s better for everybody if they go their separate ways.  But if they used to get along well and have just had a falling out, be patient and work with them to try to resolve their issues.  In the vast majority of cases a reasonable harmony can be achieved and you can all once again enjoy each other’s company.
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Cats and Christmas

Yes, it’s true, Christmas is upon us yet again.  A time of fluffy white snow, happy children, beautifully wrapped gifts and exceedingly large meals.  Or, if you’re a cat owner, a time of missing ornaments, broken baubles, toppled trees, and shredded wrapping paper.  The antics of the family cat can be a welcome distraction when the discussion gets a bit too heated around the dinner table, but just as cats enjoy all the new toys there could be some hidden dangers too.  Here are some things to think about this holiday season.

Cats are curious by nature and will want to investigate the tree at least!The Christmas tree
  • “What could be better?” says the cat.  “The joys of the outdoors in the warmth of my living room!”  Christmas trees are a cat’s dream come true.  Many cats, especially kittens, find climbing the tree irresistible and will stop at nothing to try to make it to the top.  You can try all sorts of deterrents, including aluminium foil around the base (cats hate walking on it) and keeping a water spray bottle close at hand, but it usually won’t stop them trying at least once.   Many cats also hate the smell of oranges, so some people say keeping orange peels under the tree can help deter climbing.  If your cat is particularly curious, you may simply have to lock them out of the room altogether.
  • The ornaments are another endless source of feline entertainment.  Make sure all expensive, fragile or potentially dangerous ornaments are placed at the top of the tree out of easy reach.  This includes glass baubles, things that look like small furry creatures, and anything that has a string or ribbon on it.  Make sure all wires and clips are attached tightly to the branch, and try not to have any ornaments that swing from side to side where the cat can see them.
  • Where possible don’t provide your cat with a launching ramp (i.e. keep the tree away from the sofa or other furniture).
  • Beware of electric cords and light bulbs, and watch your cat carefully to make sure they do not take a rather shocking interest in them.
Poinsettia and many other favourite Christmas plants are poisonous to cats. Deck the halls, carefully!
  • As mentioned above, any decoration that swings or is otherwise attractive to the cat should be placed out of reach or avoided altogether.  Sharp, pointy decorations or those with small parts that could fall off should also be placed carefully.
  • Ribbons and string can be fatal to cats, so if you must use either in your decoration or whilst wrapping presents, make sure it’s well out of their reach and clean it up immediately after use.
  • The eating of pine needles should be discouraged whenever possible.  Citronella, Tabasco sauce, or bitter apple spray can be used on the bottom branches to discourage chewing.
  • Some plants including mistletoe, holly, lilies and poinsettias, are toxic to cats and cause serious problems if eaten so keep them out of reach or better yet, simply admire them in the homes of others.  The same goes for fake snow – best to avoid it altogether.
  • Make sure all human food is kept out of reach of your cat – they don’t need it and it could make them sick!  But if you absolutely must share, be careful with what you give them to sample as some foods such as chocolate are toxic to cats.  Never give cats (or dogs!) turkey bones as they could cause serious problems if eaten.
A joyful yet stressful time for all
  • You aren’t the only one who dreads the arrival of the in-laws.  Cats will not only pick up on your stress and act out accordingly, but can also be thrown off by all the extra activity in the house.   
  • Some cats will deal with this stress by displaying charming behaviours such as urinating on your carpet or guests’ luggage, scratching up the sofa, or becoming generally unpleasant and aggressive.  Others may spend the whole time hiding under the bed or outdoors.
  • To help ease your cat’s stress levels (and perhaps your own too!), try to spend a few moments with your cat alone each day and provide a quiet, calm area to which they can retreat if needed.  Make sure food and water bowls are well stocked and easily accessible to even the most timid kitties.  Calming pheromone sprays or plug-ins such as Feliway can be tried to help keep the peace.
  • Remember, some cats are particularly prone to urinary tract problems (such as infection or even blockage) during times of stress and cold, so monitor your cat for frequent or difficult urination.  They’re also more likely to pick up a case of the sniffles and go off their food, so ring your vet immediately if you have any concerns.   
But aside from the dangers, Christmas can be a wonderful time to share with your cat.   Some of your best photos will be of your cat interacting with the Christmas tree or popping their head out of a pile of wrapping paper.  A few devoted owners even give their cats their own stocking to open on the big day.  Do remember, however, that when buying your cat a gift, Murphy’s Law clearly states that the more expensive the gift the less interested they will be in it and the packaging is almost always more fun than the toy itself!Cat-in-the-wrapstocking-sleep         Many of the points above also apply to dogs. Also, you might want to take a look at the related blog published last Christmas entitled "The nightmare before Christmas" for more tips on keeping your pet safe at this time of year.  If you are worried about the health of your pets over Christmas, talk to your vet or use our Interactive Symptom Guide to check how urgent a problem may be.
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Help your dog or cat to overcome travel sickness.

Travel sickness, or motion sickness, can affect cats and dogs just like humans, and can make journeys unpleasant for pet and owner alike. There are several ways in which you can reduce both the fear and the nausea which some pets associate with travel. DOGS Start when your puppy is very young if at all possible. If your dog is already adult and still suffers from travel sickness, don’t despair. If you follow the same steps you will almost certainly help them, although it may take a little more time and patience. First of all you need to decide how your dog is going to travel in the car. It is important for their safety and yours that they are restrained in some way. This could be inside a dog crate, behind a secure dog guard, or clipped by a harness to the seat belt. Whichever you choose, the dog should have an area in which they feel secure and comfortable. Once you have made this choice, it is time to get the puppy used to its travel quarters so that they are not afraid. Start by sitting them in the car, in the place where they will normally travel, for just a few minutes each day without even starting the engine. Sit in the car with them but try not to make too much fuss as this can make them think there is something to fear. It would be OK to give a small tit-bit or have a favourite toy with them. When they are used to the car, start the engine without changing anything else. It is only when your pup is relaxed about being in the car with the engine running that it is time to start short journeys. To start with, journeys should only be a few minutes long, say just around the block. It is always best for your pup to travel with an empty tummy as this will reduce the chance of sickness. As you gradually increase the length of journeys, try to make the destination a pleasant one like a favourite walking place, and try to go regularly. If the only car journeys made are holidays or trips to the vets, when there is a lot of excitement or apprehension amongst the human family, then the dog will be more fearful. If the people can be calm and relaxed, the pup has a better chance of taking travel in its stride. Travelling on main roads, which tend to be straight, rather than winding back roads, can reduce travel sickness in pets, just as in people. Keeping the inside of the car at a comfortable temperature (not too warm) and ventilating well with fresh air can also help. You can also use a special collar which releases pheromones, which can help to relax your dog. Pheromones are a chemical released by lactating bitches which induce a feeling of safety and re-assurance in their puppies. A synthetic version of pheromones is available in several forms, the collar being particularly useful for travel when dogs are afraid of the car. There is a drug available from your vet in tablet form which can reduce nausea and sickness, so if other methods have failed or if you have to make an unusually long journey, have a chat with your vet or vet nurse in plenty of time. Other drugs can be used to calm anxiety and fear. Sedatives would be considered as a last resort if all else had failed, and only for occasional use. It is important to discuss this with your vet in plenty of time too, because these drugs are prescription only medicines, not available to buy “over the counter”. This means that your vet must by law be satisfied that your dog is healthy and has no conditions which might make sedation inadvisable. For example, if your dog had epilepsy, this would affect the choice of drug used. If your dog had not been seen by the vet for some time, they may need an examination first. If a pet is to be sedated for travel, they should never be left unattended in the vehicle. They are unable to regulate their body temperature as normal, so could become dangerously cold or hot with little outward sign of distress. In fact, it is best not to leave any pet unattended in a vehicle, whether sedated or not. CATS Cats tend to travel less frequently than dogs because they do not usually go for exercise by car, but they are just as likely to suffer from travel sickness. This causes drooling, nausea and sickness, and if frightened or distressed they also frequently urinate or defaecate. If you do intend to travel frequently with your cat then it is well worth acclimatising them to it gradually, as for dogs. Like dogs, it is important for safety reasons that cats are restrained, usually in a secure cat carrier. A loose cat could easily get under the pedals with disastrous consequences. Some cats seem happier in a basket where they can see out easily, and others prefer a very enclosed basket, or a blanket draped over it.Travelling with an empty stomach should help, so offer your cat a small meal several hours before travelling. A journey can be made less stressful for your cat by using a synthetic pheromone spray in the basket and inside the car. Like the dog version, this helps to relax and re-assure the cat. Your veterinary surgery will be able to give advice about its use. Drugs for calming cats or reducing sickness or for sedation are available for cats too, and it is a good idea to discuss these with your vet well in advance of any planned long journey if you think your cat will need them.
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