Category Archives: Pet Health and Wellness

Use caution when exercising your dog in summer

Young labrador retriever playing with water from sprinklersExercise is one of the best ways to keep your pets slim and trim and help prevent serious diseases  like cancer. With summer just around the corner, people and their pets will be spending a lot more time outdoors. But remember, exercising your pets in hot weather comes with some health risks. Here are some great tips on exercising safely when the mercury rises:

• Some dogs including those with thick coats, the elderly, very young, overweight and flat-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds such as English bulldogs, pugs, Boxers, Pekingese and Shih Tzus, are at an increased risk of heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke and dehydration and should be kept indoors when it’s hot outside. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home then keep a fan going to keep things comfortable.

• On hot days, it’s better to exercise in the early morning or late evening when it’s cooler. If you are out in the heat during the day, take shorter walks and try to stay in shaded areas. Water-related activities are a great way to keep your dog cool. Head to the lake (if you’re so fortunate), or fill up the kiddie pool in the back yard or turn on the sprinkler for your dog to run through. Remember: if your dog is out in the yard on a hot day, make sure he has access to a well-ventilated shady area to cool off.

• Make sure your dogs always have access to water, both indoors and out. Change the water frequently so it stays fresh and cold, especially if you have multiple dogs. If you go for a longer walk or hike away from home, make sure you bring along lots of water for both you and your dog. Bring along a collapsable bowl as it’s difficult to give your dog a drink directly from a bottle.

• Get to know the signs of dehydration and heatstroke as these two conditions can be deadly. In hot weather, your dog can quickly become dehydrated. Make sure your dog drinks plenty of water and watch for signs of dehydration: lack of skin elasticity; sunken eyes; dry or sticky gums; lethargy; and changes in urination.

• When your dog’s temperature rises to a level where they can no longer cool themselves, heatstroke occurs and you should seek immediate medical attention. Common signs of heatstroke include: heavy panting; drooling; staring or glazed eyes; fever; excessive thirst; difficulty breathing; vomiting; deep red or purple tongue or gums; and in severe cases seizures and unconsciousness.

• Dogs with short, light-coloured coats such as Dalmations, Pitbulls, white Boxers and American Bulldogs as well as cats with white coats are more susceptible to sunburns, which is linked to skin cancer, so be particularly careful with these animals when you’re outside. Apply sunscreen to unprotected areas of skin such as the ears and nose and re-apply sunscreen regularly as directed.

For dogs with heavier coats that spend a lot of time outdoors, daily grooming and a light trim instead of shaving is recommended so their skin is not left unprotected from the sun.

• Walking on hot asphalt or sand can burn your dog’s paw pads. Protect your dog’s paws by applying a protective wax before heading out, put summer booties on or walk your dog in shady or grassy areas.

Although not related directly to exercise, a serious safety concern that comes up every summer is leaving pets alone in parked vehicles. NEVER leave your dog alone in a parked car when it’s hot outside! It only takes a few minutes for the temperature inside your vehicle to reach dangerous levels. Cracking the windows will NOT help. Please don’t risk your dogs’ life by leaving them alone in a parked vehicle.

Do pulses belong in pet food?

By Christina Weese

A three-year study at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) may find a new use for some of the province’s most popular pulse crops — peas, faba beans and lentils.

The study plans to look at the digestibility and glycemic index of different pulse starches for cats and dogs. Researchers are hoping to demonstrate that by replacing corn (a common pet food ingredient) with pulses, they can achieve lower blood sugar levels in cats and dogs.

“Our overall goal is to find diets that provide a low glycemic index and all the health benefits that come with it,” says WCVM research associate Kayla Zatti. She and graduate student Jennifer Briens are working with Dr. Lynn Weber, an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences. The project team also includes Drs. Murray Drew and Tom Scott from the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources.

“When an animal (or human) eats starch, some of that starch is metabolized as sugar in the bloodstream,” Zatti explains. “This rise in blood sugar levels is measured by the glycemic index (GI). In humans, diets that provide a low GI are linked to a lower incidence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, among other health benefits.”

The wide-ranging study will compare the effect of four different starches (peas, faba beans, lentils and corn) in omnivores and carnivores across three different species — cats, dogs and two varieties of fish. Corn is included as a control starch.

One of the study’s goals is to develop GI indexes for these starches in cats and dogs. That will help to determine which pulse starch can provide the highest digestibility and the lowest GI.

“Omnivores (dogs) and carnivores (cats) digest and use carbohydrates differently. Carnivores in nature eat a strict protein diet. The problem with pet food is that it’s very high in carbohydrates, which carnivores have a hard time digesting. We’re looking for the best mix of carbs and protein,” says Zatti.

If researchers can provide pets with a more compatible diet, health effects from diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease may be mitigated.

“This is especially true for carnivores such as cats,” says Zatti. “Cats don’t have as high an activity of the enzymes that break down carbohydrates, so they’re more vulnerable to high blood sugars (and resulting insulin spikes) which contribute to Type II diabetes.”

“We know it’s true for humans,” Briens adds. “When you compare pulses to rice and corn — two common pet food ingredients — pulses are definitely providing a lower glycemic index. But there’s little actual research done on GI on cats.”

The study will also include two fish species: Nile tilapia (omnivores) and rainbow trout (carnivores). The WCVM researchers hope to be able to make recommendations on the use of pulses in commercial fish food for aquaculture operations.

The study starts with the eight cats that have already arrived at the university. The research team will eventually repeat the study in a group of beagles.

In the first part of the study, researchers will feed a whole-food diet containing one of the test starches for a total of eight weeks. They’ll then test feces collected from the animals and fish to see how much undigested starch travels through the species’ digestive tract.

“For the digestibility trial, we acclimate them for a week on the diet,” explains Zatti. An indigestible “marker” is included in the feed at a ratio of 30 per cent starch to one per cent marker. Researchers will weigh and measure the ratio of starch to marker in the feces to determine how much of the starch was digested.

In the second part of the study, the animals will be fed small amounts of pure starch in both extruded and non-extruded forms. “Extruding changes the digestibility of the starch, much like cooking changes the digestibility of food—so we want to test both kinds of pure starches,” says Briens.

For this part of the study, the cats will only participate one or two days per week. Researchers will feed each cat a small amount of a specific starch and then perform a few simple tests such as a blood pressure test and a cardiac ultrasound examination. Researchers will also take a number of blood samples over several hours to determine a GI curve index for corn and for the pulses.

“The cats have to sit for these tests without any sedatives,” says Zatti, “so we have to make sure the research room is a happy place with lots of treats and play time.”

Zatti and Briens also take pains to ensure the cats are happy and well socialized. The animals are kept in group housing and are in constant contact with people and with each other. After the three-year study is complete, they’ll be adopted out to homes in the community through a selective adoption process.

Any animals that are withdrawn from the study for handling reasons or health concerns are adopted out right away.

Collected data will help to flesh out other parts of this wide-ranging study. For example, blood samples will be studied for biomarkers of inflammation, oxidative damage and stress. Another graduate student, Marina Subramaniam, is also using the project’s results to study a genetic component of nutrition.

With funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, Alliance Grain Trades and Horizon Pet Foods, this study is a great example of collaboration between U of S researchers and partners in industry.

—Reprinted with permission from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Companion Animal Health Fund (cahf.usask.ca).

Is a raw food diet right for your pet?

Labrador retriever puppyCommercial pet food has only been around for about 100 years but animals have hunted prey or scavenged for millions of years. Unfortunately, many commercial pet foods contain lots of carbohydrates in the form of corn, wheat, rice or potato, which our dogs and cats find difficult or impossible to digest.

Over the years, an increase in the number of health problems in our pets such as itchy skin, allergies, dental problems and sore ears to name a few, were thought to be related to what our pets were eating.

In 1993, Australian veterinarian, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, published his groundbreaking book, Give Your Dog a Bone, which is said to have started the raw food diet movement. Now, with some science under our belt and much anecdotal evidence, feeding raw seems to be gaining momentum with both veterinarians and pet guardians.

What is a raw food diet?

A raw food diet usually contains bones, muscle and organ meats, vegetables, fruit and other whole foods. The theory behind feeding raw food is that our pets’ ancestors ate raw meat and bones, and represents a more natural diet for our dogs and cats.

These days there are several different types of raw food diets including frozen raw and freeze-dried. As with all pet foods, some are better quality than others, so make sure you do your homework to ensure you make the right choice for your pet.

What are the benefits of feeding a raw food diet?

Just some of the benefits of feeding a raw food diet include:

  • Cleaner teeth and fresher breath
  • Low stool volume
  • Healthy skin
  • Shiny coat
  • Fewer arthritic symptoms
  • Higher energy levels
  • Improved circulation

What health issues are known to respond well to raw diets?

Raw diets, with additional Vitamin A may help prevent cancer. Cancer cells feed on carbohydrates, which are not present in a raw diet. Organ meats, which are part of a raw diet, are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which is also thought to prevent the growth of cancer cells.

Most kibble-fed dogs have a tendency to develop tartar and plaque that can lead to periodontal disease. Dogs do not produce the enzyme amylase, normally present in human saliva, which helps break down carbohydrates and prevent tartar and plaque build up. A raw diet contains few, if any, carbohydrates, minimizing the risk of tartar and plaque build up and dental disease. Other health issues that may respond well to a raw diet include diabetes, obesity, epilepsy, allergies and gastrointestinal problems.

How much raw food should I feed my dog?

The amount to feed will vary from one dog to another depending upon age, activity level and size. Generally you will feed adult dogs 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent of their body weight, active dogs 3 per cent and puppies 5 per cent per day. Overweight or senior dogs need 1.5 to 2 per cent of their body weight per day. Let your dog’s activity levels, appetite and body condition be your guide!

Is raw food safe?

Preparing raw pet food is no different than preparing raw meat for your human family. Raw pet food from a reputable manufacturer that takes safe food handling seriously combined with safe food handling at home poses no bacterial threat to your pet or your human family.

What about salmonella?

Salmonella is found in about 40 per cent of healthy dogs and about 20 per cent of healthy cats regardless of whether they are fed a raw diet or not. Salmonella is a normal part of a pet’s gastrointestinal system and they naturally shed salmonella bacteria in their feces and saliva.

There is no risk to humans of being infected with salmonella from pets who are fed a raw diet. The risk of getting salmonella poisoning lies in how raw pet food is handled. As when preparing meals for people or pets, you need to wash your hands before and after handling any raw meat or other foods. Make sure to disinfect counters, bowls, cutting surfaces and utensils that came in contact with raw pet food. Also, wash your pet bowls often.

Can I feed my cat a raw diet too?

Cats are true carnivores and need a meat-based diet. Cats derive the same benefits as dogs from a raw diet. In fact, raw meat is one of the best sources of essential amino acids pets need to grow healthy and strong.

Hunting cats will eat the contents of their prey’s stomach and small intestine. This provides them with a source of dietary fibre and nutrients like Vitamin E that are available primarily from plant sources. In order to mimic this, you can give your cat access to some natural greens like cat grass and supplement their diet occasionally with Vitamin E.

How much should I feed my cat?

Adult cats should eat about 5 per cent to 8 per cent of their body weight per day, depending on their activity level. Also, it’s best if cats are fed two or three times a day — do not leave raw food out for cats to graze on. Kittens require about 8 per cent to 10 per cent of their body weight per day (Weigh your kitten each week and adjust the amount fed accordingly). This amount should be split into three to four small meals daily. As kittens reach their full adult weight around 10 to 12 months, you can gradually reduce the amount and times per day you feed to adult levels. These percentages are meant to act as a guide only — every cat is different. Adjust the amounts to keep your cat at a healthy weight.

The obesity epidemic

Fat ginger catObesity is not just a problem for people, our pets are packing on the pounds too. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, it’s estimated that over 45 per cent of all the pets in North America are overweight or obese. The major cause of this epidemic is overfeeding. Overfeeding our pets can lead to a number of significant health concerns. Not only can obesity shorten our pets’ lives, the health risks can include Type II diabetes, respiratory disorders and many forms of cancer.

It’s important to periodically check your pet’s weight throughout all life stages. Putting your pets on a scale is not the best way to evaluate their weight because within each breed there are varying sizes and weights. Instead, look at the appearance of your pet. This means you should be able to feel the ribs easily without pressing, but you should not be able to see the ribs through the coat. The torso should also resemble an hourglass when viewed from above.

You can conduct these quick checks on your own but since it can be hard for pet guardians to be objective, it’s best to seek a second opinion. If you’re pet is overweight, make sure there is no medical reason for the extra pounds before putting them on a diet.

Portion control is the number one way to combat obesity. Feeding recommendations or instructions on your pet’s food are sometimes inflated. The portion size on the packaging is for the average pet. Lifestyle, activity level and age also affect how much food a pet should receive. If your pet is overweight, feed less from the recommended amount and adjust from there.

Measuring out your pets’ food may not be as convenient as filling a bowl and letting them “graze” for the day, but the benefits far outweigh the extra time it takes to measure. And, feeding your pets two to three times a day will keep you in control of how much they eat and should keep any hunger pangs at bay.

If your pet is on a weight-loss program, it may be difficult to resist the temptation to give them more food when they look at you with their begging eyes or paw at their dish. The solution is to give them some extra attention. Most pets will substitute a walk, some TLC or chasing their favourite ball for that extra portion of food. Besides, most pets could probably use a little extra exercise.

Benefits of natural sunlight for your parrot

Walking the balance beam - OK so it's a deck rail!By Kathleen Grey

Light is one of the three natural elements necessary for life. However, unlike the clean air we breathe and pure water we drink it gets overlooked as something necessary for good health.

Natural sunlight affects people and pets in myriad ways — most notably is the production of Vitamin D. It is estimated that Vitamin D affects 10 per cent of all genes. Vitamin D is known to reduce the risk of certain cancers, reduce blood pressure, improve cognitive function and enhance one’s mood.

The ultraviolet B (UVB) spectrum in natural sunlight converts good cholesterol into pre-Vitamin D compounds, which are further synthesized into beneficial Vitamin D. With most parrots, pre-Vitamin D compounds are released with the oil of the preening gland, which they spread over their body while preening their feathers. With exposure to UVB rays, the secretions are converted to Vitamin D3, which is then ingested with subsequent preening.

Exposure to natural sunlight enhances the capacity to deliver oxygen to tissues of the body, similar to exercise. This is particularly beneficial for parrots whose ability to exercise is greatly reduced due to being caged for most of the day or having their wings clipped.

Natural sunlight increases the production of lymphocytes, or white blood cells, which play a major role in defending the body against infections. Natural sunlight also kills bacteria and can help disinfect and heal wounds in addition to reducing fungal infections of the skin.

How much natural sunlight is enough?

Over the past several decades exposure to natural sunlight has been frowned upon to the point of paranoia. Now, we are beginning to discover more and more benefits to moderate daily exposure.   But how do we determine how much sun is enough?

Unfortunately, there is no scientific information to answer this question for birds. But, with the information we know about humans and tropical birds’ natural environment, we can estimate how much natural sunlight is safe for your parrot.

The average human requires about 10 to 15 minutes of natural sunlight daily to reap the benefits. People with dark skin, living in northern climates, require up to six times that amount. Given that the natural habitat of dark-skinned people and tropical birds are similar we can estimate that parrots require about the same amount of natural sunlight daily, approximately an hour to an hour and a half.

Parrots, in their natural habitat, are exposed to direct sunlight in the morning, while foraging for food and frolicking with their mate or siblings, and in late afternoon before they head back to their roosting spot. They take shelter from the intense sun in the early afternoon.

If your parrot can be outside for about an hour that’s great but any amount of time your parrot is exposed to natural sunlight is better than none at all. A short walk when weather permits or sitting outside while having lunch are great opportunities to get your parrot outside.

Things to keep in mind when taking your parrot outside

  • While natural sunlight does not pose a risk to parrots, extreme heat can be dangerous. If you plan to hike on a hot day, bring along a water mister so you can cool yourself and your parrot.
  • Predators are always a risk when you take your parrot outside. You can protect them by using a travel carrier or a body harness designed specifically for parrots.
  • Although we must rely on supplemental indoor lighting during the cooler months, Mother Nature does it best and we should take advantage of this.
  • The benefits of natural sunlight far outweigh any risk and if you are smart and take appropriate precautions you and your parrot will be better for it. Just remember how great you felt the last time you vacationed in a tropical climate. That is how your parrots should always feel.

Vet oncologists talk feline cancer

Photo by Darby Leigh

Photo by Darby Leigh

We asked Dr. Valerie MacDonald, DVM DACVIM (oncology), Associate Professor at Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon and her resident, Dr. Charlotte Johnston to answer the following questions about feline cancers. Below are their answers.

  1. How common is cancer in cats? What are some of the more common cancers found in cats?

The prevalence of cancer in cats is increasing. The increase is due to a variety of reasons — cats are living longer, increasing care given by owners and advancing veterinary care. Cancer remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality in cats.

Some of the most common cancers seen in cats include:

  • Lymphoma: Cancer arising from lymphoid tissue. Infection with feline leukemia virus increases their risk of developing lymphoma.
  • Mammary cancer: Spaying cats before their first heat can decrease the risk of developing mammary cancer.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): Most commonly affects the skin and mouth. Sun exposure increases their risk of developing skin SCC and it most commonly involves light or unpigmented areas of skin.
  • Injection site sarcomas

2. What are some of the symptoms of feline cancers?

There is no single symptom that can confirm cancer in cats. Cats are also hard to evaluate, as they tend to hide their disease well. In general any cat that is not feeling well should be examined by a veterinarian.

Some symptoms to monitor for include:

  • Lumps
  • Persistent sores or skin infections
  • Abnormal discharge from any area of the body
  • Sudden lameness or lameness that is not improving
  • Weight loss
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, coughing or sneezing
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Bad breath

3. What are some of the causes of feline cancers?

In general there is no single cause for cancer in cats. There are hereditary and environmental factors than can contribute to the development of cancer in cats. Cats that receive excessive exposure to sunlight are at risk for skin cancer. Feline leukemia virus has also been linked to the development of the malignant cancer lymphoma in cats. Injections into the muscle and subcutaneous tissue have been linked to the development of injection site sarcomas at a later date.

4. What are some of the more common treatments for cats with cancer? Are there any new treatments or advanced technologies for the treatment of feline cancers?

There are three main types of treatments that we use for cancer — surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Surgery is the most common treatment that is used to remove tumours that are found. For localized tumours surgery may be the only treatment needed. Chemotherapy is used to treat systemic cancers (such as lymphoma) and also cancers that have a high chance of spreading. Radiation therapy can be used to treat tumours in locations not amenable to surgery (for example the nasal cavity) or where surgical removal is unachievable.

There is research being done constantly to try and identify advancements in radiation therapy, new and novel chemotherapy protocols and new surgical approaches.

5. How much does it typically cost to treat a cat with cancer?

The cost to treat various different cancers in cats by a specialist depends on a number of different factors including type and location of the cancer, the treatment that is recommended (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy) and ultimately where you live.

6. If treated, what’s the cure rate for cats with cancer?

It is very difficult to comment on a cure rate. However, on a whole it is going to be very low. It will depend on the type of tumour, the location, when it was found and how it is treated.

7. What are some of the preventive measures we can take to help keep our cats cancer free? 

It is often hard to suggest a number of preventative measures when we do not know the underlying cause of most cancers. Early detection and prompt treatment are the most effective approaches for the best outcome. Having your cat spayed early can reduce the chance of mammary cancer. Avoiding excessive sunlight exposure and sunburn can help reduce the chance of certain skin cancers. Vaccinating for feline leukemia can prevent the development of the disease. There has been no links of feeding certain foods or using a particular cat litter to the development of cancer. Feeding a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise can help your cat stay healthy with a good body condition score to reduce the risk of a number of health related diseases, not just cancer.

Videos have gone to the cats

Will Braden, producer of the Internet Cat Video Festival, with Henri, Le Chat Noir.

Will Braden, producer of the Internet Cat Video Festival, with Henri, Le Chat Noir.

By Sherry Warner

Who could have predicted that a cat video produced on a whim in film school would lead to the creation of a feline celebrity and a great gig producing cat video reels seen by millions.

Will Braden is the creator of Henri, Le Chat Noir: a pampered, existential French cat. “When I was in film school I had an assignment to do, which was to profile someone,” says Will. “I procrastinated and then I didn’t have a lot of time to do it so I decided to profile a cat and do it as a parody of old French new wave artsy films we’d been watching in film school.

“I thought if I made it funny maybe nobody would notice I didn’t follow the assignment,” laughs Will. “And it worked — I got an A.” Several years later Will created a Facebook page for his character, Henri. Le Chat Noir’s page grew quickly and when Will realized how many fans there were of the film and the character, he decided to make a sequel.

Fortunately for Will, the creation of Henri’s second video coincided with a call for submissions to the first Internet Cat Video Festival, the brainchild of two employees at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

This inaugural festival was an experiment as part of the center’s outdoor programming. “As soon as they announced the call for submissions and was picked up by mainstream press it snowballed from there,” says Will. As a result, 10,000 people gathered in August 2012 on Open Field to take in the show.

At the end of the video reel, the first Golden Kitty (People’s Choice) Award was presented. As luck would have it, Will Braden and his sequel of Henri Le Chat Noir won. Will was there to accept the award in person. “It was the beginning of my relationship with the Cat Video Festival and it was a huge spike to the success of the cat video I made,” says Will. “The only word to describe it is serendipitous.”

Before the Cat Video Festival, Will was a camera for hire doing weddings, local commercials and the like in Seattle. He’s now the producer of the Internet Cat Video Festival. “My title technically is curator although I think a lot of people on the old guard at museums would probably take issue with that,” he says.

“This may seem like a dream job, but it’s no piece of cake,” he adds. The festival got close to 10,000 submissions for the 2013 event, which had to be culled down to fit into about 70 minutes of video. “I watched every single video that was submitted, I really did. I took it seriously,” says Will.

The Internet Cat Video Festival plays at the Walker Art Center's Open Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Internet Cat Video Festival plays at the Walker Art Center’s Open Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

After the kick-off festival in Minneapolis, tour dates for the reel are scheduled. People can request the reel to show at all kinds of events such as pet-industry fundraisers, corporate events or performing arts centres to name a few. Sometimes Will hosts the show or the organization can put the show on itself. “We make sure they get a copy of the reel and that there is charitable component to any showing that goes on,” says Will. “The universal appeal of it means we get a lot of different types of requests from a lot of different places. Everybody likes funny cat videos.”

For inquiries about bringing the Internet Cat Video Festival to your venue, please contact catvidfest@walkerart.org.

Cat overpopulation crisis will take community effort to resolve

Barbara Carwright, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. Photo courtesy Couvrette Photography/Ottawa

Barbara Carwright, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. Photo courtesy Couvrette Photography/Ottawa

By Sherry Warner

Each year the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) consults with its members on what issues should be focused on at a national level. “Cat welfare and cat overpopulation are of serious concern to member groups of the CFHS because basically they’re dealing with the after effects of overpopulation,” says Barbara Cartwright, CEO of CFHS.

“In 2011 the message was loud and clear that we needed to focus on cats and improving cat welfare, figuring out some solutions to the crisis that manifested in the shelter system,” she says.

So a task force of members from each province across the country was put together to address this issue. “The task force was very clear that first we needed the data. We needed to get an idea of the scope and scale of the problem that we were all facing as one large community,” says Barbara.

In 2012 the CFHS undertook a multi-stakeholder research initiative to address the negative consequences of cat overpopulation, which include homelessness, overburdened shelters and rescues and euthanasia. The result was a report — Cats in Canada: a comprehensive report on the cat overpopulation crisis — representing data and opinions from more than 478 stakeholders across Canada including shelters, municipalities, vets, rescue groups, trap/neuter/return groups and spay/neuter organizations.

Once the data was in place, CFHS worked with each province and the different stakeholders on the ground in order to identify some key national projects that CFHS could move forward with as well as issues that could be dealt with at a provincial and municipal level.

The report found that shelters and rescue organizations across the country are dangerously at or over capacity for the resources they have in order to address the cat overpopulation issue. “They are bursting at the seams and doing everything they can to provide space for all the unwanted, undesirable and abandoned cats,” says Barbara. “But every time a space becomes available it’s filled by another cat or a pregnant cat ready to give birth.”

Adoption is an important way to help reduce cat overpopulation but the report revealed that only 44 per cent of cats brought into shelters are adopted out. Unfortunately, Canadians are more likely to acquire a cat from a friend, relative, a giveaway, from their own pet’s offspring or take in a stray than they are to adopt from a shelter or rescue group.

“Of all the cats that come into a shelter, less than half will find their forever home. It’s so important for people to hear and understand what’s happening,” says Barbara. “Getting that message out to Canadians that as a community we need to do something about this, is important so that we reduce the burden on shelters.”

Accessible spay/neuter surgery was seen by 70 per cent of respondents as the most important solution to the cat overpopulation crisis. The report determined that there are about 10.1 million cats that have forever homes and when these guardians were asked whether or not their cats were spayed or neutered, 80 per cent said yes.

“This doesn’t necessarily correlate with the number of abandoned and unwanted cats and the fact that the number one way that Canadians are getting their cats are ‘free to a good home’ or litters from family,” says Barbara. “So if 80 per cent — which sounds great — are getting their cats spayed or neutered how do we still have all these extra cats?” Barbara explains that it could be a motherhood question — people answering the question the way they think they should be answering it.

Regardless, this still leaves two million cats unaltered and of course, two million cats breeding can still create a lot of cats. There are some barriers to spaying and neutering that have been identified including cost, which varies across the country; lack of access to high volume spay/neuter; and getting people on board with the importance of spaying and neutering their cat.

From the data collected in the report and input from stakeholders across the country, the CFHS came up with three areas to focus on at the national level. The first is to elevate the status of cats. “This came through loud and clear in the survey but also every single provincial meeting that we held,” says Barbara.

To do this, CFHS created the “Just For Cats” film festival using the reel of cat videos produced by the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for its annual Internet Cat Video Festival. “Just For Cats” was the perfect opportunity to celebrate cats and get the message out about what needs to be done to improve the welfare of cats.

“We wanted to find an event that was not just attracting cat people,” says Barbara. “Everybody loves cat videos so we felt this was the best way to reach a maximum amount of people.”

For the first year, the goal of the “Just For Cats” film festival was to help increase the value of cats across the country by having at least each province host a “Just For Cats” event. “The fundraising is important but it wasn’t our key mandate. Whatever fundraising was done stayed in the individual communities,” says Barbara.

By the end of October, CFHS will have held 18 “Just For Cats” events across the country. Depending on which province and which organization hosted the event, the festival ranged from a 70-minute screening of the cat video reel with messages before and after to a full day outdoor festival with vendors, microchipping clinics and celebrity cats.

“One of the highlights of the ‘Just For Cats’ film festival is we launched at the Toronto International Film Festival and the National Post did a whole week dedicated to cat welfare in its fashion section,” says Barbara. “It was amazing … they really elevated the status of cats.”

The second national initiative is to support spay/neuter — accessible spay neuter was the number one issue with survey participants. “More than 70 per cent said this was the issue we needed to focus on,” says Barbara.

“In response we launched a spay/neuter report that gives people the data they need in order to convince local council to provide low-cost spay/neuter.” The CFHS also launched a correlating tool kit for local communities in order to advocate for and get accessible spay/neuter in their community.

The third initiative is to help shelters restructure their environment is such a way so they have less cats at any given time but more cats moving through to an adoption outcome. Most cats come into shelters healthy, but, because of the stress they get ill and then face euthanasia. Finding a solution to overcrowding will reduce the number of cats that are euthanized every year.

Capacity for Care is a program developed at University of California, Davis that helps shelters restructure and CFHS is helping its members get access to this training and the money they need to reassess their shelters.

Guelph Humane Society and PEI Humane Society are two pilot sites and are about half way through the Capacity for Care process. The information from these two pilot sites will help other shelters with their own restructuring process.

From the report it’s clear that the cat overpopulation issue is a community issue and to solve it will take effort from all levels of government, shelters, rescue organizations and other non-profits, vets and individuals. “We can’t deal with the issue alone, everybody needs to be involved,” says Barbara.

For more information or to access the report visit http://cfhs.ca/athome/cat_overpopulation_crisis/

As an individual there are a number of things you can do to help reduce the cat population:

  • Make sure your cats are collared, microchipped and licensed (if that’s available in your city). This will help ensure that lost cats are reunited with their families and reduce the number in shelters.
  • Spay/neuter your cat as soon as possible so you don’t have an “oops” litter.
  • Help reduce the burden on shelters and rescue organizations by adopting your next cat.
  • Make a habit of promoting adoption.

Should declawing be banned?

By Terri Perrin

Without a doubt, when it comes to publicly discussing the subject of declawing cats, the claws come out! Here is what you need to know about this controversial surgery.

What is declawing?
Declawing – or onychectomy – is not to be confused with a manicure. It is a surgical procedure done under full anaesthetic and is the amputation of the end bones of the toes, from which claws grows. Considering that cats scratch mostly with their front claws, it is extremely rare for a veterinarian to remove a cat’s back claws. As with any surgery, there are medical risks for the cat, including pain, excessive bleeding, infection, and the risks associated with anaesthesia.

Like people who have lost a limb, it is believed that some cats may experience “phantom” pain in the last section of the toe, even though that section has been removed.

Why would ANYONE do this?
Medically, you may have to remove a claw if the claw is damaged beyond repair or if there is a tumour on the toe. Sometimes, declawing is done to protect people. Individuals with compromised immune systems or the elderly on blood thinners, for example, can’t be exposed to the bacteria on a cat’s claws.

Sometimes, despite every attempt to teach a cat to not scratch the furniture, and failed attempts to use protective nail caps and/or trim the cat’s nails, there comes a time when some people are faced with the difficult choice whether to euthanize their cat, surrender it to an uncertain future at a shelter or rescue or declaw. While there are exceptions, most people who opt for surgery do so reluctantly. Know that this is not a decision that should be reached without careful consideration and consultation with your veterinarian.

I, for example, acquired my mother’s 18-month-old cat in 1997. Dusty’s playful, yet destructive behaviour had made it impossible for my terminally ill Mother to keep her. The cat took great pleasure in clawing and biting at the condensation bubbles in Mom’s oxygen hose. Not a good thing!

Despite many years attempting to train Dusty not to aggressively scratch the furniture and carpets, nothing worked. I did not want to get a divorce over the cat, and I was not willing to sit on stainless steel furniture for what would turn out to be the next 15+ years. After considerable soul searching, I reluctantly opted for surgery. I chose her life over her claws.

As my beloved cat woke up from the operation, I held her in my arms and I wept. I still cry now, as I write this, but years later; I do not regret my decision. Dusty wasn’t enjoying life with everyone in the household screaming at her to “STOP!” Neither were we. Now age 19+, I know that Dusty has had a good, long life. I know that she is loved very, very much. And I know that I am not a “bad” person.

How does it affect the cat?
While it has not been my experience, some cat lovers (including some veterinarians) maintain that a cat may have permanent trouble walking or balancing after a declaw procedure. Or, that a cat’s personality may change when its claws, which are a natural defense, are removed. Some say the cat will resort to biting, rather than scratching.

Humane aspects aside, there is also the concern that if allowed outdoors, a declawed cat will no longer be able to defend himself from other animals or easily climb to safety. This puts him at higher risk for serious injury from other animals. This, we should all agree on.

Should declawing be banned?
In 28 countries around the world, excluding Canada, declawing cats is banned outright. (Unless performed for medical reasons.) While declawing was recently banned in the province of New Brunswick, some veterinarians in other regions still do the procedure.

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS) is opposed to declawing, as indicated in the following Position Statement: “CFHS opposes the surgical mutilation of animals, except procedures performed by a licensed veterinarian to alleviate suffering, or for reasons of injury or health. The declawing of cats can only be condoned if done after consultation as to other options with a licensed veterinarian in circumstances when the animal would be denied a home or face euthanasia.”

In November 2011, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) also issued a public statement of its view of declawing: “The CVMA strongly discourages onychectomy (declawing) of domestic cats for routine purposes. Surgical amputation of the partial digit prevents cats from expressing normal behaviours and causes pain. Veterinarians should inform clients of the potential negative consequences of declawing and educate them about tools and techniques available to prevent and minimize personal and property damage so that the procedure may be avoided.”

Enid Stiles, DVM, Sherwood Park Animal Hospital, Quebec, has made her position on declawing loud and clear. “When I speak with veterinary colleagues in Europe and Australia, I am simply embarrassed,” says Dr. Stiles. “I live in this wonderful country, where we are often leading the way of research and innovation in animal health and welfare. And yet, we still declaw cats. Twenty-eight countries (and counting) have made declawing illegal and consider it inhumane. I have to ask, why is Canada so far behind?

“I know that my Canadian veterinary colleagues hate to declaw, “ adds Dr. Stiles. “When I ask them why they still do it they answer: ‘I would rather perform the surgery than have another cat abandoned at a shelter’ or ‘I would rather do it myself, so I know it is being done well and with proper pain management.’”

Dr. Stiles goes on to say, “As long as our clients have the option to declaw they will and so will some veterinarians. Some of my friends and family members have cats that are declawed. I don’t believe in it, and they all know that. All I can do is speak the words and promote a change in our behaviour.”

Dr. Stiles says that Canada is unique in that every province has its own veterinary medical association and, if people want to see declawing banned, they will have to lobby provincially. And, she adds, there is no data supporting the claim that there would be more cats abandoned at shelters if declawing were illegal. “In fact,” says Dr. Stiles, “we see fewer abandoned cats in countries where declawing is prohibited. You just have to go to a local cat shelter to see that even declawed cats are abandoned (or get lost).”

The general consensus is that declawing should not be routinely done as a convenience, at the time of spaying or neutering. The decision to declaw should be made only as a last resort, or not at all.

For more information about declawing, visit www.declawing.com, and www.pawproject.org.

Make Each One Wanted

Debbie Nelson, executive director of MEOW Foundation.

Debbie Nelson, executive director of MEOW Foundation.

By Sherry Warner

Make Each One Wanted (MEOW): A fitting acronym for the Calgary-based, no-kill rescue foundation for cats. “MEOW Foundation was officially founded in July 2000, and our objective really was to be a rescue group that was solely dedicated to cats and their welfare — specifically stray and abandoned — that have no other resources,” says Debbie Nelson, executive director of the foundation.

Canada and many other countries around the world are facing a cat overpopulation crisis, something MEOW Foundation is working hard to correct. “Cats are really the most neglected, most numerous animals there are on the streets and the most undervalued in many ways. This probably is what has lead to the problems,” says Debbie.

Back when the foundation opened its doors there were upwards of seven to nine thousand cats that came through groups like MEOW Foundation and Calgary Humane Society every year. “And that of course doesn’t even account for the cats that were not assisted so it’s always hard to put a number on it,” says Debbie.

Over the years MEOW Foundation has rolled out several programs including its Adoption Program, a Spay/Neuter Assistance Program (SNAP), and a Trap Neuter Return (TNR) program to help stem the crisis.

“In recent years with spay/neuter programs like SNAP, which was started by the City of Calgary, I do think there has been an improvement to some degree,” says Debbie. But, there is still a great need outside of Calgary and even in the city this year, she adds. “Every year we think we are getting on top of things and this year, kitten season has been as busy as it ever was.” MEOW Foundation starts seeing kittens in about May and then it’s constant through to the end of September.

MEOW Foundation adopts out between 500-600 cats every year. “We try to balance our numbers pretty closely because we are a no-kill organization, and so we can’t take in more than our capacity allows at the adoption centre and in foster homes,” says Debbie.

At this time of year (fall) MEOW Foundation houses about 60-70 cats at its adoption centre and then about 150 cats (mostly kittens) in foster homes. MEOW’s capacity at its peak is usually 225-230 cats and it may drop lower in the winter. “Our low season is usually January-February — all the kittens have been adopted and only cats available at that time of year are adults,” says Debbie.

The first line of defence in an overpopulation situation is to have the animals spayed or neutered, says Debbie. Through the SNAP program about 1,200 families annually receive financial assistance to spay/neuter their cats. MEOW partners with vet clinics that have agreed to work with the foundation and the clinics give MEOW a break on costs. “In the SNAP program the number of vets vary but on the whole we have about 15 clinics throughout the city that work with us on a regular basis,” says Debbie.

The SNAP program is for anyone who contacts MEOW who needs assistance. “They don’t have to be low-income, they may be experiencing some hardship or expenses at the time,” says Debbie.

The amount of the spay/neuter subsidy is based on family size, the number of working adults in the home and total family income. “Depending on those factors, we ask people to contribute a portion of the fee and MEOW pays the balance to the vet,” says Debbie.

The goal of the TNR program is to return about 100-150 cats to their community homes each year. About half of the cats trapped through the TNR program are put up for adoption because many are just frightened, socialized cats, says Debbie. “They’ve just been abandoned and intact — but it’s clear that they’ve been someone’s pet at some time.

“We were flying under the radar since about 2005, but in 2009 the city of Calgary officially recognized our program and it’s operation within Calgary and gave us greater leeway in returning cats to their communities and understanding that because they are not owned and don’t have a fixed address, the requirement to be licensed is also waived,” explains Debbie.

Feral cats are humanely trapped by MEOW Foundation then taken to a vet clinic where they are spayed or neutered, double identified (tattoo and microchip), vaccinated for rabies and upper respiratory, dewormed and given a full physical exam. “If they need any other work such as dental surgery, abscesses etc. we take care of all of that.”

Once finished at the vet, the cats come back to the MEOW adoption centre’s recovery room. Typically they stay for three to five days if it’s just a routine spay or neuter. Their behaviour is evaluated at that time as well to see if they are truly feral or just a frightened, socialized cat.

“If they are socialized then we put them into our adoption program. If they don’t have that level of socialization needed for adoption then they are returned back to their community and their caregiver,” says Debbie.

“These feral cats have very strong social bonds. We provide cat food to our caregivers that need assistance and if they don’t have shelters for the winter we will provide that too,” she adds.

MEOW Foundation keeps an extensive data base for these cats: where they live, who their caregivers are, what communities they come from and how many cats a particular caregiver may be looking after. MEOW also keeps in touch with its caregivers to make sure their cats are doing well or in need of medical assistance, which it provides for as long as they live.

All cats and kittens are spayed or neutered before they are put up for adoption. Kittens go on the Cat-a-logue at 10 weeks, go for spay/neuter surgery at 11 weeks and at 12 weeks when they are recovered they are picked up at their foster homes.

People use MEOW’s website and the Cat-a-logue to see what types of cats are available. “We try to give people an idea of the cat’s personality in the write up with the photo,” says Debbie.

You can apply online to adopt and usually within 24 hours one of MEOW’s adoption specialists will call you and review your application to get a better understanding of what kind of cat or kitten you are looking for. “We pride ourselves on knowing our cats well so we are able to give people the advice they need to match a cat to the family,” says Debbie.

The foundation has a 30 day policy. “Sometimes it’s just not a match made in heaven,” says Debbie. “We take the cat back, no questions asked. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out in spite of everyone’s best intentions.” If this should happen, families can decide to choose another cat or not, whatever works best.

The ultimate goal is for cats to find their forever home. Successful adoptions are dependent on prospective families taking into consideration a number of things before they adopt: cats live about 15-20 years so you must be prepared for the financial obilgations including food, toys, accessories, vet care, vacation care, insurance etc. (You can expect to spend about $1,500-$2,000 in the first year.) You also need to think about whether or not a cat will fit into your lifestyle.

For more information and/or to adopt please visit www.meowfoundation.com.