Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Risks for Pets at Halloween

Halloween can be a fun time, but it is not always fun for our pets.  There are many risks and dangers to our cats and dogs at this time of year.  Know the concerns and follow these Halloween safety tips for your pets to ensure that everyone has a happy and safe Halloween.

1.  Poisons.  Chocolate and other candies can be toxic to cats, dogs, and even pet birds.  Cats are less likely to eat things not meant for them, but dogs will swallow something they think is food without much thought.  A dropped chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) can be fatal to a small dog.  Xylitol is a sweetener used in many candies and is also toxic to dogs, birds, and possibly cats as well.

2.  Confusion/Stress.  Halloween is "different" than the normal routine and this can cause stress in some pets.  Some pets will get upset at kids coming to the door and constantly ringing the doorbell or calling out.  Additionally with the door opening and shutting so often a pet is likely to run outside.  In many cases it is best to keep a pet in a different room for the night so it does not get upset.  A baby gate can be put at the front door to prevent a small dog from bolting outside or lunging at children.

3.  If the Dog Goes Trick Or Treating...  Of course some people like to take their dog trick or treating.  It is important that the dog have a collar and leash.  The collar should have identification tags in case the dog gets away.  Remember the dog might be frightened, confused, or excited, by the events of the night, so only a well trained, and socialized, dog should go out on Halloween.  If the dog is going to be wearing a costume, test it out with the costume prior.  The leash should be reflective, and kept short.  Again, watch the dog so it does not try to eat any dropped candy.

4.  Fireworks.  Many pets get lost in areas due to fireworks shows.  It is best not to take dogs to such shows.  Dogs, and cats, who are left outside in areas where fireworks are being set off have been known to run away having been frightened by the noise.

5.  Candles.  Pumpkins with lit candles should be placed carefully where pets cannot knock them over.

6.  Pet Concerns Prior to Halloween.  All pets are at risk from pranksters prior to October 31, however black cats are particularly at risk.  People have been known to steal black cats and have them at Halloween parties as "decorations", and discard them afterwards.  As such all pets should be supervised in the weeks leading up to this holiday.  People should be especially cautious about giving away "free pets" at this time of year as well.

Other Reading

Advice for Pets Concerned About Halloween
Facts About Halloween (hint it was not about animal sacrifice, or devil worship)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why Does PETA Kill So Many Pets in their Care?

PETA is an animal rights group.  Many people have huge misconceptions about PETA and about animal rights in general.

Among other things, animal rights groups feel that it is against an animal's rights to be owned.  Because so many PETA members do have pets they do not really enforce this "rule" as much as some more extreme animal rights groups do.  Nonetheless it must be understood that animal rights groups do not encourage the ownership of any animal.

Consider the number of pets euthanized in general.  The Humane Society of America has reported roughly 4 million pets as being euthanized in shelters every year.  This number is actually down from several years ago thanks in part to more people spaying or neutering their pets, but is still a high number.

Now consider that the PETA shelter in Virginia euthanizes roughly 2000 pets per year and you can see that this number is just a drop in the bucket compared to the 4 million pets euthanized yearly across the nation.  PETA has said that the pets they get tend to be ones in bad shape, mostly brought to them by impoverished people who cannot afford to euthanize a sick and/or old pet in the first place and are not typically adoptable pets. 

Here is what PETA has to say:
"PETA operates as a “shelter of last resort” for poverty-stricken areas of Virginia and North Carolina. We take in animals who have been chained up outside for their entire lives like old bicycles, animals who have been abused or neglected, and animals whose owners—many of whom can’t afford to pay for euthanasia at a veterinarian’s office—come to us for help." As a Virginia official speaking of PETA’s statistics told USA Today, “PETA will basically take anything that comes through the door, and other shelters won’t do that.”
That “2,000” figure doesn’t include the adoptable animals we transferred to big family-friendly, open-admission shelters that offer animals the best chance at finding a home, and it doesn’t include the dogs and cats we provided with free or low-cost spaying or neutering or other veterinary services to help guardians keep their animals."

Thus it appears that people who dislike PETA, and the animal rights movement in general, might just be forgetting certain facts when they talk about the high volume of pets that PETA euthanized.  Yes, 2000 pets is a lot, but it appears that these pets were ailing in the first place.

It should be noted that shelters across the USA (and in other countries) euthanize perfectly healthy cats and dogs, as well as kittens and pups, all the time, simply because they get so many animals in constantly and have so few adoptions.  Some shelters call themselves "no-kill" but they typically reject pets if they are full, or if they think the pet is not adoptable.
Puppy mill - place that breeds pups for stores.

PETA is well known but not as extreme as some animal rights groups are.  They have a lot of haters, and please note that I am not a member of PETA, I simply dislike it when some people try to discredit a group when the group has done some very good things in the past (for example forcing the release of monkeys being experimented on while alive). 

Ideally if more people adopted pets, and if more people spayed or neutered the pets they have, and if everyone would stop supporting puppy mills and pet stores who sell mill pups, then euthanasia rates of healthy pets would fall, but to get mad at PETA for helping poor people to euthanize their sick and dying pets is unfair.

Friday, July 10, 2015

About Horses Dying During Chuckwagon Races

As of July 12 a total of four horses have died as the result of chuckwagon racing during the Calgary Stampede, including a three year old horse.  I live in Alberta and have many chuckwagon families in the area, but want to tell the full story of chuckwagon racing and the risk to the horses.

I saw many comments to posts on Facebook and most of these comments contained some errors in thinking that I wanted to clear up as well.

First of all chuckwagon races are not really based on cowboy history but were created specifically for entertainment; the first race was held in 1923 at the Calgary Stampede.  In a race the chuckwagons are pulled by four horses, and each chuckwagon racing team also has two outriders (it used to be four outriders) who load the wagon before the driver takes it on a course, the riders then mount their horses and race too.  As such each "team" consists of 3 people and 6 horses.

Since 1986 at least 50 horses have died (or been euthanized) in relationship to the chuckwagon races.
2009 chuckwagon race at the Calgary Stampede

On the Facebook post following the most recent death one of the most common comments was people saying "Horses break legs running in the wild too".  I want to point out that this is true, but there is really no comparison.  In the wild horses rarely run at full speed.  They are more likely to walk, trot, or canter.  They are not forced to run in the situation that they are presented with during any type of race.  Wild horses tend to be extremely surefooted and because they are outside all the time their bone density is much better than most domestic horses, particularly those that are stabled a lot.

I have also seen comments about the fact that the horses are having fun and doing what they were bred to do.  Yes this is true to some extent, but horses at play (having fun) do not race each other as they do when they are being exploited purely for human entertainment.

Another comment was that the media loves it when there are crashes and injuries to horses in chuckwagon races but why don't they also show crashes at Spruce Meadows (a popular show jumping facility also in Calgary).  In truth they do show crashes that occur in show jumping events during the broadcast of that event, but the news rarely covers these crashes because typically no horses are killed (although the crashes can be spectacular to watch).  Show jumping horses suffer fewer injuries because they are not running at full speed, only one horse is on the course at a time, and these horses are not often ridden until they are 4 years of age, as such their legs are not subjected to stress early on.  

As for the care of the chuckwagon horses in general, I will say that most are cared for better than your typical thoroughbred race horse.  Most thoroughbred race horses (in North America) are kept stabled for weeks at a time, with only an hour or two out of their stalls every day, this causes bone density problems which makes a leg break more likely.  Chuckwagon horses are stabled a lot while at the track but most have time outdoors when back at their farms.

Do the owners of chuckwagon horses love their horses?  Yes, probably more so than the owners of most thoroughbred race horses for whom the horse is not really a part of their life in general but something they own to show off and have fun with.  Many thoroughbred race horse owners could not even pick their horse out from a group of horses in the field.  They do not know how to clean a hoof, and do not really have much contact with their horses.  Chuckwagon drivers, on the other hand, are usually actual horsemen that have a passion for equine sport.  To them the horses are part of their lives, but not necessarily "pets". 

In some cases the chuckwagon horses are horses that were rejected from the regular racetrack and would have been sent to slaughter had the chuckwagon drivers not purchased them.

For sure I do feel these races are putting horses at risk, and certainly the risk is greater than they would face in the wild, or if they were just pleasure riding horses.  I think it is ignorant to deny that there is a risk.   Horse racing in general is very risky as it pushes horses to their extremes.  You can decide for yourself if you want to watch these races or not.

Please note as well that when a horse breaks its leg it is not a simple fix.  They can recover but only with a lot of time and high expense, for most owners the expense is just too high for a horse that might not race again. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Risks of Animal By-Products and Ethoxyquin in Pet Food

By-products are waste matter, when we refer to animal by-products we refer to anything that is not "meat".  As such chicken by-products can include beaks, feet, and to a limited extent, feathers.  By-products can also include cancerous tumors, collars, and so forth.  As if this is not bad enough, these by-products are preserved with a chemical pesticide known as Ethoxyquin, a Monsanto product.

Ethoxyquin is not always listed on an ingredients list even when it is in a particular pet food. It is used to preserve “by-products”; it is considered to be part of the by-product and as such many pet foods are not listing Ethoxyquin on the label. Ethoxyquin may also be used to preserve animal fat, and as the manufacturer did not add the Ethoxyquin they do not have to list it; however they will be aware if it is in the fat they used or not, and as such pet foods that list ingredients as Human Grade Ingredients, will not contain Ethoxyquin.

Author's cat walking among the hens.

  What is Ethoxyquin?

Ethoxyquin is a chemical pesticide; in most countries it is not accepted to be used in human foods, in fact it is totally banned on some countries.  It has been shown to cause death in fish, and has been speculated to be linked to health problems in cats and dogs, including liver problems, and cancer.  Just what are the concerns?

In 1997 the United States Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine launched a study. The results were not published nor made public, however the study did result in a request that pet foods reduce the use of Ethoxyquin from 150 parts per million to 75 ppm. (source – Wikipedia) This is 300 times higher than the permitted residue in beef or pork to be consumed by humans. In 1956 an interview took place between Monsanto (makers of Ethoxyquin) and Dr. Lehman of the US FDA, who said if pressed he would have to rule that Ethoxyquin is “harmful and deleterious” and that no amount of retesting could convince him otherwise. This was reported in the January/February issues of Natural Pet Magazine, 1994.

The Chemical Toxicology of Commercial Products lists Ethoxyquin as a 3 on a scale of on a scale of 1 to 6, with 6 being so toxic that fewer than 7 drops would be fatal. They indicate concerns about depression, convulsions, coma, death, skin, or liver damage.

Many sites list Ethoxyquin as a carcinogen, used commonly as a rubber preservative. Wendy Volhard and Kerry Brown, DMV, state in their book “The Holistic Guide to a Healthy Dog” that the addition of Ethoxyquin in dog foods caused a rise in reported incidence of sterility, deformities in pups, periodontal disease, precancerous lesions of the liver, kidney, and bladder, as well as vaccination failure, and an increase in cataracts.

Many North American made cat and dog foods continue to use Ethoxyquin, including Hills Science Diet, Purina, Iams, Royal Canin, Nutro, and Eukanuba (and others). As a cheap preservative Ethoxyquin is usually found in the less expensive cat and dog foods.

Ethoxyquin may also be used in some livestock feeds (but is highly regulated). These animals are typically slaughtered before problems arise from continued eating of this food, but at least one concerned owner, Sibylle Faye, and her veterinarian, had concerns that her lovebird suffered problems and died from the results of eating food preserved with Ethoxyquin, as reported at the bottom of this link.

In livestock feed Ethoxyquin can be used as a grain preservative, but must not be fed for longer than two years. So why is this chemical pesticide allowed in our pets food?  Why is a dangerous chemical pesticide that is banned in human foods, restricted in livestock, allowed in cat and dog food?

Pet owners should always read the ingredient list, and should avoid Ethoxyquin, or anything that could potentially be preserved with Ethoxyquin (by-products in particular and animal fat). Foods should be listed as containing Human Grade Ingredients Only. Vitamin E, (Tocopherols) is a safe, but more expensive preservative used by the better quality pet food companies. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

How to Save Money on Pet Supplies

Everyone wants to save money and pet owners are no different.

If you are a pet owner here are some tips to help you be more frugal, but first I will tell you some things not to cheat on.

Pet Food

Do not buy the cheapest pet food you find.  Typically this pet food is cheap because it contains cheap filler ingredients.  When you feed these pet foods to your pet your pet has to eat more food to get the nutrition it needs.  As such you end up buying more food in the long run than if your pet was on a good quality pet food.  Additionally eating all that junk can cause health problems in your pet, such as diabetes.  Cheap filler ingredients include corn, wheat, and by-products (beaks, feet, feathers).

Dog owners can save some money on dog food by feeding the dog human left overs (not table scraps), such as unfinished vegetables (not avocado or onions) and so forth.  Some people will even go so far as to actually cook for their dog.  This can save money too if done correctly.

Buy Used Pet Supplies

Some pet supplies can be purchased used, at garage sales and such.  These should be washed well.  Never buy plastic bowls used, in fact plastic bowls should not be used in general, but if you can find stainless steel bowls or ceramic bowls, those are ideal.  To be fair stainless steel bowls are not expensive new either.

Cat litter boxes can be purchased used, wash them with a bleach water solution and allow them to air dry.

Dog houses can be purchased used, however wooden dog houses cannot be sterilized so parvo may be a concern.

Carriers and crates can be purchased used, check them for cracks, and make sure all the pieces are there.  Wash with a bleach water solution and air dry.

Bird cages can sometimes also be purchased used.  

Saving Money on Other Pet Supplies

Owners of rabbits and other small caged pets can save money on bedding by purchasing shavings (aspen is best, pine is okay, but never buy cedar) in large bags.

A bale of grass hay can be purchased from a farmer for less than a much smaller bag of loose hay can be bought at a pet store.  Really all you need to buy from a farmer is a few flakes of hay.

Large bags of rabbit food can be purchased at a livestock feed store.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lucy the Elephant in Edmonton

I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta.  The winters are very cold.  Temperatures get below freezing for weeks on end, and there is snow to contend with.  It sucks, but it must suck even more for Lucy, who is an Asian Elephant. 

Lucy had been orphaned in 1975 and was purchased in 1977 when she was just two years old and brought to the Edmonton Valley Zoo, which was known as Storyland Valley Zoo back in its early days.

Lucy has lived alone and the zoo claims she is not a social elephant and prefers to be alone rather than with other elephants.   I am not sure how they would determine that as she really has not been tested with other elephants.

 I have visited the zoo a few times and mostly would observe Lucy standing in her rather small and boring enclosure, however on my last visit we saw her walking around.  This was the first time I have ever seen this but apparently she goes for daily walks.  The handlers told me that they more or less allowed her to go on her own.  They did say that in the winter they have a spot where they can stop so she can take a break and warm up but did not say she hated the cold.  Her large size would help her stay warm, but I am not sure if they put a blanket on her back in the winter or not.

The Calgary zoo, which is further south in Alberta, decided to send their elephants to warmer climates and many are calling for Edmonton to do the same.

Personally I do not know what to think.  I am not an expert on judging if an elephant is happy or not.  I cannot tell if she is happy as an only elephant or not.  I do not know if she likes her daily walks, even in the winter. 

I do know that the staff at the Edmonton Valley Zoo do their best to care for Lucy.  She has arthritis, possibly related to a deformity she was born with, and has some breathing problems when stressed.  In fact this problem is one of the reasons why some people insist she should not be moved, they say the stress will be too hard on her.

As such, while there are many petitions to move Lucy to a warmer climate I am not really sure what is best for her.

I will say, however, that this is a fine example of why we need to stop taking animals from their natural homes and bringing them to other places just for our entertainment.

Other reading on Lucy

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Alberta is Banning Certain Frogs as Pets

Does government always know what they are doing?  In the case of a recent ban that is to begin April 30, 2015, pet owners tend to disagree with the government's decision. 

The Alberta government decided to ban the ownership of all all poison dart frogs of the family Dendrobatidae and Family Aromobatidae.  Although the name suggests these frogs are poisonous, pet owners have known for years that the captive frogs are not toxic.  Although some species are toxic in the wild, only a few produce enough toxin to be a danger, and they lose their toxins when kept as pets (likely due to the different diet which would not include toxic insects).

The government seems to think these dart frogs are dangerous to their owners, but owners of such species do not handle their pets.  Mostly the frogs are kept in vivariums in a way not much different than how aquarium enthusiasts keep pet fish; they are for display only, not cuddling. 

There is no risk of these frogs being released into the wild.  Firstly they are too expensive for an owner to consider releasing unwanted "pets" and secondly they would not survive if they were released. 

One of the biggest concerns for pet owners is that there are no "grandfather" clauses, meaning that current owners are being told to get rid of their pets prior to April 30, 2015. 

photo source
What are current dart frog owners supposed to do with their frogs?

Current owners of poison dart frogs are being told to "get rid of them"; either to take them out of province, or to sell/give them to a licensed facility, such as a zoo.  This does not make current frog owners happy as many have hundreds of dollars invested in their pets.

A petition?

Anyone who is against this law should sign this petition.  They can also make phone calls to law makers in their area.

What next?

One of the reasons why even non-dart frog owners should get involved is due to concerns about "What is next?"  Granted there are some good reasons why some exotic pets, such as rats, have been made illegal, the worry is to what end will it go, what animal will be banned next.  Had some sort of grandfathering clause been included I am certain people would not be so irate, and at the very least this needs to be amended. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Most Beautiful and Strange Animals in the World

When I was a child my father was an ichthyologist; he studied fish.  We would visit aquariums often and loved poking around in tidal pools when we went near the ocean (which was not often as we lived in Alberta).  We got to know about many fascinating water creatures, not all of which were fish. 

Of all of the creatures in the water, some of the most beautiful, and mesmerizing, are nudibranchs.  Say "nude a branks".  They are mollusks that lose their shell when they mature.  They are sometimes incorrectly called sea slugs.  They are mostly found on the ocean floor, but are found all over the world, in the shallows, in the depths, in warm water, and in cold. 

Without shells to protect them nudibranchs may use their colors to blend in and match the surrounding corals, or to serve as a warning for potential predators.  Some are toxic, but not all are.  Their name means "naked gill".

Nudibranchs are carnivores, mostly consuming sponges (which are living animals), however some will eat other nudibranchs. 

"Glossodoris atromarginata" by Chika Watanabe from Los Altos, USA - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Spanish Shawl nudibranch via Wikimedia Commons

Ceratosoma tenue from Lembeh Straits, Indonesia (and shrimp) via Wikimedia Commons

There are roughly 2,500 known species of nudibranchs, and probably hundreds more undiscovered ones.

Nudibranchs are typically slow moving creatures that just travel along the bottom, but when they move through the water they move with a delicate ribbon like motion that is beautiful to watch.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What Lilies Are Toxic To Cats?

Many types of lily, including the Easter Lily, are very dangerous to pets but not because of the reasons you may think.  When most people think of toxic plants they worry that their pet might eat the plant, but most pets are smart enough not to intentionally eat a poisonous plant.  Nonetheless it is not unheard of for cats, and sometimes dogs, to die of poisoning because of lilies even though they never eat the plant itself.

Cats are carnivores and usually do not eat plants. On occasion a cat might eat grass because it instinctively knows that grass will make it vomit. Cats sometimes chew grass if they have an upset stomach, worms, or hairball they are trying to bring up. It is rare that a cat will chew on any other garden plants and as such there is very little risk of them being poisoned from any other plant than certain species of lily. 


Lilies are really the biggest risk to cats. The risk is not of the cat eating the plant, but of the cat walking near the plant, or brushing up against it. While the entire lily is poisonous to cats, the risk is the pollen. Cats generally wont eat lilies, but if they have pollen fall on their fur they will ingest it while grooming, and as such will consume the toxic pollen in that manner.

Symptoms of Lily Poisoning (cats may have all or some symptoms):
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Refusing to eat
  • Breathing problems
  • Paws and/or face swell
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Kidney problems; renal failure
  • Death
All lilies are toxic but the worst are the Tiger lily and the Easter lily, others include the day lily, stargazer lily, Rubrum Lily, Japanese Show Lily, and Asiatic lilies. Their toxic pollen is also a concern if the flowers are cut and brought indoors

What to do if Your Cat has Ingested Lily Pollen

Chances are you won’t know your cat has ingested lily pollen until symptoms show up. By that time it is urgent you get your cat to the veterinarian. The vet will work to reduce the toxic effects of the lily pollen, often by forcing the cat to eat activated charcoal, and by putting the cat on an IV to aid its kidneys. Note that kidney failure is often the main cause of death for cats that have ingested lily pollen.

If you happen to catch your cat immediately after ingesting lily pollen (such as if our notice your kitten chewing on the lily flower as playful kittens may be apt to do) you should call your veterinarian immediately in regards to inducing vomiting and the kitten should be taken to the veterinarian to reverse any ill affects from what poison may have gotten in its system.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Where to Find Exotic Pets For Sale for Cheap

Exotic pets are sometimes available for cheap, or even for free, if you know where to look.  Sometimes they even come with a free cage and/or supplies.  An exotic pet is any pet other than a cat, dog, fish, or livestock.   Birds are also often considered as exotic pets too.  As such an exotic pet may be anything from a hamster to a wolf.  Clearly it will be easier to find a free hamster than a free pet wolf.

Some exotic pets are far easier to find than others and are often available for free.  If you use Facebook look for a local "group" as somebody may be giving away a pet there, or selling it for a low price.  In Canada the website kijiji is well known for hosting ads for pets for sale, and Craigslist is another place to look too.  Check the bulletin boards at local stores, veterinarian offices, and livestock feed stores in particular. 

Our pet Reeve's Turtle

Pet stores rarely give animals away for free, or sell them cheap.  Pet stores are in the business of making a profit so if they have a cheap (or free) pet it is possibly unhealthy, or one they need to get rid of quick for some reason or another.

Animal shelters, on the other hand, typically have exotic pets for adoption at a price far lower than you would find the same animal available for in a pet store.  In some cases these animals were surrendered to the shelter with their cage and supplies and as such the shelter may give these away free with the pet adoption.  Many animal shelters (SPCA, Humane Society, etc.) list some of their adoptable pets online but you should also check the shelter themselves to see what they have for adoption.

In some areas (such as where I am in Alberta) there are livestock auction markets that hold odd and unusual livestock and pet auctions in the spring and fall.

Before you get any exotic pet make sure you understand the proper care requirements for that animal.  Make sure you can provide the right kind of environment and food.  Make sure you can pay for any medical needs (ask your vet if they care for exotic pets). 

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Why Do Some Animal Shelters Make it So Hard to Adopt a Pet

Many potential pet adopters complain about the steps they have to take when adopting a pet.  They fail to understand why animal shelters require so many steps.  Some people will go so far as to say "Why don't animal shelters just give the pets away for free to anyone?"

The number one goal of an animal shelter is to make sure pets go to good homes; ideally "forever" homes.  If they did not require people to go through an application and screening process many of the pets adopted out would not find good homes.  Even with everything in place there is no guarantee that a pet will find a good forever home.

Sometimes people come to an animal shelter on a whim or with limited information in regards to the pet they want to adopt. The animal shelter asks questions so they can offer tips and advice and perhaps steer the people in a better direction in terms of what pet to get.  As such if a person comes to adopt a dog, for example, the animal shelter uses the screening process to make sure the people are aware of just how much exercise, grooming, training, and so forth, that a particular dog needs in terms of making sure the dog is suitable for the people. 

Dog and owner at park, photo by author
 When people get the wrong pet for their lifestyle they become frustrated with it, and the pet suffers.  Sometimes it is abused, and often it is returned to the shelter.  Any time a pet is returned to the shelter it is stressed.

Additionally animal shelters screen people to make sure they can own a pet.  Some people rent properties where pets are not allowed, if caught the pet can be confiscated.   Some people do not have fenced yards and in some areas it is illegal to keep dogs on chains so the animal shelter must make sure the dogs only go to responsible, prepared, homes.

Animal shelters have questionnaires and contracts because they are adopting pets out, not unlike when human children are adopted out.  Animal shelters do not sell pets, they actually care about who gets the pet and they care about that pet's life after it leaves the shelter.

If you are looking for a new pet, be it a cat, dog, bird, or other exotic pet, always check your local animal shelter first.  The adoption process can take an hour, or more, by the time you select your pet, apply, and complete the adoption process, so you should go early in the day.