The 3 Stages of Your Senior Cat’s Life, and What to Expect of Each

 

By Dr. Becker

By the time your cat reaches the age of 10, she’s officially a feline senior citizen. The good news is that many cats today are living into their late teens and even early 20s. With the proper care, a kitty in good health at 10 can easily live another 8, 10, or even 12 years.

So there’s no need to panic if your purr-y companion is getting older, but it IS time to start taking some steps to insure your pet stays as happy and healthy as possible throughout her senior and geriatric years.

But first, let’s take a look at how cats show signs of aging and what you can expect as your kitty gets older.

What to Expect at 10 to 12 Years

By the time most kitties turn 10, they have slowed down a little (or a lot, depending on how high-energy they were as youngsters). You might notice your cat isn’t jumping up on high surfaces as much anymore, or isn’t climbing to the uppermost spot on the cat tree.

And while all cats, regardless of age, do best with a consistent daily routine, older cats can become especially stressed when presented with anything new or different in their environment.

You might also notice your kitty doesn’t always run right out to greet you when you get home. He may not initiate play as often as he once did, and he may take more naps.  

Many cats also become more vocal as they age, and more fearful of strange or loud noises and unfamiliar people.

Older cats can also suffer from many of the same health challenges older humans face, including arthritis, diabetes, thyroid problems, and kidney disease, so it’s really important to bring your cat for twice-yearly wellness visits with your veterinarian. The sooner a change in your kitty’s health is identified and addressed, the easier it will be to resolve or manage the problem.

At veterinary visits, be sure to mention any and all behavior changes you’ve noticed in your cat, no matter how minor, as these can provide important clues about health problems that may be brewing under the surface. It’s also important you and your vet keep regular tabs on your cat’s weight, to assure she isn’t gaining or shrinking over time.

What to Expect at 13 to 15 Years

From 13 to 15 years of age, not only are most cats moving quite a bit slower than they once did, many are also experiencing at least some loss of vision and hearing. They may also have less tolerance for cold temperatures.

Elderly cats can develop age-related dementia, making small changes in their environment or routine increasingly stressful. Some older kitties are also easily confused.

Along with more napping and less activity, your senior cat may grow a bit cranky and easily irritated. If your household includes young children or a rambunctious dog, everyone will need to learn to approach kitty in a quiet, non-aggressive manner. And if yours is a multi-pet household, it’s important not to allow your aging cat to be bullied by younger pets who may sense a change in the natural pecking order.

You may also notice that your cat prefers to spend more time alone these days. You can enhance his feelings of safety and security by making his favorite hideout a warm, comfy little spot he can retreat to whenever he likes. But keep in mind that senior cats still need to interact with their humans regularly, so set aside some time each day to spend with your pet. You can engage him in gentle play, an ear scratching session, or some brushing or combing.

As I mentioned earlier, your cat is now at the age where twice-yearly veterinary checkups are essential in order to safeguard his health. Your vet will perform a geriatric workup, including a physical exam and blood, urine, and stool sample tests. The results of these tests will provide a snapshot of how well your cat’s organs are functioning, and point to any potential problems.

Your vet will also check the condition of your kitty’s coat and skin, his footpads and nails, and his teeth and gums.

What to Expect at 16 Years and Older

If you’re lucky enough to share your life with a cat of 16 or more, first of all, congratulations! Either you’ve done a bang-up job raising your kitty to a ripe old age, or you’ve opened your heart to an elderly cat in need of a loving home in her final years. Regardless, you did good!

As a point of reference, you can reasonably compare your cat at 16 to an 80-year-old human. She’s moving and thinking more slowly these days, and she may have an assortment of age-related health challenges. She’s probably not as alert or responsive as she once was, and at times she may seem quite confused.

Even if she’s still in good health, chances are she’s sleeping and vocalizing more, and interacting with family members less. She may not be as perfectly groomed as she was in her younger years, and even the most well-mannered geriatric cat may occasionally forget to use her litter box.

As long as your cat is seeing the vet at least twice a year for checkups, and between visits you’re keeping an eye out for significant or sudden behavior or health changes, there’s no reason to be alarmed. Try not to hover, as your cat is still a cat and prefers attention on her own terms. Do make every effort to keep her comfortable, secure and relaxed by maintaining a consistent daily routine and providing her with a quiet, cozy hideaway equipped with comfy bedding and a familiar toy or two.

At your regular vet visits, you’ll want to mention any changes you’ve noticed in your pet, including increased or decreased appetite or water consumption, constipation or incontinence, aggressive behavior, or mental confusion. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for signs that your cat is in pain, which can include hiding, teeth grinding, panting, shortness of breath, loss of interest in food, or reluctance to move around.

10 Tips for Helping Your Senior Cat Sail Through Old Age

1.    Feed a balanced, antioxidant rich species-appropriate diet. Your kitty’s diet should include omega-3 essential fats, such as krill oil. Moisture is an aging cat’s best friend, so encourage adequate hydration by offering a variety of water bowls around the house or a drinking fountain, in addition to minimizing dry food. If your cat is addicted to terrible food, adding a whole body supplement, such as Feline Whole Body Support is a good idea.

2.    Keep your pet’s body and mind active with regular exercise appropriate for your cat’s age and physical condition, and mental stimulation (puzzles and treat-release toys can be beneficial). Think of creative ways to enrich your cat’s indoor environment and if your kitty never touches the earth’s surface directly (most housecats don’t), consider a grounding pad to help reduce the buildup of EMFs.

3.    Provide your kitty with a SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) supplement as a safe and effective way to stall or improve mental decline, improve mobility, as well as assist in liver detoxification. Consult your holistic veterinarian for the right dose size. Periodic detoxification with the herbs milk thistle and dandelion can also be very beneficial, as can providing super green foods in the form of fresh “cat grass” to nibble on. Chlorophyll, chlorella, or spirulina can also be offered in supplement form to enhance your cat’s detoxification processes.

4.    Medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) have been shown to be safe for cats and can improve brain energy metabolism and decrease the amyloid protein buildup that results in brain lesions in older pets. Coconut oil is a rich source of MCTs and may also reduce hairball issues. I recommend 1/4 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight twice daily for basic MCT support, if your cat will voluntarily eat it.

5.    For aging kitties who prowl the house all night and vocalize, consider low dose melatonin, which is not only a sedative with a calming effect, but also an antioxidant. I also use Rhodiola, chamomile, and l-theanine with good results.

6.    If your cat seems disoriented, consider limiting her access to certain parts of the house. Keep doors closed so she can’t wander into a closet or any place where she might be unable to get herself out.

7.    Set aside time each day to interact with your kitty. Make sure meals are provided on a consistent schedule, along with playtime and petting/lap time. If your cat tolerates being brushed or combed, work that into the daily schedule as well, to help her with grooming chores. Trimming hair around her perineal area reduces her grooming chores and is usually much appreciated by retired cats.

8.    If your cat has turned into a midnight prowler, if possible, try gently waking him up from naps during the day. The more active you can keep him during daylight hours, the more likely he’ll be to sleep on your schedule.

9.    Sometimes all a vocalizing cat needs to quiet down is to hear his owner’s voice, so try calling your kitty’s name when he starts to vocalize from another room or in the middle of the night. If that doesn’t do the trick and the nighttime crying is really a problem for you, consider earplugs. Flower essences and homeopathics (such as low potency Belladonna) may also reduce yowling.

10. If eliminating outside the litter box is an issue, try putting additional boxes around the house. Also insure it’s comfortable for your cat to get into and out of the box. Cats are very adept at hiding arthritis and other aches and pains, which can limit their ability to climb into high-sided boxes, or boxes kept in bathtubs or up a flight of stairs, for example.

As you can see taking care of a senior cat can be challenging but they are well worth it.  If you wonder if you are doing something incorrectly or need help knowing what may be bothering them please contact me, Diane Weinmann, animal communicator and holistic healer at dianefortheloveofanimals@yahoo.com

 

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The EYES have it!

by Joshua Corn

Is Your Dog or Cat’s Vision Deteriorating? Most Likely YES!

It’s often said that eyes are the window to the soul, and your pet’s eyes are certainly no exception.

Maintaining healthy vision is vital for the well-being of dogs and cats as they age. Our pets use their eyes to communicate with us, and to navigate the world around them.

Did you know that your pet relies on their eyes to communicate with you? That’s right, the results of a new study found that dogs especially rely on establishing eye contact with you in order to communicate.[4]

Vision Loss Is Your Pet’s Worst Enemy, Too

Dogs and cats, like us humans, experience eye changes as they age, such as retinal and lens functional decline, hardening and clouding of the lens, and accumulated oxidative damage due to environmental factors (like UV radiation from the sun).[1,2]

Along with the many external factors that can speed up deterioration, genetics play a large role in your pet’s eye health, too. And unfortunately, many breeds have predispositions to certain eye conditions (more on that later).[3]

So if you want to take one big step toward helping your beloved furry friend stay healthy and active for years to come, then please don’t ignore the problem of vision loss.

So it’s critical you take special care of your pet’s eyes over the years and look out for any signs of trouble. As a loving pet owner, be sure to watch out for these symptoms:[3]

Signs Your Pet’s Eye Health is in Danger

  •  Squinting
  •  Eye drainage
  •  Rubbing of eyes
  •  Swelling around eyes
  •  Visible third eyelid
  •  Reduced playfulness
  •  Change in eye color
  •  Cloudy eyes
  •  Unequal pupil size
  • Eye redness

These all-too-prevalent signs can be indicators of…

Common Eye Problems in Aging Pets

Any changes in your pet’s eyes, or behaviors that signify ocular irritations, need to be examined as soon as possible, because they can indicate a severe underlying problem.

Widespread vision ailments in pets include:

Retinal Issues: A leading cause of abrupt vision loss in dogs, retinal problems plague thousands of dogs per year.[5,6] These alarming issues typically go unnoticed by pet owners due to their slow development — it can take months for visual lesions or warnings of vision deterioration to become apparent. And then, blindness can suddenly ensue. Retinal problems have infected many different breeds (including felines), and are more common in middle-aged dogs.[7]

Increased Eye Pressure: This common issue is marked by an increase in pressure in the eye leading to blindness, and it can be highly painful for your dog or cat. Certain dog breeds are innately predisposed to the problem including Cocker Spaniels, Beagles and Jack Russell Terriers, but an increase in eye pressure can also result from inflammation, trauma, tumors, oxidative stress and more. Unfortunately, in most cases, it can go undetected until it’s too late.[7,8]

Lens Issues: Classified as opacities of the lens, these can decrease vision, cause inflammation in the eye, and even result in blindness.[9] Lens issues are common in dogs, and many breeds are genetically predisposed to them including Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Golden and Labrador Retrievers, Huskies and terriers. Additional causes of these problems include blood sugar imbalances, trauma and inflammation.[7,10]

Dry Eye: This all-too-common health issue is the result of inadequate tear production. It is prevalent in various dog breeds including Cocker Spaniels, Bulldogs, Shih Tzus, Schnauzers and West Highland White Terriers (“Westies”). When left untreated, prolonged eye dryness can severely disrupt the cornea and ultimately result in impaired eyesight.[7]

With the alarming abundance of hidden vision traumas in pets, it’s important to remember that it’s never too early to start caring for your pet’s eye health.

 

Does My Senior Horse Need Calories or Protein?

Does My Senior Horse Need Calories or Protein?

Posted on August 19, 2014 by Roy J. for Nutrena

 

There are some common questions come up when we talk about what happens to horses as they age and why their bodies change shape:

§  Does my good old horse need more calories (energy) or more protein?

§  He is out on good pasture and is holding his weight, but his hair coat looks dull and he has lost muscle mass.

§  She looks a little thin, should I add some fat/oil to her diet?

These are all apparently simple questions, but actually we need to look at the nutrient supply and purpose a little closer.

Calories from fat/oil, digestible fiber (structural carbohydrates and starch & sugar (non-structural carbohydrates) are the key energy sources for horses. If a horse is thin, that tells us that the horse needs more Calories to maintain fat cover measured by Body Condition Score system. Those Calories can be added from extra fat/oil, extra digestible fiber or additional starch and sugar. Vegetable oil contains 2.25 x the Calories per pound of carbohydrates and is a safe way to add Calories. Switching to a highly digestible fiber source (better quality forage, added beet pulp etc.) can also add Calories of digestible energy (DE). It takes 2-3+ pounds of added feed to add 1 pound of gain, depending on the feed.

Adding Calories alone will not bring back the muscle mass. This will require added protein (really added essential amino acids, particularly lysine, methionine and threonine, the first 3 limiting essential amino acids). If a horse is getting adequate crude protein, but the protein is of limited quality and is low in one or more essential amino acids, the horse will not be able to utilize it fully to maintain or restore muscle mass. This is why it is essential to know the quality of the protein in feeds, particularly these first 3 limiting amino acids.

A common situation is an old horse retired to a grass pasture. It may be difficult for the horse to consume enough to maintain body condition, thus the horse loses weight. The grass pasture may also be low in crude protein and certainly low in essential amino acids, so the horse also loses muscle mass. Tough combination for an old friend!

The good news is that this can be reversed with the use of a well-designed senior horse feed providing both Calories and essential amino acids!

 

Using essential oils in accordance with Chinese medicine

Using essential oils in accordance with Chinese medicine

By Cynthia Lankenau, DVM, CVA, CVCHM, RH (AHG) | June 8, 2015

 

Many diseases result from habituations that create chronicity. Essential oils are among the modalities that can change habituations. Sensations create our perception and oils can change our perception.

Essential oils represent the genetic unfolding of the plant – the Jing, the essence of the plant. They therefore have potential effects on physical developmental problems as well as the mental and spiritual development of an individual. The plant’s Jing will resonate with the body’s Jing. As a result, a vast degree of possible healing can occur when essential oils are applied to acupuncture meridians such as the Eight Extraordinary channels, Yuan-source points, or Mu-points.

Dr. Jeffrey Yuen first began using essential oils in his pediatric practice, since children often fear needles and do not want to eat/drink Chinese herbs. This is also often the case with animals.

It is important to use oils on yourself so you can personally experience their effects. The aromas can induce fi ve different states that can influence and affect an individual, and transform one emotion into another e.g. fear into acceptance.

The five states are:

1.    Healing relaxation – resins like Frankincense and myrrh can create this state.

2.    Assistance with non-healing wounds.

3.    A sense of internal beauty, help with self-esteem and lifting of the spirit – fl oral oils such as carnation can create this emotional state in which a patient learns to love.

4.    Nobility – it’s enhanced when one is able to embrace both the bad and the good and still see the beauty or the worth in any situation. Sage is an example of an oil to use for this purpose.

5.    A solitary state without distraction – some aromas such as sandalwood, vetiver and spikenard root can encourage this. An oil with a light intensity, like citrus, will affect the moods very quickly. Moderately intense aromas will affect the emotions, while a strongly intense aroma can affect temperament.

OIL QUALITY IS CRITICAL

The preparation of essential oils varies and some should never be used on animals.

1.    Absolutes have been extracted using chemicals, so should never be used on animals, either topically or internally.

2.    You should always use medicinal quality oils; these are safe if ingested.

3.    Hydrosols can be used in place of essential oils to avoid toxicity issues, although they may be less effective.

MECHANISMS OF ACTION

There are many theories around how essential oils work. For example, the chemotype theory is based on the pharmacology of the chemical components found in essential oils. Clinical results points to the efficacy of the oils, and testing has been done to fi nd out which organs are predominantly affected by which oils. For example, rosemary oil is associated with the liver.

Most oils contain monoterpenes, which are antiseptic and antibacterial. These are used to stimulate acupuncture points and tend to irritate the skin. An example would be using lemon on St 26 to stimulate the Wei Qi, the defensive immune system, for any immune
deficiency or imbalance.

Other oils contain sesquiterpenes, which are antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-viral, and soothing to the skin. They are more cooling and nourishing. An example would be using chamomile to help with sleep.

Additional characteristics are also attached to other groups of oils:

• Alcohol groups tend to be strongly antibacterial, anti-viral, and anti-infl ammatory. E.g. lavender.

• Ketone groups break up fat (lipolytic) and phlegm (mucolytic) and help regulate fl uid metabolism – e.g. Phase 1 (garlic) and Phase 2 (rosemary) conjugation in liver detoxifi cation.

• Ester groups are analgesic and regulate pain as well as, if not better than, NSAIDs.

• Phenol groups break up lymphatic congestion and stimulate WBCs (e.g. cinnamon bark). If a goiter is present, bay laurel could help. Caution must be used with cats if the phenol group eugenol is used, due to its hepatotoxic effects.

HIGH, MIDDLE AND BASE NOTES

Chinese medicine classifies essential oils based on criteria similar to the classifi cation of Chinese herbs – i.e. via the law of signatures, five elemental associations, nature or temperature, taste, aroma, relationship to neighboring plants and channel (or meridian) affiliation. An additional feature for oils is the “notes”.

1. High notes (top notes) are oils that evaporate rapidly, often in a few hours. They influence the Wei Qi (defensive immune system or external) level and include the citruses (safest – mandarin orange, tangerine, clementine), mints, peppermint, wintergreen (toxic to animals) and eucalyptus. These oils are primarily used for acute conditions. They awaken the senses, serving as the first invitation for a patient to change. The safer hydrosols usually act as top notes. Peppermint can be thought of as the “rescue remedy” of essential oils.

2. The middle notes have a duration of five to seven hours and are used for more sub-acute problems that tend to be in the Ying level, which affects the plasma in the blood, or the internal level. They are useful for circulatory issues (movement of Qi moving blood), to regulate digestion (both assimilation and elimination) and for cognitive function (digesting and assimilating the information around us, and eliminating that which is not needed).

The oils at this level tend to be spices – fennel, dill, caraway, rosemary, parsley and oregano (the safest are seeds of caraway, coriander/cilantro). Also included are fl oral oils like chamomile, ylang ylang, geranium and lavender – safest are naroli/orange blossom, rose (absolute) lavender, German or Roman chamomile. Grass seeds like lemon grass, as well as melaluca (tea tree oil) are also part of this group. Lavender is also often used as a “rescue remedy” of sorts, but the initial burst is more subtle and it will have a longer effect than peppermint.

3. The base notes evaporate in 24 to 48 hours, and are therefore effective for chronic, constitutional issues at the Yuan level (which can influence genetic tendencies). They include the resins, like frankincense, myrrh and sandal wood; precious fl orals, like rose and jasmine; roots like spikenard and vetiver; and wood oils. When making a therapeutic blend for a patient, an essential oil is often chosen from each note level. The top note is used to awaken the senses and is often the first one to be smelled. The middle notes are often used as harmonizers and modifiers for the formula, and the base notes are used as fixatives. In an acute situation, a blend can be made using all top notes, but know that there is always is a deeper constitutional susceptibility, and a more balanced blend is usually needed to support and address this constitutional issue.

For example, if you have a dog with an autoimmune joint disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, you could use a top note of peppermint to help with his ability to rest during any acute situations; a middle note of thyme or gerianol to help clear the heat of the latent infection; and a base note of sandalwood to help treat the fascial pain.

USE AND APPLICATIONS

There are three ways to use essential oils:

1.    Topical application for bodywork and cranial-sacral work.

2.    Topical application on acupuncture points for point stimulation, or on discrete areas of the body. Topical application depends on the humors you want to affect –lymphatics, blood or nerves – and the regions you want to influence. Massaging the ears with oils can have an effect on the nervous system. Massaging the paws will have an effect on the circulation of blood.

3.    Medical grade essential oils can be given orally in a one- or two-drop dose. (Remember that cats are sensitive to the eugenols of the phenol group.)

While essential oils have long been popular for healing in people and animals, integrating their effects into a Chinese medicine approach gives you an even more powerful healing modality to explore. More than merely treating animal’s ailments, essential oils are excellent for treating the home environment – people, living space and animals.


 

Due to their concentrated strength, essential oils need to be diluted in another oil before any topical application.

Hazelnut oil can penetrate the epidermis and fi nd its way into the dermis; it’s astringent and good for oily skin in any animal, including humans.

Macadamia oil is an appropriate carrier for dry or aged skin.

Almond oil is energetically absorbed through the skin very quickly; it’s high in antioxidants, vitamins E and B, and is very protective and nourishing for the skin.

Olive oil is green and very heavy; it has a descending effect on the body, so it’s very good for hyperacidity in any animal. It’s also good for heart conditions and promotes drainage of stagnation in the blood. It nourishes the blood and can be used in cases of anemia.

Sunflower oil opens the Heart and the Zhong Qi, is very good for respiratory conditions and cardiovascular conditions, resonates with CV 17 and stimulates Wei energy, and is very high in antioxidants, especially vitamin E.

Safflower oil is similar to sunflower but resonates more with the chest for cardiovascular
issues; it promotes blood circulation and is good for blood stagnation.

Coconut and palm oils are very high in amino acids. They resonate with our Jing (essence).
They help with constitution and neurologic issues, and whenever there is a problem with
the curious vessels, bowels, brain, spine, genitals, bones and marrow (they would be good
for arthritic conditions).

Sweet almond and grape seed oils help with functional imbalances and Ying/Qi functions,
and have a humeral effect.

Not recommended: Peanut oil, due to potential toxins; and soy oil because of its high
susceptibility to oxidation (plus it is usually GMO).

 

Senior Horse Care Tips

Nutrena Posted on August 25, 2015 by Megan C. comments by Diane Weinmann

 

These days, horses are living longer, more productive lives than ever before.  Thanks to advances in care, medicine, nutrition and veterinary practices, it’s not unusual to find a horse active into their thirties.  But with more active years comes the need to provide accommodations which meet the special needs of the aging equine.

Turn-out and Exercise

Moving is a key factor in keeping your senior comfortable.  Not only does moving about help with preserving muscle mass, motion also aids in digestion, reducing inflammation and increasing circulation.  Daily turnout is a great way to provide this opportunity, as is regular exercise.  Some ideas to exercise include light schooling, trail rides, driving or hand walking.  Whether in a pasture or dry lot, daily turnout and frequent exercise of your senior horse will go a long way in providing a happy, healthy retirement. Plus it’s more time to spend with your aging friend.

 

Dentition

As horses age, their teeth change due to wear.  Hopefully your senior horse has had the advantage of regular dental care in their earlier years, setting them up for success later in life.  Regular dental checks and floats not only help to maintain good dental health, it also provides your senior with the best chance at chewing and digesting their feed and forage.

Forage and alternative options

With the change in teeth comes some accommodation to forage.  Though aged, the equine senior still requires fiber as the main source of energy. Changes in dental efficacy as well as digestive system changes means the importance of good quality fiber is even higher.  If high quality hay (more leafy, less stems) is not readily available, hay cubes are a good alternate source of easy to chew fiber.  If needed, hay cubes can be soaked, providing an easy to chew fiber source.

Feed and Mashes

Changes in the digestive efficiency of the senior horses requires some specific nutritional needs.  As the digestive system ages, the ability to digest and absorb nutrients is more of a challenge than in earlier years.  In addition, nutrients are needed in different ratios to support the aging body.  For example, higher levels of quality amino acids are required to maintenance muscle mass in the senior horse.  Feeds that are specially formulated for senior horses provide these higher levels of nutrients in the proper ratio.  Many varieties of senior feeds are considered ‘complete’, in that they contain higher levels of fiber, providing an alternative to forage, thereby making it easier for the senior horse to get the nutrients needed.

Blanketing

You may notice a difference in your horse’s ability to stay warm during cold or wet weather.  Blanketing may be needed to help keep your senior horse warm during inclement weather.  Not only does blanketing help with warmth, your senior horse isn’t spending valuable calories trying to stay warm, burning off energy and their weight.  Blanketing in extreme cold or dampness may help your horse in maintaining a desired body condition.

Senior horse care may require some extra steps and more attention to details, but with the right adjustments, your senior can enjoy productive, happy and healthy golden years.

 

Bunnies are great Pets!

Bunnies are great Pets!

 

By Dr. Becker and comments by Diane Weinmann

What small animal is shy, has luxuriously soft fur and is surprisingly intelligent? One might add that it’s also one of the most popular 4-H project animals, and a wonderful critter for almost any kid — or adult — to enjoy. Those attributes could be true for many potential pets, but it fits the bill for bunnies.

There are many more reasons why a rabbit makes an excellent house pet. When well taken care of, they can live for 5 or even 15 years. They enjoy being around people and are very affectionate, playful, clean and can even be litter trained.  Diane’s experience has been that her bunnies never lived past 10 years and I had one that didn’t live much past 2 years old.  As I was grief stricken at this loss, I was told that many rabbits don’t get past 2 years of age because of heart problems.  This information was given to me by a person who raised them for many years.  Nevertheless, I love bunnies and have had many thru the years.  Most lived at least 8 years and are wonderful pets for younger children to learn how to care for a pet.

But if you’re interested in getting a rabbit as a family pet, it’s always important to take into consideration what’s good for the animal. It’s fun having such a cute and cuddly animal to hold, but knowing what to expect and how to keep your bunny happy and healthy as he gets bigger is crucial.

If you have expectations about what having a bunny (or any other pet) will look like without gathering the facts, you may be disappointed, and that’s one of the leading reasons why so many pets are surrendered back to shelters or just given away.

It’s also why, if you’re a first-time rabbit owner, your lifestyle is an important factor to consider, especially since rabbits tend to be more fragile than dogs and cats. In fact, they’re a whole ’nuther animal! Knowing how a rabbit will fit into your household space and family is important because like any other pet, rabbits have their own foibles, tendencies and personalities.

Things to Consider When Choosing a Rabbit as a Pet

Once you’ve decided that a rabbit would be a great pet for your family (or just you), it may come as a surprise to learn there are about 60 breeds to choose from. Size and color can vary widely, but in the U.S., the Dutch rabbit, usually either black and white or brown and white, is one of the most common. There are also dwarf varieties and the kind with droopy “lop” ears rather than the erect ears you typically think of in regard to rabbits.

Males (bucks) and females are both very tame and sociable, but if you decide on a pair (rabbits are social creatures who tend to be happier if they have a buddy), unless you want to start up a bunny factory (please don’t), you’ll want to adopt a same-sex pair or arrange for well-timed spaying/neutering before they are put together).

Angora rabbits with long fur should be groomed often, and loose hair can be an issue. Again, like many other pets, if they’re not used to having people and especially children around, socializing rabbits gradually, including with other pets, is good for everyone. 

One thing to make sure of beforehand is if someone in your home has an allergy that a rabbit might make worse. While children seem to gravitate toward them, the fragility of rabbits whether they’re small or more mature is something to consider carefully if you have small children in the household. Some rabbits don’t like being picked up, carried around or held closely, and may respond by scratching, and in their struggle to get away, could be dropped.

Rabbits need to be picked up carefully so their back and hind legs aren’t injured. Ask your veterinarian about the best way to handle rabbits, especially large ones. One thing prospective rabbit owners should know is that they love to chew. While some may love the idea of giving their bunny free reign in the house or even the yard, it’s imperative that you keep an eye on them at all times.

Untreated grass and carrots might be fine for Snowball to nibble on, but keep in mind that electrical cords, furniture, indoor and outdoor plants and papers, magazines, books … if it’s on her level, it’s fair game! Instead, keep your rabbit corralled in a known environment for her own safety, and rotate appropriate, non-toxic chew toys.  Diane still has nightgowns with chew holes in them as her bunnies loved to sit on her lap and chest but still felt the need to chew!

What Should You Look for When Choosing Your Forever Bunny?

Speaking of eating, when you bring a pet home, one of the things families with children need to talk about and make clear is who will be responsible for feeding him or her. That’s also true if your new pet is a rabbit. A good diet assures that your bunny will have shiny, lush fur and bright eyes, and that’s what you should look for the first time you go looking for your forever bunny, ideally from a rescue organization near you.

When you take your fluffy bunny home, you should already be prepared for him, with hay ready, and pure, filtered water should be available to her at all times. Although it may take a little longer, you should start litter training your bunny the day you bring her home. My House Rabbit explains:

“Fresh hay should make up the bulk of your rabbit’s diet and needs to be readily available at all times. Adult rabbits can eat timothy, grass, and oat hays, while younger rabbits should be fed alfalfa. Alfalfa should not be given to adult rabbits because of the higher protein and sugar content.

Hay is important for rabbits because it provides the essential fiber needed for good digestive health and it helps wear down a rabbit’s teeth (which continuously grow) for good dental health. Placing hay at one end of a litter box will also encourage the use of the litter box, as rabbits tend to eat hay and poop at the same time.”1

Vegetables are another staple food for rabbits, such as celery, lettuce, bok choy and carrot tops (sparingly). Leafy greens and herbs are a definite prerequisite for rabbits to eat and can include a wide variety, including cilantro, dill, kale (sparingly), broccoli leaves, mustard, collard and dandelion greens. Treats like apples, raspberries, bananas, pineapples and strawberries are enjoyed by many rabbits, but organic is best, and limit the amount because too much sugar for rabbits isn’t good, either.  Diane’s rabbit, Cinnamon, LOVED blueberries and would throw everything out of his bowl to get to those berries or to search for them!  Let’s just say that in the winter months we had many conversations as to why I was not supplying these preferred berries.  Cinnamon didn’t seem to understand the cost of buying out of season!!!

Don’t feed rabbits cabbage or the “trees” of broccoli because they can cause gas. As mentioned, like the veggies you feed your family, look for organic varieties and wash them thoroughly before letting Thumper eat. Fresh pellets are acceptable as a supplement for rabbits’ diet, especially if they’re low in protein and high in fiber, but processed pellets should not be fed as a sole food source.

Rabbits Have Special Needs, Too

There’s also shelter and exercise to think through, in addition to knowing what food is appropriate. Along those lines and according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):

“As its owner, you will ultimately be responsible for your rabbit’s food, shelter, exercise, physical and mental health for the rest of its life. While families should involve their children in caring for a rabbit, youngsters need the help of an adult who is willing, able, and available to supervise the animal’s daily care.

Rabbits are well-known for their ability to produce large numbers of babies. Purchasing and breeding a rabbit for the purpose of allowing children to witness the birth process is not responsible rabbit ownership. If a female rabbit becomes pregnant, it is your responsibility to find good homes for the offspring.”

In regard to rabbit sizes, The Spruce lists several breeds, including dwarf bunnies, which can be as small as 2.5 pounds, and the largest ones (Flemish Giants), which can weigh 16 pounds or more. For comparison purposes, an American fuzzy lop will weigh in at 3.5 to 4 pounds, an American sable might be 7 to 10 pounds, a Flemish Giant 13 pounds and higher and a New Zealand from 9 to 12 pounds.2

Consider Where You’ll Keep Your Rabbit

Many people like the idea of placing their rabbit in an outdoor hutch, but knowledgeable rabbit guardians know that the safest place for their pet is indoors. While wild rabbits are accustomed to temperature extremes, domestic bunnies are not. In addition, rabbits are prey for many animals, so even in a safe outdoor enclosure your pet is vulnerable to predators. Sadly, just the presence of a wild animal nearby can cause so much stress in a rabbit that he may suffer a heart attack and die of fear. The AVMA emphasizes:

“Keeping a rabbit outdoors in a hutch may seem more ‘natural,’ but it can be harmful for the rabbit. An outdoor cage exposes it to weather extremes and predators such as cats, dogs, and foxes. Even if a predator cannot get access to the rabbit, the rabbit could die from the stress of an attempted attack.

Many condominium associations allow their residents to keep rabbits as pets since most no-pet clauses apply only to dogs or cats. However, be sure to consult your association bylaws before you decide to bring a rabbit into your unit.”3

Inside your house, a large cage or an area strewn with newspapers or with a low litter box and food and water bowls will work for your rabbit’s home, but she’ll need plenty of time outside of her cage, in a bunny-proofed area, for exercise and mental well-being.  Don’t  forget the climate control is important as your bunny does not do well in extreme heat and humidity or cold.

Once your bunny settles in, you’ll find she makes a good companion, and needs to have exercise, which gives you a chance to engage and interact with your new fluff ball. He will show how much he appreciates you, and the feeling will be mutual.  Diane was exercising her lop eared bunny using a harness and leash and traffic pulled over in the development to see what type of pet it was…the people thought it was a puppy!  Crazy!!!

 

 

 

Is your Cat Depressed?

by Jessica Vogelsang, DVM and comments by Diane Weinmann

 

You’re probably familiar with Grumpy Cat, the little feline whose frown has made her famous across the internet. You may also be familiar with your own grumpy cat, if you happen to have a particularly temperamental one at home.

 

Cats are known for their diverse, often feisty, personalities; some are anxious, some reserved, others inquisitive. But what does it mean if your cat is acting depressed? Do cats even suffer from depression? Well, yes and no.

 

How is Depression in Cats Defined?

 

Certainly cats can exhibit depressed behavior, but the general consensus is that they do not experience the same emotional changes associated with clinical depression in humans.

 

“In general, depression in humans is considered a multifactorial disease,” says Dr. Lynn Hendrix, the owner of Beloved Pet Mobile Vet in Davis, California and a palliative care expert. Depression can be situational, caused by a stressful situation, or medical, due to chemical imbalances in the brain. The diagnosis is based on self-reported symptoms, says Hendrix, meaning that the symptoms can be expressed verbally to the doctor or psychologist.

 

Those diagnostic criteria are not available to veterinarians. Since  most people  can’t ask cats exactly what they are feeling, whether they’re sad or angry or anxious or joyous, they must rely on the clues that the cat gives us through their behavior and daily activities and make our assessments based on that.  If  you talk with an animal communicator you can find out for sure.

 

“The clinical signs we see tend to be loss of appetite, avoidance behavior, less active, and abnormal behavior, like hissing,” says Hendrix. Some cats may show changes in litterbox usage, while others have disturbed sleep patterns.

 

Other Causes for Symptoms of Depression in Cats

 

Unfortunately, those symptoms are caused by a wide variety of conditions in felines, so getting to the root of the problem usually involves a visit to the veterinarian to rule out other problems. Medical problems such as kidney disease or GI cancer can cause nausea and decreased appetite that mimic depression.

 

According to Hendrix, pain is one of the most underdiagnosed conditions in cats, seniors in particular, and is one of the leading causes of clinical signs of depression. “Most of the time, there is pain or physical disease causing a cat to act ‘depressed’,” she says.

 

In Hendrix’s experience, many pet owners who are dealing with terminally cats are concerned that their cat is experiencing depression, often mirroring their own sadness about a pet’s illness. Hendrix encourages those owners to consider medical causes instead. Often, “it is sick behavior,” she says. “Their terminal illness [is] making them feel sick, nauseous, painful.”

 

As a hospice and palliative care veterinarian, Hendrix is able to address those specific symptoms and help cats feel much more comfortable, even during the end of life process. In some cases, owners who were considering euthanasia actually postponed their decision due to the improvement in their pet’s temperament once proper treatment was instituted. For that reason, she recommends people seek veterinary care for pets exhibiting depressed behavior, as accurate diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve quality of life.

 

The Evaluation Process for Depression in Cats

 

Veterinarians will begin the evaluation by taking a full history of the symptoms and performing a complete physical examination.

 

“Bloodwork, chest x-rays, and abdominal ultrasound may be suggested by your veterinarian,” says Hendrix. Those baseline tests usually provide a good overall look at a pet’s health and organ function. Depending on the results, other tests may be recommended.  Infections, tumors, and inflammatory diseases of the nervous system can result in significant behavioral changes in cats. Changes due solely to stress and anxiety can be difficult to differentiate from medical conditions, so it is often a process of elimination to reach a diagnosis in cats.

 

Again, if the issue is physical in nature these tests will help; however, if the cause of the depression is emotional, you will learn nothing.  At that point you should consult an animal communicator, like Diane Weinmann, to determine how to proceed.

 

Although cats tend to be independent and resilient, they can suffer from anxiety due to changes in routine, feeling threatened, or the addition or loss of family members. Anxiety is, in fact, one of the major behavioral conditions seen by veterinarians. Chronic stress can have an impact on a pet’s emotional, and even physical, health. Self-inflicted hair loss, aggression, or changes in litterbox usage are often traced back to anxiety.

 

Treating the Cat’s Stress Instead of Depression

 

If a stressor can be identified and eliminated, often the symptoms will improve or resolve. A veterinarian, trainer or animal communicator experienced in cat behavior can help with recommendations to make a home environment less stressful to an anxious cat. A cat that feels exposed and doesn’t have a place to hide, for example, may respond to more covered furniture or additional vertical spaces in the house so he or she feels more in control of the environment.

 

Competition in multi-cat households can also cause stress. Depending on the situation, owners may need to add resources in the form of additional litterboxes and food bowls, or even separate cats that are not getting along.

 

As another environmental modification, some cats respond to pheromone diffusers such as Feliway, which can have a calming effect.  Diane has had success with essential oils and bach flower essences to alleviate emotional issues.

 

Using Medication to Treat Stress in Cats

 

For more severe cases, veterinarians can prescribe prescription medications which have been known to help with anxiety in some cats. Trazodone, gabapentin, alprazolam, and midazolam are just some of the options that a veterinarian may recommend, depending on the situation.

 

Regardless of the cause, a cat showing signs of depression can benefit greatly from a prompt evaluation by a veterinarian. If we resist applying the human definitions of mood disorders to our feline friends and instead evaluate them strictly from a cat-friendly perspective, there is often much we can do to make our beloved kitties happier and healthier!  If the issue doesn’t seem to be physical—call an animal communicator (like Diane Weinmann-  www.theloveofanimals.com)