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Great News for People with Cat Allergies

From resident blogger Joy: When I was five years old, we had to give away Pepe, our sweet black and white house cat. My dad had found him as a kitten, meowing from a recycling bin by the West Side Highway. When I was born, Pepe was already a beloved member of the family; he loved to lick the oily remnants from a tuna can, he enjoyed hiding behind doors to “scare” us as we passed, and he especially liked to send us all into a panic by sitting on the edge of our 9th story window sill. I can picture Pepe now, sprawled out in his favorite chair, the sun warming his fur. And then, very suddenly, I developed an allergy so severe that after a year of wheezing and sneezing, my parents were left with no choice but to send Pepe to a nice family in Connecticut. We were devastated.

Many years later, and I am still just as (if not more) allergic to felines. As a cat lover, it breaks my heart. I have been known to double up on Benadryl just so I can spend half an hour cuddling with my friend’s cat, Mole, who seems to only love people with cat allergies. 

All this to say, my interest was piqued when I saw an article about a new vaccine created by scientists in Switzerland that could drastically lower feline-related allergy symptoms. The vaccine, if approved, would be administered on your four-legged friend by your veterinarian, and would produce antibodies which would bind to the target allergen (Fel d 1) and neutralize its allergenic effect on humans. The vaccine has already shown great success in efficacy trials, with a total of 54 felines tested. If HypoCat passes European and US regulators, it could be a much-appreciated new addition to the veterinary market. And most importantly: the future Pepe’s of the world could grow old curled up on that chair, with just a quick visit to the vet. 

What do you think about this vaccine? Feel free to share in the comments! 

Getting a Dog Could Help you Live Longer

According to a recent study published in an academic journal on cardiovascular information and outcomes, dog ownership is linked to a 21% reduction in the risk of heart disease or complications in people.  The study, which comes from the Swedish National Patient Registry, tracked thousands of patients who had previously suffered from a heart attack or stroke between the years of 2001 and 2012. Their findings suggest that individuals who also reported having a dog had a significantly lower risk of death in the year after a heart attack, as compared with non-dog owners. 

While the numbers are astounding, the overall suggestion that four-legged members of the family are good for our health comes as no surprise. After all, time and time again, studies prove that having a furry companion can lead to all sorts of health benefits; everything from lowering blood pressure, increasing oxytocin, helping maintain a healthy weight, improving your social life, decreasing stress, lowering chance of allergies, and staving off depression. 

While the correlation is clear, it’s hard to find the direct causal relationship between the benefits of owning a dog and the decrease in risk of heart attack. Is it because dog owners experience less social isolation? Or because they exercise more, a key component to rehabilitation after a heart attack? “The association between dog ownership and improved survival is real,” states cardiologist Dhruv Kazi of Beth Israel Medical Center. He goes on to say that “dogs offer companionship, reduce anxiety and loneliness, increase self-esteem, and improve overall mood.”

While the study didn’t extend the research to include cats, there has been at least one previous study linking cat ownership to the reduction of risk in cardiovascular diseases. 

The way we see it? Having a furry friend is the ultimate act of self-care. Amidst the chaos and ups and downs of everyday life, loving a furry creature could simply be the most restorative, mood-stabilizing, feel-good experience of modern-day living. And we’ll take it! 

What it Means When Your Dog Shows Their Teeth

Dogs have many ways of communicating with one another, whether to establish dominance, express anxiousness or uncertainty, or to send a message of appeasement. Unlike humans, much of this communication is sent via nonverbal body language. A tight tail wag, a pinning back of the ears, a show of the belly; all of these motions send clear signals (everything from “love me!” to “back off”). Today, we’ll be unpacking what it means when a dog shows its teeth to other dogs or to humans (spoiler – it’s not always aggression). Read on to learn more…

One of the many trends of photos we’re seeing online is videos or photos of dogs “smiling” for the camera, like this Golden Doodle that can grin on command. The cheesy, wrinkled nose smile is endearing to say the least. But what exactly is the dog thinking or feeling at the moment? 

According to Vet Street, dogs show their teeth for a few different reasons, depending on the circumstance. The most commonly understood reason is aggression. A teeth-bearing growl is hard to misunderstand, along with the stiff body posture and the pinned down ears. Dogs will commonly do this when they aren’t in the mood to share a bone, or someone or something is infringing on their space. But dogs also show their teeth to one another or to humans for submissive reasons, and to show signs of appeasement or deference. In this case, the body language may also reflect a submissive stance; they want everyone to get along. In the case of dogs that “smile” when they see their owners, there could be a simple explanation: what was initially expressed as a sign of natural appeasement (dogs will often display submissive behavior when greeting their owners) could have become positively reinforced by praise. Either way, a surefire way of decoding teeth-bearing is to take a look at their body language as a whole. Is it tense, defensive? Relaxed? Neutral? Our four-legged pals don’t generally try to trick us, but if in doubt, it never hurts to bring up any puzzling or confusing behavior with your veterinarian. 

Have you seen a dog “smile”? Share in the comment section below! 

New to the Field: Veterinary Social Workers

The last decade has seen many advances in the pet and veterinary world; everything from pet insurance as part of benefit packets at work, to groundbreaking studies about how our furry companions have evolved over the years. 

And now, there has been increased interest in bringing social workers to the veterinary field. Veterinary social workers are relatively new, and their role is multifaceted, but it could be a game changer. They can interact with pet owners and offer support in various ways, whether it’s helping someone make a difficult decision having to do with their pet, offer emotional or grief support, facilitate communication during end of care life for a furry friend, be present during a euthanization, or connect someone with a grief support group. They can also serve an important role for veterinarians as well, especially in regards to mental health and compassion fatigue. When veterinarians are limited by their back-to-back schedules, a social worker can spend extra time with a patient if needed. 

In this day in age, most people consider their pets members of the family, and owners have higher expectations when it comes to the quality of care their four-legged child is receiving. We dedicate so much time making sure our pets are living healthy, happy lives that it only makes sense for a social worker to be involved. “The ability to have somebody else go in that room and help [owners] with the emotional pain allows me to step away and have time for other clients and patients while still providing a very high level of support for the client as they need it,” states a veterinary oncologist quoted in this article: (include link). 

While Veterinary social work is still new, it’s possible to find someone if you’re in need of extra support. In New York, the Animal Medical Center has one on staff. Click here to read more about veterinary social work, and sending a big hug for anyone going through a hard time with a pet.

New Study: Cats Attach to Their Owners

Cats do a lot of things. They can jump from pretty much anywhere and land, like graceful dancers, on their feet. They can rotate their ears 180 degrees. They can make over 100 different sounds. They can use their whiskers to determine whether a motionless animal is alive or dead. And now, according to the newest cat study, they can attach to us similarly to dogs and babies. 

The study, published this September and conducted by Oregon State University, set out to study feline attachment as it relates to their bonds to owners. Interestingly, in order to conduct this study, the researchers recreated the famous psychology study on attachment called the “Strange Situation.” In the original study, babies were placed in a room with their primary caregivers, the caregivers were instructed to do a series of exits and entries back into the room, and researchers observed the babies’ responses. From this study, psychologists believed that much can be learned about the quality of the attachment when child and caregiver are reunited. Is the baby happy, relieved? Or is there a different reaction, like indifference or ambivalence?

It is with this arrangement in mind that researchers set about wanting to learn more about cats’ attachments. Here’s how they did it: 70 kittens were put in a room with their owners. The owners were instructed to leave, then return several minutes later. What they found was about 64% of the cats displayed a positive and secure attachment to their owners when they were reunited, “greeting their owner then getting back to what they were doing,” a key behavior in children who have secure attachments. “We may be underestimating cats’ socio-cognitive abilities,” states the study. It appears so, as every study proves again and again that felines not only share social traits with dogs and children but that many of our preconceived notions about the species are off the mark. We can’t wait to hear what the next study comes out with!

See the full study here.

Can Cats be Service Animals?

A simple googling of the question will present you with the following answer: “Unfortunately not.” As of right now, the Americans with Disability Act does not recognize cats as service animals, and only certifies dogs. But! Cats are able to be registered as both Emotional Support Animals and Therapy Animals. Read on to learn about the difference…

Service Animals are canines that are trained to help someone with a disability, whether it’s physical, sensory or mental duties. They can be trained to provide assistance during seizures, help a visually impaired person safely cross the street, and retrieve medicine, among other tasks. An Emotional Support Animal (ESA), on the other hand, is an animal certified by an owner’s mental health provider in the form of a letter that qualifies the pet (usually a dog or cat — but could even be a horse or ferret!) as an emotional companion. An Emotional Support Animal does not receive specific training for the certification, but rather is recognized by the therapist as a support for someone with an emotional disability. 

In addition, cats can also become Therapy Animals that frequent hospitals, nursing homes and even prisons to provide a dose of cuddly comfort (and oxytocin!) to anyone in need. These cats are trained through organizations such as The Pet Partners Story to walk on a leash, feel comfortable with car rides/transportation and most importantly, enjoy spending time on the laps of strangers. An ideal cat candidate is one with a friendly and calm disposition, over the age of 1. Therapy Animals have become increasingly accepted in hospitals and institutions across the country as mounting evidence grows around the wonderful benefits a warm furry animal can have on just about anyone. 

In more recent years, there has been a big push for the public to acknowledge that cats can take on certain tasks and be just as much a support as their furry counterparts. We’re here for that push, and as always, feel that the furry members of the family should always be recognized for their remarkable ability to make us feel better, whether it’s in certification form or not! 

Click here to learn more about Emotional Support Animals.

Click here to learn more about Therapy Animals.

The Potential Harm of Grain Free Dog Food

What do you feed your dog? Grain free dog food has become increasingly popular in the pet market in the last decade, as grain and gluten-free diets have garnered immense attention and popularity among us humans. 

While it has been thought that dog food formulas heavy on grains such as rice or oat can cause skin issues and may be a common allergy for some canines, the American Kennel Club argues that the anti-grain trend in dog food was actually spurred on by an unfortunate contamination in 2007 from Chinese imported wheat gluten that ended up causing kidney damage and even death in thousands of pets across the country. In fact, the top two allergies listed for dogs are beef and dairy, and according to New York veterinarian Lisa Lippman, grain sensitivity in dogs is “extremely, extremely rare.” 

On June 27th, the FDA issued a warning cautioning against grain free dog food, stating that an initial investigation had begun of the potential link between canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) and dog food free of grains and high in peas, lentils, and potatoes. DCM is most common in larger dog breeds in middle to late adulthood, with signs including decreased energy, coughing, difficulty breathing, and episodes of collapse. 

As the FDA continues its investigation and testing, they are tempering any alarm by encouraging pet owners to “work closely with their veterinarians…to select the best diet for their pets’ needs.” While the disease is still rare and the warning still inconclusive, veterinary-medicine professor Christopher Lea doesn’t see any point in sticking with a grain-free diet for their pet if it was not specifically instructed by their veterinarian. 

Read the official report here.

How to Keep your Cat Happy During the Final Stretch of Summer

We’re in the final stretch of summer, with the forecast staying in the balmy 70’s and 80’s. Summer can be (but isn’t always!) a drag for pets that spend the majority of their time inside. With the windows closed and the AC blasting, felines in urban areas can start to lose touch with their inner wild side. Here are a few ways to keep your kitty entertained during these last few weeks of summer…

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A refreshing snack: We loved this idea from online cat magazine the Catster: Meat broth ice cubes! Opt out of store bought broth as it is often loaded with ingredients not suited for your four-legged friend. Instead, make a simple homemade broth, fill an ice cube tray once the broth is cooled, and into each cube drop a small piece of meat. Pop the tray in the freezer until frozen and throw a cube or two in a shallow cat bowl for your cat to enjoy. They’ll love the challenge of licking the quickly melting ice cube to get to that special treat in the middle.

Have a less food motivated kitty? A cat that enjoys spending time by the sink and batting the faucet might enjoy a water game in which you fill the sink with cool water and surprise him with a small rubber ducky or other water-safe floating toy to “hunt.”  Just make sure the object isn’t small enough to ingest.

Lastly, with end of summer being a common vacation time for many, we wanted to remind anyone headed to the beach that finding a cat sitter you can rely on and trust will make the time away from your furry friend stress-free and enjoyable. At Pampered Pets, we make sure your feline feels comfortable with our pet care staff in advance, so you can be rest assured that all members of the family are enjoying their last bit of summer. 🙂