Does Soothing Music Really Help My Pet Stay Calm?

Researchers have wondered for years: does soothing music have a similar effect on pets as it does on humans? Could a peaceful piano ballad put Fido at ease during a thunderstorm? According to extensive studies on shelter dogs, relaxing music with a steady tempo can lower cortisol levels, the hormone present in the blood responsible for stress. In fact, calming music and sounds seem to have a similar influence on many animals, causing a physiological response and the slowing of heart rates. This can be especially beneficial for canines, whose autonomic system is designed to swiftly recognize moments of fight or flight.

Interestingly, a study conducted in 2002 took the research a step farther and explored exactly what kind of music was most likely to calm an easily agitated pup. The takeaway? Dogs seem to respond most positively to simple music that has a tempo of around 50-60 beats per minute. “Classical music with a single instrument at a slower tempo has been especially shown to produce relaxed behaviors in dogs,” states Dr. Cornelius, founder of Last Wishes, an organization helping support families in end of care services for pets. Not surprisingly, fast music or tunes with especially heavy bases or loud percussions could have an adverse affect, causing your four legged friend to become anxious or on edge (it sounds like thunder!).

Wondering if this could apply to your kitty? Yes and no! With their keen sense of hearing, cats do prefer calming music similar to dogs, but they especially favor “species-appropriate music.” This includes music that mimics the sounds of birds chirping and cats purring or lightly scratching — think of it as a soundtrack of all the things cats love. In fact, with research backing just how beneficial cat-geared music can be for a jittery furry friend, it’s become an industry, with Kickstarter campaigns raising thousands of dollars to produce cat-friendly albums to be left on the stereo when owners leave for the day. Curious to have a listen? Music for Cats offers a free audio sample.

The real question is — if you have a dog and cat, would they both be happy to listen to the same album? We’ll leave that for them to decide.

Dogs Don’t Just Love us; They Want Us to Succeed

This just in: dogs really do have our best interests at heart. The evidence? A fascinating study conducted in Japan, in which researchers created social scenarios with dogs and their owners, plus two strangers who was instructed to behave either helpfully, neutrally, or disagreeably. Here’s what happened…

With their pack mentality, we know canines are attuned to social scenarios, especially involving their owners. As a member of a group (whether human or canine), it’s their job to pay attention to the social dynamics at play. This is why, for example, if a scuffle breaks out in a dog park, the other dogs will quickly rush over to see the commotion.

But just how nuanced is their ability to read the room? According to the University of Kyoto, dogs are “extremely sensitive to social signals from humans” and are quickly gathering information on who they can and cannot trust. In the study, 54 dogs were divided into 3 groups, with the same scenario and slightly different outcomes. In each test, the dog owner was instructed to struggle with the lid to a clear jar. A bystander/stranger was then instructed to either assist and successfully open the lid, or refuse help and abruptly walk out. Meanwhile, another bystander was instructed to stand nearby, acting neutrally and disengaging by looking down at the ground. After the test was completed, both bystanders were instructed to reach into their pockets and simultaneously offer a treat for the dog. Across the board, the dogs showed significant negative bias against the “non-helpers” in the various situations. This is especially remarkable considering the jar had little to no importance or value to the dog, they were simply looking out for the humans.

And there it is! What do you think? Are you surprised by this study or not at all? Please feel free to discuss in the comment section below.

Should I let my Dog Drink From a Puddle?

This spring has been especially rainy in New York and New Jersey, with heavy rain showers resulting in large puddles in the park that are especially tempting for thirsty pups after a long walk. Unsurprisingly, when rainy season comes around, vet offices are getting the same phone call all the time: “My dog just drank from a puddle. Should I be worried?” Here’s what you need to know…

The long and short of it? It isn’t ideal, but in all likelihood, there won’t be serious harm. Even so, there are risks, and owners should stay vigilant during a rainy walk. The issue with rain water, even freshly fallen, is that it quickly becomes contaminated with animal droppings, environmental factors, litter — and in parking lots, antifreeze, which is toxic and can cause acute kidney failure. In terms of bacteria, dogs can contract Leptospirosis, which is spread through urine from wild animals such as deer and rodents. Studies have shown that the more rain has fallen, the more likely the bacteria is present in bodies of water — including puddles. Giardia is a protozoan that is contracted through fecal matter in other dogs and animals, and it is also found in puddles and other areas frequented by furry creatures such as popular trail hikes, dog parks, and streams. The most common symptom in dogs is diarrhea. Luckily, it’s treatable, and veterinarians will often include the Giardia test if your four-legged pal frequents such areas.

So what can owners do? Increasing your awareness is a big part it – so you’re halfway there! In addition, it’s important to speak to your veterinarian about which vaccinations are appropriate for your dog’s lifestyle. Of course, the most surefire way to prevent your dog from drinking puddles is to keep him sufficiently hydrated with fresh clean water during long walks. And our tried and true advice remains: if anything doesn’t seem right, get your dog to the vet right away.

Confirmed! Cats Know Their Names

As you may already know, we’re a big fan of feline and canine studies. They give us insight into the four-legged friends in our lives, and many of them yield surprising results. More recently, a study was conducted by Japanese researchers to see if domestic cats can discern their names from other words.

“In contrast to dogs,” stated the study, “the ability of domestic cats to communicate with humans has not been explored thoroughly. We used a habituation-dishabituation method to investigate whether domestic cats could discriminate human utterances, which consisted of cats’ own names, general nouns, and other cohabiting cats’ names.” Interestingly, among the cats that were chosen to participate in the study were house cats as well as cat café cats. While the domestic cats could recognize their names and could distinguish their owner’s voice from a stranger’s voice, the cat café cats recognized their names plus the names of the other cats at the café. This could be simply because the café cats were exposed to the names of all the cats so often with people coming and going, and (adorably so), they recognized not just their own names, but the names of their fellow cat friends as well.

Researchers aren’t just interested in whether cats know their names; they’re interested in how cats choose to communicate with their owners in general. Recently, feline studies are being conducted to find out more about the “social referencing behavior” in our furry friends. So far, we know that cats are attuned to their owners in that they understand the human pointing gesture, and will look to their owners if they are put in a potentially fearful situation. There is some research to suggest that cats can even discern a positive versus negative affect or mood on a human face. While fascinating, these research studies sometimes just confirm what we already know – cats are geniuses!

What do you think? Are you surprised cats know their names, or have you always known with your kitty? Share in the comments below!


What If We’re Reading Our Pets All Wrong?

We’ve all seen the videos that go viral online: a pet owner comes home to find bits of toilet paper strewn across the carpet. They whip out their phones and start videotaping as they find their poodle mix hovered behind the couch, ears tucked, mouth curled into a nervous, apologetic smile. “Sammy, is this you?” the person accuses, pointing to the mess. The dog drops his head, offers a small tail wag, and the guilt is practically palpable. Or is it?

To us humans, it’s hard to imagine what else that reaction could be. But according to dog-cognition expert Alexandra Horowitz, it has less to do with guilt and more to do with how our dogs think we want them to respond. In a study conducted to test this theory, Horowitz instructed dog owners to place a treat in front of their furry friends, forbid them from eating it, then leave the room. While the owners were gone, Horowitz would either take the treat away or feed it to the dog. When the owners came back, Horowitz would tell the owners their dog had eaten the treat. When owners reprimanded the dog, they would respond similarly – whether or not they had actually eaten the treat. Interestingly, the dogs that hadn’t eaten the treat responded just as guiltily – sometimes more so, than the dogs that had eaten the treat. Researchers believe the look to be more so an act of submission than anything else. In a pack, for example, the alpha dog might reprimand a lower ranking dog for taking a bite of something before its their turn. The scolded dog may crouch or back off as a way to reduce conflict. Could this be a similar response to the one we receive when we scold Fido? More than likely, yes.

So how should pet owners respond to bad behavior (or a living room covered in toilet paper)? Horowitz has wise and practical advice: keep temptations low. Put food and garbage away, keep your shoes in the closet, and consider crating if destruction is a big issue. Because it’s so unclear whether dogs understand after the fact that they’ve done something wrong, Horowitz recommends setting your dog up for success rather than failure. After all, we want coming home to be as positive of an experience as possible for both humans and four legged friends.

Do you think dogs feel guilt? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Everything You Need to Know About Neutering/Spaying Your Cat

Fun fact: neutering a male cat takes only two minutes. For females, the surgery can be slightly longer, depending on her age and the timing of her heat cycle. In both cases, it’s usually possible to take your (sweet but lethargic) furry friend home the same day of the surgery.

Spaying or neutering a cat is considered the ‘cornerstone of pet ownership in the United States,” according to the ASPCA, which also publishes staggering statistics on the cat population each year (it’s estimated that there are between 74 and 96 million stray cats without homes in the US today). Similar to dogs, the optimal time of sterilization for cats is also up for debate. At shelters, the surgery is performed as young as 8 weeks old, and the kittens are ready to be adopted shortly after. This One vet argues that the best time is actually between 5 and 9 months, when they are at a good size, they’re already at their forever home, and most importantly, can have a calm environment to recover.

The surgery reaps research-based physical and medical benefits, too — spaying a female cat will help prevent uterine infections and essentially eliminate the risk of feline mammary cancers, which are malignant in 90 percent of cats and tend to be more aggressive in comparison to other species. For male cats, there are behavior benefits to neutering as well. “Anyone who as ever tried living with an intact male cat will tell you that the vocalizations, escape attempts, roaming, fighting and urine spraying associated with normal tom cat behavior can get old really quick,” says Veteran Advisor for PetMD Dr. Jennifer Coates. In general, a neutered male cat will be less likely to mark inappropriately inside or engage in fights with other felines.

With every study reflecting both medical and behavior benefits to spaying and neutering a cat, we think of it as the most responsible thing a cat owner can do for their four-legged friend. Of course, after the surgery, keep an eye out for bleeding, shivering, refusing water, vomiting or diarrhea – and contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns.


The Case For Feeding Your Cat With a Food Puzzle

One thing we know for sure: felines thrive when they are stimulated, and often times, they don’t have enough opportunities to engage their inquisitive minds. Last week, a study came out in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery on the best feeding practices for cats. In the study, 3,192 cat owners were surveyed on how they feed their furry friends. 30% reported using food puzzles as a simple way to enrich their cat’s mental stimulation.

According to the survey, offering a challenge for your cat during meal time can encourage natural foraging behavior and exercise their hunting skills. In addition, the study referenced multiple case studies in the past that food puzzles can help with weight maintenance, anxiety and unwanted marking and urination around the house.

The key? If your furry feline isn’t familiar with eating around a puzzle, it’s important to start out with one that isn’t too hard, otherwise you risk your kitty becoming frustrated or losing interest. There are many food puzzles out there – the study recommends calling your four-legged friend over when you first fill it so he or she understands that the puzzle contains their food.

Most cats will quickly become hooked once they realize the challenge. This idea of putting your cat “to work” is based on the idea that due to domestication, we have “taken their jobs away from them”. Offering a food puzzle is a simple but effective way of giving these always-up-for-a-challenge creatures a way to “work” for their food. One caveat? Some cats (not pointing fingers but you know who you are), simply are not food driven, and a food puzzle wont peak their interest. For the cats that live for mealtime, however, this could be a fun way to infuse a little challenge into their day-to-day life.

Thoughts? Would you try giving your kitty a food puzzle? Let us know in the comment section below.


Myth vs. Fact: Neutering/Spaying Your Dog

Over the years, we’ve been asked our opinion on how neutering or spaying dogs affects their behavior and health, everything from the appropriate age to neuter and whether it’s true that it can cause weight gain. We aren’t veterinarians, but we did some research, and we’re here to clear the air on some common myths…

Myth: My dog will drastically change after the surgery

Fact: The sterilization process in male dogs involves the surgical removal of the testicles. Contrary to popular belief, the only behaviors that may change following the procedure are those that are related to male hormones. As Caesar Milan points out, a “dog’s basic personality is formed more by environment and genetic than by sex hormones, so sterilization will not change your dog’s basic personality, make your dog sluggish or affect its natural instinct to protect the pack.” So will anything change? Yes! Luckily, the removal of hormones will eliminate unwanted tendencies of unneutered male dogs – such as “roaming”, mounting, running away, and inappropriate marking. In terms of decreasing aggression, we’ve found evidence to suggest that neutering can prevent some aggression problems in males, but it won’t necessarily “fix” a temperament-related issue, such as territorial aggression or food aggression. In females, the affects are more subtle, and you will only notice a difference if your dog has gone through a heat cycle.

Myth #2: A neutered dog is more likely to gain weight.

Fact: There is no scientific evidence that a neutered or spayed dog will gain weight due to lack of sex hormones. This myth could simply be due to the correlation of pets gaining weight in general as they age, and less to do with the surgery itself. So fear not! As long as your dog is active, eats a health diet and gets plenty of exercise, the surgery will have no impact on metabolism or weight gain.

Myth #3: Dogs should never be neutered or spayed before one year of age.

Fact: The traditional age for neutering is 6 to 9 months. While some breeders recommend waiting until a dog is two years old for developmental reasons, we recommend referring to your veterinarian, who will know what’s best for your furry friend.

More facts: According to Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine, intact female dogs have seven times the risk of developing mammary tumors than spayed females. And for male dogs, the risk of testicular cancer is eliminated.

For new pet owners: we know the idea of your furry baby going under the knife isn’t a pleasant one, but rest assured that it’s a procedure with very few complications. And once it’s done, its done!

Next up: Cats! It’s different than you may think…