Two years, 50+ columns written, and still loving it.  But it is a challenge finding new topics to spin 500 words about that is both educational and entertaining.  Please, if there is a story you'd like me to do, let me know.  If you'd be interested, I'm sure there are plenty more that will be too.  Just let me know in the store, or at  Thanks for reading.

There is no debate that our life is improved by sharing it with pets.  Not everyone is a pet person, granted.  For those of us that are pet people, we find the addition of a companion animal into our lives can increase the enjoyment of that life immeasurably.

Some companion animals have big responsibilities on top of being a buddy.  Seeing eye, seizure detection, PTSD support, these are just a few of the jobs a companion animal can be asked to do.  Jobs that are life changing, and the bond that grows outside the job is pretty special too.

For a pet that is not a working animal, there are other things to consider.  Commitment is a big thing in pet partnership.  We are making an obligation to a fellow resident of this earth, pledging to provide for them all that they need, for their lifetime. 

Too often, lifespan considerations aren't taken into account during the research going into that decision, or how a pet's lifespan will bridge our lifestyle changes.  We don't know for sure how our lives will change, but we have a general idea of where we want to get to, and those factors can be calculated into a decision.

A betta, a hamster or a rat, these are animals that will be with us a short time, 3 or 4 years at most.  They are easy to take with us though changes in our lives.  They don't add a huge amount of interaction into our lives, but just having another living thing in the room can sometimes lighten ones spirits.

A guinea pig, rabbit or bearded dragon is a 5-10 year commitment.  They will be with us a considerable time, and if we're planning to travel the world in 3 years from now, we have to plan how these pets will be cared for at that time. 

A budgie, a gecko, a cat or dog can live 10-20 years.  That is a considerable commitment to make, and needs a stable lifestyle to properly care for that animal, or at least a backup plan of someone who can take over care.

Parrots or turtles/tortoises can live as long or longer than we do.  These can be multigenerational pets, and require a lot of consideration before getting one. 

Adopting an older one of these animals is another option, as there are many that can outlive their owners, and sometimes family members aren't capable of taking over teh care of one of these very special pets. 

Finding a home for an older animal is always difficult, many people want a brand new, baby pet.  For those willing to adopt an older pet, there are rewards beyond the fact that the pet should come already trained.  Choosing a re-homed animal takes a special person, and both parties are usually rewarded though the decision. 

Hermit Crabs, not a disposable pet.

Hermit crabs.  Cute little critters, the inventors of the “mobile home”.  Over 1100 different species inhabit many different environments, from deep sea bottoms to the tops of palm trees.  They have adapted to all kinds of habitats, but we’re going to focus on the ones most commonly kept as pets, the land hermit crab.

The genus Coenobitidae has 17 species, and more than one are used in the pet trade, the most common three are the Caribbean (purple pincer), the Ecuadorian and the Australian.  Regardless which one you are keeping, the basic requirements are very similar.

All hermit crabs have gills.  They require water to allow them to breathe.  Most will use salt water for this purpose, so ensuing a source of proper salt water is important for their well being.  The reason I said “proper” salt water is that it isn’t as easy as adding table salt to water to make something that is the same as the ocean.  Seawater contains 70 trace elements and minerals, not just sodium chloride (salt). And while “sea salt” may sound like it would be OK, it isn’t.  The drying process actually drives off many essential trace elements.  There are commercial marine salt mixes available that are used in keeping salt water aquariums, so it is rather easy to find an appropriate salt mix to use.

They also require fresh water to drink.  So, a proper Hermit Crab habitat will contain two separate water dishes.  Ideally, they should be able to immerse themselves in the bowls, but they should at least be large enough so that they are not easily emptied or turned over as the curious crabs hunt through their environment.

They all come from hot, humid environments.  So, it is key to their health to mimic that.  Which is something you can’t do in a little plastic tank with some sand/gravel in the bottom.  You should have at least a 10 gallon aquarium, a heat source, and a moist substrate (bottom).  I like using a mix of coconut husk and sand, giving the animal the ability to dig and bury itself, especially when it is approaching a molt.

Most crabs die from not being able to molt properly, not from old age.  A little plastic box is not suitable for long term care of them, as it cannot provide the essentials for proper molting.  Unfortunately, a large number of Hermit Crabs are sent home in totally inappropriate habitats, only to die a slow tortured death. 

Kiosks pop up in malls selling these interesting little critters, and then disappear just as fast.  The cuteness of them with their little comically painted shells, and the relatively low cost of the too small enclosures encourages impulse purchasing.  Some purchasers do a little research after, and invest in making a proper habitat for their new pets.  Far too many don’t, making for the crab to be a effectively a disposable pet.  It is not wholly the buyers fault, as a consumer, they trust what they are told.  But in caring for any live animal, we should do the proper research first, and not fall for gimmicky marketing.

Hermit crabs can be wonderful pets that are low maintenance, affordable and long lived, but only if the proper habitat is provided.  You can get complete, unbiased care information at: .  

Vicious Dog bylaw, yes.  Breed Specific Bylaw, no.

(Editors note:  This is my article as I wrote it.  It represents my personal thoughts.  The actual column that ran removed the references to racism, and rightfully so.  Racism is a horrible problem, and using it to refer to what is being done to bully breeds is not something that a newspaper would want to print.  But I feel that it is a form of racism, against noble creatures that have been abused too long.)

Pitbulls have hit the headlines again, although not for what we normally hear about them.  Advocates are working on their behalf to have the local ban on them lifted.  And I pledge my support to these efforts to reverse this wholly unnecessary and blatantly racist by-law.

In a city that reeled when slapped with the title of racist, we have, on our books, a by-law that is not just racist, but requires city employees to engage in racial profiling.  To have a law that makes ownership of a pitbull type dog (and yes, the dog does not have to actually be a pitbull, it just has to be "a dog which has the appearance and physical characteristics predominantly conforming to the standards of the Canadian Kennel Club or the United Kennel Club for any of the following breeds':  American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier".)

So, it doesn't have to be a pitbull, it just has to look like one.  Do you have a Rottweiler/Lab cross?  If a veterinarian thinks it looks like a pitbull, it is illegal (not many vets are show dog judges, so I am confused as to why it would be a vet that decides if it conforms to show standards).  It also means you could have a full bred pitbull that doesn't look like it should, and it would be legal.  So the bylaw isn't based on the actions of the animal, just their appearance.   A life sentence for "looking tough".

I have been very vocal over the last two decades about the by-laws regarding "responsible" pet ownership in Winnipeg.  I am all for it.  What I am against is the city not allowing responsible people to own the pet of their choice.  The current bylaw has nothing to do with responsible pet ownership, but to try to prevent irresponsible pet ownership.  Which means responsible people are not allowed to own pets that are of no danger to anyone, as long as they are kept responsibly.

Does the city want to keep track of these breeds?  Is that the concern?  Then let the owners have the option of licensing the dog appropriately.  Allow responsible people to act responsibly.  There is a surcharge for intact dogs on their license, which is to penalize the chance of litters caused by irresponsible breeding.  Allow responsible bully owners the same opportunity.

The issue most people have with the bully ban is that we have, in the bylaw, provisions for dangerous dogs, regardless of its breed .  From Chihuahuas to Great Danes, including Bully breeds, if you have a dog deemed dangerous, or that has proven to be a danger to the public, the city has laws on the books to address the situation.  So why do we need a breed specific ban?  When any dangerous dog can be dealt with accordingly?

It's fear.  The same fear that has fueled racial tensions in humans.  Of course, these fears have a grain of truth to them, and yes, these animals can be abused and put into situations where they are a danger to us, but they are not the only breeds used this way.  And, because some can be treated irresponsibly, why should that condemn the vast majority that are wonderful, gentle, loyal pets when treated "responsibly".   We don't ban all cars because some use them irresponsibly, or because they have the ability to be abused and cause harm.  And, because of this ban, we cannot rescue these breeds from their abusers, and give them a normal life that they should be allowed as a living being. 

Bully breeds are widely used in police enforcement, and there are thousands of hero dogs out there that would not be allowed into the city.  Therapy dogs, PTSD dogs, search and rescue, these are but a few of the jobs these breeds hold down all over the world.  Some of the most lovely dogs I have ever met fall under this ban.  It is wildly unfair that because a few bad men who do bad things to these breeds for illegal purposes, their entire race is condemned.

That doesn't seem logical to me, especially in a city dealing with a reputation for being racist.  We have a dangerous dog provision, we don't need a breed specific law. 

Added note:  A very powerful statement was brought to my attention after writing this column...  "We don't need laws to tell us what dogs we can own, but rather who can own dogs."   Its not the dogs that are the problem, but the people that own/abuse them.

Ticks - its that time of year again.

Tick season is back upon us.  Those pesky little icky creatures that suck the lifeblood out of our loving pets (and us too!).  There are many options for controlling the risks, and I'll try to touch on them here.

First, try not to get bit.  Pretty simple idea, but one of the harder ones to actually do.  Avoid areas that harbour the pests, long grasses, wooded areas with dense undergrowth, places where wild animals would make a good feeding ground and attract ticks. 

Another way to avoid getting bit is by using products designed to repel ticks.  Collars/spot on products are repellants that can also kill pests.  Some use natural ingredients, so can be safer, but usually less effective.  Others use chemicals that are more effective, but may cause reactions in some pets.  Either way, they reduce the number of pests that will attempt to jump on the pet and bite it, and may kill them after they are on the pet.  This is the option most pet owners make in tick control.

Collars disperse the repellent constantly, "refreshing" it on the coat.  The spot products come in a tube, and are placed on the base of neck/tail every three weeks, or after bathing.  We've found that the spot products are the most effective when used properly.

Preventing the bite also prevents the passing of disease.  Lyme disease and heartworm are the biggest concerns, and preventing the bite from happening prevents the chance of infection. 

Another solution to ticks and fleas are the pills that the pet ingests, and then the active ingredient kills the flea/tick when the pest feeds.  These are great for preventing flea infestations, and eliminating the removing of engorged ticks from an animal (they die and fall off), but they do not prevent the bite, or act as a repellent. So the risks of Lyme and heartworm remain.  And, while you may never see a tick on your pet, they may receive a large number of bites, elevating the chance that one of the pests was carrying disease.

Once bitten, and even with the best repellents, your pet may still be bitten, removing the tick can a difficult task for the squeamish.  These spider like creatures latched onto your pet, filling with blood, maybe not just a problem for the squeamish.  There are a number of different tools on the market to assist, as well as home remedies.

Many of the tick removal products are designed to securely remove the tick's proboscis and head, without compressing the body.  If you grab the tick's body, it can cause the tick to regurgitate into the skin, increasing the chance of getting infected.   So it is very important to securely grab the head/mouth and remove, and then treat the affected area with an antiseptic to prevent infection.

Do not use petroleum jelly, any liquid solutions, or freeze / burn the tick, as this is likely to stimulate it to regurgitate (vomit) saliva and stomach contents, increasing the chance of infection.

Training a dog.

There are all kinds of methods for training a dog, and finding one that fits you, your dog, and your lifestyle is a balancing act that can take some work to resolve.

Dogs fill all kinds of roles in our lives.  From working dogs that herd, do search and rescue, or retrieve, to dogs that being a fashion accessory is the highlight of the day, they all need different levels of training.  How much and what kind of training is a decision best made early, because while it is possible to teach an old dog new trick, its a lot easier to mold a young dog's behaviour before they get bad habits.

The vast majority of dogs are household pets, that furry family member that accompanies us on or encourages us to go for walks.  Other than barking when the flyer delivery guy is on the porch, they don't have a lot of responsibility.  Simple house training, basic leash training and keeping them from chewing stuff they aren't supposed to is about all they need to know.  Most dogs can pick those basics up without any professional help.

Working dogs, on the other hand, can fill a pet role when off duty, but on duty training they require can consist of months of rigorous education at the hands of a professional trainer.  Whether it is training to recognize seizures, or act as a seeing eye dog for a blind companion, or to find lost children, these noble animals can put in hundreds of hours of training.  It doesn't make them less of a pet dog, and once the vest comes off, they can be just as goofy as any other dog.  But it is important to give them respect while they are working, just as we would like when we are on the job.

Last week, Stitch, our adorable little goofball of a French Bulldog, went to her first handling class.  She has a very solid pedigree, is CKC registered, and as such, could go into shows.  We are deciding whether that is something that we want to do, as it can be a fun pastime. On the downside, there are a lot of strong personalities in the show circles that can be intimidating, and while some groups are great fun, others are not.  So, on a personal level, we have some concern which way we want to go with this.  Just in case, it doesn't hurt to start her training now.  An added plus, it is the social time for her with other dogs in a controlled environment, which is never a bad thing.

Handling classes help train the dog to react to the handlers commands, focusing on the handler in spite of other stimuli.  A dog show is full of distractions, and the unaltered nature of the animals (not spay/neutered) adds to that as well.  A handler needs to have full control over the show dog at all times, to properly display the dog for judging.   It can take a lot of work, but in the long run, it adds a level of training that can help in the dogs everyday life as well.

An investment in training, from something as simple as "puppy class" to something as elaborate as show handling can make your pet a better behaved animal.    It is amazing how a handful of hours can translate into a lifetime of a better behaved companion.

Travelling with your pet

Its that time of year again, time to start planning summer vacations, and how to integrate your pets into those plans.

Some pets, mainly dogs, enjoy traveling with their families, and are quite at home in the car, or in a kennel at the hotel while the family is pursuing activities where a pet might not be appropriate or even allowed.  Traveling with pets is one of the big reasons to embark on kennel training early on, to give you the freedom when needed.  I’m not suggesting leaving the dog in its kennel 24 hours a day, but for a reasonable time, they are just fine. 

In the car, make sure the animal is protected, in case of emergency or accident.  A seat belt harness can offer some freedom to move around, but keep the pet from becoming a projectile in an accident and injuring itself or others.  Alternately, a kennel properly secured to the seat or in the back of a station wagon or SUV can offer them protection.  Make sure whichever route you choose, the animal is not exposed to excessive heat/light, and never, ever, ever leave them in a vehicle unattended.  A few minutes unattended in the sun can stress or kill a pet.  

For those that suffer from anxiety or motion sickness, there are many options to accommodate them on your trip.  From something as simple as Gravol (ask your vet for dosage information), herbal remedies, pheremone treatments or even special clothing/devices, you can usually find a remedy that works. 

Anxiety in some pets has been addressed though special shirts which are similar to treatments used for autism.  These shirts have an elastic component that allows you to place a constriction on the main part of their body to simulate contact, like wearing a “hug” all of the time.  This does not solve the issue in every dog, but some find it very effective.

A new treatment for anxiety was recently introduced by a company that manufactures the shirts.  This “cap” is a hood that fits over the dogs head, leaving nose and mouth open to breathe, pant and drink.  The area over the dogs eyes is a mesh that limits their vision, darkening the environment, reducing visual stimulus.  Many dogs find this relaxing, after they get used to wearing the device, it can be very effective.

Before embarking on a long journey, try a short one and see how everyone fares.  This can save a lot of grief, nothing worse than a carsick dog halfway through a week long trip. 

If you can’t find a way to make traveling with your pet work, there are many options for them while you are away.  House sitters (friends, relatives, professional) can stay in your house, tending to your pets, or you may have a friend or relative that can take your pet into their home. 

Alternately, there are many options in boarding.  Smaller dogs and cat can sometimes bunk at your vet, or at a professional boarding kennel.  Its always good to visit the facility first, so that you can be apprised of how the animal will be cared for, and address any special needs, as well as arriving at a fee, so that there are no surprises when you return.  Many offer different levels of enrichment, and some have the ability to handle special requirements, such as diet or allergies.  The last thing your vacation needs is you showing up to drop off your pet and finding out that they are not equipped to handle your pet’s particular needs.

A little planning goes a long way to a happy vacation.  Have fun!

A Stitch in time

I have always admired the passion people build for certain things in their lives.  Hobbies, cars, pets, teams... These all lead to people wanting to share the happiness that these things have brought into their lives. 

Passionate people that come in with clothing emblazoned with a picture of the breed of pet they have, or who are members of a breed club (or a rescue organization), animal lovers are never too busy to share the joy their furry little friends have brought into their life. 

Until recently, I was a semi-casual pet owner, I wouldn’t be afraid of sharing a story or two about the pets that have owned me, but I wasn’t in your face about it.  And then Stitch happened.

Stitch, as pictured above, is a French Bulldog.  Since we lost Shera, Jackie’s parent’s dog, we weren’t in a rush to get another one.  Its been a tough time, emotionally.  But Jackie started relenting, and the search for the proper breed started.  Not too big, not too small, she had a list of boxes to check off.  Which is an important step in adding a new companion into your life.  After careful consideration, the top of the list was the French Bulldog.

Now the hard part, finding the perfect one. The internet helped, although it is also a bane.  Too many options, and so many of them questionable.  Attractive pricing, sure, and some tell a great story, but how can you be sure.  And then, a friend suggested a very reputable breeder I knew of since moving here in 1999.  I knew she bred Labradors, but didn’t realize that she also bred Frenchies. 

So, I went to her website and was crushed to see no pups available.  I sent her an email anyway, and let her know we’d be open to fostering or retired females as well as wanting to be on her list for her next litter.  That evening, I got the email that changed our lives.  She had one female pup available, but hadn’t had the time to put her on the website.  Her brothers were sold, but “Cricket” was available! (“Cricket” was a no go for a name, other than Jiminy, Jackie isn’t a big fan of bugs, so a compromise was later reached in Stitch, you know, the mischievous alien with prodigious ears from Lilo and Stitch). If it wasn’t already 10:30 at night, we would have gone that night, instead, we went the next day, and got adopted.

3 months old, her brothers were still there, awaiting the opportunity to travel to their new homes (no shipping in airplane cargo holds for these pups, new owners must accompany them on the plane!), so we were going to let her stay a little longer while we prepared, but that lasted 2 days.  We frantically prepped the house for our puppy, and went to bring her home. 

Now that we are owned by a French Bulldog, what is the screen saver on my phone,? Stitch.  Computer screen saver?  Stitch.  Video on the TV at work?  Stitch enjoying a bowl of raw food (yes, Stitch and Streaky, our Bengal cat, whose nose is still out of joint at the new puppy, are both fed the same raw diet).  And sitting at the poker table?  The conversation somehow turns to Frenchies. 

I don’t have a bumper sticker, a T-Shirt, jacket or a hat yet, but I can feel them coming.  In the meantime, if you see me, get ready for the latest story of the cute thing Stitch did today.

Tripe - a stinky wonderfood

Probably the stinkiest thing you will ever dream of feeding a pet, it can be one of the best as well.

Tripe.  Not the white honeycomb tripe you find at the Asian Market, or the steamed, spiced and sauced delicacy you get at Dim Sum, but Green Tripe, fresh from the animal.  Tripe that has been processed for human consumption has had all the good stuff boiled/bleached out of it.  Which is why it is white. 

Green tripe is cow stomach, cold washed to remove most of the digestive juices/food, and then frozen whole or ground and then frozen.  In this state, it retains all of its goodness (unfortunately the “Oh my goodness” aroma as well).  Things like probiotics, green tripe is loaded with Lactobacillus Acidophilus, which is great for keeping the dog’s gut populated with the good bacteria, which helps prevent the bad bacteria from growing.  There are canned versions available, but the cooking/canning process kills most of the best part of the tripe, these lovely bacteria and enzymes.

Digestive enzymes also survive the freezing process, but not the cooking/canning process.  Many dogs on processed diets are lacking in these enzymes, which occur naturally in this wonderfood.  These enzymes also do more than just aid in digestion, they can help purify and cleanse the blood.  They can help remove toxins, parasites and fungus.  Improved metabolism, hormonal function and boost the immune system are also things that are linked directly to these enzymes.  So, while cooked/canned tripe can be just as tasty/stinky, it is missing some of the best health benefits green tripe can offer.

Green tripe can usually be purchased ground or chunked from a pet store, or if you are lucky enough to have connection to a farm that processes their own meats or a small abattoir, you can get fresh tripe (they are Big and tough to cut).  The ground is easy to add into regular meals, it is considered a meat, not an organ, when portion a prey model diet.  The chunk or whole tripe can have the added benefit of being a great dental chew.  When breaking down a whole piece of fresh green tripe, a hazmat suit is usually needed, or at least clothes you don’t like, rubber gloves and a long shower after.  It is very much worth it though, taking something that would normally be thrown away and turning it into something wonderful for your pet.

Being a fresh, raw product, it can harbour bad bacteria if it isn’t handled or stored properly.  Not a problem for most healthy dogs, but it can be for us.  Like any raw meat product, standard sanitation protocols apply.  It does require some attention to ensure safety, but it isn’t the “dangerous as nuclear waste” product that some people would have you believe.  Except maybe the stink, but we all know how much our four legged pals love stink.

Pugs, a comical companion.

Years ago, I had a customer that bought a Pug because they thought it would be hypo allergenic and wouldn’t shed much because it was short haired.  Allergic family member almost landed in the hospital.  If they had done just a little research, they would have avoided this almost tragic event. 

Pugs are cute, comical little guys, and Pug owners love them to bits despite all their quirks and concerns.  They are one of the most loved and recognizable breeds, and until the doodle crazy, probably one of the most crossbred dogs.

Because they are so different, when you cross with something like a Chihuahua, a Boston, or a Beagle, you end up with extremely different looks, and a fun name like a Chug, Bug or Puggle.  Sometimes these crosses are intended to eliminate some of the health and grooming concerns, other times just for the unique appearance. 

Health concerns for purebred Pugs can include breathing issues, joint issues, and a tendency to obesity.  Breathing issues come from their unique facial structure, if the nasal passages aren’t quite right, they can have difficulty breathing,and will wheeze, snort and snore more than normal.  There are surgical remedies for this if it is congenital, or it can be caused by excess weight, and may go away once normal weight is attained. 

Joint issues, again, can either be congenital or weight related.  Because of the way Pugs are shaped, their front legs take a lot of the load, and that can cause problem, especially in overweight animals, which makes it even more important to maintain a proper weight.

Pugs are jolly, and almost expected to be chubby.  Like Santa, it just doesn’t seem right to see a skinny Pug.  If you want a long and healthy life for a Pug, though, attention to weight issues is the number one concern.  Proper diet and regular exercise can go a long way to fixing this issue.

Shedding is one thing every Pug owner dreads.  Sometimes, I think that half the lint roller marketplace is Pug owners.  But there is a solution for that too.  Shaving.

Yes.  I said it.  Shaving a Pug.  Its something that is catching on now.  Even with the invention of the Schticky, Pug Hair Syndrome is something that bothers the owners of these delightful dogs to no end.  And especially if you like dark clothes, everyone you meet will be able to identify you as a Pug owner.

Most people have never considered this idea.  One of the reasons for buying a Pug is that they don't "need" grooming, like a poodle or shih tzu would.  But just because they don't "need" it doesn't mean it is a bad idea.  During the grooming, they run the clippers backwards to lift the hairs and clip them off, leaving just a soft, felt like coat.  This lasts, depending on the dog, 3 to 6 months. 

Most people who do this once, repeat it again and again.  They love the freedom from lint pickers, sticky tape rolls, and the Schticky.  Its not like that little bit of hair we shaved off was keeping them warm anyways, you're still going to put their little custom made coats on in the winter. 

Pugs.  Comical companions, but they need to be given the proper care to live a long, healthy life.

February is Pet Dental Month

Every year we hear about Pet Dental Month.  It is a reminder that our pets have teeth, and that those teeth need care, just like ours.  And we should be conscious of this, but not just one month a year, but all year round.

Dental issues, both in people and in pets, can lead to other problems.  This makes dental health an important part of overall wellbeing of the animals in our charge.  Poor oral hygiene can lead to systemic infections, and can challenge the immune system.

Its not hard to improve dental health in our pets, and there are many commercial options out there for you to choose.  Yes, these dental treats and foods will reduce dental issues, but convenience can come with a cost.  As with anything we buy for our pets to consume, it is important to read the label, and know what it is we are subjecting our pets to.

Some may contain ingredients that don't fit the diet we have our pets on.  Many contain potential allergens, like wheat, soy or corn, that we may have eliminated from our pet's food, but forget to check the ingredient listing on the dental treats, negating all the good we do in buying a grain free pet food.  Even one little dental stick or green chew can cause an allergic reaction requiring a vet visit.  So, if you have a pet with allergies, remember that anything they consume has to meet those standards of being hypo allergenic.

A product can't make the claim "proven to reduce tartar" without laboratory proof that it does.  But I have yet to see a product claim to "eliminate" tartar.  So, sure, a food or chew may reduce tartar, but in most cases, the tartar will still exist.  In most cases, it will still require veterinary intervention to remove it.  Reducing tartar is good, it will make a dental cleaning easier, but the procedure will most likely still require anesthesia, which may be something you are trying to avoid, both for the stress on the animal, and the cost.

There are liquids you can add to drinking water that also help reduce tartar build up.  Most of these work by making the teeth slippery so that food particles don't stick.  Some use herbal oils to cover breath odor.  Again, they help, but don't eliminate the issue.

Brushing a pets teeth will help, and it is a good bonding time as well.  Training a pet early to the procedure, and making it a habit goes a long way to making it painless for both parties.  Trying to start to brush an older pets teeth when they have never done it before can be a challenge with a lot of pets, and impossible for some.  There are finger brushes and conventional toothbrushes you can use, depending on which is easier for your pet.  There are pastes and gels, most work like human toothpaste through a mechanical scraping with abrasives.  Some of the gels work by using botanical oils to soften the buildup and make removal easier by brushing.

There are other means commercially available to address dental issues, through diet and use of natural products as chews and treats.  Many can actually eliminate plaque and tartar.  Integrative or holistic veterinarians will use these as their main recommendation, and most veterinarians can advise you on these natural alternatives.

Dental health is an important part of every creatures wellbeing, and its a 12 month a year job, not just February.  Lets keep all our pets smiling year round.

An alternative to repeat vaccinations:

I'm not a veterinarian, but I do spend my waking hours in the service of pets and the people taking care of pets.  I do get a lot of questions that are not so much diagnostic, but to help people decide their course of action.  And, in any case that requires a veterinarian's care/input, I always make sure that they have been or will be consulted.

There are many questions out there that may have different answers depending on who you ask, and even two different veterinarians may have different opinions based on how or where they were trained, or what kind of discipline they follow.  Just like any doctor, it is the patients prerogative to seek a second opinion, or get assurance that the diagnosis and plan of action is correct.

One of the most recent debates, in both humans and pets, is about vaccines.  Vaccines are a life saving invention, and untold numbers of pets (and humans) have been saved by their use.  There is no debate about that.  But now, we have a movement that believes they can be un-necessary, or even harmful. 

This is true.  There are cases where a vaccine can create a reaction that can harm an animal.  These are extremely uncommon, and compared to the number of lives saved through vaccines, there is no question that while there is a basic truth to the anti-vaccine crowd, there isn't the logic to back up avoiding the general use of them.

Unvaccinated animals can live long, healthy lives.  But they can pose the threat of both succumbing to a disease that they could easily be protected from, and also becoming a "patient zero" for an outbreak of that disease, putting others at risk.

There is, however, a middle ground that many have embraced.  For animals with mature immune systems (not puppies/kittens), titers are a way of testing to see if your animal is maintaining its immunity to a specific ailment.  Rather than giving an animal repeated doses of a vaccine that the animal may already carry sufficient antibodies to, you can have the animal tested through blood tests to see if the vaccine is necessary. 

The only downside to this is cost.  It can be much more expensive to test than to just vaccinate, and if the test comes back revealing a deficiency, you will need to vaccinate anyway.  So, you are paying for the chance to not vaccinate. 

Which is an option that works for everyone.  It keeps the pets safe, and minimizes the vaccines. 

Holistic vets seem to favour titers, conventional vets seem to favour vaccines.  Finding a vet who shares your personal views goes a long way to creating a long term relationship where everyone is satisfied with the outcomes, you , your vet, and most importantly, your pet.

Again, this is a medical decision, please ask your vet about whether this is an option for you. 

Season of Giving

In the season of giving, we remember family and friends, and are inspired to give to strangers.  But sometimes, it’s the ones without voices we forget, at a time when their needs are greatest.

After all the gift wrap has been tossed away, and the last of the leftovers have been consumed, shelters are still taking care of those pets looking for a furever home.  This is the perfect time, after the hustle and bustle is over, for you to consider adding one of these pets to your family, or to donate to their care, or both!

Whether it is a dog or a cat, or something a little smaller or more exotic, shelters generally have more selection but fewer customers in the cold weather months.  Animals are still coming in, and with fewer going out, population pressure builds.   Unfortunately, part of that pressure comes from animals that were given as gifts, and then surrendered by people who weren’t ready for that pet in their lives.

Most shelters charge a modest fee for adoption for the animals in their care, these fees help pay for the overheads incurred by the shelters.  Notice the word “help”.  Shelters, relying on volunteer labour, incur expenses for food, veterinary care, and supplies.  Fundraising events and private donations are needed to make up the difference.  

When people think of animal shelters, they generally think of dogs.  Large mixed breed dogs, maybe from a northern reserve.  Yes, these are a large part of the shelter community.  But there are small dog rescues, and senior dog rescues, and ones that are breed specific (yes, there are purebred dogs that can be adopted).  Then there are cats.  Not just ferals (wild cats),  but cats from all places, including purebred ones. 

I’d like to take a moment in this column to mention that there are other animals out there for adoption.  Groups like the Manitoba Ferret Association, of Jenn’s Furry Friends work with these animals, just to name a few.  Groups like these will work with Animal Services or the Humane Society to help care for those animals a regular shelter isn’t really set up to handle.  Most work through volunteers homes, without a permanent building, keeping overheads down so that they can care for as many animals as possible with limited resources.  But even then,  they rely on the kindne$$ of others.

MFA accepts surrendered animals, and rehomes ones that are suitable for that, and sponsors ferrets that are not adoptable for the rest of their lives in the shelter.   Ferrets can be wonderful pets, but they can sometimes be too much for a person to handle, and thank goodness the MFA is there when that happens.

Jenn’s Furry Friends works with dogs and cats, but they also have a number of bunnies and guinea pigs.  Finding homes for older critters can be a difficult task, as young ones are readily available, relatively cheap and don’t require a questionnaire to be filled out.  But rescuing an animal means so much more, giving that animal the second chance at the life it deserves.  Knowing that you have saved another living thing is its own reward, and makes pet ownership just that little bit more special.

Our pets love us unconditionally.  Lets give a little of that back to those pets who have been forgotten at this time of the year where the theme of the holidays is unconditional love.

Boy, does my dog smell.

Dogs smell.  Its something they do very, very well.  And I'm not talking about that little toot when company is over, or the wet dog smell when they come in from the rain.

I'm talking olfactory prowess.  Dogs have the best noses around.  Dogs use 40 times as much of their brains for scent than we do, and can identify smells 1,000 to 10,000 times better than us. 

This special ability leads to many dogs having jobs.  Dreaded by any snowboarded in an airport, scent dogs are used by customs and security for detecting everything from illicit drugs, contraband foods, right through to explosives and threat materials.  They can be trained to detect even the tiniest traces which can lead to the apprehension of very bad people and the saving of untold lives.

Not just security, scent dogs have long been used in hunting.  The bloodhound, the king of scenthounds, is prized for its ability to track prey.  Originally developed for tracking food, they became used to track escaped prisoners.  Now they are deployed in finding lost children, allowing their talents to once again, save innocent lives.

Search and rescue dogs are more than St. Bernard's with whiskey barrels around their necks (yes, I know its a myth, but it is still part of pop culture).  These valiant heroes search dangerous terrains to find lost souls, and comb avalanches to find trapped people, or more tragically, their remains. 

Now, studies are being run where dogs are being used to detect disease, specifically cancer.  This calls on the dog to identify certain compounds produced by tumours.  A recent study Ehmann R, Boedeker E, Friedrich U; et al. (August 2011). "Canine scent detection in the diagnosis of lung cancer: Revisiting a puzzling phenomenon". showed that dogs could detect lung cancer with a 71% sensitivity rate.  Can you imagine, soon we could have a "lab" test where you breathe in a retriever's face.   I wonder what a future "cat" scan will involve.

Recently, I met a local woman who is using her dogs in a more everyday usage, bedbug detection.  Her dogs have been trained and certified in detecting these evil and insidious little critters.  A very proactive way to prevent outbreaks and spreading of these pests.

Other scents that dogs can be trained to in our everyday life include moulds.  With our houses becoming better sealed against drafts with our high efficiency furnaces and airtight window systems, moulds have become a lot larger problem.  Mould detection dogs can sniff past barriers, and detect problems you can't see yet, before they become dangerous, allowing remediation an prevention or it re-occurring.

Its great to know that there are canines out there working to protect us from things like these.   Dogs with jobs are becoming a bigger part of our lives, thanks to their strengths, special abilities and most of all, their hearts.  Whether it’s a scent hound, seeing eye dog, a herding dog, a sled dog, or a service dog for autism or PTSD, working dogs earn their keep the same way our pets earn theirs by giving us love and companionship.

Holiday Safety

Its that time of year again, the holidays are upon us.  In our efforts to enjoy the season, we can create situations that can put our pets at risk.  I'll outline some lesser known risks that may not be as apparent as the dark chocolate and mistletoe poison concerns.

One of the latest threats to our pets health is a commonly used artificial sweetener, Xylitol.  Very toxic to dogs, it is finding its way into more and more products, the latest one being Peanut Butter.  Before using any peanut butter for treats, or in dog cookies, ensure that it does not contain this sweetener.  Xylitol. 

We generally are worried about poisonous threats to our pets, and well we should be watchful of what they eat or can get in to.  Pets with allergies will often be offered "a little bit of the holiday bounty" at get togethers, so be sure to advise guests of any pet allergies.  Unfortunately many people think that "just a little bite of piecrust" can't hurt a pet, but if there is a wheat allergy, it can cause the pet, at the very least, weeks of itching, and at the very worst, a trip to the vet. 

Tinfoil used in cooking can also be a delicious danger for your pets, make sure it is disposed of securely, as well as any cooked turkey bones, or other kitchen garbage.  But, in moderation, uncooked turkey parts (wings, necks, giblets) can be great treats for your pet.  But be careful, if you are lucky you might end up becoming a raw feeder.

Other threats that pets face include choking hazards.  So many of our decorations look tasty, or at least fun to chew or play with.  Making sure these decorations are secured in a way that the animals can't take them down, and that any they may have access to are not choking hazards, and non toxic, just in case.  Giving pets their own holiday toys to keep them occupied can also help, so long as those toys do not closely resemble your ornaments, so there is no confusion.

Candles can be a popular seasonal decoration.  The new LED versions are safe, but conventional candles can attract pets in dark rooms.  Make sure they are secure and  in a place the pets can't get to or tip over.

Tying a ribbon around a pet's neck may look cute, but it can be very dangerous.  Cats can get caught up on things as they travel through the all the nooks and crannies they love to explore in your house.  There is a reason that cat collars are made with break away clips, to stop them from becoming a choking hazard if the cat gets into trouble.

Crowds of people gathering in your home may upset your pets.  If you are worried that it may cause a problem, you can keep the pet in a separate room.  Make sure that its favourite toys and bed are in the room, but unless this is for an extended period of over 8 hours, no food or water needs to be available during the sequester.

Holiday safety is easy, if you put just a little thought into it.  Have a safe and merry holiday!

Groomers learn from the best

Professionals of every ilk have conventions.  These gatherings of like minded people allow for everyone to grow in their chosen field, exchanging new ideas and techniques that allow them to do a better job for their clients.

Dog groomers are no exception.  Winnipeg hosted Groomerpalooza recently, with 50 professional pet stylists in attendance.  Most from Winnipeg, there were groomers from Brandon, and even from AB, SK and ON. 

Groomers that attend these events learn tips and tricks that make them more efficient, and allow them to give the customer a better finished product.  Groomperpalooza featured two exceptionally talented master groomers, Jay Scruggs and Sue Zecco.  Jay and Sue headlined the event, certified Master Groomers that have starred in many videos and are widely known for their talents, both as groomers and as judges.  Yes, groomers have competitions, and someone has to judge those, and these are two of the best, quite a coup to get them up here to share with our local groomers.   

This event included seminars on the latest techniques for grooming: West Highland, Bedlington and SealyhamTerriers, English Springer and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels,  Poodles, ShihTzus and Bichons.   Demos on mixed breed dogs, and "what to do with a doodle" helping give insight into what to do when there is no pattern or book to go by. 

There were also presentations on  equipment maintenance, sharpening, shampoos, conditioners and treatments, as well as ergonomics.  The 2 day event wrapped up with an interactive Q&A with of Jay and Sue.  These events also have breaks and meals where the groomers can talk amongst themselves, sharing stories about the great dogs/owners they have, and commiserating about the not so great experiences they have had.

Another important part of this education forum is to emphasize techniques and procedures to enhance safety for both the dogs, and the people working with them.  All through the seminars and demonstrations, proper techniques are shown that improve the levels of safety during the grooming experience. 

Professional development is essential in every line of work. Events like this help recharge a groomers batteries, gets them excited again for the career they have chosen.  Having worked with a number of groomers that attend these events, I can attest to the fact that when they come back to work, they are reinvigorated, raring to go and use the new tips and techniques they have learned. 

I still remember an event years ago that I was fortunate enough to attend, where the presenter showed a technique for grooming a perfect poodle foot in seconds.  It was a simple technique, and once you saw it, it made total sense.  Watching groomers that had years of experience learn one simple thing, and seeing how their faces lit up and listening to them comment on the hours of time they wasted over the years fiddling with making a perfect foot, that tip alone paid for the event. 

Small Tanks can work, but big ones are a lot easier.

I have kept tropical fish for 40+ years.  I remember my first tank, a 3.5 gal tank with 2 Cherry Barbs and a Bronze Cory catfish.  I was happy with that tank for about 2 weeks, and then I needed a bigger one.  There were a few aquariums in the basement from years past, so I dragged out a 20 gallon. 

Chrome trim, slate bottom, this was the Cadillac of aquariums at the time.  Stainless top with 2 incandescent light bulbs (careful not to splash water on it, it was prone to arcing house current, and could give you quite the tingle) .  I was so proud of that tank, and set it up with great care and was diligent with maintenance.  Looking back at that tank, it is like looking back at a Model T.  Sure, it got the job done, and no one had better, but comparing it to what we have today, wow.

Technology has made aquarium keeping easier, safer and more rewarding.  We now have tanks in any shape or size a designer could fathom, that will fit into any décor, from rustic to futuristic.  New materials with greater strengths and new adhesives to put these materials together have made for some very unique aquatic environments.  That 3.5 gallon tank that was too small for me is now finding its way back into the hobby.

LED lighting to reduce overheating small tanks, tiny heaters that keep them warm at night when our thermostats let the house cool down, micro filters that are easily hidden and don't make buzzing or gurgling noises.  These are some of the advancements that make smaller tanks easier that they were 40 years ago. 

But these advancements also present new problems.  With oddly shaped aquaria, it becomes harder to get into the nooks and crannies to clean.  The smaller sizes make filtration and heating more of a challenge.  Finding appropriate animals for these tiny tanks is also difficult.  Fish need space, especially if you want to put more than one in the tank.  They need room to get away from their tankmates, and room for oxygen to get into the water, and for waste to be processed out.

Some of these tiny tanks are perfect for bettas (Siamese Fighting Fish), which solves a lot of the issues.  But too many have pictures of a dozen fish swimming around in a tank that would be over capacity at 4.  So someone buys one, and loads it up with the pictured fish, and a few days or a week later, everything dies.  When they seek out a fish expert and ask what went wrong, and get the sad news that the tank they bought will never house the fish they want, another tank ends up in a garage sale.

There was a recent trend to keeping shrimp in these micro tanks, which can be very interesting.  They aren't fish, though, and while they are unique, they don't have the same wide appeal that fish swimming around a tank do.

Small tanks can be great, but make sure you understand all the limitations they bring.  The best way to avoid disappointment is research.  

Tortoises- Great Pet, but be ready for a lifetime commitment

I love hearing about celebrities that care about animals, and the pets they've chosen.  I was watching Jimmy Fallon the other night, and Benicio Del Toro was talking about his pets.  They talked about his 2 dogs, an Aussie Sheppard and a banana loving St. Bernard.  And then they discussed his other pets, 2 tortoises.

When he described buying them at a pet shop in Vegas (they sell everything there) 12 years ago, I cringed.  Jimmy made a joke about coming home from Vegas with a couple of tortoises, which kinda struck home. Usually, when that happens, the animal quickly loses its novelty, and gets forgotten or rehomed. 

Interestingly, though, unlike the too numerous celebrities that buy a cool or trendy pet only to abandon its care shortly thereafter, he has kept and maintained them.  They are very large now, and live in his back yard (wouldn't we all love to live in a climate where you could keep a tortoise outside all year round?), and look very well taken care of and happy (maybe a little too happy in the video).

Tortoises are pets that can live a very, very long time, 60 years plus.  Some stay smaller, 6-10" up to 2-3lbs, while others can get up to 3 feet long and weigh 200 lbs!  Make sure of which one it is you are purchasing, because if spending a lifetime with a 200lb buddy is not what you were expecting, it can be hard to find someone else to take over the commitment.

There are habitats readily available for purchase for the smaller tortoises, that have appropriate lighting (they need UVB, and not just sunshine through a window, because glass filters out UVB), heating, shelter and water features.  For the larger animals, you can build enclosures for them fairly easily if you have the room.  And again, all the special UVB lighting and heat emitters are readily available.

Tortoises are easy to feed, there are prepared diets available, but most people use these only as supplements.  Having a tortoise can actually improve your diet, because having the fresh greens and veggies in the house for your pet means they are available for you as well!  One thing tortoises don't mind is sharing their food with their keepers, as long as both get enough to stay happy.

Tortoises don't have the same level of concern for salmonella that aquatic turtles do, yet it can still be a concern, especially if you don't keep them clean.  But cleanliness is easy, with regular water changes, and changing their bedding is inexpensive enough to do regularly as well. 

Some of Youtube's funniest videos star the Tortoise, searching "Tortoise" can reveal some interesting results.  Some of my favourites include chasing a cherry tomato, tortoises chasing dogs, and of course, the ever inappropriate mating videos, like the one that aired on the Tonight show mentioned above. 

Some people liken them to dogs, that live longer and are easier to walk.  These entertaining pets can be a delight, if given the proper care and treatment.

Better Pet Nutrition with Supplements

In today’s fast paced world, we look to improve our lives and save time with prepared foods, and many look to improve the nutrition we may be missing by using supplements.  We also may have an activity or an affliction that requires us to add more of something to our diet, or avoid certain things.

Those same reasons also apply to our pets.  Prepared diets are often regarded as nutritionally sound, but may be lacking in the things that can make life better.   And like with us, there are supplements you can buy for your pets to address these additional needs.  There are also foods that you can prepare yourself that contain what your pets need, from natural source.

The most common supplement we see sold for pets is Glucosamine.  Yes, I take Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM and Vit C every day myself. Like many pets, I have joint issues, and this group of nutraceuticals helps.  Available in pills, treats, powder and liquid forms, it is easy to find the dosage and delivery method that works easiest for you.  Treats and pills are easy to administer, but carry the largest price.  Liquids and powders are less expensive, and are usually just added to the food as a top dressing.  Watch the dosage though.  There are many “Joint Support” treats out there that have minimal amounts of these compounds.  Make sure you get what you pay for.

Omega’s are another big additive, both for people and pets.  Omega 3 balance is important for proper skin/coat condition.  Many foods purport “Healthy Omegas” yet have little or no Omega 3’s, or only Omega 3’s from plant source.  The best Omega 3’s (EPA, DHA) come primarily from fish or krill.  If the food doesn’t have these, you can supplement with a simple squirt or pump of them onto the food.  No need for fancy gel caps like we take, most dogs and cats love the fishy flavor.  Omegas do more than make for a better coat, they can also address other issues, including heart health, joint issues, allergies, autoimmune and  even slow the rate of certain cancers.  Many food list the Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio on their bags, ideal ratio of 6 to 3 is between 5-1 and 10-1.   Another supplement for heart health is CoQ10, my Zoe improved dramatically when we added it to her diet.

Many foods contain natural nutritional supplements, and the raw feeding movement has been working using these to make the incredible benefits of raw feeding even better.  Products that are receiving accolades for human nutrition are also finding their way into pet nutrition.  Things like coconut oil, turmeric, antioxidant rich foods like blueberries or cranberries, super-greens, kelp, yogurt, kefir, and even kale are finding their way into our pet’s diets.  With a little research, you can come up with a recipe that addresses your concerns while giving your pet optimal nutrition.

Many holistic vets will include education on diet in their regular consultation, helping you create a diet that best fits your pet’s needs.  These recommendations won’t normally include a convenient kibble as a complete solution, so some prep work will be necessary.  But trust me, a little time spent putting together a better diet will improve your pet’s health, and once you see those results, it might get you looking at improving your own diet as well.  A win/win, really.

Making Seniors lives better with Pets

I have written many columns about how pets enrich our lives.  Study after study has shown that a companion animal help us live longer, happier and healthier lives.  Getting official recognition of these facts and creating programmes that make them part of our society would be a wonderful goal to strive for.  I am very interested in moving forward towards these goals.  Anyone doubting that animals have an effect, google “Nala teacup poodle” and watch the elevator riding life enriching poodle.  But make sure you have a box of tissues handy.

Last week, I was invited to an event at Waverly Retirement Residence by Jodi Arnal.  As part of their “Dog Days” events in August, they had invited the Humane Society to bring 3 dogs to their facility, for an afternoon information session and to meet and greet the residents.  There were about 40 residents in attendance, and a fundraiser cupcake/lemonade sale for the Black Dog Club/Humane Society.

The residents enjoyed the visit, with Molly, Emma and especially Rufus doing tricks and interacting with everyone.  You could see some of them really light up when Rufus high five’d them, or put his head in their lap.  Not all were engaged, but many did get a boost from the visit.  Getting  even one of those smiles is worth whatever effort it took.  Thank you, Jodi, for inviting me, and I hope that you and Revera continue working to integrate companion animals into your residences.

Many seniors are worried about making long term commitments at that time of their lives not because they are concerned about being able to give a loving, caring home to an animal, but because they are worried about what will happen to the animal when they pass.   More and more, though, we see rescue groups coming together that are directed at addressing these issues, both with the pets of seniors who have passed or can no longer care for their companion, as well as finding homes for senior pets looking for the animal equivalent of a retirement residence. 

At Waverly, I did get a chance to meet Kay Brown and Nigel.  Nigel had been a dog looking for a home, he has some issues with other dogs, and is fearful around many people.  Kay had been approached about him, but she was unsure of adopting him, and declined a few times before she was actually introduced to him in person.  That first meeting sealed the deal, though, as he jumped up into her lap and was immediately at ease.  You can tell by the way he acts towards her that there is a very special bond, and there is no doubt the relationship has made both their lives immeasurably better.

Kay and Nigel are a perfect example of why banning pets from apartments and condos is barbaric.  Yes, there are concerns about potential damage caused, but that possibility is a something easily fixed with nothing more than the expenditure of money.  You cannot put a price on what having loving companion means to someone’s quality of life.  Especially a senior, living all alone.  Pet ownership should be encouraged in 55+ condo’s and seniors residences, not banned.  Waverly’s event was another reassurance that this is becoming more recognized, and I applaud those out there working to these goals, and would love to lend my support in any way I can.

Dealing with Cattitude

This morning,
5:03 AM, my alarm goes off.  Not my real alarm, but the furry ball of nails and attitude known as Streaky Bell (named by my 10 year old daughter Mary, Streaky for Supergirl's cat, Bell for Alexander Graham who she was studying in school). 

It seems I did the horrible thing of not filling his food bowl before going to bed.  And, of course, he waited for me to be smack dab in the middle on my most restful art of sleep to remind me of my transgression.  Hey, there was food in the bowl when I went to bed, just not a lot of it. 

Such is the joy of cats.  Sure, these moments make you want to test out the theory of there being more than one way to skin a cat, but before you know it, they are curled up in your lap, buzzing away with that infectious happiness, and all is forgiven.

Almost every day, I get someone asking me questions about cat behaviour, and how to go about correcting it.  Scratching furniture and not using the litter box are the two biggest complaints.  While I'm not an animal behaviourist, I have 20+ years  of dealing with customers and their pets, so I've managed to pick up some tips along the way.

Scratching furniture is by far the biggest complaint about cats.  The obvious solutions are to give the cats something more attractive to scratch, and remove access to the item being scratched.

Scratch posts, carpeted, covered with sisal rope, or made of cardboard are the most popular choices.  From a simple cardboard pad (with a little catnip added) for under $10, to custom cat trees costing hundreds, its not hard to find an option that fits your budget and decor.  Many times, this can be enough to stop the bad behavior.

Removing access can be a little harder.  Using commercial deterrents can help (Scat Mat static pads, XMat pin pads) by using a physical barrier.  Some people use two sided tape or tinfoil to make the area less attractive.  As well, there are scent deterrents that create the area unpleasant to the cat, but tolerable to our less acute noses.  We recommend that you don't spray the scent deterrent directly on the furniture, but rather on a towel or cloth, and then place that on the furniture.

Litter issues are a different matter.  Sometimes behavioural, sometimes a protest, and sometimes an issue with location or type of litter.

When the dynamic of a household changes (someone leaving, someone coming in), cats sense the upheaval and can respond by showing their disapproval.  Peeing in the new person's shoes or on the bed is a standard response.  Most of the time, this stops when the new member becomes accepted into the house by the cat.  Having the new member feed, give treats and clean litter for the cat can accelerate the process.  (Yes, you can show them this to get them to do those chores!)

Adding a new cat or dog can be an even more traumatic issue.  If you are adding a cat, make sure to add at least one new litter box, so they do not have to share.

 "Missing" the litter, pooping out the side of or beside the box, can be a signal that the cat is upset either by the cleanliness of the box, or the type of litter used.  Figure out which, and you can easily fix that problem.  Litter formulations can change, even though they may be in the same package from the same store, so you may not even realize the problem's source.  If this behaviour starts, be extra vigilant in cleaning to see if that is the solution.  You might also look at changing the location, especially if something else has changed in that room/area.  It might be that something you've placed near the litterbox is bothering the cat.

There are no black and white answers for dealing with a living thing.  But observation is our best diagnostic tool to finding a solution.  Work with your cat, and you will resolve the issues much faster.

Give Rats a Chance

I’ve talked about how pets make our lives better, how companion animals are great company and therapy in many instances.  Studies have shown that pet owners exhibited greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, were less lonely, were more conscientious, were more socially outgoing, and had healthier relationship styles.

Now, research is showing that pet ownership also helps kids in school, according to a story in the Huffington Post:

Owning a pet can increase a child's sense of responsibility, nurture a more caring attitude and develop self-confidence and, in the case of having a dog, it encourages kids to get outside more.

Scott Jefferson, marketing director for Pets at Home, concluded: "Owning a pet also has a positive impact on a child's level of fitness. More than 30 per cent of children who took part in our survey said they had become more active as a result of owning a pet."

Makes sense, really.  The responsibility of pet ownership teaches a lot of good habits, and these habits will transfer nicely to the rest of their lives.  Including their studies and  projects/papers.  But just because they own a dog, doesn't mean they can use the excuse that their dog ate their homework.  That's not what we're talking about here.

The study included students that owned all kinds of pets, and remarkably, the highest scoring students were ones that owned rats and mice!  Followed by dogs, and then cats.  I've talked before about what great pets rats make, and here is another great positive for keeping these lovely animals that so often get a bad rap. 

Rats are intelligent, social and very rewarding pets.  The only drawback (besides being associated with their wild counterparts that live in sewers and garbage dumps) is that they live so short a life.  3 or 4 years is a long, happy life for a rat.  So, just as we've grown attached and used to having them there, they're gone. 

Having a routine in our lives gives us a structure that we can build on.  Having to regularly feed and clean after a pet prepares you for other routines, studytime, schedules for when papers are due, and the like. 

Add to that the stress release of pet ownership, after a hard session of studying for a test, a student can interact with their pet and release some of that tension, relaxing with a pet removes so much stress from our lives, and adds the enjoyment of play.

Does this affect your considerations when the kids want a new pet?  It can sometimes be a difficult decision, maybe the idea that a pet can help with school results will tip the balance that little bit.

Enrichment is good for everyone

Last week was Zookeepers week, and I am fortunate to have had one of our Zoo’s  keepers as a former employee, Jenna Harrison.  Jenna gets to work with Hudson and his friends, and on our last visit, we caught her working with the bears and were able to get a little extra knowledge that day.  Thanks Jenna, and keep up the great work.

Some of the knowledge we got that day is directly linked to my topic: Enrichment.  It is important at the Zoo to keep the animals engaged and active.  Jenna showed us the different “toys” that they rotate in the bear enclosures, some big, some small, but all different and allowing different play activities.  Each day a different item is put in the enclosure giving the animal a fresh experience.

Many behavioural problems can be solved with these simple actions.  Diverting an animals stress and frustration to a play task can prevent it from engaging in a destructive behaviour.  Play is a very important part of a well adjusted life.

These kinds of enrichment can help our pets as well.  Many of our pets have a favourite toy, and that’s great, but it is important to give them a variety of different experiences.  Different sizes, different textures, some can involve food or treats, some with sounds or involving an activity.  Other forms of enrichment include interacting with your pet, going for walks, playing tug of war, or even simple grooming tasks like brushing all enrich a pet’s environment.

One way of enhancing this enrichment is doing the same thing as Zookeepers do, rotating the toys.  Our schnauzer, Zoey, had a basket of toys (benefit of the job, I get a discount on spoiling our pets) .  She would generally rotate her toys on her own, choosing her activity for the day.  We knew when she was especially frustrated, because we’d come home to find her basket empty, and toys all over the floor.   We knew then it was time for an extra long walk.

Every year, new toys hit the market that help us enrich our pets lives.  There are toys that dispense treats/food when they are played with, whether by movement or completing a task.  The newest one we have dispenses a few kibbles every time a tennis ball is dropped through a hole in the top of the unit.  Other ones have doors that need to be slid open to reveal food or a treat.  Something as simple as some peanut butter in a Kong can provide a pet with a much needed distraction when you are not at home.

As I mentioned before, enrichment takes place both when you are not at home, and when you are.   Your pet craves interaction with you, and it has been scientifically proven that interacting with a pet reduces stress and has a positive effect on our own lives.  So it really is a win/win. 

Taking some extra time or adding a new toy or food item to your pets day will go a long way to making both your lives that little bit better.   And that's a good thing.

A Letter to the Editor from Sheri Gould DVM in response to a recent column has brought up a few questions that I think need public discussion.  Over my next 2 installments, I would like to discuss the issues.

Dr. Gould brings up some interesting points.  Pet nutrition is more than just an interest for me, it is a primary focus of my occupation.  The health and wellbeing of my customers animals is the focus of my business, and providing the best possible advice and products is my job.  Our nutritional recommendations are made based on the entire industry, not just a few exclusive brands.

 For every claim someone has, there is science to back it up.  Climate change deniers can cling to a few reports, rather than face the overwhelming majority that represents the truth.  The truth of the matter here is that yes, kibble will not kill your dog.  Laboratory studies paid for by billion dollar companies prove that, lab studies in which thousands of animals were harmed or even died in.  But is kibble the best food for your dog?  That is something that there is no scientific proof for.

 Kibble is convenient, inexpensive, and in most cases, can meet the AAFCO standards for a balanced diet.  A bowl of cereal, a vitamin pill, a candy bar, an energy drink and a fast food burger and fries would meet a standard for human nutrition roughly equivalent to the standards put up by AAFCO.  Would anyone recommend that diet over a balanced one of fresh meats, fruits and vegetables?  Then how can we expect a bag of processed and preserved pebbles made mainly of plant material to provide a better source of nutrition than a balanced diet of raw meat for a carnivore? I don't think so.

 Dr. Gould quotes: "there is no scientific evidence that raw food diets are healthy for pets".  The fact that dogs and cats exist, while kibble pet food has only been here barely 100 years, is scientific evidence that raw works.  Dogs eat meat, cats have to eat meat.  She mentions that cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they eat only meat, yet the foods she would recommend have carbs and plant proteins.

 She states "there are no known carbohydrate requirements for dogs". Pretty much defines them as carnivores, right?  If there are no need for carbs, why are foods made for dogs that are more carb than protein or fat?  Carbs are cheap, and kibble crumbles without them.  She further claims that those little brown pebbles are the best way to provide the correct amount of protein.  The vast majority kibble contains proteins primarily from plant source.  These are not the appropriate proteins for carnivores.  Yes, dogs are carnivores, and cats obligate carnivores.  Dogs are Canus Lupus, the same genotype (genetics) as a grey wolf.  The phenotype (appearance) has been changed through selective breeding, giving us Yorkies and Mastiffs, but genetically they are still wolves, and no evolutionary change has happened to make them omnivores.  From teeth through the digestive tract, they are carnivores. Cats, as obligate carnivores, need meat even more.

 Most importantly, every diet requires balance.  We would never recommend feeding an unbalanced diet, be it kibble, canned or raw.  Most commercially prepared raw diets take that into account, and are formulated to exceed AAFCO standards, not just meet it like kibble.  If you make your own, there are many resources you can access that can help you prepare a balanced diet, utilizing species appropriate ingredients, that contain a rich supply of natural nutrition, all the vitamins and minerals mother nature has provided us, and none of the chemicals, colours and preservatives that are used in most kibble.  Some that are still allowed to be used in pet food, but have been banned from human use. 

 There are kibbles out there that derive a majority of their protein from meat, and do not contain these dangerous ingredients.  Unfortunately, these products represent a tiny percentage of the kibble produced today, and are also the most expensive.  Most of these are made by smaller companies, that own their own production facilities, and buy their own ingredients. I would be glad to help you discover why some of these kibbles are so much better than others.  Or, if you can invest a little more time than scooping food out of a bucket,  we can show you how to provide a balanced, natural raw diet.

2nd part:

Continuing from last column, in response to Dr Gould's Letter to the editor. 

 Dr. Gould quotes a 2012 position paper from the CVMA.  The CVMA has no medical standing, but rather are "an organization that provides programs and services to assist veterinarians with their careers." 

 The paper cites "potential liability" issues regarding the recommendation of raw, and potential for dogs to shed salmonella in feces.  Their primary issue as stated is a legal liability issue, not a health issue.  And none of their issues has anything to do with the health of the animals, except when utilized improperly.  An issue that would exist with any improperly followed feeding regimen.

 The study that paper cites for dogs shedding Salmonella was as follows.  They contaminated raw food with salmonella, and found that some of the dogs exposed to that tainted feed shed salmonella in their feces.  Makes sense, because that is what a dog's digestive system is meant to do.  Of 16 dogs fed tainted food, 7 had salmonella in their feces.  That means 9 actually cleaned the salmonella out of he food!  None of the exposed dogs got diarrhea, or exhibited clinical salmonellosis.  So, even though they were purposely fed bad meat, none got sick.  Oh, and by the way, 50 "purpose bred Beagles" were purchased to be used in this laboratory study.  To prove that some dogs that get fed salmonella will have salmonella in their poop.  Poor doggies.

 First, raw should not contain salmonella if handled appropriately. Second, don't eat dog poop!  Wash hands after handling dog poop!  Not sure how this is a concern, really, especially as most raw fed dogs get zero salmonella in their food.  Most commercial raw dog foods are are HPP processed, or contain natural bacterophages to eliminate these risks.

 Like most cautionary reports regarding raw, this one points to "potential risks".  This paper includes mention of the dangers of improperly handled raw foods, and diets that are not balanced.   These are unfair in their portrayals.  Anything that isn't done properly can lead to problems.  Kibble, canned or raw.  The word "potential" is the key here.  Because there are no actual cases of people getting salmonella through raw feeding.  But "safe" kibble?  Hundreds of cases of salmonella poisoning, even deaths. 

 Kibble is recalled all the time for salmonella contamination.  I have yet to hear a caution about proper handling of kibble.  The dangers of kibble are hidden, and not limited to salmonella.  People seem to regard it as safe, but handled or stored improperly, it can be quite dangerous.  It is scary how many people use a bin to store kibble, and rarely wash it.  The buildup of bacteria and molds in those bins is alarming.  But I've never had a vet  mention those dangers.  Not all kibble is equal in these dangers, but like with anything, if it is too cheap, there is a reason.  If you pay $25 for 40lbs of food, you have to wonder where those ingredients came from, and how safe they are.

 Raw has a built in safety factor, it is raw meat. We all know the hazards of raw meat, and take appropriate precautions.  Raw also has an added feature, you can actually see what it is made of.  If you buy a commercially prepared product, you can see the different bits of meat, bone, organ and veggies, depending on what blend you use. 

 No one can tell what is in a little brown pebble without a laboratory, and even then, it can be difficult.  You have to trust that the manufacturer actually puts in what is listed on the label, and only what is listed on the label.  Melamine, mycotoxins, accidental vitamin overdoses, all these documented mass market kibble disasters could never happen with raw foods.  Because no raw foods use ingredients that could contain these contaminants.

 Of course, the decision of how and what you feed your pet depends on your personal situation.  A dog can live a long, normal life eating just about anything.  They are very resilient beasts.  If you want to ensure that they are getting the best, most appropriate food, we would be happy to show you what to look for in a pet's diet without bias or prejudice against kibble, canned or raw, or even how to make it yourself.  My job depends on your pet living a long, healthy life.

Dr. Gould's Letter to the Editor:

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to the article that was printed April 22 called "Embracing raw food diet makes sense" written by Jeff McFarlane.  I applaud Jeff for his interest in pet nutrition, but I want to clarify a few points from the article. In the article it says that dogs are carnivores; this is not correct. Dogs are omnivores - meaning they can survive on a vegetarian diet or on high meat intake - but not ALL meat intake. There are no known carbohydrate requirements for dogs (except late gestation, early lactation), but consuming carbs helps to balance out the diet. Dogs consuming an all-meat diet (without supplemental vitamins/minerals) develop lots of problems - the classic is nutritional-secondary hyperparathyroidism. They are not obligate carnivores, like cats.

Jeff says that the best way to feed a pet is with a raw food diet. In 2012 the Canadian Veterinary Association released a statement about feeding raw food diets. In the statement they said that

there is no scientific evidence that raw food diets are healthy for pets and they could cause health problems for the pets, and/or the people around them. Anyone interested in reading the entire statement or checking out the references can do so at the following website:

The article also says that dogs need meat. What they actually need is the correct amount of protein in their diet, and the best way to provide this is with a high quality dog food in the form of kibble. I know choosing a good quality dog food can be confusing and frustrating and there are multiple opinions on the subject. The experts in this area are board certified veterinary nutritionists who specialize in pet nutrition. I attended a seminar a few years ago where a veterinary nutritional specialist gave me a list of questions to ask pet food companies to help choose the best one. I hand out this list to my clients to help choose a pet food. I encourage all owners to call your pet food company and ask them the following questions. If they don't know or refuse to answer (or don't even have a contact number) I would consider switching foods:

1. Do you have a Veterinary Nutritionist or some equivalent on staff in your company? Are they available for consultation or questions?

2. Who formulates your diets and what are their credentials?

3. Which of your diets is AAFCO Feed Trial tested? Which of your diets have been AAFCO Nutritional analyzed?

4. What specific quality control measures do you use to assure the consistency and quality of your product line?

5. Where are your diets produced and manufactured? Can this plant be visited?

6. Can you provide a complete product nutrient analysis of your best selling canine and feline pet food including digestibility values?

7. Can you give me the caloric value per can or cup or your diets?

The best source of information on your pets health including nutrition is your veterinarian. We are happy to help.


Sheri Gould DVM

Best Friends Animal Hospital

Winnipeg Manitoba

There have been a lot of media reports lately about pet foods, and large pet food companies being sued by consumers, and even suing each other over false claims and ingredient mislabelling.  

There are a lot of factors that go into deciding which brand of pet food you want to choose for your pet. You can get good, and you can get cheap, but you can’t get both.  On the other hand, just because you pay a lot, it doesn’t mean you are getting a better food.  

A large part of the cost of some pet foods is marketing. Advertising, fancy packaging, elaborate laboratory testing and other expenses are expensive, and provide nothing to the end user, your pet. They might make the purchaser feel better about his purchase, but all those costs do not make the food any better. Having a celebrity’s name on the bag is another great marketing tool, but I’m not sure how many celebrities can add anything to a pet food’s ability to nourish your pet, but they sure know how to separate you from your hard-earned money.

Smaller, boutique type pet foods can save on these expenses, but may have a higher price due to the smaller production volumes, or just for the cache of being an exclusive formula. Some of these foods are great products and worth the extra cost, but not all of them are. A lot look like they might be a better choice, but they might be made in the same plant, and from the same ingredients as one of the mass market foods.

Many foods out there are made by giant extrusion companies, who pump out both the cheapest and the most expensive foods, sometimes from the same machinery from the same ingredients. One company has been advertising that their product contains no byproducts, and it turns out the company that makes it for them put byproducts into the food. Whether it was a mistake or a ploy to make the food cheaper, either by the company or the extruder, we don’t know. But those customers paid for byproduct-free, and didn’t get it.  

A recent study of 21 pet foods found 10 were mislabelled, either containing ingredients not on the label, or not containing listed ingredients (  While these mislabellings might not have been intentional, it is still pretty darned scary.   

My preference, for quality, value and safety is to choose a food made by a family -owned company in its own plant. This gives us a few protections, the fact that they are putting their name on the product, and their company will sink or swim on its success means that they are going to use the best quality ingredients and offer the best value. They have to rely on a combination of price and performance to get your business, and to grow, they can’t rely on expensive advertising to convince you the product works.

Another nice thing about family-owned production is that they tend to have a lot less recalls for things like salmonella. Big extrusion companies tend to have regular recalls for salmonella, vomitotoxins or other nutritional imbalances, affecting a number of brands at a time, so we can see it traces back to an ingredient source they share.

Doing a little research, reading the label a little closer, and finding out who actually makes the food can go a long way to protecting you, your pocketbook, and your pet.

Many of our customers have noted that once they’ve switched to a better food, the incidence of gas and bad breath are reduced. So that can be a primary treatment for these conditions.    

Gas can be caused in a number of ways.  Some animals take in air when they feed, especially larger breeds that have dishes on the floor, or dogs that eat very quickly.  Changing the food dishes can fix this.  Raised dishes can reduce this problem, as well as reducing the strain on the dog’s neck and back. There are also dishes that slow the feeding down, being divided into smaller section that the dog has to effectively lick the food out of. Something as simple as a rock or billiard ball in the food dish can also slow the feeding down, causing the animal to swallow less air.

Pooch have bad breath? The problem could be the mouth or the stomach.


Pooch have bad breath? The problem could be the mouth or the stomach.

Gas can also be caused by the fermentation of food in the animal’s gut. If fed the proper amount, the food should be digested completely. If overfed, the undigested food can ferment in the gut, causing gas. So, sometimes, reducing the amount of food can cure a gas problem, and save you from wasting expensive food. Remember, the recommended feeding on the side of the bag is an average, some dogs may actually need less. And the weights listed are the optimum weight for your pet, not the current weight.  Obese dogs should be fed based on what they should weigh, not what they actually weigh.

Bad breath can come from two places.  It can come from the mouth, or from the stomach. Bad teeth, tartar, gingivitis, infections and bacteria are all sources of bad breath. Most of these need to be treated by a veterinarian, but there are some natural products like PetzLife sprays that can reduce dental problems. Combined with regular brushing, and good chewing toys/treats (rawhides, real bones, tartar control chews) they can greatly reduce breath smells.  

Dental products include oral sprays or liquids you add to drinking water. The sprays (PetzLife for one) tend to be essential oils that work by being a natural antibacterial agent, killing the tartar causing bacteria.  The liquids usually contain a surfactant, a product which essentially makes the teeth slippery, so that carbs and the bacteria they feed won’t stick to the teeth.

These both are effective in many cases, but not all.  

To control stomach source odours, we can rely on better food to help, but there are also charcoal-enhanced cookies that can help greatly. The charcoal neutralizes the odours, just like the charcoal in a pair of odour eater insoles. These cookies usually also include mouth-freshening products like parsley oil and mint as well, giving them a double shot of effectiveness.

Controlling gas and bad breath isn’t rocket science, a few easy tips can make your pet much more pleasant sharing your personal space.

Pond season is back upon us, and with it, the same pond problems we face year after year. But there are answers, and I’ll try to shed some light on those in this column.

The problem I’m asked about most often is algae. Green water. Pea soup in the backyard.

Surprisingly, it is a very easy problem to fix.  

In the past, there were easy and effective treatments that would kill the algae with environmental poisons like copper sulphate. These have been banned, because they can get into our water system.

To solve a problem, it is important to identify the cause. There are three main things that can cause an algae problem —  light, food and phosphates.

Light can be difficult to control. If you placed the pond in an area of shade, you did well. Reduced sun makes algae control a lot easier. Using floating plants can cut down the light entering the pond, and reduce the algae bloom. Hyacinths, water lettuce, and pond lilies are all great choices to reduce light infiltration. These plants actually compete for the same food resources that the algae needs. There are also strong dyes that you can add to the water, which make the water blue, and reduce how deep the light can penetrate the water, restricting the algae’s access to light.

Food for algae is basically a combination of fish waste, leftover food and debris that fall into the pond. Filters can help a lot in reducing these foodstuffs for the algae, by removing solid waste with mechanical filtration and breaking down the liquid wastes with biological filtration.

The moving water also increases oxygen levels, which also can help fix algae problems.
Phosphates are easy to control with certain materials that can be added to your filter. Our tap water contains phosphates, so if you are using tap water to fill and do water changes, you have to make sure these materials are changed regularly. Phosphates act like an on/off switch for algae, removing phosphates is the most effective way we have now to control algae.

Filtration is the best and most effective solution for algae control. A properly designed filtration system can make your pond a beautiful addition to your living space. It can be utilized as part of a water feature, the pump powering water through filters and then to the top of a water fall, or through a fountain.

A well-designed filter system includes a mechanical filter, a biological filter, an option for chemical filtration and most important for algae control, UV filtration. A mechanical filter is usually a sponge that can be removed and cleaned to take out particulate waste. This is important when using pond clarifiers that clump the algae, also known as flocculants. Biological filters take advantage of bacteria to reduce waste buildup. Chemical filtration includes phosphate removers discussed earlier and activated carbon that removes colours and odours.

Ultraviolet (UV) filters pass the water over a source of UV light, that exposure kills suspended bacteria, parasites and algae completely. Installed properly and kept clean, these filters can give you crystal clear water that is a joy.  

A well-designed pond can give you a lot of enjoyment throughout the outdoor season.

Went out to the dog park for the first time in a while with my wife Jackie and Sheera.  Sheera, as some of my readers know, was owned by Jackie's parents, and we adopted her when they passed.  Jackie's mom and dad loved the Maple Grove Dog Park, and would go daily, regardless the weather.  It was a great way for them to get out for fresh air and exercise, and it enriched their daily lives.  I am very thankful for this, and try to pay it forward whenever I can.

Sheera has gotten markedly less mobile in the last year, so an on-leash wander up and down our street is enough wear her out.  This made the trek to the dog park in the depths of winter unnecessary for us and our busy lives.  But now that the weather has changed, taking her out for a leisurely stroll in the dog park a few times a week is a great way to get a little "couples" time and some exercise.  I don't think we are alone in this thought, there seemed to be a lot of people and dogs out.

There are many off leash areas in the city to take your pets out so they can get you some fresh air.  Fields for Fido on the website shows you where and outlines the rules you need to follow when using these resources, but I'd like to just remind everyone of a few.

Stoop & Scoop - Please use plastic bags to pick up after your dog. There are bags around most of the parks that are donated by volunteers, and receptacles for the waste.

Train Your Dog - Please train your dog to respond to commands, whether on or off-leash. The last thing anyone wants when they are enjoying a walk is to have to break up a dogfight, especially if the animal being attacked is your own.

Respect other users of the park - Walkers, joggers, cyclists, skiers, and other dog owners have a right to enjoy the paths as well. The first two items go a long way to make this happen, but please take others into consideration in all your activities.  These are public areas.

A few other rules include: Dog owners must be present and within view of their dogs at all times.  Aggressive dogs are not allowed in off-leash areas.   Dogs must be under voice control while off-leash.  Dog owners must have a leash in hand at all times.  Female dogs in heat are not allowed in off-leash areas.  Holes dug by dogs must be filled by the dog owner.  These are common sense rules, intended for the harmonious use of the park.

Proper Licensing is required - Please ensure your pet is properly licensed.  Its not expensive, the funds are used for animal services, and it is the law.

Many of the parks have user groups or dog owners associations that you can volunteer for.  These groups organize events and fundraisers to improve the facilities, and provide additional maintenance to make the dog park experience better for everyone.  Don't be afraid to step up and make everyone's experience a little better by your efforts.  And if you see Sheera, Jackie and I walking, don't be afraid to stop us and say Hi!.

Embracing raw food diets just makes sense.

This has been an amazing week for me.  The raw food movement is gaining so much momentum and this week, I was able to visit with a number of our raw fed dogs and see just how much their lives have improved.  It is probably the biggest reason I do this job, seeing how we can, through a little education, make pets lives better.

Playing with a few customers dogs this week has reaffirmed my commitment to spreading the word.  These dogs were so amazing, friendly, happy, bright white smiles, gorgeous coats and no doggy smell.  And their people just gush over how wonderful the experience of living with a raw fed dog is. 

Anyone who knows me, knows I have become a huge fan of feeding pets species appropriate foods.  For dogs and cats, this means raw meat, because both are carnivores.  For decades, we've been trained that dog and cat food is little brown pebbles.   That these little brown pebbles are nutritionally complete, and what our pets are supposed to eat. 

It is very hard to overcome the training we have been given, that those little brown nuggets are what dogs are supposed to eat.  Don't get me wrong, your dog or cat isn't going to die if you feed it kibble.  There have been tremendous advancements in dry pet food manufacturing over the past 20 years, and there are some very good products out there for people who can't/won't feed raw.  With a little research, you can find a product that is better for your pet than what has been available for the past 100 years.

Carnivores are built to eat and process meat.  From their teeth to their butt, a meat diet is what they are set up to process.  Most can survive on kibble, but they are meant to eat meat.  Sure, it can be a little more work, and a little more expense.  In the long run, though, it all balances out, and can end up actually being easier and cheaper!

We have been taught that you should never give a dog chicken bones, but that's only partly true.  The proper advice is that you should never give a dog *cooked* chicken bones.  Dogs and cats have never owned stoves, or cooked over campfires.  Until you cook them, chicken bones are soft. Try and do the wishbone thing with a raw chicken or turkey wishbone.  It won't happen.  But cook it, and it becomes brittle, and when it breaks, it becomes dangerously sharp. 

Raw meat can take some getting used to, but once you see the results, it gets a lot easier.  Soon you start looking for other raw things to feed, what other "parts" can be healthy for your pet.  It is surprising how many vegetarians, who abhor meat for themselves, but embrace it for their carnivore pets.  If they can get past it, anyone can.

I fostered a 7 lb poodle for a few months, and fed it a 100% raw diet.  His favourite meal was a chicken back.  Yes, he would attack a whole chicken back, chewing up the bone and cartilage along with the meat and skin.  1/2 a chicken back was a meal for him, his other meal was a balance of ground meats and organs.  His teeth went from yucky to awesome during those two months.  Never had an issue with the bones.  

If you are willing to embrace the raw, you will be well rewarded.  Google it, check out facebook groups, and you will see why this "new" way of feeding pets has come full circle.  Feeding your pet what it is built to eat just makes sense.

Its puddles and mud season.  A dog's favourite time of year.  If you aren't ready for it, it can be quite the mess.  But a few tricks are there for those that prepare, and keeping your car and house mud free is not a difficult task.

For those that can avoid problem areas, that's the easy way to prevent a mess.  But a visit to the dog park is an essential in many pets lives, and a great bit of exercise for all.  The dog park isn't the only source of mud, just going out to the backyard, a resourceful pooch can find a way to get into trouble. 

Many people have a bucket of water at the back door, and make the dog step in it before coming in, and then they towel off the wet, mud free feet.   A co-operative dog makes this an easy task, but many dogs don't want to cooperate. 

There are a number of devices out there now that are portable paw washers.  These are containers that hold water that you can insert the dog's paw into.  You then swish the water around, rinsing the mud off the paw.  Some even have bristles to help scrub.  The paw comes out with slightly muddy water that is much more easily toweled off than the sticky mud.  

If they are muddy coming in from the car or backyard, a baby gate to keep the pet in the "mud room" until they dry can be an easy way to limit the mess factor.  The dog is restrained, while not locked away.  If they have a bed to lay in, they can quite happily air dry and be brushed off before coming into the house.

Putting on boots before they go out can make clean up a whole bunch easier.  There are rubber boots that look like balloons that can keep paws clean and dry in the muddiest weather.  And now, we have a special device that lets you apply the boot quick and easy, one handed.  No more struggling to put boots on!  They come in a 12 pack, so if you lose one, its no big deal.

If boots aren't in your repertoire,  how about a pawdicure?  Just like ice in the winter, mud gets trapped on the long fur on a dogs feet.  A pawdicure is a service where the groomer trims the nails and cleans off the hair on the feet and between the pads.  Clean feet are much easier to keep mud free.  Add in the nail trim, and its a winner all around.

Another spring issue is blowing the coat.  Many dogs are double coated, meaning they have a downy undercoat that they will lose seasonally. After winter is over, they don't need the heavy undercoat, so they blow it out and it is replaced with a much lighter version.  This process is repeated in the fall.  Removing this undercoat is very important, because if it isn't, it can matt and make a painful mess for the dog.  Again, there are many coat rakes and brushes designed specifically for removing this, bring your dog in to test and find the right one for his/her coat. 

A little planning can go a long way to making spring the fun season it should be, and not the muddy mess it wants to be. 

Many years ago, in a city far, far away, there lived a young newywed, with a lovely young wife.  He knew that making her parents happy would go a long way to keeping her happy, so he set out to find a way into their hearts.

Lo and behold, he found out that her mother wanted a canary.  The young man had contacts, including a gentleman who bread hundreds and hundreds of top quality canaries.  Every variety, from the basic yellow canary to the most exotic Parisian Frill, Vincenzo had them all.  So off the young man went.

Visiting Vince, the young man told him that he wanted a Canary for his mother in law.  This caught Vince off guard.  For your Mother in Law, he asked?  Yes, the stereotype of the evil mother in law was in play here, and the young man had to explain that yes, he actually liked his mother in law, and was interested in making her happy.

With the help of Vince at his well stocked pet store, he picked up a Canary cage and all the supplies, seed, treats, gravel paper, and a swing.  Always important when giving a pet as a present to make sure all its immediate needs are taken care of.   

Then the big decision.  Which Canary to choose.  So many types, so many colours.  But then the question was asked.  Vince wanted to know, did I want a Canary that was pretty, or one that sang like Pavarotti.

The choice was simple.  Pavarotti of course.  A bird to entertain you, regardless where you are in the house.  So off to the back we go, and there, in a cage off to the side, is a very drab looking bird.  Vince  explained, this was a green border canary.  Not a pretty bird, but it was an exceptional singer.  And this bird in particular was the best.

Mom was excited and impressed with her new pet.  At first, not to sure, it didn't look like what most people think is a Canary.  No bright yellow Tweety Bird.  But once he settled in and started to sign, there was no doubt.

Pavarotti brought joy into their lives daily for many years, until they moved into a cabin that was not a suitable environment for him.  So the young man and his wife took over care of the bird until he passed, years later, greeting each day with a song, and singing the sun away as it set.

Mom has since passed, but now, hearing the song of a Canary brings back memories of those days, of visiting with family and hearing Pavarotti join in the conversation.  It is amazing how a smell, or a sound can spark old memories, it is a wonderful way our minds are wired.

When I was a kid, I shoveled walks, mowed lawns, had paper routes and such to pay for my hobbies.  I can't remember a time when I wasn't actively involved in some sort of entrepreneurial venture.  But a lot of my expenses in my hobbies were covered by my hobbies. 

From the time I got my first aquarium, I always had a "wet thumb".  Whether it was aquarium plants that I would propagate and harvest for sale to local pet store (or trade for more equipment),  or fish I would breed and raise, I always had something in the works.  But I did not limit myself to cold blooded animals.

One day, when selling a new batch of angelfish to my favourite pet shop, I heard a "Wheet, wheet, wheet" from the other side of the store.  Now, this pet store had just about everything, including Rajah/Roger the Mynah bird, but I had never really concerned myself with the other side of the store with the warm and fuzzy creatures.  But this sound intrigued me.

While Felix was putting away the angelfish, and calculating my pay, I went over to investigate the source of the noise.  And there, in the largest cage on the floor, was the funniest looking critter I had ever seen.  An Abyssinian  Guinea Pig.  All different colours, hair going every which way, two little black marbles for eyes, and a skitterish jump in its step as it danced around its cage. I just had to have it, guess where that day's pay went. 

Finding a home for it in my fish room wasn't a problem, I had a few tanks that did not hold water anymore, so they were perfect for Guinea Pig habitats.  Hay and shavings were easy to get, and away I went. 

Well, one led to another, and before you know it, another revenue stream with the pet store.  I had anywhere up to 5 "sows" at a time,  and the litters were coming with just the right frequency so as to not overload the market.  And boy, were they ever cute.  Abby's with "bad hair days" everyday, Peruvians with long flowing locks which made them the original Roomba dustmop, and everything in between, in every shade or combination of brown, white and/or black. 

Ever see a newly born Guinea Pig?  They are identical to the parents, except way smaller.  Eyes open, hair and teeth fully functional, they can start grazing hours after being born.  The moms were all great, even helping each other with litters when necessary.

Heading down into the basement now was a new adventure.  If I came down empty handed, there might be a "Wheet" or two.  But if I came down with the plastic bag full of carrot peels, lettuce ends and other veg leftovers, the corus I would be greeted with was incredible.  Hearing the crinkle of plastic would set off every one of them,  cheering at the top of their lungs for treats.

To this day, they have a special place in my heart, and I highly recommend them for any child (or child at heart) looking for a pocket pet with personality. 

I've used the term "Dogs have owners, Cats have staff" a million times, and as a person sharing his home with one of each, it is a very true statement.

My wife and I were sitting, watching TV, when the cat (Streaky Bell), our Bengal, decided it was time to explore every inch of the room in thirty seconds.  He had been comfortably napping in my lap (I think he may have some sort of teleportation device to get to my lap the instant I sit down), when off he went, in a flurry, leaving evidence of his traction in my leg.

Off the chair, over my head onto the railing, pause a moment and then a drift that would make Vin Deisel proud around the kitchen, back into the TV room, across the back of the couch, off the treadmill, over the hearth and up his cat tree.  Pause for a moment, lick a paw, look regal, and then get that crazy look in the eyes and off into the rest of the house, scritch scritch scritching on the hardwood. 

Streaky has been an interesting roommate over the past years, we have had to put all our bread products in cupboards with childlocks, and still he can find a way to get the tortillas out.  There are rooms that are off limits to him, and most collectables are behind glass. 

That doesn't stop him from getting into trouble, though.  You can be just falling off to sleep when you hear the beep of the oven controls.  Sometimes the beep comes after you fall asleep.  Most of the time, its just the oven light, so not a big concern. 

And its not like he doesn't have toys and an exceptional cat tree to keep his attention.   He does use them, but like most cats, he can find just about anything to be an interesting toy.  Hair bands, bottle tops, wadded up pieces of paper are as likely to catch his eye as a catnip stuffed mouse.  But give that catnip mouse a rub, release the scent, and zoom...

But when all the activity has ended, or when strangers are in the house, you can find him perched in his spot in the basement, in the top one of a pile of bean bag chairs in the laundry room, warm and content in his private little hideaway.

Giving cats an acceptable scratching area, and sufficient toys can keep the from causing too much bedlam in the house.  There are many way to limit them from damaging areas, sprays that have a scent cats don't like, guards that can protect vulnerable areas like corners of couches or furniture and even mats that are either pokey or have a static charge to them to prevent cats from jumping up on certain areas.

These different treatments and devices can correct bad behaviour.  They don't work for all cats, but there is usually some method for fixing a bad habit.  Over the years, we've heard all types of issues, and come up with all manner of solutions, and we're always happy to try and help out, don't be afraid to drop in or give us a call.

Approaching an unknown dog.

Most dogs are friendly.  They just have great hearts, and love the companionship of humans.  Its what most of them live for.

But it is always prudent to ask the dog’s owner’s permission before approaching any unknown animal.   There may be circumstances you aren’t aware of that may dictate special considerations in interacting with a dog, especially if it is on leash.

Service dogs wear vests proclaiming that they are On The Job.  Seeing  eye dogs, hearing ear dogs, therapy dogs including PTSD companion animals should not be approached, offered treats or petted.  Sometimes, when at rest or taking a break, the companion will release the dog from its vest to interact with people, but as long as that vest is on, we should not distract the animal from its duties.

I get people in the store all the time that comment that their dog is great at the dog park off leash, but as soon as they leash them, they get aggressive at other dogs or people approaching.  This doesn't seem logical.   But when you think about it a bit, it starts to make sense. 

When off leash, the dog is in free play mode, free to roam the pack and interact with their packmates.  They will usually share toys, and its a rare occasion where two will start a squabble.

On leash, however, some dogs exhibit aggression to people or dogs approaching.  In my experience, these dogs seem to be protecting their owners from strangers.  Being tied to their owners, they are “on duty”, like a service dog.  My last dog, Zoey, would strain at her leash if people or dogs passed, growling or barking at them.  But as soon as she was released from her leash, she’d run around sniffing butts and looking for people to offer her treats, without the least bit of aggression.

If an owner isn’t present, do not approach an animal.  You can spook it into running, and could put it in more danger than it presently is in, especially if there is any traffic nearby.  Worse, it could be aggressive, either by nature or because of its present circumstances (it may be injured, confused, hungry) and  can attack you.

Take a photo, and contact authorities.  Animal Services can be contacted through 311.  There is also a Facebook group, Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert, that you can post pictures to.  Or even check that FB page for current postings, and if you find the animal in question, post its latest known position.

Most dogs love people, and everybody loves to cuddle a puppy.  But there are times and places where we need to be cautious of our first contact, and by using a little common sense, we can ensure the safety of both ourselves and the pet.

Jan 30th Edition

Walking in a Winter Wonderland.

Walking our pets is a great way to get regular exercise.  Having your puppy scratching at the door is a lot more motivation to get up off the couch than any personal trainer can provide.  If you can use it as a time to bond with your pet, even better.

Sometimes, looking outside and seeing it snow or the temperature below where we feel comfortable makes us think twice about going out.  Some small dogs find those conditions daunting as well.  But most dogs think its fun, especially if they have the proper protective gear for going out in extreme conditions.

For short forays outdoors, most dogs have sufficient fur coats to keep them warm, even in the coldest conditions.  Double coated dogs like Huskies and Shepards  can weather even the worst extremes without a doggie coat.  Short haired dogs can benefit from a little extra protection, but both need some kind of protection on their paws.  Proper food and grooming can ensure their pads stay in good shape, supple and free from hairs that can cause iceballs to form between the pads.  This is enough for short walks, but longer walks may require booties.  Dog boots come in a variety of styles and sizes, its best to bring the pet in to be fitted with a set that are appropriate for your need.

If it gets truly too cold for both of you, man and beast, to go outside, a very smart option is using your treadmill.  Dogs can very easily be trained to walk on a treadmill, and it can be a valuable replacement for taking them out for a stroll.  For the smaller dogs that can't handle the snow or cold, it is a great option all winter long.  No need to gain "winter weight" anymore, when they can get exercise inside.

It gets dark early in winter, posing other challenges for walking our pets.  I was driving down a back street the other night and almost didn't see a dog and their owner walking towards me on my side of the street.  A white dog, and a person in light clothing, on an overcast night with light flurries.  No reflectives, no lights, almost no chance of seeing them had the snow been coming down a little heavier.  If a driver hadn't been paying as much attention as I was, it could have been disastrous.

There are LED lights now for dog collars, dog leashes, and you can wear an LED armband designed for joggers.  They can be set as a steady light or set to flash.  They come in a variety of colours and styles.  A tiny bit of moving light makes you very, very easy to see.  They are not hard to use and relatively inexpensive.  If they save one life, of a pet or an owner, its all worth it.

Walking our pets is a great form of exercise, for both pet and owner.  Make sure to use good judgment, though, in making it safe as well.

Jan 16th Edition

Cat licensing.

I just went online and bought a license for my cat.  No written test, no road test, just a simple form to fill in and $15.  About the price of a bag of litter.  Proof of licensing was immediately emailed to me, and the tag will follow in the mail.  Now my cat is licensed to drive in the city.  Now if only I could get him some opposable thumbs.  Just kidding, he doesn't need opposable thumbs to drive.  But they really have made it easy to get your license, with one simple online transaction.

Cat licensing was a very controversial part of the "Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw".  The stakeholders went back and forth on whether to oppose or endorse the measure, with the final outcome being a minimal license fee ($15) for altered pets (spayed/neutered), and a more substantial fee ($50) for intact animals.  Also, an agreement was made to put 50% of the gross revenue towards local spay/neuter initiatives. 

Which spay/neuter initiatives?  That will be decided over the next year, after consultation with the stakeholders.  The city will collect the revenues, and then disperse them after the first full year of collection. 

Most jurisdictions have some form of licensing for cats, with revenues going to either local animal services to deal with stray/abandoned animals, or to spay/neuter projects to help stem the tide of unwanted animals. 

For low income families needing assistance in having a cat spay/neutered, the Winnipeg Humane Society SNAP program offers low cost procedures with proof of income.  They can be reached at 204-888-7627.

The City recommends that you keep the tag (which will be mailed to you if you complete the license online) on a breakaway collar on the cat.  That way, if they do escape, they will likely have the collar and tag on when they are captured, and will easily be returned to you.  But they will also accept a visible tattoo number or microchip number if you register it with animal services as acceptable ID for cats that won't wear collars.

The fine for having an unlicensed animal in the city?  Minimum of $250.  Do we have to worry about someone busting our door down searching for unlicensed pets?  I don't think so.  But if your pet does get out and is found to be unlicensed, you could be fined.  Or if the bylaw enforcement is called in for a complaint, and you are found to have unlicensed pets, again, you could face charges.

This initiative is designed to be a largely voluntary program, designed to benefit the pet community, and thereby encourage compliance.  You are urged to participate, not because the city needs the revenue, but because in doing so, you are helping the support structure that is there when your pet needs it most.  As well, you are contributing to reducing the number of unwanted pets.  Win/win, really.

Dec 30th Edition

Exotic Pets

Pets can “trend “just like any other part of our lives. Movies, commercials, viral youtube videos all can influence popular desire for certain types of pets.  Sometimes, its a good thing, like celebrities influencing people to adopt shelter animals.  Other times is isn’t, influencing people to make decisions about pets that they cannot properly take care of, or do not provide the experience they thought they'd get.

I regularly get calls asking about anything from foxes (and What Do they Say), raccoons, skunks, monkeys, and now, thanks to cute youtube videos, sloths are a current favourite.  Most of these animals are either restricted by local exotic pet bylaws, or by CITES, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.  Even if local bylaws allowed for their keeping, unless you are an accredited zoological park, you can't legally buy them.

Sometimes, I can tell people "Yes, you Can get that animal".  Most of the time, its the reptile pets that are available, and they can be very rewarding and interesting.  More than any other pet, though, proper research needs to be done in selecting an appropriate species.

We get people in the store all the time asking about the lizards in the phone or insurance commercials.  Or the chameleons in the paint commercials.  And we have to explain that, no, they don't turn bright pink when they touch something pink.  Or Blue.  Or Red.

Not that they can't be wonderful pets, just don't expect them to do what you see on TV or animated movies.

Chameleons are a prime example of animals that end up in the wrong hands due to pop culture references.  Many go home to inappropriate habitats, sold by people who didn't ask about the new owners preparations.  They are very picky about their habitat, requiring very specific temperature and humidity range, as well as  specific foods and they only drink running water, so a waterfall, mister or dripper system is needed for them.

Set up properly, a chameleon can be a very interesting and rewarding pet.  But without the proper equipment, it is doomed to a slow wasting death.  So, please, as when purchasing any new animal, do the research first, and buy from a trusted source. 

Many times you will find exotic pets on online classifieds or in the paper at a too good to believe price.  Sometimes its just a great deal, but too often it is an animal that has not been cared for properly, being offered in a habitat that isn't appropriate, by an  owner that has grown tired of it and just wants to get rid of it before it dies.  Sometimes these animals can be saved, and become good pets when that proper equipment is purchased for them.  But sometimes, they are too far gone, and even the best efforts cannot save them.

I seem to be always saying the same thing about doing research before you purchase, but that is probably the best piece of advice anyone can get.  Get the facts first, for you and your pet's sake.

Dec 18th Edition

Holiday Pet Safety

Around this time of year, some dangerous circumstances present themselves for our pets.  A little awareness can go a long way to preventing  an emergency visit to the vet, or even worse, a tragic loss.

Everyone  knows that chocolate is dangerous to dogs. But its not the sugar in the chocolate, but the caffeine and more so, the theobromine in the chocolate that poses the threat.   Milk and white chocolate have far less theobromine, whereas dark chocolate, bakers chocolate and powdered cocoa have may times more.  Truffles dusted in cocoa powder, boxes of dark chocolate candies, even packages of bakers chocolate abound this time of year, so please make sure to keep them safely out of your pet's reach.

Poinsettias, holly and real mistletoe are commonly associated with holiday danger for pets, but aren't as toxic as may be thought.  I'm not suggesting you feed these to a pet, but they are mild toxins that may take a large ingestion to have ill effects.  If your pet exhibits vomiting, drooling or diarrhea after a suspected ingestion, you will want to seek veterinary advice.   But the risks are not as great as generally thought, and far less than chocolate.

Other potentially dangerous items that pets often eat during the holidays include chicken and turkey bones.  Raw, these are awesome food/treats for dogs and cats.  Raw chicken/turkey necks, either frozen or thawed, are great dental treats for pets.  But, once they are cooked, the bones become brittle and fracture, and can puncture the digestive tract or worse, get stuck.  Make sure you dispose of these items carefully, in a way the pets can't get at this delicious garbage.  Also, other trash, like wrappings, ribbons and bows that may be a fun toy to play with, but if ingested can cause problems.

When we break out the Christmas lights and powered ornaments, out come the extension cords.  Any chewing pet, from rabbits up to dogs can get into trouble when these abound.  I remember when DeeDee, our beloved Dachshund, discovered this peril.  We came home one day to find her cowering under the bed, and explosive diarrhea nearby.  She was shaking and afraid.  We couldn't figure out what was wrong, until we noticed the alarm clock flashing 12:00.  The microwave and VCR (yes, this was a while ago)  showed the proper time, so it couldn't have been a power outage, so I inspected the power cord and found telltale bite marks.  Luckily the jolt wasn't lethal, but any time in the future when we wanted to keep her out of something, all we needed to do was put an unplugged extension cord around it.  She wasn't having any of that, after how badly she got "bit" by a cord before.

There are cord protectors, wraps and  bitter tasting chew deterrents that can help protect against pets getting into trouble with cords.  And running the cords where the animals can't easily get to them helps a lot too.

Just a few cautionary notes, reminders that might help spare some suffering on what should be our most festive season.  Happy Holidays!

Dec 4 Edition

Winter Grooming

Many people think that keeping a dog’s coat long through the winter keeps it warm.  Unfortunately, this is not always true, and many poor animals suffer because of it.   And usually it is in springtime that we see the unfortunate results of these decisions.

Those long coats that we are cleaning up in spring reveal problems that have festered over the winter.  Matts, hot spots, fungal infections, even open wounds are often hidden by pelted coats that have been left too long between grooming.  These problems can lead to hundreds of dollars in vet bills, and worse, pain for the dog.  And those matts prevent us from doing a nice grooming job, and can necessitate a shave off.   

Add to this the problems that occur when a long coated dog rolls around in the snow.  Now the matts get worse and tighten up, and the melted snow collects under them, making a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus. 

Worst of all, the intent of keeping the dog warm by leaving his coat long actually does the opposite.  Long, matted hair traps moisture in against the skin.  Think of it like wearing a winter coat over a wet wool sweater underneath.  Even the best down coat will not keep you warm with that wet sweater against your skin.  That’s how the dog feels. 

A short, well groomed hairstyle lets the skin breath, keeps it dry and warm.  The air gap in the fur that provides the insulation protects the dogs from the cold.  Should you want to put a sweater or jacket on the dog, even better, because short hair is less likely to matt from the rubbing of the sweater.  And because the fur is well maintained and the skin is dry, the dog will stay warm and play outside longer.

Another benefit of winter grooming is proper nail care.  In the summer, dog's nails wear down as they walk on pavement or cement.  This natural nail trim keeps ahead of nail growth, and keeps the dog pain free in walking.  But in the winter, there is no abrasion to wear the nails down.  The ice and snow do not act the same way as pavement or cement.  When you bring a dog in for winter grooming, we trim and file the nails, keeping them from getting long and causing pain.  Trimmed nails also make putting on boots an easier task, and protects the boots from wearing from the inside out.

When you pick up your dog from grooming, make sure it is dry, especially double coated dogs, like Huskies, Shepards and Goldens (yes, these breeds can be groomed, and you'll love not having to vacuum every day!).  It takes a lot longer to do properly, but a good grooming shop will send your dog home fully dried.  This also means that any "carding out" of the coat was done dry, which yields the best, longest lasting results.  When you card out dry, you get most of the dead undercoat, leaving the live undercoat that actually keeps the dog warm, and allows the dog to dry between outdoor escapades. 

It is not difficult to keep your pet warm and healthy through the winter, it just takes a little new knowledge to make  it all make sense.

Nov 20th Edition

I’m always looking for topics for these columns that will both inform and entertain our readers.  So when a question comes in, the old juices get flowing and I attack the task like a dog on a bone.

My last column was about Hedgehogs.  I tried to, in 500 words, give you as full a picture of the pet as I could.  And at the end, included the advice I always give about taking on any pet, do your research.

It was brought to our attention by a concerned reader that there was an outbreak of salmonella in the states that was linked to hedgies.  Part of the research you do in deciding on a pet is what possible concerns they may pose, and salmonella is one of those remote risk factors you take into account with any pet.  It’s not like everyone that touches a hedgehog will get salmonella.  But if proper basic hygiene is not followed, there is a risk.  People with immune system issues are especially vulnerable, but they are also usually the most prepared for the risks, and conscious of the concern. 

Salmonella is a risk in our daily lives.  It is everywhere.  The outbreak linked to hedgehogs in the US happened last year, and included about 36 instances, one of which was fatal.  But in the same time span, cantaloupes caused 360 infections, 3 of them fatal.  Are cantaloupes more lethal than hedgehogs?  

People with immune system deficiencies are well versed in the risks around them.  They know how to protect themselves, their lives depend on it.  Children are also vulnerable, as their immune systems aren’t as strong as an adult, so parents need to protect them.  The rest of us tend to be more nonchalant about the simple do‘s and don’ts in regards to bacteria in our modern world. 

It all comes down to proper hygiene.  I had mentioned to get as large a cage as possible.  One of the reasons not mentioned is that hedgies poop different than other pocket pets, they have waste similar to cats.  So, when they run around the cage, it can smear and get into their feet and quills.  The larger the cage, the less likely they track in it.

But more importantly, washing hands can cure all these concerns.  Lizards, turtles, hamsters, or pretty much any caged pet can carry bacteria, and you should be washing your hands, or sanitizing at a minimum after handling. This also goes for cat and dog kibble, treats, or waste.  After handling anything of the sort, wash your hands well. 

It’s a big thing with raw pet foods as well.  Many veterinarians are concerned with the potential risk of salmonella and raw meats being fed to pets.  Not the risk to the pet, but to the owner.  Odd thing is, everyone knows the risks handling raw foods, so they wash their hands and dishes after using raw.  But they don’t with kibbles, which require the same handling procedures.  But people think kibble is safe, because it is cooked, and don’t give it the respect it requires, and get infected.

Just being aware is half the battle.  Knowledge of the risk is the most important tool in preventing anything. 

Nov 4th Edition

Hedgehogs aren’t just in Video Games

The City of Winnipeg recently passed the “Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw” replacing our previous Exotic Pet Bylaw.  This bylaw was originally proposed as a direct copy of Ottawa’s bylaw, and pet industry stakeholders were asked for input on it.  I took the task to heart, and recommended 10 separate changes to the proposed bylaw, 8 to do with reptiles and inverts, and 2 to do with mammals.  The only two that made it into the new bylaw were the ones about the mammals, the inclusion of Sugar Gliders and African Pygmy Hedgehogs as allowed pets.

Thank goodness I took the time to respond, otherwise we might have lost the option to keep these cute little critters.  Not for everyone, these pets find homes with advanced pet owners looking for a challenge (Sugar Gliders) or people looking for something different from a Guinea Pig or Rabbit (Hedgehog).

Sugar Gliders are not a part time pet.  They require a lot of care, and it is best if you do a lot of research before attempting these cute little rascals.

On the other hand, Hedgehogs make excellent pets, if you get them young and work with them often.   We don’t tend to keep them in stock, preferring to bring them in for customers who have done their research, and want to imprint as early as possible on the pet.

Their defensive ability to form a ball that is all spines makes them a pet you don’t want mad at you.  The spines, modified hairs, really, make an ideal defense as well as protection in the case of a fall.  Hedgehogs have been known to climb trees, but like some cats, aren’t as adept at coming back down.  In the case of a fall, the spines have a flexible part of the shaft that can act as a shock absorber!

They are nocturnal creatures, so make sure you take this into account when deciding where the cage is going to be.  And make sure you get the largest cage you can, hedgehogs may not look like runners, but they are.  They will run around the cage, or on a wheel, for extended periods of time, their little nails making scritchy scratchy sounds all night long.   Cute for a while, but the noise can become an issue. 

Hedgehogs diet in the wild is bugs and worms, but they do very well in captivity on a diet of grain free or low fat/senior dry catfood.  Kitten foods can be a little too rich for them, and can cause obesity issues.  Occasional offerings of mealworms as a treat are also usually welcomed.

Handling a Hedgehog can be daunting at first.  They can turn into a prickly ball of hurt if mishandled or if they feel threatened.  Sometimes, having the scent of another animal can set them off until they get used to it.  My first hedgehog was a great pet at my shop, but when I took him home, he rarely came out of his defensive ball position.  I later realized, the difference was the fact that I had dogs at home, and he was probably freaked out by smelling the scent of predators so near.

Using gloves at the start can give both you and the Hedgehog confidence in handling.  Once both are comfortable, the gloves come off, and you can pick up your pet without it balling up, that’s when the fun of Hedgehog owning starts.

Oct 7 Edition

Water Change

More than any other factor, water change is the most important thing in maintaining an aquarium’s water quality, and thereby, the fish’s health.

Many people believe that topping up evaporated water is water change.  This is one of the most dangerous mistakes that is made in keeping fish.   Evaporated water is pure water.  That is how distilled water is made, by evaporating (boiling) water and collecting the steam.  This process leaves all impurities and minerals behind. 

Similarly, in a fish tank, evaporated water leaves behind the minerals and impurities.  Then you add more tap water, concentrating those impurities.   This makes the water get harder and harder as the minerals build up in the water. 

The other benefit to proper water change is the removal of waste products that build up in the tank.  Each time you feed the fish, after the fish use the nutrients, they expel waste, which stays in the tank.  You may not see it, as the bacteria in the tank break it down, but it is there.  These waste products can also change the water chemistry as well, causing the water to become increasingly acid over time.

So, if proper water changes are not done, the tank water, which may look fine and clear, gets progressively harder and more acid.  Your fish get used to this gradual change, and can look healthy until they hit the crashing point.  And that point can come with the introduction of a new fish.  The new fish, not used to the hard acid water your fish have gradually become used to, goes into shock, is stressed, and can break out in a disease, like Ich.  And then the rest of the fish, who are stressed but look healthy, come down with it as well, and you have a whole tank wipe out, which is usually blamed on the new fish, but it is actually the improper water changes and bad water that caused the problem.

Changing water doesn’t need to be difficult.  10 to 20% per week is usually more than enough, and isn’t enough to stress the fish.  More than 20% at a time can be stressful on the fish, so smaller, more frequent changes are recommended (and easier for you).

When changing the water, use a “gravel vacuum” to remove the solid waste building up in your gravel.  But don’t try to do the whole bottom all at once.  Break it up into sections, doing about 1/4 or 1/8th of the bottom each week.  That way, you can do a better job on the section, and the whole bottom gets cleaned each month.  You can use tap water that has been treated with Aqua+, and is around the same temperature as the tank. 

Proper water changes will help your fish stay healthy, your tank look clean and your aquarium ownership a rewarding hobby.

Sep 23rd Edition

I’ve written about the difference between good and bad dog breeders and adopting shelter dogs.  This week, I’d like to talk to you about someone who is one of the good ones, in more ways than one.

Kim Gibson is a very good friend of ours.  We met her through work, when she helped us out for a few weeks in an emergency, and then stayed on for years afterwards.   As skilled a professional as you can find in the grooming industry, she has fought for certification and regulations to help protect our pets from mishaps at the hands of the unqualified or undertrained in this unregulated industry.  President of the Professional Pet Groomers Association of Manitoba, she regularly spearheads educational and professional development seminars for groomers.  And she is always open and free with advice for those that care enough to ask, and rarely gets the recognition for this that she deserves.

My “good breeder” article featured a photo of a basket of her Sealyham puppies.  She has a small pack of these adorable terriers that she shows and breeds.  And at Halloween, some even get amazing dye jobs, white dogs being a wonderful canvas for creativity.

But today, it’s the rescue side of Kim I’d like to tell you about.  Right now, her place of business is overrun by 11 puppies, barely a month old, and their mom, Hera.  Atlas, Athena, Aphrodite (you get the theme) and their littermates are quite a handful, requiring multiple feedings each day, socialization, and lots of cleaning.   Every time I visit, someone is in with the dogs, giving food, love, or just cleaning up poop.

Hera is a reservation rescue dog that Kim took in from SSNIP (Sakeeng Spay/Neuter Initiative Program), knowing she was due to whelp shortly.   Kim does this regularly, taking in a stray, raising the litter, and finding a home for her and her puppies.   Not an easy or inexpensive task, she does this for the love of the animals.

For the last month, Kim or one of her staff has to feed the pups 4 or 5 times a day, a special mix of goat’s milk, puppy milk replacer and a vitamin mix.  And Hera is taking down up to 4lbs a day of raw food (yes, I mentioned her briefly in my column last month, about dropping off a batch of food for her), trying to keep up with all those hungry mouths.  And cleaning up, well, you can imagine.  But she has a 15’ x 15’ kennel that gives them plenty of room to roam, and the puppies are getting better at hitting the litter trays.

Now comes the fun part.  A month from now, these little cuties will need homes.  A few have been spoken for, and Hera may have a home as well, but we need people who are ready for a dog in their lives to step up and bring one of these little bundles of joy home.  You can view pictures of them by searching for Vada’s Club K9 on facebook, or by going to our webpage.   The contact information for Vada’s is on their facebook page, or you can drop in to see them at 628 St. Anne’s Rd.  All adoptions will go through SSNIP, and Kim can arrange those details for interested parties.

Sept 10 Edition

When I was a kid, turtles were a common pet.  The local Woolworths had a tank of “red eared sliders”, and those plastic, kidney shaped tubs to house them in, with the little palm tree.  Pretty much every kid had one at one time or another, and most didn’t last too long. They’d either crawl out of the tub and dry up under the couch, or meet their end in some other mishap.  If they did live long enough to outgrow the pool, they’d often get released into the wild, something we all know now is a big no no.

Things have changed since then.  No longer 99 cents at the department store, they can be $39.99 or more.  Why so much?  Well, back in the day, stores could import hatchling turtles collected in the wild, or farmed.  These were really cheap.  But then concerns about salmonella caused the borders to be closed to importing hatched turtles some 30 years ago.

What caused salmonella concerns?  Probably the fact that farmed turtles were fed catfish guts before shipping them here, and then we fed baby turtles stuff like raw hamburger (this was before we adopted the “cook to 165” rule for ground beef). 

So now, all the turtles and tortoises you see in stores are bred in Canada.  A lot more expensive a proposition, you have to house, feed and care for the adults all year, just to get a clutch of eggs.  And then hope they all hatch out.

And no more plastic pools for turtles, like the goldfish bowl, these inhumane habitats are not appropriate housing.  A proper tank will be about 40 gallons, with a filter and a basking spot that includes UVB.  Which can end up 100 times as expensive as the $3.99 palm tree pool.

But in a proper habitat, turtles can live long, healthy lives of 30 years or more.  And with the right filtration and fed proper foods,  they can be a breeze to care for, and no worries about salmonella (I know of more than one family that embraced the irony and named their turtles Sam and Ella).

Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in tortoises.  Whereas sliders are aquatic turtles, tortoises are land creatures.  They do require the ability to bathe and soak, but they mainly stay on land, and eat a more vegetarian fare.   Some box turtles can stay as small, or smaller than red ears, but most tortoises get pretty big, needing a habitat of at least 2ft x 3ft.  And they live a very, very long time, so that should not be a spur of the moment decision.  

Tortoises are garden pets in many countries, allowed to roam and graze in the yard.  They can be taken out here too, just be sure that the yard they are in hasn’t been chemically treated for weeds or bugs, and is secure from predators.  Fox and raccoons love turtles/tortoises.

They may not be cute and cuddly as a kitten, they are interesting pets regardless.  And for people with allergies, they can be a great alternative pet.

Aug 27th Edition 

Writing this column has been a great experience for me.  Almost daily someone mentions it, or recognizes me on the street and asks about a subject I’ve written about.  I never thought it would grow like this, but thank you everyone, for reading it and giving me the feedback.  Between the column and my Aardvark Pets 1964 Econoline van that I drive in the summer, I seem to spend as much time answering questions outside the store as I do inside.

I was visiting Vada’s Club K9, where they are fostering a rescue dog from a reserve that just gave birth to 12 puppies.  We’ve agreed to provide mom (Hera) and puppies (Apollo, Athena, Ares and the rest) with our raw food, and I was dropping the first batch off there.  Anyone interested, there is a picture of Mom and puppies on our website, they can go home in 2 months, but you can get your name in for one now!  As I came out, there were people taking pictures of my van, and we got to talking.

After a long discussion about where the van came from (bought on eBay, it was in Butte, Montana) and about what good shape it is in for a 50 year old vehicle, the topic turned to our store, advertised on the side.  They asked if we sold good pet foods.  I blushed and told them that’s all we sell.  Which prompted a “But do you sell Raw?” and off we go.  I explained why I was there, dropping off raw food for Hera.  The discussion went on for a while about nutrition for cats, and why don’t more people feed raw, especially for cats.  After all, they are obligate carnivores, meaning that their nutritional needs are met by eating a diet that consists of animal-based proteins. 

As our discussion continued about the benefits of good nutrition, I mentioned that, ironically, it seemed like a disproportionate amount of my raw feeding customers were vegetarian.  They looked at each other and she said “I’m a vegetarian” (they were heading into the Indian restaurant beside Vadas).   Which got us all laughing. 

We agreed that it must be that vegetarians, while they have their own ethics and morals about eating meat, do not generally impose them on others, including their pets.  Being hyper sensitive about nutrition, and what they put into their own bodies makes them more cognizant of what they feed animals in their charge.  Which makes them more likely to read a label carefully, and even go beyond that label and research where it is made and by whom.

When you do this depth of research, a lot of the time raw becomes the only answer for your pets.  In searching out options for raw feeding, people are finding us more and more.  And they are surprised at just how easy and affordable raw feeding can be.

Well, a half hour whooshed by, and I was late for supper, but it capped off another wonderful day of helping people and their pets have great lives together.  15 years we’ve been serving St. Vital and area, and I’d love to say, there hasn’t been a day of it where I’ve felt like I’ve had to go to work.  Thanks everyone.

Aug 15 Edition

Vacationing with pets.

When you mention vacationing with your pet, most people think “taking the dogs to the cottage”.   And that is what the majority of vacationing pets are.   But not everyone has a dog that they bring to the cottage.  You’d be surprised at the variety of pets that get taken on holiday.

Taking the dog(s) on a road trip is just like packing up any other family member.  Make sure you take enough food for the trip, the last thing you want is to change foods mid vacation.  Especially when there may be a shortage of choice, and you may not be able to find a good food for your dog.  The resulting digestive upset can make the vacation unforgettable, and not in a good way.

Some pets don’t travel well.  Your vet can prescribe anti nausea meds to help, or recommend a dosage of an over the counter people medication that would be appropriate.  A proper sized kennel, or a seat belt should be used whenever the pet is in the car, to protect it, and you, in the case of an accident.  Remember, hydration is important for pets as well as people, and dogs need to drink and pee a lot when travelling.  Factor those rest stops in as well as the ones for the human passengers. 

Never, ever, leave the dog in the car without you in it.  Even leaving the car running with the A/C on isn’t always safe, especially using remote starts, as they generally have an automatic turn off after so many minutes.  You might just be heading into the store for a minute, but any delay could end up fatal to your pet.

Cats are easy to leave at home, just needing an occasional look in to make sure they have food, water and a clean litter box.  But many make the trip with the family to the lake.  Most are indoor animals that stay inside the whole time, but some are let run, or have tie outs to keep them nearby. 

Cats or even small dogs face dangers in the wild they do not have in town.   Hawks and eagles do not see them as anything different from a rabbit or squirrel, and are just as likely to snatch them up as they would any other small animal in the woods.   And those aren’t the only predators out there.  I’ve heard of too many tragedies like this that could have been avoided.  

Many people take rabbits, guinea pigs or rats along with them.  These little animals have no problem making the trip, and handle the cottage life quite well.  And they can take advantage of nice, clean wild forage that their owners can collect for them, relatively safe from the chemicals we find at home.   The biggest concern is that we keep them hydrated in the higher temperatures they may face away from the wonders of central air. 

Lizards also make the trip.  Some, like Bearded Dragons, love the heat and the opportunity to bask in the sun.  Others, like Crested Geckos, can find temperatures over 80F to be stressful, even fatal.  So, make sure you can provide appropriate temperatures for cold blooded animals when you travel, and ensure proper hydration. 

Like small dogs and cats, rodents and lizards can be easily swooped up by predators.  Make sure any outdoor enclosures you prepare for them are secure from predators, especially if you are leaving them outside overnight.   Hawks, owls, raccoons and foxes are just a few of the animals that would love to make a meal out of your beloved pet.

A little thought and advanced planning can make your summer vacation great for everyone, including your pets.

Aug 1 Edition

I was watching an episode of a veterinarian show and there was a dog suffering from some affliction that caused it to walk in circles and lose control of its hind legs.  They were very thorough in their assessment of what the condition could be, blood work, x-rays, even suggesting a CAT scan.  But the whole time, as the dog kept walking in circles, you could hear the nails clacking on the floor, and any close up of the dog’s feet showed exceptionally long nails.  This is what inspired me to write today’s column. 

We sometimes forget our four legged friends need maintenance on their tender tootsies, just like us.  Have you ever had your big toenail be a little bit long, and then put on a pair of tight fitting shoes?  And every step became painful, your toe nail being forced back into your foot.   Those good old nail clippers come out right away, and the pain is fixed.

But our pets can’t trim their own nails.  Sure, in the summer if they get to walk a lot on pavement or cement, they can naturally wear down.  But if they spend most of their time indoors, and especially in winter when snow and ice are less abrasive during walkies, nails need to be trimmed by us.

Most people fear trimming their pets nails, and that ends up causing them to forget to do it regularly.  A reminder that it needs to be done is the click clacking of the nails on hard floors.  If you can hear the nails, they are too long.  Each click sends a shock up the dog’s foot, the same as your big toe in those tight shoes.  And that is painful to the dog.  But, as the valiant companions they are, they don’t complain, until the nails are so long that they cause damage to the pads, or crack and bleed.  And properly maintained nails won’t mar hardwood floors.

Trimming nails is not difficult.  Most dogs, if gotten into the habit early, can have their nails easily trimmed at home.  Get them used to having their feet handled, and by just taking off a little each time, it’s an easy job for both of you.  A good set of sharp side cutting trimmers are the easiest to use, the old style Guillotine clippers can be hard to manage.  Nibble just a little off, there is no reason you can’t trim each nail a few times to get it to where you want it, and be less likely to hit the quick.  And, on the off chance that you do hit the quick, there are products that quickly and easily stop the bleeding.  Just make sure you have it on hand before you start trimming, just in case.

You can also use a Dremel rotary tool with a sanding drum.  Most trained groomers use this method to finish the nail trims, it is an easy way to file off sharp edges.  But you can also use it instead of the clippers, once you get the hang of it.  Just make sure you have an adjustable speed unit, too fast and it is hard to control, and can get you into trouble.

Most groomers and vets will offer nail trim services, groomers tend to trim a lot more nails, so they tend to be better at it, and cheaper too.  Pawdicures take it a step further, trimming out the hair between the pads which picks up mud and water.   And many groomers will make special arrangement to trim nails between your grooming appointments, so the nails never get too long.

Regardless who does the trimming, please keep your pet happy by letting it walk pain free.   They’ll thank you for it. 

July 16 Edition

The Rainbow Bridge

There are a number of stories written about the Rainbow Bridge, a beautiful meadow where pets that pass before their owners wait until they can re-unite on the other side, and enter Heaven together.  

But would pets get the same treatment?   Too many pets survive their human partners, only to spend the end of their days in foster homes or worse yet, shelters.  I’m not saying that fosters or shelters are bad things, they provide vital housing for animals in need, and we are a better society for their existence, and the people that put time, care and love into running them.  But every animal deserves a loving home, especially the loyal companions who have been left behind through no fault of their own.

When a family member passes, it can be a terrible strain on relationships.  Some families come together, in support of each other, and the survivors are stronger for the relationship the lost member has given them.  Pets in these groups are not the ones I am concerned about, as they are cherished reminders of our lost loved one.  They are treated with the love and respect they earned by giving companionship through our loved ones final days. 

It is the furry friends of people that lack strong family ties that I worry about.  Some elderly people have only a dog or cat as companion in their final days, and when they pass, these animals are often just packed up and sent to a shelter, just another piece of property to be disposed of.

Many local rescues look for these animals, to take them from the shelter and find them loving furever homes for their remaining days.  Many of these pets may have special needs, being older and not having had the care they may have needed. 

Most of these animals can be wonderful pets, and with a little time and effort become loving members of the family that chooses to give them a new home.  Many adopting families have existing pets that adopt the new member of the pack.  Others may be seniors themselves, giving the older pet a quiet environment that is more akin to what they are used to.

Everybody loves a new puppy.  It’s hard to imagine anyone not being excited over adding a frisky little ball of fur to the family.  But it takes a special family to accept an older dog into their lives.  And sometimes, these senior pets are a perfect match for a family that can’t handle the exuberance and energy of an untrained puppy.

So, when you are considering adding a “new” member to the family, please consider all the options, including the proven, loyal, but senior adoption.  They can be the most wonderful pet, and still have a lot of love to give.

July 2 Edition

Exotic Apartment Pets

Companion animals have long been considered very beneficial to our abilities to cope with stress in our daily lives.  Matching the right animal to each person’s needs is very important in maximizing these benefits.  Many exotic pets are ideal for apartment living, when only a small space is available for their habitat, and dogs or cats are out of the question.    

Crested Geckos are the favourite these days. Inexpensive, no special lighting or heat, and their food is prepared from a powder, no live crickets too feed!  The cage can be as small as 12” x 12” for a single animal (always, the bigger the better, though), so they don’t take up much room.  And they can be quite friendly, as well as always having a smile on their face.

Leopard Geckos have been a popular pet, comfortably living in only a 10 gallon aquarium for their entire life.  A desert creature, they conserve their water by pelletizing all of their waste products in neat dry little packages, which are as easy to remove as clumps from the kitty litter, except much smaller and not as stinky.

Of all the rodent pets, rats seem to have the most dedicated followers.  The Dumbo variety is very cute, and the hairless version now available is so alien looking that they are captivating.  Needing only a modest sized enclosure and easy regular cleanings, rats can provide hours of companionship.  Once they learn their new master’s scent, they will stick to them like glue, on their shirt-collar, around their neck, especially enjoying playing in long hair or hiding in a pocket.  Unlike hamsters, they rarely bite or jump out of your grasp or off your shoulder.

Snakes have seen a growth in popularity again, with so many new and different colour patterns emerging and enclosures becoming easier to maintain.  Most tropical snakes have habitat requirements that include both a high heat and a high humidity.  New ventilation ideas and heaters have made it easier to provide proper habitats for these animals, and animals like the Ball Python which could be very tricky to maintain long-term are now much easier to keep.

Corn snakes, however, don’t need these special habitats, and hence have become very popular.  Originating in the southeastern United States, they get their name from the fact they are found primarily in fields of grain where their rodent prey are plentiful.  Small, flat enclosures are all these animals need, with a water source, some heat and a weekly feeding of a frozen mouse.  They rarely strike, and are very easy to handle, enjoying the warmth of their master’s skin, often seeking to slip between buttons into the warm darkness of the shirt or a convenient pocket.

Our local exotic pet bylaw has limited some of our choices of apartment pets, many spiders and scorpions that are harmless and commonly kept elsewhere are illegal in the city, but there are still a few that you can purchase.  Red Knee, Rosehair and Pink Toe Tarantulas may be scary to some, but they are quite gentle and can be very interesting and easy to keep pets.

With a little research and some good advice, a person can find the ideal pet for the space and time they have available.

June 18th Edition

Pond season is here.

Pond season is once again upon us.  Whether it is a ½ whisky barrel or a 5000 gallon pond, there are a few things to remember when caring for a pond.  We’ll touch on those here.

First major concern, small pond or big, is water movement.  Be it simple aeration with a bubbler in small ponds, or elaborate filtration systems in bigger ponds, you need your water to move.   Moving water means bacteria that are natural filters have a better chance of getting the oxygen they need.  It also means that algae and bad bacteria that thrive in stagnant water (and make that noxious swamp gas smell) can’t survive.  And the fish, well, they need oxygen too.

Moving water also helps combat mosquitoes and other bugs that would love to make your pond a breeding ground. They rely on standing water to allow the larvae to use the surface tension of the water to float.  By keeping the water circulating, you reduce that ability.  Also, any fish you add will help control insect larvae by eating them.

Simple air bubblers are readily available for small ponds, but most are not rated for outdoor use.   So, they either have to be protected in a weatherproof container, or placed under shelter with the air hose extended to the pond.  The “stone” at the end, properly known as a diffuser, does need changing regularly, so that it produces a stream of small bubbles.  As they age, they either stop producing bubbles as the pores clog, or break down and produce a stream of large bubbles.  If either of these things start happening, change out the stone, they are very inexpensive to replace.

For optimal pond enjoyment, a filtration system can be designed and sized to your needs.  From small submersible self contained filters designed for aquariums and turtle tanks to elaborate biological/chemical/UV filtration systems, one can be found to suit your pond.

The most common complaint about pond water conditions is green water.  Free floating algae in the water can turn your pond into peasoup, obstructing the view of your fish, and generally looking yucky.  It also robs your plantlife of its essential nutrients.  In past years, there were many algae control products that relied on poisoning the algae with copper.  Over the past few years, these cures have been removed from the market due to concerns of poisoning our groundwater.  There are some other liquid remedies, but they do not always work as efficiently as poisoning the water with copper. 

The most effective method of treating green water is UV (ultraviolet) filtration.  Passing the pond water past a light producing UVC radiation (UVB is what tans you, UVC is used in air filtration and for killing microbes) will kill any living organisms.  Bacteria, algae, parasites are all controlled with one of these filters.  These filters normally pass the water around a germicidal fluorescent light inside a quartz tube (glass does not allow the UV spectrum to pass).   The quartz tube must be cleaned regularly to ensure the UV light can pass through it, and the bulb must be changed regularly to ensure it is producing the UV light. 

Sure, a proper filtration system can be expensive, but it is a one-time expense that can make for a much more enjoyable backyard water feature.  Well worth the investment.

June 4th Edition

Benefits of a Raw Diet

Last year I talked about the Raw Truth, addressing some of the concerns people express over feeding their pets raw foods.  More recently, I discussed how to buy a better kibble.  I got quite a few responses from both columns, and a lot of questions about the difference between raw and kibble.

Kibble has been around for over 100 years, but when dogs first started being kept as companion pets, that’s not what they ate.  We were nomads, and the dogs got what they could catch, plus our leftovers and anything we didn’t eat from what we caught.  Heads, feet, guts.  When we settled down to farming, and the dogs came with us, we still had lots of stuff for them to eat whenever we butchered anything for us.  But when we moved to the city, we started getting our meats already cleaned.  So we had nothing for the dogs to eat other than just table scraps.

Enter biscuits.  James Spratt concocted the first dog treat after he witnessed dogs around a shipyard eating scraps of discarded biscuits. Shortly thereafter he introduced his dog food, made up of wheat meals, vegetables and meat, which evolved into the kibbles we know today.  This food was created for economy and convenience, not optimum nutrition.  Most dogs can seem to do just fine on kibble.  We’ll never see the day when kibble isn’t available for people to buy.  As time goes by, people are learning and demanding better product from kibble manufacturers, so it is getting better.

We’re seeing a re-emergence of the return to natural diets in our foods.  Paleo diets, rawgans, organics, and more have become common in human diets.  But like these diets, feeding pets raw isn’t for everyone.  Just like these diets aren’t as easy as fast food, just like feeding raw isn’t as convenient as scooping some pellets into a bowl.  But it isn’t that tough, either, once you get into the routine.   And there are now some quite reasonably priced prepared frozen raw foods out there if you shop around.

Raw is back to nature.  Dogs share 99% of their DNA with wolves, and like wolves are meant to eat hydrated raw meat.  Not cooked dehydrated carbs.   The molars they have are for crunching bones, not grinding grains.  Their short digestive tract is designed to process meat.  Omnivores and herbivores have much longer digestive tracts to allow carbs to digest. 

One big benefit we’ve seen from our customers changing to raw is a reduction or elimination of gas.  One Boston Terrier client could clear the room with her toots.   Days after converting to raw, she’s gas free.   And because raw does not contain large amount of plant fibre, the waste product is a lot smaller, and quickly biodegrades.  Many raw feeders don’t even pick up in the yard, as the much smaller pile just disappears in a few days.

We’ve seen marked improvement in dental condition after transitioning to raw, improvements in coat, the gas and waste improvements already mentioned.   And many that had lingering allergies or undiagnosed ailments got healthier having real food to give them the strength to fight things off.

Raw is not for everyone, but for those that want to invest a little extra effort and money, and I do mean just a little, the dividends it pays for both partners are well worth it.

May 22th Edition


Adoption.  In December, I wrote about the difference between puppy mills and breeders.  Last month I wrote about the irreplaceable DeeDee.  Well, the week after, we went down another street, and adopted a 4yr old, 7lb toy poodle, Cuppa Joe.

Joe was rescued from a backyard breeder.  Kim at Vada’s Club K9, who does nail trims for the Manitoba Pug Rescue, told them they should bring Joe to our shop and show me.  We had lost Zoey before Christmas, and Kim thought we might be a potential “furever home” for Joe.

Kim has a white toy poodle named Quinn that is the identical opposite of Joe, who is black.  Every time I go to Vada’s, I have to pick up Quinn and play with him.  He’s so little and usually in some exotic style, either colored like a rainbow or his fur carved like a sculpture (he’s a camel right now).   With Joe being a copy of Quinn, Kim thought we’d be a perfect candidate for adoption.

So on that fateful Saturday afternoon, in walks Lori and her daughter with Joe and she says “Kim said we should show you Joe”.  Did you need some advice on grooming products?  Or foods?  Other questions about his care?  “No, Joe is looking for his new family, Kim thought you’d be a good fit”

Jackie has been saying that she wasn’t ready for a new dog since before Zoey passed.  We had gotten Zoey before we lost DeeDee, so we really haven’t been without a dog for a long time.  But Joe was so cute, I had to at least give her the chance to say yes.  So I told them to show Joe to Jackie, who was grooming a dog at the time.  So they took Joe back and told her that I had told them to show him to her. 

She had the same reaction as I, wondering if Joe needed a nail trim or a grooming appointment, never thinking about the adoption concept.  When I told her that he was looking for his furever home, that he was a rescue, she looked at me and said “No”.  But I could tell that no was really a maybe, especially when she repeated it, and then again, when she said “no” the third time.  She reluctantly handed Joe back and went back into her grooming room.

So we continued talking about Manitoba Pug Rescue and how they ended up with a poodle.  And then it happened, Jackie came out of her grooming room and said “OK, we’ll take him”.  Just like that.  I wasn’t trying to convince her or anything, but he needed a home.   Turns out, she had discussed with her mom just days earlier that if she got another dog, she wanted a toy poodle, as long as it was black.  And this time, she’d like a male as she has only owned female dogs until now.

So it was fate.  He’s Jackie’s dog, literally on her heel 24/7.  Doesn’t like me, must be some issue there from his past, but I’m working with him on it.  And now, we’ve taken in our first foster, Julie, a 7 year old female Scotty from the same place.  She’s a different situation, though, just temporary.  Hopefully, by the time this runs, we’ll have found her a home.  In the meantime, though, Jackie will pretty her up, and Joe has someone to play with that he is familiar with.

June 7th Edition

Pet Population.

I’ve met a lot of genuinely nice people in this business, but I have to give a shout-out to one particular local effort that is being made on the behalf of our pets.   

We all know that the first step to controlling pet population is through responsible spay/neuter policies. And that’s what we’re talking about today.

Barry Piasta came into my store one day, asking if he could put up a poster about a coming event. For those of you who have yet to meet him, Barry is a different sort. At first I didn’t know what to make of him — he was promoting a comedy show and a burlesque show, both to raise funds for pets. Many shelters take advantage of Rumor’s Comedy Club for fundraising, but a burlesque show?  

It was then that I found there is little that Barry won’t do to raise money and awareness. He has been running for a while, with fundraising usually done in conjunction with one of the many rescues he works with. His latest fundraiser was selling chocolate bunnies from Mordens’. But there is no doubting his commitment to the cause, and the bunnies were being sold to raise money for his latest pet project, No Nutts.

No Nutts, as you might assume by the name, is a low-cost neuter program designed to help people who can’t afford full cost neutering of their pet. So far, he has raised enough to subsidize the surgery, so that the owners can have the surgery done through Pets First veterinarians for $65 for a dog, and $42 for a cat. The services include the pre-op exam, surgery, tattoo, microchip, vaccinations and pain meds. Barry is very adamant in thanking Pets

First. Without them, this would never have been possible.

He started with his own funds, and committed to 12 dogs. Now he’s up to 15 dogs and 15 cats with additional monies he has raised. Even his family is not immune to his fundraising efforts, when they won the 50/50 draw at the "Raise the Woof" comedy show, a few more spots for cats got sponsored.

To register your animal to be neutered, interested parties need to call Barry between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Fri., June 13 at 204-510-4299. As there are a limited number of spots available, they will be assigned on a lottery basis and drawn on June 14, with the winners being contacted thereafter.

As I mentioned, they have so far raised enough for 15 dogs and 15 cats. Donations have come in from as far away as Florida, with a kind soul sending a $50 cheque to him. You have to love the internet. But you can help too.

If you have a business that would like to sponsor some more animals, or if you’d like to contribute yourself, you can contact Barry at the number listed above or by email at Any and all donations are welcomed.

Pass a hat, raid a penny jar, sell a kidney (well, maybe not that) — let’s see if we can’t increase that number even more. I’ll start the ball rolling. Anyone want to match my $50?

April 23rd Edition

Buying a Better Pet Food

I know, it may seem like every other column I write has something to do with pet food, but of all the conversations I have in the store, pet food is by far the most frequent one.  The resulting conversations meet with the most positive “I never knew that” responses as well.  Here are some tips I’ve been passing along for years.

We are what we eat.  Why do because, it’s true.  The biggest difference between our diet and our pets is that we choose both.  Our pets have no say in deciding what they eat (except when we occasionally forget something on the counter, oopsie). 

So, in deciding what to feed out pets, we should put a good amount of thought into it.  The first thing to consider is the ingredient panel.  What is the food made of.  Remembering your pet is a carnivore, is there meat, and how much meat is there.  Chicken, chicken meal and chicken by-product meal are all forms of meat, but which one is best? 

If it says Chicken, that is the un-rendered meat, skin and bones of the chicken, not including heads, feet, guts and feathers.  It still has all the water in it (hence, un-rendered).  So, for every 10 lbs of Chicken they put in the mix, it can become as little as 3 lbs of dry pet food once the water is removed in processing.  So, what started out as a first ingredient can slide 4 or 5 down the label.

Chicken meal is basically the same chicken, but reduced in particle size.  This is usually accompanied by a removal of water for easier storage and shipping.  Chicken meal is closer in moisture level to pet food, so where it appears on the label is an accurate representation of how much of it there is in the food.

Chicken By Product Meal is the rendered heads, feet, intestines, necks, and undeveloped eggs.  A very low cost ingredient that does contain some nutrition, but not as much as a higher quality form of chicken.

So “meat first” doesn’t necessarily mean “mostly meat”.  Which brings us to the second trick, ingredient splitting.  Using a number of different grains, each one can be less than the meat portion, but together, they far outweigh the meat.  They even split up corn into ground corn, corn gluten meal (a by product of corn starch or corn syrup), corn grits, ground yellow corn.  All to convince you that meat first means mostly meat. 

A good kibble has 2 meats first, at least one being a meal.  A great kibble, 3.  And not too many other ingredients before the fats.   The two important ingredients that are markers are fats and salts.  Anything before the fats are significant volume ingredients.  And anything after salts are not.  So a picture of peas or carrots on the front means nothing when there is more potassium chloride in the food than either peas or carrots.  It’s just advertising, and advertising doesn’t nourish your pet.

Just a quick scan of a label can reveal a lot about the product and the company.  The next quality check, though, is not always on the label.  The words “prepared for” are something to be wary of.  You want to buy a product made by the company in its own plant.  Most recalls are on products “prepared for” another company because they are made by the lowest bidder, and therefore, from the least expensive ingredients possible.  When you make your own food, you don’t take chances with off shore ingredients

April 9th Edition

The Irreplaceable DeeDee

I’ve had two types of dogs in my life, Dachshunds and Schnauzers.  You can’t help but have a special place in your heart for the things you are familiar with, and having bonded for decades with these two breeds, I have to admit, I’m biased towards them.  I love all animals equally, just a familiar few are a little more equal than others.

Dachsunds are members of the Hound Group of dog breeds.  Bred to chase prey into burrows (Dachs Hund translates to Badger Hound), these comical looking dogs have big hearts and diverse personalities.  Our DeeDee was a very protective girl, she was about 4 when we had our daughter Mary.  DeeDee never complained when Mary would crawl over her, or yank a jowl as she was playing.  A mothering instinct that made for the most wonderful pet.

When we got her, we lived in a “No Pets” apartment on the 10th floor in downtown Toronto with a very snooty superintendent.  Keeping her a secret was tough.  She didn’t bark at all, so that part was easy.  Taking her in and out, we figured that out real quick.  Jackie had a Mexican dufflebag that was the perfect size for DeeDee, she could scoot right in, and then up over the shoulder she’d go.  We’d get the occasional stare on the elevator if she was a little antsy and squirming around.  Out, around the corner, and we’d put the bag down and she’d scamper out.  Off for our walk, and when we got back to where we let her out, put the bag down, and scamper back in.

She made the move with us to Winnipeg.  Actually, she got to fly here while we drove.  Lucky girl stayed with my sister while we made the journey by car.  She started to slow down with her years as she, like many Dachsies, gained weight.  We had a very tough time getting her weight down.  We eventually found a senior dog food that was high protein and low fat, as opposed to most senior foods that at that time were low protein and low fat.  Luckily, things have changed now, and most senior foods are high protein, low fat.  The higher protein levels seemed to keep her energy up and preserved her muscle tone while she lost weight.  It was like getting a new dog at age 8. 

While she had AKC papers, she was never a show dog.  She had the cutest kink in her tail, an accident when she was a puppy.  Interesting thing is, as a “working dog”, a broken tail does not count against them in the show ring.  A noble wound as it were.  Apparently broken tails happen often when they are being extracted from holes they have chased their prey down.

We sadly had to say goodbye to her when she was almost 15.  While most of her body was still going strong, it seems cancer had taken its toll on her bladder and brain.  Her quality of life had diminished, and she was far too good a companion for us to allow her to suffer through surgeries and therapies that would possibly extend her life but not necessarily improve it.  Seeing a red Dachsie always brings back memories or her, she can never be replaced in our hearts.

March 26th Edition

One of the more difficult columns I have written, and it is written as a cautionary tale, not a judgement or a defense of the animals.   I know that some people will take it that way, and I apologize if any offence is taken, I am merely trying to raise awareness to avoid future tragedies.

Too often we hear about tragedies involving children and pets, the most recent too close to home. Our sincerest condolences go out to those involved.

In acknowledgement of these events, I thought this week would be a good opportunity to talk about safety with pets and how some simple precautions may prevent situations like these from happening again.  

Pets are animals, we cannot forget that. And even the most domesticated pet still has the ability to exhibit behaviours of the animal it was domesticated from, when given the proper triggers. Food aggression, territorial aggression or protecting its home or family are all instinctual triggers that can unleash the wild instinct of even the best-trained animals.

When I was six, my uncle showed me a trick he had taught his husky to do. He would have him sit, and he would place a treat on its nose. It would stay motionless until given the command "OK", whereupon the dog would toss the treat up in the air, and eat it. He handed me a treat so that I could do the trick.

I told the dog to sit, placed the treat, gave the command. Up goes the treat but he did not catch it and it hit the ground between his paws. Wanting to repeat the trick right, I reached down to get the treat. My uncle tried to stop me, but it was too late. I had tried to steal food from the dog, a very powerful trigger, and its animal instinct kicked in. It grabbed my hand and bit down.

My uncle wrestled the dog away, and wanted to see if I was OK. There were only some superficial wounds on the top of my tightly clenched fist (later, upon opening it, we found a cut that required stitches). Now, this dog was a good dog, had never attacked before, and loved playing with kids, including pulling us around on our sleds.

I guess the first thing to remember is to not leave vulnerable people alone with an animal that has the physical ability to harm.  Claws, teeth, venom, or other defence mechanisms, can be used to defend against perceived attacks as easily as they can be in attack.

Both can have the same tragic result.

Avoiding instinctual triggers is probably the biggest key to safety with any animal.  Teach children who are going to be playing with pets about not taking away a food item, such as treats, kibbles or bones. Don’t take away toys or invade the animal’s private space, such as its kennel or bed. And dogs don’t always understand play-fighting — showing  aggression towards one of its family members could trigger an attack.

Like us, most animals have comfort zone, and,  when taken out of those zones, become  more defensive and likely to lash out if they feel threatened.

If they are injured or are older with senior health issues, they could defend themselves by their natural instinct.

Once again, our condolences go out to the families of these tragedies.

March 11th, 2014 Edition

Living with a Dragon

Bearded Dragons are one of the most popular reptile pets, for good reason.  They combine a size, hardiness and ease of keeping that makes them a great choice as a pet for a first time reptile keeper, or the most advanced herpetologist.

Hailing from the outback of Australia, Bearded Dragons are from arid woodlands through to desert environs.  This means that they do not need a humid habitat in your house like many reptile pets would.  We recommend a sandy bottom, but the type of sand is very important.  Most sands can cause impaction problems for Dragons should they accidentally ingest some while chasing crickets.   Reptilite sand has spherical grains made up of bioavailable calcium, making impaction almost impossible and giving the animal a calcium boost if they ingest it.

As a basking animal, they need UVB exposure for maximum health.  Vit D supplements help, but nothing beats basking in sunlight.  That option isn’t available year round here (as much as we get lots of sunlight, glass windows filter out 100% of UVB, which is why we get truckers tan in the summer, but not in winter).  So we need a UVB source year round for them, and there are many light bulbs that can do that, the best in my opinion are Mercury Vapour lamps.  A little more expensive than CFL’s and Spot Bulbs, they produce more and better UV for a longer time, so they can be cheaper in the long run.

Beardies are cute when babies, but they are voracious eaters, and until they reach a subadult size primarily consume crickets.  10 or more a day, you need to budget for this when purchasing a baby beardie.  As they mature, they start eating more and more vegetable matter, until they eventually are consuming over 80% vegetable matter.  Dark green leafy vegetables, frozen peas and carrots, some fruits and prepared diets like Bearded Dragon Bites make up the bulk of an adult dragons diet.  Occasional crickets or mealworms provide the protein they need.

Very skittish as babies, they move quickly as a natural instinct to avoid predators.  But once they settle in, they are quite docile and content to sit in one position for long periods of time, if the light and heat are right.  It is not unusual on a hot summer day to see one basking on someone’s shoulder as you wander around downtown or at the Forks.  At full size they are very manageable, big enough to be able to be handled without being lost or escaping, but small enough that they are easily carried on your shoulder or in a coat.

I had one customer say that since he got his beardie, he has gotten healthier. He needs to have fresh veggies in the fridge for the reptile, so he eats them too!  So, yes, having a reptile pet can be good for your health.

Take the time to do the research, make sure the equipment you buy will be appropriate for the life of the animal, no use in buying a small cage just to have to replace it with a larger one in a few months.  36”x18”x18” is a minimum we’d recommend.  Properly outfitted, you should be able to get a great setup for around $500.  After the initial outlay, your expenses should be about $20-$30/mth.   Pretty reasonable for such an interactive and interesting pet.

Feb 25th, 2014 Edition

February is pet dental month. 

Dental health is important to people and pets, and for the same reasons.  A healthy mouth is a great start to a healthy body.  An unhealthy mouth adds to any other health problems a person or animal has. 

Brushing a pet’s teeth can be a challenge at the best of times.  Puppies that are started early can actually learn to enjoy the bonding time that brushing teeth can provide.   There are a variety of pastes, gels, or even water additives designed for dental care.  A little research and a few good questions will generally let you decide if these will suit your needs.

Many people rely on dental care provided at the vet’s office, cleaning every year or two, while the dog is put under.  It can be expensive, and for older pets there can be health concerns with anesthesia, but for some it’s the only way to get the teeth cleaned.  And if the teeth are very bad, or extractions are required, there may be no other choice.

There are other, more natural ways to keep a pet’s teeth clean.  There are no toothbrushes in the wild, animals rely on their food to clean their teeth.  Crunching the marrow out of an animal’s bones both derives nutrition, and cleans the teeth.  That is the natural way of keeping their teeth in great shape.  Raw bones, from chicken right through to beef or bison, can provide nutrition and dental health to a pet.  And most cats can even chew cooked chicken bones, as they are dainty nibblers who do not ingest large pieces.

The one thing to watch for is if your pet is a gulper.  If they are content to chew bones into small pieces, then it is safe to use them.  But if they like to gulp whole chunks, some bones can pose a danger.  In those cases, do not use bones, either raw or smoked.  Instead, use non destructible chewing toys, hard plastic/nylon toys for extreme chewers are recommended. 

For cats and small dogs, raw chicken necks are an excellent choice as a treat.  Frozen or thawed, not only are they nutritious, but they are excellent at cleaning teeth.  And, unlike dental cookies or foods, they do not leave residual carbs in the mouth to add to tartar build up.  For larger dogs, raw chicken backs are a great treat.  Both are inexpensive enough to offer every day, just be sure to adjust your feeding to account for the added nutrition you are giving the animal. 

Beef, Elk and Bison bones are great for bigger dogs as well.  The marrow can be rich and they can be messy, but they keep dogs teeth bright and shiny while giving the dog a satisfying treat.  Again, attention must be given to ensure the sizing of the bone is appropriate for the pet.

As they are raw, you have to be careful in their handling.  Not for the dogs sake, but for the people around.  Most people will either give them outside, or have a “chewing mat” that the pet must use.  If they venture off the mat with their “treat”, take it away and return it to the mat.  It only takes a few times for them to figure out the routine.   This will keep the raw products confined to a known area, which is then much easier to clean and maintain.

Dental health is easy, when you make it a daily routine.  And finding a dental treatment that is also a treat for the pet, well, that’s easier still.

Feb 11th, 2014 Edition

Learn Something New Every Day

Every day, I get the pleasure of talking with some of the most interesting people.  People that have companion animals are a different bunch, and I’d like to think a better bunch.  Animals, be they furred, feathered or scaled , make our lives richer every day.  But we animal lovers can be a quirky lot.  And that makes for a lot of interesting encounters here in the shop.   And a lot of laughs, about our pets and ourselves.

Sometimes, until someone mentions something, the thought would never have occurred to us.  One of the prime examples of this happened when talking with a customer about feeding a reduced fat dog food.  They were trying to get their dog to lose some weight, but were not having any positive results, even with the reduced fat food.   So I asked them how much did their dog weigh, and how much was his ideal weight.  They said he was 75lbs, but should be 60lbs. When I asked how much they were feeding, they turned the bag over and pointed – “Here, it says a 75lb dog should get 3 cups per day”.  And then the light bulb of logic appeared over their heads and they said together “Oh… oops”.  They had been feeding an amount that would keep the dog at its present weight, while they should have been feeding a portion appropriate for its target weight.

An honest mistake, and a learning opportunity for both of us.  Now, when counselling about the feeding of an overweight animal, I use the words, “how much should it weigh” first.  This prevents a mistake like that from happening right off the hop.

Another funny incident was when a customer asked about keeping the algae off of the background he had bought for his aquarium.   I thought about this for a moment, and then asked if his filter was leaking or if he kept the tank filled to the very top, because these were the only ways I could think of water getting between his background and the glass.  It was then his turn to look at me oddly, and tell me that his background was inside his tank, “Isn’t that where it was supposed to be?”  Simple misunderstanding, there are no application instructions on the bulk roll background, they are plastic, so why not put them inside?  Made perfect sense to him, and I can understand the logic.  Once I explained that the background goes outside the tank, light bulb time.  That makes more sense, he said, and felt a little embarrassed.  We both had a little laugh at the mistake, and now, I instruct people to tape the background to the outside of the tank when selling the product. 

Sometimes it’s just a lack of communication and sometimes it’s a case of a little information being a dangerous thing.  Like in determining the sex of a fish.  I remember a customer asking for a specific goldfish because he needed a “girl” because he had a “boy” one at home.  These were small fish, and goldfish cannot be reliably sexed until they are adult, 8” long or more, and even then it is difficult.  I asked him why he thought that one was a girl, and he said because it had shorter fins.  He had been told at a different shop that the goldfish with long fins were males.  Obviously that clerk had learned that about guppies or bettas, and assumed it was the same for goldfish.  The customer was disappointed now, because he had already named the other fish based on it being a boy.   But he had to believe what he was told, because that clerk was supposed to know.

Every day, we learn something new, whether from research, experience or from sharing.  But that is a great thing, once we close our minds to learning, how can our life get any richer?

Jan 29th, 2014 Edition

The Wonder of a Betta fish.

The Siamese Fighting Fish has long been a staple of the pet industry.  These hardy, gorgeous fish have so many things going for them that they can’t help but be the most popular aquatic pet.

Firstly, they are beautiful.  Most of the ones we see in pet stores are males, mainly because like so many animals in nature, the male is more gaudy to attract the female and fend off competing males.  They are the home designers best pet friend, available in a myriad of colours, from icy blue white through to the deepest blue, or a full pallet of reds, pinks and purples.  But don’t expect to find them in green, orange or black.  Those colors are extremely rare at best.

Second, they are very undemanding in their environment.  Part of the anabantoid (from the Greek word to “travel up”) group of fishes, they have what is basically a rudimentary lung in their heads known as a labyrinth organ.  This allows them to get oxygen from air instead of through their gills, which is very important as the waters they come from, usually rice paddies or seasonal waters, rarely have enough oxygen to support fish with only gills.

Third, they are solitary animals.  They do not do well in a group, hence the “fighting fish” name.   In their native Thailand, they are bred for this trait, and are bet on much the way we bet on MMA or Boxing in North America.  Two short finned males are put together, where they will display and peck at each other until one submits and retreats to a corner of the bottom in the tank.  But this, with the ability to breathe air, makes them a great bowl fish. 

We recommend them in 2l to 2gal bowls or tanks.  These don’t need aeration or filtration, as they in stagnant waters.  In fact, many male bettas with long fins can actually be disturbed by moving water, and end up hiding away from the flow. 

Bettas do come from a very tropical area where the temperatures can reach 100F (38C).  But they can do well in normal room temperature, 72F (21C).  If they act sluggish, or don’t seem to want to eat, it may be because they are at too low a temperature.  As well, many houses and offices have setback thermostats which reduce the temperatures at night, and this can be disastrous for Bettas.  In these cases, you may need a heater for the bowl/tank.  There are many now on the market designed specifically for the purpose of keeping small tanks warm. 

Males will often build a “bubble nest” in their bowl/tank.  This is a sign of a happy, healthy fish.  In the wild, they use these bubble nests to provide an area of oxygenated water for the eggs and fry to develop in, until they develop their own labyrinth organ.  A male with a big bubble nest will attract a female, and after spawning, the male will spit the eggs up into the nest and chase the female away.  He then cares for the eggs and babies, replenishing the bubbles and catching any eggs or fry that fall out and replacing them in the nest, until they can escape him and strike out on their own.

A few pellets of food a day and a water change every week or two is all the care these little fellows need.  For someone wanting a gorgeous, low maintenance pet, these guys are perfect.

Jan 15th, 2014 Edition

Bred for Purpose or Bred for Profit, Part Two

Last column I talked about “Bred for Purpose” dogs.  Dogs bred by caring people to high standards.  And while making a profit is a nice side benefit, it is not the main concern. 

“Bred for Profit” dogs can be just the opposite.  Commonly called puppy mills or backyard breeders, many of these breeders are concerned solely with how much they can make from the dogs.  Most have no breeding records, and may not even know which two dogs are the parents of any litter.  And this is where the doodle craze becomes a problem, because now every dog can have a purebred like name, but be bred from a dog’s breakfast of a gene pool.  Breeding a registered poodle to a registered lab retriever is one thing.  Breeding a cross to a cross with no documented heritage is worse than a mutt, because they could have so many common ancestors reinforcing bad genetics.

Some backyard breeders are using catchphrases like double doodles, F2, and such to make the animals appear to be more like a purebred.   But, if the breeder doesn’t have a written lineage of the dogs involved in producing an animal, there is no guarantee they are not inbred.  A double doodle could have the same ancestor as each of the oodles.  Without documentation, it can be just a mutt, and quite possibly a badly inbred one.  I’m not saying all breeders of “designer dogs” are bad, just that a visit and a few questions can reveal a lot about your prospective new family member. 

Some of these “designer dogs” are sold for more than purebred, but most these “bred for profit” dogs are cheaper than a “bred for purpose” dog, making them attractive to purchase.  They are cheaper because they can produce so many more by having multiple litters per year, and save a lot of overhead by scrimping on food, housing and care.  Some of these breeders don’t know any better, treating dogs as they would other livestock, like pigs or cows.  It is unfortunate, and while many of the pups seem OK, many develop major problems down the line. 

Overbreeding, inbreeding, unsanitary conditions, lack of attention and poor nutrition can lead to the production of sick and badly socialized animals.  Dogs are resilient, and many of the animals produced this way go on to lead normal lives.  But too many end up with serious problems, requiring surgeries, long term medication, or worse.   Some never mentally recover from physical mistreatment they have received, and cannot lead normal socialized lives.  The lucky ones find homes that can adapt to their special needs, the others face a much different, less fortunate end.

“Bred for profit” should be the target of activists.  Many of the dogs that end up in rescues come from these breeders, either from seizures of animals at unlicensed facilities, or when a problem dog is surrendered.  But they can be an attractive option, being less expensive.  And now internet resources like Kijiji are making things even easier for unscrupulous breeders.  People unknowingly buying from these breeders are endorsing the practice, and it is through education about this that we need to address the problem.

Visiting where the dogs are bred and raised will tell you whether it is a legitimate breeder or a puppy mill.  If they send you pictures and want to deliver, they may have something to hide.  In buying a puppy, we are talking about a 15 year commitment, thousands of dollars in care and feeding.  Taking a drive to the breeding facility should be a minimum investment you can make in being sure this is the right companion animal for you, and that it has started its life with good care, and good genetics.

For more puppy buying tips, visit our website at and click on “New Puppy”.

If you suspect someone of running a puppy mill, or subjecting animals to abuse, call the Animal Care Line at 204-945-8000.

Dec 31st, 2013 Edition

Bred for Purpose or Bred for Profit, Part One

Our rescue shelters are overflowing with dogs and puppies looking for homes, and even with more spay/neuter programs in place, it does not seem to be slowing down. 

With all these dogs looking for homes, I can understand why certain people are against dog breeders.  Most don’t understand that there is a difference between a “bred for purpose” dog and a “bred for profit dog”.  I’ll go into that difference in this column and my next one.

A proper dog breeder is easy to identify.  Whether they breed for show, competition or special purpose, they love their animals and provide properly for them.  They practice exceptional hygiene with their animals, keeping them well groomed, and their environments clean and filled with enrichment.  When you visit their facility, you can tell they love and respect the animals, both the breeders, the pups, and the retired animals that are now just pets.  They feed balanced diets, and encourage the animals to exercise, and provide proper veterinary and dental care.  This is why a visit to the facility is so important, to see how your pet started its life.

Bred for purpose dogs are the result of proper breeding programs, designed for perfecting show dogs, competition dogs, or dogs for special needs.  Show dogs carry CKC registrations, where you can trace their heritage back for generations.  Competition dogs like herders, retrievers and pointers are bred for their special talents, and while many carry CKC pedigrees, most are still purebred, many having their own genealogies. 

Show dog breeders perpetuate a breed, working through selective breeding to re-enforce the qualities of that breed.  Infusion of new bloodlines can mean bringing new dogs in from around the world, strengthening the breed.  But for every perfect showdog, there are many that are just not able to be champions.   No fault of the dog, and these become pets with pedigrees. 

Special needs dogs for things like therapy, guiding or law enforcement are bred for traits and qualities that make them suited for those purposes.  The Labradoodle was developed as a guide dog for a woman who’s husband had allergy problems.  Poodles just wouldn’t work as guides, so the breeder crossed his best lab with a poodle and voila.   But no one wanted the crosses until he invented the name Labradoodle, and they went from unwanted to must haves.  Many of these non-pedigreed dogs are bred properly, from unrelated purebred stock, F1 if you please.  But far too many use these designer dog names to sell what are effectively mutts with no recorded heritage other than maybe the sire and dam, who were crosses to begin with.  Denoting a dog as an F2, F3 or greater says that they are that far from the purebred dogs they are patterned after.   And, until CKC recognizes Labradoodle as a breed, then these just cross breeds.   Don’t get me wrong, properly done, they can be great, but randomly crossing dogs is not the proper way to breed.

The common thread to “bred for purpose” is that the breeders are conscientious in their breeding methods, documenting and following the results to ensure only the healthiest dogs are produced.  People buying bred for purpose dogs are looking for something specific that they would not likely be able to find through rescue adoption.

Interestingly, many of these breeders I know are exceptionally active in the rescue community, raising funds, awareness and fostering at risk animals.  And many will refer people to shelter dogs at the expense of selling one of their own puppies.  Not something you’d expect from what an activist might call an “evil dog breeder”.

Dec 18th, 2013 Edition

Christmas and Pets

Finding a puppy under the Christmas tree is a cliché in so many movies, it had become an easy way out when someone didn’t have any other ideas what to get.  Don’t get me wrong, if someone has been wanting a certain type of dog, and Christmas presents itself as an opportunity to make that desire come true, fantastic.  But picking up a dog, or any pet, as a last minute decision, without knowing the recipient is ready for the commitment to that particular pet can be a very unwise decision.  The months and years that follow can end up being a problem, for pet and new owner.

We get a lot of questions about giving pets as presents every year, and we have a number of tips that I’ll share with you this week.

Introducing a pet into the chaos that the holidays usually are can stress out an animal unnecessarily.  The pet doesn’t have to be wrapped up under the tree for it to be a part of Christmas.  For a dog or cat as a gift, a handmade coupon committing to finding the perfect pet, along with some of the basic supplies, collar, leash, food dishes, bed, etc. is a great idea.  Then everyone can get involved in selecting a pet that fits the family’s needs and abilities to provide care for. 

Small animals, fish, birds or reptiles all require a “kit” consisting of housing, food and supplies.  Putting a kit under the tree allows you to give the gift of a pet, without subjecting it to the stresses of Christmas morning.  Then, in the days following, you can arrange a visit to the store to pick out the pet.  This way the recipient chooses the actual animal they are going to be responsible for the care of.    This can also be helpful in other ways. 

We sometimes hear of children getting a pet hamster or guinea pig, and in the months that follow, their commitment to changing the cage, feeding and watering the animal starts to waiver.    When confronted, they respond “That’s not the hamster I wanted, I wanted a beige one” or some other excuse.  When they have directly chosen the animal, these arguments are diffused.  “You picked that one, you have to care for it” is a response that is irrefutable.

Sometimes, the choice of the actual type of animal may change from the time the kit was purchased and the time for choosing the animal.  Because the kit is unused, there is no problem exchanging it for one for a different animal.  And again, since the recipient is making the final decision, it is more likely that it is exactly what they want and can care for.

Gift Cards / Certificates sound like a real lazy gift, but with pets, they are sometimes the best option.  We have many people come in each year, buying “part” of a gift by purchasing a Gift Certificate that will be used to buy a larger item, like an Aquarium Kit, or a Reptile Kit, or a Guinea Pig and Kit.  Chipping in, many people together can give what they are able, and make someone’s Christmas dream come true.

Post Christmas is a busy time for animal shelters and pet rehabilitation groups.  It doesn’t have to be, if we all put a little more thought into our gift giving.  Happy Holidays.

Dec 4th, 2013 Edition

The Raw Truth

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about the hazards of raw dog food diets lately, and there seems to be a lot of misinformation out there.  So I’ll try to address a few of the big questions today.

The biggest concern is Salmonella.  Yes, raw foods are a salmonella risk.  As are any raw foods that we prepare for our own consumption.  But, a quality product handled appropriately is as safe or even safer than kibble, which is also capable of being contaminated with salmonella.  Many people think that the raw food fed to pets is rancid, waste product.   The product we sell is from feather to frozen within 24 hours.  About as fresh as you can get.  And as long as it is kept refrigerated after thawing, it can be held safely for days, like any raw meat product.

Most importantly, the Salmonella concern is not about harm to the animals, but the risk to humans.  As carnivores, dogs and cats can handle levels of salmonella far exceeding what we can.  So the concern is that mishandled raw foods can infect people.  And for households with immunologically suppressed people or small children, raw foods might not be something you should risk.

There are rumours out there about raw foods leading to worms.  The worms that can be spread through feeding raw generally come from pork and wild game, not domestic animals.  So, a hunter feeding his dog deer or elk he’s just shot is taking a risk at infecting it with parasites, likewise feeding untreated pork products can be a risk.  But frozen raw pet food made by a reputable manufacturer is safe.   Rarely do you see wild game or pork products used, and when they are, they are treated with pressure or extended deep freezing to eliminate pathogens.  Homemade preparations that use risky materials can lead to problems, but with a little research you can ensure that you eliminate these dangers.

“Pets shouldn’t eat chicken bones” is probably the most common misconception out there.  Dogs and cats have been dining on the raw bones of prey animals for thousands of years.  But in the wild, they’ve never had to worry about cooked bones.  Until they get cooked, bones are pretty soft, containing a lot of water.  But once they are cooked they become dry and brittle and when broken, they can be razor sharp.  Try and do the wishbone thing with a raw wishbone and you will go crazy.  But cooked, snap!  So, part of the information is true, dogs should not eat cooked chicken bones.  Cats, though, are rather dainty in chewing, and can handle a cooked chicken neck easily.  My Streaky gets one every day or two, and loves them, raw or cooked.

So, as long as the chicken piece is raw, and the animal actually chews it into appropriate swallowing size, it is safe.  Some animals will try and gulp items too large to swallow, including rawhides, pigs ears and chewies.  If your pet does this, then a chicken back or neck might not be an appropriate treat.  But if they aren’t gulpers, gnawing on a chicken neck or back is a great dental treat and has tremendous food value.   Having a mat designated as a chew place can keep the pet from wandering around with a chunk of raw chicken.  If they take their snack off their mat, take it away from them and return it to the mat.  They learn quickly what that means.

Handled with respect, there isn’t a better, more appropriate food for your pet than raw.  But take the time to learn all about it, it will be well worth it.

November 20th, 2013 Edition

Pups in Boots

It’s getting close to wintertime, and people are starting to ask about boots for dogs again.  I know we touched on this in “Winterizing your Pet”, but let’s go a little deeper today. 

Yes, you can buy boots for just about any dog, there are sizes and styles that can work for almost every breed.  But, far more than with people, dogs have different shaped feet.   So fitting them is even harder than it is for you and I.

There are many styles of footwear for dogs, a simple sock, a rubber balloon type, arctic fleece booties, leather mukluk style or even a hard soled ugg or sneaker type boot.   Which one fits your dog’s shape of foot, ankle and leg and its walking style can be difficult to figure out, and may take a number of tries before you find the style that works for your needs.

But even the best fitting boot has to survive the dog wanting to keep it on.   Some learn quickly what a boon footwear can be, and relish having them put on, because they know its “walky time” when the boots come out.  But many dogs will immediately try to remove the boot, or will lay down and start chewing at them.  There are bitter sprays that can help stop the chewing, and many times they will get used to them, but sometimes, even the most concerted effort meets with failure.

In those instances, there are options for making sure your dogs “bare” feet stay in good condition through the winter season.  Proper pad care is essential.  Protecting and conditioning the pads through the use of waxes and creams can prevent drying and cracking.  Salt can make a dog lick its paws, and that can lead to cracking as well.  Dry, cracked pads make walking in winter torture for a pet.  So, cleaning the dogs paws after walking is just as important in winter as spring.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but it is amazing how much of a difference food can make in so many areas of your pets health, and winter conditions make this even more evident.  Good foods make for a healthy coat to keep the dog warm, and tough but supple pads to stand up to harsh walking conditions.  Sometimes the best conditioners are contained in the diet.

There is a misconception that keeping the dogs paws furry can help keep them warm.  Long fur gets wet, catches “snowballs” and ice between the pads and can make the pads itch from salt build up.  A clean foot is much easier to maintain, and the pads are easier to keep moisturized and supple.  Long nails might give them a bit of traction on snow, but they are like skates in icy conditions, and every time they click on the frozen ground, it causes a painful shock up the toe. 

Keeping the paws and nails trimmed can be as easy as a quick visit to a groomer for a pawdicure.  Just a few minutes invested can make a world of difference in your best friends walking experience.


November 6th, 2013 Edition

The Dog Park.

We are blessed with wide open spaces in Winnipeg, and some of those wide open spaces have been designated as Dog Parks.  A listing of these areas can be found in the “Fields for Fido” area of the website.

If you’ve had a chance to use one of these areas, you know how great the experience can be for both you and your pets.  As members of the Maple Grove Dog Park Association, our family takes advantage of this awesome area for our daily walks (ok, I don’t get out as much as I should, but I try).  It is a social event for humans and canines alike.  But, like any social event, there are points of etiquette that need to be maintained for the parks to remain a positive place.

Most evident, maintain the park by cleaning up after your pet.  Make sure you bring adequate numbers of bags to ensure you can stoop and scoop when your dog relieves itself.  Nothing worse than stepping in a steaming pile of poop, and there is no reason it should happen.  And the nicest people in the park are the ones that pick up even when it wasn’t their dog.  Those people are awesome, and we should all try to be awesome.

If you’re going to let your dog off leash, please ensure that it is well trained to your commands.  It is important that when you call them back, they come.  I know that with all the distractions it can be difficult, but if you are going to let them roam you still need to be in control.  Many dog’s personalities change between on and off leash.  Some can get wilder, while others are more defensive of their owners when they are on leash. 

Until you are positive how your dog will react, you can start with extendable leashes (they can go up to 25 feet) until you are satisfied about your dog’s behaviour with others.  Alternately, basket muzzles are readily available, which are appropriate for extended walks.  Not to be confused with nylon muzzles used to prevent biting when grooming or cutting nails, basket muzzles do not physically hold the mouth closed.  This allows a dog to breathe, pant, and drink while stopping them from biting.

Once they are off leash, you are responsible for supervising them.  It can be easy for us to get distracted, talking with friends or even meeting new friends, but we need to be vigilant in ensuring our charges are not getting into mischief, or worse, trouble.  There are areas that can be hazardous, river banks, fast moving water, even areas of burrs or windfall that can be hazards to our pets.  And we have to ever wary of how two dogs that have never met before will react, and if we’re not close by and watching, by the time we can get there, damage can be done.

Bringing a toy to interact with can be enjoyable, but like in a daycare, if you bring a toy, make sure that sharing that toy won’t cause a problem.  Aggression over treats, food or toys can end up causing fights resulting in injuries to the pets, sometimes even involving animals not in the conflict that are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  We have to be careful not to create problems that endanger others needlessly.

While the park is designated for you and your pet, it is also a public area to be shared with others.  Make sure that everyone can enjoy the park, whether they have a pet with them or not.  Walkers, joggers and skiers also taxpayers use these city owned areas, be sure to share well.

Many of the off leash areas have Dog Owners Associations that co-ordinate the area, hold fundraisers that allow for improvements, and lobby the city for the continued use of the areas for the pets.  Volunteering to help these associations can help ensure the long term success of the dog parks, and can be a rewarding experience as well.

These areas are for us and our pets.  Used responsibly, they will be there for us for years to come.


October 23, 2013 Edition

Spoiling our pets with natural treats.

365 days of the year, it’s Trick for Treats with our pets.  Unfortunately, like most snacks and treats for kids, many pet treats are “candy”.  Loaded with sugars, fructose/glucose, artificial colours and flavours, glutens and other ingredients we know aren’t good for us or our pets.  But they’re cheap, readily available and many dogs love them.  Luckily, unlike our kids, most dogs prefer real foods, like meat, over candy.  So we can spoil them with healthy treats!

Are the treats you are buying healthy?  Read the label.  I know, we always tell you to read the label, but this is the best source of information you can get about a product.  Where was it made?  What are the main ingredients?  How is it preserved or coloured? 

Many people are very concerned about where things are made these days.   Too many recalls and warnings are issued about food products from certain areas of the world, so they would prefer more local supply.   This is even more important for pet treats, as the standards for items “Not For Human Consumption” are a lot lower than people food.

Simple is better.  There are many dog treats available that are a single ingredient.  Beef liver can be baked into chips or freeze dried.  Salmon or chicken jerky, bull pizzles, pigs ears, frozen raw chicken backs or necks can all be great treats.  Smoked bones or even frozen raw marrow or knuckle bones (bison is a new favourite in our shop) are all natural, single ingredient treats that can be both safe and nutritious.  Many have an added dental cleaning effect that cannot be beat by “dental” treats loaded with chemicals and abrasives.

There are many grain free dog cookies available today that use starches like potato or chick peas to form the treat.  These are usually made in small batches with wholesome and even organic ingredients.  Cheese, peanut butter, liver, chicken, beef, salmon and turkey are common flavours that dogs go crazy over.  There are even meat free veggie cookies for our vegan friends.

Dog treats can be preserved with things not allowed into people food due to the dangers they pose.  Hazardous chemicals like BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, and  propylene glycol are not allowed in people food in many countries, but aren’t prohibited for use to preserve low cost ingredients in pet foods and treats.  Dyes and colours that have been banned in people food can also find their way into pet treats.  These are mainly meant to lure us into buying the product, as dogs have completely different sense of colour than we do.  And don’t get me started about artificial flavourings.  Check the Wikipedia listing for “animal digest” if you want an eye opener.   None of these would ever be used in a quality pet treat.

The best treats can be baked, dehydrated, smoked or frozen.   These don’t need any added preservatives.  Soft treats that are extruded treats can be naturally preserved with things like Vitamins C & E, mixed tocopherols and rosemary extract because their ingredients are higher quality and less likely to spoil.

With plenty of healthy treats available (some even cheaper than the “candy” ones), there is no reason to risk your pet’s health.  Give them something that both tastes good and is good for them.





October 9, 2013 edition

Winterize your pet


Winter is fast approaching, and when we’re out getting our new winter duds, let’s not forget our other family members who go out in our frigid weather as well.

Dogs have a built in fur coat, and many do not need additional winter clothing.   Double coated dogs like Huskies, Sheppards, and Newfies have a down like undercoat that keeps them warm in winter and cool in summer.  They “blow” this undercoat twice a year with the season change, and it is very important to get that dead coat cleaned out so that the fresh undercoat can do its job.  Heavy, matted undercoat can actually make a dog colder in the winter season.  The thick coat traps moisture against the skin, like wearing a wet sweater under your down jacket.  A few brushing sessions with a Coat King or a trip to a good groomer can help keep your dog toasty warm in the coldest weather.

Short coated dogs, or dogs that are groomed short can benefit from a coat.  Sizing is generally done by measuring the number of inches from where the collar sits to the base of the tail.  Coats can be hard to fit for some dogs.   Even more than people, dogs come in various shapes and sizes, so fitting “off the rack” can be a difficult task.  You can get dog coats tailored to fit, just like you would for yourself.  But it does carry an added cost.

Keeping a dog’s feet warm in winter is easy with a few tips.  You would think big furry paws would keep the feet warm, but they can make your dog colder in winter.  Snow and ice can get balled up in the fur, making it difficult to walk, salt can build up as well, making them itch and lick.  Most good grooming salons will provide a pawdicure service for your dog where they trim out the excess hair when they trim and Dremel the nails. 

Using a pad cream is an easy way to keep the pads from cracking.  Moisturizing pad cream also has a waterproofing attribute as well.  Clean paws with trimmed nails are also easier for fitting boots over.  Whether you use Muttluks or balloon type Paws boots, it is much easier to put them on if the nails are short and trimmed, and the boots will last longer without being worn away from the inside.

If you have an outside dog, giving them a little more insulation for the winter can be as easy as piling leaves or hay around the doghouse, or lining it with Styrofoam.  There are small heaters and heated beds that are available, be sure they are rated for outdoor use.  Even a brooder chicken coop heater can add heat, if the doghouse is small, you can use small reptile infra-red bulbs instead of the big heater bulbs.  As well, there are heated dog water bowls that will stay ice free in the coldest temperatures, that can help stop the dog from eating snow, which can drop his core temp quickly and put him at risk of hypothermia.

With a little planning, there is no reason our pets can’t enjoy winter activities just like us.




On a lighter note

Sept 25, 2013 edition

Dogs have owners, Cats have staff.

Never knew just how true that was until I brought home a Bengal kitten for my daughter.  I had brought one in for my best friend years before and he wanted to get a second one, so I brought in two.  And took the second one home, where he was christened Streaky Bell.  The name of the cat was a compromise between my wife and daughter:  Jackie wanted Streaky, the name of Supergirl’s cat, and 8 year old Mary wanted Bell after her favourite inventor (Dad doesn’t get a say).  Odd coincidence, my daughter has Crohn’s, and wouldn’t you know, Streaky has Colitis.  He was meant to be with us.  

I wasn’t sure how the dynamic of a male cat and a female Schnauzer would turn out, but quickly found that everything under 2 feet was dog territory, and everything above, the cat was free to roam.  Getting from one elevated position to another meant that paths crossed occasionally, but scuffles were short lived and relatively damage free.

We had a cat when I was a kid, but it was one of those “I’m here, feed me, OK thanks, I’m leaving now” arrangements.  Not really a pet.  Streaky is an indoor cat, and never shy’s away from letting us know what he needs.   Hence, my daughter is staff now, and to a lesser extent, me.

I’m not saying it’s a bad job, the hours are short and the pay can be very good.  On a chill winters evening, it rarely takes a minute from sitting down before I have a lapwarmer.  And the simplest toys with a little catnip added (I keep an assortment of toys in a Tupperware loaded with catnip, rotating them for freshness) can lead to hours of comedy.   And a toy on the end of a string is an interactive session of fun.

But cat “ownership” can come with some cautionary tales.  Did you know that some cats like bread?  Like it well enough to open up cupboards and drag loaves out?   Streaky thinks that the strip along the centre of the top of a loaf of bread is delicious, and ignores the rest, either leaving it on the counter for us to find, or knocking it onto the floor for Zoe to finish.  We now have childlocks on any cupboard containing any kind of baked goods.

My wife Jackie isn’t Streaky’s biggest fan, being allergic to cats.  We use Allerpet on him, which works most of the time, but when it’s wearing off, he tends to sit on the couch behind Jackie without her realising.  Soon enough her nose starts to twitch, and she turns around to see him sitting there, all Cheshire Cat like.  I get that look, and go get the Allerpet and reapply it.  I do catch her complimenting the handsome boy often though, and he collects his fair share of head scratches from her.

He is part of the family, his woes and joys shared with us all, and we’re richer for his being here.


This weeks column... not the cheeriest subject, but one that we all, as pet owners, will eventually have to deal with.

September 11, 2013 edition


We live in a society that is changing, with seniors making up a larger part of the population every day, and the same is true for our pet community.  Better foods and supplements, better health care, and more emphasis on exercise has led to longer healthier lives for our animals.  Add to that the extraordinary measures we now employ to extend our pets lives, and we’re seeing a large portion of the pet community in the senior range. 

One of the biggest factors in extending pets lives is the foods we use.  Nutritional products available today are better than they have ever been, and our animals are benefitting from that.   But sometimes these products can actually hurt certain pets if not used appropriately.  “Senior” foods are generally designed with a lower fat level and calorie count than a regular formulation.  These are to compensate for the lower activity levels of older animals, which can be appropriate in most cases.   But in some cases, low fat, low calorie diets can actually harm a pet.  Just like people, some need more calories either because they eat less or their systems have a harder time getting nutrition out of their food. 

In people, we would give them Ensure or Boost to increase their nutrition.  For pets, keeping them on a regular adult food may be enough, but in extreme cases, if the pet is having a problem maintaining weight, a puppy food can work great.  And if they don’t seem interested in eating, you can stimulate their appetite with either canned or frozen raw foods added to their kibble or used instead of kibble.

Longer life spans means dealing with pet health issues our parents didn’t have to deal with.   It used to be that when a pet got old and sick, the decision to have them put down was pretty easy.  Now we’re faced with decisions about treatment options that weren’t available before.  Chemotherapy, surgeries and medications can extend pets lives.  And we’re left to make the decision of when to make the call, when it is time to say goodbye.

For all the wonderful time we spend with our companion animals, the end can be the most difficult part, making that decision between extending life through heroic means and letting go.  For me, quality of life has to be the deciding factor.  If extending life comes at a cost of pain for the animal, is it worth it?  If the animal can’t enjoy its life, or doesn’t even know it is there, should we keep them around or should we let them go?   An animal can’t sign a DNR order, we have to make that decision for them.

I’ve had to deal with this twice in my life.  My first dog, DeeDee, had multiple tumours.  Chemo and surgery could have extended her life.    But her faculties had diminished to the point that she was barking at nothing, was not aware of what was going on around her, and she was in pain.  The decision  was both one of the most difficult I’ve had to make, and yet a very easy one.  I didn’t want her to suffer any more, but I made sure we were there at the end to see her off, she passed in my arms. 

Now, our Zoe is suffering from congestive heart disease.  One minute she’s doing great, the next, she can’t catch her breath.  With her meds balanced, she has been having more good days than bad, but we know this won’t last forever.   When the time comes, we will make the decision based on what is best for Zoe, so that she will not suffer just so we can have her with us.  She’s been too good a friend to let her suffer.


Aug 27th edition



Back to school – not just for kids.

We’re seeing an unfortunate trend lately, the demise of the class pet.  When I was growing up, many classes had pets, and every science room had at least one living creature in it, if not a whole bunch.  Who can forget watching the classic CBC series with the Riverbank Gang in “Once Upon a Hamster”, and wanting a talking GP. 

From aquariums, to hamsters, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits, we would see classes either adopt, fundraise to buy, or have the parent association provide funds for a class pet.  And, sometimes as a reward, or as a responsibility, a different classmate would take the pet home on weekends. 

Now, with allergies, phobias and other concerns, some school districts have forbidden the class pet.   That learning enrichment has been removed from our children’s schooling.  Which is unfortunate, because there are so many harmless pet options that pose no threat to children’s allergies or safety.

Classic class pets are Guinea Pigs, Hamsters and Gerbils.  More recently, Rats and Geckos have become very popular in schools that still allow pets. 

Guinea Pigs are great pets, a nice size so that even the youngest student can handle them without fear of hurting them, they have a 5-8 year lifespan so they can be a bit of a legacy.  They vocalize, making a funny Wheet wheet wheet whenever they are happy or excited, which makes them very personable.  Care is simple, fresh food, water and hay daily, and a change of bedding as required, they are very unassuming pets that make great additions to a classroom. 

Hamsters are very popular because of their size and inexpensive startup costs, but not all hamsters make great pets.  They need to be handled gently but confidently, something that some younger children are unable to do.  We recommend gloves (leather palmed garden gloves work great) when handling them to reduce the chances of being bitten, and to give confidence to both the child and the hamster during handling.  Handled and treated right, they can be a great classroom pet, and easy for the kids to take home for the weekend.

Gerbils are faster moving than hamsters, a little trickier to handle, but are nice in that they are sociable, and can be kept more than one to a cage.   They tend to be a little cleaner, and really work the wheel in their cage. 

Rats are now becoming a favourite as a class pet, as they are extremely friendly, very social and quite intelligent.  The stigma of being farm pests or sewer dwellers is gotten past very quickly once you handle one of these great pets.  With the added educational opportunities like maze running, they can enrich the learning environment, as well as being a great weekend visitor for students to take home.

Geckos are small, unassuming reptiles that are easy to keep, interesting to watch and can be easily handled.  The two most popular are Crested and Leopard, both require a minimal amount of equipment to keep them in (about $100 new), and can live more than 10 years.  Leopard Geckos require a weekly feeding of crickets, while Cresties get a daily feeding of a pudding like prepared food, making both of them the easiest class pets to keep.   Studying the habits of reptiles is a great component of any science curriculum. 

If your school system is thinking about, or already has, removed animals from the classroom, please ask why.  If a student has an allergy concern, of course, there is no question that they should not be a part of the classroom.  But if there are no such concerns, animals can be a dynamic part of a classroom, and enrich our children’s learning experience as well as their lives.




Aug 13, 2013 edition:

Pet allergies.  Nothing to sneeze at, there are two sides to this topic, and good news, there are answers for both!

People that have allergies to pets but still want to have a companion animal do have options.  Hypo-allergenic dogs do exist.  The most popular of these are poodles, bichons, and soft coated wheaton terriers.  Most people with allergies do not have a problem with these breeds.  But beware of hybrids being touted as allergy free, many are not.

Alternately, there are wipes and liquids that can be applied to a pet to reduce the saliva and dander that are the sources of most allergic reactions.  Most people with mild allergies to cats find that the use of such a product (like Allerpet/C) reduces reactions almost completely for weeks at a time.

Another remedy for making pets less likely to cause allergic reactions in people is to properly maintain the pet’s coat.  Having the animal regularly bathed and groomed can reduce the build up of allergens on the pet.  Dander can also be made a lot worse by poor nutrition, so increasing the omega 3’s and improving the nutritional quality of the food can contribute greatly to reducing allergic reactions.

But the allergy problem isn’t just with owners, many pets are now having serious allergy problems, mostly linked to foods and treats.  You’ve probably noticed that many pet food companies are now claiming their products are free of wheat, soy and corn.   The proteins in these grains have been linked to most dog food allergies.  Less common allergies include meat proteins like chicken or even lamb.  These ingredients are not only found in foods, but treats and even our table food that we share with our pets, so just changing the main food does not always address the problem.

The primary signs of allergies are licking of paws, scratching ears and ear infections, and even skin problems and excessive tearing.   These symptoms often prompt owners to change their foods, but just changing the food is not always enough.  Treats commonly contain wheat, soy, and glutens that are culprits in allergic reactions.  Read the labels carefully, look for phrases like grain free, or items made from a single ingredient, like 100% beef liver.  And when giving treats from people food, avoid cereals, pizza or bread crusts and gravies thickened with flour.  Things like crackers and pasta are big culprits in triggering bouts of scratching and licking. 

An elimination diet can be the starting point for the most troublesome allergies.  When nothing else works, you can try a diet that contains only unique proteins and carbohydrates.  Foods based on rabbit, venison, bison, salmon are now readily available, with unique carbs like peas, lentils, chickpeas, tapioca and sweet potato.   Many people have even gone to frozen raw foods to limit allergens.  If you go to an elimination diet, once all symptoms have stopped, you can start re-introducing foods to see if they are the cause of the reaction.

Changing the food and monitoring the treats can clear the issues, but even the smallest crumb of wheat based food can cause the reactions to re-occur.   Nothing good happens fast, it can take up to a month for symptoms to clear once all allergens have been eliminated.  And one little goldfish cracker or wheat based dog cookie (most commercial brands are not wheat free) is enough to send the pet back into licking and scratching, and another month of waiting for it to clear again.

So, don’t let allergies stand between you and your pet, there are answers for both of you to make life more enjoyable.

July 31st, 2013 edition:



Responsible Pet Ownership By-Law, how it affects exotic pet owners.

If you own a cat, it will require a license as of Jan 1 2015.  Great idea if the funds are used for spay/neuter programs.  Circus animals are no longer allowed into the city, good idea.  Dogs that look like pitbulls are not allowed in the city, bad idea, many breed bans are actually being lifted now, they just don’t work.  There are a number of other changes that will affect owners of dogs and cats, but I’ll discuss these and more in future columns. 

The issue that is pressing right now is that the city has added a large number of animals to its prohibited list effective immediately.  Animals that up to last week were legal to own in the city, and now are not.  People who presently own these animals can grandfather them under the bylaw, but have only until Oct. 15 to do so.  And no one can buy or bring a new one into the city.

 We are trying to get definitive answers on exactly what animals are eligible for the grandfathering, and what will be legal, but there are questions that still need answering.  The city’s website has a list of prohibited animals and the prohibited animal registration forms here: .   The form is simple, you need to provide the animal’s name (what you call it), its type (species), its age and its sex, along with a photo.  Once registered, you can legally keep the animal until it passes away.  You cannot transfer the ownership within the city, by selling or even giving it away.  You cannot purchase a replacement for the animal should it pass either.  And should they parent any offspring, those offspring are illegal in the city.

One of the main reasons for changing this part of the current bylaw was to make it more concise and remove some inconsistencies in defining the banned animals.  Unfortunately, the new bylaw introduces a number of new questions, and bans a number of totally harmless animals by association. 

There are questions about things like “large rodents” not being able to be kept, and it goes on to specifically mention prairie dogs.  Prairie dogs are the same size as Guinea Pigs, so, by association, is a Guinea Pig a “large rodent”, and therefore need to be registered?     

As far as exotic, or non traditional pets go, this bylaw is one of the most restrictive in Canada.  It really limits the options of people who desire a pet other than a cat or dog.  I know most people don’t understand why someone would want a snake or a spider as a pet, but we all have different tastes.  No one wants to force everyone to have a spider as a pet, they just want to have the same options that people in every other large Canadian city have.

Some of the animals that you can no longer purchase and will have to registered with the city or face $1500 fines for keeping include Anoles and Ameivas.  These small, completely harmless lizards that are commonly kept and sold in the pet trade have the misfortune of being related to Iguanas and Tegus (Family Iguanidae or Teiidae).    So, while they are the farthest thing from dangerous, they are presently prohibited from being sold in Winnipeg.   Other animals now similarly banned include Curlytails, Collareds, Horneds, Basilisks, Casque heads, Swifts, Tegus, Whiptails, False Monitors.  To see if your animal is a member of these families, Wikipedia is a good reference, look up the common name of your lizard, and check under the scientific classification for “Family”.  If it is Iguanidae or Teiidae, you need to register the animal.

Also added to the new list are any lizards over 2m and any snakes over 3m.  This is a standard in most new bylaws across Canada.  It is a fair regulation that is very easy to enforce, anyone with a tape measure can do it, and there are no gray areas. 

But the Ottawa bylaw that ours is based on (when was the last time anything we got from Ottawa was good for us?) had added some modifications to the 2m/3m rule.  All Boas and Pythons are banned except members reaching an adult length of no greater than two (2) meters.  Here are the questions.  Is a 2.1m Boa more dangerous than a 2.9m Cribo?  Does this mean Boas and Pythons are legal until they reach a length of 2m?  Or if any member of that species has ever reached a length of 2m, is that species banned?  And how do they measure length?  Most scientific journals use SVL (snout to vent length), as the tail length is irrelevant to most discussions.  Additionally, and Varanid lizard over 1m is banned.  Varanids, or Monitor Lizards, are rarely under 1m adult total length, although many commonly kept monitors are under 1m snout to vent.  And, if you’re going to allow 1m Varanidae, why not use the 1m rule for Iguanidae and Teiidae?

 Sorry for getting technical, but these rules are not logical at all.  These additional size restrictions make no sense, and just make the bylaw harder to interpret and enforce.  There is no evidence that these additional clauses make the city any safer or the bylaw any more effective.

For creepy crawly types, Pink Toe, Rosehair and Red Knee Tarantulas are the only members of spiders or scorpions that are legal under the new ban, so if you have any other species of spider or any scorpion, you will be required to register it or risk a fine, whether it is harmless or not.  Emperor Scorpions are one such animal that is now banned.

While the bylaw is now in effect, there are still opportunities to affect change, and influence the interpretation of the rules.  We will continue to try to get a definitive listing from Animal Services of species that need to be registered, and ones that are legal under the new bylaw.  We are also trying to get an extension on the deadline, as we had been told originally we would have 3 months from Jan 2014.   If you are affected, or feel that this bylaw is not good for Winnipeg, please contact your Counsellor or the Mayor.

In the meantime, be ready to have to register your “illegal” pet.




Pets are People Too! (July 17th edition)




I may not be purebred, but my heart is!

Adding a new animal to the family can be a great thing.  While many people are looking for that particular breed, most could find a mixed breed that suits their lifestyle.  And when that new pet is a rescue, you make it that much better.  Many customers at our shop have rescue pets or foster them, and the stories we hear every day about how wonderful these animals are is inspiring. 

Shelters constantly run over capacity, so every pet that goes home opens room for another pet to be rescued, and  can  save a pet in the system from having to be euthanized.  You might not find the exact breed that you were looking for, but they may have something that is a close fit. 

The animals available from shelters and rescue organizations come from a variety of sources.  They are rescues from puppy mills, dog racing, illegal fighting rings or from feral populations on northern reserves.  They could also be surrenders from people that can’t handle the animal due to its size or behaviour, or from homes where things have changed so that the animal can no longer be cared for, such as a death in the family or moving from house to apartment.  The adoption agency should have a full report on why the animal is there, and what issues it may have, so you can decide if you can handle the specific issue that pet may possess.

A great way to see if a rescue dog is for you is to organize a family outing for a Saturday, visiting as many shelters as you can.   Make a list and plot out your trip, and make a day of it.  The four main stops in Winnipeg would be Animal Control, Winnipeg Humane Society, Winnipeg Pet Rescue Shelter and D’Arcy’s Arc (addresses can be found at under the tab Rescue Shelters).  You can also search using the internet for breed or size specific shelters or rescue groups, most of which also have adoption fairs from time to time. 

Once you’ve made the circuit, you can talk about the experience, and see if everyone involved would be on board with trying one of the rescue animals.  Commitments to the needs of these special animals would have to be made as a group.  You really want to make sure it is going to work out, and not put the animal through another change of home .

If, after the trip around, you don’t find the perfect animal to fit your situation, you can keep searching.  There are many other shelter groups out there run on a smaller scale that may help you find that perfect fit.    Don’t be in a rush, you will find that perfect fit when the time is right.

After all is said and done, you may end up so happy with your choice that you will want to get involved with one of the shelters in a volunteer capacity.  I don’t know of any of the groups that won’t welcome volunteer help of any kind, from fundraising, working in the facility, administration work or even fostering.  And there is nothing more rewarding than helping those that can’t help themselves.

Pets are People Too! (July 3rd edition)

Summer poses many challenges for pets.  Heat, bugs and things they can get into can all pose problems for our furry friends.

Keeping your pooch cool in the summer isn’t hard, but it can be easy to forget that they rely on us for help.  Hydration is the most important thing to remember, always make sure fresh water is available for all your pets, especially during play/exercise.  Keep a water bottle for your pet as well as yourself when you are out on long walks.  Cool clean water is key, but be careful not to overcool a dog with ice cubes, which has been linked to causing bloat.  And ice cubes can be a choking hazard as well.

Wetting them down with the hose can be good fun, but remember that they have a fairly large shake radius afterwards.  Because they don’t sweat like we do, you can help them keep cool this way.  A doggie pool can be fun as well, if you don’t have one made for dogs, a kiddie pool can work in a pinch.  There are gel filled cooling mats, coats and bandanas that you can soak and the evaporation cools the pet.  There are also mats that you fill with water and they draw the heat out of the animal like an unheated waterbed.

If your dog likes getting into ponds or other standing water, you may risk getting ear infections from the bacteria in the water, or the extended dampness in the ear.  It is a common thing, and can be easily avoided.  Keep the ears clean and dry after they take a dip by using an ear cleaning solution.  There are different types, the thicker ones work well for cleaning buildups, the thinner ones are better for cleaning and drying ears after swimming.  A little prevention can save big vet bills and discomfort for the pet.

We all know the perils of pets in parked cars.  Please, do not make this tragic mistake.  While there are solar powered vents and grills you can put in the windows, and remote starters will keep the car running with the AC on, the chances for something awful to happen are just too great.  Remember, autostarts have a time limit on how long they stay running for, and if you get delayed just a few minutes, tragedy can strike.

UV protection is important for pets too.   Thin haired dogs, like Boxers, Greyhounds, or shaved and pink skinned dogs like Bichons or ShihTzus can burn.  Covering up with a t-shirt, hat, sunglasses can help (yes, there are doggie sunglasses).  If those aren’t options, sensitive areas like pink noses and tips of the ears can be vulnerable, and like us, sunscreen helps.  But, unlike us, they tend to lick themselves, so it is important to find non-toxic products, without PABA or Zinc Oxide.  If you aren’t 100% sure, ask your vet for guidance.

Many flea and tick products can also have a secondary effect of protection against mosquitoes and biting flies.  Check the package to see if yours does, and make sure to apply regularly.  If you need additional bug protection, be careful that you use non-toxic pet approved products.  Many flea sprays have biting insect repellant effects as well, and are safe.

Summer is a great time to spend time outdoors with your pets.  A little thought beforehand can make it not only fun, but safe.


Pets are People Too! (June 20th edition)

Pet Grooming is a subject that we get questions about all the time in the shop.  And the answers aren’t always what a customer wants to hear, but to keep a pet healthy, you need to keep it properly groomed.

Most grooming can be done at home by the pet owner.  With the proper equipment and a little knowledge, you can keep a dog groomed at home, but like doing your kids haircuts at home, not everyone can produce the prettiest results.

But that requires time, and a commitment to regular care.  It doesn’t take much for a pet to go from having a well groomed, healthy coat to being a matted mess, or worse, pelted (where the matts are so thoroughly tangled that they have to be shaved off like a sheep being sheared).  And if these tangles messes are left to worsen, they can seriously threaten the animal’s health.  Sores, bacterial and fungal infections, hot spots, cuts, infestations and a world of other problems can hide beneath a pelted coat.

Many owners think that leaving a dogs coat longer in winter keeps it warm.  If the coat is properly cared for and matt free, they would be correct.  But a matted dog actually is a lot colder in winter than a dog with short hair.   Matted coats trap moisture behind them, and don’t allow the dog’s skin to fully dry.  That can be why they get that “doggy stink”, but worse, it negates the protection the long coat is supposed to give.  It’s like us wearing a nice winter coat, but having a damp wool sweater on underneath.  Sure, the coat protects us, but the cold slices right through, and chills us to the bone. 

And yes, you can have a Golden Retriever or Husky groomed.  Double coated dogs shed like crazy, but a groomer has the tools to reduce that dramatically.  And even a dog like a Pug can benefit from regular grooming.  We have dozens of the little guys that come in every 3 to 6 months to be shaved, and the owners love that there aren’t all those little hairs sticking into everything.

In our busy lives, sometimes it is easier to leave certain jobs to professionals.  They can do the job better, faster and easier, all things your dog will appreciate.  A “day at the spaw” can be a great experience for an animal, and once you find that right groomer, your dog will love going there.  And coming home happy and clean, ready to play.   And you don’t have to worry about cleaning up the tub, vacuuming up all kinds of hair, the backbreaking brushing your big dog needs, or struggling to clip their nails.  

Let your groomer do the dirty work of expressing the anal glands and cleaning the goop from around the eyes.   The best ones are trained professionals, with the tools to do a great job with the least amount of stress on the pet.  And once you find your perfect match, follow their recommendations.  Don’t show up once a year and expect them to work miracles.  Regular visits keep it pain free for your pet, and make the grooming experience a positive one


Pets are People Too! (June 3rd edition)

It seems that fewer people are keeping tropical fish these days, and it’s a pity.  I had dozens of tanks when I was a kid, and while I didn’t have video games and social media to take up my time, my fish kept me very busy, and taught me a lot.  Little things, like a smattering of Latin from learning the scientific names of my favourite fish.  Chemistry from testing water quality, hardness and pH.  Biology through breeding the fish, and treating parasites and infections.  Construction, from building tanks and stands to put them on and plumbing too.

Now, kids have a lot more distractions, so we’re seeing most of our aquarium customers from  the older generations, some who have had fish all along, others that are rediscovering a hobby from their past.

I used to work with doctors on office automation, and got to know a couple cardiologists very well.  They loved recommending their patients take up aquarium keeping as a stress relief.  The peaceful nature of an aquarium, the soothing sounds of water, fish floating calmly and silently through the water, these things are great therapy for cardiac patients, and anyone with stress in their lives.  I worked in a stressful sales job for many years (try having doctors as your sole clients), and there was nothing like coming home and relaxing on my couch, curled up with a book beside my big fish tank. 

Modern tank construction, filtration and cleaning techniques make it easier than ever to have fish in your life.  But it does still take a little work on your part.   Not a lot, mind you, just a few minutes every week is enough to keep a tank clean and healthy. 

A few tips to a healthy tank.  Don’t go too quick.  Nothing good happens fast.  Set up the tank and slowly introduce your fish.  A few at first, a few more after a week or two, no more than 25% of a full tank load.  Once the tank has been running with fish in it for 6 weeks, you should be good to add the rest of the fish.   By going slowly, you allow the biosystem to mature and become stable. 

Feed lightly.  More fish die from the effects of overfeeding than anything else.  Don’t kill your fish with kindness.  They don’t need a lot of food, they are cold blooded, taking their temperature from the water, and they float, reducing their need for energy even more.   A small feeding daily, whatever they can eat in a minute or two is more than enough.  If there are flakes in the tank after 2 minutes, that was too much. 

A big benefit of light feeding is that the tank needs less cleaning.   10% weekly water change, with a gravel cleaner, cleaning 1/8th of the bottom.  That’s all, 10 minutes a week.  Pretty easy, and if done consistently, you’ll never have to do a 100% cleaning of the tank (something we never recommend, 100% tank teardowns are dangerous and a sure way to overstress/kill your fish). 

So there you have it.  Fish are easier than ever to enjoy, and a great addition to any household.   Try them again for the first time.


Pets are People Too! (May 22nd edition)

Responsible Pet Ownership has jumped back into the news recently.  Some uncaring soul disposed of a harmless, helpless Ball Python in a dumpster.  As I write this, the culprit has not been apprehended, I hope they catch them and deal with them appropriately.  Unfortunately, people end up with pets they can’t or won’t properly care for.  Sometimes, they are impulse purchases, or what seems like a great bargain and bought without doing the proper research. 

The wonder of the internet can be the culprit many times, giving unscrupulous sellers an easy way to sell damaged, defective or misrepresented animals to people who aren’t ready for them.  And once the sale is done, they disappear.  But online sales sites are still there, making it easy for people to pass a bad purchase along to the next unsuspecting buyer.  And the cycle of mistreatment repeats.

Most pet buyers do the research, and make good decision.  But many don’t, and that is where the problem stems from.  Some pets can be with you for decades.  If I had a nickel for every person that came in and asked “How do I stop this animal from this behaviour?”, and then they tell me the animal is doing something that that animal is well known to do.  Cat scratching furniture, parrot squawking, a small wild lizard not being able to be held, a Jack Russell needing a lot of exercise.  These are all behaviours that a few minutes of research would have revealed would be likely problems.  But impulse took over, and now they’re stuck with an animal they can’t handle or don’t want.

Responsible pet ownership starts with responsible pet sales.  Brick and mortar pet shops are the first line of information for most pet concerns.  Properly run stores have the knowledge and expertise to give proper advice on the care and needs of most pets.  And, as permanent members of the community, have a vested interest in creating successful pet/human relationships. 

The government, both provincial and local are introducing more barriers for pet stores.   Instead of making it easier to have a rewarding pet experience, the obstacles are actually making it harder.

The province has the Animal Care Act which requires breeders and pet stores to be licensed.  A comprehensive piece of legislation, but it doesn’t seem to be being enforced at present.  The act  requires pet stores to be licensed, but as of yet, we have heard no specifics of this licensing or when it will be enforced.

The city is also formulating a new bylaw that mentions pet stores.  Unfortunately, the first draft had vilified pet stores, instead of partnering with them.  We have yet to see the changes being made to the first draft of the bylaw, but hopefully they will recognize how important pet shops are in the community, and the vital role they have in Responsible Pet Ownership.

Pets are People Too! (May 15th edition)

Jeff McFarlane of Aardvark Pets in St. Vital has served the pet community for 40 years.

Pet nutrition has been a hot topic for the last decade, as consumers become more aware of what commercial products are made of, and more savvy to slick advertising as opposed to sound nutritional information.  Holistic, grain free, natural are some of the buzz words being used now to make one product stand out from the rest, but now that everyone is using the same language, the message gets confused.

Dry pet food is the cornerstone of pet nutrition.  Since its introduction in the 1860’s, grain based dry kibble with little or no meat have been sold as dog food.  It wasn’t until the 1950’s that some meat actually found its way into kibble, and not until the 70’s that significant amounts of meat started to be used.  After all, a dog was just a dog for most people, not a pet or valued family member.

But all along, there have been people that believed that raw meat was the best food for your dog.  Some used offal (lungs, livers, hearts), some used carcases, and some actual muscle meat.  And raw bones as well.  These are, after all, what dogs evolved with as a diet.  They, like us, were not meant to eat grains and other carbs.  But the convenience of a kibble won out for most dog owners.

Now, there is a groundswell of support for a return to raw diets.  Holistic vets swear by them, show dog breeders rely on them to put their dogs in top shape.  And ask any musher, they all use raw meat as the basis for their teams, and there are no dogs that have higher nutritional requirements than sleddogs.

Does your dog need raw food?  If they have food allergies (many dogs have developed allergies to wheat, soy and corn proteins that were the basis for kibble foods for a century), digestive problems, or other health issues, then raw diets can help them a lot.  Raw is easier to digest and has more nutritional punch. 

Some people are concerned about feeding raw, but dogs aren’t.  No wild dog ever owned a stove, and they ate every bit of any animal found/killed.  The only concern about raw is not for the animal, but the people in its life.    Raw meats can harbour salmonella, and improperly handled, there is a risk to us.   So, when using a raw diet, make sure to use standard raw meat handling protocols, and be extra careful around young children and people with suppressed immune systems.

Is it worth the extra cost, bother and risks?  You bet!  And as more people start using it, it is becoming cheaper, easier and more convenient.  Worth checking into, for sure.

Contact Jeff with your questions or ideas at or visit

 Pets are People Too! (May 1st edition)

Jeff McFarlane of Aardvark Pets in St. Vital has served the pet community for 40 years.

When the opportunity to write this column came up, I thought “What a great idea.” Every day I get asked questions about pets and pet care, and this column will let me share those answers with a much larger audience.  And, in doing so, help make the pet partnership a more rewarding experience.

I like to think of the relationship with our pets as more of a partnership than ownership, although with some pets, ownership is more appropriate, and I don’t mean that the human is always the owner (love the old saying, “Dogs have owners, Cats have staff”).  When we look at animals as partners, we can better offer them the care they deserve, and derive the benefits that they can offer back.

It is a well established fact that people that have a pet live longer, happier lives.  Recently, there have been many municipalities introducing laws protecting people’s rights to own pets.  Urban centres that have apartments and condos with “No Pets” policies have had these policies challenged in court, mainly on humanitarian basis.  And, as long as the pet does not affect the quiet enjoyment of the other tenants, or pose a health concern, courts will back you up.

That’s not to say you can have a pack of wild dogs in your apartment, and in Manitoba there are provisions for landlords to charge additional damage deposits (up to 50% of the monthly rent) for pet owners to address pet related damages.   And a bill, Fluffy’s Law, was introduced but failed to pass a few years ago here in Manitoba.  It would have further assured the rights of pet owners.  But as long as landlords and tenants work together, there is no reason why everyone can’t enjoy the benefits of having a pet.

There are all kinds of pets that can enrich your home environment, not just dogs and cats.  A Betta fish, a hamster, a budgie or even a non traditional pet like a lizard or snake can add to the home.   The interaction with a pet has a proven effect on stress levels and blood pressure, and there is nothing like coming home knowing there is someone waiting for you, with the unconditional love a pet can bring.

Contact Jeff with yoru questions or ideas at or visit

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