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Top Tips For A Stress-Free Vet Visit

Going to the vet is no fun for anyone. It is as if your pets can sense what is about to happen, and chaos ensues – wrestling your dog into the car, trying to coax your cat from under the bed and then the real interesting part; trying to get them into the carrier. All these raises both your and your pet’s stress levels, and you haven’t even made it to the vet yet.

Recently I had to take Oliver to the vet to get the stitches removed after his sterilization. What should have been a quick and easy visit, turned into an hour long wait, that resulted in a very anxious puppy. Oliver already doesn’t like going in the car, so before we even got to the vet he was not in a good frame of mind. Pair that with the long waiting time, it wasn’t surprising that Oliver, who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, acted aggressively towards the vet. Thankfully, I have the best vet and he recognized and respected that Oliver needed a moment. He sang to him, gave him some tasty biltong treats and let him walk around the examination room. After a few minutes, Oliver was calm enough to allow the vet to handle him without any incidents.

All vet visits don’t have to go down this way, though. There has been a major shift towards low-stress veterinary care. So, if you, like me, are struggling, read on to see what small changes you can make to have a massive difference on your pets next visit to the vet.
As for your own stress levels, I don’t really have any good advice. If it wasn’t completely reckless and illegal, I would down a large glass of wine before each visit. On a serious note, the calmer you are, the more at ease your pet will become. So, if you haven’t mastered the art of Zen yet, fake it till you make it!

Cooperative Care

I learnt about cooperative care in puppy class. It is where you train your animal using positive reinforcement, to tolerate being handled as well as giving their consent to being handled. Practising cooperative care such as chin rests, lying on their side, wearing a muzzle, foot and mouth handling, and ear and eye exams will make vet visits a breeze. It is important, during the training process, to take note of what your pet is telling you. If you are practising foot handling and your pet pulls their paw away, they are telling you ‘no’ and they are not cooperative. Start small and move your way up. It is definitely worth it in the long run.

Get your pet used to their carrier

I’ll hazard a guess that the only time your cat sees the carrier is when they are off to the vet. By doing this, you are unintentionally creating a negative association between the cat and the carrier, leading your cat to head for the hills when they see it. To break this association, leave the carrier out. Allow them to sniff it, play in it, even give them food and treats inside it, all the while leaving the door open.

Visit before hand

This is something my vet suggested for Oliver. He is naturally a bit of a nervous boy, so new places and people can make him anxious. To combat this, taking trips to the vet when they don’t actually need to be seen can help. It can make a scary place less daunting. Let them sniff around the grounds, hang out in the waiting room and meet the staff. The next time you go there for actual treatment, your dog should be more familiar with the sounds and smells of the practice and be a lot less stressed.

Choose a quiet time of day

Sometimes this isn’t possible, especially if it is an emergency, but if you are able to, call ahead and see when your vet isn’t particularly busy. Normally these are the first appointments of the day, where back logs haven’t had time to build up yet. Avoiding long waiting times and encountering of other animals means you can get in and out quickly.

Pick your spot

Vet waiting rooms can be a nightmare and it can be difficult to find a nice quiet spot away from other animals. If you find this is the case, inform the staff that you are there and go wait outside or in your car. This also works well for cats, if your vet doesn’t have a designated cat waiting area.

Keep them busy

Let’s be honest. Like most doctors, vets often run late, and you find yourself in the waiting room long after your appointment time. Hanging around in a strange environment can definitely make your pet antsy, so having a couple of things to keep them busy and distracted can be a game changer. Chewing and sniffing has a calming effect on dogs, so pack their favourite chew toy, or a snuffle mat, and allow them to decompress while waiting to be seen.

Positive mind-set

If you see, once you are in the examining room, that your dog is highly anxious or scared, don’t let the vet examine them immediately. Ask for a moment and allow your dog to explore the room and sniff the vet. You can also give them some treats and some cuddles for reassurance. If your dog does tricks, do a few simple ones. This can all boost their confidence, make them feel more at ease and put them in a better mind space to be handled and examined.

Stay calm

Now we have already established that I am rubbish at this. However, animals pick up on your emotions and feelings, so if you are feeling anxious, your pet may also become anxious. Try to remain as calm as possible, and talk to them throughout the whole process in soothing tones.

Top Tips For Keeping Fidgety Fidos Busy

Don’t get me wrong, I have loved being able to spend more quality time with the pets, but it has come with its own set of challenges. Every morning without fail, as I sit down at my desk, Oliver will come and bring me a toy to entice me to play with him. If, on the rare occasion, I ignore him, he will get up to mischief, steal something he KNOWS he shouldn’t have (e.g., scrubbing brushes, sponges, shoes, razors?!) because it results in me furiously running after him trying to take back the contraband. Attention is attention, whether it is good or bad.

As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog, but you can’t expect your dog to lie peacefully in a corner if they are ignored all day and get no physical or mental stimulation. So read on to see how you can implement small changes to make a big difference in both your life and your pooches.

Walks

I don’t know about you, but my dog has endless energy first thing in the morning (8 hours of sleep will do that to you). Starting your day off with a short walk will not only clear your head before you begin work, but it is also an ideal way to rid your dog of their excess energy and help to settle them so that you can focus.

Play Breaks

You can’t sit at your desk all day. At some point you have to get up to stretch, make coffee, get a snack etc. I find that after a quick play session of ball throwing, a game of tug-of-war, or even just kisses and cuddles, Oliver readily settles back into his bed and lets me carry on with my work. So, don’t stand around while the kettle boils, grab your pup’s favourite toy, head outside for some fresh air and get the blood pumping. You will both be better off for it.

Frozen Treats

Get creative and make your own pupsicles. Freeze high value treats or chews into water or a low sodium broth like chicken or beef. Your dog will be kept busy for ages licking the treats out as the ice melts. This is also a great way to keep them hydrated and cool them down on hot summer days.

Window Watching

This will either be the best idea or the worst. For me, it is the worst. Oliver loves to window watch, which is fine until he actually sees or hears someone. Then all chaos breaks loose, and it sounds like Cerberus (the 3-headed dog that guards the underworld in Greek mythology) has been set free in my office. To combat this, I am trying to teach him not to bark, by using positive reinforcement and lots of treats – it is a slow process, though, and I don’t have the heart to banish him from my office.

However, if your dog does behave and simply observes passers-by and the world around him, then this is a great way to keep them entertained. Place a bed and comfy pillow to rest their head at the window and let them while the day away.

Rotate Toys

In my house Oliver really, really wants what he can’t have – which is, mainly, his brother’s toys. These are put away for safe keeping and when he eventually gets his paws on them (read: steals them), it keeps him busy for at least 30 minutes to an hour. So why not use your dog’s rebellion to your advantage and rotate certain toys every few days. This ensures that they don’t get bored with them and saves you money by not having to repeatedly buy new toys.

Enrichment Games/Toys

Tiring your dog out isn’t all about physical exercise, they need mental stimulation as well. Brain games, puzzles and enrichment toys are the perfect boredom busters as they provide your dog with a challenge and give them an opportunity to use their problem-solving skills. Certain toys are designed to play with your dog, which are great for those play breaks, and others are designed for solo play to keep them busy for an extended period, while you are working or away. Keep in mind that puzzle games come in different levels of difficulty, so start with level 1 and build your way up.

Not all dogs will enjoy the puzzle games. Some might prefer toys which can be filled with any tasty treat like wet food, fruit, yoghurt or peanut butter that they can lick out. These treat toys can even be frozen for a longer lasting treat/added challenge.

Some good solo play toys are “treat” balls, snuffle mats, lick mats and stuff-able toys.

DIY

Keeping your dog occupied and entertained does not mean that you have to go out and buy expensive interactive toys. Common household items can be transformed into amazing toys that your dog will love! A cold drink bottle can be repurposed into a treat dispensing toy by simply poking appropriately sized holes into it, filling it with treats/dry food and giving it to your dog to roll it around and get the snacks out. Spread some peanut butter/ yoghurt onto a silicone potholder and you have yourself a “licky” mat. Sprinkle some treats into a scrunched-up towel for an improvised snuffle mat. Even muffin tins and the inside of a toilet roll can be used to hide treats for your pup to sniff out.

Always be mindful of choking hazards and keep your eye out, especially if your dog is known to eat things they shouldn’t!

Top Tips for house Training your puppy

‘Get a puppy’, they said. ‘It will be fun’, they said. Pffft, whoever ‘they’ are clearly never had to deal with a little shark-toothed monster. We recently adopted a little mix breed (and I use the term “little” very loosely. He has grown way more than we ever expected!), and while it has been very rewarding, it is extremely trying at times. One of the biggest challenges that you will face, besides biting/chewing, which is a whole article on its own, is house training your puppy.

We quickly learnt that when a puppy has to go, they HAVE TO GO. Whether it’s on the floor, the couch, the bed or even on you (they do not discriminate), they eliminate. Not to mention the little surprises that they leave for you. Nothing compares to getting up in the middle of the night to use the loo and your toes touchdown into a squishy little pile. There is nothing glamourous about house training. Nothing.
The reason for these little accidents is simple: your puppies’ bladder muscles are not yet fully developed. They physically cannot hold it. Puppies only fully develop control over their bladders at around 4-6 months of age. So, depending on the age of your puppy, it is unrealistic and unfair to expect him/her to be house trained before this time.

In our case, we were incredibly lucky that Oliver got the hang of it really quickly, and he was fully house trained by around 10-12 weeks old. It was no easy feat, though. It took a lot of encouragement, patience and cleaning products, but we got there. It is also important to remember that every dog is different and develops at a different rate. If your puppy is taking a bit longer to grasp the concept, just keep calm, read the tips and keep on trying. It does get better.

1. Routine

Creating a routine is very important. This pertains to feedings, walks, playtime and bathroom breaks. This teaches your puppy where and when to do their business and it creates an expectation. They learn to anticipate what is going to happen next. You should take your puppy outside or to the desired area first thing when they wake up, directly after meals, after play time, before you go out and before bedtime. For the first month or so you will have to take them outside during the course of the night as well. The general rule of thumb is that a puppy can hold their bladder for the same duration as their age i.e. 2 months old= 2 hours, 3 months old= 3 hours.

I found the following schedule worked really well for Oliver and it only entailed getting up once during the night: 9 pm, 11 pm, 2 am, 5/6 am. Even if Oliver didn’t wake me up during the night, I still got up and let him out. This avoided any accidents during the night.

2. Patience

As they say, patience is a virtue. And you are going to need a lot of it! Chances are that your puppy won’t immediately do their thing when you take them outside and you will have to hang around patiently until they do. A good trick, which will also come in handy as they get older, is to use a specific word while they are relieving themselves. Eventually your puppy/dog will associate that word with the action and they will be able to go on cue, or at the very least it will be a reminder of what they are supposed to do.

3. Positive Reinforcement

Get ready to become your puppy’s cheerleader. Positive reinforcement is the most powerful tool that you can use. When your puppy does their business outside, go wild, like it is the greatest thing you have ever seen. Praise them, clap, tell them they are good boys and girls, use your best high-pitched, squeaky voice, embrace them. Let your inner “Bring It On” character out. You can also reward them with a small puppy-friendly treat.

Also, accidents are going to happen. When they do, do not make a big fuss or shout/scold your puppy. Simply clean it up and move on. Old methods, like putting your puppy’s nose in the pee, do not work and will make your puppy fear you. Rather reinforce all positive behaviour and ignore unwanted ones.

4. Consistency

As with most things pertaining to training, consistency is key. Your puppy is not going to learn to eliminate outside if you do not stick to your routine and take them out every couple of hours or after activities. By being inconsistent, you are sending your puppy confusing messages and house training is going to take you five times longer. While it is inconvenient to get up in the middle of the night, if you are consistent, it will be short lived and you will be back to sleeping through in no time.

5. Cleaning Products

Do yourself a favour and invest in some good quality cleaning products, made specifically for urine and odour removal. Puppies and dogs are drawn to go to the same places over and over again, so if you don’t clean up any accidents in the house properly, they will most likely continue to wee there. Just make sure that the products you use are animal friendly and keep them well out of reach of curious puppies.

6. Make plans for when you are away

If you are going to be out of the house for more than 2-3 hours at a time, then you may have to make other arrangements to let your puppy out. It is crucial that the routine is followed if you are to successfully house train your puppy. You could ask a neighbour or pet sitter to come over, or, alternatively, you can use puppy pads for indoor elimination when you aren’t there. The use of puppy pads can prolong your house training though, so use them only if you have no other option.

Top Tips For Throwing The Ultimate Doggy Bash

I have a confession to make – I am THAT Dog Mom. The one who won’t come to your event, because it is my dog’s (or cat’s) birthday party. I am the one who plans months ahead of time, gets overexcited, designs invitations, and is offended if you decline because it’s ‘just a dog’. Luckily, amongst my friends and family, my dog’s birthday party has become quite the anticipated social event of the year. Throwing a fabulous party for your pooch is very similar to throwing a party for humans – there is food, cake, games, maybe a fight or two and, of course, loads of fun and laughter.

And don’t worry if you don’t know your dog’s exact date of birth. You can estimate their birth date, celebrate the adoption date (also known as their gotcha day) or even just a throw party for no other reason than you love your dog!

Guestlist

Deciding on a guest list is one of the most important decisions to make when planning your party. If your dog is a social butterfly and gets along with other dogs, this is a great opportunity to have a pawesome play date. It is, however, best if all dogs are already acquainted, like friends from dog training, day-care or a dog walking group. If your pooch is more of a lone ranger, or perhaps a bit anxious or nervous, then consider having them as the Guest of Honor and limit the number of human guests invited, to make them a bit more comfortable. After all, the party is for them, and you want them to enjoy themselves. Lastly, if you want your dog to be the center of attention i.e., the only 4-legged guest in attendance, be sure to include this in the invitation. People might automatically assume that all canines are invited, and you could end up with a disaster on your hands.

Venue

Once the guest list has been decided, you can pick the perfect location to host your party. If other dogs will be in attendance, an outdoor venue would be ideal. The dogs can run wild without destroying your house or having any accidents on your carpets. If you don’t have a big enough garden, other options are: a local dog park, a dog-friendly venue that you can rent out (these are becoming very popular), or even your dog’s day-care or training grounds. Wherever you choose, just be sure to check that the venue is fully secured and escape-proof for all-size dogs. Also, ensure that there is adequate shade available to escape the heat or just have a laydown.

Theme

While there does not need to be a theme, it is always fun and helps to focus your ideas. Unfortunately, our pups cannot voice their preferences, so base your ideas around their favourite toy, place to go, or food. I have had a “monsters and motorbike” theme based on the fact that my one dog loved this blue toy monster and the other couldn’t stop chasing motorbikes (must be love, right?). I have also done an ice cream bar theme complete with both human and doggy-friendly ice cream and toppings. The sky really is the limit, so let your imagination go wild.

Food

Both humans and dogs will need to be catered for. I recommend keeping all snacks dog-friendly, especially if 2 legged kids will also be there. This way you don’t have to worry about your dog accidentally ingesting something they shouldn’t. Kids tend to share, whether it’s intentional or not. Different fruits and vegetables are good options, like apples, carrots, bananas, berries etc. Other fun ideas for your pup are pupsicles, treats and chews, or homemade doggy biscuits. Last, but not least, is the cake. If you are handy in the kitchen, you can bake a delicious pupcake fit for both humans and dogs. You can also use dog cake mix (Wolf and Women have a great one) or order a cake from a canine baker in your area. Please remember to always research any ingredients or food before feeding them to your dog. Some foods are highly toxic and can result in death. Foods to avoid are chocolate, avocados, grapes, raisins and xylitol (an artificial sweetener).

Entertainment

Don’t overthink this one. Many dogs are quite happy to go around getting love and attention from all the humans and just laze around. There is nothing wrong with that. If there are multiple dogs, they will mainly keep themselves entertained play wrestling and chasing each other. If you do feel you want to organize some activities, provide some toys for the dogs to play with, like ropes for tug of war, balls for fetch, or paddling pools to splash around in. Do, however, keep resource guarding in mind. If one pup is being a bit too possessive over a certain toy, rather remove it and prevent any doggy showdowns.

Gifts

This is a personal choice and is up to you to decide whether you would like guests to bring gifts or not (though I am sure your dog won’t say no to some tasty treats!). If you do decide on gifts, let your guests know what your dog’s tastes are in terms of the types of treats they like, if they have any allergies, and the types of toys they prefer. If your dog is as spoilt as my own and wants for nothing, a nice idea is to ask for donations for your local shelter in lieu of gifts and pay it forward.

Party favours

Who doesn’t love a goodie bag, or in this case, a doggy bag? If other dogs will be invited to your pup’s party, making up pawty packs will be a real crowd-pleaser and a great way to end off the day. You can fill your bags with your dog’s favorite items like sticks, balls, soft toys, or tasty treats; practical items such as poop bags, paw/snout butter or portable water dishes, or even customized bandanas with the dog’s name on them.

Top Tips For Looking After Your Senior Pets

Just as one baby or puppy proofs the home, you may now need to make your home ‘senior friendly.’

Dogs who are prone to hip dysplasia or IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) would benefit from the use of ramps or stairs leading to couches or beds. This makes it much easier for them to still access these areas and helps to prevent injury.

I have steps around the house and both dogs and cats make use of them (even the ones who don’t need them).Orthopaedic beds can soothe joint pain and

arthritis and the addition of non-slip mats will provide traction on tiled floors and prevent your pet from slipping and potentially hurting themselves.

Also consider keeping furniture and food and water bowls in the same position, particularly if your pet’s eyesight is failing.

In your eyes, your dog will always be a puppy or your baby; even as their muzzles slowly start to grey, they can no longer walk as far as they used to, or they aren’t as agile as they once were.

It almost seems to sneak up on you- one day you are buying young adult food (1+), then you blink and find yourself reaching for aging (12+). It is a tough pill to swallow and difficult to acknowledge that our pets are getting older, especially when converting to the dreaded human years.

So how does one know when their pet has reached senior status? This is largely dependent on the size of the animal; small breeds are considered senior between 10-12 years, medium breeds between 8-9 years and large and giant breeds between 6-7 years. Similar to small breed dogs, cats are considered senior between the ages of 11-14 years.

Don’t despair just yet though. The right combination of diet, environment and preventative care can extend the lives of our fur kids. While we might not like to admit it (hands up if you are happily living in denial), it is important that you take note and pay attention to your pet’s changing needs. We may not be able to stop them from aging, but we can prolong their quality of life, and keep them behaving like the puppies we still think they are, for years to come.

DIET

Nutrition plays a vital role in your pet’s wellbeing. I firmly believe in feeding them the best you can afford from day 1, whether that be home cooked meals, raw, kibble or a combination thereof. Senior pets can often have dietary issues such as loss of appetite, difficulty chewing, obesity and other digestive problems. You may have to move to soft food, add more fiber to their diets, decrease carbohydrates or add supplements. This is best discussed with your vet who can advise you based on your pet’s specific needs.

REGULAR VET CHECK UPS

It is recommended that you take your senior pet for a check-up at the vet at least twice a year. This will help your vet to identify any issues early on before they become major health problems. This is something I am personally working on. I generally only go to the vet when I notice something is wrong or a pet is a bit off, so I am trying to do better. Don’t skip the dental. Dental care is very important, and I cannot stress this enough. Bad dental hygiene can lead to major issues beyond the mouth, such as kidney, liver and heart disease. It can even cause strokes. Make sure to keep their pearly whites in tip top condition.

SUPPLEMENTS

I am a firm believer in herbal/homeopathic supplements for pets and have had great success with them.

Don’t get me wrong, I also believe in modern medicine, but herbal remedies can be gentler on their systems and can often be given in conjunction with chronic medication.

Senior pets can benefit from essential fatty acids (Omega-3 and omega-6). These improve overall condition and aid in brain function, boost the immune system and have anti-inflammatory properties which are highly effective at reducing the severity of arthritis. Probiotics promote good gut health by restoring ‘good’ bacteria which can be killed off by medication.

CBD is also claimed to treat and assist many ailments, from fostering a healthy appetite to alleviating pain and treating seizures and cancer.

Before giving your pet any supplement, it is best to do your research and consult with your vet.

EXERCISE

Just like in humans, the less you move, the more achy, stiff and creaky you feel. That is why it is vital to keep continuing exercising your senior dog, unless otherwise directed by your vet. Exercise helps to keep them lean and maintain their weight, keeps their joints and muscles healthy, as well as keep their minds alert. Just be sure to tailor your dog’s exercise needs to their requirements i.e., shorter walks, slower pace. Mental stimulation can also be achieved by allowing them to sniff their environment on walks. Or you can introduce them to food puzzles or brain games.

SPECIAL ACCOMMODATIONS

Just as one baby or puppy proofs the home, you may now need to make your home ‘senior friendly.’ Dogs who are prone to hip dysplasia or IVDD (intervertebral disc disease) would benefit from the use of ramps or stairs leading to couches or beds. This makes it much easier for them to still access these areas and helps to prevent injury. I have steps around the house and both dogs and cats make use of them (even the ones who don’t need them). Orthopedic beds can soothe joint pain and arthritis and the addition of non-slip mats will provide traction on tiled floors and prevent your pet from slipping and potentially hurting themselves. Also consider keeping furniture and food and water bowls in the same position, particularly if your pet’s eyesight is failing.

BE OBSERVANT

One of the best tools you have is knowledge. You know your pet better than anyone else, so take note of any changes in behaviour, appetite, growths etc. I make notes on my phone so that I can accurately remember what happened and discuss it with my vet if need be.

KNOW YOUR BREED

Some breeds are genetically predisposed to certain conditions: Hip dysplasia is common in German shepherds, Labradors and Rottweilers, IVDD in Dachshunds, Bassets and Beagles. Knowing your breed and recognizing symptoms of common conditions can help you to prevent them from occurring by implementing preventative measures from an early age.

Top Tips for Walking your Dog

Picture this: A magical early morning, the sun is shining, there is a gentle breeze blowing, and your pups can barely contain their excitement, because you are almost at your destination – the dog park (or in our case, a lovely park that is frequented by many a dog). You hop out of the car, clip on the leash and off you go. As you are completing the first loop, you spot a woman and her larger dog near the entrance. Since your dogs are not particularly fond of others, you put them on a short leash and place yourself between them and the other dog. Then, to your horror, the woman proceeds to unclip her dog’s leash allowing her dog to approach you. Your dogs are getting anxious and growling, and they are starting to turn on each other. Like a well-rehearsed scene, you and your partner each swiftly pick up a dog, breaking up a potential fight and hold them out of reach of the intruder. All the while, the woman just stares at you with a big smile saying, ‘He’s friendly! He won’t bite’, oblivious to the fact that your sweet, little dogs have turned into rabid beasts in your arms. By this stage you are fuming, partially deaf and no amount of death glares and replying, ‘my dogs are NOT friendly,’ deters the crazy woman.

Scenes like this have happened to us on one too many occasions and I am sure that many of you can relate as well. Lack of consideration, or even ignorance, can make walking your dog in public places very stressful and may even lead you to avoid certain places all together. Read on for some top tips for dog park etiquette.

TIPS

If You Like It, Put A Leash On It!

Your dog should always be on a leash unless you are in a dedicated “off leash” area, and even then, only do it if your dog has excellent recall and is voice trained. Calling out ‘its ok, he’s friendly’ does NOT make it alright. Many dogs are on a leash for a reason; they may be reactive, scared, nervous or even deaf. Dogs, like people, need personal space and having it invaded (even by a friendly dog) can heighten their insecurities and cause them to react in a negative manner.

I also recommend not using a retractable leash. These are perfect for walking in wide open and secluded spaces, but not populated areas where you are likely to encounter other people, dogs and cars. Retractable leashes make it difficult to restrain and control your dog, if the need arises, so rather stick to a conventional 1,2m material leash.

Colour Code

There is a very popular system used around the world using different colours to signify different health or behavioural issues; be it aggression, deafness, blindness, nervous disposition or in training, to name a few. There are 8 colours with the following meanings: red- caution, orange- no dogs, green- friendly, white- deaf/blind, bright yellow- up for adoption, light yellow- nervous, blue- in training, purple- do not feed. Owners can either attach a coloured ribbon to their leash, or use a coloured bandana, or even colour coded collars and leashes with large, embroidered writing on it to alert people to their dog’s particular issue. This system is very effective as the colours are visible from a distance and provide advanced warning to others.

While it is not widely adopted in South Africa, many pet parents are aware of this system and are turning to it more and more.

Scoop The Poop

I know, I know, it’s a dreadful job and no one likes doing it, but it really is a must. And you have to do it EVERY TIME. It just takes one person not cleaning up after their dog for the next person to come by and think, well if they didn’t have to do it, neither do I. Before you know it, it is dog poopageddon and it really is as scary as it sounds. I suggest attaching a poop bag carrier to your leash so that you are never caught unawares, disposing of the package in the nearest bin.

Whether you have a small Yorkie, or a small horse disguised as a Great Dane, remember to SCOOP THAT POOP!

Ask Permission

This might seem like a no-brainer, but I have witnessed countless interactions that prove otherwise. Before unleashing your dog on some unsuspecting person in the name of socialization, first ask permission. The same applies before approaching and petting another dog. People, especially children, assume that they can pet my dogs because they are small and just come charging in, not realizing that my dogs have not been exposed to children and are prone to snapping.

Always ask permission and teach your kids to do the same.

No Puppies

Taking your puppy to a park might seem like a good idea, but the reality is that you could be exposing them to a variety of threats, especially if they have not had all their vaccinations. Parvo is a real danger, and your puppy can become infected with the virus through direct contact or through contaminated faces (another reason to scoop that poop!). If you would like to socialize your puppy, rather attend a puppy socialization class.

Assume The Worst

This might not be a conventional tip or even apply to everyone, but, if like me, you have semi reactive dogs who can be slightly unpredictable in their behaviour (I never quite know which dog he will like, or if the person walking by will offend him), assuming the worst is a good mind set to have. For me it means putting my dog on a shorter leash and placing myself between my dog and the other person. This ensures that I have my dog under control and creates a buffer, thereby protecting both my dog and others.

Additionally, this lets me assess each situation as it arises, and I can either permit the interaction to take place or avoid it all together.

Respect

In the words of Aretha Franklin R.E.S.P.E.C.T. It is as simple as that. Having respect for the park rules, the environment, fellow dog walkers and other users of the park will go a long way to ensuring that everyone can enjoy the communal space.

Environmental Enrichment in captive animals

A fish’s behaviour is influenced by its experiences during early life, such as its ability to navigate and respond to predators, as well as adaptation to its environment. However, in the case of captive environments, their experience is relatively uniform and non-demanding, which reduces their learned and adaptive behaviour. Captive-bred animals, in general, have less diverse and flexible behaviours, with some areas of the brain being reduced and less active in comparison to their wild counterparts. This presents a challenge when captive bred animals are intended to be released into the wild as part of conservation. Fish may be reared in captivity for stock enhancement, stocking for angling, research, food production, conservation, and for ornamental fish keeping.

Studies on captive rodents indicate that captivity negatively affects neural development and neural plasticity (the ability of the nervous system to change and reorganize itself), whilst environmental enrichment (EE) has the opposite effect. Environmental enrichment refers to the increase in complexity of the rearing environment to reduce unwanted and abnormal traits in animals raised in environments with limited stimulation. It promotes flexible behavioural responses and improves cognition in animals intended for release, which improves their survival rate on release. Some areas of behaviours affected include: social learning, energy expenditure, foraging abilities, navigation, aggression, shoaling response and recovery from stressors.  

Environmental enrichment should be suitable to the species and life stages of animals. There are different types of enrichment such as physical, sensory, dietary, social and occupational enrichment. Physical enrichment involves additions to the environment to make it more structurally complex. Structural complexity is a key feature of EE, considering that in the wild most fish species have some association with physical structures for foraging, sheltering or spawning. Sensory enrichment involves stimulation of the sensory organs and brain. Different food types and feeding methods provide dietary enrichment. Providing contact and interactions with members of the same species provides social enrichment.  Introducing variation to the environment and providing opportunities to exercise provides occupational enrichment.

There are different goals to EE in display aquaria, animal welfare, food production and research and fisheries management. For the purpose of this article the use of EE in welfare and display aquaria will be explored further.

There are differences amongst human cultures on what is appropriate or not concerning welfare. Welfare can be viewed in terms of function, feelings and being nature based. Looking at function, a fish should be able to adapt physiologically to its captive environment so that its biological systems can function. The feelings based view on welfare looks at the emotional experiences in its environment, where the aim is to reduce negative stimuli and increase positive stimuli. Studies have shown that fish experience pain, fear, frustration and anxiety, which are usually evaluated indirectly from behaviour rather than physiological factors, because it is unclear how changes in these factors are linked to subjective feelings. The nature based view encourages an environment that allows fish to show natural behaviour which includes disturbances such as the presence of predators as well as aggression from other tank mates. Making the environment more complex, structurally, introducing variation and live food encourages the nature based approach. The nature based view is more useful for conditioning fish prior to release into the wild.

Display aquaria are usually used for conservational, scientific, recreational or educational purposes, and the goal of EE is usually to promote welfare, natural behaviour, provide aesthetic appeal to human spectators and to attract fish to areas of the tank to increase their visibility.

Examples of different types of enrichment: in ponds, natural variability, live prey, predation, and the use of various structures may be used.  The use of tank covers in some species and settings can promote welfare by blocking out environmental stressors and provides preferred lighting. However, in other species and environments it can be viewed as a form of EE since it provides varying light intensity and a choice of sheltering from the outside environment. Physical structures like artificial objects, stones, roots, logs, plants, algae, sand, sessile animals, ice, etc. can be used, which provide shelter, allows the evasion of predators or for predators to ambush prey; and protects fish from strong currents. Physical structures can be used in combination with other types of EE: variable water current and depth, various submerged structures, underwater feeders, natural food and simulation of predation. Pipes, tiles and non-buoyant plastic strips may provide hiding spaces, whilst entangled plastic strips or nets may be used to avoid cannibalism and aggression.

The relevance of toys in fish environments is unclear even though play behaviour has been observed. Incubation substrates may be used to mimic the natural environment for hatchlings. Tank floor substrates are beneficial for bottom dwellers, since they reduce injuries for those species that rest at the tank bottom. Tank substrates also provide the opportunity to learn burying behaviours, interact with the benthos and provide a hiding place from cannibalistic tank mates. It is also important to note that bottom substrates may lead to poor environmental conditions and the increase in pathogens due to poor hygiene, related to cleaning challenges with such substrates.

Introducing environmental variability stimulates learning, cognition and the development of resource defence by providing a healthy psychological challenge and simulating the wild. This can be done by changing the position of structures over time and as well as food availability. Note that this may stimulate adaptive behaviour which is desirable or may cause neophobia, so close observation is important.

Potential problems that may arise with the application of EE may include:  neophobic reactions highlighted above; the accumulation of food debris and faeces which requires increased manual labour or the use of bottom filters; some structures serving as vectors for pathogens; and leakage of hazardous chemicals, for example phthalates from PVC can lead to toxicity.  Unsuitable types of enrichment may injure or stress fish, for example loops, holes and crevices may cause body entrapment and suffocation.  Territorial behaviour and aggression may result if too few EE structures are present. Species in artificial environments become accustomed to living closely with structures and their presence or absence influences growth, behaviour, physiology and welfare. The effect of a shelter varies with the species it is used for, some may reduce growth rates and time spent foraging and detecting food. 

There are numerous considerations to consider when using EE, but an important take-away message is that it is important and necessary in artificial environments and captive animals.

A Beautiful Love Affair with Sierra

To understand the origin of A Beautiful Love Affair with Sierra, I would need to start from the beginning of my journey as a Pitbull mom and volunteer. This wasn’t something that I planned for or thought would ever happen if you asked me about it five years ago. But as all great stories go, everything happens for a reason.

I moved from JHB in 2015 with both my staffies, Diezel and Jeanie brother and sister. When I arrived in Cape Town I lived with my mom for a while, until I could find a pet-friendly place that was within my financial capabilities. In that period a lot of anxiety washed over me. I’d been in Cape Town for four months and had not found anything.

The situation looked dire, but an option finally came along. My grandparents’ friends and their two daughters had just lost their staffie and were looking to fill that void. I had come to an impasse and couldn’t postpone the obvious any longer. My two 7-year-old staffies, whom I had the privilege of being there when they were born, had to be rehomed. I convince myself that they were going to be rehomed together, into a loving family, with someone who was always at home – which I couldn’t give them, and they would be better off.

I met with the family, took my 4-legged kids with me and they were completely oblivious to the reasoning for this visit. The guilt I felt with that visit, having to resort to doing this to my precious kids. I felt like I failed them. I failed myself. After the meet and greet, it took me two weeks of hell fighting my conscience and the cards I was dealt with to make the final decision. I drove from Strand to Durbanville with Diezel and Jeanie in the car next to me, explaining and apologising to them both, crying to the point where I couldn’t even see the road in front of me. Not knowing if they understood or if they were sad or if they were ok with my decision. Ultimately, I had no choice, this was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I had their destiny in my hands, I was making decisions for them and not knowing if it was the right one. It wasn’t like they could say to me “Hey, wait a minute, we’re not okay with this”. Their new home was the right choice and I received a lot of photos showing how happy they are.

Fast forward two month to where I found a flat (no pets allowed). Not having any responsibility felt good for a while, but that feeling faded very quickly. I didn’t want to go home anymore, there was nothing for me there. No tails wagging, no excitement, and no purpose! I felt empty and longed for that company again. Coming across a post on Facebook, I decided to volunteer at an organisation called Pitpals. What a wonderful feeling it was to be part of this organisation!

Almost a year passed of volunteering, saving animals from the roadside and fostering only over the weekends as I still lived in my flat. This was until one specific day in July 2016 when I came across a Facebook post from a guy in Athlone, trying to sell a female Pitbull puppy aged 4 months for R800. Now this is very common these days and at first wasn’t something alarming, but reading the comments of possible buyers and of how the owner was proclaiming what a great job he had done with cutting her ears at 8 weeks – left me speechless! Her face just stood out from all the rest and I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing.

I arranged to buy her and kept all the communication as evidence. We agreed to meet at Tygervalley shopping centre parking lot that evening at 18h00. I made numerous phone calls for assistance to Law enforcement, SAPS and SPCA and finally obtained the backing of the SPCA. The inspector sat in his car that evening and watched the events unfold. With pepper spray stuffed into my jeans, I went in headstrong, trying to get a recording of this man verbally confessing to the crime he had committed by cutting her ears. Success struck before the transaction concluded. When he handed me this girl, she was skin and bones with her head so big it looked like she was the spitting image of a ‘bobble head’ doll.

After the man left and I had purchased Princess(the puppy in the add), I got into my car and drove to a secluded area with the inspector right behind me. The official process between us started with me giving an affidavit and providing all the evidence of my dealings with the seller. He then asked me a question I didn’t expect at all “Are you her owner now?”. So many emotions went through my head. I mean hello, just short of a year ago I failed my own 2 dogs, there is no way I was putting myself or another animal through this again.

You see, the reason he asked me this question is if an animal is taken in and becomes evidence in a case like this, (seeing that her ears are proof) but she didn’t belong to someone, the animal would stay in the custody of the SPCA, until the case comes forward. Now this could take not only months but years! So, I signed on the dotted line as her owner, knowing full well from my side it was only a temporary scenario until I could find her a suitable home. That first night she went off with the inspector to SPCA for a routine inspection the following morning and later that afternoon I was able to pick her up.

Doing research on powerful and meaningful names, I named her Sierra (Spanish for Mountain Range)

This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement but my attachment to this dog was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. I put a plea out on Facebook for pet-friendly accommodation and because of my volunteering, my network on Facebook had tripled and before I knew it another rescuer came forward with a solution. I met with them and hey presto – it was meant to be! I got a pet-friendly home.  

Through our journey, Sierra and I have made headlines on Facebook and Instagram. Everywhere she goes with me, she draws people in. Our footprint of making people aware of the breed and what their potential is and the love they have for humans, their loyalty and protectiveness has been a remarkable turning point for the breed.

I scaled down my volunteering in the time I got Sierra because I was working five days a week and she was alone a lot. However, I still felt the need to do more to make a difference, so we started fostering permanently and since January 2018 to date Sierra has fostered 26 pups. She is this perfect natural big sister, almost like she’s been doing this for many years.

Sierra’s 1-year birthday was approaching fast and I wanted to do something special. I decided to have a fundraising party on the 10th March 2018 in her honour. 

And so, A BEAUTIFULL LOVE AFFAIR WITH SIERRA started.

For the past three years we have held Birthday fundraisers for Change for the Better Foundation and Pitpals in Sierra’s name. You can find us on Facebook under the name “A Beautiful Love Affair with Sierra”. To date, we have been able to raise the following:

First year: R16 000 (R7 000 donated to each Org)

Second year: R33 000 (R13 500 donated to each Org)

Third year: R61 038 (R22 500 donated to each Org) hosted on 14 March 2020

As you can see by our figures, we have gone from strength to strength each year surpassing the next. We have grown in leaps and bounds and are confident that we will reach our 4th years goal of R130 000.

Top Tips for Staying Cool this summer

Shorts, tanks, flip flops, sunglasses and sunscreen can only mean one thing: SUMMERTIME! The winter woollies have officially been packed away, hot beverages have been replaced with ice-cold drinks, and your need to spend time outdoors in the glorious sunshine is overwhelming. We, as South Africans, are incredibly lucky to enjoy hot, sunny weather for almost half of the year, but with it comes the heatwaves, where temperatures often soar to above 35 degrees Celsius.

To beat the heat, we often find ourselves getting creative, but what about our pets? Dogs and cats have sweat glands that are located on their paw pads, but due to the small surface area, sweating alone is not enough to lower their temperature. Dogs will also start panting as a means to cool themselves down, but if one isn’t careful, our pets can easily become overheated, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors.

Since our furry friends have limited options, read on to see how you can help your pets to stay canine cool this summer.

Tips:

  • Cooling mats

On hot days you will often find your pet sprawled on the floor, making the most of the cool tiles on their hot bodies. If you don’t have tiles, or if your pet finds the floor too hard and uncomfortable, then a cooling mat is a great investment. Cooling mats are simple to use; place it in the fridge overnight and when needed, put it on the floor for all to enjoy (I am not ashamed to admit that I have shared the cooling mat with my dogs). I have found that placing a towel over the cooling mat encourages them to lie on it.

  • Frozen treats

Creating delicious homemade frozen treats is a great way to cool your pooches down. A simple Google search yields thousands of easy recipes for you to try, using basic ingredients like yoghurt, fruit and peanut butter. You can also check out Bake and Bark from Darg Days for more ideas.

Another fun idea is to fill a Kong or other suitable toy with peanut butter or wet food, and freeze. Not only will your dog be entertained for a while, but the frozen treat will keep them cool.

If your dogs are like mine, then they absolutely love ice cream! And while it might be tempting to share your cone, dairy is not ideal for your pooch’s digestive system. A safe alternative is Cool Dogs or Murphy’s pet friendly ice cream.

  • Exercise sparingly

If temperatures are excessively high, you might want to rethink your daily walk. Pavements and tar roads absorb the sun’s rays and, if the ground is too hot, can damage your dog’s sensitive paw pads. A quick way to check if the ground is too hot is to place your hand on it for 3-5 seconds. If you can’t leave your hand there comfortably, then it is too hot for your dog.

In our household, skipping our walks is not really an option. To ensure everyone remains safe we avoid the hottest times of the day and walk in the early morning or after the sun has set, and keep the distance to a minimum. Also make sure to carry plenty of water for both you and your pet and take frequent breaks.

  • Pool party

If your dog loves water, then allowing them to take a dip will cool them off instantly! And you don’t have to have a pool to partake in this fun, a clam shell, inflatable paddle pool or even a large bucket filled with water is all your dog needs to wade in.

  • Make sure they have plenty of shade and water

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s imperative that all pets, big and small, have access to plenty of fresh, clean water and shade. If your pet’s water bowl is located outside, make sure that it is in a covered/shaded area and that it is topped up daily. Large containers might hold more water, but they also have a greater surface area for evaporation to take place. Self-filling water bowls are a good solution, but they must be cleaned regularly to avoid a build-up of algae.

  • To shave or not to shave

Many people reach for the shaver or take their dogs and cats to the groomers just before summer temperatures peak. Unfortunately, you may be doing more harm than good depending on the type of coat your pet has. A single coated dog can be shaved down repeatedly, as the hair will continue to grow back unchanged, and shaving in summer can benefit them. Double coated dogs on the other hand have two coats – the outer coat, which is known as guard hairs, are long and the undercoat is shorter and thicker. In winter, the thick undercoat provides insulation and keeps your dog warm, while in summer, the undercoat is shed leaving the longer guard hairs which allows air to circulate and in turn cools the skin. Therefore, if you shave a double coated dog, you are achieving the exact opposite of what you want, as the undercoat grows back first and keeps your dog warm, as opposed to cooling them down.

If you are not sure what type of coat your dog has, consult your vet first.

  • Know the signs of heat stroke

Any hot environment can cause heat stroke and it’s important to know the signs, as, if left untreated, it can be fatal. Certain dog breeds are also more prone to heat stroke than others, especially brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs. Think pugs, bulldogs, Boston terriers. Owing to their short muzzles, these dogs cannot effectively cool themselves down by panting, making them twice as likely to get heat stroke.

Signs to look out for are excessive panting, rapid heartbeat, high fever, drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea and uncoordinated movements.

If you suspect your dog has heat stroke, remove them from the hot environment, offer water without forcing them to drink, place a soaked towel on their backs and take them to the vet immediately.

Joseph Part 2

By Imogen Tarita

An awful lot has happened in Joseph’s world since you read the first part of his story.

We decided to chronicle each step of this part of his journey, because this is an important story. One that we hope helps to draw attention to the plight of many animals in our country. 

To get the prosthetic, we had to go to Johannesburg.  So, on 11th October 2020, Dr Katherine Barker loaded Joseph into her car, and they set off for the big city.

The day of Joseph’s appointment dawned. Everyone was super excited, but, to be honest, there was anxiety too, as we weren’t sure exactly what to expect. As soon as Dr Katherine met the orthopaedic specialists, Antois Ferreira and Casper Steenkamp from the Animal Care Division at Northcliff Orthopaedic Centre, she knew Joseph was in good hands.  Only once he was comfortable and relaxed did the actual process start. He was wrapped in plastic, and then plaster of Paris was applied to make a cast of his body.

This cast would be what was used to make the actual prosthetic and the harness/support that he needed.  This entire process took about 5 minutes. Joseph is actually a very chilled dog, but the team made sure they were quick, and that he wasn’t stressed at all.

Antois really took a shine to Joseph and asked if he would be up for adoption…in actual fact many people have asked us about adopting him.  (Due to the severity of his injuries we decided that adoption was off the table and he was adopted by Dr Katherine, her family and the Cluny team, so he has a very happy home with a vet on hand.)

After a quick lunch, it was over to the other side of town to a physio appointment at the Animal Health and Hydro (AHAH) to meet with Dr Tanya Grantham for a hydrotherapy session. The aim of the appointment was to show Dr Katherine how it is done, because Joseph was going to need ongoing hydrotherapy to first help to build and then to keep his muscles as strong as possible. 

It was a wonderful session. Joseph was a tad freaked out in the water at first, but, to be fair, that was to be expected as he had never been swimming before…we are very grateful to Tanya for her patience, and by the end of the session Joseph seemed much more comfortable and was a doggy paddling champ…granted with Tanya’s steady and loving support.  We would also like to thank Dr Tanya for her very kind donation of a doggie lifejacket for Joseph.

Because we are based in Fouriesburg, Free State, hydrotherapy pools are very hard to come by. We have had to improvise, and we are using the reservoir in Dr Katherine’s garden. About 3 times a week (weather permitting) Joseph has his hydrotherapy session, “Free-State style” with Dr Katherine’s husband, Malcolm.

Building the Prosthetic

Once they had the cast, the team from the Animal Care Division started the process by building up the cast everywhere to determine where there may be too much pressure.  Antois says that this process typically looks like an arts and craft class.

Using that information, they were able to use a soft, closed cell material to pad the chest piece. This is to make the prosthetic comfortable for Joseph.  What you can see in the picture is Casper working out the striking angles of the leg. This is done with a laser to determine where the best placement of the components will be.

All of this is very interesting and educational. Even as a veterinary welfare we had no idea about the engineering that goes into a prosthetic. It is fascinating to see the entire process unfold and to be able to witness this first-hand. 

Perfection takes time, and you can’t do this quickly.  But we promised you that this story had a happy ending. On the 2nd November 2020, Dr Katherine drove back up to Johannesburg with Joseph for the fitting, and to see if any adjustments would need to be made. 

As we arrived for the appointment, you could feel that everyone was a little on edge…there was a lot riding on this.  Joseph’s new prosthetic is the very first of its kind in SA! We are very privileged that he was selected as the recipient of this amazing technology.

It was actually like a Cinderella moment, but instead of a glass slipper it was a beautiful, shiny prosthetic leg. We collectively held our breaths as Antois gently moved Joseph into position and, just like the fairy tale, it fitted perfectly. 

Of course, his prosthetic was something new for Joseph, something strange, and he did need time to get used to it.  He was walking backwards to try and get out of the brace, but the team assured us that this was very normal.  We need to take this slowly, just a couple of minutes every day and Joseph would get used to the feeling and the movement of the leg. In Dr Katherine Barker’s words: “It is a beautiful leg, it is sturdy and strong, but as light as a feather and as soon as he learns to trust it, it will all be fine’.

We are happy to report and to close this story by telling you that Joseph is adapting well, he is wearing his prosthesis every day and each day he is gaining more confidence. 

Joseph has taught us all so much. He is very affectionate and gentle, and although not your typical tripod (dog with 3 legs) he is just like any other dog. He can be boisterous and playful, and he can drive us nuts with his fishwife warbling, he is very vocal sometimes. He has taught us, as a team, to forgive, and to believe in hope because we have been stunned at the outpouring of love and help we have received.  Most of all he has taught us to be courageous, to never give up, because the world of animal veterinary welfare can sometimes be a very tough place and we all need reminding from time-to-time of why we do what we do. Thank you, Joseph, we love you and we are here for you, always!

To find out more about the Cluny Animal Trust and how you can help, please visit their website www.clunyanimlatrust.co.za  

Image by: Glen Green – African Image

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