Thursday, November 29, 2012

Prepare for your Puppy


The season of giving has officially arrived, and you'll know it if you just take a drive out by the mall.  If your plans include adopting a puppy, make sure you and your family are prepared for this wonderful gift.  He will need a few things for his new life in your household.

COLLAR & LEASH – Adjustable collars are best for growing puppies who change size rapidly. A 6-foot leash is the standard for obedience class. There are many non-toxic materials such as organic hemp. Small dogs and dogs with short necks (i.e. pugs, boston terriers) often need a harness rather than a collar for safety.

CRATE OR KENNEL – Crates give your dog a feeling of security and a quiet retreat when he needs a place to call his own, and they are essential for training, housebreaking and travel. Foldable wire crates are good for inside the house--buy one that will fit the dog your puppy will become and use dividers to adjust the space to his current size.  Molded plastic kennels are required for airplane travel and are safest for riding in the car. Soft crates of quilted nylon are convenient, but can be easily chewed through by needle sharp puppy teeth.  A washable fleece crate mat makes your pup’s new home cozy and warm.  NOTE:  When traveling with your dog, the crate goes IN the car, NOT on top of it.

STAIN & ODOR REMOVER – The item most often forgotten until your puppy has an accident on the carpet. And he WILL have accidents because a puppy cannot physically control his bladder until a minimum of four months old.  Get the enzymatic odor remover to ensure your puppy isn't drawn back to the same spot for his business.  My favorite:  Anti Icky Poo, which works on cat urine, too.  (Found out the hard way, but that is another story.  Ugh.)

NAIL TRIMMER & STYPTIC POWDER – Start trimming your dog’s nails weekly when he’s young to get him used to it. Have styptic powder on hand to stop any bleeding if you nip the blood vessel that runs through nail – just dip the end of the nail into the bottle.

BRUSH & COMB – Again, start early so your puppy learns to enjoy grooming and consult with a groomer to find out what tools you need for your dog’s particular coat.

SHAMPOO – Choose a gentle formula that won’t strip the coat’s natural oils.  Tropiclean Puppy and Kitten Shampoo smells great and is gentle enough for babies.

Food and Water BOWLS – Stainless steel or ceramic are best, with a stand or non-skid rubber to avoid sliding or getting kicked over. Never use plastic, which can off-gas toxins, harbor bacteria and give your dog acne from scraping his chin against the bottom of the bowl. 

A Variety of CHEWS AND TOYS – Puppies have an urgent desire to chew and explore, and if you don’t keep them busy, they will entertain themselves--often at the expense of your shoes and furniture!  A good variety will save your stuff and your sanity. Bring out a few at a time from the toy box to prevent boredom. Rico likes any toy you put in front of him, but Lucy is more picky.  Try everything--ball toys, rope toys, and rubber toys for hard chewers, plush toys, squeak toys and raw beef bones.  Get something interactive like  A Cheerful Pet long felted Tugzees. Go for lots of digestible chews such as bully sticks and tripe braids. Avoid cheap rawhide chews. Hunks can break off and get caught internally, and formaldehyde and other chemicals are often used in bleaching and tanning.
He knows where the toys are.
RAW BONES TO CHEW – The best chew and the best nutrition for any puppy! Dogs that start raw bones when they are young have the cleanest teeth, freshest breath and are the happiest! See our post on Raw Meaty Bones for more information.

TRAINING - Your new puppy will need to learn some manners and will need to be socialized.  Find a good trainer, preferably one who offers puppy classes and one who uses positive reinforcement like clicker trainers, and get started early with helping your new friend fit into your home and know the rules.  We've had fun at A Good Dog's Life with Gail, who really knows her business.  The single most common reason dogs are turned into shelters is because they didn’t get early training and socialization.  Dogs have a small window of opportunity for learning to get along with others and not be afraid, so get them enrolled and started off on a good paw!

Have fun and Happy Holidays! 

And remember: A tired dog is a good dog.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cat Chronicles: Top Cat & Cat Scratch Fever

Cricket (top), Whiskers (middle) & Buttons (bottom)

Cats are highly territorial creatures.  So if you live in a multi-cat household like I do, you have to find creative ways to keep the peace.  One of the best things you can do is to put up a cat tree, also called a cat condo.  These are structures made of different materials which your cat can climb, perch and sleep on.  Because cats are territorial and because there’s only so much horizontal space in our homes, cats can use vertical space to define their territories.  The term “top cat” literally applies here – the more bossy a cat, the higher up on the cat tree he will be.

Buttons supervising the assembling of the cat tree.

An added bonus to having a cat tree - cats can use it for scratching (instead of your furniture).  Scratching is super important for cats for 3 reasons:  1) it’s good exercise, 2) it helps trim their nails, and 3) it marks their territory (there are scent glands between a cat’s toes which release the cat’s scent when he scratches).

Cricket, top cat for now ...

So having a cat tree in your home will help your cats carve out their own little territories, save your furniture and keep everyone happy!

Whiskers, one happy camper!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Top 10 Lies/Myths About Pet Food

I’ve heard some pretty outlandish things about pet food since I got interested in the topic when my beloved Bernese Mountain Dog, Zephyr, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma--bone cancer.  A forward thinking vet at the time recommended I lay off the carbohydrate rich dry food and start feeding him raw, grain-free food, because cancers feed on carbohydrates.  Zephyr would eat anything that passed by his nose, so switching foods was no problems, and I am convinced it prolonged his life.  And it made me question all those bags of “prescription diet” I’d fed him over the years because of his sensitive stomach.  You know, the ones I paid top dollar for at the other vet?  It made me wonder what other lies I’d been told over the years about pet food and nutrition.

Then I ran across the 2007 Annual Pet Food Report from Animal Wellness Magazine which addressed that very topic.  I thought I’d share my top ten list of myths and lies.  See if any sound familiar to you.

1.  Dry kibble and treats are good for Fluffy’s teeth

I talked about this earlier when I talked about raw bones.  It’s like saying a diet of croutons would keep your own teeth shiny and white.  It is simply not true, and, in fact, commercial foods often have ingredients that contribute to plaque and tartar, ingredients like carbohydrates that break down into sugars.

2.  Feeding one food is better for Fluffy

I talked about this in my article on Rotational Feeding.  It’s like saying you could thrive on a diet of Cheerios or baloney sandwiches alone.  Like us, our dogs and cats need variety in their diets to truly thrive.  They rely on nutritional variety to maintain healthy immune systems and healthy digestive systems. 

3.  Table scraps are bad for Fluffy
If a food nourishes us, it will likely nourish our pets as well.  Giving your pet leftovers once in a while will add variety and interest to his diet.  Just avoid cooked bones, sweets, chocolate and the following veggies--onions, grapes, raisins, tomatoes, macadamia nuts, walnuts, avocados, excessive raw fish, chocolate, excessive cabbage or broccoli, excessive garlic, apple seeds, green tops of carrots, peppers and eggplant.

4.  If the vet sells it, it must be healthy and high quality

Please refer back to my introduction.  Prescription foods are made by the same large corporations that make grocery store foods, and have many, many questionable ingredients as well as questionable effects on your pet’s health.

5.  All bones are dangerous
Again, see my article on Feeding your Dog (And Cat) Raw Bones.  Only cooked bones are dangerous, as they can splinter.  But raw bones are beneficial in many ways, some surprising--dental health, nutrition, mental health.
6.  Raw meat causes aggression
There is no evidence that this is true.  If your pet is food protective, it is a behavioral issue unrelated to the type of food you feed.

7.  Cats should have access to food at all times                                                              

In fact, 24/7 access to foods leads to obesity and, if it’s dry food, urinary tract blockages.  Like wild canines, cats in the wild only eat when they hunt and only kill what they need to survive.

8.  Semi-moist food is like meat
No, no, no.  It is like dry food with extra chemicals, additives and preservatives in it to keep it moist.  How do they even get away with calling this “food”?  This is the junk food of the pet food industry.  These are the Twinkies and Pringles and never EVER should be considered part of a healthy diet.

9.  Cheap food saves money
I know it hurts sometimes to pay for raw beef and fresh veggies for your pet.  But I promise, cheap food costs more in the long run.  It costs more because your pet has to eat more to satisfy his nutritional needs. It costs more at the vet’s office--for treatment of skin problems, for teeth cleaning, for treatment of the chronic diseases associated with a poor diet.  I promise--if your pet survives, bags of cheap food will cost you over time.

10.  Raw food will make my animal or family sick
Dogs and cats digest food more quickly than humans, so the food passes out before they can develop any food-borne illnesses.  Plus, they have a very high concentration of hydrochloric acid in the stomachs which kills bacteria.  If you prepare your own raw diet, buy human grade meat and handle it the same way you handle the raw chicken or hamburger you prepare for your family.  If you buy prepared raw food diets, thaw it out in the fridge.  

Raw food is safe and biologically appropriate for your pets.  It will save money in the long run and will make for a happier, healthier Fluffy and Fido and Fifi.

RIP Zephyr 1997-2006.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cheap Tricks: Save the Trees!

Why am I so frugal?  I am often asked that question.  The answer is I like to spend my hard-earned money on things that will provide a better quality of life for me and pets, such as healthy food.  Yes, organic food is more expensive initially, but in the long run, if I or my pets eat a healthy, species-appropriate diet, we won’t have chronic expensive diseases like heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, thyroid problems, etc.  So I will end up saving money overall and my pets will live a long, happy, healthy life.

What’s one way you can save money to help pay for a healthier diet?  Paper products!  (And not only will you be saving money, you’ll be saving trees and the environment, too!)  Some examples:

1.  Instead of Paper Towels: Use Rags!  After using the rags, simply wash and use again.  And you can save even more by using cut up old towels, sheets and clothing rather than buying new rags.  Or you can go to thrift stores and buy cheap towels and wash cloths.  That way you are also recycling material instead of it ending up in the landfill – another win for the environment!

2.  Instead of Kleenex/Tissues:  Use Handkerchiefs!  Your grandparents did – they may even have pretty embroidered ones they can hand down to you.  Or you can buy them online or in stores.  I have about 20 handkerchiefs which I’ve been using for the past 4 years.  Initial investment = $20.  That works out to $5 per year and my handkerchiefs are still going strong.  Before that, I spent about $5 every couple months on tissues – even more during the cold and flu season.  And handkerchiefs are super easy to clean – they’re small and lightweight so you can launder a small batch by hand in a couple minutes.

3.  Instead of Paper Napkins: Use Cloth Napkins!  Not only are cloth napkins more environmentally friendly, they’re softer and prettier, too.  Again, you have an initial investment of about $20 for some cloth napkins, but you can wash and use them for years and years and years.  I recommend getting darker colored/patterned cloth napkins – they hide possible stains better and you won’t have to use bleach to whiten them (bleach is NOT good for you or the environment).

4.  Instead of Disposable Diapers: Use Cloth Diapers!  There are wonderful cloth diapers available now that are easy to clean, easy to fit (none of those scary pins involved) and made with eco-friendly material (organic cotton, wool, bamboo, etc.).

I draw the line at toilet paper, however.  I admit I just can’t get past the “ick” factor with using cloths instead of toilet paper.  But I do buy toilet paper that is made from recycled paper so it’s more eco-friendly.

So there you have it … I used to spend about $150 a year on napkins, paper towels and Kleenex, but now I spend that money on healthy, organic food for me and my pets … a much tastier alternative to paper products!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rotation Feeding for Better Health

Rotation feeding is one of the newer buzz words in pet nutrition. Gone are the days of auto-pilot feeding where your pet gets the same old kibble night after night after night. And your pets will be all the better for it. Changing your pet's diet periodically is one of the best things you can do for his or her health and well-being for several reasons.

First, wouldn't you get bored eating a bowl of corn flakes every day for the rest of your life? Wouldn't you crave a scrambled egg or a fruit smoothie or a bowl of oatmeal just for fun once in a while? Keep them excited about mealtime by keeping them guessing. Even if your dog or cat has a sensitive stomach, different flavors of the same brand of food are generally similar enough in composition that pets usually can make the switch without a lot of planning and preparation.

Second, changing your pets food regularly can help prevent the development of food allergies by limiting their exposure to potential allergens.

Third, by exposing your pets to a variety of foods, you help strengthen their digestive systems and limit stomach upset.

Finally, by exposing your pet to a wide variety of protein sources and brands of foods, or feeding a brand like ours that rotates ingredients based on what is available seasonally, you provide them with a large and varied cornucopia of nutrients and minerals and vitamins that will keep them healthier over the long run. Just like in human nutrition, the bigger variety of foods we eat, the more building blocks our bodies have to keep us healthy and vibrant.

How to Switch
If you have a new puppy or kitten, you are in luck (in so many ways)! They are usually the easiest to transition because their digestive systems are more flexible. While they are young, give them a big variety of foods--different flavors, different textures, different kinds (canned, freeze dried raw, frozen raw), different brands.

For older dogs, you may need to transition more slowly by adding 10-20% of the new food to their old food and increasing the percentage gradually over a week to 10 days. Add digestive enzymes, probiotics and/or canned pumpkin to help with digestion. After a few months of switching gradually, your pet's digestive system will get tougher and you may be able to eliminate the slow transition time altogether.

Dogs transition easily from dry to canned or raw food, but cats who have been fed dry food for a long time may turn their noses up because, well, cats have attitudes and definite ideas about things. Here are a few tips on how to make it easier to switch cats to canned or raw food...

  • Try a variety of flavors and textures--my cat loved anything seafood, but eating turkey was a chore; loved pate, but had her doubts about gravy.
  • Remove dry food when wet is offered and feed them twice a day.
  • Mix the canned food with the kibble to get them used to the smell and taste.
  • Top the canned food with something irresistibly smelly like bonito flakes or salmon oil.
  • Be patient. They will come around eventually.

See Transitioning Your Cat to Raw Food for more information and tips.

Introduce raw foods slowly to your cat or dog. Raw food is so dense in nutrients that it will be easy for your pet to overdo, especially if you have a lab or any other eating machine.

Remember, you are giving your pet the most nutritionally complete, well rounded diet you can by providing him or her with a wide variety of foods. That means your pet will be with you longer and will live a high quality, happy life.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Dora & Mittens "strutting" on the playground!
I have multiple cats and a nice large backyard that I have enclosed with a “cat fence” – netting attached to brackets which keeps my cats from getting over the fence.  Unfortunately, there are no large trees inside my backyard, so nothing for my cats to climb and scratch on (two very important activities for a cat’s emotional and physical well being).

Mittens demonstates the "horizontal" scratching technique.

Dora demonstrates the "diagonal" scratching technique.

Cricket demonstrates the "lazy" scratching technique.

And if you haven’t figured it out by now, I am a rather frugal person.  Not to mention I have zero woodworking skills whatsoever.  So when I decided to build an outdoor “playground” for my cats to compensate for my lack of trees, I was stumped (no pun intended) as to how I could build it for hardly any money and hardly any skills.  I Googled “outdoor cat playground” and did not find anything that was either premade which I could buy or anything easy to build myself.

Then one day I was looking at my extra wire fencing and garden stakes lying around the yard.  Hmm … an idea was forming (and you know how I love to recycle!).  So I took six 5’ stakes and a 3x8” piece of wire fencing.  I put the stakes in the ground, three on a side, spaced 3’ apart, with three more stakes on the other side about 3’ across from other stakes.  I then attached the wire fencing along the top of the stakes using the little notches in the stakes plus some zip ties.  I put another shorter stake between the pairs of 5’ stakes to give the structure a little more stability.  I then took some old big branches I also had lying around and put the heavier branches leaning diagonally from the ground to the top of the fencing and the lighter branches horizontally along the top of the wire fencing (some of the branches I also zip tied to the fencing for extra stability).

You can see the wire fencing and the stake across for stability.
Full cat playground (with a couple of canines - Galaxy & Bamboo).
I then added a few cats (I have plenty to choose from) and my cat playground was born!  My cats now have a place where they can climb, scratch and get away from the sometimes annoying canine family members.  They can also take wonderful cat naps under the structure.

Cosmo climbing up the playground.

Cricket, just "hanging" (Galaxy, annoying canine in background).

Cosmo, king of the mountain!

So if you have only a small yard with no large trees for your cats to play on, you can build your own cat playground for less than $40.  Or if you’re handy, you can use untreated wood posts and boards instead of the stakes and wire fencing … the sky’s the limit!
(If you build your own cat playground, I’d love to see pictures!  You can go to our Facebook page and post your pictures:

Cricket & Cosmo - one goes up, the other goes down.