Monthly Archives: August 2012

Are Dogs and Cats Capable of Feeling Empathy?

By Linda Cole

I had a cat that always seemed to know when I was feeling sad. Toby wasn’t a feline that usually climbed into my lap, and would come to me only when she wanted attention. Even though she wasn’t the cuddly type, if she thought I needed a friend, that’s when she would curl up on my lap and purr as if she was trying to make me feel better. A new study conducted at the University of London says dogs can feel empathy towards us, but I believe cats also know when we need a paw to hold.

From the study, scientists concluded that dogs are more apt to go up to someone who is crying and react to them in a submissive way. The researchers wanted to see if dogs would show empathy to either their owner or a stranger if the dogs thought they were upset. They tested 18 dogs in their homes, where the dogs were relaxed and comfortable.

A researcher sat with a dog’s owner and they took turns humming, talking, and pretending to cry. The idea was to see if the dogs would respond just to their “crying” owner or if they would also react to a stranger. The study found 15 of the 18 dogs approached the sad person regardless of whether they were the dog’s owner or not. Only six responded to humming.

Researchers concluded it’s possible the dogs were expressing an emotional behavior and not just approaching out of curiosity. When the dogs reacted to the crying, none of them paid any attention to the one that wasn’t crying. When it came to showing a submissive behavior, 13 of the 15 dogs that went to the sad person did so with their tail tucked between their legs and with their head bowed, which researchers saw as showing empathy.

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Alleviating Your Dog’s Back-to-School Blues

By Tamara McRill

It can be cute watching your dog tug on backpacks and careening for the door once school’s out, but the sadness some dogs feel in the fall is no laughing matter. The “Dog Days of Summer” could stand for the glorious months pets spend playing and bonding with their youngest owners, but all of the fun winds down in August. The kidlets go back to school and their four-legged best friends are left bereft of company for the majority of the day.

The feelings depressed dogs can go through at this time are very real, and they will need your help to minimize its impact. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to do just that.

Before School Starts

In the weeks before school starts, you can be working on transitioning your pet to his new fall routine. Gradually shift play, exercise and meal times to the times these will occur when school is in session. Don’t forget to also work on a new potty schedule.

It can be hard to lessen contact between pet and child during the times they would normally be in school, but try. If your dog will be spending more time outside or in a certain room while your child is in class, now would be a good time to get her used to it.

If your child is going off to college and is your pet’s primary companion, now is also the time for you – or whomever will be taking over – to start taking a larger role in their care.

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What Westminster Dog Show Champions Do After the Big Win

By Linda Cole

After a dog has won top honors at the most prestigious dog show in the world, what else is there left to accomplish? A win at the Westminster Dog Show is the highlight of any show dog’s career and most winners are ready to kick back and retire from the ring, but not all of them. Here’s what a few past Westminster champions have been doing since their big win.

Rufus the colored Bull Terrier, 2006 winner

Ch. Rocky Top’s Sundance Kid, better known as Rufus, the colored Bull Terrier, made Westminster history when he delighted the crowd and won Best in Show. Rufus retired after his crowning as the 100 year dog and the only colored Bull Terrier to win at Westminster. However, he isn’t a canine to sit back on his haunches and while away his retirement years. When his owner, Barb Bishop, saw that he was getting bored, she decided he needed a job. Rufus is now a certified therapy dog, giving comfort to people in nursing homes and hospitals. He is also an ambassador for bully breeds, teaching children about responsible dog ownership, and educating people about breed specific legislation and myths about the bully breeds.

James the English Springer Spaniel, 2007 winner

Ch. Felicity’s Diamond Jim was a therapy dog beginning at the age of seven months. After retiring from the dog show ring, he simply picked up where he had left off. Owner Teresa Patton and James worked with Angel on a Leash, as well as other pet therapy organizations. He also helped raise around $15,000 participating in memory walks for the Alzheimer’s Association. After winning at Westminster, James went on to finish four rally titles and won his first obedience title. Sadly, James passed away in May 2011 from lymphoma. He was one of the oldest Springer Spaniels to win at Westminster.

Uno the Beagle, 2008 winner

Ch. K-Run’s Park Me in First went on a nationwide tour with David Frei, Westminster’s famous announcer and founder of Angel on a Leash, as an ambassador to help promote canine therapy work. Uno was a busy Beagle and tossed out the first pitch at baseball games, put in appearances at art galleries and charity fundraisers, rode on a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float, turned on purple and gold lights at the Empire State Building for the 2009 Westminster Week celebrations, and was an honored guest at the White House. Now, Uno is happy being just a dog, hanging out with his best friend Caroline Dowell, playing with his canine buddies, and snoozing on Caroline’s bed.

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Psychogenic Alopecia in Cats

By Julia Williams

I’ve gotten to know many pet bloggers in recent years, and even correspond with a few. In one email, a fellow pet lover shared a problem she was having with her cat, and asked for my advice. She was concerned that her cat was becoming increasingly bald on his belly from over-grooming. She worried that people would judge her for the baldness, thinking she was not a responsible pet owner. It made me laugh – not because her cat’s bald belly or her embarrassment were funny, but because little did she know, I’d been dealing with that very same issue with my cat for years!

Look at my cute bald belly!

About six years ago, I noticed that the fur on Mickey’s belly was thinning. It would thin to the point of near baldness and then grow back, with the cycle repeating every few weeks. I didn’t see Mickey licking excessively and he was a very healthy cat, so the sparseness of belly fur didn’t really worry me. Nonetheless, I did discuss it with my vet at his next regular checkup. Turns out, the condition is quite common in cats.

What is Psychogenic Alopecia?

For various reasons, a cat will sometimes begin to excessively groom their hair and skin, which results in hair loss and baldness. Typically the over-grooming starts on the abdomen and may progress to the rear legs and tail. The degree of baldness may wax and wane over time. Additionally, some cats do their licking in private, so the absence of belly fur may be the first inkling an owner has that something is awry.

Diagnosis of the condition is usually made by noting the characteristic pattern of baldness. Skin, blood and/or urine tests are sometimes performed to make sure other illnesses are not the culprit.

What Causes Psychogenic Alopecia?

Psychogenic Alopecia is believed to have a psychological or emotional origin, and has been compared to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Stress, anxiety and boredom may intensify the behavior. Skin allergies caused by fleas, food, pollen or environmental allergens may also exacerbate the condition.

Like OCD, Psychogenic Alopecia is usually not curable, but there are things owners can do to lessen their cat’s over-grooming (see below). Moreover, the condition is generally not debilitating, i.e., it doesn’t lessen a cat’s quality of life or longevity.

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Training Games for Shy Dogs

My shy pup Frosty

By Langley Cornwell

Even though I’ve had all types of dogs come in and out of my life, this is the first time I’ve ever had a shy, fearful dog. Because I like to write about what I know (or need to know), I’ve spent hours researching, studying and writing about shy, fearful dogs. In doing so, it’s been interesting to note how many shy dogs are out there, and how many compassionate humans are searching for ways to make their shy dog’s life easier and richer.  

In How to Train a Fearful or Insecure Dog, I wrote about our shy pup Frosty, and shared what’s been working for us. We’ve made good progress, but we still have a long road ahead of us. So now we’re learning a few training games.

One of the biggest problems Frosty has is interacting with other people. With a lot of patience and the help of some awesome dog-people, she’s finally learned good doggie social skills. She greets other dogs correctly and does fine in any canine-to-canine situation. But when it comes to dealing with strangers, look out! She either cowers and shakes or she cops a lunging posture, hackles raised, and starts to bark aggressively. My husband thinks she likes dogs but doesn’t like people. I think we can help her with that. asserts that teaching your dog how to communicate with people is a vital milestone in their journey towards becoming a healthy, well-adjusted dog – so that’s where we’re focusing our attention. They outline two training games that are particularly helpful when working with a shy dog.

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Does the Moon Really Affect Your Pet’s Behavior?

By Linda Cole

In the horror movies, a full moon can bring out unnatural creatures of the night and send them wandering across the land. The moon plays a role in the ocean tides and gives us an awesome sight in the night sky when it’s full. Rumors and legends claiming that people and animals act strange during a full moon persist even today, but can the moon really affect your pet’s behavior?

For centuries, people have used a full moon to explain odd behavior and the common belief is it can have an effect on both people and animals, including pets. Dogs are supposed to howl more during a full moon, and cats yowl their mating calls with more passion. There have been attempts to study whether a full moon really can affect people abnormally and cause some people to become more aggressive or commit more crimes just before or right after a full moon. Some studies have shown increased visits to emergency rooms on days prior to and after a full moon, but there is no study that can absolutely say a full moon is the cause. It’s possible emergency rooms see more patients a few days before and after a full moon because it’s lighter outside at night and there’s a higher percentage of people out and about which could create increased chances of more accidents.

A study on pets was done in 2007 by a researcher at Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Raegan Wells, DVM, wanted to find out if pets were affected by a full moon. She wanted to know if, like people, pets experienced more injuries or got into more trouble during periods when the moon was full. She discovered a correlation between more emergency visits for both cats and dogs during the period just before or after a full moon. The study, “Canine and Feline Emergency Room Visits and the Lunar Cycle,” was the first of its kind and was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Wells went back over an 11 year period and charted emergency visits at the clinic and noted when full moons had occurred within that time frame. During the 11 year period, 11,940 pets were seen at the university’s veterinary medical center. The visits consisted of animal bites, epilepsy seizures, cardiac arrest, gastric problems, trauma, and other emergencies. The vets saw 9,407 dogs and 2,533 cats. According to Wells, there was a 28 percent greater chance for dogs and a 21 percent increased chance for cats to be seen by emergency personnel during periods of full moons.

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