REPOST: Leaving Home in Bad Weather? Here Are Tips for Your Cat-Sitter

The winter months are coming once again, which means that holiday travel plans are also on the way. If you’re planning a winter getaway but are worried about leaving your beloved cat alone in the cold, this article can help you and your designated cat-sitter take care of necessary items that will ensure the safety and comfort of your feline friend.

I love to travel, but I hate leaving my cats behind. I try to think of everything possible to prepare pet sitters or friends who are watching my babies, especially during periods of bad weather. Winter cat-sitting brings a whole new set of considerations. I’ve lived in snow country for a long time, and if I have to be gone for a few days in the winter, I want to be sure my cats are well cared for.

Here are some cat-related things to think about if you travel during winter:

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1. Can your sitter get to your house?

A lot of this depends on where you live. If you’re in a city, for example, it may be easier for the sitter to get to your place. If you live in a house and not necessarily close to services, make sure the sitter is easily going to be able to get into your house and take care of your kitties on a regular basis. Will your driveway be plowed and will the sitter be able to get in, should your residence get dumped on with snow? What about ice? Are the roads well taken care of where you live?

The ideal situation might be to have your friend or sitter live in your place with your cats. If you have a very adaptable cat and a super friend or pet sitter, your cat might also be able to stay at their place. (Obviously, that comes with pros and cons of its own — other cats, place sensitivity and the stress of a new environment, etc.)

Make sure you’ve thought through every possibility so that your cat-watching friend or professional can get into your place and take care of your cats.

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2. Are you stocked with cat food and cat supplies?

This is a given, in good or bad weather. You certainly don’t want to be worrying about whether your cat watcher is going to be able to get food and supplies for the kitties, should the weather turn bad. Take care of this before a bad-weather event, so that you and the sitter don’t have to worry.

3. Are your utilities working?

My kitties have always been indoor cats, but I’ve learned that cats can do well in pretty cold temps if they have shelter. But that doesn’t mean I want them to be cold. Also, if the heat were to go out in my place and I was gone, it could lead to bigger problems like frozen pipes. Even the electricity going out could cause issues. Try to think through things so that your kitties are comfortable — for example, if the heat should go out, make sure you’ve left out warm places for them to snuggle, like blankets and sleeping bags.

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4. Do you have a plan for going to the vet?

In the event that your sitter has take your pets to the vet in bad weather, make sure you’ve planned ahead. Is the route difficult? Does the sitter have transportation? Are the roads taken care of? Can you sitter handle it? Also, does your veterinarian know you will be gone and have you made arrangement for payment, should your sitter need to take your cat in?

We had a situation last year where weather made us resort to a plan B regarding veterinary care. A snowstorm was on the way, and my favorite vet was an hour away on treacherous, fairly remote roads. Karma (kitty) was terminally ill and very close to the point where we would have to help her pass over. Because of the storm, which was starting, we took her into a closer vet a day or two earlier than I might have otherwise. The last thing I wanted was the stress of driving through a snowstorm on top of the emotional stress of saying goodbye to my kitty.

Dr. Jennifer Creed is an expert in emergency pet care, having been a veterinarian for more than 20 years. Follow this Twitter account for more pet care tips .


Repost: Start-ups work on biotech drugs for pets

Pets are treated as members of the family, sometimes as children lavished with care and attention. The multimillion dollar industry of pet care products is a testament to this. And now, a growing number of pharmaceuticals companies are directing their efforts to coming up with pet medications. Andrew Pollack of The New York Times writes about this new frontier on pet care.

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Judging by some of the heavy action in the world of biotechnology, one could easily conclude that the industry is going to the dogs. Or cats, maybe.

There are start-ups named Nexvet and VetDC, CanFel Therapeutics (as in canine and feline), and even Fetch Pharma.

It’s a new example of pack behavior: Entrepreneurs with pedigrees from companies like Genentech and Amgen are now turning their attention to pets. They hope to develop innovative drugs for dogs and cats like those that have revolutionized the treatment of diseases like cancer and arthritis in people.

“We’ve been drugging ourselves for a long time and more recently we’ve been drugging our kids,” said Oleg Nodelman, an investor in and director of Kindred Biosciences, one of the new

companies. “Why shouldn’t our pets have access to medicine?”

They do already, of course. Many of the big pharmaceutical companies have long had veterinary drug divisions. Eli Lilly’s animal division, Elanco, for instance, had sold the company’s Prozac antidepressant under the name Reconcile to treat canine separation anxiety.

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But the new entrepreneurs say they will be more nimble and do what the big companies are not doing, just as the early human medicine biotech companies did.

The big companies focus more on livestock — edible animals as opposed to petable ones, said Steven St. Peter, chief executive of Aratana Therapeutics, a pet biotech company. Their offerings for pets are mainly vaccines and treatments for fleas, ticks and worms.

The new companies hope instead to treat diseases like cancer and arthritis. Many are trying to develop monoclonal antibodies, which are proteins made in living cells. Such antibodies, like Humira for rheumatoid arthritis and Herceptin for breast cancer, are huge sellers in human medicine but have had almost no role so far in animal health.

“I was really a little struck by the fact that the biotechnology industry didn’t really participate in animal health at all,” said Dr. St. Peter, who was a life sciences venture capitalist before co-founding Aratana. “There was this very large industry that was ripe for innovation.”

Investors seem to be spurred in part by the interest generated by the huge initial public offering in early 2013 of Pfizer’s animal drug division, now called Zoetis. Since then both Aratana and Kindred have gone public, along with Phibro, which develops drugs for livestock, and Parnell, which sells both livestock and pet drugs. Funds like Adage Capital, Baupost, Fidelity and Wellington are investors in one or more pet drug companies.

The new companies say the time is right because people increasingly view pets as members of the family and are willing to spend thousands of dollars to treat a sick animal. Pets already can get chemotherapy, knee surgery and transplants.

Americans spend “over $800 million on Valentine’s Day and $400 million on Halloween for their pets,” said Dr. St. Peter.

Americans spent nearly $56 billion on pets in 2013, up 45 percent from 2006, according to the American Pet Products Association. Veterinary care, which includes prescription drugs, accounted for $14.4 billion, up more than 50 percent from 2006.

Moreover, there are already drugs for people that can be adapted to treat the animal versions of diseases like arthritis, cancer, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and various psychological problems.

Some experts, however, say the new companies, which have yet to commercialize any products, might be overly optimistic.

“There are not a lot of unmet needs that are out there in the veterinary drug field,” said Bob Fountain of Fountain Agricounsel, a consulting firm in animal health. “Those who have tried to apply principles from the human market to animal health have had to have some lessons learned.”

One challenge could be cost. Antibodies like Herceptin and Humira cost tens of thousands of dollars a year. The pet drug executives say they can get the cost down to several thousand dollars a year, in part because pets need smaller doses.

But even that is likely to be too much for many consumers. Only a few percent of American pet owners have health insurance for their animals.

Even a big-selling animal drug might have sales of only about $100 million a year, far less than the billions for a human blockbuster. But animal drugs can also be developed far more cheaply and quickly — for $10 million or less and in only a few years, executives say.

Kindred, for instance, hopes to apply for approval of its first drug by the end of the year, barely two years after the company started.

The drug is a beef-flavored chewable version of diacerein, a generic drug used in Europe but not the United States to treat arthritis in people. European regulators are moving to restrict use of the drug because of safety, but Kindred says that worrisome side effects, like liver damage, should occur less frequently in dogs.

Kindred was founded by Richard Chin, a Genentech alumnus who later ran OneWorld Health, a nonprofit organization developing drugs for neglected diseases in poor countries.

In some cases, human drugs can be used directly in animals. But in other cases they cannot. For instance, some pain relievers like ibuprofen cause severe side effects in cats.

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Monoclonal antibodies developed for people would cause immune reactions if used in animals. Nexvet, a privately held Australian company that recently raised $31.5 million from American investment funds, has a method to “peticize” antibodies, just as antibodies developed in mice are “humanized” for use in people.

In some cases the entrepreneurs are motivated by illnesses to their own pets.

Jennie P. Mather, for instance, had just sold Raven Biotechnologies, a cancer antibody company she had founded, when her cat, Annie, died from gastric cancer that could not be treated.

“Here I was working to make cancer drugs with a process that could turn out dozens of possibilities a year,” she said. “And to go and be told, ‘Sorry, there is nothing we can do,’ it made me go and think hard.”

She started CanFel Therapeutics but was not able to raise money from venture capitalists. “I could tell within two minutes if the VC had a pet or not,” she recalled. “If they did, they would listen. If they didn’t, they would look at me as if this person is totally insane.”

CanFel turned to crowdfunding but raised only $16,800 out of the desired $87,000. But that was enough to buy lab equipment; the small staff is working without pay for now. Dr. Mather is hoping the reception that Aratana and Kindred have had on Wall Street will make it easier for CanFel to raise money once it has a candidate drug.VetDC was founded to take advantage of another trend: Pharmaceutical companies increasingly are testing their drugs on pets to get an early read on how the drug might work in people.

For instance, Gilead Sciences stopped work on a drug it was developing to treat lymphoma in people. But studies had already shown “beautiful data in people’s pets,” said Steven Roy, a former Amgen executive who runs VetDC. So VetDC is now developing that drug for lymphoma in dogs.

Some consolidation in the new industry has already begun. Aratana, which means “new” in Japanese, has acquired two other start-ups, Vet Therapeutics, which was developing antibodies, and Okapi, which was developing antiviral drugs.

Aratana already has conditional regulatory approval for two antibodies to treat lymphoma in dogs. They have the same mechanisms of action as the human drugs Rituxan and Campath. Aratana plans to start marketing one of them in October.

If the start-ups succeed, it might not be too long before established biotech companies form their own animal divisions. At least one company, Sorrento Therapeutics, recently announced it would do this.

Dr. Jennifer Creed is a ragdoll cat breeder whose passion is supported by her training as a licensed veterinarian. More articles on pet care and health are featured on this blog.

REPOST: Your Pet Explained: The Truth About Cats and Dogs

Dogs and cats both make excellent home pets, but each have distinct behaviors that leave their owners puzzled. This article provides answers to some of the most pressing questions burning in all cat and dog owners’ minds.

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If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then cats and dogs must come from Jupiter. How else to explain some of their, well, alien behaviors? Just what, exactly, is a dog thinking when he rolls around in something stinky? If a cat naps on a computer keyboard, is it because she’s expecting an email? We went to the experts (the human kind!) for answers.

My dog seems to run in his sleep. Could he be dreaming?
Perhaps. “We can’t ­really ask them,” says veterinarian Melissa Bain, associate professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, “but we think they dream.” That’s because their brain-wave patterns resemble those seen in people. “Dogs go through sleep cycles very similar to humans’, with periods of deep sleep and periods of rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep,” says Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D., an applied animal behaviorist and science adviser to the American Society for the Prevention of ­Cruelty to Animals. “Dreaming happens during REM sleep, which is also when dogs twitch their legs, move their lips, or vocalize.” ­Wonder when your own dog might be dreaming? As a dog starts to doze, and his sleep becomes ­deeper, his breathing will become more regular, says canine ­behavior ­expert Stanley Coren in his book How Dogs Think. “After a period of about 20 minutes,” Coren writes, “his first dream should start.”

Why can a cat always land on its feet?
“Cats have a very flexible spine that allows them to twist in the air and right themselves as they fall,” says ­Zawistowski. “But cats can injure themselves quite severely if they fall from high places. Every year, vets treat [many] cats that fall from windows in upper floors of apartment buildings. This is so common that it has a name, ‘high rise syndrome,’ due to the consistent nature of the injuries.”

Why do dogs like to have their bellies scratched?
“Not all dogs like it, but for those that do, it’s a way of bonding,” says Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist in Davis, Calif. Besides which, Zawistowski says, “Dogs have a difficult time scratching some areas of their own bellies. Because they’re sensitive there, the greater agility of human fingers is probably more pleasant than their own toenails.” But remember, Bain says, when a dog rolls over, “that can also be a sign of fear.” If you approach a dog that is uncomfortable or afraid, keep in mind that it could respond by showing aggression.

Do dogs and cats have a sense of humor?
According to the experts we spoke to, studies have not yet been done to assess pets’ sense of humor. But if we’re talking about a sense of fun, then the answer is yes. We humans so prize fun in dogs, we’ve ranked the breeds on a playfulness scale. Among those at the top: Irish setters, English springer spaniels, ­Airedales, miniature schnauzers, and poodles. As for cats, says ­Jackson Galaxy, host of Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell,“The fact that cats live willingly with us is proof positive they have a sense of humor!”

My dog likes to lie in mud puddles and other icky places. Why?
Mud puddles? That’s easy: In hot months, they’re like an instant air conditioner for your furry pooch. As for smelly places, Zawistowski says “nice” is in the nose of the beholder. “While rotting fish may not smell great to you, to your dog—descended from critters that scavenged for meals—it probably smells as good as fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Rolling in it is just a way to enjoy it all the more.”

Can a cat be trained the way a dog can?
Cats are not as inherently interested in pleasing humans as dogs are, “but they can be trained if there’s something in it for them,” says cat behaviorist Mieshelle Nagelschneider, author of the book The Cat Whisperer. “I’ve trained my cats to give me high fives.” Some cat owners use clicker training;learn more at

One of my cats loves catnip; the other couldn’t care less. What gives?
Catnip, a member of the mint family, contains a substance called nepetalactone that stimulates some, but not all, cats. “About one-third to one-half of all cats are sensitive to it,” says Zawistowski. “They’ll respond by rolling in it and acting intoxicated.” Unfortunately for Kitty, the catnip high lasts only about 15 minutes.

Why does my dog like to smell other dogs’ behinds?
Pheromones produced in glands in dogs’ cabooses provide info “about their sex, reproductive, and social status,” says Zawistowski. And there’s another reason: “By sniffing the back,” Bain says, “they avoid approaching a dog head-on, an action that can signal a challenge.”

Why does my cat like to sleep in weird places, like atop keyboards or inside cardboard boxes?
Simply put, it’s what their ancestors did. “In the wild, cats like to take refuge in enclosed spaces and also like to claim locations because of their territorial nature,” says Nagelschneider. “And what cat can pass up a warm keyboard? It’s made particularly special because a human is touching it all the time.”

I have a “knead-y” cat. What’s she up to?
“This remnant behavior from kittenhood reminds cats of nursing on their mother,” says Nagelschneider. Domesticated adult cats do it for attention—a good thing, adds Yin: “It’s something cats do when they are contented.”

Why do cats like to nap so much?
Cats typically sleep 12 to 16 hours a day, and because they’re crepuscular, meaning they hunt at dawn or dusk, they can be more active at night. But house cats don’t necessarily need—or want—to sleep as much as they do, says Yin. “How much a cat sleeps has a lot to do with how stimulating its environment is.” To cure Bored Cat Syndrome—the real name for this forced kitty ennui—provide your cat with toys, tiered cat trees, and cat tunnels when you’re gone, and bubbles, lasers, and fishing pole–type “prey toys” when you’re home and can play with her.

Can dogs and cats get colds from us?
Dogs and cats can get colds, with the same miserable symptoms (sneezing, coughing, ­watery eyes) we get, but they don’t catch them from us. Most viruses are unique to a species; whereas our common cold is caused primarily by the rhinovirus, most dog colds come from Bordetella bacteria or canine flu viruses, and most cat colds are due to feline herpes, caliciviruses, or Bordetella bacteria. Nonetheless, recently researchers have expressed concern about “reverse zoonosis,” in which humans pass diseases to ­animals through mutations and new viral forms. So if you are under the weather, rather than snuggling up with Fluffy, keep your distance—for her safety.

My cat always seems to gravitate toward people who either don’t like cats or are allergic. Am I imagining this?
Probably not. As with most cat behaviors, it all boils down to survival, says cat Nagelschneider. “Cats like to play it safe and approach people who are not overtly trying to draw their attention with expressions, vocalizations, and other gestures. With someone they don’t know, those gestures can feel like too much pressure and even be perceived as threatening. People who are averse to cats are often passive, and to cats, this can feel safer.”

Why does my cat like to drink out of water glasses and sinks?
“In nature, cats will avoid drinking water that is next to dead prey because the water may be contaminated with bacteria,” says Nagelschneider. “Inside the home, this instinct also applies—they want to drink water that is located far away from their store-bought food to ensure healthy water. We always tell cat owners to be sure to locate the water bowl in its own designated ‘watering hole’ area.”

Why don’t cats like sweets the way dogs do?
“Cats are carnivores; they need to eat meat and they don’t digest carbohydrates as well,” says Dr. Yin. “They are also more discriminating about food than dogs, and more susceptible to toxins than dogs. Dogs, in contrast, evolved as scavengers, living off human dump sites, and the ones that did the best at that survived. They are better adapted to eating the things we do.” And that rapture we feel over chocolate? There’s another good reason why cats instead say “Meh,” not “Meow.” Says Zawistowski: “At some point during the evolution of cats, a mutation in their sensory system caused them to lose the capacity to taste sweet.”

What is my cat trying to tell me when he rubs up against my leg?
Cats have scent glands on both their cheeks and the base of their tails, and they are leaving their scent marks. “Rubbing against humans and other cats can help maintain the very important group scent that serves as a social glue,” says Nagelschneider. “Cats feel affiliated and relaxed with those that carry the group scent.  People have the same last name in families, but cats have scent last names. Rubbing can be proprietary in nature as well, and the cat may be claiming you if he or she rubs on you. This also goes for leaving their scent and pheromones on objects they want to claim to let other cats know they’ve been there. For example, a cat may mark a couch if they can’t mark you because you’re busy putting the groceries away.”

Why do cats automatically know to pee in litter boxes?
Cats instinctually dig and bury their urine and feces, but not just for our convenience. Because a cat’s urine has a strong odor that can potentially be smelled by predators, wild cats learned to urinate away from where they slept and ate, and to cover their urine. That instinct is still strong today in domestic cats. Unfortunately, not using litter boxes (often a sign of some other behavioral problem, like stress or anxiety) is the No. 1 complaint of cat owners and the No. 1 reason millions of cats are surrendered to shelters each year. “I’ve heard of owners finding unwelcome gifts from their cats inside shoes and coffee mugs,” says Nagelshneider. “I once solved the curious case of a smelly toaster,” she says in her book The Cat Whisperer.

I’m tempted to get a DNA test to find out what breed(s) my mutt is; how do those tests work?
The canine DNA tests, which cost $60 and up, involve swabbing the inside of your dog’s cheek and sending in the sample to the research company; results come back in a few weeks. Their accuracy depends on a number of factors; if a mutt has many breeds in its background, the results will typically be less reliable than a mutt with a purebred parent or grandparent. “All dogs are descended from a wolf ancestor,” says Zawistowski. “Over time, genetic mutations gave rise to the various breeds we have today, each of which has accumulated different changes in their DNA. The tests are based on an analysis of these differences and are most reliable when the breeds are easily distinguished. It’s more difficult to differentiate between breeds that are closely related, or when one breed has been derived from another.”

Pet Power Players: Meet five social media sensations

  1. Sockington: This tuna lover with 1.3 million Twitter followers was rescued from a Boston subway stop in 2004.
  2. Menswear Dog:  Bodhi, a.k.a the canine king of style, has almost 100,000 Instagram fans.
  3. Pudge the Cat: A Twin Cities cutie with a white mustache, Pudge has nearly 300K Facebook likes.
  4. Manny the Frenchie: “The world’s most popular bulldog” (200K Facebook likes) has been in magazines and ads.
  5. Biddy the hedgehog: This 3-year-old African pygmy has more than 400K Instagram followers.

A licensed veterinarian and healthcare specialist for house cats and other domestic pets, Dr. Jennifer Creed has been raising Ragdoll cats for sale and adoption since 1994. To learn more about her and the Ragdoll cats she breeds, click here.

How to keep cats active and happy indoors

Should pet cats stay indoors? If you want them to live long, be spared from outdoor hazards, and stay far from risks of contracting parasites and infectious diseases, then it’s a wise decision to keep them so.

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Only bear in mind that keeping the cat in the house doesn’t have to mean kitty has to miss out on all the fun and die of boredom. Here are tips to keep them happy, alert, and active:

Start young. Mind conditioning works well even for felines. When kept indoors, kittens get more accustomed to the house and would most likely not think of wandering outside when they get older.

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Provide diversion. TV, video games, and other gears and gadgets make humans happy to stay indoors. A well-stocked pantry does, too. In comparison, cats would appreciate any available form of amusement to while away the time at home. Offer them scratch pads, boxes, balls, or anything they can lay their playful paws on. And since they prefer nibbles to full meals, feed them with several small snacks, or give them food toys to chomp on.

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Bring the outdoors in. Felines enjoy grazing, so make a happy spot for them by planting cat grass and catnip in indoor pots. Put them near the window so they can get a good peek of the world outdoors. Also, buy or make them a cat tree. Cats love to climb and play predator, so they would love the idea. You would, too, as it can prevent the cat from climbing cabinets and tabletops (and breaking a vase or precious chinaware as a result).

Cats, especially the Ragdoll breed, hold a special place in the heart of expert veterinarian Jennifer Creed. Visit this blog to find out more about proper feline care.