Kitty Disorders

Feline Cerebellar Hypoplasia

When a kitten is born with Cerebellar Hypoplasia, their cerebellum (the part of their brain which controls motor skills and coordination) is not fully developed. There are a few reasons why this happens: there might have been trauma while the kitten was in the womb, or the pregnant mother could have had Feline Panleukopenia Virus. Regardless of the cause, if a kitten is born with this condition, they will have difficulty with mobility for the rest of their life. The severity of this can vary from the kitten simply having a slight wobble to their walk, to not being able to walk at all. Some cats with Cerebellar Hypoplasia may have head tremors, similar to the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease in humans. These tremors happen when they are trying to focus all of their energy into walking or looking at something. It might look similar to a seizure, but it is simply a head tremor.

Cats with Cerebellar Hypoplasia often stand a little bit differently than un-affected cats.

Cats with this disorder should have a normal life expectancy unless they have other health issues. Cerebellar Hypoplasia is a non-progressive condition, but to get an official diagnosis, your veterinarian would have to perform an MRI and CT scan to rule out other conditions and diseases that look similar to Cerebellar Hypoplasia. It is important to keep in mind that a cat with this condition will be somewhat limited in their physical and learning ability. Many cats with Cerebellar Hypoplasia are not able to jump, but they can be fantastic climbers. It is important for owners to learn how to help their cats become more able to do things on their own, even though they will probably need help from time to time.

This condition can impact cats very differently and there are a variety of symptoms that can appear, as well. In mild cases, cats are pretty capable of doing things for themselves. They might waddle and have head tremors, but they can usually get around the house and go about their days without any significant problems. In moderate cases, cats have been told that they resemble “drunken sailors.” It will look like the ground is unsteady, but really their balance isn’t the best and they may walk with their paws in a wide stance to help keep their balance. Cats with moderate Cerebellar Hypoplasia will also have a noticeable head tremors and will probably be a climber rather than a jumper. Yet cats with severe cases are most likely unable to walk. They may stay on their sides, as trying to walk will cause them to fall since they don’t have control over their movements. They may drag themselves along the carpet to get around. To help your cats with moderate to severe symptoms, you can baby proof the house (padding around sharp corners or edges, for instance) or make or purchase a kitty wheelchair to help your cat get around more confidently.

An example of a homemade kitty wheelchair!

For cats with this condition, it is best that they have soft padded areas within their height zone so they won’t injure themselves if they happen to fall or get dizzy. Carpets are going to be these cat’s best friends since it will give them something to cling on to, so do not have your cat de-clawed, and put rugs on your hardwood floors if you’ve adopted a cat with Cerebellar Hypoplasia. If you have stairs in your home, make sure they are also padded, are covered by a carpet, and never let you cat go up or down the stairs by themselves. While your cat is drinking and eating, it will look like they are pecking (due to the head tremors) so food and water might spill, but messes are just a part of life. Know that the litter box will be a challenge for your cat with Cerebellar Hypoplasia, whether their case is mild or severe. To make sure litter isn’t kicked out of the box and that your cat will not fall, get or make a litter box with a low pan entrance with a high cover. You can also place a litter mat in front of the entrance to capture  some of the litter from their paws. If you need a little bit of inspiration in your life, and you’re interested in a cat that needs a lot of love, you should consider adopting a cat with Cerebellar Hypoplasia.

Feline Diabetes

This is one of the most alarming diseases and disabilities among cats and has been on the rise for years. Diabetes is when your cat cannot produce enough insulin in order to balance their blood sugar and glucose levels. If you don’t have your cat’s diabetes treated, it can lead to weight loss, vomiting, loss of appetite, depression, dehydration, and issues with their motor functions. In more severe scenarios, cats can fall into comas or die. But if treated, diabetic cats can live into their teens with a very good quality of life. In order to manage your cat’s diabetes, you can adjust their diet and add a little bit of commitment, patience, and lots of love. They may need to take medication for the rest of their lives that can be administered or prescribed by your veterinarian. The medication is generally insulin injections that have to be given once to twice a day.

Cats with diabetes often have serious weight issues.

For a proper diagnosis, your veterinarian will test your cat’s glucose concentrations in their blood and urine. Your veterinarian might ask about an increase in urination, thirst, and weight loss or weight gain. In order to take care of your cat who has diabetes, you have to: manage your cat’s diet (especially if they are under or over weight), keep an eye on changes in your cat’s behavior since it can be an indication of a change in insulin levels, become familiar and comfortable with getting into a routine of injecting your cat with insulin once or twice you a day, and take your cat to the veterinarian every two to six months for regular check-ups.

Seizures

If you cat has a seizure disability, it can be very disturbing to see them stuggle. It is scary when it happens to humans, but when it happens to our animals we can often feel helpless. For cats, seizures are generally the result of previous damage to their brain  from some kind of injury. However, some cats are born with forms of epilepsy, as well. To spot a seizure before it happens, keep an eye out for the following pre-symptoms: circling, vomiting, pacing, or loud yowling. During a seizure, the symptoms will include: collapsing, going stiff, and then convulsing with uncontrolled muscle contractions. Their jaws might begin snapping, similar to when human’s jaws chew when they have seizures. Your cat may even lose control of their bladder or bowels while they are convulsing. Sometimes the seizures are very short and your cat might be unconscious while convulsing. Afterwards, your cat will be very disorientated, and will seem blind, vomit, or have temporary paralysis, but after a while your cat will return to “normal”.

This kitty is waking up from a seizure and appears to be a bit disoriented.

When your cat has a seizure, you want to ensure that your cat won’t hurt himself. After an episode, you need to take your cat to the veterinarian (especially if it’s their first known seizure). During the seizure, you’ll need to follow some very important steps. First, stay calm. You might feel the need to run to them and might make some loud noises, but make sure you are quiet and calm. Talk to your cat in a calm voice. Keep in mind that your cat is most likely unconscious and they will probably start making movements without their control. Be careful not to be bitten or scratched even if your cat normally has no inclination towards that behavior. Move furniture away from your cat as they are convulsing, and keep all other pets away from your cat. DO NOT MOVE YOUR CAT. Moving them while they’re having a seizure could lead to them getting injured. After the seizure, your cat is going to be confused, they might not recognize you, and you could be attacked if they are in a state of shock. Give them space while letting them hear your calm voice. If the seizure doesn’t stop after a few minutes, take your cat to a veterinarian in whatever way possible.

To get a diagnosis from your veterinarian, your cat will have to have a seizure while at the office. Your cat will probably be given an injection of diazepam, but if the seizures are severe, your cat may need to be put under anesthesia. If one seizure is less than five minutes, it will probably be diagnosed as epilepsy and is usually not treated beyond stopping the initial seizure. Cluster seizures are treated with anticonvulsants for the rest of your cat’s life.

Having her head protected from the hard floor is a great way to keep this kitty safe while she’s having a seizure.

Remember that cats with disorders deserve to be loved as much as any other cat. They may take a little bit of extra time and money, but providing them with a happy, healthy life is worth it in the end. Consider adopting a cat with a disorder if you have the time and resources, and you’ll be glad you did.

Elanda-Isabella Atencio, our Feline Editor, is on her road to being a “crazy” cat lady. She has three cats; a moody Missus, a wild Baby Kitty, and notorious Fredrick Douglass. She was raised with cats, chickens, dogs, and geese. From cleaning coops, morning dog runs, picking eggs, to growing catnip, Elanda enjoys pampering her pets. Elanda is a student at New Mexico State University, earning her BA in Creative Writing and is Editor-in-Chief of the online arts journal, Independent Noise and reader for Puerto del Sol. She plans to move to Oregon, where she hopes to take her cats on daily walks when it’s overcast and cool. If you’d like to contact Elanda, email her at eincatencio@gmail.com.

Bird Tricks and Treats: Part II

In part one of this article, we learned that birds of all kinds have complicated brains and are incredibly intelligent. Due to this intelligence, birds (especially parrots) will need to stay mentally active. Providing a variety of toys and rearranging perches and swings will help keep your bird mentally stimulated. However, just using these items by themselves may not be enough for your birds. Training them new tricks and continuing to practice these tricks will keep your birds thinking as well as a providing chances to bond with you more. We already went over how to teach Step Up, so continue reading to see what else your feathered friend can learn!

Speaking

Many different parrot species have the ability to mimic human speech. Some birds have a higher chance of learning words then others. However, you can always try to train your bird to speak and if the bird just does not show any signs of learning this trick, you can always work on something different. Speech just might not be one of the many talents that your bird has. Instead, these types of birds might be more interested in learning how to whistle. You can use the same instructions that we will be going over for speaking, but replace a word with a whistle.

An Eclectus parrot such as this one has a high chance of learning to mimic speech.

1) Decide the word you would like your bird to know. Pick something simple that does not have a lot of syllables and one that you do not mind your bird repeating often. Good starter words are “hello,” “goodbye,” or even the bird’s own name.

2) Once your bird shows interest in a word, use it often. Some of the best times to train for speech is when the bird is excited. During excitement, many birds are able to remember and be more willing to repeat words. A great time for this is either when you return home and see the bird or when you enter your bird’s room. Repeat the phrase when entering. You can also set aside training time for speech where you and the bird are interacting together and you continually repeat the phrase.

3) Always speak the desired word in an excited tone. Your bird will be more enthusiastic to learn and mimic what you are saying.

4) Have some tasty treats nearby to offer to your bird whenever they are able to accomplish saying the word or something that sounds close to what you were saying.

5) Something to help reinforce speech is to have music or a video playing. Only play things that have words you don’t mind your birds learning. Every bird is different and some may pick up words that you may find undesirable.

Watching television is a great way for your bird to be exposed to more human sounds.

I personally have worked with a very fun Palm Cockatoo named Alfred who was able to repeat simple phrases during my time as an intern at an exotic animal park. Whenever I entered into the bird room where the parrots were kept, I would always say “Hello, hello, hello” while raising my voice’s pitch with each word. Alfred loved it! As I preformed my daily routines of feeding, cleaning, and general care of the birds, he would constantly make incoherent chatter that I would respond to with the same “Hello, hello, hello.” I would also play soft rock music as I swept the room which all of the birds enjoyed. Even while the music was playing, I still responded “hello” to the cockatoo’s chatter. This bird already was able just to say “hello” on his own, but before long, he began to mimic me saying “Hello, hello, hello” with the same pitch and enthusiasm that I used. This helped Alfred and I bond, and it was a fun, special greeting between us.

The silly Palm Cockatoo, Alfred, showing off for the camera.

Wave

Another good trick to teach your bird is to wave. This is a relatively simple and fun trick to teach to your parrot. It is a fun trick for your parrot to use to greet friends and can help you develop some more basic training skills. This is a trick that will best be learned with in the neutral space where your bird is less likely to be distracted. Think of a unique name for this this trick. You can use “hello” or “hi” as the command phrase but only if it’s different than a possible speech phrase. You can also use hand signals to help with the command. You can use your index finger by bending it up and down or curling down as the added command motion.

1) Begin with your bird on a standalone perch in a neutral training space. Hold a small stick-like object such as a pencil or a wooden chop stick. You need an item that will not harm the bird in case the bird decides to chew on the item.

2) Show the bird the stick object and try to peak their interest by holding the stick close to them. Try not to let the bird take the stick from you. If they take it with their beak, gently pull it away and try again.

Checking out the stick but would rather try tasting it first.

3) When the bird lifts its foot up to grasp the stick, say the command you want for wave and give lots of treats and praise.

4) Gently take the stick out of the birds grasp and repeat the previous steps a few times. Every now and then reward the bird by letting it take the stick. Let them play with it for a little while then take it back and repeat the steps some more.

5) Eventually, your bird will start picking up on the command and trick as it sees the stick. Then you can begin practicing without the stick, using only the command and any hand signals of your choosing. After you feel that the bird is familiar with this trick, continue practicing it regularly.

Completing the trick of wave “Bye bye.”

Interacting with your bird through training is a treat all in itself as it helps the bond you have with your bird. There are many other tricks out there that you may teach your bird, and you can create your own tricks with your intelligent feathered friend.

Ashley Gurnea, our Avian Editor, is a certified bird feeding specialist at Wild Birds Unlimited. A graduate from New Mexico State University, Ashley earned her bachelor degree in the field of Animal Science. She completed an internship at an exotic animal park, working with animals ranging from camels to porcupines and a variety of birds such as parrots and cockatoos. This love and curiosity of aviary has led her to her current position at Wild Birds Unlimited in Las Cruces where she remains up to date with local wild feeder birds. Growing up in a home where animals have always been present, Ashley is now a self-proclaimed “Corgi Countess” due to her love and adoration for her tricolor Pembroke welsh corgi, Colin.  Bring up anything corgi or bird related in a conversation and Ashley will be happy to share her many photos. Feel free to ask her about pet birds, and visit Wild Birds Unlimited for questions on wild birds! Ashley can be reached at ashleygurnea@gmail.com.

Caring for Your Deaf and Blind Cats

Like us, not all cats are perfect. Some of the most common disabilities both humans and cats have are deafness and blindness. But also like us, cats can live healthy and happy lives with these conditions. They may need some help along the way, but with patience, training, and letting go of our own worries, our deaf and blind cats will have joyous lives. This article will discuss deafness and blindness in cats, how it occurs, how it is diagnosed, caring for your cats, and some tips for cat owners.

She may not be able to hear, but that doesn’t stop her from being the perfect cat.

Deafness

Cats, like puppies, are born with their ear canals closed, but as they age, they gain the ability to hear. There are times when cats are born deaf and remain deaf. This is called hereditary deafness, when the inner structures of their ear degenerates. The gene for deafness is close to the gene for a white coat in cats and the gene for blue eyes, as well. In some cases, if a cat has blue eyes or different colored eyes (ex: one blue eye, one brown eye), they will probably be deaf or have hearing issues on the side their blue eye is on. However, not all white colored kittens remain deaf as they age, but most deaf kittens that remain deaf are white.

In terms of adult cats, in a lot of cases hearing loss or deafness occurs due to age-related issues. Adult cats usually go deaf due to nerve damage or other damage to the ear, but their hearing can also be affected by obstructions like infections, debris, or masses, and sometimes even some medications can affect your cat’s hearing. Some symptoms of deafness include: your cat not hearing your footsteps or voice when you are near, meowing very loudly, being unresponsive to everyday sounds (such as whistles or kissing sounds made to call your cat over), sleeping through loud and disturbing sounds, not coming to the sound of shaking food or treats.

Although beautiful, cats like this have a much higher chance of being deaf.

If you decide to take your cat to your veterinarian for a diagnosis, the vet may administer a procedure that’s called the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response. Some of the steps taken involved in this test are: taking a piece of paper behind your cat’s head to see if your cat will or will not turn; putting you hand or a piece of cloth over your mouth and hiss since it is a universal communication for cats; tapping something that makes a hollow drumming sound to check your cat’s low frequency hearing, and crackling plastic or jingling your keys while your cat is sleeping or not looking at you to test their high frequency hearing.

Unfortunately, deafness in cats is very progressive and irreversible. Hearing aids have been used for dogs, but your cat may not tolerate it and having hearing aids made for your cat may be expensive. It is very unlikely that your cat will tolerate wearing them. If you have a cat who is losing their hearing or if you have adopted a deaf cat, here are some tips that can help you and your cat adjust.

Use Your Hands and Lights as Cues

  • Wave or shake your hands above your head to express your emotions to your cats. If you don’t like a behavior your cat is performing, you can make big gestures to communicate this to your cat. Come up with a few hand gestures to indicate simple phrases to your cat. Some owners use sign language to communicate “food” or “water” to your cat.
  • Flicker your light switch(s) on and off to get your cat’s attention when you come home and enter the room they’re in. Their vision becomes even stronger part if they become deaf, so use this as a new way to communicate!

Make Sure Your Cat has a Steady Routine

  • Our cats create their own routines and like to stick to them daily. This becomes even more true when you cats losses one of their senses, so to avoid confusing your cat or stressing them, make sure you can keep up with a routine of feeding your cat at the same time as well as scooping our their cat box and playing with them as you normally would.

This deaf little baby might need a little bit of extra help as he grows up.

Keep Your Cat Inside

  • If your cat used to be an outdoor/indoor cat but is now deaf, keep them inside. It’s safer for them, especially since they will be scared, confused, and very withdrawn at first. Listening for predators or cars will be impossible for your deaf cat. Help them get used to being inside by keeping them comfortable and doing their favorite things with them. You can even consider training your cat to walk on a leash and harness so they can still get some outdoor exercise!

Blindness

Another important and vital sense for cats is their sight. Even though your cat’s vision is at its sharpest looking at an object that is two to three feet from their face, they can also see clearly in 1/6th the amount of light that humans need. They have a high rod to cone ratio that allows them to find the slightest movement, and unlike dogs, cats are not color blind. However, some cats are not born with the ability to see, or they lose their ability to see as they age. Kittens are born with their eyes closed because their optical systems are still developing. Their shut lids provide protection from bright light, pathogens, and debris or dirt. Not all kittens remain blind, but if they do, it’s more than likely due to the gene I mentioned earlier that’s related to the deaf gene and the gene for a white coat.

Any injury to your cat’s eyes can potentially cause permanent blindness. If your cat suffered a head injury, you need to take your cat to a veterinarian right away as severe head trauma can lead to blindness or other life-threatening conditions. Years ago, my cat Missues was scratched in the corner of her eye near the bridge of her nose by my dad’s cat. I was terrified because all I saw was blood. Thankfully, my mother cleaned up the blood and took Missues to the veterinarian right away; she didn’t suffer from any serious injuries, just a laceration of the inner lid which healed up in about a week. If this injury had been any more severe, Missues could have gone blind in that eye.

Luckily, this is NOT how Missues turned out! You can never be too careful, though.

Conjunctivitis is another illness that can cause blindness in cats. It’s the reddening and inflammation of the pink membrane that lines your cat’s eyelid. Herpesvirus (otherwise known as FHV-1) is the most common source of conjunctivitis. If your cat is diagnosed with conjunctivitis, you’ll need to take your cat to be seen by a veterinary ophthalmologist fairly regularly for treatment. Mycoplasma and Chlamydia can also cause conjunctivitis. Sometimes cats can be hit with “sudden blindness”, aka Feline Hypertension. This illness is often accompanied with hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, or diabetes. Cataracts can also cause blindness. This is when the opacity of the lens is affected; occasionally surgery can remove the lens and restore your cat’s sight. Tumors such as as Iris Melanoma, eye lid tumors, or brain tumors may also cause blindness in your cat. In these cases, removal of your cat’s eye is protocol. Glaucoma is one of the most prevalent causes of blindness in cats, and Progressive Retinal Atrophy is an inherited condition that cannot be stopped and results in total blindness.

If you cat is slowly losing their sight, was born blind, or has recently lost their sight, here are some tips for you to help you cat with their disability and to keep them happy, safe, and healthy.

Keep Bowls and Litter Boxes In The Same Place

  • Its very important to keep your cat’s litter boxes, water, and food bowls as well as their cat beds, cat scratchers, and toys in the same place so your cat can find them when they need them.

Do Not Move Your Furniture

  • Your cat will have a normal routine since they will memorize their home, but if you move your furniture, you will confuse and probably scare them. If you have to move furniture, do it gradually and introduce your cat to the new location of the furniture so they can re-form the map in their head.

Blind and beautiful.

Be Your Cat’s Guide

  • Your cat will be dependent on you, so they may follow you and want to be with you all the time. Start speaking to your cat like you would a person when you exit or enter a room so they will feel comfortable knowing where you are. Also speak to them to avoid scaring them before you touch them.

Baby Proof Your Home

  • Pad the sharp corners of your kitchen counters and bubble wrap corners of walls so you cat won’t get hurt by objects they can’t see.

Scents For Your Cat

  • Cat’s respond to pheromones. You can purchase pheromones at your local pet stores that help relax cats and calm them down. You can spray their cat beds and cat trees so they know where to go, and what is safe.

Using these methods, your deaf or blind cat can live a long, happy, fulfilling life just like any other cat. If you are thinking of adopting a cat, consider looking into adopting a deaf or blind cat. They may have a few extra requirements, but they deserve as much of a chance of a happy life as those who are unimpaired.

Elanda-Isabella Atencio, our Feline Editor, is on her road to being a “crazy” cat lady. She has three cats; a moody Missus, a wild Baby Kitty, and notorious Fredrick Douglass. She was raised with cats, chickens, dogs, and geese. From cleaning coops, morning dog runs, picking eggs, to growing catnip, Elanda enjoys pampering her pets. Elanda is a student at New Mexico State University, earning her BA in Creative Writing and is Editor-in-Chief of the online arts journal, Independent Noise and reader for Puerto del Sol. She plans to move to Oregon, where she hopes to take her cats on daily walks when it’s overcast and cool. If you’d like to contact Elanda, email her at eincatencio@gmail.com.

Therapeutic Riding – Changing Lives For The Better

For thousands of years, the horse has assisted the human in numerous ways including during battle, in industry, as transportation, and for pleasure. Using horses as therapy is often considered a modern form of treatment. However, historical records show that the ancient Greeks already recognized the many health benefits of therapeutic riding.

This young boy is going to benefit greatly from therapeutic riding!

Since October was National Disabilities Awareness Month, we look at therapeutic riding for the disabled and how it improves the quality of their lives.

What is Therapeutic Riding?

Therapeutic riding is a unique form of therapy using horses.

It provides many different benefits to people with special needs and conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism, mentally challenged, amputees, paralysis, ADD, and down syndrome. It assists individuals with different challenges in a positive way, improving their physical and mental well-being. 

History of Therapeutic Riding

As far back as 600 B.C., Orbasis of ancient Lydia documented that riding horses was more than just a form of transportation and noted the value that it had on those with handicaps.

In 1875, the French physician, Cassaign, documented his study of riding horses as a form of treatment for different conditions. He concluded the improvement in posture, balance, and joint movements as well as significant psychological improvements.

In England during 1918, a physiotherapist known as Miss Olive Sands took her horses to a hospital outside of Oxford to test riding as therapy for soldiers wounded in the trenches in World War One. Many patients were amputees, and they discovered that they felt less pain when riding.

Lis Hartel

Lis Hartel deserves a special mention, as she was the chief motivation behind the start of riding centers for the disabled across the world.

Lis Hartel, a Danish dressage rider, won individual silver for her country during the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952 and again in 1956. She was the first woman to represent her country on an equestrian Olympic team and was also the first female medalist.

What makes Lis Hartel even more remarkable was that she competed at the highest level with a significant physical disability. In 1944, aged only 23 and pregnant with her second child, Lis was struck with polio, leaving her paralyzed below the knees and affecting her arms and hands.

Lis gave birth to a healthy daughter and was determined to continue her dressage career. After three years of rehabilitation with the help of her mother and her husband (and against medical advice), she eventually rode again.

The magnificent Lis Hartel and Jubilee.

Lis was unable to mount and dismount the horse on her own, so her husband would lift her on and off of her horse. When she won the silver medal in 1952, the gold medallist, Henri Saint Cyr of Sweden, carried her from her horse, Jubilee, onto the podium, which is considered one of the most emotional moments in Olympic history.

Shortly after the Helsinki Olympic Games, Lis, along with her physical therapist, founded the first Therapeutic Riding Center in Europe, which she always considered her greatest achievement. The medical community took notice, and, eventually, other Therapy Riding Centers opened in Europe, North America, and across the world.

After her retirement from competitive dressage, Lis travelled globally giving demonstrations and raising money for polio sufferers, as well as supporting riding for those with disabilities. She died February 12th, 2009 aged 87, but her legacy lives on.

The Benefits of Therapeutic Riding

Therapeutic riding for the disabled has numerous benefits and is considered one of the most effective forms of rehabilitation. It also allows the rider to experience a unique connection to the horse that other activities are unable to provide. For those who see the world from a wheelchair, riding a horse allows them to be above everyone else for a while as well as experience the feeling of walking.

Other benefits include:

  • Enhanced posture, balance, strength and coordination
  • Increased self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-control
  • Teaches empathy, responsibility, and patience for a living creature
  • Improved respiration and circulation
  • Uses muscle groups the rider would not usually use
  • Assists in the emotional and physical well-being of the rider
  • Helps social interaction and communication skills
  • Teaches rider to follow directions and concentrate on a task
  • Develops gross and fine motor skills
  • Allows rider to have fun in the fresh air

Therapeutic Riding Lessons

The therapeutic riding lesson is carried out in an enclosed area under the guidance of a qualified therapeutic riding instructor. For lessons to go ahead, centers rely heavily on their volunteers.

So many people are involved to help one child work on his balance.

For each rider, one person is required to lead their horse along with one or two side walkers. It is very much a team effort, and volunteers are given training before taking part in the riding sessions.

Leaders are responsible for controlling the horse before, during, and after the lesson, helping him follow the directions given by the rider and ensuring both of their safety.

Side walkers walk beside the horse and provide physical and emotional support to the rider, helping and encouraging them to reach lesson goals. Volunteers must understand how to interact with the students as their attitude has an enormous impact.

Lessons begin with a warm-up session using various exercises to help the rider stretch their muscles, find their balance, and build up their confidence.

The rider learns how to control their horse. They are required to say their horse’s name before giving the command to “walk on” or “stop” to help create a bond. Those unable to communicate verbally give a gentle tap on the horse’s neck with their fingers.

The lesson consists of steering and controlling exercises, for example, maneuvering in and out of cones, going over ground poles, and stopping at a particular place.

An example of an arena used for therapeutic riding.

Different types of games are built into the lesson to encourage problem-solving and decision making by matching shapes, colors, letters, numbers, and pictures. They are also often required to carry items when riding or throw a ball or hoop, using each of their hands to improve their coordination skills and strengthen both sides of their bodies.

Horses Selected for Therapeutic Riding

Many owners kindly donate their horses to be used in therapeutic riding programs. There is no particular “type” or breed of horse that is selected, and they all vary in age, size, confirmation, and temperament. Qualities are based very much on the individual horse.

Not every horse is suitable for the job, and there are some specific requirements needed before an animal can receive training. In most cases, the horses must have the following characteristics and skills:

  • Sound in all three gaits
  • Under the age of 20 years old
  • Free of any medical issues
  • Sweet natured
  • Low flight response
  • Ability to tolerate many people and loud noises
  • 14 to 16 hands in height, suitable for both children and adults
  • Well schooled in either English or Western riding
  • Good manners on the ground, i.e., for being lead, groomed and tacked up

During the training and trial period, the horse is exposed to all aspects of a riding lesson without a disabled rider on its back.

Going through her paces to see if she’ll make a good therapeutic riding horse.

This training includes exposure to loud noises and music, learning to be lead next to a handler, responding to their body language and rhythm, tolerating items such as batons and flags handed back and forth and carried by the rider, and the ability to stand still when mounted from a ramp. They must also learn to accept items such as wheelchairs and not spook at them.

Once a horse is accepted into the program, as well as taking part in lessons, his work will consist of long lining, longeing, hacking out, and schooling in all three paces by an able-bodied rider.

Changing Lives

Studies have proven that therapeutic riding has a positive impact on those with disabilities, improving their quality of life. Many make rapid progress in comparison to other treatments and can often carry out tasks on a horse that they are unable to do in a clinical environment.

Therapeutic riding also brings people together from all walks of life, from the riders themselves to professionals from the equine and medical professions to the many volunteers who give up their free time. And of course, let’s not forget that noble creature the horse who makes therapeutic riding possible!

A unique friendship is made during lessons.

If you wish to volunteer for therapeutic riding lessons or if you know someone who would benefit form therapeutic riding, contact your country’s organization for centers in your area.

LAS CRUCES, NM

NMSU Therapeutic Riding Program

http://trp.nmsu.edu/

USA

PATH International – Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International

https://www.pathintl.org/

Canada

Canadian Therapeutic Riding Association

https://www.cantra.ca/en/

UK

Riding for the Disabled Association Incorporating Carriage Driving

http://www.rda.org.uk/

Australia

Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia Ltd

http://www.rda.org.au/

Alison O’Callaghan, our Equine Editor, is a professional horse riding instructor and has owned many types of pets. When she is not riding horses or walking her dog, she loves to write about animals. If you’d like to contact Alison, you can email her at ocallaghan462@gmail.com.

Three Legged Cats and More

We love our pets! One of the reasons why we have family dogs and or cats is to experience a close bond with a furry family member who love you unconditionally. Unfortunately, not all pets receive this love or bond with humans because they have birth defects or past injuries making them handicapped. Naturally, humans like to look at what is beautiful and attractive. But what is also natural are birth defects, and accidents can affect animal’s ability to do basic actions. Many animals are not adopted or cared for because of these defects. In the same manner that someone would not ignore a blind woman crossing the street, many people are choosing to care for cats with birth defects or who have suffered from injuries leaving them handicapped. In this article, I’ll go over some disabilities that cats can have, some advice of how to care for your loving special-needs kitty, and some stories of amazing and kind cat owners who provide their kitty the best and happiest life they can possibly have.

All cats should be given the opportunity to have a good life.

Three Legs

When you bring a cat into your home, you are accepting a large amount of responsibility, patience, and work. However, when you have a three-legged cat, they will require extra care and caution. In some cases, cats are born with three legs. This can happen if the umbilical cord is wrapped around one of their limbs, cutting off circulation. However, in other cases, a cat may be born with a deformity that results in the loss of one of their limbs. Most three-legged cats have had a leg amputated because of injury or a past illness.

Any pet will have a difficult time adjusting to life on three legs, unless they were born missing a limb. Adapting to three legs will be difficult for cat and it will cause more work for you. Keep in mind that your cat may feel depressed and be very inactive. They may also suffer from phantom limb syndrome and feel as if their missing limb is in extreme pain. Your cat may feel confused and think they can still count on their missing leg when jumping or climbing. With enough love, gentle petting, space, and help from YOU, your cat should return to who they were before, just with one less appendage.

This cat seems to have perfectly accepted her missing limb.

  • Your cat used to jump from the recliner to the coffee table and make their way onto the top of a 5-foot cat tree without hesitation. Now, your cat will have issues with what used to be routine. Rearrange the furniture to enable your cat to move from one piece to another so they can still enjoy the travel and get to the top of their cat tree safely. For example, provide small pet steps against the side of your bed or against the cushion of the couch so you cat can still reach their favorite places.
  • Begin playing with your cat with toys when their mood brightens up to help them become more active and to strengthen their remaining limbs.
  • Using the litter box may be a challenge for your cat, too, because the step into the litter box or a cover concealing the space can be intimidating for them. You may have to help your cat into the litter box at first and be there to make sure they can keep their balance while they use the restroom, cover their feces and urine, and clean themselves afterwards.
  • Don’t overfeed your cat. They may become depressed and try to comfort themselves with food and weight gain can become an issue. Feed them as you normally would.
  • Accept your emotions and your cat’s. As you give your pet physical, moral and metal support, allow yourself to be comforted in someway, too.

Extra Toes

If your cat has extra toes, that is because that’s just how they were born. And who doesn’t love kitty toes?! I know I love their cute little toes. If your cat has extra toes, they are considered a Polydactyl Cat (or a Hemingway cat because he was a HUGE cat lover and had more than fifty cats, half with extra toes). Essentially, what happens in utero to cause this is when a kitten inherited the autosomal dominant trait of the ZRS cic element of the PD gene with an incomplete penetrance. Lots of big, confusing words; let me break it down for you. Autosome is a chromosome that is not a sex chromosome, and when ZRS cic element of PD gene was not in proportion to the mother or father cat carrying a certain variant of a gene that is because the gene had either an incomplete or reduced penetrance.

So many toes!

Cats normally have eighteen toes, with five toes on each front paw and four toes on their back paws. Some kitties with extra toes can have as many as twenty-eight toes! Not much has to be done to make sure your cat’s toes aren’t injured other than being extra cautious about them. They can occasionally be surgically removed based on their location and the health hazards they may possess. Extra toes are often unusable and can easily get snagged on fabrics which could hurt the toe. Be extra careful when checking their paws for any splinters or cuts so you don’t spread their toes too far apart. You don’t want to cause any injury while making sure your cat is okay.

Cleft Palates

Cats can be born with cleft palates just like humans can. A cleft palate is an abnormal opening in the roof of the mouth and it occurs because the two sides of the roof of the mouth (the palate) did not come together and fuse during the embryonic development while your cat was in utero. This results in an opening between the nasal passages and the mouth. Some symptoms that your cat can experience include: a runny nose, a lack of appetite, coughing, weight loss, pneumonia (caused by liquids and food entering the cleft and infecting your cat’s lungs), difficulty nursing, and respiratory issues. If you have a kitten that was born with a cleft palate, you should take them to your veterinarian as quickly as possible. Your kitten and momma cat may have to stay at the vet for a while so they can monitor your kitten’s health while continuing to enforce a bond with their mother and allowing them to nurse. Your veterinarian will probably suggest surgery to repair the birth defect, but it is often postponed until your kitten is three to four months old. Keep in mind that multiple surgeries are typically necessary for the total closure of the palate.

Spina Bifida

For those of you who are not familiar with Spina Bifida, it is a condition that can affect dogs, cats, and humans. Spina Bifida is caused when the spinal cord is left exposed at birth because the vertebrae did not completely grow around the spinal cord. The condition can range from a small portion of your cat’s spinal cord being exposed to the entire spinal cord being exposed. This is typically discovered through x-ray. If their lower-back is affected, this leads to the diagnosis of Spina Bifida. Some symptoms of this birth defect are great to little hind limb weakness or frequent stumbling when your cat walks. Other symptoms include: cavity or swelling of the spine, a buildup of fluid in the spine that can lead to infection and swelling, limping, and neurological signs like paralysis or seizures. Your cat may also have a hard time using the restroom if they don’t have the strength to properly hold their own body weight.

Your cat may benefit from a kitty wheelchair!

Unfortunately, there is not much of a treatment for extreme cases of Spina Bifida for cats. Kittens and puppies are often euthanized when they are diagnosed. However, some owners of cats with Spina Bifida have been able to provide their cats with happy lives. With frequent trips to the veterinarian to make sure your cat is doing well, getting antibiotics if needed, and giving them a soft diet to make it easier for them to go to the bathroom, your cat can live a happy, fulfilling life. To give your cat more independence, you can always buy a pair of Wheel Cats for your cat’s rear legs. They know their limits and will be grateful that you have given then the opportunity to run around the house and play with you just like a regular cat would.

Cats with special needs should be given a chance to have a good life, just like their healthy counterparts. Consider adopting a special needs cat because you might be just what they need to have a happy, fulfilled life. Odds are, they’ll make your life a brighter, happier, more loving place, too.

Elanda-Isabella Atencio, our Feline Editor, is on her road to being a “crazy” cat lady. She has three cats; a moody Missus, a wild Baby Kitty, and notorious Fredrick Douglass. She was raised with cats, chickens, dogs, and geese. From cleaning coops, morning dog runs, picking eggs, to growing catnip, Elanda enjoys pampering her pets. Elanda is a student at New Mexico State University, earning her BA in Creative Writing and is Editor-in-Chief of the online arts journal, Independent Noise and reader for Puerto del Sol. She plans to move to Oregon, where she hopes to take her cats on daily walks when it’s overcast and cool. If you’d like to contact Elanda, email her at eincatencio@gmail.com.

Bird Tricks and Treats: Part I

The saying “bird brained” has sometimes been used as an insult. The truth of the matter is that birds of all kinds have complicated brains and are incredibly intelligent. Due to this intelligence, birds (especially parrots) will need to stay mentally active. Providing a variety of toys and rearranging perches and swings will help keep your bird mentally stimulated. However, just using these items by themselves may not be enough for your birds. Training them new tricks and continuing to practice these tricks will keep your birds thinking as well as a providing chances to bond with you more. Let’s learn some tips for training and a few simple tricks to begin with.

A parrot having fun and enjoying a Halloween treat.

Training Tips

When you’re first starting to teach your companion bird, make sure they are already somewhat comfortable with your presence. Some tricks may require you holding the bird while others can be expanded upon to achieve physical contact. Setting the pace for training is up to the bird. Positive reinforcement is the best way for the bird to progress. Because of their intelligence, birds will remember the reward they receive consistently when preforming the trick, however, they will also remember punishment or any negative reinforcement.

The best item to help with positive reinforcement is the use of treats. Treats are an excellent way to show that your bird is performing the correct activity. Training treats are a bit different from regular, everyday treats. A training treat is a treat that is highly desired by the bird but is also not so filling that they will become full during the training session. It is a special, favorite treat that they do not get often. Some possible training treats include a bite of sprayed millet, seeds, nuts, bird pellets, fruits, and vegetables. You can remove the bird’s food from the cage for a maximum of three hours before training sessions so that your bird is a bit hungry and will have a greater response to treats. Also, you can offer different treats throughout the training session. Start out with a treat that the bird enjoys and as training session continues, offer one that is more desired and finally towards the end, offer their favorite treat. For example, let’s say you are training your cockatoo: you first offer it a sunflower seed after each correct action in training, as the bird progresses maybe offer out a pellet treat that it enjoys. Finally, when your cockatoo has done such a good job in training for the day, give it a bite of fresh banana for each correct action until you are ready to end training.

Peanuts are a possible special treat.

It is always important to stay patient with training. In this same thought pattern it is also helpful to keep training sessions short. When the bird starts to act out or lose interest, it is best to end training for the time. You can do a few training sessions a day with break times in between. Training should take place in a safe area without places for the bird to fly off and potentially get injured and training should also take place in a neutral space. Neutral spaces are areas that is not designated as “the birds” space or areas that can be defined as “your” space. Often a bathroom works well as a neutral space. Bathrooms typically have minimum things hanging from the ceiling, is a space that neither you nor the bird spend great quantity of time in, and is an easily-controlled small space. However, for some tricks it might be easier to begin in the birds cages versus the neutral space. It all depends on the type of trick you are teaching and if it’s one that will be used while your bird is in the cage.

When training, it is important to take small steps. Remember that when you’re just starting to train your bird, you will not have the trick mastered by the end of the session. Keep working on it for several training sessions and continue to revisit the trick often so you and the bird do not forget it. It is always important to end all training sessions positive note. Ending positively helps you and your bird wrap up and feel accomplished even if you do not feel like much progress has been made. When you end on a bad note, you and your bird will feel frustrated and it is likely you will also both feel this way when you’re starting the next session. Ending in a good, positive way will make both of you feel successful and start the next session fresh and renewed.

Step Up

The trick of “step up” is a great one to start a birds training with and can become a use full everyday trick to know. The goal of “step up” is to have the bird step onto a surface such as a perch or a hand where you can then transport the bird somewhere else calmly and safely. This is a great trick for when your bird becomes more use too human contact and is an easy way to place them in and out of the cage. This is a trick that you can begin to train your bird inside its cage and is a good trick to begin with a shyer bird.

A hesitant budgie trying a bite of millet.

1) To begin “step up”, you can start with your hand open inside their cage, holding some treats while your bird is on a perch. Your goal is to have the bird feel comfortable eating out of your hand or even standing on your hand. The treat is both a lure and a reward at this point, and you should praise your bird for accomplishing each step in training.

2) Next, you are going to hold the treat in one hand and have the other hand either holding a perch for the bird to “step up” on, or have your hand with one or two fingers pointed so they can “step up” onto it. Hold the item that you want the bird to “step up” on in front of the bird on the perch but at a higher level than the current perch, just below the bird’s chest level. Hold the treat behind the “step up” item to help entice the bird onto it. When the bird puts a foot or completely moves onto the “step up” item, say the command “step up” while in fluxing your voice higher on the word “up”.

3) Once your bird is comfortable on the “step up” item, slowly move that item over and behind their original perch so that it becomes the new step up item. Situate the bird so that the new “step up” item is a bit higher then where your bird is currently standing, about the bird’s chest level. Say “step up” with the same voice flux as before and lure the bird onto this perch with a treat.

One small step for bird.

4) Finally, when your bird is more comfortable with the step up command, you may remove it from its cage using this command and practice this trick more. Using both hands as a continuous ladder makes a fun and easy way to practice this command.

Stay tuned for Part II coming out soon!

Ashley Gurnea, our Avian Editor, is a certified bird feeding specialist at Wild Birds Unlimited. A graduate from New Mexico State University, Ashley earned her bachelor degree in the field of Animal Science. She completed an internship at an exotic animal park, working with animals ranging from camels to porcupines and a variety of birds such as parrots and cockatoos. This love and curiosity of aviary has led her to her current position at Wild Birds Unlimited in Las Cruces where she remains up to date with local wild feeder birds. Growing up in a home where animals have always been present, Ashley is now a self-proclaimed “Corgi Countess” due to her love and adoration for her tricolor Pembroke welsh corgi, Colin.  Bring up anything corgi or bird related in a conversation and Ashley will be happy to share her many photos. Feel free to ask her about pet birds, and visit Wild Birds Unlimited for questions on wild birds! Ashley can be reached at ashleygurnea@gmail.com.

Six Ways to Get Your Cat to Like Using the Litter Box

Do you have a problem with your cat not liking their litter box? Not only does it make a stink around the house, but it’s such a hassle to clean up after a cat that hates litter! Fortunately, there are ways to remedy that. So read on as I show you the six ways to get your cat to like using the litter box.

Even if you have the best automatic litter box or the fanciest toys, your cat may not like (or isn’t used to) using the litter box. That’s why I rounded up these six tips that are proven easy and effective methods to follow:

An automatic litter box.

Have More Than One Litter Box

One reason as to why your cat may not like the litter box is because he has competition with other cats, or because he isn’t able to access the one you have at all times. It’s best to have one litter box per cat and an extra one just in case. This is for convenience for your cat. And it will lessen the tension if you have cats who have to compete for the litter box. After all, some cats don’t like to share!

Check the Litter Box’s Location

Another reason why your cat isn’t fond of his litter box is because of its location. Make sure that you put it in a strategic area where it is easily accessible but low in traffic. Cats enjoy their privacy and would want something they can quickly go to when they need. Do not place the litter box near their food (who wants to do their job near where they are eating?) and keep it on the ground floor if they are unable to climb up the stairs.

This litter box is a bit of a tight fit.

Get the Right Litter Box

It is best to have the right litter box that your cat enjoys. It should be comfortable for him to sit in, where it can accommodate your cat’s body while making it easy for your cat to go in and out. You may want to have something with a lid that contains any spilling or odors, but your cat may also prefer the open space. See what works for your cat to ensure comfort and to encourage him to do his business there.

Purchasing the Correct Cat Litter

It may not be the litter box your cat hates, but the cat litter itself. The cat litter shouldn’t only benefit you regarding containing odor and clumping, but it should also be easy on your cat’s paws. Opt for softer cat litter that has a fine texture, rather than large and chunky pieces. Consider the scent as well, since cats have sensitive noses and want something without any strong aroma.

Clean and Maintain the Litter Box Well

No one likes to do their business in a dirty bathroom, so your cat won’t like it when he enters a messy litter box. Through cleaning the litter box and scooping out litter often, it will encourage your cat to use it. Sanitize them regularly as well and wash it with hot water and a product that cleans enzymes once a month. Refill the litter and replace the litter box when needed.

Nobody wants a dirty bathroom!

Observe Your Cat’s Behavior and Their Feces

There may be times that your litter box isn’t the problem, but your cat himself has a problem. He may have trouble excreting his poo, or he has had behavioral changes that can be a symptom of underlying conditions. If there are ever other issues with your cat other than his digestion (such as being angry easily, change in appetite, or excreting everywhere without control), then it’s time to take him to the veterinarian. He will be able to diagnose the problem to address the real issues at hand.

In Conclusion

I hope that this article on the six ways to get your cat to like using the litter box helped you out! So don’t wait any longer and start investing in the right products for your furry pet today.

If you have any questions or would like to share your tips and experiences on how to get your cat to like using the litter box, comment down below. I would love to hear what you have to think.

My name is Ella Woods, and I am 29 years old. I am a stay at home mother and wife who writes in her free time so that I will not go crazy! The things I write about is the experience I go through personally, and I want to share that knowledge with you. Check out my blog, Housinghere.com!

Rats and Surgery: Part One- Making the Choice

I’m going to start this article with a disclaimer. The ultimate decision as to whether or not your pet needs surgery can only be made after a discussion between yourself and your vet. In writing this article, I am not implying that my choices must be yours, instead my intention is to offer insight into some situations that may require surgery and my own personal experiences in those circumstances.

Mac, a young, healthy rat.

As pet owners, we all want to make the right choices for our fur babies, no matter what their size or species may be. We all hope that they will live happy, healthy lives, but we know that sometimes accidents and health issues get in the way of their longevity, and when that happens, it is up to us as owners to decide on a path for the future. As a rat owner who has had to make some fairly difficult choices regarding surgery, I hope to sum up some of my experiences here so that others who end up in a similar position can take comfort in knowing that they are not alone in this journey. Again, I must emphasize that my story is not your story and the best way to make a choice on surgery is with an appointment with your veterinarian who can properly diagnose, pre-check, and discuss options that are available to you. With that being said, let’s look at some scenarios.

Cancer

The first thing every pet owner must expect when they decide to bring home their rat is that a diagnosis of cancer will most likely be in their future. Out of all of the rats I have owned, most have passed from some form of the disease, complications from it, or have had a tumor removed in order to extend their lives. The most important thing to know about the treatment for cancer is that it is the same as it is with humans: early detection. Regular, thorough petting of your rat should reveal even the slightest lump in any part of their body and if you are attentive, you can catch these lumps quickly and have a higher chance of successful removal.

Clay has developed a soft mass in her mammary area, a common location for females. She is young and healthy, so surgery is in her future.

Once the the need for surgery is determined, there are several things a rat owner should discuss with their vet regarding their options:

  • Weight – The weight of your rat is one of the most important elements to take under consideration when deciding to go ahead with surgery. An obese rat or a rat that is severely underweight may have difficulty during the procedure and it is important to ask if your rat’s weight should be taken into account.
  • Age – In our family, unless our rat is extremely healthy, we begin to question the safety of an operation by the time a rat is one and a half years old. Most often, we are able to go through with a surgery beyond that age, but not all rats are the same and so we discuss our rat’s age with the vet before we agree to have anything removed.
  • Family History – Most pet owners don’t know the family tree of their rats, but if you are lucky enough to have some idea, there are several things to think about. Questions to ask here are: How many rats in this family have had complications from surgery? Have any rats in this family been diagnosed with a heart or breathing condition that could be genetic? How many rats in this family are or have been afflicted with severe cancer that required operations? Share known information with your vet so that they can help you make an informed decision on what step to take next.
  • Location – Is this tumor in a place that is accessible through operation? Some parts of the body are easier to operate on than others, just as some parts of the body heal better than others. A tumor found in the folds of skin has plenty of excess tissue to stitch back together, where a tumor near the bone does not.
  • Recovery – If all of the above are tests that your vet thinks your rat can pass, you then need to talk about recovery. There are plenty of post surgical recovery tips that I will cover in a later article, but if you are not willing or able to give all of your efforts into this recovery process, will your pet suffer more post surgery than they are now? Will their recovery be short, or will their life expectancy far surpass the recovery time involved for the procedure?

There are times when surgery is not an option, but that does not necessarily mean that the happiness of your pet is at risk or that drastic choices about their lives should be made. In some instances, rats are capable of living long lives, even while their tumors grow. Part of the decision making process must be a discussion with your vet about weighing the risks with looking at their life expectancy and quality of life without surgery.

One of our rats had cancer in the spine, which consumed the lower half of her body. Obviously surgery was not an option, however because she was paralyzed and had no feeling in the affected part of her body, our family consulted with our vet and made the decision to allow her to live her life to the fullest. Together, we monitored her pain levels and she had regular checkups and a few x-rays, but in the end she passed away from old age, not any kind of complication from the cancer itself. In another, more common example, one of our most recent rats, Lee, was not a candidate for surgery due to the combination of his age and weight, so we made the choice to let him live as he was rather than risk his health and life further by attempting to remove the tumor at his side. With regular monitoring of his condition, the option of helping him cross the rainbow bridge was available to us when we are certain it was the time, rather than in surgery.

Lee, unable to have surgery due to his age and size, lived happily for many months before euthanasia was required.

Accidents and Injuries

Though none of us want bad things to happen to our pets, we know that there are occasions when your curious little angel gets into trouble. Hairless rats are particularly susceptible to accidental injury, even just while playing with their brothers or sisters. In these cases, a pet owner often has to make the decision of making an emergency vet visit or waiting until morning for a diagnosis. The most important thing to do is monitor your rat. If you can not stop the bleeding, if they seem to be in extreme pain, or if you are worried that the wound is too deep, you will probably choose to make that after hours appointment. Some cuts, scrapes, and even gashes will be survivable overnight, but those are usually detectable only with experience. If you are ever in doubt, it is best to call the vet.

The option of surgery here varies and most of the above rules from cancer apply. It is always important to keep your rat’s age, weight and family history in mind whenever anesthesia is involved, but in these cases, location and depth of the wound are typically the most important considerations. You will be surprised how quickly a deep wound heals in your pet rat and often you will have the ability to care for them with simple pain medications and regular cleaning and monitoring of the wound.

A naked rat with a puncture wound. The bleeding stopped, so the choice was made to visit the vet during normal business hours. (Image quality reduced due to graphic nature.)

Infections

As clean as rats are, infections are still a possibility. Most of these will not require surgery, though it is possible that some may. Most often, your vet will clean the infected area, remove any dead tissue, and examine the exposed site regularly to check for signs of proper healing. These open wounds can look particularly gruesome, but it is important to remember that rats are quick to heal and, with proper care, the wound closes rapidly and without further incident. There are rare instances, however, where a choice for or against surgery must be made.

Many years ago, one of our rats, Becket, was bitten by a spider, the tissue decayed around the bite wound, which happened to be just above our poor boy’s most private area. Initially he was expected to make a full recovery with a simple cleaning of the location and non-surgical removal of dead tissue. Over the course of a week, we realized that with the affected area so dangerously close to his penis that the topic of surgery had to be discussed. This was the worst example of necessary surgery that we could possibly have imagined and we were forced to go through our list.

  • Weight – Perfectly healthy for a rat his age, lean, and active.
  • Age – A little closer to the cut off than we generally prefer, but after talking with our vet, we decided that our rat’s excellent health outweighed the age risk.
  • Family History – One of his sisters did not recover well from surgery, however, other family members had. It was decided that the one difficulty with anesthesia was an isolated incident.
  • Location – This is a VERY difficult area, with plenty of complications, however the wound was just off to the side enough that our veterinarian (who is one of the best surgeons we have ever seen) was confident that he would be able to repair the damage without causing issues with the urinary tract. On the other hand, leaving the wound to heal on its own actually exposed the urinary tract to the possibility of being severed by accident.
  • Recovery – Our boy’s movement would need to be severely restricted and he would need careful monitoring to be certain that urine came out of where it was supposed to and not the surgical area. Once the wound healed he would lead a perfectly normal life, with no risk to his life at all.

Weighing everything, the choice was made to risk the surgery and our miracle worker spent one of the longest periods of his career performing one of the most complicated tasks that he had been faced with. The result? A happy, healthy boy who lived a long life with his family in our home.

Recovered and reunited. Becket (bottom) enjoys a snuggle with his cousin Lorne.

The Final Choice

As far as the history of the universe goes, rats have been popular as pets for only the blink of an eye, but in that short span of time more and more veterinarians have learned how to treat these sweet, loving creatures. In the end the choice to have surgery is yours, but having that choice available brings rat owners into the same circle with many other animal lovers around the world. All of us want only the best for our fur babies, and now, with technology and research constantly expanding, more of us have the option of scheduling surgery in order to give their rat the quality of life they deserve as members of our family.

Mirrani Houpe, our Small Animal Editor, has had rats since she took home her first little boy once they both completed the second grade. Since that time she has owned, rescued and bred many kinds of rats, from many backgrounds. She may not be a vet, psychology major, or scientist, but her babies have her very well trained when it comes to how to care for them. She is constantly working with her family’s veterinarian to come up with new and innovative ways to love and care for the most often misunderstood rodent in the pet world. You can e-mail her at mirrani@yourpetspace.info

Traveling with K2 the Wonder Dog: On the road again

Eclipses, Pronghorns, and Bears, Oh My!

Welcome once again to the adventures on the road with K2 the Wonder Dog! K2 is my 2 ½ year old yellow Labrador Retriever. He is my second lab, named after the first one, Kojak. His full name is Kojak Version 2.0 (K2 for short). I call him the ”wonder dog” because I always wonder what he is thinking!  My husband and I have been RVing and traveling with dogs for quite a few years. I hope K2’s adventures will help you learn to enjoy traveling with your dog as well.

The handsome K2!

Our latest adventure was a 35 day RV tour heading north for the total eclipse in Glendo, WY, then on to Glacier National Park in Montana, Waterton Lakes, and Banff National Parks in  Alberta, Canada. Lake Louise was the northernmost point of our tour, after which we headed down to Yellowstone and Dinosaur National parks before heading to the New Mexico Good Sam RV rally at the Route 66 Casino and RV Resort in Albuquerque. Along the way, we visited my brother’s family and their dogs, Mojo and Lucky, as well as a friend’s farm in Colorado and their Labrador, Tucker.

Our first stop was in New Mexico at the Pecos National Historic Park. The historical  ruins were interesting to explore. K2 was allowed to walk on the trail with us. This is sometimes true in our National Monuments and National Historic parks, but not in the US National Parks where dogs aren’t allowed.

The lovely Pecos National Historic Park.

On to the eclipse! Whenever we attend events, we like to volunteer if at all possible. It makes the event more enjoyable for us, and helps us to connect with the local community. Estimates had the attendance in Glendo, WY and nearby parks at 70,000-90,000 people – for a town with a population of 204.  A total eclipse is a wonderful experience. It was the most awe inspiring sight I have ever witnessed, leaving me with a feeling of deep spiritual connection to our earth and a reverence for the power and beauty of our sun. K2 enjoyed the pre-eclipse events, with multiple walks into town from the grass airport we were stationed at in Glendo as the airport security volunteers in charge of parking.

It is recommended that dogs not be out during the eclipse itself, and if they are, to expect strange reactions. K2 was safely tucked away in the RV with the shades closed during the totality. But we heard a few other dogs barking and howling. All dog owners I spoke to before the event started were aware of the possibility of issues and were prepared, either by planning to seclude the dog, or by making sure they were firmly restrained.

Properly prepared for the eclipse!

After leaving the eclipse area, we spent a few days meandering up to Glacier National Park. As is true for all national parks in our country, dogs are NOT allowed to hike on the trails, but are restricted to the campgrounds and public parking areas. While in our campground at Glacier while walking K2, we saw a mother bear and two cubs. We quickly changed direction and returned K2 to the RV. Always make sure when you are in an area with wildlife to be extra careful with your dog. Always keep your pet on leash, and make sure his collar or harness is properly secured at cannot be pulled off by the dog lunging on the leash.

The next stop was Waterton Lakes National Park, just across the US-Canadian border in Alberta, Canada. Unlike US parks, Canadian National Parks allow dogs to hike on almost all the trails. Our first stop in Waterton Lakes was Crandall Mountain campground, where we had planned to hike up to Crandall Lake with K2. However, signs of bears on the trail and the berry covered bushes on both sides of the trail made us decide to return to the campground. Later, we spoke to some other campers that had seen a mama grizzly with cubs up at the lake, confirming our decision to avoid the area. Since it was huckleberry season, and the campground area was covered with huckleberry bushes, we encountered numerous black bears near our RV.

At one point, I was outside in my lawn chair snoozing, the dog restrained on his leash snoozing next to me, when I heard K2 start softly growling. Opening my eyes, I saw a bear grazing on the huckleberries about 15 feet in front of me. I immediately grabbed K2’s leash, then quietly, but urgently, asked my husband Jim to open the RV door. It turns out that Jim been quietly trying to wake me and had woken K2 who then alerted me to the bear’s presence. We scurried into the safety of the RV and watched the bear as he grazed and ambled across the berry covered field toward the trees. I never felt threatened by this bear – he was oblivious to us, enjoying his berry feast – but that can change in a split second. You can never be too careful with wildlife.

A much safer way to encounter a bear!

After leaving the Crandall Mountain campground, we went to the Waterton Township campground, where you can walk along the lake, take boat tours, and explore the town’s shops and restaurants. There were many deer along the lake and in the campground. I am equally cautious about animals you might not think of as dangerous – deer and other ungulates can easily kill or injure your pet with their hoofs and horns. We often think of these animals as tame and meek, but they are wild and will fight to protect themselves and their young. Whenever you are in an area with wildlife, no matter how well-behaved and controlled you think your dog is, don’t walk them unrestrained – use a leash. Your perfectly trained and controlled dog may disregard your commands and charge an animal that acts aggressive or unusual in order to protect you – and may well wind up paying for it with severe injuries, or even their life.

Our next stop was Lake Louis in Banff National Park. The campground had a lot of warnings about bears, but berry season here was over, so we did not encounter any bears in the campground. However, both in the campground and at the top of the gondola, there were electric fences and gates to keep the bears out of some areas. The campground was next to the river, so K2 had many great walks along the river with stops to swim (always staying on leash, of course!).

Our stop at the west side of Glacier National Park on our path toward home was cut short by sever fires in Glacier. The Apgar campground was very smoky, so we left and continued down to Yellowstone. In Yellowstone, we saw bison along the road, one of our favorite sites in the park. K2 viewed the bison out of the RV window when we stopped by the side of the road to watch them. In all honesty, K2 gets equally excited by cows crossing the road in front of the RV. He just doesn’t think they should be in the road. He doesn’t care if they are on the side of the road.

Beautiful wildlife.

Our next couple of stops were at the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area and Dinosaur National Monument. The Flaming Gorge Lucerne Marina campground was infested with pronghorn. K2 had done well with all the other wildlife we encountered, but the sight of so many animals, all so willing to bound away from him when he simply walked too close on his leash, was truly an exercise in dog control for me. I think the way they bounce and run invoked some deep primal instinct in K2. I had to constantly watch for the pronghorn, and check outside on both sides of our RV before venturing outside with him.

In conclusion, it can be a lot of fun to travel with your dog, but it does take some forethought and planning particularly if wildlife is involved. Join me for K2’s next set of adventures.

Until next time – get on the road and enjoy some time with your dog!

Deborah Ivey is a Las Cruces transplant. She describes herself as a high-tech gypsy, having moved frequently throughout her life wherever her work takes her. Now retired, she travels with her husband, Jim, and their dog K2, both by car and in their RV. She loves to explore new places, and find fun activities for herself and her dog to enjoy together.

Caring For The Older Horse

Your horse is changing, so how you care for them has to change too.

Many older horses are living lives that are longer and that have a higher-quality due to improved equine nutrition, parasite control, veterinary care, and alternative therapies. (See our previous two articles about equine alternative therapies here and here!)

In many equestrian disciplines today, horses often don’t reach their peak until their teenage years. The equine “golden years” are considered to start between the ages of 18 and 20 but, like humans, some horses maintain an excellent body condition and continue to be full of energy, whereas others deteriorate quickly.

To keep your older horse in good shape, it is vital that he has a program that includes sufficient exercise, correct feeding, regular deworming, and vaccinations. He should also receive regular check-ups from both your veterinarian and your equine dentist.

Aging Process

Horses over the age of 15 are considered seniors by equine insurance companies.  Premiums are higher as older horses are more prone to illness and injuries.

A young girl with her older horse.

The aging process affects the veteran horse in many ways:

  • Loss of ability to absorb nutrients adequately
  • Loss of muscle tone
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Weakening of bones and joints
  • Stiffness
  • Increased dental problems
  • Immune system less efficient
  • Issues in regulating body temperature
  • Grey hair around eyes and muzzle
  • Grey horses become whiter and speckled
  • Depression over eye becomes more hollowed

Weight Issues

Older horses have trouble either keeping weight on or keeping it off

The Thin Horse

Reasons that your veteran is losing weight can include:

  • Not enough food
  • Dental problems
  • Competing with others in the herd for food
  • Worms
  • Picky eater
  • Progressive stage of Cushing’s disease

An older horse that is not receiving enough feed or has an unbalanced diet is prone to infections or anemia and it is also likely that they will feel the cold more during winter.

To add calories, use a high-fat supplement (such as vegetable oil) along with soaked sugar beet pellets. A cup of oil can be given twice a day in the feed, but remember to introduce it gradually.

This horse is grazing healthily!

Ensure that his teeth are checked regularly and have a worming program in place.

Monitor your veteran if he is out in the paddock with a herd as senior horses tend to have a lower rank and can be easily bullied. It may be better to bring your horse inside for feeding, or feed in a separate paddock.

Consult your veterinarian if your horse still doesn’t gain weight, or you have any other concerns.

The Overweight Horse

Reasons your older horse may be overweight include:

  • Too much feed
  • Lack of exercise
  • Metabolic disease or early stage of Cushing’s disease
  • Hormonal or insulin disorders

If your veteran is overweight, you need to be very careful as it can lead to laminitis. It also puts an extra strain on the joints. Make sure your horse receives regular exercise and a proper diet.

If your horse doesn’t lose weight, consult your veterinarian who can investigate further.

What To Feed

Older horses require a higher amount of protein, at least 12-14%, and between 7-10% of fat. They need feeds that are easy to chew and highly digestible along with the best quality hay. Hay cubes provide a good dust-free alternative.

There are many commercial feeds available, designed for the needs of the aging horse. However, if your senior maintains a good body condition and good health on regular feeds, there is no reason to change unless you begin to notice a difference in him.

Giving a vitamin and mineral supplement helps your veteran to metabolize fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, and Omega 3 oils help prevent arthritis and laminitis.

Horses with worn down or missing teeth need their feed pellets and hay cubes soaked to create a mash to help prevent choking. The water also helps to maintain intestinal function. Soaked sugar beet pulp is also an excellent addition to the feed.

However, each horse is different and has its own unique nutritional needs. If you are not sure what to feed, discuss with your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist who can recommend a suitable diet for your veteran’s age and condition and any disorders they may have.

Drinking Water

Your veteran’s water-drinking habits may change as they age.

To ensure that your horse drinks enough and doesn’t become dehydrated, provide loose salt along with a salt block to encourage him to drink water.

In winter, your veteran should be given warm water as he is unlikely to drink icy water.

Observe your veteran’s drinking habits. Drinking water excessively could indicate that something is wrong so consult your veterinarian for an appointment.

Worming and Vaccinations

As your horse starts to age, his immune system becomes less efficient, leaving him more prone to disease and reduced resistance to parasites.

Make sure your veteran’s vaccinations are kept up-to-date and have a regular worming program in place. Schedule a twice-yearly fecal egg count to ensure your program is effective.

Teeth

Owners are very aware these days of the importance of having their horse’s teeth checked regularly, particularly in older horses.

As the horse ages, his teeth wear down at various lengths or even begin to fall out. They can also develop diastema, where there are gaps in between the teeth can become packed with feed, causing painful gum disease.

Your horse may also have sharp edges or hooks in his teeth that cause discomfort to him.

If you notice balls of feed (‘quids’) dropping out your horse’s mouth, he may have difficulty in chewing. Also check your horse’s droppings for poorly digested food particles.

Dentist check-ups are vital for your senior horse!

Other signs to watch out for are bad breath, “playing” with the water but not drinking, or jerking his head away from water. Your horse risks choking, colic, diarrhea, and weight loss if he doesn’t chew his feed properly.

Have an equine dentist check your horse twice a year. If you notice problems in between, schedule the dentist to come before the next check-up is due.

Veterinary Wellness Check

Your veterinarian should perform a thorough examination on your veteran at least once a year, checking his weight and body condition score, soundness test, and an assessment of any dental needs.

Your veterinarian will also take blood samples to check for problems such as infection, insulin resistance, or Cushing’s disease. Any findings in the results may mean that your horse requires medication and a special diet along with correct management.

Common conditions in senior horses include:

Cushing’s Disease

This disease is a malfunction of the horse’s pituitary gland.

Signs include:

  • Long, curly coat
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Muscle wastage
  • Tiredness
  • Fat deposits around neck and above eyes
  • Abnormal sweating
  • Prone to infection
  • Laminitis

The condition is incurable, but it can, however, be controlled by the appropriate medication, clipping the coat, weight control, regular dental checks, and correct feeding.

Arthritis

Arthritis is widespread in older horses and it affects the joints.

The signs are:

  • Swelling around joints
  • Lameness
  • Stiffness
  • Reluctance to move forwards

Contact your veterinarian if your horse shows any of the symptoms described so they can examine him by carrying out flexion tests and x-rays.

Arthritis can be managed by anti-inflammatory drugs and by giving a joint supplement. Your horse should be turned out and exercised when possible.

The Horse’s Feet

Veteran horses require more foot care than their younger counterparts.

It is important that your veteran has his feet trimmed regularly as his hooves are less likely to crack, reducing the chances of abscesses and other lameness issues. Good hoof balance encourages even weight-bearing and places less strain on the joints.

Exercise

Exercising your veteran improves his appetite, digestion, and muscle tone, and is also good for his mental health. However, it all depends on your horse’s abilities.

When exercising your veteran, don’t overdo it as he will tend to tire more quickly than a younger horse. At the beginning of your ride, walk him for at least ten minutes, giving him the chance to loosen up. Allow him time at the end of the session as well to stretch and cool down.

Older horses overheat easily, so, on hot days, ride him early in the morning or late evening, or not at all if it is boiling.

Have the fit of your saddle checked regularly by a qualified saddle fitter as your veteran’s body shape will change. A saddle with an adjustable gullet is ideal.

If it is not possible to ride your horse, then he should be hand-walked and go out in the paddock as much as possible. Ensure that he has appropriate shade, and in the winter, make sure he is warm enough, putting a rug on if he is thin or appears cold.

Final Thoughts

By managing your older horse correctly, he can enjoy a decent quality of life. Monitor his condition regularly and pay attention to any changes in his behavior and habits, seeking veterinary advice when necessary.

Alison O’Callaghan, our Equine Editor, is a professional horse riding instructor and has owned many types of pets. When she is not riding horses or walking her dog, she loves to write about animals. If you’d like to contact Alison, you can email her at ocallaghan462@gmail.com.