Recent posts in the Q & A category. Click a title to view the full post.

Be Prepared for Outdoor Adventures

Jackets can help protect dogs against the cold winds.

Jackets can help protect dogs against the cold winter winds.

Outdoor adventure with canine companions is a favorite area winter past time. We live in a winter wonderland to be sure, but it is not without peril. Since we most often recreate miles from medical care, learning some field first aid and carrying supplies is a good idea.
      Canine First Aid Kits – Ask your veterinarian for suggestions about your particular dog’s needs and medical supplies. Basics may include: an ace-type bandage, nonstick pads, athletic tape, skin glue, antibiotic ointment, Benedryl (or generic plain antihistamine), tweezers or needle-nose pliers, wire cutters to free a dog from a snare or fencing, small scissors or sharp knife, disinfectant and pet-friendly anti-inflammatory medication. Canine first aid kits are available at sporting-goods and pet supply stores. If you don’t have a kit, you can improvise with socks for leg bandages or secure a shirt on the wounded area to protect it until you have access to proper medical care. It’s also a good idea to get a canine first aid book to familiarize yourself with detailed medical responses.
      Climate and Conditions – We do get the occasional sunny and warm winter days and don’t think about dogs overheating, so pay attention to how much they’re panting and let them rest until their breath normalizes. Always carry water and a collapsible bowl and make sure your dog stays hydrated. During hunting season, your dogs should be wearing safety orange – why not get a backpack for them to carry their own first aid kit, water and bowl in a bright color? Light reflecting properties on any canine-wear and bells are also smart. In addition to keeping your dog from looking like prey, bells and brights will help you spot your pet more easily when they’re off leash. Never let your dog off leash during a storm or extreme conditions; they are far more likely to lose their scent and become lost.
For short-hair dogs, smaller dogs and those sensitive to the cold, or for extended cold-weather jaunts, fleece coats and dog booties are recommended. Dogs are at risk for hypothermia and frostbite if exposed to below freezing temperatures for more than short periods. Look for lethargy, muscle stiffness, lack of co-ordination, low heart and breathing rates, fixed and dilated pupils, and collapse – these increasingly serious symptoms are a warning that your dog needs to get to a warm place and may require Veterinary care if their body temperature does not return to normal quickly. Being wet will intensify cold’s impact. Always dry your pets’ paws thoroughly when coming inside to remove any salt, ice and moisture so they won’t lick the area and worsen conditions.
      Wounds – If your dog is limping or licking a particular area, stop and assess. Is it a bur, a cut, or possibly a strain or break? If the cut is large enough to notice, they usually need medical attention within 12 hours. Paw pad cuts often need stitches and dogs’ coats hold enough bacteria to exacerbate infection. The old adage, “Dogs’ mouths are cleaner than humans’,” is a myth – licking the wound won’t disinfect it.
Traps are a serious hazard to dogs off leash and off trail. Snares can be cut and springs may be released, but studying the techniques, having the tools, and a second person to calm the dog will make a big difference in minimizing injury severity. For a snapping trap, you must compress and secure the trap’s springs; the jaws cannot be pried open otherwise. You may use a leash, rope or belt to create a pulley system to release the springs. If you’ve reviewed your canine first aid book before you head out, you’ll be more comfortable doing triage and using supplies – but in most cases, a visit to your Veterinarian as soon as feasible is an important follow-up step.
      Toxic Ingestion – Is your dog vomiting, having diarrhea or lethargic? Do they often eat sketchy stuff? Carry hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting if you suspect they have eaten something toxic or poisonous- call a vet first as inducing vomiting is not recommended for certain substances. Usually hydration is helpful to replace fluids, but in some cases can make it worse. Either call or take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible since different toxins require different responses and many seemingly innocuous things – sugar-free gum, anti-freeze, raisins, Tylenol, wood glue – can quickly become fatal even if the animal’s symptoms are mild. It may be nothing, but if it is dangerous then it is likely time sensitive too; so don’t delay.
The great outdoors are waiting for you and your best friend to romp in and you’ll enjoy yourself more knowing you’re ready to face potential hazards.

Red-Eared Slider Ban

Red-eared slider turtle

Red- eared slider turtle

Owning a red-eared slider turtle without a permit from Fish, Wildlife, and Parks is now illegal in Montana. These turtles, named for the little red markings on their heads, have been popular as pets and purchased from pet stores for many years. Unfortunately, too many owners have regretted their decision and released their turtles into the wild. Due to their adaptability and omnivorous diet, these turtles have the ability to edge out native species. In fact, they are listed among the top 100 most invasive species in the country.

The Humane Society of the United States is working on a relocation project for many of the sliders currently living in Montana. These turtles will be collected and driven to Burro Lake in Texas. Included in this project is an offer to relocate any turtles currently being kept as pets to prevent them from being released into the wild. Surrendered turtles from all over the state are being taken care of- and taught to swim in ponds, catch food, and be wild- in Billings by Humane Society Wildlife Capture and Field Project Specialist Dave Pauli. In October, they and the many sliders captured from local waters, will make the trip to Texas.

What does this all mean to Montana turtle owners? If you have owned your turtle prior to July of this year, you may keep it so long as you obtain a permit. Unregistered turtle owners can be fined $100. You have the option of surrendering your turtle to avoid any issues. If you have questions, or a turtle, contact Stafford Animal Shelter at 406/222-2111 or the Billings office of HSUS directly at 406/255-7161.



Should I Get a Lizard?

Jocehanna is a young Savannah Monitor

Jocehanna is a young Savannah Monitor

Yes, that is one neat looking critter! Before you take the plunge and adopt one, take a moment to consider the special needs (and the cost of those needs) that lizards have.

Unlike a cat or dog, who can roam through the house and handle the varying temperatures and humidity levels that our area brings us, lizards need very specific conditions in which to thrive. They need a certain temperature at night, another during the day, and an even warmer spot to bask in. That means that you need to supply them with heat and basking lamps.

Lizards need to be kept on a circadian rhythm (regular dark and light times to simulate night and day), so you will have to control the lighting in the summer and winter when our days and nights are not equal in length. Regular lamps won’t cut it, either. They need bulbs that can provide the UVA and UVB rays that they would get from the sun if they were in their natural habitat. Though the bulbs may produce light for an extended period of time, they need to be replaced every six months as they lose their ability to provide the proper amount of UV rays.

The proper humidity level must be maintained according to the specific needs of the species. Some are originally desert dwellers who need their habitat to be dry while others hail from the tropics and need a more moist living space. This means investing in a hygrometer and being prepared to adjust their environment as needed.

Providing a terrarium that is large enough for the animal to be happy is important. This can be a major consideration as some species, like the Savannah Monitor, can average 3-4 feet in length (though some can be as long as 5 feet) and need a very large tank, about the size of a sofa. They also need places to hide in and things to climb in their habitats.

Any droppings need to be removed from the tank daily as well as any food that is not eaten. The whole tank needs to be thoroughly cleaned regularly.

Be prepared to feed your pet live prey. Crickets and mealworms are common food items. Depending on the species, cockroaches, earthworms, and even mice or chicks can be a part of the diet. This means that you need to provide a living area and quality food for the prey as well. Many also require vitamin and/or mineral supplements that can be costly.

Not all lizards appreciate being handled. Some, if socialized well and often during their early years, become tame. If that handling is not continued throughout their lives, they can revert to no longer accepting human touch and react aggressively. This can pose a real danger with some species- the adult Savannah Monitor has a bite powerful enough to break the fingers of a human.

Lizards can pose another health hazard to humans: They carry a bacteria called Salmonella that can cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal cramping. Sometimes this can even lead to a hospital visit. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that children under 5, older adults, and anyone with a compromised immune system does not touch lizards or their tank and its contents. Those who do handle these animals need to be sure to wash their hands very well afterward.

Like any other pet, lizards need to have regular physicals and can become ill or injured. Finding a veterinarian who treats these animals can be difficult, especially in a more rural area.

Many pet lizards can live 10 to 15 years. This means taking them into consideration when making future plans about finances, moving, or expanding the family.

Having a lizard as a pet can be an entertaining and rewarding experience. Before adopting one, be honest with yourself if you are able to afford the time, money, and space in your home that they need.

What is My Cat Doing?

Maybe cats like salad, too.

Maybe cats like salad, too.

Cats are endearing creatures that have a knack for capturing human attention. Proof of this can be found in their popularity as internet stars. Though we may be enamored of them, and we may have millions of photographs and videos of them, they still baffle us with some of their quirky behaviors. We may have more questions than answers, but we do know a few things.

What, for instance, is the deal with the “stinky face?” You might see your cat smell something, like your gym shoes, then lean back with a strange look, his nose wrinkled and his mouth open for a moment. Though it may look like he is trying to convey that you need to invest in odor eaters, he is actually exhibiting something called the flehman response. You see, on the roof of a cat’s (and many other species’) mouth, there is something called a vomeronasal organ. It is a pair of small sensory organs that can trap odor molecules and transmit the messages from them to the cat’s brain. This is especially useful for picking up pheromones, which are chemical messages that animals use to communicate with one another. That weird face they make helps them to usher scent molecules to this organ.

Pheromones, by the way, are the reason for another cat behavior- rubbing their faces on objects, people, and other animals. When your cat rubs against your leg, he is transferring pheromones from glands in his cheeks to your pants. This effectively marks you as part of his kitty club. Facial pheromones are also good for keeping cats calm; there are several versions of synthetic pheromones that you can use to quell feline anxiety.

You may have noticed that your cat likes to repeatedly catch and release his prey, effectively prolonging a hunt. While there doesn’t seem to be a reason that behaviorists are 100% sure is correct, one of the theories is that your cat may be leery of being bitten or pecked by his catch and is trying to tire it out before getting serious. Another theory is that he is just enjoying the experience of being one with his inner tiger. Most cats will hunt, even if they are well fed pets. Whether or not they actually eat the prey may depend more on their hunger level.

After finally completing his hunt, your cat may bring you his catch as a gift. Many behaviorists feel that this is his way of trying to teach you to hunt. Mother cats teach their kittens about hunting and what (or who) to eat by first eating prey in front of them, then bringing them a deceased prey animal of their own. Female cats are especially likely to bring you these awkward gifts. Your cat may have noticed that you lack certain mouse capturing skills and is trying to teach you how to survive.

Cats are carnivores. In fact, they cannot synthesize certain proteins and must eat meat to survive. So, why does Kitty feel the need to munch on grass or houseplants? This is another behavior that has several possible theories. One of which, and perhaps the most widely used, is that cats eat grass to relieve upset an upset stomach by causing vomiting. This may or may not be true. Not every cat who eats grass vomits and as to their intentions, we can only speculate. Another theory is that they may enjoy the activity or be enticed into playing and chewing by the subtle movements of the plant. The attention from household humans when munching on a plant may actually reinforce the behavior and become the cause. And, it just may be possible that cats enjoy a little salad from time to time. If your cat likes greens, try investing in a tray of cat grass. You can find them in most pet stores.

Finally, what about that defining cat characteristic, the purr? Cats purr in a variety of situations, like when they are content, nurturing the bond between queen and kitten, nervous, or in pain. Exactly how they make this sound is a bit complex, but studies suggest that the purring noise is created by the muscles that open and close the space between the vocal chords. These muscles contract and relax rapidly, almost like a twitch. When the air from their breathing hits these muscles, the purring noise is made. Some of your cat’s cousins purr, like the puma and the bobcat, while others, like the lion and the cheetah, can’t.

While we still have many unanswered questions about our feline friends, we do know that they make terrific and entertaining companions.



If You Care, Leave Them There

This  baby bunny was born to pet rabbits.

This baby bunny was born to pet rabbits.

Stafford Animal Shelter often gets questions about rescuing wild animals, especially the irresistible – and seemingly helpless – babies. It is certainly heartwarming that so many people are concerned for local wildlife. However, these good intentions are often counterproductive. Often little ones seem to be orphaned but it’s common among many species to hide their babies from predators while the parents search for food. Young animals may appear vulnerable but are actually self-sufficient, rabbits for instance are ready to survive on their own as early as 3 weeks old. A common misnomer is that if you touch an animal it will be rejected by its parent – this is rarely, if ever, true. However, don’t touch wildlife unless they are in immediate danger from dogs, cats, or cars. And if removed from danger, they need to be returned near where they were found to be reunited with their extended families. Tragically, the lives of many young wild creatures are derailed by people taking removing them from the wild in a misguided desired to “save” them.

It’s illegal to have wildlife at home without special permits. Period.

Caring for Wild Animals Is Difficult or Impossible. Appropriate care for wild animals requires considerable expertise, significant funds, specialized facilities, and lifelong dedication to the animals. Each animal’s diet is unique and can’t be met by domestic animal formula or other specialized food even if it is labeled for “wild” animals. Wildlife can die of nutritional deficiency within a few days. Young wildlife who do survive human “assistance” have missed experiences that teach them to fend for themselves. If these animals are released back into the wild, their chances of survival are minimal. Often their resulting attachment to humans compels them to return to places where people live, only to be attacked by domestic animals or hit by cars.

Baby Animals Grow Up. Infant animals can be irresistibly adorable – until the cuddly baby becomes bigger and stronger. The instinctive behavior of an adult animal replaces the dependent behavior of the juvenile and their demands for food commonly manifests as biting, scratching, or destructive behaviors without provocation or warning. They typically become too difficult to manage and are confined to small cages, passed from owner to owner, or disposed of in various ways. There are not enough reputable sanctuaries to properly care for unwanted wild animals.

Wild Animals Spread Disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages direct contact with wild animals for a simple reason: they can carry diseases that are dangerous to people, such as rabies, herpes B virus, and Salmonella. Rabies, virtually untreatable when contracted by human, is primarily carried by wildlife. Thousands of people get Salmonella infections each year from contact with reptiles or amphibians, causing the CDC to recommend that these animals be kept out of homes with children under five. A recent outbreak of monkeypox was set in motion when small mammals carrying the disease were imported for the pet trade and infected native prairie dogs, which were sold as pets.

Domestication Takes Thousands of Years. Wild animals are not domesticated simply by being captive born or hand-raised. Dogs and cats have been domesticated by selective breeding for desired traits over thousands of years. These special animal companions depend on humans for food, shelter, veterinary care, and affection. Wild animals, by nature, are self-sufficient and fare best without our interference and their instinctive behaviors make them unsuitable as pets.

Capturing Wild Animals Threatens Their Survival. When wild-caught animals are kept as pets, their suffering often begins with capture – every year millions of birds and reptiles suffer and die on the journey to the pet store. After purchase, their lives are likely to be filled with misery as they languish in cramped backyard cages or circle endlessly in a cat carrier or aquarium. More commonly, they become sick or die because their owners are unable to care for them properly. The global wild pet trade continues to threaten the existence of many species in their native habitats and those returned to the wild can disrupt ecological balances.

Having any animal as a pet means being responsible for providing appropriate and humane care. Where wild animals are concerned, meeting this responsibility is usually impossible. People, animals, and the environment suffer the consequences.