If you have avoided having poinsettias in your home because of small children or animals, you’re not alone. But despite the commonly held belief that poinsettias are toxic, they aren’t. This myth seems to have originated in 1919 with a misattributed poisoning of a child and perhaps persisted because several members of the same family as the flower are quite toxic.
These leaves, however, aren’t meant for your salad, so eating even a couple can give you an upset stomach or cause vomiting. This is the reaction commonly seen in dogs and cats, but since these symptoms are mild, oftentimes no veterinarian care is required, although you should contact your vet if your pet is sick for more than a few hours.
While it seems that cats, and in rare circumstances, dogs, can become infected with SARS-CoV-2, there is no need to panic. Pets tend to exhibit very mild symptoms and make full recoveries. There’s no evidence at this time that COVID-19 can be spread from animals to humans, and although the same cannot be said for humans to animals, the transmission rates seem very low.
Consider these pros and cons before attaching a bell to your cat’s collar.
Does your cat bring you dead animals? While this common behaviour is kind of yucky, it’s also sort of endearing – your cat is bringing you what she believes to be an excellent gift. But despite their generous intentions, hunting by domestic cats is affecting ecosystems and pushing some species to extinction. So what can you do to keep your cat from catching wildlife? There are two primary solutions to consider: keep her inside, or attach a deterrent (such as a bell) to her collar.
A closer look at the options
Of course, the easiest method of preventing your cat from killing birds and rodents is to keep her inside all the time. In the safety of your home, your feline’s exposure to prey animals will be limited to any mice that happen to get into your house. If you aren’t willing to curb your feline’s wanderlust, a common alternative is to attach a bell to her collar to alert wildlife of her approach. But is this a safe and effective option?
The pros and cons of bells
A number of studies have looked at whether or not bells help prey escape from cats, and the general consensus is yes! Bells on collars seem to reduce the amount of prey caught by about half, which could be enough to no longer pose a threat to ecosystems.
Effectiveness aside, many pet parents worry that a bell will hurt their cat’s ears. According to Veterinary PhD student Rachel Malakani, a collar bell will produce sound at about 50-60 dB, but studies have shown cats to be unaffected by sounds under 80 dB. While some cats with anxiety may not react well to the bell’s sound, it’s likely that the majority of cats simply won’t care.
Some owners worry that as well as alerting prey, a bell would also alert large predators to a cat’s presence. While this is possible, given most predator’s acute hearing, it’s unlikely that the relatively quiet noise of a bell would make the difference between your cat getting detected or not. If you live in an area where your cat is at risk of being attacked by large animals you should probably be keeping your cat indoors anyway, or at least supervise their outdoor activities. You can also invest in a cat enclosure, which will allow your feline to enjoy the fresh air safely!
If you’re unwilling to put a bell on your furry buddy, you do have another option – cat bibs. Sold under names like Birdsbesafe, these devices are brightly colored to alert potential prey to the cat’s presence before they can pounce. While your cat might look a bit silly wearing a rainbow bib, the scientific research on these products shows they reduce predation rates by roughly the same amount as bells. That said, the devices that rely on color to alert potential prey work much better on birds (who have very good color vision) than they do on small mammals (who generally have quite poor vision).
If you’re scared of attaching any collars or collar-mounted devices to your felines – you shouldn’t be. While fears that cats can become strangled or trapped by a collar caught on debris are common, actual adverse effects from collars are rare. One study looked at 107 veterinarian practices and found only one collar-related injury per every 2.3 years, with collar-related deaths being even rarer. You can mitigate your fears further by using a breakaway collar.
If your cat ventures outdoors, especially if you live in an area with endangered species, please do your part to aid conservation efforts by outfitting your kitty with an anti-hunting device.
Cat scratch disease (CSD) is an infection resulting from a scratch or bite of a cat (or, in rarer cases, dogs or other animals). It is not the same thing as Cat Scratch Fever, an album by Ted Nugent, although CSD can cause a fever, as well as swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, neuroretinitis and headaches.
CSD is the result of an infection by Bartonella henselae, a bacterium commonly transmitted to cats via the cat flea (yes, cats and dogs usually have different fleas). Rarely, ticks and spiders can also carry the bacterium, and transmit it directly to humans.
Kittens are more likely to carry Bartonella henselae than adult cats due to their underdeveloped immune systems, and are much more likely to bite or scratch their owners while learning how to play gently. But anyone who is exposed to cats of any age should take care to clean any wounds well to avoid risk. Bartonella henselae can also be transmitted to humans via cats’ saliva, so as sweet as it may seem that Fluffy is licking your wounds for you, probably best to wash it and wear a Band-Aid.
For veterinarians, CSD is actually considered an occupational hazard. Vets are frequently in close proximity to many cats, oftentimes cats that are acting aggressively and are more likely to bite or scratch. One study found Bartonella DNA in 32 of the 114 veterinarian patients they tested.
CSD is diagnosed via blood test, or simply by considering the symptoms of the patient, the most obvious of which is a swollen blister or sore and red area surrounding the infected bite or cut. Those who are immunocompromised (such as patients with HIV), very young or very old are more likely to be infected, and rates of infection generally increase during spring in North America, likely due to the birth of many new kittens.
So while they may be as cute as anything, cats do still pose a risk to their owners, and not only because they may destroy your favourite furniture.
The kitty in the picture is named Jean-Charles and he is available for adoption from the Réseau Secours Animal in Monteal now!
Dogs are dichromates whereas humans are trichromates. That means that our eyes contain 3 different types of cone cells, each of which are responsible for detecting a unique colour (for a description of both rods and cones, click here). That’s why every colour you can think of is a combination of the 3 primary colours.
But dogs only have 2 types of colour-sensing cone cells, and instead of them sensing red, blue or yellow, they’re tuned to violet and yellow-green. This means that dogs have less sensitivity in their green, yellow and red detection than humans. But conversely, humans have less sensitivity in their blue and purple detection than dogs.
And cats? Well they are a bit of a mystery. We know that they have at least two types of cone cells, one tuned to violet and one to green. But there have been studies the showed evidence of a third type of cone cell, one sensitive to light at 500 nm (greenish-blue to us). Other studies have rejected this finding, and yet others have found evidence of a cone cell sensitive at 610 nm(red to us). Currently, it’s believed they have vision similar to rhesus monkeys, called photopic trichromatic vision. In essence, they likely see similar colours to us, but not quite in the same clarity or saturation.
Cats’ and dogs’ vision systems evolved to help them hunt. They’re better at seeing movement than still objects; they see best in low light rather than bright; and they have larger visual fields (up to 270° compared to the 180° of humans!)
Cats and dogs also have evidence of their previous nictitating membranes, or third translucent eyelids, in the corners of their eyes. These would once have allowed them to maintain their sight on prey when hunting without their eyes drying out.
So when you throw a red ball into a green field, Rover sees a yellow ball being thrown into a white or gray field. Those colours just aren’t that different, so don’t be too surprised when he can’t find the ball that’s obvious to you!
Leukemia is a grouping of different cancers that begin in the bone marrow, and cause extremely high levels of white blood cells to enter circulation. There are 4 main types of leukemia, and while experts aren’t certain of the cause of them, it’s believed to be some combination of genetics and environmental exposures to things like ionizing radiation and other carcinogens like cigarette smoke and some chemicals. One thing is for certain though, leukemia is definitely not contagious.
Unless you’re a cat.
Cat’s can be infected with a virus called Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV), a virus which, if not fought by the kitty’s immune system before a certain infection stage, can cause secondary infections, anemia, weight loss and lymphomas (cancer of the lymph nodes). FeLV is very contagious, and it’s spread through bodily fluids like blood, saliva and milk, meaning that cats can be exposed during fights, nursing or even just sharing bowls. Kitties with FeLV usually only live about 1-2 years longer after being infected, though some rare cases have left cats to live their entire natural lives.
Before you get too scared for your cat however, you should know that many cats that become infected, actually fight off the virus just fine. About 70% of cats who are exposed to FeLV either fight the infection effectively or have natural immunity. There is also a vaccine, that while not 100% effective, has been shown to reduce risks of infection greatly. It’s not currently recommended for all cats, mostly because indoor cats have very little chance of exposure to FeLV. If you do have outdoor cats or multiple cats who aren’t all FeLV positive, the vaccine could greatly reduce their risks of infection.
Treatments for FeLV infected cats are a lot like the treatments for humans with leukemia. Chemotherapy can be given to cats with cancer, and other treatments can be prescribed by a vet as they become needed (like antibiotics for secondary infections, or iron supplements for anemia). Experimental treatments are always being developed too, though none show too much promise currently, just like human cancer treatments, the science is ever evolving.
Thecat pictured is named Chester and he has FeLV, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a wonderful companion! If you have no other cats and are willing to keep him indoors, then you’ll barely know he has it. He has found his forever home, but several of his incredible FeLV friends (and nonFeLVfriends) are available for adoption here
Want to cuddle cats but can’t stand the coughing? Want to romp with Rover but avoid the red eyes? Allerpet markets itself as the product for you! Sadly, though, it doesn’t work.
Allergic reactions occur when your immune system comes into contact with an allergen to which it is hypersensitive. In the case of cats, these allergens can be a few different things. The two biggest culprits are the proteins Fel d 1, secreted by cats’ sebaceous glands (which are found over their entire body) and Fel d 4, found in cats’ urine and saliva. Dogs also produce multiple proteins in their hair, dander, saliva and urine, and those can trigger allergic reactions.
The allergens produced by sebaceous glands are present in dander (animal dandruff) and tend to be the most annoying to allergy-suffering pet owners. Dander is made of microscopic skin flakes and can float in the air for hours, just waiting to be inhaled by an unsuspecting human. It can quickly spread to every surface an animal has contact with and readily collects on soft items like beds and couches. The amount of dander an animal gives off increases with their age, hence why some pet owners are fine for years before they develop allergies to their companions.
One study estimated that 26% of European adults are sensitized to cats and 27% to dogs. Cats’ reputation as allergy-enhancers comes from their ability to spread their allergens much more effectively than their canine counterparts. Cats tend to have access to entire homes and to stay inside 24/7, whereas dogs may be contained to an area of the house and often leave for walks or visits. Dogs are usually bathed more often than cats, which removes some allergens whereas cats spend a significant portion of their day grooming themselves, during which the allergens from their saliva are spread throughout their fur, and released into the air along with dander.
So what can you do If you’re allergic to your fluffy best friend? One product, Allerpet, is marketed as a “pet dander remover” to “people with allergies to pets.” It’s a damp wipe that can be applied to pets of all kinds while they sit in your lap, and its maker claims that it can cleanse your pet of dander and other allergens, thereby restoring your ability to play with them sneeze free.
Their website states that “Allerpet products have been recommended by Allergists & Veterinarians for over 25 years!” and that they are “recommended by veterinarians for all pet allergies,” which leads me to question if these veterinarians have read the studies testing the product, since they’re not very positive.
A 1995 study compared weekly washings with distilled water and weekly treatments with Allerpet. Researchers sampled the Fed d 1 protein given off by each cat twice a week for eight weeks and concluded that there was no significant reduction in allergens. Similarly, a 1997 study compared brushing and wiping cats with either Allerpet, water or nothing on a cloth and found no difference between the amounts of allergens removed by these methods. They concluded that, while wiping a cat is easier than washing one, wiping with Allerpet, water, or nothing is five times less effective than washing a cat.
Allerpet contains ingredients similar to conventional shampoos (although it is much more expensive), as well as aloe vera which is actually toxic to cats and dogs and which can irritate guinea pigs intensely. Since the concentrations of the ingredients aren’t known, it’s impossible to know if the aloe in Allerpet could really pose a risk to pets. Since the animal product industry has relatively little oversight in North America, it’s possible that this product is being marketed for animals on which it was never tested.
Even if this product did work for dander, the allergens present in animals’ urine and saliva would still be present, ready to cause your runny nose. Reviews of it on Amazon are littered with stories of its failure to relieve allergy symptoms, as well as a few cases of it making cats vomit and giving dogs hives. Anecdotes are not evidence, but taken with the evidence that Allerpet doesn’t work, they’re enough to make me wary of even trying this product on my pets.
Sadly, truly hypoallergenic breeds are a myth. No cat or dog breed is completely allergen free, but there are various breeds that produce fewer allergens. Since dander attaches itself to hair, an animal that sheds less or is hairless will likely spread fewer allergens throughout your home. In the same vein, an animal that’s physically smaller has fewer sebaceous glands with which to produce allergens, so will likely trigger fewer allergies.
So if snuggles with Fluffy cause you to sneeze, there are a few things you can do. Most importantly, skip the pseudoscientific products. Consider a low-shedding small cat or dog for your next rescue. Install a HEPA air filter or two around your house. Wash your companion regularly (so long as they aren’t a rabbit or chinchilla). Keep them out of the bedroom, vacuum lots, and ask your doctor about allergy shots or prescription medicines.