Discussing the importance of summer preventive pet care

  By: Dr. Magdalena Smrdelj
       Chief Veterinary Officer, Ontario SPCA

  August 3, 2016

Our pets love being outside in the summer… Enjoying the sunshine, walks in the park, and rolling in the grass. Unfortunately, summertime is also the primetime for fleas and ticks.

Below, we delve into the world of preventive pet care in terms of these nasty parasites! I'll explain how the pet is impacted and what you can do to protect your pet!


In Canada, peak flea season tends to run from early August to early October. Fleas can cause both people and pets discomfort through skin irritation, itchiness, rashes, and hair loss. They can also cause more serious outcomes like anemia and spread diseases like cat-scratch fever.

Preventive pet care

There are a number of ways to reduce the chances of your pet getting fleas and/or fleas coming into your home. Here are a few:

  • Keep your cat indoors
  • Give your pet flea medication*
  • Inspect your pet's coat often

*There are many types of flea medication available, including ones that go directly on your pet's skin and ones that are taken by mouth. Some flea medication target eggs and some target adult fleas. The best source of information about flea medication is your veterinarian. Please consult your veterinarian about which type of medication would work best for your pet. Be careful when looking for over-the-counter flea medication; some of these can actually be harmful for your pet!

Checking for fleas

If your pet likes to be outdoors, you need to be periodically checking them for fleas. Typically, fleas like to hang out on the base of the tail. You can check for them by combing the hair against the fur to see the skin and looking for "flea dirt" or spots of dried blood that looks like black pepper.

How do I get rid of fleas?

The first thing to do when recognizing your pet has fleas is to consult your veterinarian. Next, clean all the areas of your home where your pet likes to hang out - such as bedding, furniture, carpet area, and where the carpet and floorboards connect. After cleaning the house, put all the pet's bedding through your washing machine and dryer, along with your own clothes.

The Government of Canada has an informative fact sheet about fleas and ways to get rid of them. You can check out this page here.


In Canada, the greatest risk of getting a tick bite is during the spring and summer months. However, you can still be at risk for a tick bite in the winter if you live in an area that has mild weather and no snow.

Ticks are members of the same family as spiders. They have great biting mouthparts they can use. Ticks bite onto the skin and feed on their host's blood supply. Ticks are attracted to three things: body motion, body heat, and carbon dioxide. They live close to the ground, often in tall grasses, and can jump onto you or your pet. Common places to find ticks on your pet include the neck, around the ears and head, the front part of their chest, and the underside of the chest. If uninterrupted, ticks will feed on your pet for about 5-10 days and then drop off. Typically they won't land in your house unless something knocks them off when they're ready to drop off, as they prefer to drop off outside.

Ticks are dangerous to both pets and people because they can be infected by different kinds of bacteria that can make people and pets sick. Specifically, some types of ticks can be carriers of Lyme Disease.

Preventive measures:

First and foremost, tick medication! There are a variety of tick prevention medications available. These medications work by causing ticks to die and drop off if they bite your pet. It is best to talk to your veterinarian about which tick preventive medication would be best for your pet.

When walking through long grasses or deep woods, wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved and pants, with your socks pulled over your pant legs. After a walk in these areas, check yourself and your pet thoroughly for ticks.


Avoid flea and tick troubles by providing your pet with preventive care! Talk to your veterinarian about how you can best protect your pets against these parasites this summer.


How to prevent heat stroke and keep your pets cool!

  By: Tanya Firmage
       Director, Animal Centres and Community Programming, Animal Welfare
       Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

  July 12, 2016

Summertime is a great time for pets - the sun is out, they have more time outside, and they get to go for longer walks.

However, pets can get overheated quickly. Imagine how hot you get during the summer months… now add a fur coat on top of that! Just like people, pets can experience heatstroke when they get overheated. As a pet owner, it's important to be able to tell whether your pet is too hot. Here are some signs of heat stroke to help you out:

Signs of heat stroke

  • Heavy panting (or sudden stopping of panting)
  • Dark or bright red tongue and gums
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Lack of coordination, staggering
  • Weakness or muscle tremors
  • Convulsions or vomiting
  • Seizures

If heat stroke is suspected, prompt veterinary medical attention is crucial. In the meantime, immediately wet your pet's feet and around their head with lukewarm or cool water (NOT cold water). Bring your pet into the shade and offer them drinking water or ice cubes to lick.

Even after your pet has cooled down and seems ok, internal organs such as kidneys, liver, and brain, can be affected. Please visit your veterinarian immediately.

Combatting the heat!

As pet owners, it's important to continue to think of ways to keep our pets cool during the summer. Here are a few great tips for keeping your pets cool:

Access to water: With the heat, your pets need water even more than normal. Making sure your pet always has access to cool water is an important step to keeping your pet cool and hydrated.

Ice: Give your pet ice to chew on; it's a nice treat and will help keep your pet cool! For extra fun, you can freeze one of their favourite toys or treats in a bowl of water, which will give them extra incentive to lick!

Time for a clipping!: Every breed has different grooming needs! Some breeds need a groom heading into the summer, while other breeds have fur that act as insulation against the heat. If you want your pet to get a cut this summer, go to a professional groomer who will know what each particular breed needs. Regardless of the breed, get your pet's coat trimmed, NOT shaved! A fur or hair coat acts as a natural barrier against your pet's skin becoming sun burnt!

Water & shade = perfect combo: If your dog will be spending time outside in a backyard of sorts, make sure there's lots of water and shade available. Legally, all pet owners must provide adequate and appropriate shelter for their pets, year-round. Learn more about the Ideal Doghouse here.

Water play: There are lots of options for this one! Run your dog through your sprinkler, gently spray your dog down with a hose, or provide a small kiddie pool for your dog to dip their feet in, to name a few.

Considerate walks: If it's an especially hot day, keep your walks short or make sure you're walking in the shade and off the pavement. Dogs don't have shoes like we do, so walking their paws on cement that has been baking in the sunlight can be very painful for them. Choose a park or grass instead!

Leave your pet at home when running an errand: Did you know? On a sunny day, within 10 minutes, the inside of a car can be at least 10 degrees Celsius higher than the temperature outside. Pets can't combat heat like humans can; they can only sweat through their paw pads and pant to try to cool themselves. Please keep your pets at home when running an errand. If they need to come with you, have someone stay in the car with your pet with the air conditioning on.

#NoHotPets is a campaign to try to reduce the number of pets left in vehicles during the summer months. Pets are still being left in cars at an alarming rate. To read more and to take the pledge, check out the #NoHotPets campaign at www.nohotpets.ca


Learn what you can do to reduce your risk of a dog bite!

  By: Jacquelyn Jacobs, BSc, MSc, PhD in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare

  May 15, 2016

If you've ever been bitten by a dog, you know just how scary it can be.

When I was 16 years old, I worked at a dog kennel. I interacted with hundreds of dogs on a daily basis; dogs of all different breeds and sizes. Like many people, I was most cautious around the large dogs that I believed were more likely to be aggressive: German Shepherds, "Pit bull" breeds, Doberman Pinchers, and the list goes on. I often paid little attention to my approach with the smaller, "friendly" breed dogs. One day, I was leaning over a Beagle to pick her up and put her in a crate, and (much to my surprise at the time) she popped up and snapped at my face. She caught me on my lower lip and chin. I had an emergency room visit, several stitches, and was left wondering: what is wrong with this dog?

The answer was: nothing, really. My own actions (i.e., looming over her when she probably "told" me a number of times she was uncomfortable) caused her to feel she had no other option than to snap at me. I learned a very valuable lesson that day: any dog can bite. When a dog feels anxious, fearful, threatened, or even in pain, the risk of that dog becoming aggressive increases quickly, even when that dog has been well-bred, socialized, and trained.

It turns out I was not alone the year I was bitten. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs each year. Fortunately, there are several ways to reduce your risk of a dog bite. 

Tips for lowering your risk of a dog bite:

  1. Leave a dog alone when he or she is:

    -   Sleeping
    -   Eating
    -   Sick
    -   Injured
    -   Appears to be hiding or seeking time alone in its special place
    -   Playing with a toy and the dog is unfamiliar with you
    -   Not with its owner or on the other side of a fence

    Approaching a dog in these situations leaves you more vulnerable to a bite because the dog may feel anxious or threatened by your approach. Children are most likely to be bitten, so if you have children, teach them that certain scenarios are off-limits. For tips on improving the relationship between dogs and kids, see Dr. Lee Niel's blog post.

    If a dog is with its owner, always ask permission (and teach your children to ask permission) before approaching to pet the dog.

  2. Be aware of your own actions:

    An outstretched hand over the top of an unfamiliar dog's head in preparation of a pat or grabbing a dog's face to lean in close for a kiss are common human actions that can be perceived as scary or threatening to a dog. Most of us would feel uncomfortable if another person did these things to us, so it is equally important to be respectful of a dog's personal space.

    When you do approach a dog, try stopping a few feet away from the dog and waiting for them to close the gap. If they don't, it's better for you to walk away. Giving them the choice makes it far more likely they actually want to meet or interact with you when they approach you.

    approach or interact with a dog when they appear to be fearful or aggressive. That brings me to my next point:

  3. Learn how to read dog body language: it's not all about a wagging tail!

    assume just because a dog's tail is wagging that it is ok to approach them. In fact, dogs wag their tails for a number of reasons and not all of them are positive.

    In particular, be on the lookout for signs of fear or anxiety, which increase the risk of aggression. This includes behaviours such as:
    -   Cowering
    -   Lip licking toward the nose (when no food is present)
    -   Looking in all directions
    -   Yawning
    -   Moving away when given the space to do so
    -   Pacing
    -   Refusing food

This poster on Body Language of Fear in Dogs by Dr. Sophia Yin may help by giving visual examples.


Dr. Sophia Yin's website has many good references, as do a number of other organizations and professionals such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and Dr. Patricia McConnell's blog.

If you're tech savvy, the new "dog decoder" app may be just the thing for you!

Dog Bite Prevention Week is a great opportunity to raise awareness about a very important topic. Make it a priority to get educated and to share your new knowledge with everyone you know!



Five tips to making a home cat-friendly

  By: Carly Moody, MSc
       PhD Candidate, Feline Behaviour and Welfare
       Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph

  June 6, 2016

Since childhood, I have been a dedicated cat person, so it's no surprise I am currently working on a PhD focused in feline behaviour and welfare. I have adopted many shelter cats. Through these experiences, I have learned that, whether it is your first cat or your tenth, it is important to create a comfortable and fun home environment for your cat. Behaviour problems often occur because a cat's needs are not fully met. An easy fix is to create a cat-friendly home; a home that allows your cat to be a cat!

Each cat will have slightly different needs and wants that should be met to satisfy their well-being. For example, Wesley, a tall, dark, and handsome Siamese I adopted about 4 years ago, had arthritis. He loved being on the couch, but it was quite high and he struggled to jump up. He would stand in front of the couch and meow very loudly (Siamese cats are quite the talkers!), so we purchased a small step stool to help him get up. After this easy fix, he was able to perch on the couch whenever he liked and it ended up being his favourite napping spot! Small changes like this can make a huge difference in your cat's life. Here's a list of 5 things to help make your home cat-friendly:

  1. A comfortable and safe resting area

    Cats take a lot of naps throughout the day and need a safe place where they can escape from kids or other animals in the house. Place a cozy bed in a high or hidden location, or purchase a scratching post your cat can climb to get away from it all! A lot of cats like high perches, which allow them to monitor their environment while feeling hidden and safe.

  2. A place to scratch

    Scratching is a very normal cat behaviour! Scratching helps cats maintain their claws. Also, cats have scent glands in their paw pads; scratching is a way that cats leave their scent behind. Providing a tall scratching post will help your cat be able to do this normal behaviour in an appropriate spot. Therefore, simply providing some sort of scratching post can help to create a cat-friendly home. 

    Cats require a vertical scratching surface that is tall and sturdy enough to hold them when they stretch their entire body and scratch. Each cat has their own preference of scratching material; some cats prefer carpet while others may prefer sisal rope. If you're not sure what your cat likes, use a nice tall scratching post with a few different materials to let your cat choose!

  3. Toys and playtime

    Spending time with your cat is important and there's no better way to get your cat off the couch than toys and playtime! Catnip toys, puzzle feeders, and wand toys are great ways for your cat to get some exercise and provide fun mental stimulation.

  4. Predictability and routine

    Cats like routine. Providing consistency and predictability in your home is a great way to enrich your cat's life. For example, every day when you get home from work, devote 15 minutes of time to play with your cat. Providing this consistency will help make your cat feel at ease. In addition, this activity is not only great for your cat's physical health, but may help you de-stress from the day's work, and help to create and/or maintain a strong bond between you and your cat.

  5. Resources: placement and number

    Carefully considering the number and location of resources can help make your home cat-friendly. Basic necessities, such as food, water, and litter boxes, should be placed in areas of the home where your cat feels safe and comfortable, and that are easy to access.

    If you have more than one cat, providing multiple resources around the house is important to reduce competition. If one cat blocks another cat from a precious resource, such as a litter box, it is important there is another source that the cat can access.


These five tips are a good starting point to making your home more cat-friendly. It is important to remember that every cat is unique and has his or her own preferences. Maybe your cat prefers a hidden napping spot under the bed instead of perching up high. Provide a few different options and see what your cat chooses!

Ellis, S.L.H., Rodan, I., Carney, H.C., Heath, S., Rochlitz, I., Shearburn, L.D., Sundahl, E., & Westropp, J.L. (2013). AAFP and ISFM feline environmental needs guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 15(3), 219-230.
Ellis, S. (2009). Environmental enrichment: practical strategies for improving feline welfare. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 11(11), 901-912.

Tips to developing a positive relationship between children and pets!

  By: Dr. Lee Niel, BSc, PhD
       Assistant Professor in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare
       Col. K.L. Campbell Chair in Companion Animal Welfare
       Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada

April 26, 2016

I absolutely adore our dog, Dukie, and wouldn't trade him for the world… You know when someone starts out describing their dog in this way that there is a 'but' coming. My 'but' is that he is an amazon dog, but at first, he wasn't the best match for a family with children.

We adopted Dukie, a Shepherd/Labrador cross, from a shelter way back in 2006 when he was about 1-year old. At the time, we didn't have kids and he was exactly what we were looking for in a dog. He was energetic and fun, with a love for playing ball and long walks. Fast-forward four years later to the birth of our daughter Sadie, and he was still doing pretty well. Before Sadie was born, we spent a lot of time getting him used to baby sounds and smells, and he adapted well to early baby life.

Everything changed when Sadie started to walk. My confident, goofy dog turned into a fearful, unhappy mess. Similar to most toddlers and small children, Sadie was fast, unpredictable, and loud (and when I say loud, I mean LOUD), and Dukie was terrified of her. This situation was bad on a number of levels, and we needed to act fast!

Positive interactions between pets and children can be incredibly beneficial to both groups in terms of physical activity, mental stimulation, and emotional support. However, when things go wrong, it can result in serious safety and welfare concerns for both children and pets. It is important to recognize that the perfect dog or cat that never bites is a myth. Even gentle animals can become aggressive when they run out of options. Statistics suggest that 1.8% of the American population are bitten by dogs every year. Most bites happen in the home, children are the most common target, and fear is a common cause.

Research also suggests that dogs that show aggressive behaviour are at greater risk for neglect, abuse, relinquishment, and euthanasia, and fear-based aggression can have ongoing negative effects on the well-being of the affected dog.

So, what can we do to improve interactions between children and pets to keep everyone safe and happy? Luckily, there are lots of different things you can do to ensure harmony in your home!

Tips for safe interactions between children and pets:

1.    Properly socialize puppies and kittens to babies and children during their early critical periods, and throughout their lives.

Research shows that puppies that have early, positive interactions with children are less likely to show fear and aggression with them later in life. Kittens also show reduced fear when properly socialized. See the following links for more information on how to properly socialize your dog or cat, and the American Humane Society booklet on introducing pets and kids.

2.    Teach children appropriate ways for interacting with dogs and cats.

 Animal aggression is avoidable when children are taught about safe interactions. Parents should make sure to teach their children the following:

  • How to recognize common signs of fear and aggression in dogs and cats, and reinforce leaving a pet alone when they are fearful or aggressive. For more information, see the following links on body language in dogs and cats.
  • How to approach and interact with dogs and cats in calm, gentle, and non-threatening ways. For more information, see Sophia Yin's blog post on dogs and kids.
  • Make sure to ask permission from an adult before interacting with an unfamiliar animal.

For more tips, see B4 U GET A PET's introducing dogs and cats to children pages.

3.    Always supervise interactions between children and pets.

When things go wrong between children and pets, it can happen in an instant, so their interactions should always be closely monitored. When you are unable to provide proper supervision, children and pets should be separated. For older children, this might mean that they are given instructions not to play with the animal unattended. For younger children, physical separation is often the safest bet. Young children aren't always able to inhibit their behaviours even when they 'know' the rules. I still use baby gates in my house, and my children are now 4 and 6!

4.    Make interactions between children and pets FUN.

To make sure the interactions between your children and pets are positive, it is important that your pet associates good things with your children. Encourage your child to play ball, offer treats, or gently pet the animal. Avoid potentially negative things, like loud noises and rough handling.

5.    If your pet is showing any signs of aggression, or if you are concerned about your pet's behaviour around your children, speak to your veterinarian as soon as possible!

Animal aggression is a serious concern and should not be ignored.


Fast forward five years and things are much better between Dukie and the kids. With careful monitoring, lots of positive interactions, and diligent kid training, Dukie has gone from fearful to his friendly self. He's a good match for our family with children after all!

If you are looking for further information on this important topic, see B4 U GET A PET's introducing dogs and cats to children pages. In addition, the American Humane Society has a free booklet available called, "Pet meets baby: a guide for families bringing children home to pets"


Positive interactions (treat time!) between Sadie and Sarah (Lee's other dog)!