Gaining closure and deciding when you're ready for your next pet

  By: Dr. Michael Meehan BVSc, BSc(hons), PhD
       Veterinarian at Total Vets, Christchurch, New Zealand

  March 19, 2016

When a furry family member passes, it is normal to feel grief. You miss the companionship, the goofy quirks, the sound of the dog's nails on the wood floor, or the morning meows calling for breakfast. Some time after your pet passes, you might feel the urge to begin looking for another furry companion, and feel a ping of guilt. When is it the right time to get another pet? Below, I hope to normalize pet-loss grief, and provide resources and ideas to help those who have lost a pet move through their grief. Lastly, I address the question, "when should I think about getting my next pet?"

Most pet owners experience grief when their pet dies. The reason is that when we form a strong emotional connection or attachment with another living being, we experience separation distress when we realize that they will never be physically and emotionally near us again. The grief experience for some can feel as strong as the grief we experience when a close family member, spouse, or friend dies. In fact, research into pet-loss grief suggests that pet owners' emotions and grieving processes are very similar to human-loss grief. One big difference between pet-loss and human-loss grief is that pet owners are far more likely to experience disenfranchised grief when their pet dies.

Disenfranchised grief is a term describing grief that is not generally acknowledged by society. Examples of disenfranchising societal behaviours or attitudes include comments like, "it is just an animal; you'll get over it." One of the most important things for pet owners to realize is that grief due to pet loss is a completely normal and healthy emotional process. If you are experiencing grief due to pet loss, there are steps you can take to manage your grief:

Step one: identify your own signs of grief and write them down.

  • This will help you normalize your grief and help you realize that you are likely experiencing a range of emotions, attitudes, and behaviours.
  • These emotions and behaviours may arise at any time and will be most prominent over the first few months after your pet's death.
  • They usually subside in intensity and that is a sure sign that you are working through your grief.

Common symptoms of grief are:

Emotions = sadness, regret, guilt, shock, confusion, depression, anxiety, anger

Physical symptoms and behaviours = trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, nausea, difficulty performing routine tasks, easily distracted, repetitive thoughts about pet loss.

Step two: manage or cope with your grief

  • Actively seek support from like-minded friends, family, fellow pet owners or counsellors. It is critical that you surround yourself with people who understand what your pet meant to you and why.
  • Memorialize your pet. If you have not done so, organize a memorial. Some suggestions include:
    • Consider writing a poem or letter to your pet and bury that letter with your pet or in the ground.
    • Plant a small tree/plant, or lay some flowers or stone(s).
    • Light a memorial candle in honour of your pet.
    • Collect the most memorable photos of your pet and create a collage of your pet's life.
  • Read pet-loss resources and literature. There are a lot of resources and research about pet loss and these resources are now easily available via the Internet. Some examples are:

Finally, for pet owners who ask the question, "when should I think about getting my next pet?", the answer is not clear cut. If you have addressed the above points and you feel a sense of closure, especially if you have memorialized your pet, then you might be ready to look for another pet. Share your thoughts with other supportive people you trust and they may also be able to help.

When grieving, be kind to yourself. It is often helpful to remember how lucky you feel to have had the opportunity to experience the close and special human-animal relationship you had with your pet.

Answers to common questions about spaying or neutering pets

  By: Shannon Gowland, DVM
       Veterinarian and Primary Care Educator, Ontario Veterinary College Smith Lane Animal Hospital, Guelph, ON, Canada

  March 2, 2016

New pet owners often have lots of questions about spaying and neutering their pet because it is a very important choice they make for their new family member. Here are some of the most popular questions and answers we talk about every day at our clinic.

Question 1: My vet told me I should have my pet spayed, but I'm not totally sure what that means.

Spaying a female pet means surgically removing her ovaries and uterus. Neutering a male pet means removing his testicles. Both procedures are performed by a veterinarian under general anesthesia.

Question 2: Why should I have my pet spayed or neutered?

There are millions of unwanted pets in the world, and spaying and neutering is the only way to make sure pets do not reproduce and add to the population.

There are benefits for our individual pets as well. For female pets, spaying at a young age can prevent them from developing mammary (breast) or uterine cancer later. It also prevents pyometra, which is a life-threatening uterus infection that can happen to unspayed pets. Spaying prevents unwanted pregnancies, roaming to seek mates, messy heat cycles, and attraction of male pets.

For male pets, neutering prevents testicular cancer and prostate disease later in life. It can help reduce aggression between males and roaming to find mates. Neutering young cats helps to prevent them from spraying urine inside the house to mark their territory.

Question 3: Is it risky to have my pet spayed or neutered?

As with any anesthesia and surgical procedure, there are risks to consider. Fortunately, for young, healthy veterinary patients undergoing routine elective surgery, these risks are very low. Your veterinarian will examine your pet carefully and choose the best anesthetic and surgical plan to give your pet the safest and most comfortable experience.

Question 4: What is the best age to have my pet spayed or neutered?

The ideal time for most pets is at about 5 or 6 months of age, before sexual maturity, because at this age, the surgical procedure and recovery are easiest. Changes of disease prevention for females are best before her first heat. Avoidance of problem behaviours such as inter-dog aggression, works best before problems start. However, research is now ongoing to determine whether waiting until bone growth is complete - particularly for giant breed, male dogs - may be beneficial. Your veterinarian can help you to determine the best time to spay or neuter your pet according to his or her individual needs.

Question 5: Will spaying or neutering change my pet's personality?

Spaying or neutering will not change the fundamental personality of your pet. Your dog will still love his/her favourite toy and going for walks, and your cat will be just as cuddly!

Question 6: Will spaying or neutering make my pet get fat?

Spayed or neutered pets may have a lower metabolism so some pets need fewer calories to avoid becoming overweight. Ask your vet to make a nutritional recommendation to keep your pet at a healthy weight as she or he grows to adulthood.

Question 7: How should I look after my pet after the surgery? How long will it take him/her to recover?

Your veterinarian will send your pet home with pain control medication for several days after the procedure to keep your pet comfortable. The most difficult part is usually keeping your pet calm for 7 to 10 days afterwards to help the incision heal. This means NO running off-leash or playing with other dogs, avoiding climbing stairs as much as possible, and monitoring the incision for any swelling or discharge. An E-collar can help prevent your pet from licking or chewing the surgery site. Not sure what an E-collar is? Check out the picture below!


We hope you found this spaying and neutering Q&A helpful and informative! Your veterinarian would be happy to provide more information and answer any questions about spaying or neutering. They are there to help you make the best decision for your very special pet.

Puppy post-surgery; an e-collar can help prevent your pet from licking its incision!


NOTE: Research assistance for this blog post by Caroline Graefin Von Waldburg-Zeil.

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. (2012). Neutering of dogs and cats (spay and castration) - position statement. Retrieved from

Ways to keep your pet(s) active all year round!

  By: Rachel O'Connor, BSc, MSc
       Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, ON, Canada

  January 28, 2016

With the combination of cold, snow, freezing rain, and ice that comes with winter, it can be hard to stay motivated to be active. Instead, you may feel like hibernating until spring!

Often times during the winter, our pet's physical activity is affected too. Due to the cold weather, we're less likely to take our pet for a walk, and with preparing for the holiday season, your pet might get a little less playtime than normal. Indoor cats also tend to get less exercise than they should!

Physical activity is important for your pet's physical and mental health. It acts to keep your pet in shape while also providing some much needed mental stimulation. Keeping our pets active benefits us too! Research has shown that people with dogs have increased physical activity compared to those without dogs, leading to reduced risk of obesity and heart attack for people who walk their dogs.

Having a hard time fitting in your pet's need for physical activity while avoiding the weather? Let us help! We have compiled a list of creative activities you can do with your dog both inside and outside of the home. We have also added some ideas to keep your indoor cat active.

For dogs:

Inside the home:

  1. Hide and seek: tell your dog to "sit" and "stay", then go hide somewhere in the house. Call your dog to come find you, and repeat.
  2. Clip on your dog's leash and walk your dog up and down a flight of stairs a few times.
  3. Play fetch: throw your pet's favourite toy and get them to bring it back to you. Believe it or not, you can also train cats to do this!
  4. "Hunting" activity: hide or throw some treats for your pet to find. You can also use a food puzzle as extra mental stimulation!

Outside of the home:

  1. Bundle up, grab a tea or coffee to-go, and go for a brisk walk or head to your local dog park.
  2. Throw soft snowballs (not chunks of ice!) up into the air for your dog to catch! Lots of dogs enjoy the snow. Just be sure that you thoroughly pat your dog down later so they dry quickly.
  3. Set up a play date with a familiar dog.
  4. Sign your dog up for agility, flyball, coursing, or some other sporting class.

For indoor cats:

  1. "Hunting" activities
    • Hide or throw some treats for your pet to find. You can also use a food puzzle to get your pet working for some treats!
    • Toys on a string or wand are interesting to cats because owners can make them "move" like prey. Use erratic movements when playing with your cat. Letting your cat "catch" the toy every once in a while will satisfy their "hunter" instinct. 
    • Here's a TIP! Rotating your cat's toys will help keep your cat interested. Put toys not in use out-of-sight so that when your cat sees those toys again, he/she shows newfound interest.
  2. Set up a "fort": in my experience, cats love boxes! Create a "fort" with a couple of boxes for your cat to explore.
  3. In plain-view of your cat, throw a ping-pong ball into your bathtub. This will entice your cat's curiosity. The shape of the bathtub will help keep the ping- pong ball moving when your cat bats at it, while also keeping the ball contained. You can add a second ping-pong ball for more fun. Check out a video of this fun activity below!

With a little creativity, winter doesn't have to be a season of hibernation! Keeping your pet active will not only help your pet's physical health, but will also help keep your pet happy and prevent him/her from getting bored!

Here is a video of Atticus playing with a ping-pong ball in the bathtub!

American Association of Feline Practitioners. (2004). Environmental enrichment enhances quality of life for your cat. In Feline behavior guidelines from the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Retrieved from
Brown, S.G. & Rhodes, R.E. (2006). Relationships among dog ownership and leisure-time walking in western Canadian adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30(2): 131-136.
Cutt, H., Giles-Corti, B., Knuiman, M., Timperio, A., & Bull, F. (2008). Understanding dog owners' increased levels of physical activity: results from RESIDE. American Journal of Public Health, 98(1): 66-69.
Landsberg, G., Hunthausen, W., & Ackerman, L. (2013). Prevention: the best medicine. In Behavior problems of the dog & cat (3rd Ed.) (39-64). Elsevier Health Sciences.
Ohio State University. (n.d.). Basic indoor cat needs. In Indoor pet initiative. Retrieved from
Reitman-Texier, J. (2015). How much exercise does your dog really need? Retrieved from

February 20 is "Love your pet" day!

 By: Rachel O'Connor, BSc, MSc
      Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, ON, Canada

      February 20, 2016

"It may be a cat, a bird, a ferret, or a guinea pig, but the chances are high that when someone close to you dies, a pet will be there to pick up the slack. Pets devour the loneliness. They give us purpose, responsibility, a reason for getting up in the morning, and a reason to look to the future. They ground us, help us escape the grief, make us laugh, and take full advantage of our weakness by exploiting our furniture, our beds, and our refrigerator. We wouldn't have it any other way. Pets are our seat belts on the emotional roller coaster of life - they can be trusted, they keep us safe, and they sure do smooth out the ride."
- Nick Trout

I think every past and current pet owner can agree that developing a relationship with an email is truly special and research tends to agree. In 2007, a nationwide U.S. pet owner study found that around 95% and 87% of participants considered their pets their friends and family members. Pets are said to provide a relationship with humans that is reliable, consistent, non-judgmental, and provides a source of unconditional love. This relationship has been found to be especially important to people undergoing divorce, feelings of grief, and mental and physical illnesses. Many individuals turn to their pets for comfort.

February 20 is "Love your pet" day! We, the team at B4 U GET A PET, thought, what better way to celebrate than to highlight the relationships between a few individuals and their cats and dogs of different ages and from a variety of sources.

John, and Amelia ("Millie"), the standard poodle

"I adopted Amelia as a puppy from a reputable breeder. When my daughter suggested we consider a standard poodle, I was initially skeptical. I didn't want some 'frou frou' show dog! I wanted a playful, "life is a grand adventure" type of dog. We went to the breeder 'just to see' and fell in love.

I live with my wife, two daughters, our cats, and "Millie". I don't know why but it's the girls and their cats, and me and my dog. It's not that we don't share and love all of them, but there is that something that defines the connections.

Millie is my 'good girl', my walking companion, the silent part of our clown act when we entertain our family. She gives me her uncompromising love, trust, and a willingness to accept whatever comes. She is an important part of what makes me happy and I love her."

Jess, and Jack, the cat

"Although he was always very loved, Jack has known many parents in his lifetime. Due to moving or school or travel, Jack was given from friend to friend a few times before coming into our lives at the age of four in January 2011. He was only meant to be with us temporarily unless he got along with our other cat but he has been with us ever since. We sometimes catch them grooming each other, but they would be so embarrassed if they knew I told you that!

Jack has a great personality. He sometimes pretends to be an independent tough guy, but more often lately, he's a big cuddle bug and we love him for it. Jack will often lie on my chest, so close that we can touch noses, and his soft purring is the most relaxing sound to me. He brings a sense of calm and comfort to our home and our family wouldn't be the same without him."

Tara, and Lou, the "goofy" mixed dog!

"My husband and I purchased Lou in 2013 after seeing an ad on Kijiji for local farm 'whoopsies' puppies for sale. Her energy, willingness to learn, and intense capability to love are just some of the reasons we enjoy having her as part of our family. I have never had a dog that can cuddle like Lou - she is most content when she is able to snuggle and show her affection. My favourite part about our relationship is that I never doubt how much she loves us. Her excitement when we walk in the door never ceases to put a smile on my face and makes me so thankful that we found her."

Emily, and Atticus, the cat

"I adopted Atticus from the SPCA when he was five years old - between his age and FIV, he'd been passed over for months. After I asked the staff about adopting him, he promptly peed on my new winter coat - I knew then that he'd adopted me, too. Atticus loves to snuggle. Until him, I'd never realized how therapeutic cuddling an animal could be. He also runs to greet me at the door, talks to me in the mornings, and patiently tolerates my antics. As a young professional who lives alone, he's the perfect roommate! We adore each other, and I can't imagine my life without him."


We hope you enjoyed this mushy blog post! Give your pet(s) an extra hug, pet, and treat today :).

Sable, P. (2013). The pet connection: an attachment perspective. Clinical Social Work Journal, 41, 93-99.
Walsh, F. (2009). Human-animal bonds I: the relational significance of companion animals. Family Process, 48(4), 462-480.

January is "National Train Your Dog" month!

  By: Dr. Janet Cutler, PhD, CPDT-KA
       Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, ON, Canada
       On the Right Track Animal Behaviour Consulting
  January 13, 2015

January is the Association of Pet Dog Trainers National Train Your Dog Month. This was developed to promote puppy socialization and training, as well as to give owners information to make training their dogs fun!

Puppy socialization is one of the most important things you can do to get your puppy started on the right foot and help build your relationship with your puppy. "Socializing" a puppy means getting the puppy used to a variety of experiences (e.g., different people, animals, environments, sounds, etc.) in a positive way. Puppy classes offer an excellent opportunity to learn about general puppy care and expose your puppy to new people, dogs, and locations, whereas obedience classes tend to focus on teaching commands. When picking a school to bring your puppy to, make sure they offer:

  • classes that only contain puppies
  • classes that have some time in the class for supervised play between puppies
  • classes that are using positive methods to expose your puppy to new things

Our research at the University of Guelph has shown that puppies that went to classes showed less fear to some noises and situations when they were 5 months old compared to those puppies that did not go to classes.

The basis for training a pet involves teaching the pet to make associations between a command (e.g., "come") and a behaviour or response (e.g., the dog coming to the owner's side). A dog's behaviour can be changed based on the outcome or consequence to the dog's behaviour. When done properly, positive reinforcement is the most humane method to train your pet.

  • For example, when a dog does a behaviour that the owner likes, the owner rewards the dog (e.g., the owner gives the dog a treat, praises him/her, or pets him/her). This is positive reinforcement.

Punishment involves doing something aversive or that the pet doesn't like when it behaves undesirably (e.g., yelling or smacking the dog when it jumps up on people). Punishment is not recommended as a training method. Using punishment can actually make your dog afraid of you and result in your dog behaving aggressively towards you.

Going to puppy classes has been found to affect an owner's response to their puppy. Owners that have taken classes with their puppies were more likely to respond to their puppies' undesirable behaviour in a more positive way (e.g., redirecting their puppy to another activity) instead of using punishment (e.g., yelling) compared to owners that did not attend classes with their puppies.

Other research has found that dogs that have been punished may react aggressively or show other problem behaviours; so, learning positive methods to deal with misbehaviour is important!

Training isn't only for puppies! Older dogs can also really enjoy training and it gives you the opportunity to further bond with your pet. For example, there are many different types of classes available, from obedience classes to dog sports, which can allow you to work with your dog in a structured class. Your dog will enjoy learning something new and you'll have fun teaching them a new skill!

Most important of all, have fun training and spending time with your dog!

My (Janet) puppy, Mackenzie, playing in the snow!

 Herron, M.E., Shofer, F.S. & Reisner, I.R. (2009). Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 117: 47-54.

Hiby, E.F. & Rooney, N.J. (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness, and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare, 13: 63-69.