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.

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 http://www.catvets.com/public/PDFs/PracticeGuidelines/FelineBehaviorGLS.pdf
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 https://indoorpet.osu.edu//cats/basicneeds/toys
Reitman-Texier, J. (2015). How much exercise does your dog really need? Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2015/11/01/how-much-exercise-does-your-dog-really-need/#6391247d6c79

Keeping your pets safe during the holidays

  By: Dr. Kim Lambert, DVM, MSc
       Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, ON, Canada

  December 23, 2015

Putting up the Christmas tree at our house is always a big event that our whole family enjoys, including our cat, Abigail. From her perspective, she is getting exciting new toys to enrich her environment - sparkly tinsel and ribbon, hanging ornaments to bat around, and a new place to climb or hide under. For me, it is a reminder of how best to keep her safe during the holidays. For example:

  • I remind the kids to hang only "safe" ornaments near the bottom of the tree.
  • We abandoned tinsel long ago after one of my feline patients had a very unfortunate experience after eating tinsel. It made its way through her bowels only to get stuck on the way out! I have also seen this with ribbon when it is used to decorate presents - if it is eaten, it can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, and even intestinal blockage.
  • I also do not hang "edible" ornaments made out of marshmallows, popcorns, berries, or cookie dough. One year, a dog came into the veterinary clinic after enjoying a yummy snowman ornament made from miniature marshmallows and a large number of stick pins! For his family, the holidays were spent helping him recover from surgery to remove the pins from his stomach!

As many people are aware, chocolate is toxic to dogs, and ingestion of chocolate is often accidental and preventable. By keeping chocolate safely stored away at all times and making sure chocolate is put away after being offered to guests, dogs will not be tempted to eat it when nobody is looking. If you are giving chocolate as a gift, never put it under the Christmas tree where Fido can reach it easily.

Poinsettias are also toxic to pets, so preventing access to these plants is important. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Poison Control website, if chewed, the sap from poinsettias can irritate the mouth and stomach and can cause vomiting. For more information about pet toxins, visit https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control.

Our family's solution to the Christmas tree dilemma with our cat is to have it in a room in our house where the door can be closed to prevent access when we are not there to supervise Abigail. Awareness of holiday hazards and prevention are keys to ensuring you and your furry loved ones have a safe and happy holiday season!

If your pet does happen to accidentally get into trouble, you can call the Pet Poison Helpline for advice and information at (800) 213-6680. They are available 24 hours a day to help you!

The B4 U GET A PET team wishes you and your family a very happy and safe holiday season!

 Abigail under our Christmas tree; don't worry, she's being supervised :).


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.

Things to consider before getting a pet over the holiday season

  By: Jason Coe, DVM, PhD
       Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph, ON, Canada

  December 3, 2015

The holidays are such a warm, fun, exciting time of year. The music, the decorations, the parties… Having some extra time to spend with family and loved ones… What a perfect time to get a pet! Right?

With the holidays right around the corner, I thought it would be a great time to reflect on some of the things people should consider before getting a dog or getting a cat at this time of year! With proper consideration and preparation, the holiday season can be an appropriate time to get a pet, just like any other time of year. BUT I would strongly advise against giving a pet as a surprise gift (meaning, you haven't discussed the idea with the gift receiver!) or making an impulse pet acquisition for yourself. I know I might be sounding a bit like Mr. Scrooge (bah humbug!), but hear me out!

Research has shown that getting a pet as a gift can have a negative influence on the human-pet relationship. In particular, in one study, half of the animals given up by their owners were given as gifts. Therefore, be cautioned about getting a cat or getting a dog as a gift for someone at this time of year. If you do, it will be important to ensure you talk to the person ahead of time and ensure they have all the information they need before getting a pet.

If you've ever owned a pet, you know that they are a big commitment and need lots of TLC (tender-loving care!). It's important to understand what is involved before getting a dog or getting a cat. Here are some things to consider, specifically during the holidays:

  1. Your lifestyle: take time to research and think about the needs of this new pet and how this will fit into your current lifestyle, particularly now, at holiday time. If you are already a pet owner, we suggest thinking about how much time you will be able to devote to both your new pet and your current pet(s).

  2. Your availability: it's important to spend a fair amount of time with your new pet to help you create a positive, close relationship. What are your commitments over the holidays? How much time will you be able to spend with your new pet? If getting a puppy or kitten, will you have enough time during the holidays to ensure they are properly socialized? If you have more than one pet, it is important that you spend individual time with each animal to nurture your relationship with each pet.

  3. Type of pet: consider the differences in behaviours and needs of different types of pets. For example, a dog requires walks, whereas a cat requires a litter box that is cleaned frequently. It's important to understand these differences to help you pick a pet that is suitable for you and your lifestyle.

  4. Your current pet: Understanding the health, activity level, and personality of your current pet(s) and the new pet you are thinking of bringing home will allow you to foresee any problems and help accommodate them. For example, a slower, older dog may not get along with a high energy puppy that wants to play all day.

  5. Your new pet: If you are already a pet owner, choosing a new pet that feels comfortable around other animals, specifically around the type of species of your current pet(s), is important.

  6. Cost of pet ownership: There are many costs associated with pet ownership. Does adding these additional costs to your holiday expenses work for your budget? To learn more about these costs and to make an approximate budget for yourself, check out our "budgeting for your dog" and "budgeting for your cat" pages.

Research has shown that the success of a human-pet relationship is influenced by:

  • whether an owner's expectations can be met by the pet
    • Owner expectations for ownership can relate to the time and effort needed in caring for a pet (e.g., play sessions, grooming, veterinary visits), the role of the pet in the household, and the cost of owning a pet.
  • whether the needs and lifestyle of the owner and personality of the pet match

Therefore, before getting a dog or getting a cat during the holidays or at any time of year, it is beneficial to think about your schedule, your household members, living situation, and the type of personality you would like your new pet to have. To help you with this, check out our "identify your expectations" dog and cat pages!

Getting a cat or getting a dog during the holidays can be a good thing; you might have extra time off work and/or extra time with the family for socializing your pet. It's just really important to know what is involved in pet ownership ahead of time to avoid those Boxing Day returns.


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Weng, H.Y., Kass, P.H., Hart, L.A., and Chomel, B.B. (2006). Risk factors for unsuccessful dog ownership: an epidemiologic study in Taiwan. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 77(1-2): 82-95.