The Benefits of Pet Insurance You Need to Know About

As a pet owner, you have the responsibility of the health, happiness, and overall well-being of your animal. Much like any other life partner, your duties to a pet are in sickness and in health, good times and tough times.

One important part of this responsibility is being prepared in case something happens to your pet. Perhaps your dog swallows something they weren’t supposed to, or your cat falls ill. These problems often require professional veterinary care, and depending on the necessary procedures, the costs can quickly add up. 

Even with a dedicated savings put aside, certain health issues with your pet might put you in a difficult financial situation—that’s where having pet insurance comes in.

Pet insurance is best recommended to get while the pet is young. This is to avoid any medical exclusions. While it is best to get while young, older pets can still very much benefit from pet insurance.

What is Pet Insurance?

Pet insurance is a health policy that an owner puts in place for their pet. In exchange for a monthly premium, your insurance company will provide reimbursement for a multitude of procedures and treatments at the veterinarian. While we always hope to never need to use pet insurance, it remains one of the best ways to protect the finances of an owner and the safety of the pet. 

Not every pet owner is completely prepared to foot the bill for necessary treatments. Pet insurance allows people to take the stress of finances off the mind of pet owners, allowing them to simply make the best decisions for the health of their pet.

Perhaps you’re looking into getting a pet, or you’ve recently adopted a new one, and you’re wondering if pet insurance is a worthwhile investment. If you ask us, it’s one of the most important ways you can protect your pet and yourself. With that said, here are the six biggest benefits of pet insurance and setting up a policy.

1. Save money at your veterinarian’s office

Saving money is one of the biggest reasons people choose to set up pet insurance. Depending on your policy of choice, your plan could be paying for itself in just one or two urgent visits. Although you’ll have to pay the cost of your vet visit up front, you’ll be able to get reimbursed for your portion. At the most basic level, pet insurance simply makes good financial sense.

2. Gain access to the best possible pet care

Rather than being forced to choose between the most advanced, effective treatments and your pocketbook, pet insurance gives you access to options when it comes to pet healthcare. In recent years, technology in the veterinary field has been advancing rapidly, and there are now many more options for the owners of sick or injured pets than ever before. Chemotherapy for instance is an effective way to treat cancer in pets, but it can often be very expensive for people without insurance. Having a policy in place beforehand allows you to think about what the best option for your pet would be, rather than concerning yourself about what you’ll be able to afford.

3. Pay a small, regular fee instead of saving for emergencies

It can be difficult to keep a sizable emergency fund aside in case of a health issue with your pet. Rather than saving every spare dollar in case of the worst, you can pay a small monthly premium to your insurance company in exchange for pet healthcare coverage, which opens up more financial options for you. 

4. Choose a flexible policy for your pet

Because people’s pets are so varied and unique, pet insurance offers many flexible policies for all kinds of animals, breeds, and ages. Just because your pet is older doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get pet insurance for them, and doing so will often pay off down the road. Furthermore, with lots of competition in the pet insurance market, you’ll be able to get a variety of quotes and find something affordable.

5. Gain peace of mind

The number one reason people choose to set up a pet insurance plan is for peace of mind. We know how much you love your pet and want to provide them with the best care possible. As a pet owner, you are responsible for ensuring that they’re well looked after in even the worst case scenario. Pet insurance allows you to rest easy knowing that providing your pet with the care they need won’t be an issue, regardless of the necessary treatments and procedures.

As a pet owner, you have countless duties when it comes to looking after your four-legged family member. Whether it’s taking them for exercise, feeding them right, or cleaning up after them, we perform these responsibilities as an act of love for our pets—insurance is no different. By setting up a good pet insurance policy from the outset, you can be confident in knowing that your pet will have access to the best possible care no matter what, allowing the two of you to have a long, healthy, and happy life together.

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Dog Body Language: Signs Everything is Great vs. Trouble

If you’re anything like us, when you see a dog, you immediately want to say hello! However, despite their happy nature, dogs aren’t always ready for a pet. Beyond the basics, such as the wagging tail and the beloved head tilt, our canine friends have a whole vocabulary of body language to let you know how they’re feeling.

When it comes to dog body language and whether it’s a good idea to touch a dog, we’d like to split it up like you would a traffic light: green, or ‘go ahead,’ yellow, or ‘use caution,’ and red, or ‘stop!’ Here are some tips on dog body language that indicate all is well versus trouble.

Green Light Dog Body Language

The best time to pet a dog is when it’s feeling calm and relaxed. It’s not feeling stressed out by its surroundings, or confused by what’s going on. When your dog is in a calm, neutral state while standing, it will have a relaxed, centered posture. Its tail will be relaxed or gently wagging, and its eyes may be partly closed, almost as if it’s squinting. When lying down, a relaxed dog will simply look relaxed. Its head will rest on the floor or on its front paws, and it’ll look like it could doze off at any time. 

Another positive state for dogs is when they’re feeling playful. This is one of the most commonly understood bits of dog body language. It will bounce into the downward dog position, with its chest to the floor and its rump in the air. This position is referred to as a play bow, and is used by dogs to let you know that any roughness is just play, and not actual aggression. Typically, a dog will only be in the play bow position for a moment, before pouncing or running in a direction. It’s usually safe to pet a dog in this state, but make sure you don’t surprise it, in case it gets frightened.

If you’ve ever walked by your dog with a plate of bacon, this last positive dog body language state is one you’re familiar with. An excited dog is characterized by a quickly wagging tail, forward ears, and an energetic posture that’s ready to pounce. They also may jump up to get the attention of whatever’s got them excited. In some cases, dogs will get overly excited. This can be a concern, especially with larger dogs and smaller children. Overly excited dogs may jump up at people, accidentally scratch you, or even nip at you. This is not aggressive behaviour per se, but it should not be encouraged with your dog.

Yellow Light Dog Body Language

If you’ve ever seen a guard dog, you’re familiar with the alert body language. A dog on alert will have a forward-leaning posture, trying to get closer to whatever’s going on. Its ears will be forward in order to pick up more directional sound, and its mouth may be closed. An alert dog is not always indicative of an intruder or threat. It may simply be interested in what’s going on! If you’re familiar with the dog, make sure to let them know you’re there before giving a reassuring pat.

You’ll most often see dogs assuming a dominant stance around other dogs, although it might take this position around other threats as well. This position is characterized by the dog trying to make itself as big and tall as possible—ears high, tall posture, and usually a raised tail. This dog is asserting itself as dominant around potential threats, and probably does not want to be pet. 

An aggressive dog has moved beyond the alert and dominant stances, and is now addressing what it considers to be a direct threat. You’ll know an aggressive dog by its stiff posture, and a steadily waving tail, sometimes described as waving like a flag. Before trying to pet this dog, give it time to assess the threat and enter a more relaxed state.

Red Light Dog Body Language

You’ll know an anxious dog by its posture. When a dog is feeling anxiety, they’ll try to take up as little space as possible. They’ll lean their body back, tuck their ears back on their head, and keep their tail low. If you see a dog behaving this way, it’s likely that it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t know what’s going on. If it’s your dog, help to reassure it that everything is alright with its favourite toys or blankets. If it’s someone else’s, it’s best to leave the dog alone for the time being.

A frightened dog is another behaviour state that many people are familiar with. They’ll have flattened ears and a tucked tail, as well as a crouching posture. This, again, is to make the dog feel as small as possible, allowing it to hide from threats. If your dog is afraid, it may also make whining noises or growls. A frightened dog may also bite in self-defense, so it’s not a good idea to pet it until it becomes more relaxed.

If a dog has faced a threat and decided they can’t win, they may enter a submissive state. This is the dog’s way of saying “I give up, don’t hurt me!” You can tell a dog is in their submissive state if they’re lying on their back, with their paws and tail tucked in close to their body. They will also usually tilt their head back to expose their throat, as well as to avoid eye contact. Some people may think this is the dog asking for a belly rub, but touching a dog in the submissive state could frighten it even more, or possibly cause it to bite in self-defense. 

Other Dog Body Language Signs Worth Noting

There are a few other body language clues to let you know a dog is feeling uncertain or nervous. Hackles, contrary to popular belief, are not always a sign of aggression. Similar to goosebumps in humans, they’re an involuntary response triggered by any kind of emotional arousal. Every dog is different, and it’s a good idea to observe your dog and notice when it raises its hackles, perhaps when it meets new dogs or unfamiliar people.

Another sometimes misunderstood behaviour in dogs is yawning. Unlike humans, dogs don’t usually yawn when they’re tired, but rather when they’re in stressful situations. Yawning helps to calm the dog, and it may also yawn to calm others, such as its owner. Take note of when your dog yawns, and you may notice a pattern, helping you to understand what situations your dog finds stressful.

The final behaviour worth noting is what’s referred to as ‘whale eye’ by dog trainers. Whale eye is when a dog averts their head slightly, but keeps their eye fixed on a point, allowing you to see the whites of their eyes. This behaviour lets us know that a dog is feeling uncomfortable or anxious, and that it doesn’t want to be pet. If you see a dog doing the whale eye, hold off on petting it until it becomes more relaxed.

Keeping Your Dog Comfortable

If you’re a dog owner, it’s important to pay attention to your dog and learn what it’s trying to say through its body language and other physical cues. Learn their habits, their comforts and stressors, as well as what their neutral body posture looks like. While this general guide on behaviour states is a great starting point for learning about dog body language, it’s no replacement for getting to know your dog and all its quirks. The more you’re able to interpret your furry best friend’s body language, the happier they’ll be, and the more comfortable they’ll be with you.

When deciding whether to say hello to someone else’s dog, the above information is a great start to understanding how it’s feeling. However, only their owner will really know what kind of mood they’re in, and whether it’s a good idea to interact with the dog. That’s why it’s so important to always ask before petting a stranger’s animal. Doing so not only keeps you physically safe, but also ensures the comfort and happiness of the animal.

If you have any more questions about dog behaviour, or anything pet-related, don’t hesitate to give us a shout at Hastings Veterinary Hospital!

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How to be Proactive about Protecting Your Pet from Fleas

There are fewer words a pet owner wants to hear less than “your pet has fleas”. Fleas are pesky parasites, and in addition to being a major annoyance for us humans, they can cause serious problems for the unlucky animal playing host. 

Thankfully, flea treatment and prevention has come a long way, and now, with the right measures, these irritating creatures can be mitigated fairly easily. Addressing fleas before they become a problem will not only save you time, money, and hassle later on, but it will ensure your pet’s safety and comfort at the same time. Here are some proactive flea prevention tips for your pets.

How to Identify a Flea and Causes of Infestation

Most of us are aware of fleas and understand what they do, but do you know what a flea infestation looks like? Fleas are small, wingless insects that survive by feeding off of the blood of larger animals. They are reddish-brown in colour, usually just a couple of millimetres long, and can exist almost anywhere in the world. They don’t fly, and instead get around by jumping (relatively) massive distances. They survive by feeding off the blood of mammals, and sometimes birds.

It’s possible for a home to become infested with fleas year-round – in Vancouver and the Fraser Valley, fleas are around all year. Typically, fleas enter the home with other animals. Since dogs tend to spend more time outside, they are at a greater risk of contracting fleas, but outdoor cats can provide an unwitting ride for the tiny insects as well. Additionally, fleas can enter the home with people, visiting animals, or in some cases, on the backs of unwanted animals, such as mice and rats.

There are a number of issues that can be caused by a flea infestation in your pet:

  • Fleas can cause a lot of discomfort in your pet from all the bites
  • Your pet will likely scratch and bite at their skin repeatedly to try and get some relief, leading to irritated skin and other wounds. 
  • Additionally, fleas can carry tapeworms, which can be passed onto your pet as well. 
  • Some animals are allergic to flea bites, which can be very serious if left untreated. 
  • Additionally, constant scratching can lead to infections, creating an even bigger problem.

Fleas can bite people, but they tend not to actively live on them in the same way they do with other animals. Fleas prefer furry animals, making cats and dogs obvious targets. Once on an animal, a flea will remain there until they are killed or die off naturally. However, they’re also capable of laying eggs in the fur of an animal, which will eventually hatch and start the whole frustrating process over again.  

Now that you know a little more about fleas, you’re probably wondering how best to prevent them from becoming a problem with your pet, and by extension, in your home. Thankfully, there are a number of steps you can take to be proactive about flea prevention, addressing the problem before it’s too late.

Watch for the Signs of a Flea Infestation

One of the best ways to ensure your pet is flea-free is simply to keep an eye on their behaviour and take note of anything unusual. Pets that have fleas on them will be very uncomfortable, so it should be fairly easy to tell if there’s an infestation in progress. Here are some things to look for when watching for fleas in your pet:

  • Excessive scratching, chewing, licking, and grooming
  • Red, irritated skin, especially on the neck, belly, and hindquarters
  • Dark brown ‘flea dirt,’ which is the flea’s excrement, present in your pet’s fur

If you notice any of these signs, confirm your suspicions by brushing through your pet’s fur with a fine-tooth comb. You may spot some moving spots, which are fleas, but it’s more likely you’ll see more ‘flea dirt.’ You can confirm that this is flea excrement and not regular dirt by brushing it onto a wet piece of paper towel. It will turn red, indicating that this is dried blood sucked from your pet and passed on by the flea.

Check Your Pet Regularly

It’s good to routinely check your pet for fleas. You can purchase a flea comb from your local pet store. Having your pet on a monthly flea product can prevent the hassle of checking—while flea baths can help soothe your pets skin, flea shampoos are not 100% effective. Your veterinarian is the best resource for effective external parasite prevention based on your pet’s lifestyle. 

Choose an Appropriate Preventative Flea Medication

For dogs and outdoor cats, your vet may recommend a preventative flea treatment. These can vary widely depending on your pet, but they tend to be a topical solution or oral tablet intended to be taken regularly. Be wary of over-the-counter flea treatments, as these can differ drastically in their effectiveness and safety for your pet. If your vet identifies your pet as being at-risk for fleas, they’ll make the necessary recommendations for preventative treatment.

One very important thing to note is to never use flea medication intended for a cat on a dog, or vice versa. Preventative flea formulas for one animal may actually be toxic for another, so always follow your veterinarian’s advice to the letter.

Keep Your House Clean and Sanitized

A great way to prevent a flea infestation is to keep your home clean. 

  • There are some chemical products intended to treat an environment for fleas, but be cautious with these, as some can be harmful to the people and/or animals they’re intended to protect. 
  • Deep clean your carpets, towels, blankets, and other fibrous surfaces. Fleas will sometimes take refuge in all of this, particularly if they come into frequent contact with your pet. 
  • Vacuum carpets, pet-specific blankets, towels, and pet beds frequently to decrease any fleas or flea eggs hiding out there. 
  • Always empty your vacuum canister outside and wash it with soap and water afterwards to ensure no hangers-on are reintroduced to your home.

Maintain a good routine of regular hygiene for your pet

It is typically recommended that you treat all your pets every month for fleas, as fleas can lay dormant in your home and in British Columbia they are around all year. This is in addition to their regular bathing and grooming. 

Take your pet to see your veterinarian regularly

The best thing you can do to ensure your pet’s health is to simply take them in for their routine vet check-ups. Of course, you do your best to run checks on them and ensure they’re free of any pesky pests, but there’s nothing better than a comprehensive veterinary examination. Your veterinarian can recommend the proper flea and tick medication based on your lifestyle.

Fleas are a common fear for many pet owners, but with proper preventative care, they don’t need to be a huge concern. It’s very important to take the proper precautions to mitigate the risk of fleas and other parasites, and when done right, you’ll sidestep a lot of potential issues down the road. Not only will your home be free of fleas, but your pets will be healthy, comfortable, and happy.

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9 Reasons Why Bunnies Make Great Pets

When many people decide to get a pet, the follow up question is usually: ‘Cat or dog?’ However, one type of pet that people tend to overlook is rabbits, when in fact, they’re one of the best furry friends you could ask for. Depending on who you are and what your lifestyle is, a rabbit could be the perfect pet.

When it comes to rabbit ownership, the level of commitment needed is much lower than with other pets. They can be as cuddly and interactive as a dog, but you don’t need to take them out for walks. And they can have as much personality as a cat, minus the bursts of extreme energy that so many cats are prone to. In short, rabbits are a happy medium between many of the most popular pets and might be a great choice for your home. Here are nine good reasons why bunnies make great pets.

1. They’re quiet creatures

Contrary to dogs or particularly vocal cats, rabbits are very quiet animals. They make the occasional sound, but by and large, they’re not much for making noise. This is perfect for people with various needs when it comes to having a pet. 

For those living in a small home, noise is a very important factor to consider when choosing a pet. Many people can’t handle noisy animals in their own home, or they don’t want to risk being woken up in the middle of the night by a restless animal. The good news is that rabbits are some of the most soft-spoken pets out there, making them the perfect choice for anyone looking for peace and quiet.

2. Bunnies are full of character

Just like with larger pets, every rabbit is a little different in their personality. Some are full of energy and love to play, and others are a little more on the shy side, and prefer relaxing. This is why it’s a great idea to take some time with a rabbit before adopting them and ensure their personality is a good fit for yours. 

If you’re a more low-key individual, a laid-back rabbit might be the best choice for you. If you’re a high energy person with lots of time to play with a pet, you’ll want a rabbit that’s a little more excitable. No matter what the personality of your rabbit, you’ll find that all of them are very affectionate and love to interact with people and the world around them in their own special way.

3. They’re easy to train

One of the lesser-known facts about rabbits is just how easy it is to train one. Not only are rabbits fairly quick to learn to use a litter-box, they’re also fully capable of doing tricks, running mazes, and completing obstacle courses. There’s no special method of training that’s specific to rabbits; you can actually train them with most of the same principles you’d use to train a dog. Typically, all it takes is a few minutes of training a day, along with some positive reinforcement.

4. Rabbits are space-effective pets

This is another great advantage of rabbits for people in smaller homes. They’ll be more than happy to spend time in a small to medium-sized crate, and just need a bunny-proof area to run around, stretch their legs, eat, drink, and use the litter box. Beyond that, how far you want to go with your bunny’s area is up to you.

5. Rabbits form strong bonds

Rabbits are intelligent and emotionally complex creatures. Any rabbit owner will tell you that their bunnies form as strong a connection with them as any cat or dog. Rabbits learn to recognize their person by sight, sound, and smell; some of them even respond to their name! It’s also not uncommon for a rabbit to follow their person around the house, and lots of them like to cuddle as well.

6. There’s a breed of bunny for everyone

There are more than fifty unique breeds of rabbit, and they truly come in every shape, size, and colour. From the truly enormous Flemish giant rabbit, all the way down to the tiniest dwarf breeds, there’s a type of rabbit for everyone. Just make sure to do your research when considering adopting a rabbit of a certain breed, as they often have different temperaments and personality traits.

7. There are many rabbits in need of rescue

We often encourage people looking for pets to rescue and adopt their animals from a shelter wherever possible. Sadly, rabbits are also often abandoned, and there’s typically always at least a handful of them in need of rescue and a loving home. Do your research and see if there’s a rabbit in need before buying one from a breeder or pet store.

8. Rabbits live long lives

Considering their size, rabbits tend to live surprisingly long lives. Rabbits will live, on average, about seven to ten years, some get even older. When taking in a pet, it’s comforting to know that you’ll have a long time to share together, and this is especially true for rabbits.

9. They’re (generally) clean pets!

Admittedly, bunnies aren’t the cleanest pets when they haven’t been litter-box trained. However, if you can get through the initial messy period and train their behaviour, you’ll find that they’re generally very tidy creatures. Beyond a litter box area, you’ll also want to supply their sleeping area with absorbent, dry bedding in case of urine. Additionally, rabbits like to keep themselves clean and will usually groom often enough to be self-sufficient. Depending on the breed of your rabbit, you may need to give them a brush from time to time to prevent any tangling or matting of their coats, but aside from that, they like to keep things fairly clean.

If you’re beginning to warm up to the idea of owning a rabbit, that’s great! They’re some of the most wonderful animals you could ask to have in your home. If you’re considering adopting a rabbit, you’re looking for more guidance on how to raise, train, and care for your bunny, or you’re looking for a veterinarian to care for your new pet, contact us or book an appointment with our rabbit vet. We’re happy to help answer any questions you might have about rabbits, and we’d love to meet yours!

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Preventive Medicine for Pets: Why We Do What We Do

At Hastings Veterinary Hospital, we are all about providing pet owners with preventive medicine. So here’s what you need to know.

What is Preventive Medicine for Pets Exactly?

There are several different forms of preventive medicine that goes into our regular veterinary care services. Examples include vaccinations, blood testing, and flea and parasite control.

Basically you’re not bringing your pet in to see the veterinarian the minute they’re sick; you’re bringing them in to the vet office before such a stressful event can take place and cause you and your pet greater anxiety.

Why Do You Practice Preventive Veterinary Medicine?

Simple: we do what we do because we care about your pets. We all have pets at Hastings Veterinary Hospital, and we treat them like family—with love and respect. So, we always treat our pet patients and their families like they’re a part of our own family too.

We don’t want our pets to get sick, or be scared, or feel anxious—we know you don’t want that either. To avoid such stress in our lives, we make sure to follow up on scheduled appointment times and pay extra attention to the details of each pet’s case during an examination. In the event a specialist is needed, we’ll make the referral for you so your pet gets the best possible care they need.

Other benefits of preventive medicine for pets include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

  • It’s less expensive. While there are surgical procedures that do fall under the category of preventive medicine, such as spaying and neutering, these procedures are far less costly than it would be if you only take care of your pet when they are sick and need more urgent care.
  • It’s less stressful. Going back to our previous point about reducing anxiety, by practicing preventive medicine through our routine check-ups and exams, we will be able to detect underlying conditions or address future concerns before they become an even bigger problem. For example, a bump on your pet’s skin could be a flea bite, or it can mean something else; either way, by bringing your pet in for an exam, you’re also bringing your family veterinarian’s attention to their case now as opposed to later when it may be too late to prevent secondary conditions from developing. Finding out that there is a problem now and addressing it sooner than later reduces future anxieties on you and your pet going forward!
  • It’s more considerate. From your pet’s perspective, they can only do so much to communicate to you whether they are happy and healthy or sick and in need of help. It’s tougher in some cases, especially for cats, since their natural reaction to pain is to hide it from potential predators. By practicing preventive solutions in your daily pet care routine, you are in turn contributing to the reduction of their fear and anxiety surrounding veterinary services. The less stressed out you feel about going to see the vet, the less stressed out your pet will be too.
  • It’s more beneficial to you and your pet’s well-being. Stress is the number one factor in causing harm to the body in both humans and animals. Once your pet is receiving preventive medicine and care, you will see a difference in their well-being tenfold. The alternative would be having to treat conditions left undiagnosed and untreated for too long…and that’s definitely not something we recommend you doing.

How Does It Work?

All you have to do to make preventive medicine for pets work is bring your pet in for their annual checkups and routine vaccinations and deworming. It’s that easy!

Ask any and all questions you have for your vet during checkups to ensure that your pet is getting the help they need. The more educated you become on how to best care for your pet, the greater the preventive solutions will be and the happier your pet will be for it. If you’d like to continue to learn more about pet care, our blog is a good start.

If you still have any questions regarding preventive medicine as a veterinary service, we are here for you. Contact us to learn more about our practice or if you’d like to book an appointment.

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Top 5 List of Gift Ideas for a Pet Lover this Christmas

Like the rest of the family, pets deserve a gift or two this holiday season! However, it’s important to choose safe and appropriate presents for our furry friends.

If you’re planning on gifting a pet that belongs to a relative or a friend, there’s a wealth of toys, treats, and accessories available. In general, we recommend only gifting pet-specific items, just to ensure that they’re safe.

Here is our top 5 list of gift ideas for a pet lover this Christmas:

  1. Grooming date for their pet (ideally at their regular groomer)
  2. A commitment to housesitting their pet on their next weekend getaway
  3. Gift card from a pet store
  4. Appointment with a pet adoption home to explore the possibility of pet adoption
  5. A bag of their pets’ favourite treats (never goes wrong!)

Other creative things like a portable water dispenser or a paw print kit are also an option. If you want to invest in a more expensive gift, there is a large selection of pet monitor cameras for cats and dogs, so you can keep an eye on them when they’re home alone.

Things to watch out for

On the no-go side, if you’re not a pet owner yourself, you should know that many human foods can cause bloating, digestive issues, vomiting, or diarrhea in dogs and cats.

Chocolate, for example, is one of the best-known food hazards to dogs. Onions and garlic can be extremely harmful to a cat.

So, whatever you choose to give a furry friend for the holidays, we recommend it’s something specifically made for them.

Need inspiration?

You can find even more helpful gift ideas in our articles—there’s one specifically for your pooch, and another one for your pet-friendly human family members (and their dogs and cats too).

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Creative Ideas to Keep Pets Out of Christmas Decorations

If you’ve ever raised a cat or dog, you probably know that the holidays tend to bring new levels of challenge when it comes to keeping your furry friend safe. With all the exciting decorations, delicious food, and new people coming and going, the holidays can be an overwhelming time for pets.

One of the most common causes for pet injuries around this time of the year involves some kind of holiday decoration, whether it’s a Christmas tree or a strand of lights. Avoid unplanned visits to the veterinarian this winter with these creative ideas to keep pets out of your Christmas decorations.

How to Pet-proof Your Decorations

There are a number of decorations in the home that can be hazards for your pets. Of course, every animal is different, and what might be completely safe for one could be a serious danger to another. However, here are a few common Christmas decorations to keep a watchful eye over:

  • Christmas trees are a cherished and classic holiday decoration. However, because of their height, and the fact that they’re normally loaded with enticing, dangling decorations, they’re also one of the most common causes for holiday pet accidents.
  • Christmas lights are beautiful, but pose a couple of safety risks to many pets. The light bulbs, being so colourful and exciting, might be a temptation for a bite-happy dog. Likewise, playful pets might bite right through the cord, risking electric shock or even a fire. Finally, animals of all kinds have been known to get tangled up in the strands of lights, which could lead to injury.
  • Garlands are often seen in the home around the holidays. Whether they’re artificial or real, these decorations can be hazardous to keep around mischievous pets. Your cat or dog might get tangled up in the garland, possibly injuring themselves in the process. Also, the needles on some garland’s might shed, especially if you’re using the same decoration year after year. If your pet ends up getting these needles in their mouth, they could be a choking hazard.
  • Candles are a great way to set the holiday mood. Unfortunately, many animals find them alluring for the same reasons as humans, and could end up burning themselves or even knocking the candle over and starting a fire. 
  • Wrapping paper can be a hazard as well. If your pet is prone to eating little bits of whatever they can find, be sure to properly dispose of even the smallest scraps of wrapping paper after the gifts have been opened.

These are just some of the more common holiday hazards that could wind up causing trouble for your pet. Keep your cherished decorations in good shape, and keep your pet safe by taking a few simple precautions.

Choose Decorations Wisely

There are a huge variety of decorations available for trees, and taking the time to choose the right ones will go a long way in ensuring a safe holiday for everyone.

  • Fragile hanging baubles and glass decorations can be risky temptations, particularly for dogs who like to try eating whatever they can get their paws on. 
  • Since these decorations are liable to shatter, we advise keeping them off the tree, or at the very least, ensuring they’re higher up so your dog can’t reach them. 
  • The same goes for cats, since many are enticed by dangling objects. If you have a particularly mischievous cat, we’d recommend avoiding any tempting decorations entirely, since they’re likely to try and climb the tree to get at whatever catches their eye.
  • We also advise against any food-based decorations, such as strings of popcorn. These are just another temptation to most animals, and could be the thing to send them after your Christmas tree.

Consider the Pros and Cons of Real Trees

A real Christmas tree is a beautiful and nostalgic piece of holiday decoration, but you should consider carefully if it’s the right choice for your pet. Needles from a real pine or spruce tree can be a hassle and a hazard. Not only will your pet likely track them all through the house, but also they could be choking hazards for smaller animals, or possibly even be mildly poisonous depending on the type of tree and any chemicals present on the needles. In general, an artificial Christmas tree is likely to be the safest option for your pet.

Make a Barrier Around the Tree to Protect it from Nosy Pets

If you can’t seem to shake your pet’s interest in your Christmas tree, consider blocking access to it in some way. You could use a baby gate or a moveable play-pen to enclose it, or even block the way with larger gifts if your pet is small enough. The more you do to keep your pet away from the tree in general, the less likely they are to run into trouble.

Use Sprays to Deter Pets from the Tree

Pet deterrent sprays are available at most pet supply stores, but if those don’t work, or you’d prefer to make something at home, you can try spraying it with a concoction of water and turmeric. We recommend consulting with our veterinarian first to find out the safest way to deter your pet without bringing risk to them or your family.

Keep Electrical Cords Safe and Secure

Electrical cords pose a major hazard to pets, particularly to dogs with a knack for biting on things they shouldn’t. If possible, route Christmas light cables and extension cords high up so your pet doesn’t have the chance to chew on them. If this isn’t possible, you could always securely tape the cords to the floor. Just make sure to keep an eye on your pet to ensure they don’t try to pull the tape off in order to get at the cable.

Ensure the Tree is Well Secured

If you’re going to put a Christmas tree in your home with your pet, you should ensure it’s as securely placed as possible. Even small animals can climb up the tree, push it, or get tangled up in the branches, causing it to topple over. Not only can this injure your pet, but also it could hurt a family member, or at the very least wreck the tree, the decorations, and other objects in the room. 

Avoid this by ensuring the tree is well-secured to its base. It’s even better to have an additional point of contact, ideally at the top of the tree that’s fastened to a wall, ceiling, or curtain rod, to ensure the tree can’t be knocked over—no matter what.

Secure Your Decorations to the Tree

Another great way to ensure your decorations stay on the tree is to securely fasten them when you place them. You can use twist ties, clips, string, or stiff wire to do this. It’s best (and easiest) to do this for every ornament as you’re hanging them, and it’ll go a long way in keeping your decorations out of the mouth of any curious pets.

In General, Choose Safe Decorations Around the House

We all have our favourite seasonal decorations, but it’s important to keep your pets in mind when choosing them. There are a few decorations that can be major hazards to your pets, and should either be placed with extreme care or avoided entirely. 

Candles are a common choice for holiday decor, but are quite risky to keep around pets. The flickering flame is likely to catch the interest of your pets, particularly if you have an especially curious cat in the house. No matter what kind of pet you have, be very careful with candles, as they may try and play with it, potentially burning themselves or even knocking the flame over and starting a fire. If you want to achieve the same look, consider battery-powered candles with no heat or open flame. 

As you can see, decorating a house for the holidays with a pet in the equation comes with a few extra considerations. However, with a little extra thought and preparation, you can keep your home looking festive and beautiful, just the way you like it, while ensuring your pet has a safe and comfortable holiday as well. 

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How to Get Your Cat to Exercise More (They Need it Too!)

Cats aren’t exactly renowned for their highly organized exercise regimens. When you think of a cat, you probably think of naps and carefree stretching, punctuated by brief explosions of energy. Although outdoor cats usually get a decent amount of exercise in a day, it can be tougher to keep an indoor cat in shape, so that’s what we’re going to focus on in this article. 

In combination with a proper diet, exercise will go a long way to keep your indoor cat in the best possible health. Otherwise, you run the risk of your cat becoming overweight, which can lead to serious health issues such as diabetes, heart problems, arthritis, and more. With that in mind, here are Hastings Vet’s top ways to get your cat to exercise more:

Exercise games for cats

Physical games are some of the most effective (and fun) ways to get your cat more active. Although the energy levels of cats differ widely depending on their age, breed, and personality, you should always try to play with your cat as often as possible. Some of the best things you can use to play with your cat are:

1. Feathers or other objects on sticks and strings

The majority of cat toys are some variation of a lure on a string, attached to a stick. Think of it like a fishing rod, only you’re trying to catch a four kilogram predator instead of a fish. Moving the stick around mimics the movement of a small animal, which will get your cat’s hunting instincts going and encourage them to go for the ‘kill’. This can be a lot of fun for cats and humans alike, and is a great way to encourage your indoor cat to get some exercise, all while honing their natural instincts.

2. Playing with a ball

Playing with a cat-friendly ball is another great way to get your cat moving. Seeing an unassuming ball rolling along the floor, practically begging to be pounced on, is basically irresistible to most cats. Simply rolling it around is usually enough to spur your cat into action, keeping them active while promoting their predator instincts. Obviously, make sure the ball isn’t small enough for them to swallow, and keep an eye on your pet just in case.

Build the indoor environment with exercise in mind

Playing with your cat is great, but you don’t want your pet to solely rely on you for exercise. Setting up your indoor space with your cat’s activity in mind is a great way to make sure they’re getting enough exercise, even when you’re not around to tempt them with a toy. Cats love to climb, scratch stuff, hide in little places, and generally cause mischief, so outfitting your place with things to help with this will not only save your furniture, it’ll help keep your cat healthy as well!

Some of the best ways to set up your space for your cat to get exercise are:

1. Getting a scratching post or a cat tree

This is one of the best things you can do for your cat. Although there’s a common joke that the more time you spend finding the perfect scratching post, the less likely your cat is to use it, this isn’t always the case. A scratching post will likely see a lot of use, especially if you rub a bit of catnip on it once in a while. If you’re able to, get a cat tree with a scratching post included. This way, your cat has something to climb around on, a high-up place to relax, and a scratching post all together in one convenient package. 

An important note on scratching posts is that it should be the right one for your cat. Get one that’s tall enough that they can fully extend against it, and ensure the post will support their weight. The better suited the post is to your cat, the more likely they are to use it. 

You can also experiment with other things to get your cat moving around the house. Some cats love those long tubes that they can run through and hide in, and some might just be satisfied with a few boxes here and there for them to climb in. Play around and see what your cat likes best, and what gets them moving the most. 

2. Cycling a few toys in and out to keep things fresh

Cats love a good toy, but like kids, they tend to get bored of the same ones eventually. Keep it exciting by rotating toys in and out, encouraging your cat to go on the hunt and get active at home. The more interesting the toy, the more time they’re likely to spend playing with them, so make sure they’ve got enough to do around the house!

3. Give your cat an elevated spot

Cats love to find a vantage point to survey their kingdom (your home) and watch the world. Try to find a good (and safe!) spot in your house, somewhere they can get a good view of everything. If you’re able to put this spot near a window, that’s even better. This is a great way to foster your cat’s natural hunting instincts, and is more likely to get them into their natural mindstate, promoting a more active lifestyle.

4. Make time for your cat!

While having stuff at home for your cat to play with is great, nothing is more fun than playing with their person. Make sure you’re making as much time as possible to play with your cat. Whether you’re whipping a fake mouse on a string around, or simply chasing them throughout the house, your cat is sure to have a lot of fun and get a lot of exercise if you simply engage with them. You might get a few scratches along the way, but that’s part of the joy of cat ownership, right?

Keeping your cat in good shape

It can be challenging to keep your indoor cat in a healthy lifestyle. However, with a little bit of care put into their toys and their home environment, along with ensuring you’re frequently available to play with them, you’ll be able to stimulate them and keep their natural instincts sharp. If you’ve done the above, but your cat is still acting more like Garfield than a frisky kitten, you should consult your vet to see what other changes can be made.

If you have more questions about keeping your cat healthy, please don’t hesitate to contact Hastings Veterinary Hospital today!

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The Healing Power of Service Dogs for Our Veterans

For tens of thousands of years, humans and dogs have had a long-standing symbiotic relationship. They’ve helped us find food, protected us from predators, and provided much-needed companionship. So it’s clear that humans and dogs have an intertwined relationship. It can be difficult to discuss the history of one without discussing the other. This long history between us and our dogs carries on today, but not only when it comes to choosing a pet.

These days, fewer of us need to hunt to survive, or be protected as we spend the night in the wilderness. However, dogs are still helping us in an extremely important way: therapy and emotional support. Although any dog owner will tell you how helpful a dog is when they’re feeling down, there’s one group in particular that benefits from the inherent kindness and loyalty of a dog: our Canadian veterans.

A Brief History of Service Dogs

To understand the amazing impact service dogs can have on today’s veterans, we should take a look at the history of dogs helping humans out. Although we’ve co-existed with domesticated dogs for thousands of years, there’s evidence that they’ve been working in a service role for almost as long.

For instance, a piece of art discovered in Pompeii was discovered depicting a dog guiding a blind man. This depiction dates all the way back to 74 CE, during the rule of the Roman Empire. This is the first known example of a dog guiding a blind person. Other examples have been found from across the world, illustrating hundreds of years of dogs helping humans navigate their disability.

In 1780, the Paris hospital Les Quinze-Vingts began training dogs to guide blind people for the first time, formalizing the service role for the first time. From here, more and more dogs were specifically trained for this task until they became indispensable.

During the first World War, dogs played a crucial part in supporting troops on both the British and German sides. Whether it was delivering supplies or messages, leading medics to wounded troops, or keeping an eye out for enemy spies, dogs proved that they could support humans in more ways than previously thought. After the war ended, humans still made use of service dogs. Germany was the first nation to assign guide dogs to their veterans after World War I, pairing up around 4000 blind veterans with a faithful companion by 1927. 

That same year, an American dog trainer named Dorothy Harrison Eustis wrote an article about the German guide dogs in The Saturday Evening Post, an American magazine. By this point, Eustis had been working for a few years in Switzerland, training dogs for the police and military. After the article was published, she received a letter from one Morris Frank, a blind man in America who couldn’t believe what he’d heard about Germany’s guide dogs. He asked her to train him a dog, and to teach him how to train them himself, so that he could help the thousands of other blind Americans become self-sufficient. Eustis agreed, and trained a dog for Morris, who spent the rest of his life in the company of guide dogs (all of which were named Buddy). Eustis would go on to open an academy for training guide dogs in the United States, which inspired a movement across North America and Europe to do the same.

By this point, it was clear that dogs had a lot to offer when it came to helping people with disabilities. However, it’s only in the past fifty years that the modern training process has become the norm, allowing people from across the world to gain the advantage of working with a guide dog. What’s also changed in the past fifty years is our understanding of what a service dog can help with, particularly in regards to our veterans.

Of all the wounds that soldiers sustain when serving in active combat, few have been as poorly understood as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Because research on this mental illness is still in its infancy, we don’t know everything about helping veterans battle PTSD. However, research over the past few decades has suggested that service dogs have a crucial part to play in treating this mental illness. 

How Service Dogs Can Help Treat PTSD

In a study conducted by the US Department of Veteran Affairs, it was found that around 10% of veterans studied experienced depression, and another 10% struggled with anxiety. PTSD affects 11-20% of soldiers who saw combat, depending on which conflict they served in, and still more struggle with MST, or military sexual trauma. These mental illnesses can be extremely difficult to handle on one’s own, and are commonly linked to suicidal impulses, self-destructive behaviour, and difficulty with social adjustment.

Today, there are many organizations that train service dogs and connect them with veterans. Although these are also concerned with helping veterans after physical injuries, the growing knowledge of PTSD means mental health is becoming more of a priority for these organizations. Knowledge of other mental illnesses is growing in tandem with research on PTSD, allowing us to gain a better understanding of how to help people who have experienced trauma.

The National Institute of Health found in a study that interacting directly with an animal can monumentally improve a person’s socialization, as well as help stabilize a person’s mood. Furthermore, studies in the field of psychology have researched the effects of animals on people suffering from PTSD, and found that it can reduce symptoms by 80% simply through basic interactions. This is amazing news, but why does it happen?

Studies have shown that when we interact with an animal, our brains release oxytocin into our systems. This chemical is sometimes called the “love hormone,” or the “cuddle hormone,” as it’s often produced when we do either of those two things, helping us to bond and build trust. When our brain releases oxytocin, we feel happier, calmer, and more at ease. It helps to mentally ground us, and can soothe the symptoms of mental illness. The most amazing thing is that these results are easily replicable – as increased levels of dopamine and oxytocin can be seen after just twenty minutes of interacting with a service dog. 

For veterans struggling with high heart rates due to stress disorders, having a trusted and trained animal can actually be the difference between life and death, allowing the veteran to calm down and return to a more mentally grounded state. Similarly, studies have suggested that supplying veterans with a service animal can help them feel less alone, potentially reducing the disproportionately high rate of veteran suicide. 

All types of animals have been successfully used to treat patients struggling with previous trauma. From dogs and cats, to horses, and even iguanas, animals of all kinds have been shown to positively impact veterans dealing with trauma after returning home. Although the science is still in its early stages, initial results are so promising that the Department of Defense has invested $300 000 in research for animal-assisted veteran therapy. 

Guiding Our Veterans into the Future

It’s true that science can’t definitively say that there’s a link between service animals and recovery from PTSD or MST. However, subjectively, there’s a strong body of evidence to show that it can make all the difference for veterans trying to readjust to civilian life. As an example, The Wounded Warriors Project has been matching veterans with service dogs for almost twenty years, helping them in their battle against mental illness. 

If you ask us, having a service animal is invaluable when it comes to navigating life after trauma. As we approach Remembrance Day in Canada, we’re reminded of the countless men and women who have made unbelievable sacrifices in the course of their duties. And while remembering these sacrifices is incredibly important, it’s equally important to provide support wherever possible. Whether a veteran is returning home with an observable physical injury, or an invisible mental illness, or both, service dogs can be instrumental in helping them overcome their challenges, and guiding them into a brighter future.

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How to Teach your Child to be Gentle with Pets

Having a furry companion in the family can be a real joy, and there have been multiple studies showing the benefit that having pets at home can have on a developing child. However, if you’re looking to introduce your child to a new pet, or a new child to your pet, you’ll need to put the work in to make sure both are as happy and comfortable as possible.

It’s important to teach your child to respect all animals, not just pets, from an early age. However, since cats, dogs, and rabbits are the animals they’ll most likely come into contact with, they can be the perfect starting place to teach your child the importance of respect and gentleness for all living things. 

Teaching your child to be gentle with animals will not only provide a safe and peaceful environment for you and your pets, but it could help prevent any potentially nasty interactions, such as dog bites, with unknown animals down the line. No matter how well-behaved the kid, as their parent, you should always keep an eye on them when they’re around animals, particularly in the transition phase as they get used to having a pet in the house. Even the gentlest child can hurt, annoy, or aggravate an animal without meaning to, thanks to their limited motor skills and still-developing sense of boundaries. 

While each family has their own specific way of teaching important lessons to children, we believe the best way to make a lasting impression is to lead by example. Young children, with their ever-expanding minds, are constantly absorbing information from the world around them, most of all from their parents. Understanding what kinds of behaviours you’d like to see from your child, and then modelling those behaviours, is the number one way to start seeing positive change from your child’s animal encounters.

Encouraging desired behaviours

Although the exact list of ideal behaviour may shift a bit depending on your family and your pet, there are a few basic ground rules that will help provide stability and happiness for everyone involved. This includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Overall respect and gentleness when interacting with animals
  • Calm play, and avoiding over-exciting the animal
  • No abusive behaviour, such as hitting, prodding, yelling, etc.
  • Leaving animals, particularly dogs, alone when they’re in their crate unless absolutely necessary
  • Leaving animals, especially dogs, alone while they’re eating
  • Understanding how to pet animals, and doing it calmly
  • Not chasing after animals that want to be left alone
  • When meeting a new dog, never approaching it straight away; instead letting it come to you

Although your child should know each of these, rattling each one off at the same time is unlikely to stick in their brain. When in doubt, think of the old mantra “show, don’t tell.” Kids learn by watching, and by doing, and this is equally true when learning how to respect animals.

Teaching your child proper behaviour

So what’s the best way to model proper behaviour around animals? We recommend working backwards from the behaviour you’d like to see, and figuring out how you can create teachable moments to leave a lasting impression. For instance, show your child how your pet likes to be touched. Do it with them first, in order to give an example. When they’ve observed the proper technique, allow your child to give it a try. Work with them until they’re able to properly pet the animal without corrections or reminders, and be sure to emphasize how much your pet likes it when they’re touched properly.

Children, and especially toddlers, must learn to allow dogs to approach them first, rather than vice versa. They should understand that while many animals look cute and cuddly, they may not be comfortable around new people, or may only like to be touched in a certain way. If you and your kid are out and about, and you spot a friendly looking dog, make a point of letting your child see you ask for the owner’s permission to pet it. Then, invite the dog to come to you, and have your child do the same thing. 

For your own pet, reinforce that your child should do something else while your pet is in their crate, eating, or doing their business. If they don’t understand straight away, try drawing comparisons. How would your child feel if someone tried to scratch them behind the ears while they were busy with sleeping or eating? Make sure they understand that, just like people, animals need private time away from others.

Above all else, make sure your child understands that your pet is a living being with emotions, and a personality, not a toy. While a young child may not fully understand the difference between their cat and their favourite stuffed animal yet, it’s important to reinforce the distinction as often as possible. Again, drawing comparisons to how they’re expected to behave around people can be useful—for instance, just as with people, your child should understand never to throw things at your pet, sit on them, or play too roughly.

Reinforcing gentle behaviour

Lengthy lectures usually won’t have the desired effect on your child—instead, we recommend first modelling the behaviour you’d like to see from them, in essence, setting the best example possible. From here, it’s important to back up what you say, and help your child understand that they need to behave in the same way you do. After explaining the importance of treating your pet respectfully and gently, lay out clear consequences for your child if they don’t. There’s no need to go overboard; a short time-out should get the message across just fine. 

Additionally, making the punishment fit the crime, so to speak, is a great way to reinforce lessons you teach your child. For starters, if you notice your child acting roughly or teasingly with your pet, you should separate the two immediately. This protects your child from a fed-up animal, and your pet from unnecessary grief. Likewise, if your child is using their toys to throw at your pet, take them away for a period. These consequences will not only help them realize they’ve done something wrong, but give them a better idea of exactly what they did wrong, and help them connect their actions with the ramifications.

Helping everyone get along

Instilling the importance of treating all animals with respect will not only help protect your child from run-ins with upset pets, but also help them develop into better people in general. Understanding how to be gentle, kind, and respectful to animals will help your children develop better social skills and healthier relationships later in life, whether that’s with people or pets. 

If you still have questions about teaching your child how to be gentle with animals, how to make the transition period of a new pet as smooth as possible, or anything else to do with your four-legged companion, don’t hesitate to contact Hastings Vet today!

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Hastings Veterinary Hospital and a clickable link back to this page.