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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Product Review - Winga

We have been so lucky to be able to test out multiple types of retrieval toys and I have to say the Winga was one of my favorite! We really had a blast with this one.

The Winga is a disc/mini-frisbee type of toy put out by Kurgo that comes with a launcher AND a replacement disc. You can also purchase a separate pack of 2 replacement discs as well.

I had such a great experience with the Winga! I used it with 4 different dogs, every one absolutely loved it! The launcher is very easy to use and boy does it LAUNCH the disc (up to 200 feet)! My first test sailed clear
over the fence of the pup I was visiting, landing quietly in the neighbor's leaf pile. My second attempt flew straight in the air over the fence and so far into the woods that neither the pup nor myself could locate it. Talk about a flier!

If you are "challenged" with throwing Frisbees as I am, this toy is for you. I had no trouble enjoying the Frisbee experience with the pups and the dogs loved it considering I usually can't throw any type of Frisbee to save my life.

Another pleasant surprise was the durability of the discs themselves. I used the Winga with two pups that have some of the strongest jaws of all the pups we visit. If it can be splintered or torn, these are the guys to do it. When they first picked up the disc and decided to attempt to take it from each other, I thought for sure it would have punctures all over it or would perhaps be torn in half. I couldn't believe it when there was not one mark on the disc. These guys are chewers and will chew on the toy before bringing it back and the disc didn't have a scratch on it!

The only issue I had with the Winga was when it first came out of the packaging. I couldn't get the disc to come out of the launcher. It was like the launcher was too tight and the disc wouldn't fly out. Nowhere on the packaging did it explain how to fix this issue and in an effort not to waste time, I simply put the launcher aside and threw the discs by hand, which worked well too!

I did call the rep at Kurgo to see if I was doing something wrong. He did explain that a new launcher will be tight to ensure the included disc does not fall out of the packaging and so that the launcher isn't too lose once its used a bit. He told me to stretch it open a bit and that it should be fine. It was! I was afraid at first I may break it but found with a few simple stretches, it was good to go.

I definitely would recommend the Winga. It was really a fun toy and had minimal "slime factor" compared to tennis balls and the Go-Frrr ball. The plastic disc doesn't really hold slime the way other toys do. The other great feature is that this baby floats! It's really a perfect beach toy as well!

If you are using this in a wooded area or at the beach, I do recommend purchasing the replacement discs as my day of fun would have been over after losing a disc on the very first day. The package does come with one additional disc but I think having some replacements on hand wouldn't be a bad idea.

All around great product! Special thanks to Mike from Kurgo for letting us test this toy and being wonderful to deal with. Kurgo also makes safety harnesses for pups in cars which we are in the process of testing out as well. 

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Saying Goodbye To A Friend - The Maximum Cat

When our sitter Michele called to tell me her beloved cat, Max had passed away, my heart sank. I knew how much Max meant to her as I'd heard his special story before. While there wasn't much I could do to console Michele as she said goodbye to her friend, I offered up our blog as a means to provide a memorial to Max. This special kitty deserved a space where his memory would always reside.. a place where his story could be shared with others. It's my hope that his story will touch your heart, just as it did mine....

It may sound odd for a pet sitter to only have ever had 2 cats their entire life but I was raised by "dog people". I didn't even take in my first cat until I was 30.  After adopting my own dog and cat I started to become more and more aware and concerned over animal abuse and neglect. When I was told there were several ferals on our block and were out of control, I wanted to help.  

I'm not sure how many cats were there the first morning I took food since many hid, but I counted 10. Out of those 10, the cat whom I'd name Max, came up to me almost immediately. I found that odd as I was told ferals were skittish.

He was a grey tabby and very thin.  My goal was to save all the cats mainly because they couldn't help themselves. My neighbors wanted nothing to do with them and now at least 20 cats were living in our backyards and they needed help. 

I got in touch with local animal agencies for info on what to do next.  TNR (Trap, Neuter, Return) was the only option and they needed to be moved from the small back yard. 

I was never the type of person who would ever think of putting a "wild" animal in my car, but my desire to help these animals was too strong to even care.  For the first time in my life, I felt I had a purpose. Gone was the shy person who would let others take care of things.  I had to do this.

One morning, while making my way out to feed the ferals, I was stopped by a few of the condo Board Members and told I could no longer feed the cats. They told me they were making plans to permanently remove them and that I had to leave. While I planned to sneak back later to feed the cats,  I knew things would not be easy for me or more importantly these innocent animals.  As I grabbed the food and headed back to my car, I watched the cats scramble around the normal eating area wondering where their daily breakfast was.  

It was then that I noticed Max. Instead of being concerned with his missing breakfast, he instead followed me to my car.  The cats all broke my heart,  but Max made me break down in tears.  As I got in my car, he sat there and watched me drive off. He remained there until I could no longer see him.  I'll never forget that and I knew then that Max was different.

I continued the fight for the ferals with the help of Animal Alliance and our local Animal Control officer who educated my neighbors on TNR.  I was then given the ok to continue feeding on a temporary basis.  Four years later, the cats are still thriving. 

As for Max, I don't remember his trapping for neutering although I'm sure he reacted like the rest - unhappy and ready to tear me up if given the chance. 

Whenever I fed, Max remained the only cat to come up to me like a house cat even jumping on my leg and reaching up.   I remember he even clapped my hand once, I'm sure by accident,  but it sure did seem like a high-five to me. Max was so friendly. He was just a sweet cat, while every other cat from the colony continued to fear me.

One day there was maintenance being done on one of the buildings. I noticed Max didn't show up for breakfast. He didn't show up the next day, or the next, or the next week and I really started to worry.  Eventually, I had to realize that either Max was friendly with someone and had gotten taken in, or worse, but in any case, I had to accept that he was not coming back. I was devastated.

Fourteen months went by and I continued to feed, water and monitor the remaining cats but I would think of Max often. Until one night when the impossible happened...

While filling food plates, I noticed there were 2 cats that looked exactly alike.  It took me a moment to get over my confusion as to what I was seeing but when I saw them eat next to each other, I was in total shock. It couldn't be Max! I waited for him to finish.  I squatted down while confusion continued to run through my head. FOURTEEN months had passed with no sign of him! I had mourned the loss of my favorite feral long ago.   I knew the exact month he disappeared. It was impossible that an entire year (and two months) had past and here he was!  As that thought went through my mind, he walked up to me and nudged my arm.   It was a moment that was like something out of a movie.   Max was back.

I have no clue where Max was for that 14 month period.  Of course, its very possible a decent neighbor took him in but why was he back outside?  He not only continued to show up for the twice daily feedings, but when I would randomly check to see if he was around, he usually was.  It just didn't make sense that he had a home and now didn't. As time went on, our little bond conMaxBuccialia.jpgtinued to grow. 

Then the snow storm came... I had gone out several times to check on the cats and to make trails so they could get across the yard with ease but no cats had been seen for over a day.   The next night I went out again, but still no cats.  I was beyond worried, until I saw at the end of a trail, Max sitting alone, his head held high like he was looking for me, just waiting in the snow. This would be yet another image of Max that I won't ever forget.  With a look of recognition, he came running to me. 

Max and the others ate that night and gave me a sign of relief but it was then that Max followed me through the trail almost back home.   I thought that I would love nothing more than to have him follow me inside.  BUT HE WAS A FERAL!   He could fight with my indoor cat.  He could tear up the place - NO WAY!! Knowing he had family and was capable of surviving a bad snow storm, I figured this was the best life for him.  Yet, I still occasionally thought of what life with him would be like.

Then it happened.

After only a month after his return, Max was attacked by either another cat or wild animal.   I called my friends at Animal Alliance and was told he needed to be trapped immediately because he may not survive the night.  Trapping cats twice is said to be impossible and I knew I needed the help of two of the most selfless people I know. The women from Animal Alliance came out at 11pm on a Friday night, trapped Max and took him to the vet in the morning. 

Even though I was happy he was safely at the vet. I knew he wasn't in the clear year. Not only was there a concern with him surviving the attack but there was also the issue of him possibly having leukemia and/or feline aids. If he had leukemia he would have to be put down. 

For two days, I couldn't help but be nervous and was thrilled when I got the call that all was clear.  I was then asked what I was going to do with Max.  When I asked about the possibility of him returning to the outdoors, I was told the same thing would probably happen.  While I thought it was a wild animal that caused the damage, I was told it was most likely that he was the subordinate in the colony and he would continue to be.  He had to come inside.  

Even though I so badly wanted him indoors, I still had my fears on what a feral cat could do.   I had to protect my other cat as well as my belongings.   We decided I would give it a try and a slow introduction while he healed was going to take place. If it didn't work out the woman who helped me save Max agreed to take him if need be, with the hope that she'd be able to find a forever home elsewhere.

I can't remember how long Max was in the dog crate to heal while slowly be introduced to the others.  He never seemed nervous when my Pit Bull, Diamond, curiously sniffed at his crate. The day I let him out in a closed room, I was still envisioning him jumping about, pulling down curtains and destroying the entire room, but that never happened.  Max spent time close to me, rubbing against me and looking up at me before even wandering about his first day as an indoor house cat. Max never attempted to go outside again.   

My other cat, Tigger, had lived with a ferret for a few years before Diamond was adopted, but had always been the only cat.  I wondered if that was going to be an issue. Tigger continued to walk the perimeter of each room, while Max learned his way around. While I never expected the two to be best buds, I just wanted them to be able to live together.  There was an occasional stare down which quickly ended in a 2 second wrestling match but there was never a truly aggressive moment between the two.  It did take a few years, but I would then often find them snuggled up together. It wasn't even a shock to find the dog on the couch with them as well.

I was shocked at how well behaved Max was indoors.  He never scratched the couch or got into things he shouldn't.  He never once even attempted to eat Tigger's food on the washer.  It was so strange how he just knew how to live indoors and did exactly what was hoped and expected of him.

One day, I threw a cat toy for him that accidentally went down the stairs.  I headed down to retrieve it myself when I noticed Max had the toy and was bringing it back to me in his mouth! My cat played fetch! What an awesome discovery.

Even though my parents aren't cat people, they too thought Max was special and mentioned this to me whenever they visited. They even put several Christmas presents under the tree for him during the holidays. One particular gift, a plastic cube, was soon to be Max's favorite and became one he simply would not share.  I wish I had a camera out when I watched Max run to the cube, stand on his hind legs and with his two front paws, he flipped the cube on its side.  It was quite a surprise when I saw Tigger's back end slowly slide out of the opening! Tigger stood there shocked while Max walked into HIS cube to lay down. What a Youtube moment!

I was often awoken by Max either sleeping next to me, sometimes with fur in my face or with several meows from the doorway or right next to my face.   I give him credit for his creativity the one morning I felt a sharp poke on the inside of my ear.  I looked up to see him standing over me with a "You're getting up now" look.  I just wished I could have seen this strategic move.  I wonder if he took a few moments to carefully maneuver one nail into the hole in my head, much like the game Operation.  I didn't even feel fur or his paw, just the nail. 

Max was by all the means a lap cat.  It got to the point that every time I sat down, Max was soon on my lap.   I always felt guilty about getting up and would move very slowly when I had to wake him. Sometimes, I just waited.   It was when he sat on my lap and stared into my eyes for a few moments when I felt I wasn't just a warm lap, but that he really did like me and I certainly loved him.

Losing a beloved pet is never easy, but losing Max was more than just a shock. He left me so soon. By the time he was diagnosed with cancer, I would only have nine more days with him. Considering he was only estimated to be six years old, it was just too much to bear. I know Max changed me in a lot of ways.  I also know I will never find another like him. While I have since adopted a new cat who is full of life and learning to trust me, Max will forever be my Maximum cat.

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Saving Our Product Reviews

It came to our attention that our old product reviews are still sitting out on our old blog. In an effort to save them, we've moved them here to The Barking Blog for everyone to enjoy!

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Product Review - Bit Blanket

Occasionally while browsing our pet magazines, I come across a really unique product that I immediately wonder, "does that really work"?

Such was that statement when I came across the Bit Blanket. Anyone who has horses knows how dreadfully cold our bits can get in the harsh winter after hanging in the cold barn. The last thing we want to do is toss this into our horse's mouth as is.

The Bit Blanket seemed on paper to solve this problem. The "blanket" plugs into an outlet and wraps around the bit, warming it to a much more comfortable and safe level for your horse... but does it work?

It sure does! This one got rave reviews around the barn. Everyone loved it!
  • No more negative associations with the bit
  • Eliminates pain, discomfort and potential injuries caused by cold metal
  • Eliminates the risk of creating a head-shy horse that's resistant to bridling as a result of a freezing bit
  • Preserves your horse's mouth and improves communication since numbness is eliminated, allowing your horse to feel and respond to light bit pressure at the very start of each ride
  • Encourages positive associations with the bit, especially important with young horses
  • Easy to use - just plug it in and wrap the bit
  • Warms the bit to a temperature compatible with your horse's normal temp

The entire process takes about 20 minutes. Plug it in when you start to get ready and by the time you're groomed and saddled, you're ready to go.

The girls at the barn stated that their horses accepted the bit in a calm, comfortable manner. There was no more head tossing and no one had to warm the bit by sticking it in their armpit or freezing their own hands trying to warm it up!

It was easily shared throughout the barn and everyone felt it was well worth the purchase price of $45.99 plus shipping/handling.

Everyone who tried it, loved it. One rider gave it 5 out of 5 stars!

The one suggestion was that perhaps a portable battery operated version would be helpful in case outlets aren't easily accessible. I posed this question to Jaime at Bit Blanket ~ While there is not a battery operated option at this time, there IS a power inverter for riders who wish to use the Bit Blanket while traveling to shows, off site lessons, trails, etc. This inverter plugs right into any car's cigarette lighter to charge the Bit Blanket and can also be used to charge other popular electronics like cell phones, laptops, etc. The inverter is for sale on the Bit Blanket website as an added accessory. What a great option!

This company has been great to deal with as well. We've been working directly with Jaime who has been extremely helpful and responsive. Bit Blanket also stands 100% behind their product which always impresses me. They offer a 60 day money back satisfaction guarantee and a 1-year manufacturer's warranty against defects in materials or workmanship. You can't beat that!

It also comes in 4 colors - black, red, blue and green PLUS comes in a "mini" size for our little miniatures!

Interested in picking one up?

The Bit Blanket can be ordered directly through their website at www.bitblanket.com or you can give them a call at (603) 329-3044. They are also available at a limited number of retailers.

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Product Review - Big Dog Water Fountain

As pet sitters, we care for many different animals in a day in a multitude of homes. We also come across a wide variety of pet fountains. We can easily tell you which fountains we love... and those we'd like to see head out to the trash.

In my opinion, Drinkwell is the name to know in pet fountains. I've always been impressed with the diverse line they carry as it really allows pet owners to be sure they purchase a fountain that is just right for their crew. Every time I come across a fountain I think is decent, I always end up seeing the Drinkwell name somewhere on it.

Because of this, I really wanted to review one of Drinkwell's fountains for myself. When their "Big Dog" fountain arrived, I couldn't wait to put it to the test for 30 days, exposing it to the rigors of my own pets and seeing how well it would hold up. With a Pit Bull and two curious kitties in my pack, a lot could go wrong.

And yet, it couldn't have gone smoother. At first, my dog Drayvin was a little leery of the fountain. Being he's a rescue, sometimes new things make him tentative. His nervousness however went away quickly once I toyed with the flow adjustment feature. This allowed me to slow the fountain to a mere trickle, keeping everything very quiet and much less scary. After dinner, Drayvin made his way to the bowl and while at first leaning far back in case the fountain came to life and attacked him, he took his first drink. The kitties had no issues at all. Their natural curiosity had them checking out the fountain before I even had it filled. After a week, I adjusted the flow to the highest setting and now the water runs through quickly, being filtered as it goes.

The Big Dog I tested used a simple charcoal filter that consists of a polyester pad to catch hair and debris along with carbon pad to remove bad tastes and odors, complete with granulated charcoal in between the two for enhanced filtration. The filters are easy to remove and replace and replacement packs are readily available for purchase.

The Big Dog fountain is ideal for large breed dogs. It holds a large capacity (2.25 gallons) and has a very deep drinking dish. The deep dish was really helpful as not only do I feel it made Drayvin feel like he was just drinking out of a normal water bowl, but it also stopped him from drooling and splashing water all over the floor. While I did not test this additional feature, for those of you with really messy pets, you can purchase an optional fountain mat that will catch spills for an extra 3 inches around the bowl.

The Big Dog also comes with an attached 1 gallon reservoir that is easy to fill. I really liked that the opening was large enough to hold ice creating a lovely cold drinking fountain for my babies. This fountain also features a covered anti-bite electrical cord as well, a nice addition as we can never have too many safety features.

Cleaning the Big Dog was super easy. Then again, this is a fountain I've had a lot of experience with at client's homes. Simply unplug the unit, remove the reservoir to lighten the weight and carry the base to the sink. I've always had luck simply using hot water and the sink sprayer to clean out this fountain. Drinkwell also offers an optional cleaning kit to get into those small crevices that may otherwise be overlooked. Just keep in mind if you purchase the Big Dog, that the base does hold a lot of water so picking the unit up off the ground for cleaning can be a little heavy.

So what's the advantage to using fountains? Water that sits is going to grow bacteria - plain and simple. Fountains naturally aerate your pets water by adding oxygen every time the water breaks the surface. This constant circulation inhibits bacteria growth between cleanings which entices your pets to drink more. A pet that drinks more, stays more hydrated and in turn stays healthier. This can be especially important for cats as many cats do not drink as much water as they should. Not only can this lead to urinary tract diseases but cats with UT diseases and kidney diseases have a critical need for water to support their kidney functions and prevent crystal formation and obstructions.

While the Big Dog may not be a great option for those with smaller dogs or only cats, keep in mind that Drinkwell does carry a wide variety of fountains to suit every type of household. If you are thinking of going the fountain route, I'd say keep the Drinkwell line at the top of your list. You can check out their full line of products by clicking HERE to go to their website.

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Product Review 2012 - The Litter Robot

Automatic litter boxes can definitely make life easier. I've always been a fan of them. While you still have to change the bag every other day or so, they alleviate the daily scooping of a dirty box and allow your cats to always have a clean area to do their business.  Not just easy to clean, they save on litter costs as well. 

They can be especially helpful with kitties who are picky about having a clean litter box. Then again, can you blame them? Would YOU want to step into a box with feces and urine clumps trying to delicately step AROUND the land mines? No thanks! 

I keep this in mind when I think about my own cats. I like to scoop plain boxes twice a day which for two cats is sufficient but I know most folks simply don't have the time or energy to clean their boxes this often... to be honest,  I usually don't have the time or energy either... which is why I'm about to let you in on my own secret weapon - The Litter Robot!

The Litter Robot is an automatic litter box which cleans itself a few minutes after your cat does his (or her) business. Your cat enters the box, uses the bathroom and a few minutes after exiting, the Litter Robot rotates itself allowing clean litter to fall through a patented sifter. Used litter is deposited into the base of the unit. As the rotation is complete, your clean litter is then sifted back into the box area. Click HERE to check out a video on how it works.

So why am I talking up the Litter Robot compared to all the other automatic litter boxes out there? Because the Litter Robot is truly worth its weight in gold. I couldn't live without mine. 

I've owned quite a few automatic litter boxes and being a pet sitter with over 300 clients, I think I have experienced every kind of automatic litter box out there. They usually last a few years (or one)..until some small part breaks off or I get annoyed with the design which is never really that great. I often end up tossing them in the trash and purchasing a newer model or a different brand in the hopes that this one will be just right. It wasn't until I found the Litter Robot that I knew I had found what I had been looking for.

One major issue I've had with other units aside from the small parts that eventually break off (most of which I have actually tried and failed to fix or get replacement parts for) is the design. Many have a rake type apparatus that is drug through the litter once the cat exits the box. It attempts to push the clumps into a box at the end of the unit but usually fails miserably. No matter what type of litter I've used, the clumps often break apart, leaving some remnants of urine or feces in the box or... and even more disgusting....the clumps get stuck on the rake (much like they do on the grooves of litter scoops) causing me to have to dismantle and clean the unit more often than I'd like. If you happen to overfill these boxes with clean litter, you can be sure you will be cleaning up a mess once the box pushes the excess litter to the box at the end of the unit which quickly overflows onto your floor... hooray for the automatic litter box... but hey, they are better than having to manually scoop twice a day.

When my last auto box bit the dust, I was determined to find a box that was unique, well made, clean, would save me money in litter and bags while most importantly - one that I wouldn't have to replace in a year. I debated for quite awhile when it came to the Litter Robot, mostly because of the price. New units cost $349.99 which made me hesitate a bit as they are on the upper end of the price range for automatic boxes (they do however offer reconditioned units for $279.99). Knowing what I know now, I can tell you they are worth EVERY PENNY.

I couldn't have been happier when my Litter Robot whom I've named Lily (yes, I named her) arrived at the house. The box on the porch was heavy duty and big - a sign to me that the unit was already assembled and that this company cared enough about their product to really protect it during shipping.

 Upon opening the box I was immediately impressed with how well packaged  the unit was and how detailed the literature was inside.  Instructions were given on how to put the two pieces together (very simple), tips on getting my kitties accustomed to the step up instead of step in design, and return instructions if for any reason I wasn't happy with the unit. Wow, a company that would take it back if I or my cats didn't like it! I started to breathe a little easier...

I had the unit assembled in minutes and was really amazed at the construction. This litter box is the real deal. It's a serious piece of machinery and one I'm really proud to own. The craftsmanship is evident and I just knew this box wasn't going to fall apart on me. I kept saying to myself, "well, you get what you pay for". This box is money well spent.

After assembly, I plugged the unit in, followed some of the tip instructions and waited for my kitties to fall in love with Lily as quickly as I had. To my dismay, they wanted no parts of her. How could this be!? Did they not see the amazing construction? The extra bubble piece that would allow them to turn around easily while inside? Did they not love the color and the quiet test I had run to ensure the unit was put together properly? How could they not be as excited as I was?

It took two weeks for one of my kitties to finally decide she was going to claim Lily, the Litter Robot, as her own. My male cat was content in the plain box that I keep scooped by hand. Apparently he was still attached to the old automatic box we had and he was not about to give Lily a chance. 

I contacted the rep, Shirley at The Litter Robot a number of times asking for additional ideas on how to get my male cat to accept Lily into our family. Shirley was wonderful to work with, always patient with my questions, always offering advice and suggestions, and always reminding me not to worry.. if things didn't work out, I could return the Litter Robot within 90 days . 90 days! That was plenty of time to get my kitty to see the light! It was here that I also found out that Litter Robot stands behind an 18 month full warranty. I've had plenty of litter boxes that couldn't come close to lasting that long! I also liked the fact that Shirley wasn't trying to push that the Litter Robot was right for my cat. In fact, they state that every cat may not be a good candidate for their box.
After 45 days, I was resigned to the fact that my male kitty was going to be a scoopable cat. I figured he had given up on the Litter Robot. I was however happy to have one kitty who used Lily religiously, greatly reducing my need to scoop the plain box...until ..... at about the 47th day, I heard scratching in the robot but realized my little girl kitty was sleeping soundly in my lap. I turned my head to see my male cat inside the Litter Robot,  acting as if he had been using  the unit all along!

Since that day, both cats use the Litter Robot. I still have a plain box out in case one is busy with Lily and the other can't wait but my scooping is now to a real minimum. All I have to do now is replace the bag every other day.

A few additional things I love about the Litter Robot:
1. It takes plain small kitchen trash bags! No need to buy special bags (Litter Robot does sell special bags if you want them) I purchased a roll of fifteen  13 gallon trash bags for a buck from the dollar store and they work great. I change the bag every other day so my cost in bags is $1 a month! I've had automatic boxes that require me to purchase special plastic containers in which the used litter is deposited. What a waste of money. Plus I had to buy these containers directly from the company that made the box if my local pet store was out of them. If the company went out of business, the litter box was pretty much trash.

2. It doesn't waste litter. Because the Litter Robot doesn't use a rake design to drag or push clumps into the used litter receptacle I don't have to empty out the entire box for cleaning, wasting expensive litter. I use FAR less litter than I used to which I know saves me money.

3. I love the extra features. My box has the "bubble" feature which allows my cats to see out the back of the box and gives the cats a little bit more room to move around. It also allows light in which I think helped them  accept the box (they can also see if the dog is coming!). 

My box also has the Lip Extender which stops litter from potentially falling out when the box is rotating. I LOVE the lip extender and would definitely recommend you purchase this feature. It's really wonderful and I no longer have a dust pan and brush next to the box.

5.  My kitties ALWAYS have a clean litter box to step into! I have yet to see Lily fail in her duties.

I've been using the Litter Robot for a few months now. I highly recommend it to anyone in the market for an automatic box. I will no longer waste money on cheaper imitations. Never again! I will not look back as this is exactly what I've been looking for.

Update: Since this review was first published, I have since bought a 2nd Litter Robot - one for each floor of my house. They are still both going strong.

To purchase the Litter Robot, visit their website at: http://www.litter-robot.com/

If you have questions for me personally regarding my experience, please don't hesitate to contact me at vanessa@zoositters.com
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Product Review 2013 - Midwest Homes for Cats - Cat Trees

In my opinion, all cats need a cat tree. Cats like to be able to climb, scratch and sleep up high enough to be safely out of range from any ground dwelling "predators". It also allows them to keep an eye on what's going on around them from the security of their own designated area. 

Cats are thought to be descended from Proailurus, a mammal that roamed the Earth 34 million years ago. These rainforest creatures were hunters. Their sharp claws allowed them to climb trees not only for safety but also enabled them to sit quietly above, in a perfect spot, to ambush prey. 

Cat trees provide creature comforts to our feline friends allowing their instincts to flourish while keeping your furniture and home intact (have you ever found your kitty scaling your bookshelves? You need a cat tree...) 

Most trees will have 1-2 perches, perhaps a hollow for your kitty to snuggle up in and usually have a few scratching posts. The key though, is finding a cat tree that is actually structurally sound, is interesting to your cat and holds up to sharp claws. 

I've been through a few cat trees myself. I even went so far as to attempt a construction of my own (that didn't go so well). The biggest complaints I have about most trees are that they topple over easily, they aren't big enough to really entice my kitties to take a second look or they simply don't stand up to the rigors my cats put them through (all have their claws). They either have the shelves too close together, the scratching posts often fall apart or the perches aren't large enough to support my largest cat, Mittens, comfortably. 

I've finally found THE cat tree! A few months back I saw an ad for Midwest Homes for Pets. The ad caught my attention as their trees were actually nice looking! They looked like furniture rather than some boards screwed together and covered with carpeting (mine has NO carpeting! Yes!). Their designs were perfect for my house and the trees really looked well made. The scratching posts (and mine came with A LOT) are sisal-wrapped, my cats favorite and the multi-tiered feature was just what I was looking for. 

The tree was very easy to put together when it arrived in the mail and the material used for the shelving and perches was super soft. Great design and the kitties took to it immediately. After a few months of being put through the rigors of my kitties, it's held up amazingly well. There is ALWAYS one cat snuggled up on the high-rise bolstered bed. The sisal has been able to withstand clawing and stretching and the pass through hole design that my tree features, allows for my kitties to swat play with each other from each level. It's quite entertaining to watch. 

What has also impressed me greatly is that this tree IS structurally sound. My cat Mittens isn't so fond of my dog. When the dog comes into the room, Mittens will run straight for the cat tree and jump from the floor to the top bed in one leap. If he did this on a tree that as not sound, it would come crashing to the floor - yes, I'm speaking from experience as I often find my downstairs cat tree toppled over. The tree from Midwest has been able to withstand everything that's been thrown at it. 

While my cat tree is called The Tower, Midwest Home for Pets has a variety of trees to suit any home. Feel free to check out their website if you are interested in a new tree. You won't be disappointed.

Midwest Homes for Pets: (800) 428-8560
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Product Review 2013 - Habicat

We're always on the lookout for unique and esthetically pleasing cat trees. The key though, is to find a cat tree that is also appealing to our feline friends - they are finicky after all!

I was so excited to check out the HabiCat. It's creative, wall mount design immediately caught my attention as finally there was an option for my kitties that didn't take up space in the room and also could be placed at a height on the wall that was just right.

Let's face it - cats love to be up high. They like to rest while feeling secure and they love to watch what's going on from a safe distance above the ground. The HabiCat is a perfect combination of all that I've appreciated in cat tree design. It's an art afterall.

I received the HabiCat in a light colored wood. I was excited to see actual wood - no pressboard or cheap substitutes. It was strong wood that was finished professionally. It looked like an actual piece of furniture. It was easy to assemble and had solid construction. I've tested this tree for almost a year now and it still looks like new. 

Before it became "Stone" finish
At the time my HabiCat arrived, there weren't many options on wood finishes. The light colored wood didn't go well with my decor so I decided instead to use a spray stone product on it which has help up perfectly (The HabiCat now comes in multiple colors!). I lovingly refer to the HabiCat as my cat's rock wall. I mounted it high up above one of our desks in the office and waited for the kitties to check it out... and check it out they did! 

My cats absolutely loved the HabiCat from day one. There always seems to be a cat lounging in it high above the other cat tree in the office. Because the HabiCat is easily attached to the wall and doesn't take up any area on the floor, my cats can utilize their own space effectively. 

What would I change? Nothing! I would however love more wall space so that I could truly build a HabiCat Rock WALL with multiple HabiCats creating different levels and options for my kitties. They deserve it after all. 

So where did this amazing product come from?  Designer Christy Griffith graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with a major in industrial design. She headed back to St. Louis and teamed up with her mom to start Griffith Designs. The first months were spent trying out different prototypes, looking for just the right one that embodied all that Griffith had envisioned. What came out of those months was HabiCat, the hexagonal wall mounted unit. HabiCat has been designed with a commitment to creating an environmentally conscious product. They use water based stains and clear coats as well as biodegradable plastic bags and recyclable packing material and it is made in America. Plus they offer a 30 day guarantee (minus shipping) so you can't go wrong.

A Bird's Eye View

If you're looking for something different for your cats that won't take up room in your house, the HabiCat is definitely something I'd recommend you check out. You'll enjoy watching them in it as much as they'll enjoy watching YOU from it!

Check out their website at http://www.habicat-cats.com
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Friday, February 7, 2014

Is Chocolate Really Bad For My Pet?

dogs-and-chocolate.jpgWith Valentine's Day upon us, you may be wondering if Fluffy would like her own box of chocolates this year.  She's your Valentine after all but a box of her favorite biscuits would be a much safer choice.

I've often been asked if chocolate is really bad for pets. The short and cautionary answer is, yes.

That question is occasionally followed up with a story about a pet who ate chocolate and had no signs of sickness. To that I always answer, "Lucky you!"

Why is there such confusion about chocolate when it comes to pets? It's most likely because there is no clear cut formula as to how much chocolate and what kind of chocolate is toxic for your particular animal. There are a number of factors, which is why I always lean toward the short and cautionary answer of, "Yes, chocolate is toxic to pets". It is considered one of the most commonly ingested poisons when it comes to our furry friends and chocolate toxicity can lead to  diarrhea, seizures and even death. There is no antidote for this type of poisoning which makes it a real danger.

So why is chocolate so wonderful for us but so deadly to our pets?
The answer lies in an ingredient in chocolate called Theobromine. This stimulant, found in the cocoa bean, is not metabolized in your pet the same way it is metabolized in the human body. As humans, we are able to clear Theobromine from our systems very quickly. If we eat chocolate throughout the day, the effects of Theobromine do not stack within our bodies. Instead, our metabolism allows us to process this compound quickly. Not true for our furry friends. Since Theobromine stays in their systems for such a long time, it greatly increases their chances of having a toxic reaction. It's the Theobromine (and caffeine) that is toxic to your pets, not the chocolate itself.

While it can take large amounts of Theobromine to cause a toxic reaction in pets, there are many factors that contribute to how much Theobromine your pet may have in its system. Therefore, it is best to consider all levels a danger.

Factors to consider are: what type of chocolate your pet has ingested (dark chocolate contains higher levels of Theobromine than milk or white chocolate), the breed of your pet (a Great Dane may be able to withstand more Theobromine than a Yorkie), how much chocolate did your pet ingest, how will your particular pet handle the Theobromine (every pet is unique). According to the Merck Manual for Pet Health, just one ounce of milk chocolate per pound of body weight is a potentially fatal dose.

Fluffy got into the box of chocolates. Now what?
If you suspect that your pet has ingested chocolate, the first thing you should do is call your veterinarian or the poison control hotline at (800) 213-6680. If your pet is not yet showing signs of poisoning, they may have you induce vomiting, followed by doses of activated charcoal. Signs of toxicity usually begin within 6 to 12 hour of ingestion. If toxicity has occurred, your pet may vomit, have diarrhea, and may exhibit excessive thirst. If allowed to progress, signs may include tremors, seizures, hyperactivity and lack of coordination. It's imperative to get your pet to a veterinarian as quickly as possible if signs are present so that medications can be given for seizures as well as fluids to help the body pass the Theobromine and caffeine.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Is Your Dog or Cat Overweight?

The new year is a great time to take stock of your pet's weight. Did you know that  if your pet is 15% over ideal body weight they are considered obese? While excess calories from treats, table scraps and poor food quality are namely to blame, a lack of exercise can also add to the pounds showing up on the scale.

According to a study done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, about 44% of dogs are either overweight or obese. At times, I've heard folks say, "Oh, what's a few extra pounds? He's my baby!" Obesity in our pets effects them the same way it does people. Pets that are obese put themselves at a greater risk for hypertension, skin problems, hormonal disorders, cardiac fatigue, pancreatitis, diabetes, colitis and a number of other diseases and illnesses including cancer. Couple that with aggravating arthritis, hip dysplasia and joint problems and it's best to keep your pet trim.

While your veterinarian can tell you if your pet is overweight or not, a quick evaluation on your own can give you an idea if you should start saving that 30th treat for Fluffy for another day. You should be able to easily feel your pet's ribs, spine and hip bones without being able to see them. Your pet should have a small amount of belly fat and if looking at them from above, you should be able to see a visible waist line. Sagging bellies, hard to feel ribs, spine and hips and no defined waist could indicate that your pet is overweight. If the above view of your pet looks oblong with no defined waist, you can't seem to locate their ribs, spine and hips at all and they have belly that hangs and may even sway from side to side when they walk, your pet may be suffering from obesity. It's always best to have your veterinarian rule out any issues that may be contributing to Fido being a "big boy". If there are no medical reasons for the weight gain, it's time to stop killing your pet with kindness. 

To get your pet back on the right track, start by replacing those calorie packed treats with healthy snacks like carrots or freeze-dried low-cal treats for kitties. Talk to your veterinarian about an exercise and weight maintenance plan that can help get your pet back into tiptop shape. 

For dogs, start your exercise program off slow and get your dog used to training. If weight loss peaks, try adding a backpack to the plan which can help increase strength and stamina. As your dog builds up their endurance, they can carry their own water bottles in their backpack. Dogs love to have a purpose and bonding exercises such as this really create ties. A walk on the beach in the deeper sand can really burn those calories as well! Keep your dog focused and in the proper heel position. This ensures their mind is engaged and that they are connected to the activity which will help them burn even more calories and be nice and tired when the exercise is completed.

Don't have time to provide quality, focused walks? Hire a professional pet sitter to take care of it for you!

For those couch-potato kitties, find a toy that they love and provide them with at least 15 minutes of quality play time every day. The focused attention and connection will help you bond even further with them.

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