A Walk in the Park...

Myth-Busting – All things pet!

There are plenty of mysterious myths and misconceptions out there about our pets! 

24th April 2023

There are plenty of mysterious myths and misconceptions out there about our pets! 
Neutering, does it calm pets down? Do people assume a muzzled dog is a dangerous dog? Why do some dogs eat logs (poo)! Is it possible to actually take a cat for a walk and do cats want to be worshipped?
Kickstarting our first ever episode, Dr Samantha Webster, Director of Clinical Operations at Vet-AI and Joii Pet Care joins host Patricia and her faithful furry best friend, Skye, on 'A walk in the Park.....with Animal Friends',
In a world where we are all constantly on the go, being able to learn from trusted experts about the animals we’ve made part of our family and life isn’t always easy. So grab a dog lead, make a cuppa, or just relax to a ‘Walk in the Park’ as Sam sets us straight on common pet misconceptions, and shares her expert advice and guidance with others who may not know where to start.

Patricia: Welcome to a Walk In The Park with Animal Friends. I'm Patricia and this is Skye - and Skye, do you know who we've got in today? We've got Doctor Sam, she's a vet with Joii Pet Care. Hi Sam, how you doing?

Dr.Sam: Hi, Patricia. I'm good. Good to be here.

Patricia: Good, good, good. So do you want to give us a quick intro? Who you are, what you do. Who are Joii Pet Care?

Dr.Sam: Yeah, of course. So I'm Sam Webster, and I am the Director of Clinical Operations at Joii Pet Care. Now, that means that I'm a vet and I'm very passionate about ways that we can help you using digital solutions - help every pet owner in the world have more affordable and more accessible veterinary care. Now, how do we do that with Joii Pet Care? It's our one stop app that gives you so many ways that you can access support. So we have video calls with vets that you can access - so Animals Friends’ clients get that service completely free with their insurance policy - but it can be accessed by everybody. We also have our symptom checker, which is a selection of questions that can tell you whether you need to worry about your pet or not, whether you need to talk to somebody and that service is free for everyone. So are our excellent nurse health clinics and our nursing team can help you with everything from picking the right food for your pet to training your puppy.

Patricia: Amazing. So you said obviously as an Animal Friend's customer, you can access that service for free, but for general customers, they can also access the nurse calls for free?

Dr.Sam: Yes, the nurse calls and the symptom checker are free for everybody, and you can pay to access our vet video calls if you don't get them as part of your insurance premium.

Patricia: Lovely and I assume just free to download?

Dr.Sam: Yes, of course, yeah.

Dog breed sizes

Patricia: Fabulous. So today, Sam, we are really looking at busting some myths, or hopefully busting some myths, but utilising your years of veterinary experience to really help put some insight around some of these myths. So the first I'm going to talk to you about is - does size matter? And probably not in the way that might have just rushed through your head, but from a dog’s perspective! So as you can see, Sky is a fairly large lady and I would say “big boned” but she's not really. But she's a big dog, right? And you know, I've been out on walks and I've had some small dog owners literally run a mile to avoid us. So they've crossed over roads, they've picked up their small dogs and literally run past me with Sky being there. Do you think that there is a trend around big dogs? And you know, how people are scared of them or?

Dr.Sam: Ohh definitely and it is very much a perception thing. It is people's perception of size equals scary. If you ask me my professional opinion of which dogs I am most nervous about it would be a Chihuahua any day. Those guys can pack a punch for their size. Yeah, definitely. And it really kind of depends on what dog is seen as tough in the media and in social media and on the television at any given time. So 20 to 30 years ago, the Staffordshire Terrier was the perfect family pet, and it was pushed out as that and they became really popular. They then got seen as being a little bit of a status symbol and quite a tough dog, and these days you get a little bit of fear around Staffies and other kind of bull-shaped breeds when actually they can be complete and utter softies. So it really is a case that that size doesn't necessarily matter. Every dog is an individual, and it very much depends on how you raise them and how you train them.

Patricia: Yeah. All great points. Do you think that, and what you're seeing in practise, do you think that there is a decline in in large dogs? So you know, I see all the time that there's smaller dogs, a some kind of poo-cross all over the place where we've seen the boom of pets over the pandemic, but do you think the larger breeds are in decline?

Dr.Sam: At the moment I do think there has been a trend in the last maybe 10 years to move towards smaller breeds. So you've touched on poodles there, and the hypoallergenic crosses they're a whole myth on their own, but they have been very popular and all of that is keeping that kind of size contained. There's also a massive rise in the French bulldog, which is a smaller, maybe 10 to 15 kilo breed. I do think there is a start to move away from that that we're starting to see and there's some of those bigger breeds that maybe have dropped off are starting to get a little more popular as people look for alternatives.

Patricia: Yeah because, the Labrador, I mean they're not massive dogs, so they can turn out to be fairly large depending - but you know at one point they were so incredibly popular. But as you said, the rise of the French Bulldog, which actually can come with their own health concerns, right?

Dr.Sam: Yeah, of course.

Patricia: What are some of the typical conditions that you would see with a French bulldog and what are the things that you should really look out for?

Dr.Sam: So the number one problem that we see in French Bulldogs is skin allergies. Now they can have both allergies to the environment and also to food and the food allergies are getting more and more of a problem. And we're seeing those kind of itchy red skin problems start to develop in these in these dogs earlier and earlier ages. So there's still some definitely something going on. With the breed there. That we need to, we need to have a think about and see if this is something we can maybe look at, look at how they're being bred and and if there's something that we can start to kind of support. Maybe stop that from creeping up, but that's not to say that Frenchies and their skin issues are their only problem. You'll find with any breed, particularly when we breed quite selectively, that you'll get problems. So like you said, Labradors maybe 10 years ago were quite popular. Starting to decline a little, but they came with hip problems with arthritis, with knee issues - very much that kind of lame and limpy thing that you see a trend with older dogs getting very stiff as they are on their walks. And every dog has their breed problems that they're more likely to suffer from.

Patricia: Yeah. What's some of the more unusual ones that you've seen, from a breed perspective and maybe some health conditions associated with them?

Dr.Sam: Ohh breeds. The Bergamasco now you've probably never even heard of. No. But if you ever find a picture, it's basically a dog that looks like a moth or a Rastafarian and they've got dreadlocks. If they laid down in the supply closet, you'd never even know that they were there! Gorgeous dogs take a lot of maintenance. Some of the more niche terrier breeds maybe haven't made a resurgence. They're starting to slowly fade off now. I remember in my first job, the Dandy Dinmont terrier, which I'm sure no one has heard of these. No, they're very quirky little guys. They're wonderful. So I encourage people to go and have a look at breeds like that.

Food & nutrition in dogs

Patricia: And going back to the whole large dog piece – is there anything in particular that large dogs would maybe suffer from? So you know, is it a joint problems or you know is there is there anything from like a puppy age that you could be doing differently for larger dogs?

Dr.Sam: Yeah, so with large dogs, I think there's two key things: It's getting the diet right to support their growth when they're puppies, so they keep growing. Depending on how large a breed, we're talking anywhere up until 18 months to maybe two or three years to some of the really giant breeds. Good nutrition to support their growth and especially their joints is vital, so make sure that you talk to your vet and you're on a really good diet. While touching on joints, I think we've hit the nail on the head there - they're bigger dogs, they put more pressure on their joints when they're moving just by virtue of who they are and they are more prone to arthritis and various developmental joint problems.

Patricia: Mm-hmm. I mean, if Sky had been the size she is now, when I named her Sky, they probably would have called her Thunder with the noise that she makes when she's running, you can hear her coming from a mile off!

Dr.Sam: There's a lot of power behind her.

Patricia: There is a lot of power. You're very muscly aren't you, buddy? Yeah, and you're very squeaky today, so I don't know what's quite going on, but we'll carry on because we are talking about big dogs. So it does include. Yeah, you talked about nutrition there, so that's huge, right? It's an absolute minefield today of what's available from a nutrition perspective. You have got raw, you've got dry food, you've got wet food, you have got vegan diets, you've got insect protein - how do you navigate through that minefield about what's right for your dog or your cat? Because you have those options available. I think, for both right?

Dr.Sam: Yeah, you do and I. I think the key to this is being informed. Talk to your vets and do your research and make sure that you know what's best for your pet because it is different for every pet and there like you say, there's thousands of diets out there, they're all a little bit different and what works for one won't necessarily work for everyone. What I would say is that there are veterinary research diets out there, some of the big kibble companies that we all know and love, they have the science behind them - they have years of proof that they work and that they provide the great nutrition for your pets. So that's why your vets will generally recommend their go-to’s - because they trust them and they know that they're going to do the right thing. There's a few things you've said there that I'd like to pick apart myth-wise. Vegan diets – you cannot feed your cat a vegan diet. That is a total No. Cats need their Taurine that comes from animal protein to actually survive. It is part of their core needs so… You do see the odd vegan cat food creeping into the market. It doesn't generally last very long. Can you feed your dog a vegan diet? Yes, but you just need to be really careful and well researched that it's got everything they need nutrition-wise.

Patricia: OK, fantastic. And have you seen anything about this new insect protein?

Dr.Sam: Yes, it's becoming very popular and I think one of these days soon we're going to start seeing it creeping into the human diet too, because it's a really sustainable source of protein. Ecologically, it's fantastic for the environment. It's a really easy source of protein for our pets to digest as well, and can be formulated into really palatable diets for them. So I think we're going to see these coming in the next few years and I'm very excited to see that happen.

Patricia: Amazing. So different stages of life probably need different things. So originally when I first got Sky, she was on kibble food, but she would graze on it all day. She wouldn't really tuck in and eat - it would lie around for quite a long time time. So we made the decision to move her to a raw diet. And what I've seen since then is that she has shed the extra kilo that she had - although if anyone's looking on film at the moment, she might look a little bit chunky! She's coming into season but we've moved to a rawl diet and the transformation for her has been massive. Just in her coat, it's really glossy and shiny. She now wants to really engage with her food and she eats it in, you know, a couple of sittings, but she generally doesn't leave it kind of lying around. But you know, we started off with kibble as a puppy and then we moved into that. Is there certain things that you need at certain times, for each?

Dr.Sam: Yeah. Again, I think it really varies by pet. Touching on the raw, it's obviously quite a controversial thing - some people love it, some people hate it. I think what works for you, works for you - go with it. A couple of things I would say is I would not feed puppies raw because there are a lot of health risks that come with that, that as young puppies, they're not gonna deal with very well. So we're thinking about things like salmonella and E coli, which can cause some very bad upset tummies in them. What I would say with raw is make sure that you trust and you research the brand that you’re feeding. Doing it from the butchers yourself is not going to give your pet all of nutrition that they need. And make sure that you are dealing with it safely - so there is a lot of talk about it being better than the dry foods, the traditional foods. There's no proof behind that yet. What there is, is there’s definitely some proven risks. So you have to make sure you're clean and those health risks are not just for your pet, there for you as well – so make sure you're keeping yourself clean and washing them afterwards…

Patricia: Especially if they're a licker!

Dr.Sam: Exactly! And when you’re handling it, you can get those bacteria on there, you need to make sure that you look after yourself.

Patricia: Yeah. Essentially, we look at it as the same as food prep at home. So if you're handling it and washing hands and all that kind of stuff, but fabulous advice. Sam, is there anything that you would then recommend for the more senior dog or cat? Are there any extra things that they would need from a diet perspective to help them thrive in senior years?

Dr.Sam: It's gonna really depend on them and and it varies between the species as well. So cats tend to go through a phase as they start to get older, where they can pile a bit of weight on. So you want to make sure that you're not over doing the calories. Dogs as well - they can as they get more sedentary, they don't walk as much. It's easier to pile on the pounds, and I mean, it happens to us as well, right? When you don't get off the sofa. Yeah. So making sure that you're keeping control of those calories and they're not putting extra stress on their joints or their body by putting on weight. Cats, then, tend to get really skinny as they get much older, so they'll switch to a diet then, for the really senior cat, that actually helps them maintain that weight. So lots of different things in that respect. It's also going to depend on your breed and what the health needs are so. Pets can, unfortunately, suffer from some mental kind of problems as they get a little bit older, they can suffer from dementia, and there are diets out there designed to help maintain their brain activity.

Dementia in pets

Patricia: Wow. I had no idea that pets could also get dementia. What kind of things would you see in a pet with dementia?

Dr.Sam: So the first thing you tend to see, and people don't realise that this is dementia at that point, is actually a bit of anxiety. So you'll think of it as kind of separation anxiety starting in an older pet or barking when they never used to. And it's because they're just not quite as aware as they used to be and things out of the ordinary start to stress them out a lot more. As it gets more advanced, you can see a whole range of behaviours from maybe staring off into space in the corner to being really easily startled. You know that that feeling when you walk into a room and you forget why you're there? You'll see pets starts to do that kind of behaviour. And when it gets really bad and they'll actually almost flip their day night cycle and they'll be up kind of wandering around in the night and sleeping all day. So if you do see any of those signs, do talk to your vet. Diet will be a component of how you help support them through that.

Pet weight

Patricia: So are you touching on weight of cats there. How important is it really to keep a good weight for your pet.

Dr.Sam: So important, and we tend to think of it as a problem you deal with when it happens. So when a bad weight becomes a problem, usually it's overweight. Let's be honest, we love our pets and we like to feed them to show that, and sometimes that results in them one too many pounds that they're carrying there!

Patricia: Essentially we're killing them with kindness?

Dr.Sam: A little bit. Yeah. And actually you need to think about it before that - when they're puppies, when they're kittens, when you first get them into your home - because if you maintain a healthy weight throughout their life, they have a lower risk of joint problems, a lower risk of heart problems, a lower risk of dementia (it maintains a healthy brain as well). So it's it is absolutely key to health.

Patricia: You see some overweight dogs and cats, so obviously weight is one key thing and measuring the weight and seeing how much they weigh - but you know things differ between breeds, type of breed, whether you've got cross breed or a mix breed. You don't really know. So I understand there's like a body condition score? Can you talk me through how body condition score works, and the things that you would notice to then understand is my pet starting to become overweight? before you go, they ARE overweight?!

Dr.Sam: Yeah, of course, really good point, Patricia, because weight varies - take two 30 kilo labradors, one of them might be great, one of them might be overweight. So the body condition score is all about putting your hands on your pet and feeling that fat covering that they have. It's all about feeling over their ribs and with very gentle pressure, you should be able to feel those ribs and the little muscles in between. It's about feeling down their spine and you should be able to feel the bones of the spine without having to push too hard as well, and then over their hips and their pelvis as well. We should be able to feel those bones and if you are stroking your pet or interacting with your pet in a chilled way and relaxed way at home - if you bear that in mind as you're running your hand over, you will start to notice things earlier than you'd even think when the weight creeps up, you'll notice that fat starting to lay down and think we need to do something about that.

Patricia: And I mentioned it earlier, obviously not making excuses, but Sky has put in a little bit because she's coming into season, so I think it's probably a great time to talk about neutering and spaying and yeah, maybe busting some myths around that. So obviously one of them that I have just laid down is that they can put on a little bit of weight before going into season. Is that true or am I potentially just feeding my dog too much?

Dr.Sam: I haven't seen any evidence to prove it, but anecdotally, I have seen it myself, yeah. So I mean, hormones fluctuate as she goes through her season, as any female goes through their season, there is a chance that she will carry water and fat slightly differently. Can I say for certain? No I can’t.

When to spay or neuter?

Patricia: So Sky is running around and you might be able to hear her panting in the background, but she's around 2 1/2 years old. As I said, she's just going into her third season, so I will be looking to spay her shortly have. You got any advice about when is the best time, not just from an age perspective, but in between seasons. What would you advise?

Dr.Sam: So Sky’s coming into the season now, when she's finished you want to wait till about 3 months after her season. You're aiming for that gap between this one and the next one when everything is quite settled down, and she's not coming into season, with more blood flow to those organs. It's gonna make her recovery from that surgery a lot quicker and a lot simpler. When it comes to when you should spay your dog, well that information has changed over my veterinary career many times. And I think the answer is it's going to depend on your pet’s breed and what they are prone to when it comes to certain diseases, particularly tumours. And one of our main concerns with dogs is that the longer they have their seasons for, the higher the chance of them getting mammary tumours. So the reason we used to spay all dogs at six months or before their first season, was to stop that. But what we've actually found is in some breeds spaying too soon, will increase the risk of them having incontinence problems when they get older. So it really is a balancing act and we've had some fantastic research out in the last couple of years that will help your vet tell you for your breed what you should do - and that might be six months, that might be two years, but basically spaying then has health benefits, doing it at some point in those early years is the way to go.

Patricia: Yeah. I mean, I think I've left it relatively late, but you know, I was considering giving her temperament and how wonderful she is, maybe to have a litter, but given where we are. With the cost of living crisis, the huge amount of pets that are in rescues at the moment, I just couldn't justify doing it. Also, you know, I don't know enough and actually the more I looked into it and the more I researched it, you know the health tests if you want to be a responsible breeder that you need to go through, you know, finding the right pair for her as well because she is big for a German short haired pointer. And you know if it was another big male, then you know essentially, they're going to be or they could end up being super giant puppies and stuff like that. So ultimately, I decided that actually it wasn't going to be the responsible thing to do to let her have a litter. But I'm sure loads of people out there have considered it, given the big boom that we had during the pandemic. But what is your advice if somebody is looking to breed a family pet?

Dr.Sam: Just like yourself, Patricia - research, research, research. Know what you're getting yourself into. So you've touched on health screening there. If you are going to be a responsible breeder and there are health conditions that are likely in the breed of pet you have, you need to know that your pet isn't at risk because they shouldn't be passing those genes on to babies, to puppies and kittens. Cost is the other one, so if anything does go wrong, you've got a caesarean cost there, or potentially some medical support that can be significant. We can be talking into the thousands of pounds, and it's probably worth pointing out that unless you have a special policy that does cover breeding, it's not something your insurance is going to help with.

Patricia: No, absolutely, yeah.

Dr.Sam: Even the cost of the the male or the sire to come in and then the cost of rearing anywhere from what 1 to 15 puppies depending on your breed - it's a lot to take on.

Patricia: Yeah. I mean, she was one of the 11. So they German short pointers tend to have big litters. Yeah. So yeah, that was that was as much as I would love, 12 dogs running around my house, I think it may have caused the divorce?! But yeah, it's really around looking at that responsibility, but also somebody asked me, would you be willing to potentially sacrifice Sky or lose her if something went wrong and for me then that was an instant “No!” you know? She's my third baby, she's part of our family and I didn't want to risk her in any of those.

Dr.Sam: And you have to consider it. And I mean it's let, let's be honest, it is a rare occurrence when something goes that wrong, but you can't rule it out because she is going through something really major, particularly if there's 11 puppies in her, poor girlm and she will be fed up at some point and that as well. That's a lot for her to deal with. There's a there's a kind of myth that we should always, or it's an old myth, that we should let them have one litter. It's good for them, it's good for their kind of nature. They don't know any better if they don’t.

Patricia: Yeah, I was told it would help her calm down because German short haired pointers, for anyone that doesn't know the breed, are not for the faint hearted they are on the go constantly. They're very busy dogs. But you know there is that myth that it would have helped her calm down a little bit.

Dr.Sam: That's a myth for both I think, males and female dogs, that if you neuter them they calm down - it's not true. It may happen for some pets, but it's not an automatic “we remove those hormones, they become very placid”. It's a fear you see from a lot of people and a reason that they don't do it because they don't want their pets to lose their happy, boisterous energy - it won't happen.

Patricia: And I'm sorry to any of the male listeners now, but if we can talk about male neutering of pets - what are the health benefits to having a male neutered?

Dr.Sam: So with male dogs I would generally recommend that you neuter them at around the six month mark. If they are larger breed dogs may need to be a bit older, just to give them time to fully grow. Talk to your vet about timing. But I would always recommend if you're not planning to breed, that you should be looking to neuter your male dog. Why? Because you are removing any chance of testicular cancers or other diseases as they get older. You're reducing the risk of prostate diseases, which can be a problem with older male dogs. And actually you’re stopping the chance that he's going to nip off when he smells a lady in the area and go and cause some trouble and end up bringing her his puppies, which is not something you necessarily want unplanned! Now the one situation where I would say talk to your vet and make a decision is where you've got any behavioural concerns with your boy? Because if he is nervous, or he is suffering from separation anxiety then taking away his testosterone can actually make him feel a little bit more insecure and can make those problems worse. Many years ago, we used to think it would make him better, but like I said it doesn't necessarily calm them down. So the vet may recommend talking to a behaviourist before you make any decisions there.

Patricia: One of the other myths that I wanted to talk to you about. Was around that whole testosterone piece, so. I know everyone's dog’s names when I'm out walking, but I have no idea what the owner names are, but essentially some of them were talking about their male dogs and the fact that young male intact dogs can be aggressive towards them and I believe it was cause the testosterone fluctuating and it gives out that signal of “ let's have a bit of a ruck here!” but is that true?

Dr.Sam: There's some honesty in that. Yeah, definitely. The testosterone levels - it all depends on the individual dogs interactions, whether that causes somebody to be in a bad mood or in a good mood that can make them playful, it can make them need to assert some dominance. So it is something you have to be careful with and I think something that may mean when you're meeting new dogs on a walk, you just have to get your pet under control and assess the situation before they meet because you don't want to let anything result in a bit of a scuffle.

Patricia: Yeah. And you touched on a great point there. I mean walks, OK, so they can be amazing. I can spend half my life apologising for Sky on a walk, but there's so much rules and etiquette and myths around going out on a walk and you know what is the right thing to do? So if Sky’s off lead and somebody's come in walking on a lead. I've always done it, but I then put Sky on the lead. I mean do you experience that? Have you seen that?

Dr.Sam: Yeah, you see all sorts of different ways that people interact, right? And at the end of the day, you know your dog, but you don't necessarily know the other dog. So I think your approach is perfect there, Patricia. If you see someone coming at you with their dog on the lead or in any way looking like they're not comfortable with their dogs meeting, get your dog under control, sit down with them on their lead and wait for that person to pass. And it might be that they walk past and go. I know she's fine. It's not an issue, but until that happens, you just don't know.

Patricia: No, absolutely. And you've gotta be able to interact with, you know, to understand right about what's right for their dog because. Where I walk there are a couple of nervous dogs. Now one of them is is a greyhound, but he's not mocked as nervous. The only reason that I know he's nervous is because they put on a lea,  I put Sky on a lead and she explained as we walked past, you know he's not aggressive, but he just doesn't like being approached by other dogs, which is fine. But you know, I had the sense to to put her on the lead. As we're another guy when he's walking his dog has this lovely bright yellow banner on the lead saying nervous dog. So what a great way to be able to spot a mile off. So generally kind of yellow bands - am I right? Nervous dogs?

Dr.Sam: Yeah, there's a lot of colours. And branding and words are coming out on leads and harnesses and collars these days, which do signal maybe nervous dogs. I think yellow is one of them. I've seen some purple and some red. The thing is, there's no standard at the moment and there's nothing that's kind of accepted in the community as what you do. But I think that's the way we should really go because, like you say, if you're across a beach or a field and you see that person, if you can see something really obvious that flags that to you, you know? How to react and that's great.

Patricia: I mean, in the horse riding community, obviously they've got high viz jackets. So you can make them really visible. I mean it would be great to be able to identify if if you know somebody potentially has a nervous pet. Yeah, because actually it's not just necessarily about being nervous. They might, you know, have aggressive tendencies and it's not fair on either of the dogs or the other owner.

Dr.Sam: If you're not being responsible with your dog and and respecting those boundaries completely, yes, and it might might be other things such as I mean. Sky being in heat, he would have a way of flagging that to people they're gonna give you plenty of plenty of space. It's not always about the chance of someone getting nervous or aggressive, but in the way that you've talked about horse riders in their high vis jackets, it would be great to see us move towards something like that, something that clearly signal between all dog owners in a really accepted way that we know what a colour coder means and we can, we can give people the space and the respect that they need and their pets.

Dog muzzles - assumptions vs reality

Patricia: When we're talking about aggression, I would love to bust one myth, right. And that's around muzzles, right? So I know from. For him, seeing the people that they see a dog with a muzzle on, and they automatically assume it's because that dog is aggressive. Now I know people that have put muzzles on because their dog likes to hoover up stuff that they find.

Dr.Sam: I'm one of those people with my old dog used to be the biggest scavenge on a walk and he would eat anything and he had pancreatitis, so anything off his strict diet plan would make him poorly so he will muzzle on a walk and it worked for us. But you would see that situation. People would look at you and assume I'm gonna cross the road. That dog's going to be aggressive. And until you talk to people you don't know, you don't know the situation. I think even aggressive dogs with muzzles who I might be wearing it because they're a bite risk. There's a real variation in that, so the assumption is almost that that pet is going to actively come and and try and cause trouble. That's really, really the case. Usually those pets that are nervous that if they are approached in a way that makes them uncomfortable, they might get snappy, but because they've got that muzzle on, they know that's not an option, so they don't bother. Then in reality you can walk right past them and they wouldn't blink an eye.

Patricia: Yeah. And I suppose as well, sometimes they just want to socialise as well, right? But it gives the owner that kind of comfort that nothing serious is going to happen.

Dr.Sam: Definitely, yeah, I think there's a there's a bit of a psychological piece there for us as well as our animals.

Patricia: And is there any hints or tips, if you have got a scavenger or you are worried about that? How do you even train for a muzzle? I can't can't imagine sky sitting still for me to be able to do that. So how would you then train them to wear that and not fear it?

Dr.Sam: Great question. I think slowly and with lots of positive reinforcement is the way to go. So how I did it with my dog is we just left the muzzle around the house for a few days so he could get used to the smell of it. He could approach it, he could just figure out what it was, and then we held it up for him and we sent him treats whenever he came and put his nose in there. We didn't keep it strapped on, for starters. He just pop his nose and take it out. Get a positive reward and then when he was comfortable with that, we'd start actually placing it on his face. And it works quite quickly. Once they get into that pattern that this isn't something to be feared and they get plenty of positive love and reward when they do the right thing and as soon as they do the right thing, that's the thing you have to reward them quite quickly, so they make that association, then you're on.

Harness, halters or collars?

Patricia: Fab. So we're just talking about being out walking, have you got any recommendations or advice around collars, types of leads, harnesses. Because I was always told that having a harness would allow sky to put all of her power into when we're walking. Because she is a strong dog, she's over 30 kilos so obviously, training every day. Still she's still 2 1/2, but you know she is very strong. So is there any recommendations around what you should can think about collar lead, harnesses?

Dr.Sam: Yeah, definitely. It's going to depend on the individual, so in Sky’s kind of example, she's quite strong, a lot of broad muscle in her shoulders. If she wants to lean into that, you're going with her. So harness might not work for her, but if she did pull a lot on the collar, there's a chance she's gonna put pressure on her Airways and a wind pipe and cause herself some trouble. In that case you might look more towards a harness and find ways to work with it. The other option are things like halters, so the kind of muzzle. Anti pull devices that when they do actually pull they turn to one side so that can work for some pets and it really is a case of what works for you and colours have been around for a long time for most dogs who are well lead trained they will walk nicely on them. But if you've got a puller, look at your other options.

Patricia: Yeah, no, definitely not a coller attachment for Sky. That would just cause absolute carnage. So we've talked a lot about dogs. There, Sam. But I'm really interested cause, we know people at Animal Friends that walk their cats? Yeah. So she's got harnesses for both of her cats and takes them out on walks. What are the kinds of things that you need to think about with walking your cat?

Dr.Sam: That I think the first thing is to make sure that your harness fits properly, because it doesn't take a lot for cats to wriggle out and off they go. So if your cat isn't generally an outdoor cat, unless they're being walked, that could result in some trouble. They're going to get lost, especially if you're far from home. Yeah. And I think being very aware of your surroundings as well is another key thing. Walking cats on harnesses is becoming more and more popular, but when I started out in my career, it really wasn't a thing, which means most places are designed for dog walkers, and then you're gonna find most your cat's probably not gonna love coming face to face with a lot of dogs. So plan your routes plenty of times and just be aware.


Patricia: So we're talking about cats, let's give the cat some love. I know you're a cat owner and you have Smarty - do you think that cats are more trying with their owners? So I always liken it back to the Egyptian era where cats were worshipped as gods. Do you think that they have had that come through their DNA and they essentially expect you to worship them today?

Dr.Sam: Personal experience would say yes, but my cat definitely thinks he's the boss and that we're all there to serve him. Cats and dogs are just fundamentally different in how they see humans. Yeah, dogs very much want to please us and see us is almost the person who sets the example for them. Cats generally seals as fairly rubbish cats, so there isn't the same level of respect. So that situation where your cat hunts and brings you something and says “here you go, here's my offering.” What they're actually saying is “now you terrible kitten, get out and this is how you do it, you have a go next!”

Patricia: Do you know what? I love that you say that because when I had cats growing up, they actually went into, and I don't know whose house it was, and they brought home a leg of lamb. So they… and it was a massive leg of lamb! Now luckily, it was a while ago, so it wouldn't have been as expensive as that would be today, but they had obviously dragged it over the fences to bring it into the kitchen and leave it on the kitchen floor for us! Now, are they saying “this is what a Sunday dinner looks like!”?

Dr.Sam: Pretty much! Get to the supermarket, mum, this is what you need to bring. But yes, they do. They try to set example and they try to teach us how to cat!

Patricia: Do you know what? They've brought in so many unusual things - now they obviously you get frogs. And frogs scream when they're caught because they didn't always bring home dead offerings. And obviously my standard. And I've told you about the leg of lamb, but they actually managed one day to catch a bat. And bring a bat home and also the female cat of the two, she used to find worms. Bums and bring them back and put them in the dogs water bowl so I don't know what that was, whether that was a taunt to the dog of highly. Yeah. Yeah, just. Yeah. Cats are amazing creatures, right?

Dr.Sam: They are. They are. A force unto themselves, I think. But they are wonderful, yeah.

Patricia: So on the the theme of cats is they're, you know, do you let them go out? Do you keep them indoors? You know? Are there any disadvantages for an indoor cat as an example? Because I know that's becoming a lot more popular now.

Dr.Sam: He he's becoming more popular. I think cats by nature have quite a large territory. Mm-hmm. So we let them out or we have traditionally because they like to have a large ground to roam, to do their hunting if they I say allowed to do that if they manage to do that, I don't how many collars with bells. With less on my cats but you can try only try and mourn the wildlife, and they do like to roam and they do like to kind of have an area that they can sell, but they are on the flip side, very lone creatures. Now you can get cats to live together at home, but by nature they are solitary, so they need quite a large area outside that doesn't have a lot of cats in it. So I live in a row of terraced houses. At least two or three of us have cats. Often you hear them fighting because all of the territories out do overlap. Yeah, in that instance, I think we're finding is that some cats can get enough space indoors to be comfortable and they don't have that option of needing to compete. It can be safer In some ways.

Patricia: Do you find with cats, if you're gonna have a pair litter, mates tend to be better than external litters?

Dr.Sam: I think it can work. I don't think it's a hard and fast rule. I think it's all about how you introduce them. I do think introducing them young works, even if they are separate litters, because they're much more open to change and learning new things. Obviously they're old cat who's maybe had their own space for many, many years, isn't going to want to let the new person in quite as easily. But it is very much about how you introduce them and it has to be a slow and careful process.

Patricia: Yeah. On the theme of cats doing whatever they like, my mother-in-law the other day had… she's got a cat, but a male Tomcat came through the cat flap and has been doing it for a couple of weeks and coming in and stealing food. But the bit that took the biscuit was that he then went and sprayed in her handbag. So how do you how do you deter cats from either trying to come in your home? That's not obviously your cat or into your garden… like, cats around our neighbourhood like to torture Sky by walking along the high fence to say, “well, you can't get me up here!”. But actually she can jump quite high, so I do worry at points, but how do you deter them?

Dr.Sam: It is a tough one. So funny story on the cat coming through the cat flap. I noticed that I was getting through quite a lot of cat food. A few. Years ago and I weighed out how much I should be feeding my cat. Like you should. Yeah. And I was feeding about four times more, and I'm thinking he's gonna get fat soon. So I put him back. He was constantly meowing for food, so we popped a camera in the kitchen. We've had at least three visitors coming to eat all of his food. They're all letting themselves in. It's obviously very good stuff. Yeah. So we've told everybody where to come for the good stuff. And So what we've done is actually put in Microchip catflap in, so that is now coded to my cat to Smarty. So only he can open the door to come in. Anyone can go out only he can come in and that's still the job overnight. He can get in safely. He knows that nobody else is coming in. I mean, we occasionally have a neighbours kitten who likes to have a bang on the door seat on guilt trip us, but other than that he's now got a safe space which is really good.

Cat microchipping

Patricia: And I think you know, given the fact that there's a lot of conversation around Cat microchipping now because it's a legal requirement to have your dog microchipped. Yeah, there's a lot of discussion around, hopefully bringing it in to make it a legal requirement for cats. So you know, a microchip cat flap could be a great option, but also a great way of being able to help reunite lost and stolen pets. Are you seeing an uplift in people having their cats, microchip now or as standard.

Dr.Sam: Yeah, I think the awareness that's come around the dog kind of law of microchipping has spread out to all pet owners. It's made it more visible and you still. Get the odd cat, who doesn't have a microchip, but it is getting rarer and it's great to know that people are being aware that actually this is the best way to reunite your pet with you if anything does go wrong. It does happen. So we've in the past I've experienced everything from cats who've moved in three doors down without you knowing that person then brings them to the vets to say God, this cat has come to live with me. I want to get him checked over. And when you scan you can see that actually that cat is not a stray. It knows where it lives, it's just playing the game. But I've also had situations where we've scanned lost kittens and found that they've got in the back of a van. Or they've accidentally gotten someones car and they're hundreds of miles away from home by having that microchip we can get them home.

Patricia: Yeah, I did see one the other day managed to climb into a lorry and travelled about 300 miles. So they can absolutely get everywhere, but what I would urge for anyone this thing is, if you've got microchip details, please please, please make sure that they're up to date because if the worst happens and they do end up getting lost. I'm out, on a walk or they've, you know, cats wandered off, or somebody's trying to rehome your pet thinking it's astray because they're off looking for food elsewhere. There. But just please, please, please make sure that you update those details because it's hugely important, right?

Dr.Sam: Definitely. And it's also worth knowing who your microchip is registered with. There is no central database in the UK that holds all microchipping details. There are two or three major ones, and a million tiny ones as well, so no where your information is stored and make sure it's up to date.

Patricia: Lovely. Is there anything that you can recommend about keeping them out of the garden as Sky is trying to wreck this studio? But anything on the garden front, anything that you can do? I think you've heard stuff around, you know, having human hair around the plant beds. I'm pretty sure that's a myth.

Dr.Sam: Though a lot, I think everything you'll hear about this will be a myth. There'll be stuff that you can spray. There will be plants that you can plant and some of them might help a little in individual cases, but at the end of the day like we've said, cats are laws unto themselves. You cannot really keep them out of the garden - the best you can do is just, if you do see them, try and it's discourage them. If they're causing your cats any problems. So they don't get Into the habit o being there.

Patricia: Lovely. And just to finish up on cats, do you think there's any type of cat breed that specifically has a better temperament than others?

Dr.Sam: They're all wonderful if they're treated properly in the same way that dogs are. The most common, you could call it a breed but it's not really, the most common breed of cat is our domestic short hair or domestic long hair - so basically, cross breed cats - and they are wonderful. And you're gonna get the odd spicy one who's maybe not the cuddliest and the old anecdote is that torties can be naughty depending on their colour torty.

Patricia: Naughty. I love that, OK.

Dr.Sam: Yeah, but it really is up to individuals. I know torties that love a good belly rub. Yeah. Yeah. I think there's a trend that certain breeds, I suppose, like the big fluffy breeze, the Norwegian Forest counts and the big fluffy, what they called, what they called?

Patricia: I have no idea. I do you know what? I am terrible with cat breeds like I'm. I'm OK with dog breeds, but cat breeds terrible and I say it's like.

Dr.Sam: And not Bengals.

Patricia: A moggie or a Siamese? Or a tortoise shell. A ginger cat.

Dr.Sam: Yeah, they're colours, aren't they? We basically, we basically cover them with colours.

Patricia: Yeah, essentially, I'm like a toddler. I can identify cats by colour.

Dr.Sam: yes, the orange one there is. There is a kind of thought that certain maybe purebred cats are a little more cuddly or a little more affectionate. Some of them can definitely be more vocal, like you Siamese. Yeah, but all cats can be just as wonderful.

Patricia: Our half Siamese cats had amazing temperaments actually. Do you always expect a Siamese cat to be quite Cool, calm, collected and very standoffish. Very easy. Yeah, well, they were half tomcat, so they used to do things like they would walk halfway to school with me. Ohh, and then at the end of the day they'll be waiting at the top of the road for me to come back. So and then they would walk down the road, but even things… By when I went to bed there, the male cat Max, he used to come up to bed with me curled up. And by the time I woke up in the morning, he's still in the same place and I'd be like he's been with me all night. My mum would go actually when he fell asleep. He then left because he wanted to come and see me and then she got up earlier, so then he would come back and things like if my alarm went off and I didn't get out of bed, he would knock stuff off my shelf onto my head so that I would then get out of bed. I mean, what better alarm clock than a cat that does that!

Dr.Sam: You can't beat them and I think even those that are standoffish., they like you, they just don't necessarily want to show it. So my boy Smarty, he can be very aloof, but he will still follow us out the garden and onto the road, and come for a walk with us. Or, you know, I'll take my son around the the block on his bike, and he’ll pretend he's not with us, but he's definitely there. Following us around. Like a little shadow, he does the same at bedtime.

Patricia: I love that.

Dr.Sam: So he and my son, who's five, they have a little bit of a love/hate relationship. They haven't quite figured it out yet, but when I finished putting him to bed and I step out, he sat outside that door. And he will stay there most of the night - just watch him. So they can be more loyal than I think you realise sometimes. Yeah. I mean, you see.

Patricia: It with dogs, right? They're they just go “Ohh, love you. Love you. Love you!” and cats are like “No, I'm your master!” But actually, deep down, you're absolutely right. They're just as beautiful as dogs are. Anyway, I thank you so much for for coming in today. Sam, it's been great busting some of these real myths that, you know, even as a a dog owner myself like you just want to understand. You know what's right from wrong. I don't want to search for those answers on the Internet because nine times out of 10 you're getting some bad advice. There's some good advice, but if we can ask the experts like yourself, it just makes it so much easier. So, thanks so much again for coming in today, Sam, really appreciate it. And thanks to everyone listening and it's been a pleasure having a Walk In The Park with you today and our Animal Friends.

Dr.Sam: Always fantastic to be here!


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