Risks of Secondhand Smoke for Dogs and Cats

Do you smoke? Have you thought about the adverse effect the habit is probably having on your pets’ health?

Research shows just how dangerous second and third hand smoke is to the animals who live with us. Second hand smoke is defined as smoke that is exhaled or otherwise escapes into the air and can be inhaled by non-smokers, including pets. Third hand smoke is the residue that remains on skin, fur, clothing, furniture, etc., even after the air has cleared. Both of these categories can be combined under the term environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).

One of the most dramatic studies that I’ve run across reveals a greatly increased risk of malignant lymphoma (also referred to as lymphoma or lymphosarcoma) in cats with exposure to ETS. The results showed that the relative risk for malignant lymphoma in cats with any household ETS exposure was almost 2 ½ times higher than that of cats living in smoke-free households. For cats with five or more years of ETS exposure, the relative risk climbed to 3.2. In other words, these cats were more than three times as likely to develop lymphoma as were cats who were not exposed to ETS.

This study and others like it also strongly suggest a link between oral cancer in cats and environmental tobacco smoke. Cats groom the toxins contained in tobacco smoke off of their fur, which damages tissues within the mouth, leading to cancer.

Dogs aren’t immune to the effects of ETS either. Research shows that dogs living with smokers are more likely to suffer from respiratory diseases (e.g., asthma and bronchitis) and lung cancer than are dogs that live in smoke-free homes. Also, the risk of cancer of the nasal passages increases by 250% in long-nosed breeds of dogs with exposure to high levels of environmental tobacco smoke. It looks as if the numerous poisons found in cigarette smoke build up in the nasal passages of long-nosed dogs but are more able to make their way to the lungs of dogs with shorter noses.

Unfortunately, studies show that smoking outside of the home only helps but does not eliminate ETS exposure to infants. The infants of parents who smoked outdoors were still exposed to 5-7 times as much ETS as were the infants of nonsmokers. Similar results could be expected for pets.

Is vaping (inhaling a vaporized solution that contains nicotine) a safer alternative? Maybe, but according to the American Lung Association, “the FDA tested a small sample [of e-cigarettes] just a few years ago and found a number of toxic chemicals, including diethylene gylcol — the same ingredient used in antifreeze.” That’s certainly not something that I’d want pets to inhale or lick off their fur.             Dr. Jennifer Coates

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

310 919 9372

Symptoms of Heat Exhaustion in Dogs in Hot Cars

Every year, dogs suffer and die when their guardians make the mistake of leaving them in a parked car—even for “just a minute”—while they run an errand. Parked cars are deathtraps for dogs: On a 78-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can soar to between 100 and 120 degrees in just minutes, and on a 90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach as high as 160 degrees in less than 10 minutes.

 Animals can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes. Beating the heat is extra tough for dogs because they can only cool themselves by panting and by sweating through their paw pads.

If you see a dog left alone in a hot car, take down the car’s color, model, make, and license plate number. Have the owner paged in the nearest buildings, or call local humane authorities or police. Have someone keep an eye on the dog. Don’t leave the scene until the situation has been resolved.

If the authorities are unresponsive or too slow and the dog’s life appears to be in imminent danger, find a witness (or several) who will back up your assessment, take steps to remove the suffering animal from the car, and then wait for authorities to arrive.

Watch for heatstroke symptoms such as restlessness, excessive thirst, thick saliva, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite, dark tongue, rapid heartbeat, fever, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, and lack of coordination. If a dog shows any of these symptoms, get him or her out of the heat, preferably into an air-conditioned vehicle, and then to a veterinarian immediately. If you are unable to transport the dog yourself, take him or her into an air-conditioned building if possible and call animal control: Tell them it is an emergency.

Provide water to drink, and if possible spray the dog with a garden hose or immerse him or her in a tub of cool (but not iced) water for up to two minutes in order to lower the body temperature gradually. You can also place the dog in front of an electric fan. Applying cool, wet towels to the groin area, stomach, chest, and paws can also help. Be careful not to use ice or cold water, and don’t overcool the animal.

PETA offers leaflets that can be placed on vehicles to remind people never to leave unattended animals inside. For information on ordering PETA’s “Don’t Let Your Dog Get Hot Under the Collar” leaflet, please click here.

Simon Cowell stars in PETA’s public service announcement (PSA) informing viewers of the dangers of leaving dogs in hot cars. You can help spread the message by contacting us at ActionTeam@peta.org or 757-622-7382 for information on how to get the PSA aired on your local television stations.

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

310 919 9372



13 Facts About Wolves and Dogs That Will Blow Your Mind

On Friday, the folks at The Bark Post went to the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, NY to say hi to some wolf pups and learn some awesome stuff about wolves, dogs, and how they collide. At the WCC they host packs of two endangered species of wolf, the Mexican grey wolf and the red wolf, and currently have three Ambassador wolves (Atka, Alawa, and Zephyr) who are used to interacting with people and participate in educating the public about their endangered brethren. The WCC also recently welcomed a new wolf pup, Nikai, who is a burgeoning internet sensation and a future Ambassador wolf, but for now she’s just insanely adorable.

1. Dogs and wolves split from a common ancestor around 34,000 years ago.

But different breeds of dogs are more closely genetically related to each other, and not their wolf counterpart. What this means is that Huskies have more in common, genetically speaking, with Boxers than with grey wolves, even though they may look more similar to wolves and have lived in the same geographic area. This means that dogs and wolves are farther removed from each other than humans have historically presumed.

2. Wolves howl for countless reasons.

Wolves howl by themselves to get the attention of their pack, or the pack of wolves will howl to get the attention of another pack (usually to tell them to stay off of their turf!) Wolves may also just start howling because another wolf has begun—it’s contagious.

3. In order to socialize them early, it helps for Ambassador wolves to have puppy playmates.   Not to mention it’s just super cute.

4. When the WCC raises pups without their mothers, they sometimes enlist dogs be parental figures, to show the wolf pups how to properly interact with the hoomans.

Atka had Eno, a German Shepherd, who passed away in 2005. Now Nikai has Kai, another German Shepherd, who serves as his nanny and guide. Kai goes everywhere with Nikai, including on errands in the Wolf Conservation Center minivan!

5. To ease red wolves back into autonomous packs, conservations like the WCC will insert newborns into litters of red wolves in the


That way, there is no question as to whether they belong to the pack. Trying to introduce wolves when they’re older is not an easy task, but when they’re babies they blend seamlessly into a new litter of wolf pups. Like wolf adoption!!

6. Wolves are crepuscular (!!), meaning they’re most active at dusk and dawn.

Check out wolf pup Nikai digging, playing, and running in the early morning!

7. And yes, they get the hiccups too.

But when they get them, it goes viral. Such is life.

8. Wolves have larger skulls, because they have bigger brains. Adult dogs are about as intelligent as wolf cubs.

That’s why you can’t train a wolf. When wolves are comfortable with people, they might comply with your commands (because they know what you’re asking, they’re wicked smart), or they just might not care enough.

9. Wolves are quite skinny, and have long, gangly legs, so they run much faster than dogs.


Flo-Jo couldn’t even keep up with one of these pups.


10. When they’re two or three years old, wolves typically disperse from their natal pack.

For the Ambassador wolves at the WCC, this was tricky, because after a few years living with the older Ambassador pack (Apache, Kaila, and Lukas, who have all since passed), Atka began to challenge Apache, the alpha, for leadership of the pack. They moved Atka to a new enclosure, and all was well with the wolves.

11. Both wolves and dogs have 42 teeth, but…

Wolves have longer canines, which means that they can make quicker work of their prey. But they don’t always! Check out how gently WCC’s Ambassador Wolf, Atka, eats the most delicate food in the world, an egg:

12. Though wolves and wolf hybrids may look like dogs, they aren’t pets.

These are wild animals, and you cannot control them. Even the experts at the WCC have to be resigned to the fact that no matter how much they socialize a wolf cub for the Ambassador pack, they cannot predict which cubs will grow into adult wolves that are comfortable and compliant around people. Wolves like Atka, who are comfortable in public, are not the norm, and bringing a wolf or wolf hybrid into your home is not advisable.


13. But…they both love their Barkboxes. (Although for wolves they’re called HowlBoxes.)

A HUGE thank you to the Wolf Conservation Center for letting us visit and pick their brains! They are incredible advocates for these amazing animals!

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

310 919 9372

Vegan Cat Food?

Vegan diets are, for some people, perhaps a good choice. But many of my veterinary clients ask about the potential for feeding their cats such a diet. In answer to that question, a vegan diet is a poor choice for your cat. Such a diet cannot provide all of the nutrients that your cat requires for health.

It’s natural, in many ways, for a person who has made certain lifestyle choices to consider the same types of choices for their pet. In this case, if a vegan lifestyle and diet is important to you, your choice of pet cannot be a cat. There are many pets that you could choose that would thrive on a vegan diet but a cat is not one of them.

Cats, as a species, are obligate carnivores. In very simple terms, this means that cats require meat in their diet. They have specific nutrient needs that can only be supplied through the ingestion of animal meat.

Cats, like all other species, have very specific nutrient needs. They require certain proteins and other nutrients in their diet that are simply not found in plant sources.

Questions I sometimes hear are, “Isn’t a protein a protein?” and “Does it really matter where the protein comes from?” Here are the answers. There are many different types of proteins. Each protein is made up of amino acids. Amino acids are frequently referred to as the “building blocks” of protein. And each protein requires specific types of amino acids. So, one protein is not simply a protein like any other, and one amino acid is not either.

For instance, taurine is a specific amino acid that is required by all cats. Without sufficient amounts of taurine in the diet, cats can experience heart disease, vision problems, and other health issues. And cats cannot synthesize taurine by themselves. It needs to be provided through the diet. Taurine is not available through plants though. It is only available through animal sources (although there is a synthetic source).

Therefore, for a cat, the source of the protein definitely does matter. Cats not only require a higher protein level in their diet than other species (i.e., humans, dogs), but they also have a need for very specific proteins, and thus specific amino acids. Other essential amino acids for cats include methionine, arginine, and cysteine. These amino acids must be supplied in adequate quantities in the diet of all cats, also.

Amino acids are not the only nutrients required by cats that are not available through plant sources either. Others include Vitamin D, vitamin A, and arachidonic acid. In people, vitamin D is produced through exposure to sunlight. Cats lack the ability to do so, resulting in Vitamin D (in its active form of calcitriol) being a nutrient that needs to be provided in the food. It is rare in plant sources, except those fortified with synthetic vitamin D, but is found in animals and fish.

Vitamin A generally needs to be provided through animal sources as well. Cats cannot synthesize the active form of the vitamin from beta-carotene as other species can.

Arachidonic acid is an essential fatty acid for cats. Again, it needs to be provided in the food your cat is eating and is primarily available through animal sources.

As a result of these unique dietary requirements, without synthetic supplementation of the diet, a cat is unable to safely eat a vegan diet. Even with supplementation, producing a cat food that is complete and fills all of the nutritional needs of a cat is difficult (and dangerous) without adding meat to the diet. This is why they are referred to as obligate carnivores and require meat in their diet.

Enjoy the vegan diet for yourself, if that is your choice. But do not expect your cat to eat the same way.

Dr. Lorie Huston

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

310 919 9372

Life Cycle of a Flea

The world is host to over 2,000 species of flea, and they’re a problem almost everywhere. Most common is Ctenocephalides felis, the “cat flea.” Despite its name, the cat flea affects both dogs and cats,1 as well as their owners, and wild animals such as raccoons and skunks.

When a flea jumps onto your pet, it will start feeding within 5 minutes and may suck blood for up to 2 1/2 hours. Female fleas are the most voracious, consuming up to 15 times their own body weight in blood.2 And a single flea can live on your dog or cat for almost 2 months!

Experts in multiplication

Flea infestations can rapidly get out of control. That’s because fleas lay eggs in such large numbers. At a rate of 40 to 50 per day for around 50 days, a single female flea can produce 2,000 eggs in her lifetime. Flea larvae burrow deep into fabrics, bedding and carpeting, so thorough, regular vacuuming and cleaning of your pet’s bedding (in very hot water) is recommended.1,2

Huge numbers of newly developed adult fleas can then remain dormant inside pupae or cocoons in your home for weeks to months. Only when conditions are right—a combination of heat, carbon dioxide and movement—will they emerge from these cocoons as young and hungry adult fleas, which will infest your pet.1,2

A threat that’s more than skin-deep

The most common external parasite found on pets, fleas can be a major problem for dogs, cats and the whole family. Simple itching caused by fleas can be irritating enough for a dog or cat. But fleas can cause more serious health problems too. Fleas are also responsible for transmitting the dog tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum) to dogs, cats and even humans. In addition, fleas can spread bacterial diseases, too.1,2

Some pets develop severe allergies to flea bites (called flea allergy dermatitis) and develop signs, such as itching, that may last long after the fleas have gone.1,2

While outdoor pets are more susceptible, your dog or cat may be exposed to these blood-sucking parasites anywhere: in your own backyard, on walks or even in your own home. When it comes to fleas, the faster you get rid of them, the better!

Did you know?

  • A flea can jump more than 100 times its length (vertically up to 7 inches and horizontally 13 inches). That’s equivalent to an adult human jumping 250 feet vertically and 450 feet horizontally.
  • Rarely do fleas jump from dog to dog. Most flea infestations come from newly developed fleas from the pet’s environment.


  1. Blagburn BL, Dryden MW. Biology, treatment, and control of flea and tick infestations. Vet Clin N Am Small Anim Pract.2009;39(6):1173-1200.
  2. Dryden M, Rust M. The cat flea: biology, ecology and control. Vet Parasitol. 1994;52:1-19.

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

310 919 9372

Foods Poisonous to Dogs


The following is a list of foods poisonous to dogs.

Avocado: Avocado leaves, fruit, seeds and bark contain a toxic principle known as Persin. The Guatemalan variety is most toxic – but all have toxic potential. They cause vomiting/diarrhea – primarily gastrointestinal distress.

Chocolate (all forms): Chocolate contains theobromine, a compound that is a cardiac stimulant and a diuretic. The toxic dose is 2 baking squares for a 10lb dog. Regular chocolate bars have little real chocolate and are seldom toxic.

Coffee (all forms): Coffee contains dangerous components called xanthines, which cause nervous system or urinary system damage and heart muscle stimulation.

Fatty foods: The primary concern here is severe gastrointestinal upset- and in some cases Pancreatitis.This can be fatal in some pets- and it is ALMOST always triggered by a High Fat Meal, such as gravy or bacon.

Macadamia nuts: Macadamia nuts contain an unknown toxin, which can affect the digestive and nervous systems and muscles of dogs. This has lead to paralysis. A small number of nuts and even the butter can cause this.

.Moldy or spoiled foods: Many molds contain a type of toxin called an Aflatoxin. This is thought to be a common cause of “compost toxicity”. Signs include GI (Vomiting/Diarrhea), muscle tremors, in-coordination, elevated temperature, excessive salivation, and liver damage. Avoid feeding ANYTHING moldy to your dog or cat.

Onions, onion powder: Onions contain the toxic ingredient thiosulphate.Pets affected by onion toxicity will develop anemia. 1 Onion can cause this. Fortunately ALL dogs recover once they are stopped from ingesting onions.

Raisins and grapes: As few as 6 grapes and raisins have caused acute kidney failure in some dogs.The toxic ingredient is not yet known.There is no treatement. AVOID feeding ANY grapes or raisins to your dogs.

Yeast dough: The yeast dough/uncooked bread dough will rise in your pet’s stomach causing severe gastrointestinal distress (vomiting/diarrhea), bloating, and signs of alcohol toxicity.

Xylitol: Xylitol is a artificial sweeter found in “SUGAR FREE” Products, such as gum, candy etc. Signs relate to a sudden drop in glucose (blood sugar), in-coordination, collapse and seizures. Avoid feeding any gum/candy to your pets.

Apples, Apricots, Cherries, Peaches and Plums (stems, seeds, and leaves):
 While the fruit is fine for your pet to eat, ingestion of large amounts of stems, seeds and leaves of these fruits can be toxic. They contain a cyanide type compound and signs of toxicity include apprehension, dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, hyperventilation and shock. Note – it’s the seeds and stems that contain the toxic component, not the fruit itself.

Potato peelings and green looking potatoes
: Potatoes and other Solanum species, including the tomato, are members of the nightshade family of plants. These plants contain solanine and other toxic alkaloids which, if eaten in large enough amounts, can produce drooling, severe gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite, drowsiness, central nervous system depression, confusion, behavioral changes, weakness, dilated pupils and slowed heart rate.

Nutmeg: High levels of nutmeg can be toxic, even fatal. The toxic component is unknown. Signs of toxicity include tremors, seizures, nervous system abnormalities or death.

Tomato leaves & stems (green parts): The green parts of the tomato plant are considered toxic because they contain solanine, which has the potential to produce significant gastrointestinal and central nervous system effects.

WHAT to do IF your pet has eaten any of these toxic foods:

TO YOUR VETERINARIAN. If your pet is showing signs of ingesting a poison, it is important that your veterinarian examines her and treated appropriately. Some toxins can progress and lead to severe seizures. If you suspect antifreeze poisoning, it must be treated within 4-6 hours, before irreversible kidney damage occurs.

PURGE THE POISON. In most cases of poisoning, getting your pet to vomit is the most important thing that you can do. DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING if something caustic has been consumed (such as drain cleaner or bleach). To induce vomiting, give hydrogen peroxide at 1 teaspoon per 10 lbs of body weight. If your pet doesn’t vomit in 10 minutes, repeat again. NEVER do more than 2 treatments of peroxide. You can also try salt: dilute 1 teaspoon of salt in a tablespoon of water per every 10lbs of body weight.

NEUTRALIZE THE TOXIN. If a caustic substance has been ingested, DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING, rather give something to neutralize it. An alkaline toxin such as drain cleaner is neutralized by something acidic such as vinegar: give 1 tsp per 10 lbs of body weight. An acidic toxin, such as battery acid, is best neutralized with something alkaline such as Milk of Magnesia: give 1 tsp per 10lbs of body weight.

DELAY ABSORPTION. Activated charcoal is readily available at most pharmacies. It delays absorption of any toxin by binding to the toxic compound in the stomach. The easiest way is to give the capsule form. For those garbage-eating dogs (such as my own dog) it is a good idea to have hydrogen peroxide and activated charcoal always on hand.

TOPICAL TOXINS. If your pet is having a reaction to something on the skin, such as flea medications, or oil on the skin, then you want to remove it as soon as possible. Dish soap works well – lather it up, then rinse your pet thoroughly. Thick tarry substances that you can’t wash off can be first covered in flour, as the flour absorbs some of the oil, then washed off with dish soap.

PREVENTION. Ensure medications are always out of mouth’s reach. Become familiar with toxic plants (visit http://www.aspca.org/toxicplantsfor a complete list) and remove those from your house, if your pet is a plant-eater. Keep your compost covered.

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

310 919 9372


Heatstroke in Dogs


Your dog’s paws are very sensitive, especially to heat. Be considerate of this fact when taking it outside to walk on hot asphalt and cement, because canines absorb and release heat through their paws. Putting doggy boots on your dogs can protect its sensitive feet and isolate heat to keep your dog feeling cooler.


Contrary to popular belief, you should not shave off your dog’s fur in an effort to cool it down. Its fur actually helps to regulate your dog’s body temperature. If the hair is matted and unkempt, then it becomes a hindrance. Keep your dog’s fur healthy with regular brushing. You can trim your dog’s longer hair if you feel comfortable doing so.


Know the signs of heatstroke in dogs. The unbearable heat of summer can quickly become too much for your dog, especially if it is outside a lot. Be vigilant about your canine’s health to prevent heatstroke. An obvious indicator is excessive, rapid panting. Dogs pant to cool themselves down, but it is a sign of heatstroke when the panting becomes heavy and labored. Other signs can include vomiting, dehydration and collapsing. If you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke, move indoors and pour cool (not cold) water over its body. Slowly give it cool water to drink and, as always, consult a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

310 919 9372

Electric Shock Injuries in Dogs

First Aid for Electric Shock

Electricity is dangerous, especially around young dogs and incorrigible chewers. However, if your dog suffers an electric shock it is essential that you consider your own safety before helping

What To Watch For

A convulsing or rigid dog lying on or near a power cable or other electrical source may be suffering an electric shock. The dog may not be right on the cable as pools of liquid, including urine, can carry electric current. Roots of trees are also known to carry electricity in cases of lightning.

Primary Cause

Chewing power cables is the most common cause of electric shock in dogs.

Immediate Care

Do not touch the dog or fluids in contact with it, especially if the animal is rigid – you may receive a fatal electric shock yourself. Instead, you should:

  • Turn off the electricity at its source, if possible.
  • If you can’t turn off the current, use a wooden broom handle (or other long, non-conductive object) to move the dog a good distance from the source of electricity and any pools of liquid.
  • Check the dog’s pulse and breathing, giving CPR and artificial respiration as needed.
  • If the dog’s mouth has been burned, use cold compresses to limit the damage. See “Burns and Scalding” for further treatment guidelines.

Once the dog appears to recover:

Take it to the vet immediately

  • Monitor its breathing and pulse regularly for 12 hours.

Even if your dog appears to recover completely and normally from an electric shock, it is vital to take it to see the vet. Internal damage, shock and fluid build-up in the lungs may not be outwardly visible, but can cause serious trouble hours after the accident.

Other Causes

Although it is rare, a male dog urinating on an exposed power line or electrical source may cause the current to “jump” and give it a shock. Even rarer are cases of dogs being struck by lightning, though the effects are similar.


Electricity should always be treated with care: consider your dog as a small, inquisitive child and take appropriate measures to safeguard them in the home.

  • Cover power cables if possible or spray them with a bitter-tasting compound to deter puppies and chewers from investigating.
  • If your dog is still very young, never leave it alone in a room with live power cables or uncovered sockets.
  • Examine the surroundings and clean up any trailing electrical cords. Extension leads can help keep cables close to the walls, out of sight behind furniture, etc.
  • Always turn off electrical sockets when not in use – it’s not only safer, it’ll save you money on equipment that runs on standby!

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

310 919 9372


The Feline Quality of Life Scale Helps You Determine If It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Your Cat

A pet hospice devised this method of adding some objectivity into this highly emotional situation.

When you first brought home that bouncy kitty, end-of-life decisions were the farthest thing from your mind. But things have changed. Either the years have flown by and you’re now looking at a frail old kitty, or your vet has handed you a devastating diagnosis. Or maybe your cat is fine but you’re just worried about the inevitable.

The sad truth is that unless you are elderly or terminally ill, chances are you will someday have to face your cat’s mortality. It’s an issue that no cat parent wants to confront.

I had to use the QoL Scale this week with my beloved Groucho.

I have nursed my own kitties and foster cats through pancreatitis, fatty liver disease, and cancer. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. But when, for the good of your cat, do you throw in the proverbial towel? I’ve said so many times, “I wish they could talk to me.”

Until recently, vets have told me it’s time to say goodbye to a sick kitty when she stops eating. But any number of treatable or temporary conditions can cause a cat to ignore the food bowl: dental disease, nausea, viruses, and parasites, among others.

How do you assess your cat’s quality of life?

How do you know when mounting symptoms and cascading organ failure reduce your kitty’s quality of life to an intolerable level? Whether your kitty is facing advanced age or a terminal illness, you have an obligation to assess his quality of life and to maintain the best quality possible.

Use this scale to assess your cat’s quality of life. Used by permission of Pawspice

It’s also important to determine if the recommended treatment will further deteriorate your cat’s quality of life. Is the potential benefit worth the cost to your pet? When should you abandon treatment?

Alice Villalobos, a renowned veterinary oncologist, founded pet hospice service Pawspice and has been a pioneer in end-of-life-care for animals for 20 years. In 2004, she developed theFeline Quality of Life (QoL) Scale (PDF), based on the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare for farm animals in the United Kingdom, to help veterinarians and families assess a pet’s life quality and help pet owners look at hard-to-face issues.

You can assess your pet’s QoL on a monthly, weekly, daily, or hourly basis as needed and make end-of-life decisions more objectively. “Focusing on QoL for companion animals with life-limiting disease may avoid futile medicine, over-treatment, and reluctant early euthanasia,” she says.

I recently learned firsthand, the QoL Scale may help you objectively make one of the most difficult decisions of your life — and help allay the guilt that comes with the decision to humanely euthanize your beloved pet rather than force her to linger.

“The QoL scale helps all caregivers to ask themselves if they are truly able to provide enough care to properly maintain their ailing pet’s QoL,” Dr. Villalobos says.

How the Feline Quality of Life Scale works

The scale rates seven basic factors (Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, and More Good Days Than Bad) from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best possible score. A total score of 70 is perfect, while a total greater than 35 is deemed acceptable for maintaining a good feline hospice or treatment program.

“Modern pain management, high-tech medicine, and good nursing care can restore and maintain QoL, and can extend the period between the diagnosis of a terminal disease and death,” Dr. Villalobos says.

When my 18-year-old cat Nixie was fighting pancreatitis, I pulled up the QoL Scale and rated her condition. The first time I used it, Nixie scored 36. A few days later, I could no longer hydrate her with subcutaneous fluids because fluid was collecting in her abdomen, a symptom of heart failure. The score dropped to 33.

I was willing to nurse Nixie 24/7 and mortgage my house to pay to keep her going, but her QoL had deteriorated. By continuing to force-feed and medicate, I would only be prolonging her misery. Thankfully, the QoL Scale opened my eyes, and that day I released my Heart Kitty. My life hasn’t been the same since, but I know I didn’t prolong her pain for my own benefit.

Here’s how to interpret the seven stages of the Quality of Life Scale:

1. Hurt

Adequate pain control, including the cat’s ability to breathe, is first and foremost on the scale. People don’t realize that in human medicine, not being able to breathe is ranked at the top of the pain scale. “Breathing is No. 1 on the QoL Scale because if you can’t breathe, nothing else matters,” Dr. Villalobos says. Humans describe breathing difficulty as being more painful than a broken bone.

“Monitor the pet’s respirations to identify labored breathing so you won’t wait too long to provide relief,” she says. “Respiratory distress is an emergency and it must be relieved immediately, or there is no QoL for the animal, and there is no humane justification to continue the hospice.”


Symptoms of pain in a cat include increased vocalizations, panting or open-mouth breathing, constantly licking a particular area, hiding or avoiding interaction with family, irritability when touched, not eating, not being able to jump up to favorite places, change in litter box habits, and nonstop purring (yes, cats purr to soothe themselves).

2. Hunger

Often kitties can hide weight loss beneath their coats, so monitoring your sick or senior pet’s weight is essential. If your cat isn’t willingly eating, your veterinarian can prescribe appetite stimulants such as mirtazapine. Under your vet’s supervision, you can coax, hand-feed, force-feed, or even have an esophageal feeding tube surgically implanted.

3. Hydration

Every ailing kitty should receive adequate fluids: two teaspoons or 10 ml per pound per day. You can check your kitty for dehydration by lifting his skin between the shoulder blades and see how fast it returns. The skin of a hydrated animal will spring back to his muscle almost immediately, while a dehydrated animal’s skin will return more slowly. Dehydrated kitties will have tacky-feeling gums and their eyes may appear sunken.


To supplement your cat’s fluid intake, your vet will probably prescribe subcutaneous fluids, which your vet can teach you to give your kitty. Providing fluids at home can make a huge difference in your cat’s life QoL and can save you a great deal of money.

4. Hygiene

Is your kitty brushed and clean? Is his coat matted? Can he use the litter box or does he lie in his own eliminations?

Cats who can’t move away from their waste will develop painful sores. Cat with oral disease can’t groom themselves, so they quickly become demoralized. You can help your unkempt kitty stay clean by dampening a sponge with a highly diluted solution of lemon juice and hydrogen peroxide, and gently stroke his face, paws and legs, similar to the way a mother’s tongue would do it.

5. Happiness

Happiness is important for both you and your kitty. Dr. Villalobos believes that even at end-of-life there should be a two-way exchange of pleasure and contentment between you and your cat. You need to provide enrichment that encourages as much fun and mental stimulation as possible.


Schedule some fun time. Does he paw at his favorite toy or does he ignore it? Does he sleep with you? Does he still enjoy sitting on your lap and being caressed? It is easy to see that our pets communicate with their eyes. Does he respond to a pinch of catnip? Or does he seem depressed, lonely, anxious, bored, or afraid? Does he isolate himself?

6. Mobility

This is relative. Is your cat able to get up and move around enough to satisfy normal desires? Is he having seizures or stumbling? Does he need help to get in the litter box to eliminate?

7. More Good Days Than Bad

Bad days might include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, frustration, falling down, or seizures. “When there are too many bad days in a row (or if the pet seems to be turned off to life), the quality of life is compromised,” Dr. Villalobos says.

Making the decision to end your beloved cat’s life by euthanasia is probably one of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever make. In the last two months, I have had to use the Quality of Life Scale for two kitties. The scale helped me make the correct and humane yet heartbreaking decision.

Was there guilt? Yes, some. But the QoL Scale helped me understand that I saved my babies a long, painful, lingering death. Knowing how Nixie was miserable took most of my guilt away. For the first time, I know I didn’t wait too long. I also know I made the right decision.

Hopefully it will be many years before you need the QoL Scale, but when the time comes, use the compassionate tool together with your vet to prevent your pet’s unnecessary suffering. Freedom from pain is a gift for your cat. Freedom from guilt is a gift for you. 

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

310 919 9372



Decisions Are Never Easy about Pet Euthanasia

To describe animals as essential family members is somewhat of an understatement. Most of the pets I see are considered “children” to their pet parents, or “siblings” to their human counterparts. The unconditional love we receive from our pets is something nearly unexplainable to those without animal companions. This bond is the essential force that sustains my ability to practice the craft I’ve devoted myself towards.  The decision of pet euthanasia is not easy.

Yet this same strong bond can create exceptional struggles and create many challenges when it comes to issues related to the healthcare of pets. Specifically, people tend to project what they understand about their own medical issues and care onto their pets, sometimes to the detriment of the care for their beloved companions.

After seeing thousands of appointments over the years, I am certain that everyone’s goal (whether owner, veterinarian, or otherwise) for patients with cancer is exactly the same: to maintain a good quality of life without causing harm, pain, or suffering, and with the greatest potential for longevity as possible.

In exceptionally rare instances, an owner will tell me they would be okay if their pet experienced undue side effects or discomfort from treatment if that would mean they would live longer than if they did not.

It’s difficult to guide owners through such decisions without feeling as though I’m being too pushy or forceful. It’s equally difficult to not feel as though I’m acquiescing to their concerns too quickly. I’m there to listen and to offer advice and recommendations, but I simply cannot remove the personal feelings from the equation.

As an example, for the vast majority of dogs with appendicular osteosarcoma, the primary recommendation will be amputation of the affected limb. This is the single most effective way to remove the source of pain for those dogs, and there are surprisingly few contraindications to this procedure and few pets that are considered poor candidates for the surgery. Even for large breed dogs or those who are overweight, old, or arthritic, I will still generally recommend amputation for the pet because my primary concern is to relieve their pain.

Many times owners will struggle with this decision, with the focus of their uncertainty stemming from concern their pet would not “do well” without their limb. They are concerned because the animal is too old or already has trouble walking, or that it would not be able to do the things it enjoys doing, such as swimming or fetching.

Despite attempts to reassure them and to focus on the need for immediate relief of discomfort, I’m continually surprised at the number of people who simply will not consider this option for their pets. There are plenty of times I simply cannot convey that their pet is crippled with pain at that time or that they would likely never fetch or swim again with a leg riddled with a tumor.

I received a phone call earlier last week from an owner updating me on her dog, who was previously diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Initially the dog’s family was certain they would not amputate his limb because he was a 14-year-old large breed dog. Their first appointment was with our radiation oncologist to discuss a palliative course of radiation therapy, designed to provide temporary pain relief but spare their dog’s limb.

After meeting with the doctor and listening to his take on this disease, they ultimately changed their minds completely and decided to amputate their pet’s limb and follow this with a course of chemotherapy with our service. Their dog sailed through surgery and treatment with only very minor issues, truly never missing a step over his protocol. Though we recommend routine follow up with our service, his owner worked at a veterinary hospital closer to her home, so all of those exams were done locally.

Nearly eight months after finishing treatment and almost one year since surgery, the news at this time wasn’t good. It sounded as though the dog developed spread of the cancer to a bone within the spinal canal and was showing signs of difficulty walking. However, the main point of the owner’s call was to let me know how grateful they were towards me and the radiation oncologist for providing them with accurate information and statistics about their dog’s chances with surgery and treatment.

They were able to do their nearly impossible task and set aside many of their own pre-conceived feelings and emotions and listen to the suggestions we made, which were truly offered up in their pets best interests.

Often, the ability for owners to care so deeply for their pets is both a blessing and a curse for veterinarians. On the best of days it means people are able to listen and be open minded as to our suggestions, recommendations, and opinions in much the same way they might entrust their health with their own physicians. On the worst of days their attachment can preclude their ability to understand our concerns and suggestions, closing them off to opportunities for healing out of fear or anxiety.

Veterinary medicine is unique in this capacity. Our patients cannot speak their opinions or their concerns, so we rely on their caretakers to provide a voice and make decisions. It’s nearly an impossible task to perform, so I would urge you all to greatly consider the experience and wisdom of your veterinarian. And if you are not happy with the things you hear, please seek a second opinion. It’s the least you can do for the silent but unconditionally loving member of your family.                               Dr. Joanne Intile

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

310 919 9372