How Does Catnip Affect Cat Behavior?

Does your cat go bonkers on catnip…or not? Read on…

Catnip comes in varying strengths, and different cats have different reactions to it; here are the positive and negative aspects of this herb.

Nepetalactone. You might not be familiar with the word, but you’re familiar with the effects it has on cats. It’s an oil found in the leaves, blossoms, and stems of catnip. Its scent causes felines to deliriously roll around and to sometimes exhibit erratic behaviors. Kitties who ingest it often become calm and appear sedated. Not all cats respond to the herb; many couldn’t care less about it.

Catnip can be a good thing, and it’s not addicting — felines enjoy the effects and it can modify behaviors. Although there are many perks to catnip, there are also downsides.

Catnip doesn’t inspire all cats

Not all cats are affected by catnip. Genetics dictate which felines act goofy when exposed to it. It’s estimated that around one-third of them are apathetic about the herb. These kitties aren’t genetically predisposed to party with catnip. Age is also a factor. Kittens have no reaction to it until they are between three months and six months of age. Typically, elderly cats aren’t inspired very much by the plant either.

There are different qualities of catnip

A couple of pinches of good quality catnip can be enough to cause intoxication. Fresh, high quality leaves and blossoms elicit the strongest response. Catnip that’s old loses its potency — cats ignore it or take a whiff and walk away.

How catnip works

When cats ingest, roll on, or rub catnip leaves, blossoms or stems with their heads or cheeks, the herb is bruised and nepetalactone is released. Inhaling the oil is stimulating and euphoric — cats often act goofy when high on catnip. Typical behaviors include sniffing, chewing, drooling, head shaking, head and cheek rubbing, rolling, and self-licking. One theory states that smelling the oil elicits reactions similar to those of queens in heat.

Chewing and ingesting catnip has the opposite effect — felines become sedated and calm.

The effects don’t last long: on average, about 10 to 15 minutes. Cats don’t react when repeatedly exposed to the herb. It usually takes one to two hours to reset the response. If exposed to the plant too often, kitties become immune and won’t react at all. Ideally, they shouldn’t be allowed to party with it more than one or two times a week.

Virtues of catnip

In addition to cats enjoying the herb, it has other benefits, including:

  • It’s enriching and entertaining — it helps keep cats from becoming bored.
  • Catnip inspires obese and sedentary cats to move, exercise, and burn calories.
  • Old toys that have been rejected by cats become novel again after they are rubbed with the herb or immersed in it for a few days.
  • It’s a mood booster. Catnip can help cats through depression by focusing them on activities and encouraging them to interact with their environment.
  • Chewing catnip can temporarily calm and relax kitties.
  • Fearful and shy cats may act braver and become a bit more willing to socialize with people when under the influence of the plant.
  • A couple of pinches of fresh catnip can also be used to encourage cats to hang out in specific areas and scratch posts and horizontal scratchers instead of sofas and carpets.

The dark side of catnip

Catnip has a potential downside. Some kitties become overstimulated and aggressive when partying with the herb — this is especially problematic in multi-cat homes where relationships are less than stellar. These little ones need to be separated from each other and monitored during their first few encounters with the herb. If they’re overly rambunctious, they should party alone. Because the effect is short-lived, these cats can be reunited with their friends after about 30 minutes.

Other residents aren’t exempt. Cats who are high on catnip can become uninhibited and often will play rough, sometimes biting and scratching their favorite people.

The benefits of catnip far outweigh the negatives. It’s stimulating, fun, enriching, and can change cats’ behavior. At the same time it is safe for cats and doesn’t have harmful side effects.

Marilyn Krieger

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
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Creating a Social, “Friendly” Dog

We all want friendly dogs, both family friendly and kid friendly.

The one thing that every new puppy owner dreams of is having their pup grow up to become an adoring, confident, people-friendly dog; just like the good old-fashioned all-American Golden Retriever that dotes on its human family members, loves all visitors, and is long-suffering to a fault (even when besieged by young children). So how does one wind up with a super mellow dog like this, one’s own personal Lassie?

Not by luck, that’s for sure, especially these days. Good judgment, a proper understanding of the issues, and proper management are all involved. Judgment is involved in selecting the right genetic stuff. While there are stable individuals in all breeds, some breeds do appear to have higher proportions of skittish, overly anxious, anti-social individuals than others.

The Center for Disease Control’s dog bite demographics provides some indication of problem breeds, especially when weighted to account for breed prevalence. Even more important than breed tendency is the individual’s genetic propensity for anti-social behavior as determined by the behavior of other dogs in the family line. When selecting a new puppy, it is important to obtain an honest account of the behavior of the dog’s parents and grandparents before making a final commitment.

Assuming all is well with the pup’s genetic stock, and that the playing field of life is even, it is now the responsibility of the breeder and the new puppy owner to make sure that the early environment is optimal for development of full confidence and sociability (this plus a modicum of respect).

If the first 8 weeks at the breeder’s kennel is not optimal, irreparable damage will likely be done to the pup’s psyche, leading to all kinds of problems down the road. The extent of the problems depends on the extent of the shoddy treatment. However, a perfect pup handed over to a new owner at 8 weeks of age can have its good start wrecked by improper training and management from that time forth.

At the Breeders

The optimal way for a young pup to be raised is within a family unit, in the kitchen or living room so that it spends its time with the family members and exposed to the comings and goings of a normal home. This way, during the first half of the sensitive period of the pup’s development, it will be a) with its mother and littermates, and b) continuously exposed to the benign presence of its human caregivers and their guests. Passive and active learning experiences will anneal a trust of mankind onto the pup’s bosom. To emphasize the point further, let us consider some less optimal and even adverse circumstances in which pups may be raised. They are:

a) To be raised in a wire run outside the house

b) In the basement

c) An isolated room in the house

d) In the garage

Things get even worse if the pup is plucked from a suboptimal situation such as this and deposited in a halfway, house kennel-type situation prior to adoption. The worst possible arrangement in terms of sociability, and therefore friendliness, for the pup is to be raised in a puppy mill and then shipped to a pet store. Puppy mills are the hatcheries for all sorts of anti-social behavior in dogs and, no doubt, contribute in a major way to the current epidemic of dog bites that is now occurring in the United States.

In the New Home

If a pup is acquired at 8 to 9 weeks of age, it is still only half way through the sensitive period of development and will still require nurturing, coddling, and socialization, even assuming that it got the right start at the breeders. Of course, if the start it got at the breeders was less than optimal it is even more important to treat the pup properly during the first few weeks at home and the means of repairing some of the damage that has been done. Socially acceptable behavior, a.k.a. friendliness towards strangers, is no accident. It must be worked for if it is to be achieved. The Smith Barney advertisement says, “We make money the old-fashioned way, we earn it.” Similarly, for dogs to acquire a trust of strangers, they must learn it.

One of the first dogmas of medicine should be the first motto of raising a new puppy. First, do no harm. This adage could be modified slightly to be: First, allow no harm to come to your puppy. This means protecting it against the unwelcome advances of bawdy people and unruly children so that it does not form a lifelong impression that certain people are bad news and are to be avoided or driven away (that comes later). Assuming this one premise can be upheld, the next, which is really the corollary, is that pleasurable, or at least neutral, exposure to an assortment of guests should be arranged so that the pup can learn to like people. It is not enough to protect the pup against unwelcome advances by shielding it from exposure to people; there have to be some positive learning experiences, too.

Pups should learn that strangers are benevolent and often come bearing gifts. One way to achieve this end is to arrange “puppy parties” in which you invite a few kindly dog-friendly persons to visit for a pass-the-puppy session, involving their gentle handling of the pup coupled with petting. Sessions like this should be conducted once or twice a week during the critical first 4 to 6 weeks of puppy ownership. They are the responsibility of any new puppy owner who wishes to end up with the dog of their dreams.

The challenge to the pup can be increased incrementally over the ensuing weeks to include an eclectic bunch of strangers: short people, tall people, people with high voices, people with deep voices, clean- shaven people, people of color, Caucasians, people with hats, and people with beards. The common factor is that all the people speak kindly to the puppy, handle the puppy gently, pet it, and offer food treats. By the time the pup is 14 to 16 weeks of age, exposure to strangers will have become an accepted part of its life. The pup will have learned that strangers are not to be feared and that exposure to them is likely to be rewarding. Trust so garnered can be reinforced as the pup gets older by implementing a slightly less rigorous, yet systematic, exposure of it to strangers under a myriad of different circumstances.

Written by: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
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More Veterinarians Are Focusing Less on Vaccines

Vaccines for dogs and vaccines for cats have been up for discussion and debate for a long time.  Vets are now changing their use of them.  Read on…

Many veterinarians are starting to de-emphasize vaccination and focus more on what’s really important: assuring that their patients are protected against vaccine-preventable diseases.

Confused as to the difference? It’s quite simple. Once dogs or cats have been vaccinated and received some boosters (the exact number depends on when the vaccines are given), they often don’t need more boosters in the future. Instead, a veterinarian can check their vaccine titers (a simple blood test) and only revaccinated when the pet’s immunity wanes.

Kansas State University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (KSVDL) has just made this process very simple for veterinarians and owners. In a recent press release they announced that scientists at the KSVDL “have modified a test that measures an animal’s immune response to the rabies virus….”

The scientists say testing an animal for titers, or antibodies capable of neutralizing rabies, is a valid indication of the animal’s resistance to the rabies virus. When the titer test measures 0.5 international units per milliliter or higher, the pet would be considered protected and may only need a booster if bitten or otherwise exposed to the rabies virus, depending on local rabies regulations.

With the addition of this new, modified test, the KSVDL now offers vaccine testing for all the core canine and feline vaccines. Core vaccines are those that virtually every pet should receive. For dogs, the core vaccines are rabies, adenovirus, distemper, and parvovirus, and for cats they are rabies, panleukopenia, herpes virus, and calicivirus.

Don’t get me wrong. Dogs and cats still MUST receive their core vaccines. Puppies and kittens should receive a series of vaccinations (usually given every 3-4 weeks) starting when they are around 8 weeks of age and ending when they are between 16 and 20 weeks of age. The final set of boosters need to be given approximately one year after the last puppy/kitten visit. An unvaccinated adult dog will need two sets of vaccines approximately 3-4 weeks apart. It is only after these initial vaccines are given that vaccine titers become an appropriate option.

If you want your dog or cat’s core vaccine titers checked, your veterinarian will need to draw two, 1 ml samples of blood and send them off to the KSDVL. All of the results are typically available in about a week. The KSDVL will charge your veterinarian $50. I expect that most veterinarians will charge owners in the neighborhood of $100 to cover their own expenses (supplies, shipping, time, etc.) as well as a small margin for profit.

The expense associated with vaccine titers is more or less in line with what booster vaccines might cost. The only difference is that titers will need to be run every year after an initial three year hiatus following the pet’s last booster vaccines. If the titer to one or more of the core vaccines comes back low, a booster will also need to be given and paid for. Therefore, the overall cost of checking titers will be higher than routinely boosting core vaccines every three years, as most veterinarian’s currently recommend.

One final potential hiccup that I hope will soon be remedied: if your dog or cat bites someone, a current protective rabies vaccine titer may not hold as much sway with public health officials as would a current rabies vaccine. Talk to your local veterinarian to determine whether vaccine titers are appropriate for your pet.

by Dr. Jennifer Coates

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Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
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Chemotherapy For Dogs and Cats

Chemotherapy for Dogs

Chemotherapy for Cats

For Pets, ‘Quality of Life’ Supersedes ‘Life At All Costs’

Humans with terminal cancers or with widespread metastases are offered treatment with the hope of an extended lifespan, despite a grim prognosis. People are routinely administered second, third, fourth, and beyond treatment plans when they fail to respond to the frontline therapies. This is done with little to no evidence-based information that would suggest such interventions will actually result in a positive outcome.

The benefit of aggressive therapy in patients with terminal cancers is poorly described. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) identified chemotherapy use among patients for whom there was no clinical value as “the most widespread, wasteful, and unnecessary practice in oncology.”

When I read those words as a veterinary oncologist, I had only one thought.


The majority of patients I treat with cancer will ultimately succumb to their disease. Pets are typically diagnosed at an advanced stage of disease, and a cure is nearly impossible. We also accept much lower rates of toxicity with our chemotherapy protocols than our human counterparts; therefore, with good reason, we can’t treat animals’ cancers to the “fullest potential.”

I would estimate that the premise of treatment for greater than 90% of cases I see is rooted in palliation (i.e., relief from pain) rather than a true belief of cure.

Yet, veterinary oncology is fundamentally based on principles of human oncology. So if the data for human oncology tells us that the treatment of terminally ill cancer patients is not only poorly beneficial but also wasteful (in terms of not only finances but resources), how can I justify the recommendations I make each day?

The answer is simple: Veterinary oncology is premised on the idea of treatmentmaking our patients feel better, not worse. Rarely are animals diagnosed with cancer incidentally. Most show some sort of clinical signs prior to their diagnosis of cancer. Treatment, therefore, is aimed at relieving such signs and returning their quality of life to their baseline level.

A study recently published in the Oncology edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association examined the evaluation of the use of chemotherapy and quality of life for people with end-stage cancer. Specifically, researchers were interested in knowing whether chemotherapy had a positive or detrimental effect during the last week of life for human patients with cancer, and if the effect was dependent on the patient’s overall health status prior to treatment.

In people, performance status is used to evaluate a patient’s quality of life. There are several different scoring systems, with the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) being widely accepted and outlined as follows:

ecog performance status, cancer treatment, pet cancer

In the aforementioned study, a patient’s quality of life near death (QOD) was measured using a validated caregiver’s rating of their mental and physical distress during their final week of life.

Results from the study raise several interesting points:

  • There was no improvement in QOD scores for people with performance scores of 2 or 3 who underwent chemotherapy, compared to those who did not undergo chemotherapy.
  • People with performance scores of 1 showed a significantly worse score for quality of life near death with treatment.

Though difficult to compare side by side, how can the results of this study be translated to veterinary medicine?

  1. We do have a modified performance scale we use in screening the overall health of dogs and cats, which scores pets’ activity level and ability to eat, drink, and eliminate as either normal (0), restricted (1), compromised (2), disabled, or dead (4).
  1. We are able to have owners evaluate how their pets behave at home following treatment and their assessment of their quality of life in a subjective manner.
  1. We have several veterinary studies examining an owner’s perception of their pet’s health status prior to, during, and after treatment. Results consistently showed owners were happy with their decision to treat their pets, most felt their pets’ quality of life increased, and they would pursue treatment again in the future if faced with a similar decision.

Despite the shared foundation of human and veterinary oncology, there is an enormous disparity between the end goals of each discipline.

Human oncology is based on the concept of treating patients with the mantra of “life at all costs,” while veterinary oncology accepts our limitations, choosing to  “maintain or improve quality of life” over cure.

This is the message I attempt to relay during each new consultation I see.

This is the information I am passionate about dispersing with my written and spoken dialogue each day.

This is why I work so hard to help animals and their owners at every possible junction I am afforded.

The battle to dispel the misconceptions about cancer care in animals is never-ending but worth enduring, knowing I can make a difference if even for just a few.

Especially if the few are those who feel the “ouch” factor mentioned above just a bit deeper than all the others.

Coconut Oil For Dogs

Is coconut oil for dogs safe?  Should coconut oil become an important staple to your dog’s health routine?

Coconut oil: It’s not just for slathering on your skin at the beach. From healing skin ailments to improving digestive health to aiding immune systems, coconut oil has been touted as a new and natural way to obtain optimum health. Dog owners are jumping on the coconut oil bandwagon, too, and finding that a little coconut oil in their dog’s diet (or smoothed onto their skin or coat) does wonders for their dog’s overall health.

While we know that there are great benefits to feeding out dogs fruits and vegetables, what do we know about coconut oil, and is it something we should be feeding (or applying to) our dogs? Here is a guide to help you figure out whether this superfood is something you should look into.

As with any new food or product you feed or apply to your dog, it’s best to check with your dog’s veterinarian first. Your vet will help you figure out if coconut oil is right for your dog.

What is Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil comes from the fruit of the coconut palm tree. The oil is high in a saturated fat called medium chain triglycerides. You might be thinking, “Wait — aren’t saturated fats bad for you? These are the fats we’re told to stay away from, right?” Not exactly. According to Dr. Jean Dodd’s pet health resource blog: “Whereas most saturated fats are comprised of long chain fatty acids (LCFAs), coconut oil is comprised mainly of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs), or medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). Our bodies metabolize (break down) and recognize medium chain fatty acids differently than long chain fatty acids, producing a very different effect.” Dodd goes on to say that coconut oil’s chemical composition is different than the fat found in steak or butter, or some other fatty food.

What Are the Benefits of Coconut Oil for Dogs?

If you search the Internet, dog owners from around the globe have reported copious benefits to using coconut oil in their dog’s diet and grooming routine. Some of the benefits reported include:

Gut and Digestion (when taken internally)

  •     Helps improve digestion
  •     Reduces or eliminates body odor and bad breath
  •     Reduces symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
  •     Increases nutrient absorption

Skin Health (when applied topically)

  •     Helps with eczema
  •     Minimizes red, itchy and dry skin
  •     Reduces skin allergies
  •     Prevents yeast infections
  •     Clears up contact dermatitis
  •     Prevents fungal infections
  •     Aids in the healing of wounds and punctures
  •     Moisturizes fur and makes coat shiny

Overall Health (when taken internally)

  • Prevents and controls diabetes
  • Helps normalize thyroid function
  • Reduces arthritis symptoms
  • Reduces symptoms of kennel cough
  • Helps with weight loss

Coconut oil also gives the “good” HDL cholesterol a boost. “Fat in the diet, whether it’s saturated or unsaturated, tends to nudge HDL levels up, but coconut oil seems to be especially potent at doing so,” says Walter C. Willett, M.D., on the Harvard Health website.

While coconut oil is unlikely to be a true cure-all for every symptom your dog might have, it’s certainly beneficial and warrants a discussion with your veterinarian on whether or not to incorporate it into your dog’s diet.

How Much Coconut Oil Should I Give to My Dog?

The amount to feed your dog depends on your dog’s weight. If your dog has never eaten coconut oil before, start by giving him a small portion (about 1/4 of a teaspoon) at first over the course of three to four weeks. Then you can build up to a normal portion. According to the Wellness Mama website, the recommended dose of coconut oil for dogs is one teaspoon per 10 pounds of dog. You can feed your dog coconut oil as a treat or mix it into your dog’s food.

When applied topically, coconut oil can be applied much like lotion: just smooth a small dab onto your dog’s skin as needed. For instance, if your dog has dry paw pads, rub a small amount of coconut oil onto his paws — preferably before a nap or before bedtime so he’s not walking on his oiled paws afterward. Coconut oil smells and tastes good (mmm, pina colada!), so your dog might be tempted to lick the oil off. Be sure to rub it in well so that the oil is able to absorb into your dog’s skin. You can also wrap your dog’s oiled skin in a towel for several minutes so that it has a chance to absorb.

Are there Side Effects to Feeding Coconut Oil to My Dog?

According to Dr. David A. Gordon of Advanced Care Veterinary Hospital in Poway, Calif., the main side effects of feeding coconut oil can be increased weight if fed too often to an overweight pet. Another side effect can be soft stool. As with anything you feed your dog, observe him after he eats coconut oil to make sure it agrees with him. If you notice any side effects in your dog, stop feeding him the coconut oil or reduce the amount you give him.

Which Kind of Coconut Oil is Best?

Beyond brand names, you will want to choose unrefined coconut oil, also known as virgin coconut oil. If you can find a coconut oil that is cold-pressed, then even better. This method helps ensure that the coconut oil is processed very quickly after it is harvested, which preserves as much of the nutrients as possible.

Coconut oil has different tastes and scents, depending on which brand or type that you buy. They can range from a strong coconut taste, to very mild and almost bland, to buttery and rich, to nutty and toasty. Experiment with different kinds until you find one that your dog will enjoy.                     By


We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372





Why Do Cats Purr?

Cats purring is fun to listen to.  Let’s read why they do it.

Every cat owner has experienced the calming pleasure of having a purring cat curled up in her lap. A soothing, relaxing sound and sensation that can be felt as well as heard. Most people assume a purring cat is a contented cat, but the reasons cats purr are much more complicated than that.

Newborn kittens are blind and deaf, so purring is the first form of communication between mother and kitten. Kittens purr while nursing, and mom purrs back. Adult cats purr when they are happy, of course, but also when they want something from their humans, like food or attention. Humans respond to the sound because cats can modulate their purrs to a frequency similar to a baby’s cries.

Cats also purr to soothe themselves when they are frightened or injured; dying cats have been known to purr. Studies show that purring releases endorphins and accelerates healing. This aspect of purring arises from feline hunting patterns. Cats purr with a frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz, and sounds within this range can improve bone density and promote healing. Since wild cats spend long periods sleeping or being inactive between bursts of exertion to catch prey, the purr serves as a means to keep bones, tendons and muscles strong without exerting much energy. Scientists are looking into using devices that emit a purr-like sound frequency on humans who require bone-density maintenance therapy, such as astronauts who must remain weightless for long periods.

Tony Buffington, a cat expert and veterinarian at Ohio State University, is quoted on the Wired magazine website on the topic: “It’s naive to think that cats can only purr for one reason—it’s like thinking that people can only laugh for one reason.”

Every cat’s purr sounds different, just as people’s laughs do. I have three cats, and their purrs are very distinctive. My youngest cat, an active and intrepid shorthaired male named Mao, has a dainty purr you can only hear if you are very near him. Bootsie, a slightly plump ginger female of a certain age, has a purr of average volume. My small and timid Himalayan Persian, Thumper, sounds like a chainsaw. You can hear her across the room when she gets going.

Cats use the muscles in their larynxes and diaphragms to purr; the hyoid bone in the throat might also be involved. Scientists used to believe that cats who could roar couldn’t purr, but recent evidence shows that cheetahs, ocelots, cougars, and some other wild cats purr as well as roar. The biggest cats—tigers, lions, and leopards—roar but do not purr. Domestic cats are the only ones who can purr continuously, while both inhaling and exhaling.

Most cat owners already suspect that purring is good for people, too. Scientists agree. Cat ownership reduces stress and blood pressure, and studies have shown that people who live with cats have a significantly lower risk of heart attacks than people without cats. Since purring is a major factor in the pleasure cats give their owners, it is logical to assume purring contributes to better heart health for cat lovers. As St. Francis of Assisi, a well-known animal lover, remarked, “A cat purring on your lap is more healing than any drug in the world, as the vibrations you are receiving are of pure love and contentment.”

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
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The Best Ways to Introduce Your Cat to a New Pet

Cats can be temperamental and so care should be used when bringing them into your home where there is a dog or cat.  Read on…

You Brought Home What?!?!


One of the biggest mistakes well-meaning pet lovers make is the way in which they introduce a new pet into the household. Whether it’s a same species or a cross species introduction, it’s not a matter of simply bringing the new pet into the home and leaving them to bond on their own.

It’s just not going to happen.

Incumbent pets can be territorial and there is absolutely no guarantee they will tolerate a newcomer. You need to take their individual personalities into account, too. Moreover, other factors come into play, such as a dog’s prey drive in a cat-dog introduction.

Nevertheless, you certainly stand a much better chance of them getting along if you strategize and supervise the introductions.

Introductions to the Family Cat


In the beginning, it’s a good idea to sequester a new cat or kitten in one room and make the initial introductions by smell. One way to do this is with a pair of socks. Rub one sock with the smell of the newcomer and the other with the smell of your incumbent cat or cats. Then swap out the socks by placing the newcomer’s sock in an area of the house where other animals are and vice versa. Do this daily for a couple of days.

When you ready for formal introductions, place the newcomer in another room of the home and allow your incumbent cat or cats to go inside the room the newcomer just vacated and sniff around. Again, do this several times before taking it up a notch and allowing them to sniff each other.

Next, place the newcomer in a carrier so that she feels secure and allow your other cat(s) to sniff around it. It’s important to gauge how it’s proceeding before actually letting them meet face to face—with no barrier between them. Plan the initial meet-up for when you have a fair amount of time, such as on a weekend or when you’ve scheduled a few days off from work.

Rubbing vanilla essence on their shoulder blades and at the base of the tail on all cats involved in the introduction also is helpful with the initial meet-up because when they sniff each other, they will smell the same.

Feline introductions can take a long time—sometimes up to six months before they tolerate one another.

Introductions to the Family Dog

Once again, the sniffing game is a good place to start. Don’t ever let a dog rush at your cat or kitten, even in play. After giving the animals time to get used to the smell of each other with the room-sniffing routine, move on to the next step: a face-to-face meeting—with precautions. For this meeting, keep the cat in a carrier and your dog on a leash. In this way, you can control your dog and can pull him away if necessary. Make sure you have treats handy and reward your dog, along with lots of praise.

When you finally let your cat out of the carrier, continue to keep your dog on a leash so that you can separate them quickly if necessary. At all times, make sure there is an easy escape route for the cat. It’s a good idea to do initial introductions close to a cat condo or tree so that the cat can easily—and quickly—get out of reach of the dog.

Introductions to Birds and Small Critters

It’s important to bear in mind that cats are natural predators,and small critters, such as hamsters, birds and fish, need to be kept out of harm’s way at all times. Both birdcages and small animal cages should have a box inside them so that these pets can escape completely out of sight, too.

Different animals can live harmoniously in a household. However, never leave a cat alone in a room with a small critter or a fish bowl. Natural instincts might just kick in when you are not there.  They can get along; however, remember that from a feline perspective, a small critter or a bird is first and foremost lunch.

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
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Nipping and Mouthing by Dogs

Anyone who has had a little puppy will relate to this article.  I have a GSD.  I got him at 3 months of age.  I have the puppy play bites to prove it!

Dealing with Canine Nipping and Mouthing

When puppies play with each other, they use their mouths a lot. When they play with you or when they are petted, they usually want to bite or “mouth,” too. This behavior is not frankly aggressive at this stage – though it may be pre-aggressive.

There are two different life stages in which mouthiness can be an issue – before maturity and after maturity. The pre-maturity variety, all too often not taken seriously, and misguidedly interpreted as puppy play, leads to the adult version.

Bear in mind that it is easier to “nip” the problem in the bud at this stage by training youngsters what is and is not acceptable behavior. Even if the behavior has been permitted to flourish into adult maturity, it is still possible to take corrective measures.

Puppy Manners

When pups are raised by their mothers, there comes a time when mom starts to set limits. Demanding youngsters often want to nurse whenever they feel like it, but a good mom starts to rebuff some of their efforts from the tender age of about 3 weeks. Nipping is also addressed, not just by mom but by the pup’s littermates as well. Too hard a nip might result in a physical admonishment from mother, or the nipped littermate may cry out and stop playing. These natural checks and balances help to develop a puppy’s good manners and eventual understanding of their impact of certain behaviors on others.

When a puppy is raised by a well-meaning human caregiver, however, proper limit setting is sometimes neglected. Some new puppy owners do not realize that nipping is not acceptable behavior and that they should discourage it.

However, a certain amount of puppy mouthing is acceptable, even desirable, in the very early stage of a pup’s life. If a pup doesn’t engage in any oral behaviors toward his minders, he can never be taught when enough is enough. To emphasize this point, consider improper rearing of usually inscrutable chow pups as an example of what can go wrong. As cute as they are, chow puppies are often too serious for their own good, don’t play much, and may be reluctant to interact. If not coaxed out of this indifference, the first time they lay teeth on skin may not be until they’re 18 months old and the message they deliver at this stage is likely to be overkill – sometimes with disastrous results.

Instead, permit and even encourage mouthiness, even nipping – up to a point. But when mouthing becomes annoying, or the pup’s needle teeth start to make an unforgettable impression, it’s time to curtail the behavior. The idea is to teach the pup that humans are soft and ouchy. Let’s suppose your puppy nips you for the first time when it is 4 months of age. Having carefully planned out your course of action, you wait until the next time your pup lays his teeth on you, withdraw your hand rapidly, and loudly exclaim “OUCH.” Your interaction with the pup should then cease for a few minutes, just as would happen if the pup were with his littermates. You are teaching “bite inhibition” – an essential early lesson for any family dog.

If things turn out as they should, your pup will adore you, respect you, and understand that, even in extreme situations, humans do not need to be punctured in order to send them an intense signal. Having your dog understand this concept should be part of an overall strategy of limit setting and control. Not engaging in such a program with a would-be dominant dog often leads an unwitting owner down a sorry path of avoidance and subservience – a sorry state of affairs, and sometimes a dangerous one, too.

Adult Dog Nipping and Mouthiness

Adult dogs that exhibit excess grabby oral behaviors do so because they have not been properly schooled as youngsters. They may nip you or grab people by the arm to indicate their wishes or admonitions. Being nipped and grabbed by your dog against your will is a fairly distressing consequence for an owner. The correct way for an owner to deal with such a problem is to immediately implement a “leadership” program in which the dog must learn that all good things in life come from you – and for a price. One common name for such a program is Nothing in Life is Free.

As for adult nipping, avoid circumstances that can lead to nipping while working on the leadership program. If nipping or grabbing occurs do not shout, try to wave your arms around, or pull away. Instead, “turn to stone” and reward the dog when he lets go and stops nipping. A refinement of this approach to management of the mouthy dog is to arm yourself with a clicker and/or delicious food treats and ignore him when he engages in any rude and rough nipping behavior. The clicker is clicked and the food treat is supplied when his nipping ceases. Specifically, 3 seconds after a bout of mouthy behavior stops you should click, say “good dog,” and offer him a food treat. For more frenetic nippers, a head halter with training lead attached can be employed as negative reinforcement to increase the frequency of the desired behavior – letting go when instructed, e.g. Out!

Conclusion for Dog Nipping and Mouthing

Many people don’t realize that attention in any shape or form, positive or negative, may serve as a reward and can reinforce an unwanted behavior. If a dog takes hold of your arm and you start to yell and wave your arms around or push the dog away, you may be perceived as a big squeaky toy that can be animated for amusement when the going gets get slow. If your dog meaningfully grabs your arm with his mouth when you grab him by the collar, and you retreat, the dog’s bad behavior is rewarded, ensuring that the behavior will be repeated in the future. The only way to avoid scenarios like this is to set certain limits and to become your dog’s unequivocal leader.

Written by: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372


Why Puppies Bite and How to Stop It

I just got a 3-month-old German Shepherd Dog.  I now know what “play biting” really is!!  Puppies play with their mouths and don’t realize the harm they may be doing…after all, they are just playing.

Here are some interesting things to consider and learn how to control your puppy.


Puppy biting is completely normal and natural. Dogs and puppies use their mouths to interact with their environment. Puppies are adorable little descendants of wolves, and their teeth are what they use to explore the world around them. Their teeth were once used as weapons, and they must use them to learn what they can and cannot do.

Why Do Puppies Bite When They Play?

Puppies love to play-bite and it’s their way of investigating. When puppies play with one another they can learn about their strengths and what they can do with their teeth and jaws.

Puppies have sharp puppy teeth that they use to learn their abilities and then learn to constrain their force of bite before their dog teeth grow in. Then, as they grow, they will have a safe tool to eat, and solve conflicts if necessary.

When Do Puppies Stop Biting?

Puppies stop biting when they are taught that human skin is sensitive. Bite inhibiting behaviors can be taught by a human or by playing with other dogs. Bite inhibition and bite training is a part of puppy behavioral development. It goes along with house and trick training.

Taken from a Forbes interview, Dr. Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian, animal behaviorist, and dog trainer, explains, “Puppies bite other puppies in play and they learn that their bites hurt because they have needle sharp teeth. So they learn to inhibit the force of their bites before they develop strong jaws.”

By socializing and nursing, your dog can learn bite inhibition too. Puppies will play bite and learn that their teeth hurt by yelping and discontinuing play. When puppies nurse, their mother will teach them bite inhibition by walking away from bitten.

As they grow and learn what their teeth and jaws are capable of, they can learn to control their biting for what they need to do. When puppies are taught that play biting is ok, they will continue to do it. But, if they are taught that any kind of bite hurts and/or is not nice, they will stop.

Dr. Dunbar believes that bite inhibition is one of the most important things a dog can learn. Bite inhibition can be taught in 3 months to a newborn puppy and it can be reinforced throughout their lives.

How to Get Your Puppy to Stop Biting

During socialization, if nipping or biting occurs, playtime often stops. Training your puppy to know that playtime is over if biting happens is a good way to teach bite inhibition. If biting happens, it is best to say, “Ow!” Then, pull your hands away and look away, or even walk away, reinforcing that if biting happens, playtime ends. Read this very useful article by Dr. Nick Dodman on Nipping and Mouthing of Pups.

It is important to understand that as bite inhibition training begins, the first step is to teach them to inhibit the force of their bite. If the puppy is taught to never put his mouth on you, then when it does, he won’t know his strength or that your skin is fragile. As you practice, the puppy will use a smaller amount of pressure each time and it will become less frequent over time.

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

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372

Territorial Aggression Toward People in Dogs

Although alarm barking can sometimes be aggravating for dog owners, neighbors, and visitors, lunging and biting are far more serious problems. Dogs with the confidence to bite strangers present a danger to any visitors to the home and a liability for the dog’s owners.

By definition, territorial aggression should be expressed toward members of the same species. Domestic dogs, however, seem to regard people as conspecifics and consequently may direct territorial aggression toward human visitors. “The territory” generally includes the house and yard, plus abutting areas (e.g. sidewalks) that the dog patrols, and family vehicles in which he rides.

When dogs display aggression to strangers only on the home property, and do not respond aggressively to strangers on neutral territory, territorial aggression is the likely diagnosis. There are two primary motivations for territorial behavior, dominance or fear/anxiety.

Territorial Aggression Fueled by Dominance

Dominant dogs have a responsibility to warn other pack members of a stranger’s approach and they do this with confidence and authority. Dogs that are overly dominant, both in absolute terms and with respect to their human family members, may provide a serious obstacle for any visitors to the home territory. Where owners have some control, they can usually reassure the dog that the person is, in fact, welcome, at which point the dog will settle down. In most cases, once a stranger has been welcomed inside the home, the dominant-territorial dog will relax and enjoy the visitor’s company.

Territorial Aggression Associated with Fear

Some dogs, notoriously those of the herding breeds, show a variation of the territorial aggression theme. Perhaps they do possess a low level of dominance and would bark anyway, but some are also insecure, anxious, or even frankly fearful. As youngsters, they may back up and bark at the sound of people approaching but, as they grow older, they find themselves more intimidating and learn that they can drive the bogeyman away. Uniformed visitors, like the mail carriers, are prime targets for this learned type of aggression. The mail carrier comes, the dog barks, the mail carrier leaves, and the dog takes credit. The aggressive behavior is thus reinforced. Out on the street, these same dogs may not have the courage to intimidate their adversaries, although they might wish they had.

There are several factors that distinguish fear-related territorial aggression from dominance-driven aggression:

  • Territorial/fear aggressive dogs frequently show ambivalent body language similar to that of purely fear aggressive dogs. The body language includes: approach-avoidance behavior, tucked or semi-tucked tail, slinking gait and an indirect approach.
  • Territorial/fear aggressive dogs do not usually settle down completely while visitors are in the home and are prone to sudden outbursts of barking or lunging and may aggress toward visors who move suddenly, speak loudly, or get up to leave the house.
  • The bites of territorial fear aggressive dogs are usually directed towards the “nether regions” of the offender (e.g. toward the person’s buttocks, thighs, or calves) … or they may simply nip, ripping clothing. The bite is usually of a hit-and-run nature – a cheap shot.
  • In a way, the only distinguishing feature between territorial fear aggression and overt fear aggression is the level of confidence that the dogs possess. Fear aggressive dogs generally have enough confidence to be aggressive to strangers on or off their own territory. Territorial/fear aggressive dogs have a lower level of confidence that permits the expression of fear aggression only on the home territory or from within the safety of the owner’s vehicle.

Although dominance-based territorial aggression is easier to manage than fear-based territorial aggression, both forms of territorial aggression can be addressed reasonably well by means of management measures, proper control, and containment.

Safety Precautions. Owners should keep doors secured to ensure that no one enters the property without warning. A dog that has bitten a stranger coming onto the property should not be allowed to roam unsupervised while there is the faintest chance of a stranger entering his zone. For these dogs, all off-lead exercise should be conducted in safe places, with constant supervision by an informed owner who has realistic expectations of the dog’s behavior. Electronic fences pose a particular problem for dogs with territorial aggression. The dog knows where his territorial boundaries are – but visitors do not, and they may unwittingly cross the line. In general, dogs tend to be more territorially aggressive when they are behind a fence, because a fence allows the dog to know exactly where the boundary lies, and he will patrol and protect it. Finally, owners should consider posting a “Beware of Dog” sign as a responsible reminder that a dog is on the property.

Medical Rule-outs. Consider testing the dog for medical conditions that might be contributing to increased anxiety, especially hypothyroidism. Borderline-low levels of the principal thyroid hormone may be associated with increased anxiety, and thus aggression.

Nothing in Life is Free. Unlike humans, dogs have little sense of equality and will always aspire toward the highest possible rank within their social group. When dealing with territorial aggressive dogs, it is essential that owners establish a leadership role with respect to the dog in order to safely manage the dog’s territorial tendencies. A non-confrontational approach to leadership is the best way to accomplish this important task.

The approach we advocate is the “Nothing in Life is Free” leadership program. This requires the dog to work for anything he needs or desires (food, toys, attention, access to the outdoors etc.). In effect he must “earn” all valued resources by first obeying a command, such as SIT or DOWN. If the dog sits automatically before the owner issues the command (i.e. anticipates the owner), the owner should issue an alternative command, before giving the dog the desired resource. The objective is to have the dog follow the owner’s directives as and when issued. If owners are consistent with this approach, the dog will learn that he must look to them to obtain anything he needs or wants, such as food, freedom, play, and social interaction. If the dog learns to respect his owners in this way, he will be more likely to turn to them for direction when he’s feeling challenged or fearful and will be more likely to heed directions

Exercise. Ensure that the dog receives regular daily exercise (20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily is a minimum).

Diet. Feed a healthy non-performance diet.

Obedience Training. Engage the dog in regular daily obedience training sessions to sharpen his response to one-word voice commands and increase owner leadership. One to two 5-minute sessions per day are usually sufficient. Click & treat training may facilitate training endeavors.

Head Halter. Employ a Gentle Leader® head halter to exert the optimal control of the dog in aggression-inducing situations. The head halter gently, but firmly, establishes owners’ leadership and control of their dog, as well as providing for visitors’ safety. Head halters send a biological signal of the owner’s leadership by exerting gentle pressure around the muzzle (“maternal point”) and at the nape of the neck (“leader point”). This will cause the dog to defer to his owners’ authority so that he can be introduced to people under pleasant circumstances and be rewarded for remaining calm.

Basket Muzzle. All dogs that have shown aggression to visitors in the past should be trained to wear a basket-style muzzle. A basket muzzle allows the dog to pant, drink and accept small treats, but prevents biting. We find these muzzles to be effective and more humane than standard muzzles. Once trained to the muzzle, the territorially aggressive dog can be required to wear the muzzle in any particularly challenging situation.

The approach to controlling fear-based territorial aggression is more problematic. Key to the entire program is desensitization to approaching strangers along with counterconditioning to alter the dog’s associations and behavior during progressive, planned exposure to visitors.

Avoid Confrontations. Except during training sessions, avoid exposing the dog to situations and people that may trigger the aggressive behavior. Bear in mind that the territorially aggressive dog is reacting because he wants the intruder to depart. If a dog is allowed to threaten, and the subject then retreats, the dog is rewarded for showing aggression. This can cause the unwanted behavior to increase in frequency and intensity.

Counterconditioning. Counterconditioning interrupts unwanted behavior by training the dog to respond to a command or activity that is incompatible with continued performance of the aggressive behavior. This technique is most effective when owners can identify and predict the situations that trigger the dog’s territorial response. If the dog can be distracted by food rewards or games, counterconditioning on its own may circumvent the brunt of the problems.

For dogs that do not readily respond to food or play, it is helpful to train the dog to relax on command by responding to verbal and visual cues from the owner. Under non-stressful conditions, owners should teach the dog to sit and watch them in order to receive praise or a food treat. First say, “watch me,” and move a finger toward your face. If the dog responds by paying attention in a relaxed and focused manner, reward him with a small food treat or praise him lavishly. Perform this relaxation exercise daily for 5 days. Each day, increase the amount of time that the dog must pay attention, in a relaxed pose, before he receives a reward. By the end of the fifth day, the dog should be able to remain focused for 25-30 seconds no matter what the distraction.

At this stage, whenever owners sense that their dog is about to engage in the unwanted behavior, they can use this counterconditioning technique to interrupt the behavior before it escalates. It is important to practice this exercise on a periodic basis to ensure its effectiveness when it is needed.

For indoor sessions, owners can also train the dog to perform a 20-minute “down-stay” on a specific bed or mat that is used only for training. Once the dog has learned the basic obedience commands, he can be trained to perform long down-stays while the owner moves progressively further away. First, train a “down-stay” on a mat or dog bed. Initially, reward the dog every 10 seconds if he remains still, then every 20 seconds, 30 seconds, and so on.

Once the dog understands the concept of the long “down-stay,” the owner can switch to supplying rewards intermittently. Every time the dog breaks the stay, a verbal correction should be given to indicate that there will be no reward, and the dog is escorted back to the mat. The dog will quickly learn that if he breaks the stay, he will be put back on the mat, but if he holds the “down-stay,” he will be rewarded. Once a dog performs a reliable “down-stay” when his owner is in the room, the owner should ask for this behavior as she moves progressively further from the dog. Next, the “down-stay” should be utilized while the owner is in the room but otherwise occupied. Then the dog should be required to remain in position as the owner exits the room, but remains nearby. The distance and time the owner is away from the dog should be increased until he can remain in a down-stay for 20-30 minutes in the owner’s absence.

The next step is to countercondition the dog to people and situations that trigger aggression. All exercises should be performed on lead, preferably with a head halter, and basket muzzle, if necessary.

The key point to remember is not to suddenly expose the dog to the full intensity of the stimulus but to very gradually “up the ante.” At no point should the dog be allowed to become aggressive during training. If he appears agitated, the training has proceeded too quickly and the owner must return to an earlier stage. For desensitization, the owner should start by exposing the dog to people that he is least likely to be aggressive towards and train the dog in a location where he is most comfortable.

  • Ask the dog to “sit and watch me” or remain in a “down-stay.”
  • Introduce a mildly anxiety-inducing person at a distance. For example, it may be possible to cue the dog to lie down in a relaxed posture, or sit and watch his owner, while a stranger walks by the end of the drive, rewarding the dog with a food treat for remaining relaxed, calm, and in position.
  • Next, the stranger may stop at the end of the driveway and momentarily walk onto the dog’s property before leaving again.
  • After doing this several times, eventually the stranger should be able to stand a few feet from the dog while it remains calm and under control. At this point, the stranger should be asked to toss one of the dog’s favorite food treats toward him.
  • Next, the dog can be trained to rest on a training mat or sit while focused on the owner when a visitor approaches the door.
  • Once the dog calmly accepts the stranger’s approach, the visitor can knock, and eventually enter the home as long as the dog remains quiet and relaxed. Treats should be supplied if the dog remains calm. If the dog prefers, visitors can present the dog with a tennis ball or other preferred toy.

If these exercises are performed frequently enough, and with an assortment of strangers, starting with the least threatening and working up to the most threatening, the dog will learn that their presence is associated with positive experiences. This concept will replace the prior aversion and need to repel borders. If the dog is resistant to remaining still, an alternative strategy is to have the person stand still and walk the dog around the person in progressively decreasing circles.During the early stages of training, assistants should be advised not to make direct eye contact with the dog and not to approach the dog head on. Rather, they should be asked to avert their gaze and advance slowly in a circuitous path (as this is less threatening to most dogs). No stranger should reach toward the dog at this stage.

If the dog cannot maintain the required posture and affect, and remains tense, barking and lunging at the stranger, the owner needs to return to an earlier phase of training. Ideally, during the training process, no one should come close enough to the dog to trigger an aggressive response. If someone approaches too closely, and the dog becomes aggressive, the assistant should stand still until the owner can get the dog’s attention, preferably using an obedience command, like “cut” [it out], and rewarding the dog for its compliance. The owner can then ask the person to quietly retreat to a distance at which it was previously comfortable and resume training (as long as the dog is not too aroused).

For dogs that are aggressive when people enter the house, it is best to isolate the dog at first and then, once everyone is seated, the dog can be brought into the room on a lead and head halter, if he remains relaxed. At this early stage of the treatment program, if the owner has the dog in the room with guests, the dog should be removed before the guests prepare to leave.

Once the dog remains relaxed when people are quietly sitting in the home, he can be taught to accept them moving about. Owners can start by having the guest slowly stand up and then sit down. If the dog does not respond aggressively, visitors can be asked to try taking a few steps before returning to their seat. The amount of movement the dog will tolerate, while remaining relaxed, should be increased incrementally. Bear in mind that dogs with fear-related aggressive behavior have a tendency to snap at people when they move away, for example, when they are preparing to leave. If the dog is sitting or lying down and appears relaxed in the visitor’s presence, the visitor could slide a small food treat toward the dog, if this will not startle him. The goal is to teach the dog to associate visitors’ presence with pleasant experiences.

Once the territorial dog is reliably relaxed with visitors in the home, he can be permitted to interact with them. The dog should initiate all interactions with visitors in the home. If the dog chooses to approach a guest, have the person quietly offer their hand for the dog to sniff and they may offer a treat if the dog is not too “grabby.” If the dog indicates that he would like to be petted, the guest may do so briefly, but again they should avoid reaching up and over the dog’s head and they should avoid prolonged eye contact.

These exercises should be repeated with a variety of different people. Assistants and visitors should be asked to engage in a variety of different activities so the dog learns that they are not threatening.

Avoid Punishment and Reassurance. Whenever the dog is behaving in an aggressive manner he should be ignored or controlled. Neither punishment nor reassurance are appropriate actions. Punishment has the potential to increase the dog’s anxiety and worsen the situation. Reassurance will affirm the dog’s fear.

Territorial aggression, when confined to barking at the sound of approaching strangers can be a bane or a blessing, depending on the circumstances and the owner’s control of the situation. If it is a bane, the owner can do something about it using the approaches described above, and can frequently make inroads into containing the problem. Territorial aggression that has advanced to the point of lunging, snarling, and biting is more difficult to treat and positive results, though eminently possible, are not guaranteed.

For difficult cases, it may be helpful to treat territorially aggressive dogs with anti-anxiety, anti-aggressive medication. Clomipramine (Clomicalm®),fluoxetine (Prozac®), buspirone (BuSpar®) are all reasonable treatment options. The efficacy of such treatments will vary from case to case but price, side effects, and other logistical concerns will determine the order in which these treatments are tried. Most medications take several weeks to achieve their peak effects. Typically, these treatments are applied for at least four to six months, and possibly for as long as a year or two. Needless to say, appropriate behavior modification therapy should be conducted simultaneously to take advantage of this therapeutic window.

Written by: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
310 919 9372