Newsletter August 2016

 August 2016

What's New?


As we enter the dog days of August, we’d like to offer you our take on everything from dogs at the beach to romance in cougars (animal, not human). Enjoy our August newsletter!

Dogs at the Beach


As the summer months progress, we’ve seen more dogs visiting dog-friendly beaches and having a blast! Dogs can enjoy the beach with their families by exploring new territory, playing fetch or Frisbee, and even swimming in the water. However, if you’re planning on taking your furry friend to enjoy the surf & sand this summer, there are a few things you should know to ensure that he has a safe and happy time. 

The first thing you should do when planning on taking your dog to the beach is to check the rules and ensure that dogs are allowed; these are usually posted publically. At the beach, don’t assume your dog will know how to swim. Many dogs can be nervous about getting in the water for the first time, and need assurance and guidance from their owners. Different dogs have different reactions. Some are born swimmers, while others struggle.

View a tutorial - teaching your dog how to swim

Once you arrive on the beach make sure that your dog has a shaded area that he can access if needed, and that he has plenty of water. Just like you, your dog can easily get overheated and dehydrated, especially if they are running and swimming all day. Building in breaks for naps and fresh water is essential to keeping your dog healthy and safe.

As you and your dog are swimming, watch out for choppy water. If there are large waves, boats, boards, or jet skis, your dog can become frightened. Make sure to keep an eye on your dog the entire time he is in the water so that he doesn’t go out too far or get swept under by a large wave. Additionally, try to limit the amount of salt water that your dog drinks from the ocean. Though it may be tempting it isn’t good for him; instead, encourage him to drink the fresh water you’ve provided.


There are a few dangers to watch out for outside of the water as well. Though you might not expect it, dogs can get sunburned too! This is especially likely if your dog has light skin and fur, or shorter hair. When applying sunscreen, you should focus on the ears and nose; you can even purchase sunscreen specifically for pets. In addition, you should keep an eye out for dangerous objects on the sand. Broken glass, rocks, hooks, coral, and garbage can all be hidden beneath the sand and pose a threat to your dog. Prevent your dog from interacting with any wildlife on the beach; any interaction could pose a threat to both your dog and the wild animal.

When it’s time to return from the beach, rinse your dog off with a hose to remove the sand from his fur. This will help remove salt or germs and help keep your dog (and your home) cleaner. Finally, remember to pick up your dog’s poop from the beach. This is more than a courtesy to other beachgoers. It can be a problem for fish and other wildlife; be sure you don’t contaminate the soil or water.

Going to the beach is one of the most fun and relaxing parts of summer, and there’s no reason your dog can’t join in! Follow these tips and your time together will be as easy as a day at the beach.

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Litter Box Problems - and What to Do About It


Your cat has been using the litter box for years, when suddenly one day, you encounter a little present on the rug. What happened? Though many people are inclined to yell at their pet when this happens, yelling will only frighten and confuse your cat. People often project human emotions onto animals, especially when their animals aren’t doing what they want them to do. While you might be tempted to think your cat is seeking revenge for the time you got home from work late, or gave her a bath, this is not the case. Instead of getting angry, try to determine what has caused your cat to change her behavior.


There are several reasons why a cat will stop using a litter box. One possibility is that the litter box is not clean enough. Cats are very clean, and even if you think changing the litter every other day is sufficient, your cat may disagree. Dirty litter boxes can upset cats and cause them to do their business elsewhere.

Another possible cause is a change in the environment or a change to the cat’s routine. For example, if a new cat is brought into the house, the original cat may not like sharing the litter box with her. A dominant cat can control access to the litter box or even control the route to the box. This may not always be obvious as cats can threaten each other with a simple look; aggression might not always be visible as overt fighting or aggression. Adding more litter boxes, in other areas of the house, can be a simple solution to this problem.

Similarly, if you’ve changed the type or brand of litter you use your cat can be thrown off. Cats are extremely aware of the scent and feel of their litter. What you perceive as a trivial difference may be a huge change to your cat. Other changes might include moving to a new home, or the presence of a new person in the house. These types of changes can often cause cats to stray from their normal behaviors and routines.

If these types of issues don’t seem to provide an obvious answer, it’s time for a trip to the vet (if you haven’t already consulted them). Some cats may avoid the litter box because they associate it with painful attempts at urination; these cats are likely to have a urinary tract infection. Additionally, if your cat has kidney, liver or thyroid conditions, she may need to go more often and not make it to the litter box in time. Feline diarrhea or constipation can result in similar problems.

It is important to observe your cat closely if you suspect one of these issues is the problem. See if she appears to be straining to go or crying out. If you confine your cat to a closed room with a clean litter box and she does not use it, she is likely to be in pain and requires veterinary care. A checkup will reveal whether your cat is suffering from a urinary tract infection, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, arthritis, kidney, liver or thyroid malfunction or other illnesses that can cause this type of behavior. Medical treatment will relieve your cat’s pain and distress, and she will begin to return to using her litter box. However, you may also need to make adjustments for your cat, such as setting up multiple litter boxes in order to always have one close by.

If your cat is ignoring her litter box as the result of a behavioral problem, other strategies can be useful. Getting her back on track will take patience. If your cat is anxious, set up a quiet place with minimal household traffic for her to do her business. Provide a large litter box with the brand or type of litter your cat prefers, and change it as frequently as several times a day. Regardless of your cat’s individual situation, it is important to wash and disinfect litter boxes weekly, and quickly remove soiled litter. However, this can become even more important if your cat is exhibiting behavioral problems. 

Ultimately, it is important to remember that if your cat is doing her business on your carpet, it’s not a revenge tactic and you should not punish her for it. This type of behavior indicates that your cat is uncomfortable and you should look for a solution to make you and your cat more happy and comfortable at home.

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Animal Picassos: Congo the Painter


Many animals have created paintings: from elephants painting clear self-portraits to lizards creating delicate handprints. However, one animal artist went down in history for his masterpieces: Congo the Animal Painter. Congo was a chimpanzee born in 1954 that learned how to draw at the age of two. By the time he turned four, he had produced over 400 drawings and paintings. Congo’s work was sold at auctions and even Pablo Picasso was a fan, hanging one of Congo’s pieces in his studio.


Congo got started painting when zoologist Desmond Morris offered him a pencil and something to write on. Congo began drawing what seemed like random lines, but over time, it became clear that the drawings were intentional. Congo knew how to draw circles, and had a sense of balance and composition in his drawings. For example, when Morris drew a shape on one side of a picture, Congo would draw a similar shape on the other side to balance it out. Similarly, if Morris put blue on one side, Congo would put blue on the other side.

As Congo began to progress, Morris, who was an artist himself, modified a baby’s highchair to function as a place where Congo could work. As he drew more and more, Morris moved him on to painting. Remarkably, Congo held a paintbrush in a very similar way to that used by humans hold a pen or a pencil. He was not taught to hold it this way, but naturally began to grip it that way as he used it to create his art.

Congo never drew distinct images, but rather, his works had a vague radiating fan pattern and were categorized in the abstract impressionism style. Despite the abstract nature of his work, however, Congo was very intentional with his art. If a painting were taken away when Congo did not feel it was finished, he would scream and throw a fit. However, if Congo was done with a painting, he would refuse to work on it anymore, even if someone tried to get him to continue.

Congo had specific tastes as an artist that were obvious to his human companions. For example, he loved the color red, but disliked blue. Some of his paintings had a great deal of character, being incredibly minimalistic and admired by human artists. His work was often featured in galleries and museums. Not much of it was filmed, as Congo needed a great deal of concentration to work, though the work that was filmed is fascinating to watch.


Watch Congo painting

At the peak of Congo’s career in the 1950s, he appeared live from the London Zoo on “Zootime”, a British television show. Sadly, Congo passed away at the age of ten due to tuberculosis. However, his legacy lives on. In fact, on June 20, 2005, Congo’s paintings were included in an auction alongside works by Renoir and Warhol. His work sold for more than expected, while Renior’s and Warhol’s works did not sell at all. In fact, one collector purchased three of Congo’s paintings for over $26,000. Quite an achievement for any artist, let alone a chimpanzee! The artistry shown in Congo’s paintings wasn’t just dazzling, it has given us a glimpse into the animal mind ant the creativity contained therein.

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Courtship and Copulation - Mating in Big Cats

While the term “cougar” can be derogatory when applied to humans, real cougars also experience a powerful drive to mate and may go to great lengths to do so. In 2009, a young male cougar set off from South Dakota and trekked across the United States on a journey that would last several thousand miles. When he first set out, he was about one and a half years old, just coming into adulthood. However, during his journey, he matured, exhibiting perseverance and determination. The young cougar most likely set off because the area where he was born was controlled by more powerful territorial cats. He was searching for his own territory with female cougars available for mating – free from competition with older, larger males. He ended up straying quite far from home, coming into parts of the country where cougars are generally not found. Many are calling it an epic journey of love, although lust might be a better choice of words.


Read more about this cougar’s epic journey

Though this cougar’s story is an extraordinary one, it is not typical of big cats. How do these predators usually let each other know it’s time to get it on, without a 3,000 mile journey? You may be surprised to find out that the answer revolves around smell. For cougars, also called pumas, courtship involves scent-marking areas used by a large community – imagine a large port-a-potty being used by the entire neighborhood. Some scientists to refer to these areas as community scrapes or shared scrapes. Male pumas are the most frequent visitors to these areas, and often exhibit scraping behavior when they go. If you think this is peculiar, consider how much body spray teenage boys use when seeking a mate.

During scraping, pumas will scrape the ground with their hind paws to create a mound, and then urinate or defecate on the mound. This creates an additional visual cue added to the scent mark created by their waste. These markers serve to show other pumas that the male lives there, and are often investigated by other males as well as potential mates. Females will sometimes visit a community scrape to observe, but do not become very involved until they are ready to breed. At that time, the female will either create her own scrapes, or urinate on top of an existing scrape. It’s hard to imagine an analogous behavior among humans!

In addition to scent marking, female pumas will sometimes engage in caterwauling. This involves a loud and surprisingly high-pitched call that can travel up to five miles, advertising their availability to males. Once the pair has met, they begin courting each other. Scientists know less about what actually happens when the pair is together because this is a very secretive time for pumas. However, it is clear that a pair will spend about one to three days travelling together and eventually returning to the community scrape where they met. On some occasions, male pumas have killed deer to feed the females during courtship, not unlike the romantic, candlelit dinners favored by humans.


Much like a hookup gone bad, the male puma leaves once mating and courtship are complete. He plays no role in the raising of young, and instead will return to his territory or look for another female to court. However, pumas are outdone in the hookup scene by other big cats such as African lions. African lions are renowned for mating bouts that can include up to 300 couplings a day. Leopards have similar habits, mating an average of every 15 minutes for up to five days.

While this may seem excessive, these phenomenal bouts of mating serve an important biological function. Humans ovulate on a regular basis whether the egg is fertilized or not. However, this is not the case in big cats. Instead, they require stimulation to initiate ovulation; their hormones must be primed for them to release eggs. When this happens, the female begins to leave a special scent in her urine that indicates to males that she is ready to mate. Then, once mating begins, copulation must occur many times to ensure fertilization. These big male cats may be physically powerful, but their sperm can use some assistance.

Though their version of courtship is a little different than ours, big cats have their own romance and rituals. Deeply rooted in territory, olfaction and copulation, courtship in big cats gives us a unique window into the world of animal romance.

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