Featured Care Guides

10 Household Plants That Are Dangerous to Dogs and Cats

Asparagus fern (also called emerald feather, emerald fern, sprengeri fern, plumosa fern, and lace fern) is toxic to dogs and cats. The toxic agent in this plant is sapogenin—a steroid found in a variety of plants. If a dog or cat ingests the berries of this plant, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain can occur. Allergic dermatitis (skin inflammation) can occur if an animal is repeatedly exposed to this plant.

Acetaminophen Toxicity

Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol and some other related medications that are used to treat pain and fever in people. Unfortunately, this drug can be extremely toxic (poisonous) to cats and dogs. Acetaminophen toxicity occurs when a cat or dog swallows enough of the drug to cause damaging effects in the body.

Adopting Instead of Buying a Pet

While the estimates vary, approximately three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized (“put to sleep”) each year in the United States because too few people spay or neuter the pets they have, too few adopt their new pets, and too many give up their pets. Because space at shelters is limited, staff members must make the difficult decision to euthanize healthy animals that aren’t adopted within a certain amount of time.


Most antifreeze solutions contain high levels of ethylene glycol, an ingredient that, once metabolized, is extremely toxic to dogs and cats. Pets are often attracted to the liquid because of its sweet taste. Even small amounts can be lethal to animals. A cat that walks through spilled antifreeze and then licks its paws may ingest enough to be fatal. As little as 2.5 tablespoons of antifreeze could kill a 20-pound dog.

Aspirin Toxicosis

Aspirin has been considered a safe and reliable over-the-counter fever and pain medication for decades. Because aspirin is considered very safe, some pet owners give aspirin to their pets. There are also aspirin formulations specifically for dogs. However, high doses of aspirin can be dangerous for dogs and even more hazardous for cats. Aspirin toxicosis occurs when a cat or dog swallows enough of the drug to cause damaging effects in the body.

Avoiding Injury: Tips for Interpreting Signs of Aggression in Cats

Despite centuries of sharing our lives and homes with cats, many pet owners know very little about interpreting signs of anger, fear, or aggression in these creatures.  The typical “Halloween cat” posture (arched back, raised fur, ears back, hissing) clearly indicates fear and/or aggression, but cats also use other postures and behaviors that are more subtle and easily missed. It may be impossible to avoid ever creating a hostile situation with a cat, but a few tips can help you (hopefully) avoid injury if you find yourself in such a situation.

Bathing Your Cat

Cats, by nature, are very good groomers. They have pointy structures on the surface of their tongues, called papillae, which are designed to be an essential grooming tool. While they do a good job on their own, there are situations when your cat may need a bath.

Breeding Your Cat

Most shelters and rescue organizations are overflowing with mixed breed and purebred cats that are perfectly friendly and adoptable, but there simply aren’t enough homes for them. As a result, approximately three to four million unwanted dogs and cats are euthanized each year, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Producing more kittens just exacerbates the current cat overpopulation problem.

Bringing a New Kitten Home

Bringing a new kitten home is exciting. These guidelines will help you and your kitten adjust to this big change in your lives.

Brushing Your Cat's Teeth

Periodontal (gum) disease can lead to tooth loss and affects most cats before they are 3 years old. Bacteria from periodontal disease can spread to affect other organs and cause illness. One of the best ways to help prevent periodontal disease is to brush your cat’s teeth on a regular basis—daily, if he or she will allow it.

Caring for Your New Kitten

During the first 8 to 10 weeks of life, kittens have specific needs for nourishment, warmth, socialization, and excretion. If you find orphaned kittens younger than 8 to 10 weeks of age, take them to a veterinarian immediately. Your veterinarian can give you advice on caring for them and might be able to give you contact information for animal rescue groups. For more information, see the Care Guide titled “Caring for Orphaned Kittens.”

Cat Supplies

Every well-kept cat needs some basic supplies. Many kinds of supplies are available, so your choices will depend on your and your cat’s needs and preferences. Here are some basic guidelines regarding cat supplies.

Chocolate Toxicosis

Toxicosis is disease due to poisoning. Chocolate contains two ingredients that can be toxic to pets—caffeine, and a chemical called theobromine. While dogs and cats are both very sensitive to the effects of caffeine and theobromine, cats are usually not attracted to chocolate, so chocolate toxicosis tends to be less common in cats.

Dental Care

Bad breath in pets may be a sign of periodontal disease that could lead to other health problems. Periodontal disease starts when plaque (a bacterial film) coats the tooth. Plaque hardens (calcifies) into tartar, a thick yellow or brown layer on the teeth. Tartar can irritate the gums, creating an environment where bacteria thrive. As the disease progresses, the gums become tender, red, and swollen and the bacteria continue to multiply. Eventually, the inflamed gums pull away from the teeth, creating pockets that trap more bacteria and food particles. The gums bleed, the roots of the teeth may become exposed, teeth may become loose, and your pet may feel pain when eating. If the bacteria enter the bloodstream, they can create problems for organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys.

Dental Cleaning

It’s estimated that 85% of all pets have periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years of age. Periodontal disease is a progressive disease of the supporting tissues surrounding teeth and the main cause of early tooth loss.

Deworming and Prevention of Gastrointestinal Parasites in Dogs and Cats

Gastrointestinal (GI) parasites include any parasites that live in the stomach or intestines of a host. A variety of GI parasites affect dogs and cats. They range from roundworms and tapeworms, which are visible with the naked eye, to microscopic organisms like coccidia and Giardia. Regardless of their size, GI parasites can cause serious illness and sometimes even death in pets. Some parasites are  zoonotic, which means humans can become infected.

Ear Mites in Dogs and Cats

Ear mites are small parasites that live on an animal’s body, particularly in the ears of dogs and cats. Ear mites sustain themselves by eating skin cells, blood, and earwax. They deposit their waste (a dark, crusty debris) in the ear of the host animal. They also mate and produce eggs in the ear of the host. The mite’s entire life cycle is only about 3 weeks, and the mite spends its whole life on the animal. Ear mites are contagious to some other animals (for example, cats, dogs, and ferrets), but they are not contagious to humans.

Exercising Your Cat

Cats are notorious for preferring sleep to exercise. However, regular exercise is important to your cat’s health because it burns calories, reduces appetite, maintains muscle tone, and increases metabolism (the rate at which calories are burned).

Explaining Pet Loss to Children

Our companion animals are often treasured members of the family, and we mourn for them when they die or are euthanized. It is important to recognize your feelings of loss and grief and to express them in your own way. In addition, when your child is attached to a pet that dies or is euthanized, it is important to recognize his or her feelings of loss and help your child express those feelings.

Feeding Your New Kitten

Proper nutrition is especially important for kittens, which need two to three times as many calories and nutrients as adult cats. A mother cat’s milk provides all of a kitten’s nutritional needs during the first 4 weeks of life. A newborn kitten may nurse every 1 to 2 hours.

Feline Nutrition

Proper nutrition can help ensure that your cat has optimal health, resistance to disease, a healthy haircoat, and energy. These factors can result in fewer behavioral problems, a good quality of life, and a long life span.

Feline Obesity

Obesity (the storage of excess fat) is usually caused by excessive food intake and insufficient exercise. One of the biggest problems in cats is overfeeding, which can lead to serious problems, including obesity, heart disease, and arthritis, resulting in a shortened life span. Your veterinarian can recommend a proper type and amount of food to maintain your cat’s ideal weight.

Feline Senior Wellness

With many cats living well into their teens or even twenties, many owners wonder: When is a cat truly a senior citizen? The answer is that there is no specific age at which a cat becomes “senior.” Individual pets age at different rates.

First Aid and Your Pet

Dealing with an injured pet can be scary and frustrating. In many cases, you don’t know how bad the injury is, and your pet may not be acting normally. If your pet is injured, the first thing you need to do is try to remain calm. If possible, try to determine how severe the injury is, but remember that caution is extremely important when approaching an injured animal. Any pet, no matter how calm or friendly he or she may usually be, can bite or scratch when in pain.

Getting a Pet Sitter

It’s important to have someone you trust care for your pet while you’re away. Keeping your pet at home in the care of a pet sitter will spare your pet the stress and health risks associated with boarding facilities. A pet sitter will not only feed and play with your pet but also water plants, bring in the mail, and take out the trash. Some sitters may also perform grooming or behavior training. A pet sitter can help your home appear to be lived in, which can deter burglars. If you don’t have a neighbor, friend, or relative who can care for your pet when you’re away, consider hiring a professional pet sitter. Knowing that your pet is being cared for by a professional pet sitter can add to your peace of mind while you’re away.


The word stroke comes from “strike,” and heatstroke means “to be struck down by heat.” Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition suffered when a pet is unable to lower its body temperature. Cells in the body become damaged when the core body temperature is between 106°F and 109°F.

How to Give Your Cat a Pill

Medicines in pill or capsule form are prescribed to treat a variety of conditions, but many cats dislike taking pills. Some medicines that are usually prescribed as pills or capsules can be changed (compounded) to a liquid or a powder for easier administration. If you have trouble giving your cat pills, ask your veterinarian if compounding is possible for specific medicines.

How to Keep Your Cat Off Tables and Counters

Cats naturally like high places, so keeping them off tables and counters can be difficult.

Human Foods That Are Dangerous for Dogs and Cats

A number of human foods are dangerous to pets. Many of these foods may seem tasty to our pets but can prove deadly if eaten. It can be very tempting to offer pets food from the table, but pets should not be given human food unless recommended by your veterinarian.

Ibuprofen and Naproxen Toxicosis

Ibuprofen is the active ingredient in medications like Advil and Nuprin. Naproxen is similar to ibuprofen but is longer-acting; it is the active ingredient in medications like Aleve and Naprosyn. Ibuprofen and naproxen are widely used to treat pain, fever, and inflammation in people. Unfortunately, these drugs can be extremely toxic (poisonous) to cats and dogs. Toxicosis occurs when a cat or dog eats enough of one of these drugs to cause damaging effects in the body.

Keeping Your Pet at a Healthy Weight

Pet obesity has become a very common problem. Studies indicate that nearly 50% of adult dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese, and that percentage increases among older pets. Obesity increases the risk for other serious health problems, including osteoarthritis, diabetes (in cats), heart and respiratory diseases, and many types of cancers. Overweight pets are also at increased risk for complications during anesthesia if they need to undergo surgery or other procedures. And if a pet already has a health condition, obesity makes the problem that much harder to manage. Being overweight can also lower your pet’s energy level and hamper his or her ability to enjoy an active lifestyle with you and your family.

Kenneling Your Cat

Even being in the best kennel is stressful for many cats. If your cat does not tolerate boarding well, consider using a pet sitter or arranging for your cat to stay in a room at a friend’s or relative’s house while you are traveling. If kenneling your cat is your only option, the following guidelines can help improve your cat’s stay at a kennel.

Kitten Socialization

Socialization is the learning process through which a kitten becomes accustomed to being near various people, animals, and environments. By exposing kittens to different stimuli in a positive or neutral way, before they can develop a fear of these things, owners can reduce the likelihood of behavior problems in the future and help build a stronger bond between pets and the rest of the family. The critical time to socialize a kitten is during the first 3 to 4 months of its life.

Kitten or Adult Cat: Which Is Right for You?

Adopting a cat or a kitten is an important decision that can affect the next 15 to 20 years of your life. Adequate time should be taken to decide whether a cat or a kitten is right for you and your lifestyle. A new cat should be obtained from either a reputable breeder or an adoption shelter. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations on breeders or shelters in your area. 

Litterbox Training Your Cat

Cats are usually easy to litterbox train because they are naturally clean and prefer to bury their waste. First, make sure that your cat knows where the litterbox is. Confine your cat to a small area or room with clean water, fresh food, and a clean litterbox until he or she is successfully using the litterbox and seems comfortable. Do not use a covered litterbox during the training period because it might complicate the process. If your cat urinates or defecates outside the litterbox, place the waste in the litterbox; the smell should help your cat find and use the litterbox in the future. If your cat isn’t using the litterbox after a day or two, do the following: After your cat eats, place him or her in the litterbox, and briefly scratch the litter with your finger. However, don’t force your cat to stay in the litterbox; you don’t want your cat to have a negative experience in the litterbox.

Microchipping Your Pet

It is recommended that you identify your pet even if you don’t plan to let him or her go outside. Even “indoor” pets can get out by accident, and many lost pets are never returned to their owners because they have no identification. Collars and tags are popular, effective methods of identification, but they can come off. Microchips, which are implanted just under the pet’s skin, are one way to permanently identify pets.

Pet Health Insurance: What's Right for Your Pet?

Pet insurance can help you budget for unforeseen medical expenses for your pet. Generally, the premium cost for a good policy is low compared with the relative peace of mind and financial help it can offer. Sorting through the various plan choices and options, however, can be daunting. Here are some tips to help you make sense of the process.

Pet Toy Safety

Pet toys, whether homemade or purchased, can pose hazards to your pet, so it’s important to know what the hazards are and how to avoid them. When possible, supervise your pet while he or she plays with a toy. In addition, help keep your pet safe by following these toy safety tips.

Selecting a Groomer

Choosing a grooming facility based on an ad in the Yellow Pages or on the Internet is not the best way to select a groomer. Because groomers are not regulated or licensed by any government agency, the skills and experience of groomers can vary greatly.

Selecting a New Kitten

Take your time when deciding whether a kitten is right for you. The kitten you choose may be with you for 10 to 20 years or more.

Traveling With Your Cat

Our pets share so much of our lives that many of us don’t want to consider traveling without them. Whether you are flying, driving a car, or RVing, sharing a trip with a pet can add richness to the experience. Proper planning can make the travel experience better and less stressful for you and for your pet.

Trimming Your Cat's Nails

Nail trimming should be calm and stress-free for you and your cat. Teaching your cat to accept having his or her feet touched can help make nail trimming easier. Ideally, cats should be introduced to nail trimming when they are kittens. Most cats require nail trimming every 10 days to 2 weeks. Contact your veterinarian if you are unsure of how to cut your cat’s nails or if you experience difficulties. 

When to Consider Euthanasia

Euthanasia is the painless, humane termination of life. There are times when medical science has exhausted all of its capabilities and euthanasia is the only way to prevent an animal from suffering needlessly. However, the decision regarding when to euthanize is fraught with medical, financial, ethical, religious, moral, and sometimes legal considerations. Euthanasia is therefore a medical procedure that needs to be discussed (however painful that discussion may be) and considered fully before a final decision is made.

Why Do I Need To Vaccinate My Pet?

Companion animals today have the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives than ever before, in part due to the availability of vaccines that can protect pets from deadly infectious diseases. Over the past several decades, the widespread use of vaccines against diseases like rabies has saved the lives of millions of pets and driven some diseases into relative obscurity. Unfortunately, infectious diseases still pose a significant threat to dogs and cats that are unvaccinated; therefore, although vaccine programs have been highly successful, pet owners and veterinarians cannot afford to be complacent about the importance of keeping pets up-to-date on their vaccinations.

Winter Hazards and Your Cat

Cats that spend time outdoors are exposed to various environmental and physical dangers. In the winter, cats are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia (low body temperature), just like humans. Cats should not be left outside for long periods of time in the winter and should always have the option of coming inside. It’s important to be aware of these risks, so you can keep your cat safe and healthy.

All Care Guides

10 Household Plants That Are Dangerous to Dogs and Cats

Asparagus fern (also called emerald feather, emerald fern, sprengeri fern, plumosa fern, and lace fern) is toxic to dogs and cats. The toxic agent in this plant is sapogenin—a steroid found in a variety of plants. If a dog or cat ingests the berries of this plant, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or abdominal pain can occur. Allergic dermatitis (skin inflammation) can occur if an animal is repeatedly exposed to this plant.

Read More

10 Ways to Help an Arthritic Dog

Here are tips to manage this condition and minimize your dog’s discomfort.

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A Pet Owner's Guide to Flea Control

Fleas are blood-feeding parasites that can infest many species of birds and mammals. Although fleas on dogs and cats don’t infest people, fleas may bite people if an area is heavily infested. Flea infestation is one of the most common medical problems veterinarians see, and pets suffer greatly from this condition. Flea bites can trigger severe allergic reactions in some pets. The intense itching caused by flea infestation causes pets to scratch and bite themselves. This can lead to skin wounds, skin infections, and general misery for your pet. Even if your pet is not allergic to flea bites, fleas can transmit serious diseases, such as bartonellosis (the bacteria that causes “cat scratch disease” in people), and other parasites, like tapeworms.

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ACTH Stimulation Test

Glucocorticoids (primarily cortisol) and mineralocorticoids are two important types of hormones produced by the body’s adrenal glands. Glucocorticoids and mineralocorticoids help regulate numerous complex processes in the body and participate in critically important functions.

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Abdominal Radiography

A radiograph (sometimes called an x-ray) is a type of photograph that reveals the body’s internal organs. The procedure for obtaining a radiograph is called radiography. Radiography is a very useful diagnostic tool for veterinarians because it can help obtain information about almost any organ in the body, including the heart, lungs, and abdominal organs, as well as the bones.

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