Home
blog
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
10 Nontoxic, Dog-Safe Houseplants
Keep pets healthy with the right selection of indoor plants

When preparing to adopt our kitty, I learned from the folks at the rescue organization that a few of our houseplants were toxic to cats and dogs — and since this particular furry friend enjoys chomping on plants, it was vital we remove these from our home beforehand. (And even though some pets pay no attention to plants, it’s always better to be on the safe side.) But many of the most popular design-friendly houseplants, including split-leaf philodendron and fiddle-leaf fig, are toxic to cats and dogs. So what’s a design-loving pet owner to do? Live without houseplants? No way. We’ve found 10 cool houseplant options that are all nontoxic to cats and dogs.

1. Tillandsia. Air plants are tailor-made for modern spaces, and they need very little care. Because these petite plants don’t require soil, you can place them just about anywhere — on a piece of driftwood, in a seashell, in a hanging glass vessel. However, their small size can prove problematic if you have a nibbling pet: A lot of damage can be done to the plant in a short amount of time, so watch your pet and be prepared to move the plant out of reach if this becomes an issue.

2. Boston fern. Most true ferns are nontoxic to cats and dogs, including the classic Boston fern. This fern has lush, full foliage, is easy to care for and looks equally at home in traditional and modern spaces.

3. Staghorn fern. This unique plant has sculptural appeal when mounted on the wall and — major bonus for plant-chomping pets — can be kept up high and out of the way of those sharp little teeth. Cluster several on a wall and create your own living art installation.

Photo by Sushiiphoto - Look for shabby-chic style home design design inspiration

4. Maidenhair fern. Delicate and romantic, the light-as-air foliage of a maidenhair fern is a beauty to behold. This plant is a bit fussier than most houseplants, preferring a humid environment (or frequent misting) to stay healthy. The ultra-tender leaves may be tempting for pets to nibble — and while it won’t harm your furry friend, the plant itself is quite fragile and can easily be destroyed by a curious cat. If you want to keep a maidenhair fern but it keeps getting chewed up, try placing it in a hanging planter.

5. Dwarf olive tree. Dwarf olive trees can do well indoors in a large pot with good drainage, but they do need a very sunny spot with at least six hours of full sun each day. If you live in a cool, cloudy region, it probably won’t thrive.

6. Rosemary. Like the olive, this is another attractive Mediterranean plant that will look right at home in interiors of any style. Grow a pot of fresh rosemary in a kitchen window and enjoy snipping fragrant sprigs to add to your cooking.

Photo by WXY architecture + urban design - Discover modern living room design inspiration

7. Ponytail palm. This wacky plant looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Ponytail palms are well suited to modern interiors — starting with a smaller plant is easier on the budget, and you can always transplant it into a larger pot as it grows. A full-size specimen makes a dramatic statement, as seen here.

8. Echeveria. This succulent has rosettes of leaves in shades that range from green to blue, depending on the variety. They do best in well-drained soil, in a spot that gets morning sun.

9. Orchid. With their elegant, long-lasting blooms, it’s no wonder that orchids are a decorator favorite. Thankfully, according to the ASPCA, phalaenopsis and dendrobium orchids (two of the most popular varieties) are nontoxic to cats and dogs. Plant a single orchid or group several in one large vessel for more drama.

Note: Roses, also pictured here, are nontoxic to furry friends as well. So feel free to treat yourself to that bouquet!

10. Cat grass. Pets nibbling houseplants, even nontoxic varieties, can get tummy aches. For cats, you can encourage healthier green eats by planting a container of cat grass and placing it in an easily accessible spot. Not to be confused with catnip, which is in the mint family, cat grass will not give your cat the crazies. It’s usually grown from oat or wheat seed. If growing your own cat grass from seed, keep the container out of reach of your pet until the grass grows in, to protect the tender sprouts.

Tell us: Do your pets nibble the houseplants? Share your stories in the Comments.

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Understanding Canine Growls
People are able to interpret these vocalizations

Research in recent years has shown that our brains can process the emotional content of vocalizations based on acoustic structure, and that various mammalian species share the same brain structures used for such interpretation. That means that we ought to be able to interpret the emotional nature of vocalizations from other species much like we understand those of other people.

Multiple studies of communication across species have found that animals can understand the emotional nature of vocalizations made by members of other species. In a number of studies, experience with the other species enhanced the ability to understand calls from that species.

Cross-species communication is particularly interesting between humans and dogs because of the long history we have of associating with one another, leading to the possibility that we have influenced each other’s vocalizations. In order to investigate people’s ability to understand canine growls, researchers conducted a study in which people listened to recordings of dogs growling and were then asked questions about the emotional state of the dogs.

In the study, “Dog growls express various contextual and affective content for human listeners”, 40 people heard recordings of growling dogs. All of the growls were recording in one of three contexts: guarding food from another dog, playing tug with a person and being approached by a stranger. In the first part of the experiment, the people were asked to rate each growl on a sliding scale for each of the following emotions: fear, aggression, despair, happiness and playfulness.

The emotional profiles based on the 40 ratings of all three contexts were different. Food guarding had the highest aggression rating, followed by the stranger context, and the growls from play had the lowest aggression scores. For the other emotional states, the food guarding and stranger context did not differ from each other, but were rated higher in despair and fear than the playful growls and lower in playfulness and happiness than the growls recorded in play.

In the second test, people were asked in which of those three situations the growl was recorded. Overall, people correctly identified the context of 63% of the growls, which is significantly better than the 33% rate that chance predicts. The play growls were most readily identified, with 81% of them being correctly chosen. The food guarding growls were correctly identified 60% of the time, compared with 50% of the growls directed at strangers. Most of the errors in identifying these two (potentially aggressive) contexts involved confusion between the two of them, rather than with the playful context.

The authors conclude from this study that people can distinguish different types of dog growls, including being able to tell apart growls that are both in potentially aggressive contexts. Previous studies have found that people’s ability to understand canine growls is influenced by the time between growls and the duration of the growls. Based on analysis of the acoustic structure of the growls in this study, the key characters of the growls that make them seem different to people are the rhythm of the series of growls and the length of the individual growls within that sequence. Longer gaps between growls is associated with higher aggression scores. Shorter growls are generally perceived as more positive on emotional scales. In growls recorded in the context of a stranger approaching, the higher the pitch of the growl, the higher the fearfulness score.

Individual people varied in their ability to identify the context of the growls. Overall, women were better at it then men. Also dog guardians outperformed people who do not have dogs. Whether or not a person had ever been bitten by a dog had no effect on whether people were able to determine the context of a growl. This study shows that although people in general can interpret the emotion in canine growls, experience plays a role in how well they are able to do so.

Can tell what your dog’s growls mean?

Dog's Life: Humane
Malik Jackson Sponsors 181 Adoptions
NFL defensive lineman teams up with local rescue organizations in his new community.

Last year the Jacksonville Jaguars signed defensive lineman Malik Jackson to a lucrative contract. Malik wanted to give back to his local community and teamed up with the Jacksonville Humane Society (JHS) and Jacksonville Animal Care & Protective Services (ACPS) for a two-day adoption event earlier this month.

Malik promised to sponsor the adoption fees for all pets adopted over the weekend and visited the JHS to meet fans and talk about the importance of fostering and adopting. It was a critical time since Jacksonville shelters were full. And, as a result, 181 pets found homes due to the event.

In addition, many special needs pets were adopted as well. That included Prince, a dog who needed to find a single pet home willing to maintain his arthritis treatment, and Devan, a senior citizen cat with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Hearing about the free adoptions, his new mom checked out the JHS web site, fell in love with Devan, and made sure she was first in line the next morning.

I always feel conflicted about “free” adoption fees since it's a small cost compared to the financial commitment of a pet. But as long as the shelters do their due diligence in screening potential homes, having a National Football League player sponsor these kinds of programs can go a long way in encouraging people to consider adoption. 181 pets with forever homes to be exact!

News: Guest Posts
Dogspotting
A sport and lifestyle of spotting random dogs

First there was trainspotting, then planespotting, and now…dogspotting! Take an object that interests you – in our case, dogs – and turn it into a hobby by seeking as many different examples as possible, taking photos of them and sharing with other enthusiasts. A Facebook page called Dogspotting has become wildly popular. Members – currently over half a million - post photos of an incredible diversity of dogs in all sorts of situations from around the world. One can easily become lost scrolling through the photos, reading comments, smiling all the while.

There are rules for participating. In a nutshell: no photos of your own dog, or a dog you already know; no photos taken at dog parks, vet clinics or other “low hanging fruit” locations; no service dogs (they’re working, so leave them alone); no posing humans in the frame; and be nice to each other. If you have photos that break the rules but still want to share, there’s a sister page called Dogspotting Society where they’re allowed. There’s also a Dogspotting phone app.

The site has generated its own dogspotting lingo. Some common words include: doggo = dog; sploot = dog lying with all legs splayed; pupper = puppy; floof = especially fluffy dog; cloud = white fluffy dog (usually a Samoyed); mlem = dog’s tongue is licking its muzzle in photo. The lingo and photo descriptions (e.g. describing a bulldog puppy as a giant wrinkle) are half the fun. There’s also a point system, with higher points awarded for spots of unusual dogs or situations, for example a dog carrying its own leash, or a wild canid (fox, coyote, or wolf), “the most noble of all spots.” Links for the rules, the points system, and frequently asked questions are available on the page.

This is a hobby most easily indulged in a city or urban area where seeing “strange” dogs on streets or in cafes is common and photographing them easy. For those of us living in the country, spotting a wild canid is a challenge worth embracing. Visit the page, but be warned, it’s a time sink! It’s difficult to avoid scrolling through the photos and reading a few comments for each. Initially, that’s time well-invested before posting your first spot as you’ll see site administrators chiming in on rule-violating posts, gently reminding the poster that sister site Dogspotting Society is the appropriate place for their photo.

The wide variety of dogs and settings in the photos and the accompanying comments are wonderful antidotes to life’s daily stresses. Just don’t forget to take your own dog out for a stroll – maybe a stranger will post a photo of her on Dogspotting.

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Interpreting Growls
Study looks at human understanding of canine vocalizations.

I would think our dogs are better at understanding us since they devote so much time to studying our every move... and are much better at picking up on the subtleties we are too busy to notice.

There has been an increasing amount of research in recent years on canines and their ability to understand humans. But relatively little has focused on how well people understand dogs.

Researchers at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest set out to study our comprehension of canine language. They chose to focus on growls since they may be the most preserved mode of communication.

According to lead researcher Tamás Faragósays, barks have been the most studied canine vocalization, but have likely changed significantly as dogs were domesticated by humans. However, growls may not have changed much since dogs diverged from wolves.

Tamás' study tested people's understanding of three growl sounds recorded from three scenarios: playing tug of war, resource guarding food, and feeling threatened by a stranger.

Overall humans were pretty good at differentiating growl types, classifying them correctly about 63 percent of the time. Participants identified 81 percent of the play growls correctly, but were less accurate when it came to resource guarding and threatening growls (60 and 50 percent).

Interestingly, listeners rated threatening growls to be more fearful and less aggressive than the resource guarding. Although the threatening and resource guarding growls were similar acoustically, there were distinct differences between all three types.

“We found that playful growl bouts are built up from short, quickly repeated growls, while the aggressive ones were more elongated,” explained Tamás. “The food guarding growls differed from the threatening growls in their formant dispersion, a parameter that gives a size impression of the vocalizing individual for the listeners.”

It may come as no surprise that dog owners were better than non-dog people at correctly identifying a growl's meaning. Though previous research didn't find this same advantage when interpreting barks. Researchers hypothesize that this is because barks are loud and easily heard, while growls are quieter and likely to be heard regularly by only those who spend a lot of time with dogs.

The study also found that women were better at distinguishing between the growls.

“This is a common pattern in emotion recognition studies,” says Tamás. “Probably women are more empathic and sensitive to others’ emotions, and this helps them to better associate the contexts with the emotional content of the growls.”

Tamás' team has also been conducting fMRI scans on humans and canines. They've found that people and dogs process emotional vocalization similarly, suggesting that, among mammals, there are simple rules rooted in biology that define how emotional states get translated into sound structure.

Another interesting similarity we share with our pups!

News: Guest Posts
Smiling Dog: Huey

Dog's name and age: Huey, 6 years old

Adoption Story:

At the shelter when he was surrendered, Huey's person-to-be was instantly smitten with the one-year-old pup. She rocketed out the door to go home to talk to family about the potential adoption. Everyone agreed right away but by that time the shelter had closed. First thing the next morning, she raced back to the shelter to secure the adoption. She found another couple was at the shelter for the same reason. After a cordial, but spirited discussion, the shelter manager ruled in her favor. There were handshakes all around. Huey has had a huge impact on many people since then!

More about Huey:

Huey goes by the nicknames "Chick Magnet" and "Pumpkin".

He was named after a well known 80's band Huey Lewis and the News.

He's the middle dog in his family.

News: Guest Posts
Custody Battle Over Found Dog Leads to Lawsuit
Husky’s future home to be decided by the courts

Microchipping dogs is a great tool for reuniting people and dogs, but only if people do the responsible thing and check dogs that they find for the presence of a chip. That didn’t happen in the case of a Husky who is now at the center of a lawsuit to decide who gets to keep the dog.

In 2010, Michael Gehrke bought the dog who he named Mya. She lived on his 10-acre property with his horses and two other dogs. Mya was best buddies with one of them, Rex, and the pair had two litters of puppies together. In 2013, she wandered off and Gehrke’s attempts to find her by posting signs and visiting the local shelter were unsuccessful.

Mya had walked to the local elementary school. Instead of checking her for a microchip or attempting to find her family through any other channels, a staff member at the school passed her on to her son’s friend, Ashlee Anderson. Anderson had just moved from the town where Gehrke and Mya lived to a town 200 miles away, and was in the market for a dog.

In 2017, the dog (who Anderson calls Sitka) wandered off again and was picked up by animal control. Because she wasn’t wearing any tags, the animal control officer checked her for a microchip, which identified her as Gehrke’s dog Mya. Gehrke assumed that since she was traced to him, and he showed all his vet records and photos of Mya as a puppy, that he would get his dog back, but that is not what happened.

Instead, the animal control officer returned the dog to Anderson. Her rationale was that there was no evidence of a crime and that her job is not to act as a judge but to get dogs off the streets and back to a safe home. Gehrke has filed a lawsuit in order to require that Anderson return the dog.

Anderson offered to pay Gehrke $1,200 (his original purchase price for Mya) to keep the dog, but he informed her that he is not interested in the money. So Anderson has responded by hiring attorneys to argue her case so she can keep Sitka.

A judge will hear the case on June 2, 2017. Both people clearly love this dog, so whatever happens, she will end up in a loving home. However, one of the people—Gehrke or Anderson—will be saddened by a legal decision that means they must live without her. All of this mess, including the impending heartbreak for a person who loves this dog, could have been avoided if Mya had been checked for a microchip the first time she wandered off.

Who do you think should end up with the dog?

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Helping to Improve Pet Nutrition

Our good friend, vet nutritionist, Donna Raditic, DVM, and her colleagues over at CANWI (Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute) are devoted to do research into the best ways to provide nutritious, healthy meals to our pets. Their next round of study involves investigating the possible drawbacks to feeding dogs solely with high heat processed, commercial foods. All the various aspects that are involved in manufacturing pet food are important: such as, ingredients, recipes, sourcing, the manufacturing plant and equipment, even the lining of food bags and cans, but CANWI now is going to be looking at the actual chemical reactions that take place when food is processed at high temperatures (which is the case in most commercial diets).

As Dr. Donna told us, “It is known that heat treatment of foods can cause a reaction between the proteins and sugars called the Maillard reaction which results in the formation of what is termed dietary Advanced Glycation End- Products or AGEs.” She further explains that:

Other “Studies have shown that elevated levels of AGEs in tissues are associated with age-related diseases in humans, rats, and dogs including diabetes, cataracts, osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, renal disease, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers.”

So they are undertaking an independent study, not funded by the pet food industry (that is usually where food studies are performed). Their study will compare the levels of AGEs in processed and fresh food pet diets and evaluate the influence of feeding differing intakes of dietary AGEs. Preliminary data suggests some pet foods may contain over 122 time the AGEs found in processed human foods! Now imagine this is at every meal, on every day for the life of our dogs. It is so easy and convenient, and true that most of our dogs eat processed pet diets for their entire life.

The study will involve a team of veterinary nutritionists, food scientists and one of the most prestigious Veterinary Colleges in the country. And as Joe Bartges, DVM of the University of Georgia notes, “The study will also serve as the foundation for more research to help us identify and improve pet nutrition. It is an exciting and novel approach to the role of nutrition in the health of dogs and cats.”

We too are excited that this kind of study is being investigated from outside the pet food industry and by a team of dedicated (dog-loving) researchers. To get their study underway, they are reaching out to animal lovers during the week of 5/21 to 5/28 for a fundraiser drive seeking contributions (no amount is too small), so they can undertake the next phase of this critical research.

You can do to www.companionanimalnutritionandwellnessinstitute.org for more information and to donate, or check CANWI on Facebook too.

News: Editors
Caring too much for a dog?
[What We Are Reading]

There was a very interesting piece in a recent Washington Post advice column by Carolyn Hax. With a headline of “My girlfriend is crazy (maybe literally?) about her dog”, you can probably guess where this one is headed. A 32-year-old guy writes about the girlfriend he loves and hopes to marry but is complaining about the attention she is paying to her beloved 10-year-old dog who has an incurable kidney disease. But instead of having her dog put down, she is, as he writes:

 “… spending insane amounts of money every month on “supportive care” (specialty vets – yes there is such a thing, meds, supplies, etc.) and plans to keep him alive as long as his “quality of life” is good.” She is even “she has to give him fluids under the skin every day, cook him special food and so on.”

And according to him, he thinks her level of care is misapplied, because, as he believes, he can’t help “but think of all of the worthwhile things she could be doing with that money rather than throwing it away on her dog, who as I said, is going to die anyway.”

And he then asks the advice columnist if girlfriend Amy has her priorities “screwed up” or if he is being insensitive.

Carolyn’s response was spot-on, leading off with “You’re going to die anyway. Should anyone cook you special food? Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”

She then explains that the same argument for putting this level of care into a dog can also apply to discussions surrounding human health care. Why have palliative treatments or hospice care, if in fact someone is about to die? These are ethical questions that can apply to both species. She then explains that the compassionate relationship many people have with their dogs is based on the responsibility to provide care for them, in all phases of their lives. Some people, like Amy, take that responsibility and commitment very seriously.

And she explains that Amy “has her priorities, you have yours. A crucial area of compatibility is in respect for each other’s priorities where they differ. If you can’t, then you and Amy can’t.”

She wisely continues in analyzing his rather binary position—he had suggested that perhaps Amy was loving the dog more than she loves him:

“Instead of looking at it as a place to be right or wrong, try looking at the possibilities for acceptance. Is there room in your relationship for both of you to be right in your own ways?"

Love certainly is not a zero-sum game, in fact, many experts believe that opening your heart to loving animals can make us more accepting to loving and being loved by others. We don’t have a limited supply of “love” and expressing compassion and care just expands our ability to love and to be empathic. I do hope that Amy’s boyfriend took this wonderful advice to heart.

What advice would you have added? Have you experienced something similar yourself where a friend, lover or family member thought you were too over-the-moon for your dog?

 

Good Dog: Studies & Research
New Canine Genome Map
Examining genomes uncovered interesting findings.

A study published last month details one of the most diverse canine genome maps produced to date tracing the relationship between breeds. In examining the genomes of over 1,000 dogs, the map provided insight into two interesting findings.

The first showed that canines bred to perform similar functions, such as dogs from the herding or working groups, don’t necessarily share the same origins.

Herding breeds are my favorite, holding beloved traits like intelligence and agility. So it’s surprising that these dogs may be more different than they seem.

The reason behind this convergence may also be why geneticists had difficulty mapping out herding dog lineages in the past. Study author Elaine Ostranger believes this happened because herding dogs emerged through selective breeding at multiple times in many different places.

“In retrospect, that makes sense,” says Elaine. “What qualities you’d want in a dog that herds bison are different from mountain goats, which are different from sheep, and so on.”

The second finding shed light on an ancient type of dog that may have come to the Americas thousands of years before Christopher Columbus. Researchers have looked for the genetic legacy of these dogs in the DNA of modern American breeds, but have found little evidence until now.

Most of the breeds studied originated in Europe and Asia. But domestic dogs first came to the Americas thousands of years ago, when people crossed the Bering land bridge linking Alaska and Siberia. These “New World dogs” later disappeared when European and Asian dogs arrived in the Americas.

But the way two South American breeds, the Peruvian hairless dog and the xoloitzcuintli, are clustered together on the map suggest they could share genes not found in any of the others. This means those genes could have come from dogs that were present in the Americas pre-Columbus.

“I think our view of the formation of modern dog breeds has historically been one-dimensional,” says Bob Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California. “We didn’t consider that the process has a deep historical legacy.”

Researchers now think that dog breeds underwent two major periods of diversification. Thousands of years ago, dogs were selected for their skills. This changed a few hundred years ago, when animals were bred for physical traits instead.

Bob says that, when it comes to genetics, studying dogs is a unique opportunity since no other animal has had the same level of intense deliberate breeding.

While it’s interesting to learn more about our dogs and where they came from, the scientists had practical reasons for creating this genetic database. They hope that this information can help future studies of canine and human diseases.

Pages