Pickett Home Watch & Pet Sitting Blog

An ongoing series of informational entries about Pets and Pet Care! 

Chronic Bad Breath in Cats, How to Prevent and Treat it. 

April 2017 

By Lynne Miller

Cat breath is not supposed to smell like a bouquet. Something as mundane as a piece of tuna stuck between your feline companion’s teeth can produce a less-than-pleasant odor, says Dr. Bruce Gordon Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center.

“It’s not necessarily abnormal for a cat to have a little odor in her mouth,” he says.

But if kitty’s breath consistently makes you wrinkle your nose, it could be a sign that something’s wrong. Here are some common causes of halitosis in cats, and ways to prevent and treat this condition.

Causes and Treatment of Bad Breath in Cats

Periodontal Disease

While many things can produce mouth odors, veterinarians agree periodontal disease is the most common cause of bad breath in cats. Periodontal disease is an infection that results from the build-up of soft dental plaque on the surfaces of the teeth around the gums, according to the Veterinary Oral Health Council. The bacteria in dental plaque irritate the gum tissue if plaque is allowed to build up, which can lead to infection in the bone surrounding the teeth. Within just a few days, plaque can mineralize and harden into tartar, which provides a rough surface that makes it easier for more plaque to accumulate.

If you ignore periodontal disease, it can lead to tooth loss, bleeding gums, pain, and other problems. To treat it, your cat should have a professional teeth cleaning at your veterinarian’s office, says Dr. Jennifer Marzec of City Cat Doctor, a feline veterinary practice based in Chicago.

Your pet will receive general anesthesia and, once sedated, the veterinarian will remove plaque and tartar from her teeth and check for any diseased teeth that may need to be extracted, Marzec says. In addition, X-rays may be taken.

Consistent oral hygiene can prevent periodontal disease from coming back. Brushing your pet’s teeth every day is the best thing you can do, says Marzec, who recommends introducing it in stages, since some cats resist having their teeth brushed.

“I think the most important tip is to go slow and work your way up to actually brushing with feline-specific toothpaste,” Marzec says. “First a cat should get used to you lifting her lip, then touching the teeth, then introducing the brush in the mouth, and finally the act of brushing. Going slow and offering positive reinforcement will increase the chances of success.”

If tooth brushing is not possible, wiping your cat’s teeth with dry gauze or a washcloth can help remove some plaque, Marzec says. Dental diets or treats can also reduce plaque build-up and freshen breath. She recommends products that have been accepted by the Veterinary Oral Health Council.

Lymphocytic Plasmacytic Stomatitis

In some cases, putrid breath is caused by a condition called lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis, which may be associated with feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, calicivirus, or Bartonella, and other infections , says Dr. Marcia Landefeld of the Feline Veterinary Hospital in Port Washington, New York.

A couple of times every year, she sees kitties stricken with lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis, a serious inflammation of the mouth that causes odors and extreme pain. “The cat’s gums look like raw hamburger,” Landefeld describes. “Cats have sore, swollen, bleeding gums. It hurts when they open their mouths.”

Treatment can involve cleaning and removing some or all the teeth, she says. Cats with this condition may also need antibiotics.

In addition to chronic gingivitis and stomatitis, cats with the feline calicivirus may suffer from upper respiratory infections, characterized by discharge from the eyes, runny nose, sneezing, and ulcerations on the tongue, says Dr. Bruce Gordon Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center. He recommends the calicivirus vaccine.

“The vaccine will protect cats from getting this disease,” he says. “The calicivirus is pretty transmissible to other cats and is very common in places with high concentrations of cats like shelters. It’s really important that people keep their cats up to date on vaccines.”

Oral Cancers

Oral cancers can also produce foul mouth odors, Kornreich says. As a tumor grows, it can become infected and cause halitosis.

“Unfortunately, by the time cats with squamous cell carcinoma [and other types of oral cancer] are diagnosed, the prognosis is not good,” says Kornreich, noting cats typically will only live two to six more months.

Kidney Disease

Sometimes, bad breath signals a health problem that originates outside of the mouth. If your cat’s breath smells like ammonia or urine, it could be kidney disease, which is not uncommon in cats ages 8 and older, Landefeld says. In addition to having bad breath, cats with kidney disease can appear lethargic, may experience weight loss, drink more water, and urinate more frequently and in greater volume.

“I’ve learned not to just look at the teeth,” Landefeld says. “I check kidney levels. That bad breath odor can mean toxins are building up.”

Your veterinarian can examine your pet and take a blood test and urinalysis to see if kidney disease is the problem.

Kidney disease can be managed with dietary modifications, such as minimizing the phosphorus content of food, making sure your cat is adequately hydrated, and dealing with secondary issues such as anemia or high blood pressure, says Kornreich.

“The earlier the stage of kidney disease, the better the prognosis,” he says.


If your cat’s breath has a fruity odor, it could indicate diabetes, especially if the animal is also drinking more water than usual, urinating more frequently, and losing weight despite having a ravenous appetite, Landefeld says. Diabetes in cats can be managed with insulin.

Liver Disease

In addition to foul-smelling breath, a cat with liver disease may have yellowing of the whites of the eyes or yellowing of the skin on the ears or on gums, Kornreich says. She may also be lethargic, have a poor appetite, vomiting or diarrhea, and drink and urinate more than normal. Treatment depends on the cause of liver disease, he says.

Diagnosis of Bad Breath in Cats

To determine the cause of your cat’s halitosis, a veterinarian will start by taking a complete health history and performing a physical examination. If the origin is not obvious (e.g., periodontal disease, lymphocytic plasmacytic stomatitis, or an oral tumor), he or she will then search for an underlying medical problem by running blood work, a urinalysis, and any other diagnostic tests that might be necessary.

Dog Brain Facts: Understanding Canine Cognition

November 23, 2016

By Helen Anne Travis

Dogs are amazing creatures. They’re able to lead blind people through bustling streets, bring errant sheep back to the herd, and can be trained to do everything from fetch a ball to detect cancer.

But how exactly do dogs’ minds work? And how do their brains compare to humans’ and other animals’? We sat down with some of the country’s top veterinarians to learn more.

Do Dogs Think?

“Oh my gosh yes,” says Dr. Jill Sackman, a clinician in behavioral medicine and senior medical director of BluePearl Veterinary Partners’ Michigan hospitals. Dr. Sackman has a PhD in molecular and cellular biology. “They probably have the level of cognition of a three to five-year-old human.”

Dogs can tell we’re trying to show them something when we point at an object. They can evaluate whether one bowl has more food than another. They respond to familiar voices, and are excellent at determining whether someone is friend or foe.

Many dog owners will say it’s the dog who has them trained to be fed and let out at the same time everyday.

Obviously something is going on in their furry heads. They’re capable of making associations and reacting to stimuli. But what they think about, and how they interpret the information, is still a mystery.

“Just as it’s impossible to read another person’s thoughts, it is impossible to speculate exactly what a dog is thinking,” says Dr. Rachel Barrack of Animal Acupuncture in New York City.

What Does A Dog’s Brain Look Like?

All mammals have similar brain structures, says Dr. JP McCue, a board-certified veterinary neurologist at NYC's Animal Medical Center. The hemispheres, lobes and parts of the brain have the same names and the same basic functions.

But in dogs, the parts of the brain associated with smell show they have incredibly sensitive noses. More so than other companion animals like cats and ferrets.

“They use a much larger portion of their brains for analyzing smells,” says Barrack. “It is also presumed that dogs associate scent with memories, which is why they can be trained to sniff for bombs and drugs.”

How Do Dog Brains Differ From Human Brains?

Not by much. In addition to being structurally similar, MRI studies have shown that the same sections of our brains light up when we’re exposed to various stimuli, says McCue.

Man processes fear, memories and spatial awareness in the same way as his best friend. Scientists have also suggested that certain cognitive skills are clumped together, just like in human brains. (For example: if you’re good at math, you’re likely good at problem solving.)

“We’re finding the same is true with dogs,” says Sackman. “Certain skill sets come together. A dog that is fast and accurate in one task has the capacity to be fast and accurate in another task. That would lead us to believe that the heritability of intelligence and cognition is in some degree similar in dogs as it is in people.”

Like humans, older dogs have a propensity to develop a condition that is similar to Alzheimer's disease. Because of the semblances between their brains and ours, dogs are used to evaluate the impact of nutrition and drugs on the brain’s aging process, says Dr. Sackman.

But we’re not exactly alike.

Dogs’ brains are smaller than ours when compared to overall body size. Our brains have more folds, meaning more surface area. And our prefrontal cortex—where higher level processing and thoughts occur—is more developed than dogs’, says McCue.

Can Dogs Understand Humans?

One of the theories explaining why dog and human brains have so many similarities is that we evolved together.

Dogs are the oldest domesticated species. They’ve been interacting with people for millennia, and as a result, have learned how to understand and communicate with us better than any other species. Their strong sense of observation allows them to pick up hints in our body language, smells and the tones of our voices.

“I think people react to those types of signals on a subconscious level, but dogs react to them on a conscious level,” says McCue.

One possible story goes something like this. Dogs followed us into our first cities and camps to take advantage of the food waiting for them in our early garbage piles. Those that were less fearful of humans were rewarded with more food. And those that could pick up on human signals—like pointing, and being told to stay and sit—were given even more.

Dogs returned the favor by helping early humans with hunting, and protecting them from other wild animals.

“Some [papers] I’ve read say humans have been able to evolve and survive because of our partnerships with dogs,” says Sackman.

Do Dogs Have Feelings?

“Absolutely,” says McCue. Dogs process sensation and emotion much like we do.

Studies have shown they’re capable of feeling optimism, anxiety, happiness, fear and depression. They get jealous when another dog gets a bigger reward for the same behavior, and their brains respond to antidepressants like Prozac. There is also evidence that dogs who experience traumatic events experience symptoms of PTSD, just like humans.

When observed in an MRI, dogs’ brains react similarly to humans’ when exposed to emotional stimuli like the sound of a baby crying. They also experience pain like we do.

“Pain is something we experience emotionally, it’s not just a prick on the finger,” says McCue.

What Is My Dog Trying To Tell Me?

Dogs can certainly understand us. But do they also try to talk back? Veterinarians say yes.

“Dogs don’t have words,” says Sackman. “They communicate through body language and they make sounds that give us a wealth of information about what they’re thinking.”

A dog turning her head away or licking her lips is telling us she’s nervous, says Sackman. If we humans respond with a hug, we’re acting like primates. Primates hug; dogs don’t. “A lot of dogs don’t like it,” Sackman says.

There’s still a lot to learn about canine cognition. Scientists are constantly developing new ways to study dogs’ brains. But MRIs and research papers can only tell us so much.

“Until dogs can find a way to talk to us, there’s a lot we won't know,” says Sackman.

How To Prepare for a Pet Sitter

May 31, 2017 

by Kathleen Irulanne Boucher

Your flights and hotels are booked and you can’t wait to leave for that long-awaited vacation…Here’s what your professional pet sitter wants you to do before you board the plane or hit the road!

1. Make sure your pets are healthy and up to date in their shots.

It is very important to update your pet sitter about your pets’ current and past health issues and concerns. Has your cat recently started to vomit after a meal? Was your dog diagnosed with kidney stones a few months ago? What about these allergies you suspected last year? 

If your pet sitter knows, they will be better prepared to react in case these symptoms reappear. In case of an emergency visit to the vet clinic, the vet will want to know about the recent history of your pets and if their vaccines are up to date.

2. Contact your veterinary clinic so they have your pet sitter info on file, and add a credit card to your account to cover for emergency vet fees.

Keep in mind that your regular vet clinic may not be able to accommodate a medical emergency or a visit after hours. For those situations, our best option is often the 24hr vet hospital which may not have your pets’ file and credit card on record. Make sure you have a Vet Release agreement signed with your pet sitter with details and information about care and responsibilities. Maybe have a current copy of your pet's records on hand so the sitter can bring them along for the Emergency visit. Many vets provide them free of charge. 

3. Make sure you have enough food, medication and pet supplies for the entire duration of your absence, with a little more just in case.

It is important to make sure your pet sitter will have enough food for your pets for the entire duration of your absence, plus a few extra days in case of a delay or an emergency. Furthermore, stocking up is important for medications, and specialty brands of food and vet prescribed diets which can be challenging for your pet sitter to get while you are away (especially if you order online!). Remember that if your pet sitter needs to do some shopping for your pets on your behalf, you will be invoiced for the purchases, the time and extra fuel.

4. The same applies for cleaning supplies.

Make sure you have an healthy supply of paper towels, rags and wipes. The  products you use to clean your floors and carpets should be well labeled and easy to find for your pet sitter. Although house-cleaning is not usually part of the scope of work of your pet sitter, pet sitters will gladly clean up little messes and accidents provided they have access to adequate cleaning supplies.

5. Don’t hesitate to leave additional pet care notes for your pet sitter!

If the pet care routine of your pets has changed recently, don’t hesitate to let your pet sitter know! Have you changed the amount of wet food for your cat lately? Do you wish us to compost your dog’s waste using special biodegradable bags? Did you add a second litter box in the basement? Did your cat find a new place to hide when visitors come? Let your pet sitter know!

6. Clean the dog waste in your yard and the cat litter box before leaving!

Professional pet sitters carefully monitor their pets’ urination and bowel movements. After all, when an animal is ill or isn’t feeling well, one of the first symptoms indicating a potential medical problem is an increase or a reduction of urination and bowel movements. For a pet sitter to be able to fully assess the elimination schedule of a pet is to start with a clean yard or a clean litter box on Day One.

7. Pets ID, tags and microchips.

Make sure your dogs have their ID and a valid city license tag on them. When was the last time you checked your cat's or dog’s microchip? If you have moved or if your pet was adopted, make sure the microchip is registered to the correct owner and address! Having the chip in place is not enough, it needs to be activated with your current contact and emergency contact information. Note that your pet sitter is not responsible for any bylaw assessments or fines related to an expired license or tag, or the absence of one.

8. Have carriers and transportation crates easily accessible.

If you have crates and carriers for your pets, make sure they are easy to find and accessible in case of an emergency.

9. Make sure all doors and windows are in proper working order.

It is very unsettling for a pet sitter to realize that a door or a window cannot be locked or is broken while the client is away. Although no home owner is fully protected from an home invasion or a break-in, we can significantly limit the risks by making sure all windows and doors can be properly secured, closed and locked. This is for the safety of your pets, and the safety of your pet sitter.

10. Take a tour of your house before leaving.

On top of making sure your windows and doors are closed and locked, walk around the house to secure your gates, lock your garage and shed doors, and secure anything that could be blown down by the winds or damaged by storms. Can you find anything representing a hazard for your pets, like poisonous plants, candies, strings or elastics? What about those electric extension cords? If your pets are restricted to a specific part of the house or a crate or a cage, make sure they can’t escape or chew their way out!

Do you have an appliance with an history of leaks? Turn the water off during your absence and tell your pet sitter.

11. Put your digital thermostat and your lights on a schedule.

Make sure you update your thermostat schedule to ensure your pets and pet sitter are comfortable in the house while being energy efficient. Timers on lights are always a clever idea to give the house a “lived-in” feel.

12. Expecting house guests? Beware.

It is not uncommon for pet and home owners to ask a neighbor or a family member to come and check on their pets and property while they are away, even though a pet sitter has been hired and is expected to stop by daily. Some well-intentioned clients will offer their home to a friend or a grown-up child to sleep over for a night or two. So why do most pet sitters cringe when they learn that they may share the house or the care of the pets with someone else? Why do some even flat-out refuse to proceed with the contract and return the house keys?

Professional pet sitters who have accepted to job-share with visitors have seen it all. From surprising your guests “being intimate” on the couch, to walking into a missing dog situation or an over-medicated cat, the possibilities for things to go wrong are endless and not without consequences for your pet sitter. Job-sharing carries a real risk of voiding your pet sitter’s insurance coverage if your pets would end up injured, sick or lost, and your property damaged. Most professional pet sitters prefer to avoid situations where there could be some miscommunication and drama involved, for the sake of their relationship with the clients and their own reputation.

This doesn’t mean that your pet sitter will not accept to care for your pets alongside other people, but job-sharing should be thoroughly discussed with your pet sitter and the other parties involved. You may be asked to agree to sign a job-sharing waiver or agreement, relieving your pet sitter from all claims. And don’t forget that if you do not let your pet sitter know you will be receiving house guests in your absence, your pet sitter will most likely call the police to report any suspicious activity around your house.

13. Emergency Contacts, neighbors and your landlord.

When you originally signed up with your pet sitter, you most likely provided them with a list of emergency contacts. Before leaving, don’t forget to review and update this list with your pet sitter. If you have a landlord, make sure they know you are away and a pet sitter has been hired to watch over your pets, as this can have serious repercussions on the renter and the landlord home insurance policies. Make sure your pet sitter has his or her contact info on file!

If you have a good relationship with your neighbors, you can always let them know a pet sitter will be visiting your pets daily so they don’t call the police.

14. Travel plans and flight information.

It is always a clever idea to update your pet sitter with your itinerary, destination as well as flight times and numbers. In the event of a delay, severe weather or emergency situations, your pet sitter should be able to check your flight status and assess if you might require additional visits.

15. Smoke Alarms and CO2 Detectors.

Before you leave, make sure to check and/or change the batteries of your smoke and CO2 detectors. The high pitch beeping sound can be very stressful for pets left at home.

16. Jewelry, cash, keys and electronic devices.

Before you leave, place all your valuables in well-hidden, secured locations. Professional pet sitters do not steal cash, engagement rings and laptop computers from their clients, but a burglar will if given the chance. Don’t make it easy for them!

17. Notify your Alarm System Provider about your pet sitter.

All pet sitters do eventually trigger a security alarm at one time or another. Therefore, it is important to update your provider of your travelling dates and plans and to give them the contact information for your pet sitter so they can reach them directly if an alarm is tripped.

18. Discard food and empty trash cans and bins.

Food going bad can cause bad smells but also damage surfaces and attract unwanted pests. You should discard (or eat!) all the food that may go bad during your absence, as well as empty the garbage bins.

19. Lawn care and maintenance

If you are going away for a significant amount of time, make sure to have someone take care of your lawn and yard. Nothing screams “no one’s home!” more than un-manicured lawns.

20. Camera Surveillance Systems

If you have cameras around your property, or recently installed a new surveillance system, don’t forget to mention it to your pet sitter. Most pet sitters will welcome such system as added security for themselves and their clients’ pets. It is common courtesy, and sometimes mandatory by law, to let your pet sitter know the whereabouts of the cameras and that actions are being monitored and recorded. This way, your pet sitter may avoid changing clothing in a monitored area of the house or will refrain from having a private conversation on their cell phone while inside. Please, keep in mind that camera systems are not accurate 100% of the time. There have been reports of pet sitters accused of not showing up to their visits because their arrival was not recorded on cameras. Several times, it was proven that the surveillance system was at fault, after the pet sitter showed proof of their visits, like a photo, a written journal or a GPS tag.

21. Label tips and gifts!

If you are one of those clients who loves to leave “a little something” for their pet sitter, make sure to label any gifts, gift cards and cash as such – and thank you!