Owning a Wild or Exotic Cat; Information, Laws, and Advice

helpcompanionanimals_2 (1)Have you ever dreamed of living with a bobcat or having a pet tiger? You’re not alone, and many people share their lives responsibly and safely with such animals. My beloved companion is a African Serval, a very affectionate 33-pound spotted feline. However, this dream come true brings with it some very real challenges and responsibilities far beyond those facing the average pet owner.

A huge number of visitors to my exotic feline site are trying to make very important decisions. Should I get a exotic cat? Is this species the right fit for my family? Can I provide for one properly?

There are a number of things to take into consideration when deciding if exotic cat ownership is for you, and if the answer is yes, which species of exotic cat is suitable for your situation. They include:

  • Your ability to make a lifetime commitment to an animal who may cause you considerable headaches
  • Your ability to be a responsible owner
  • Local and Federal Laws
  • Your financial ability to provide proper care and housing for the cat
  • Your level of experience in working with animals
  • Size of the cat
  • Disposition of the cat
  • Endangered Species Status

Owning an exotic cat requires a lifetime commitment to a cat who may live to be 20 years old. If your circumstances change, the cat develops behaviors that are unacceptable to you, or you simply grow tired of caring for it, an exotic cat cannot simply be given over to your local humane society. Being placed in a new home is much more traumatic to an exotic cat than to most domestic animals and can cause a major change in their personality. In some cases, they may never accept a new owner. Qualified people willing to take in an adult exotic cat are hard to find, and no, the local zoo will not accept your cat. Large cats such as cougars and tigers are especially hard to place.

Everyone gets an animal with a certain dream in their minds about how that animal will behave, and some people cannot handle it if things turn out differently. For instance, if you want to own a tiger, you probably imagine being able to play with it and cuddle with it. That may happen; but if you undertake this responsibility you have to be prepared for the fact that you might not be able to so much as enter the cat’s enclosure safely, even if you raise him from a cub.

If you are interested in getting a small cat like a bobcat or a serval, you probably imagine sharing your household with it, as many people do. But what if that cat grows up to spray everything in sight?

If you’ve been researching the idea of owning an exotic cat, you’ve probably discovered how much conflicting information there is. Some sources seem to indicate that living with an exotic cat is no more challenging than feeding your pet goldfish. At the other end of the extreme spectrum, many sanctuaries and animal rights activists paint them as unmanageable creatures that no ordinary mortal could hope to deal with successfully. As is usually the case, the truth lies in a rational world between the two extremes. This site exists to provide realistic and balanced information.

Like all creatures, exotic cats are all individuals, and nobody can tell you exactly how your future cat will act. Generalizations can be made about the behavior of different species, but individual personalities and behavior traits vary widely. As a dog trainer, I have seen puppies with the perfect upbringing turn out dangerously aggressive, and severely abused dogs who were stable and friendly. I have met dangerous Golden Retrievers and unprovokable Pit Bulls. It’s the same with cats; you can generalize to a certain extent, but never count on those generalizations.

If you decide that you are serious about getting an exotic feline, one of the first things you need to do is learn the federal, state, county, and city laws regulating the ownership of the species you are considering in your area. Contarary to popular myth, exotic animal ownership is pretty heavily regulated. Laws and permit requirements vary widely from area to area, and owning exotic cats is banned altogether in many places.

The legal issues will become vastly more complicated if you are interested in owning a cat that is endangered. While it is not impossible, the additional laws and permits that you have to contend with makes owning an endangered cat an unrealistic goal for most people.

Owning an exotic cat means having to remain constantly aware of changing laws and of proposed legislation, and being prepared to fight for the continued right to own your beloved pet.

Owning an exotic cat can be quite expensive. You will need to take into consideration the cost of building a secure and spacious enclosure, feeding costs, veterinary costs, the initial purchase of the kitten, and incidental expenses which seem to crop up on a continual basis. The cost of owning a smaller cat such as a serval or bobcat is more likely to be affordable than that of owning a tiger or other large cat. When you get into the large cats you will find that your feeding and enclosure costs escalate dramatically.

A major consideration is the size of the cat. Some species are smaller than a domestic cat, while others reach 500 pounds. The most common species to find in a pet household is the serval, which ranges fron roughly 18-40 pounds.

Owning a small cat is a more realistic goal for most people than a large cat such as a tiger. Large cats are very expensive to feed and house, heavily regulated by the federal government, and of course much more dangerous. Often keepers are unable to safely enter the enclosures of big cats once they mature. This does not mean that these animals are malicious, but a tiger or other big cat can easily injure you even in play. If you see yourself with a “pet” cat, start thinking small.

Cougars are an interesting compromise in size and temperament. They are actually classified as “small cats” even though most people think of them as a big cat. They are large cats and come with all of the duties, responsibilities, and cost of owning a big cat. However, they often have very gentle and affectionate natures; of all the large felines, they are probably the species that you are most likely to be able to have a “pet-like” relationship with after they mature. For those determined to own a big cat, I would recommend a cougar over any other species, especially over a tiger.

Owning an exotic feline is not for someone who spends their time in fantasyland. If you are one of those pet owners who think their dog is soooo sweet that he could never, ever harm anyone, that all animals love you because you have a “special touch” with them, or that no animal will be dangerous as an adult if you “love it enough” or “raise it right,” you have no business owning an exotic cat.

You have to be able to objectively assess the safety of any decision you make, whether it involves handling your own cat, letting a family member or member of the public have contact with the cat, etc. You have to be able to say “I love Tigger with all of my heart and he loves me back, but I can tell from the playful look in his eye that if I walk into his enclosure now he might hurt me, so I choose not to.”

It is important to locate a good veterinarian who is willing to treat your exotic cat before you get one. It can sometimes be difficult to find a good, experienced vet who will be willing to treat exotics. Often, vets are uncomfortable around them or dissaprove of keeping them as pets and will therefore refuse to treat them. Many clinics also lack large enough equipment to handle larger felines like cougars or tigers. Veterinary costs for an exotic cat can be higher than those for a domestic animal, especially if your cat develops a serious problem and you are referred to a specialty clinic or university.

If you choose to own an exotic cat, you owe it to your cat and everyone else who owns exotics to be a responsible owner. What constitutes responsible ownership? Some of the criteria, in no particular order:

  • Provides a ample, nutritious diet suitable to the species
  • Provides ample housing for the cat to live in happily
  • Provides shelter and protection from the elements
  • Provides veterinary care as needed
  • Purchases animals from an ethical and responsible breeder
  • Does not neglect or abuse the animal
  • Provides generally pleasant living conditions and has the cat’s feelings and best interests in mind
  • Makes a good-faith effort to comply with all applicable laws
  • Takes stringent precautions to prevent the escape of the cat
  • Protects the cat from unauthorized contact or harassment from members of the public
  • Protects the safety of the public and visitors
  • Makes a lifetime commitment to caring for the cat

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Do You Know What’s Really In Your Pets Food?

whats-really-in-your-dogs-bowl The pet food industry, a billion-dollar, unregulated operation, feeds on the garbage that otherwise would wind up in landfills or be transformed into fertilizer. The hidden ingredients in a can of commercial pet food may include road kill and the rendered remains of cats and dogs. The pet food industry claims that its products constitute a “complete and balanced diet” but, in reality, commercial pet food is unfit for human or animal consumption.

“Vegetable protein”, the mainstay of dry dog foods, includes ground yellow corn, wheat shorts and middlings, soybean meal, rice husks, peanut meal and peanut shells (identified as “cellulose” on pet food labels). These often are little more than the sweepings from milling room floors. Stripped of their oil, germ and bran, these “proteins” are deficient in essential fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants. “Animal protein” in commercial pet foods can include diseased meat, road kill, contaminated material from slaughterhouses, fecal matter, rendered cats and dogs and poultry feathers. The major source of animal protein comes from dead-stock removal operations that supply so-called “4-D” animals-dead, diseased, dying or disabled-to “receiving plants” for hide, fat and meat removal. The meat (after being doused with charcoal and marked “unfit for human consumption”) may then be sold for pet food.

Rendering plants process decomposing animal carcasses, large road kill and euthanized dogs and cats into a dry protein product that is sold to the pet food industry. One small plant in Quebec, Ontario, renders 10 tons (22,000 pounds) of dogs and cats per week. The Quebec Ministry of Agriculture states that “the fur is not removed from dogs and cats” and that “dead animals are cooked together with viscera, bones and fat at 115° C (235° F) for 20 minutes”.

The US Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is aware of the use of rendered dogs and cats in pet foods, but has stated: “CVM has not acted to specifically prohibit the rendering of pets. However, that is not to say that the practice of using this material in pet food is condoned by the CVM.”

In both the US and Canada, the pet food industry is virtually self-regulated. In the US, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) sets guidelines and definitions for animal feed, including pet foods. In Canada, the most prominent control is the “Labeling Act”, simply requiring product labels to state the name and address of the manufacturer, the weight of the product and whether it is dog or cat food. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) and the Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC) are voluntary organizations that, for the most part, rely on the integrity of the companies they certify to assure that product ingredients do not fall below minimum standards.

The majority-85 to 90% the pet food sold in Canada is manufactured by US-based multinationals. Under the terms of the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement, neither the CVMA nor PFAC exercises any control over the ingredients in cans of US pet food.

Pet food industry advertising promotes the idea that, to keep pets healthy, one must feed them commercially formulated pet foods. But such a diet contributes to cancer, fatal diseases, skin problems, allergies, hypertension, kidney and liver failure, heart disease and dental problems.

WE HAVE THE ANSWER!!!

This system was developed by DR. JANE BICKS, a nationally known and highly respected holistic veterinarian with over 30 years of experience. She has written several books on pet care. DR. BICKS was the PRESIDENT of the VETERINARY MEDICAL ASSOCIATION in NYC, and was appointed by MAYOR RUDOLPH GUILIANI to help start the largest animal shelter in the United States.

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What Do You Know About Dog Depression

suffer-puppies

The typical reaction when a person is faced with a dog that shows marked behavior changes like lack of appetite or interest in his or her usual activities, no response to the previously exciting stimuli or other atypical behavior is to “diagnose” the pet with dog depression. Have you ever been faced with any of the above in your own animal?

Although there are similarities in both, human and dog depression, it is important not to confuse them so easily.

When we, as humans, encounter certain situations in our lives, many of us do not know how to handle them properly and may fall into a depressive state quite easily. As a matter of fact, with the problems humanity is facing nowadays, depression has become one of the most commonly diagnosed reactions.

What are some of these problems? I believe we can mention just a few and you may even recognize some of them present in your own life as you read:

  • Stress
  • Loss of work
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Financial difficulties
  • Lack of opportunities
  • Relationship problems
  • Problems at work and fear of losing it
  • Illness

If we can just think of a common denominator to all of the above, does the concept “change” come to mind? When things function properly, there is no need to feel differently, right? Well, there may be exceptions, but I don’t want to go there now, because it is not the topic at hand.

Bonnie Beaver, DVM, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, said veterinarians don’t really know if dogs suffer from depression the same way people do. “It’s hard to know because we can’t ask them,” said Beaver, who also is a veterinary specialist in animal behavior at the small animal clinic at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine. “But in clinical practice, there are a few situations where that is the only explanation.”

Beaver said although it’s not uncommon for pets to get down, especially during periods of change, it’s rare for dogs to suffer from long-term depression.

We mentioned above a few of the most usual changes a person may face in life. What are the ones that affect our beloved pets? Remember change.

Before going into the subject of dog depression per se, the first thing we should always keep in mind when we observe behavior changes in our dog is to consider possible medical, in this case, veterinary, conditions. We may be confusing signals very easily and the best way to avoid that terrible mistake is simple: discard physical problems.

Our dogs, especially if they have been with us for some time, get used to a “way of life” we teach them: their feeding hours, exercise, play, moments to show affection and enjoy with the family, trips and perhaps other dog companions.

If any of these is altered in a significant way, our dogs may react with some of the above mentioned symptoms and immediately be considered as part of the dog depression family. Take for example, if there have always been more than one dog in the house and one of them suddenly dies. If you, as the owner, mourn your pet’s passing, what do you think may happen to its pal? Nothing different, with the exception that it cannot tell us directly how much it is suffering the same loss. What it does is show us in its behavior, i.e. depression.

Let us consider other possible and common changes that occur without our even thinking they may affect our pet. We just make the decision and that is it. Opposite to the above, we decide to bring a new pet into our house, or if we are single and the dog is used to being alone with us, now we fall in love and a new person suddenly forms part of the household. If we were married without children and one just arrives, that is also a very direct and important change in our dog’s life that we have to consider and be there for him or her to help them get used to those.

Suppose, and many of these cases have been documented, that the dog’s owner is the one passing. We are not going to even go into the cases where there is an owner and a dog, but no true relationship exists there. The dog is just an instrument and that is it. We are talking about the true relationship that should always exist between owner and dog, the one based on love, respect and companionship. If this is the case and the owner dies, the animal will react to that death the same way we do when we lose a loved one. It will show signs of what we call dog depression.

The same way humans are, even though I believe it is done in a very disproportionate manner, dogs can also be medicated for their depression when nothing else seems to work, but that should certainly be the last step to take.

Using basic psychological principles, do keep in mind not to just show love and affection as a means to help the dog get over the depression. That may have precisely the opposite result to the one you want, because you will be rewarding the depressed state and the dog may confuse that with the one which is appropriate. Do the opposite, that is, produce situations that may be agreeable to the dog and reinforce every single positive reaction she has. That way, the connection to be established will be the correct one and you will again enjoy the company of your beloved pet.

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Cannabis for Treating Pain in Pets

1355422309_8041_main (1)When pets develop cancerous tumors that eventually metastasize to other organs, veterinarians often prescribe tramadol for pain and a prognosis of a few months to live. But more pet owners complain that tramadol makes their pet sleep all the time and lethargic. Such was the case with Denise’s 12-year-old Labrador Retriever-mix, Miles, who suffered from a splenic tumor which metastasized to his liver and lungs. Denise didn’t like the affect tramadol caused in Miles. That was until Denise’s friend suggested she try a tincture made of marijuana sold from a medical marijuana dispensary as a pet medicine. Mile’s appetite returned and he stopped vomiting within an hour after being given the tincture and Denise believes this is not a coincidence. She also believes that if Miles was on the tramadol, he would be sleeping in bed, not eating or possible dead instead of running on the beach and being himself which he is now doing.

Miles had terminal cancer and would die soon, was the reasoning Denis turned to when she felt hesitant about giving Miles an unapproved drug. She further reasoned by saying people don’t overdose on marijuana and is used on humans suffering pain and nausea from cancer and cancer treatment. Denise never would have considered giving Miles marijuana had the tramadol worked and now she is a “true believer” in the therapeutic effects of marijuana and will recommend it to other who have pets suffering some aliments that would benefit. It is a matter of better quality of life for your pet, not getting your pet high.

Federal prohibition on medical marijuana has been a battle of contention since 1996 when a referendum, approved in California, allowing legal personal growing, possession and use of marijuana for patients who have a doctor’s recommendation. Since that time, 19 states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws with Colorado and Washington state legalizing marijuana for recreational use in 2012. The federal government, however, isn’t on the same page. Federal law prohibits the use of marijuana in all forms and breaking that law leads one to face serious legal consequences. This includes the states where medical marijuana is legal. But public attitude is changing, showing that for the first time in 40 years, 52% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana while 77% said marijuana has legitimate medical uses. Keep in mind that the Food and Drug Administration believes that marijuana is not safe nor effective for treating any human or animal disease. Since 1970, marijuana has been classified as a schedule I drug meaning that the federal Controlled Substances Act believes marijuana has no current acceptable medical use and has a high potential for abuse like heroin, LSD, and ecstasy which are also schedule I drugs, while cocaine, methamphetamine, and morphine are schedule II drugs. There are 60+ cannabinoids unique to marijuana and although it is not approved for any medical use, cannabinoid-based drugs such as Nabilone, used as an ant emetic and adjunct analgesic for neuropathic pain, as well as treatment of anorexia and weight loss in AIDS patients, are available in the United States by prescription. Because regulations are so high for clinical research on schedule I drugs, many physicians and health care organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and National Association for Public Health Policy are asking to reschedule marijuana so more research can be done that could create new cannabinoid-based medications.

An increasing number of pet owners are telling their veterinarians about having experimented with or given medical marijuana to their pets. Some veterinarians have had their own personal pets fall victim to illnesses that, after exhausting ever avenue of legal, conventional treatment, including steroids, only medical marijuana could relieve. They believe there is strong evidence to support the use of medical marijuana in veterinary patients as an adjunct treatment or alternative treatment for chronic pain, post-operative pain and palliative care. Veterinarians support the AMA’s position and believe that marijuana needs further investigation to determine if case reports are true or whether there is a placebo effect taking place and what are the risks involved. But pet owners are not waiting for science and are feeding marijuana to their pets to treat behavior-based disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, pain management, nausea, and appetite stimulate while cannabis oil is used topically to treat tumors. It is illegal for a veterinarian to recommend the schedule I drug to patience even in states where medical marijuana is sanctioned and physicians are exempt from prosecution by the state.

Although many veterinarians sympathize, they are hesitant to consider marijuana as a potential veterinary drug. For most veterinarians, the only experience they have had with pets and marijuana is treating the pet for ingesting toxic amounts of the drug. It is clear that pet owners are giving their companions marijuana with both good and bad effects. But the veterinary community does not want to address and talk about an area with real and potential impact on animal welfare. The predominant view is that marijuana is only a toxic plant. Veterinarians should not discount marijuana’s potential as an animal therapy just because it is a controlled substance or a plant as the same can be said about morphine, however, morphine’s pharmacological effects on humans and animals have been thoroughly researched and studied; medical marijuana has not, therefore, putting an animal at risk when giving it to them as a drug. Do not assume that marijuana affects animals and humans in the same way nor should the assumptions be made that since marijuana is a natural substance it isn’t harmful. Those in the veterinary profession can no longer sit ideally by as the rest of the country makes decisions on medical marijuana. There should be a well-designed controlled clinical trial on the use of medical marijuana as a pain killer in animals suffering from cancer as it affects both pets and people.

Cannabis is now a part of the fabric that makes up our society but the in the heated battle between the federal government keeping it a schedule I drug and the public’s desire to make it legal both medicinally and recreationally, it is bound to cause casualties. Is it a price you are willing to pay with your pet?

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Spaying and Neutering, The Unpopular Truth

562bd682392131f786d59173ddbbe4b040f6c4424e6414d5cac59160ebc6a8bdSpaying and neutering of our dogs has become a politically correct thing to do, and the owners of intact animals are frequently looked upon as irresponsible and uncaring. Unfortunately, the belief in righteousness of these procedures is based on myths rather than science. We owe it to our dogs to examine the facts and the statistics. If the truth was more widely known, the owners would think twice before resorting to such a radical surgery.

Myth #1: It prevents pet overpopulation.

Fact: Spaying and neutering is a North American construct. Most other continents do not practice it commonly, not even in shelters, and so far they haven’t been overrun by dogs. People who are spaying and neutering, thinking that they are helping prevent pet overpopulation, generally are the same people who are caring and responsible enough to supervise their animals anyway.

We never hear of a puppy mill owner participating in such prevention, do we? The point is, individual dog owners are not the problem. I certainly do not condone irresponsible breeding, but you must understand that removing an animal’s reproductive organs is more about the owner’s convenience than the animal’s wellbeing.

Myth #2: It makes the dog healthier, and it prevents cancer.

Fact: This is a true urban legend. There is no scientific basis to support such statement at all. If dogs were so prone to cancer with their bodies intact, all breeds would have perished long ago. Spaying and neutering has a dark side that almost no one mentions, and it has to do with multiple functions of the reproductive hormones that are not taken into account.

They mark the start of reproductive maturity in dogs and as part of that function also signal growth to slow down and eventually stop. So what happens when a young pup is spayed or neutered? No signal is given for the growth to stop, so the bones keep growing and outgrow the sockets and the muscles that are supposed to keep them in place. Numerous skeletal problems can result, such as hip dysplasia which is especially prominent in large breeds, and no one will tell you it’s because you had that puppy “fixed.”

Did you know that most shelters will automatically put down a dog with skeletal problems, even if those problems are neither visible nor acute, just because they may cause trouble in the future?

If you insist on sterilizing your dog, wait until it has grown. Females have to deal with another problem related to spaying – the incision is placed exactly in the middle of the abdomen, running from front to back. Those familiar with Traditional Chinese Medicine will recognize that the location of the cut coincides with the Conception Vessel, a major meridian. The Conception Vessel runs the full length of the ventral midline. It affects and regulates the peripheral nervous system, reproductive organs and their function, the urogenital system, respiratory system, heart, and the animal behavior. Up to 20% of spayed female dogs will develop ‘spay incontinence.’ They will also suffer recurring urinary tract infections, recessed vulva, vaginal dermatitis and vaginitis. Other health risks of spayed and neutered dogs, according to veterinary research studies, include:

  • The risk of hypothyroidism which triples compared to intact dogs (resulting in obesity with all its implications such as diabetes, hair loss, lethargy, reproductive abnormalities);
  • 30% increased risk of adverse reactions to vaccinations (not that any animal should be vaccinated);
  • Increased risk of progressive geriatric cognitive impairment.

As for the reduction in cancer rates – one of our favorite old-time homeopathic physicians, J. Compton Burnett, told us that you can cut the branch off an apple tree, but you can’t prevent the tree from producing more apples. Well, you can remove any organ you like, and pretty much guarantee that the dog won’t get cancer in that organ! But it does not remove the possibility that the dog might get cancer elsewhere. In fact, what exactly does veterinary medical literature say about the cancer risk? Spayed/neutered dogs as compared to intact dogs:

  • Have greatly increased risk of bone cancer (3.8 times higher than intact dogs);
  • Have increased risk of splenic and cardiac hemangiosarcoma (common cancer in dogs);
  • Are four times more likely to develop prostate cancer (male);
  • Are twice as likely to develop urinary tract cancer.

It seems that the evidence is directly opposed to this myth.

Myth #3: Spayed and neutered dogs do not run off, and they do not mark their territory.

Fact: This is true on the surface, but the reasoning behind it is not. Let’s turn our attention to any pack of wild canines. Simply put, there is an alpha couple and then the rest of the pack. None of the animals are spayed or neutered, but only the alpha couple mates. So, one animal keeps a number of sexually intact pack members under control without leashes, fences, or surgical knives, and it can do so for years. Also, most of those animals will never mate during their entire lives, simply because they will never be the alpha. Yet, none of them will run off and leave the pack in search of a partner.

Humans have been led to believe that they can’t control a single animal because when in heat, it will run off. So we have arrived at the one thing that sets us apart from the alpha canine – he is the leader, and we are not. Loyalty to the pack leader overrides everything, even sexual urges. Would a non-alpha pack animal ever dare to mark the territory that belongs to the alpha? If your dog is marking your house, he is seeing it as a no-man’s-land and somebody must claim it.

Awareness is half the battle. Whatever you choose to do, you must be very aware of the truth and of your reasons for doing it. Be honest with yourself and do not hide behind politically correct phrases, now that you know better. I promise, the blow to your ego is only temporary.

If you are adopting a dog from a shelter, you may not have a choice. You can try to adopt a dog who has been spayed/neutered as an adult or, if you’re adopting a puppy, try to negotiate with a shelter to allow you to spay/neuter when the pup has reached at least six months to one year of age. You may have better luck negotiating with a smaller shelter, especially if you offer to foot the bill.

Is there another option if you want to be 100% certain that there will not be unwanted litters around? Many people chose to be sterilized when they don’t want to have any more children – women have their tubes tied and men have a vasectomy. Have you ever heard of a woman going through a total hysterectomy, or a man having his testicles cut off, just for this purpose? Of course not! So why these procedures can’t be used on dogs? Believe it or not, most veterinary schools do not teach these procedures.

Myth #4: Having a female dog in heat makes it impossible to keep the house clean.

Fact: Where a female is kept during her cycle is up to you, the owner. She could be kept in a part of the house that is not carpeted, or in a kennel. If you visit any pet store, you will find an array of products to help you with that problem, such as feminine diapers she can wear while in the house. Female dog cycles only twice a year and the quantity of blood is only a drop at a time.

Every surgery carries a risk of complications, such as allergic reactions to anesthetic or other meds, hemorrhage, infection, etc. Veterinary hospitals who have tracked the rates of complications found them to be around 20% for spaying/neutering, that’s one in five dogs! This is unacceptably high risk for an elective surgery. Any surgery is a tremendous shock to an animal, it places it in a fight or flight situation without being able to do either. Dog loses control of its body, movement and breathing, and does not understand why, nor is it possible to explain it to him ahead of time. People going into surgery know exactly what is going to happen, and they still get nervous! The healing reactions that we see dogs go through following the removal of surgical traumas, tell the story in and of themselves. They can be pretty significant, a testimony to the fright and shock the dog experienced and internalized, while not being able to either fight or flee, as his instinct would demand.

Do we know what long-term effects of early spay/neuter are on dog’s mental and emotional make-up? We do. Organizations raising and training dogs to become guide and assistance companions for disabled people are in a position to present huge studies resulting from their own experience. Their knowledge of the health and behavioral issues dogs face greatly exceeds that of any breeder. These organizations follow their dogs from conception through maturity, putting them through the same settings and experiences which allows them to really notice the differences. Are guide and assistance dogs spayed/neutered early in life? No. Why not? Because of the failure rate it produces. The percentage of early sterilized dogs who grow up to be functioning working dogs is very small. They found early spayed females to be much more dog aggressive and early neutered males to be too fearful in comparison to dogs sterilized after reaching maturity. Their cognitive function (ability to learn and retain) is impaired also. These problems were encountered along with all the physical problems we’ve already discussed. Mandatory early spay/neuter that some law makers are proposing would equal genocide of the American working dog.

Putting our dogs through surgeries which are necessary is understandable, but resorting to elective surgeries which ultimately have a negative impact on a dog is simply not ethical. Dogs who have been spayed/neutered as puppies never fully develop their character structure. The females are not feminine and the males are not masculine. This is a generalization, but it is born in experience. When you look at a sexually intact animal, it is pretty easy to know whether it’s a male or female, without even looking at the genitals.

With sterilized animals it is a different story. Reproductive hormones play a large role in the shaping of dog’s character and without them, the job just doesn’t get done. One of the most important functions of the reproductive hormones is that they don’t regulate just procreation, but all aspects of relationships, from communication with other animals and people, to remembering those previously met. Therefore, any aspect of relating to others may be impaired if the animal is sterilized at a young age.

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How the Financial Landscape of Pet Pharmaceuticals Has Been Changed by the Internet

newsletter_sep_02The late 1980’s and early 90’s brought about the birth of the consumer internet. Still written off by many companies as a novel invention, a secondary market, the internet was not a major concern. Since the mid 1990’s, with more and more people becoming connected to the internet, the potential for companies to reach consumers right in their homes began to be realized. Since then the internet has brought about a great change in the way business is conducted. Companies began allocating resources to internet development initiatives. The World Wide Web brought companies and investors together into a rapidly evolving market.

The .com bubble that emerged from 1997-2000 followed subsequently by a bust immediately thereafter left many internet startup companies of the time underfunded. The pet products industry gave us one of the most notable failures of the .com bubble, Pets.com. Initially well-funded, with an advertising budget that bought super bowl ads, the company failed due to a poor distribution model.

Though overshadowed by Pets.com, another pet related company emerged through the internet bubble and over the last 15 years, has impacted the distribution model of the Pet Pharmaceuticals and OTC industry. This paper will explore the economic and financial impact of Pet Meds Express Inc on the Veterinarian and Pet Pharmaceuticals market and analyze the path the company followed to become the largest online Pet Pharmacy in the world.

The Evolving Pet Meds Industry

In January of 2012, Dr. Doug Mader, former president of the North American Veterinary Conference moderated a heated debate between PetMeds Express and the Veterinarian community. This debate was due to the way PetMeds express generated revenue, by changing the distribution chain in the Veterinarian Pharmacy industry. Until PetMeds Express started an online pet pharmacy, Veterinarians held a sort of monopoly on distribution of pet meds. But how does a relatively small company in the Pharmaceutical industry make this kind of impact? PetMeds Express understood the potential of the internet early and creating a new market.

To better understand the effect that PetMeds Express is having on the pet pharmaceuticals industry, it is important to first understand the industry that they operate within. Zoetis, Pfizer pharmaceuticals animal health medications offshoot, estimates that the growing global food demand in emerging markets for animal proteins and the increased standard of living in emerging markets have helped the animal medicines and vaccines market grow to the currently estimated $22Billion market. Within this global market, PetMeds Express participates in a $4Billion dollar U.S. industry, according to their estimates. Multiple pharmaceutical manufacturers develop and sell pet pharmaceutical products, they sell directly to Veterinarians.

Within a $4Billion market, the internet has allowed a new company to come in and change the distribution system, even without the support of the manufacturing companies. Though PetMeds Express makes up only 6% of the US Animal Pharmaceuticals market, the company brought to light the potential within this market niche attracting competitors and the attention of bib box retailers, something that could cause further thinning of revenues and margins if PetMeds Express cannot align with manufacturers in the near future.

Animal Pharmaceutical Distribution in the US

Since the major pharmaceutical companies have refused to work directly with PetMeds Express to date PetMeds Express needed to navigate the supply chain in a creative way. Instead of buying from, manufacturers directly, PetMeds express has been forced to buy from a ‘gray market’ of distributors, assumed to be Veterinarians that order in large quantities to supply the company, though PetMeds Express representatives have not confirmed their supply sources.

Individual Veterinarian practices that dominate this market have voiced concern that the growing internet and retail ‘big box’ approach is eating away at one of their profit centers. Prior to this competition, Veterinarians’ enjoyed a relatively non-competitive market. Animal owners would visit a Veterinarian, and due to convenience, would purchase medication directly from the Vet. This practice started to be threatened with the emergence of the PetMeds Express model, though Veterinarians still enjoy the major market share of around 67% according to PetMeds Express investor data. We must keep in mind that this figure represents individual Veterinarians and group practices together. These practices do not share in the same economies of scale as PetMeds Express, nor do they individually represent major competitors.

It is interesting to note that Dr. Foster and Smith Inc, a major competitor of PetMeds Express Inc, was founded in 2003. The Dr. Foster & Smith brand was also an early entrant to the internet market. Though the company is stock was up to an estimated $250 Million6 in 2008 and has since been estimated at around $170 Million. They are close in market cap to PetMeds Express with distribution via the internet as well, however, they are grouped in with the Veterinarians in the 67% market share. Assuming other variables are equal with this private company, they could make up a relatively similar +/-6% of the Veterinarian market, leaving around 60% of the current market to traditional Veterinarians.

Currently, PetMeds Express represents a small Cap stock with a market cap of $257,212,860 in 2012. Despite PetMeds Express’ relatively small segment of the market, there is cause for worry among the Veterinarian community. In 2004, when the company went public, the industry was estimated to be at $3Billion and PetMeds reported revenue of $93,994 left the company with only 3% of the market at that time. Compare that with 6% of the $4Billion dollar current market and we see the trend of this online retailer’s market segment growing. However, as with any business, past performance does not guarantee future profits.

PetMeds isn’t the only threat to the Veterinarian retail pharmaceutical segment. The company’s growth attracted competition and now the distribution includes The “veterinarians, online and traditional retailers.” In fact, it is the retail segment that is beginning to lower margins for PetMeds Express and creates a problem the company must address and work to overcome

In efforts to continue maximizing shareholder value, retailers like Wal-Mart and Target also want a larger slice of the pet medication segment. Their large volume purchasing power makes them a great threat to both the Veterinarians and the new online retail segment in which PetMeds operates. In 2011 and 2012 PetMeds Express has started seeing the effects of a highly competitive market slow down growth, increase the cost of new customers and reduce profit margins.

Ethics and Risk in the Pet Medicine Industry

When PetMeds Express entered the market, they were depending on consumers that enjoyed the convenience of purchasing over the counter medications on the internet as well as those consumers whose veterinarians either did not carry various prescribed medicines. Veterinarians however, receive about 25% of their revenue from the sale of prescriptions that they write and fill. As the company evolved, so did PetMeds Express business model, which ended in some ethical problems that the company faced. As with all publicly traded companies, PetMeds express had to figure out how to increase profits but how could they increase sales of prescription medications and thus increase profits?

This problem initiated an innovative idea that would allow consumers to call up, consult with a Veterinarian over the phone and immediately receive a prescription, which was converted to an order and sent out to the customer. This was an excellent way for the online prescription drug retail business to grow. If customers could skip the Veterinarian visit all together, PetMeds Express could capitalize on more pet owners that valued convenience and generate another income stream through their Veterinarian consultations. However, this method of selling prescriptions without actually seeing the animal did not sit right with the rest Veterinary community. Already worried that the growing online company could eat into the Veterinarian’s revenue stream from medication sales, PetMeds Express had crossed an ethical line that caught the attention of the Veterinarian community as well as regulators.

Only three years into operations in 1999, PetMeds Express was disciplined by the Florida Board of Pharmacy for the over the phone prescriptions. The company received a $30,000.00 fine, but more than this, they upset the Veterinarian community. Though the company immediately complied, this former practice continues to come up, even at the 2012 North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC).

At the 2012 NAVC, a petition by Birmingham, AL Veterinarian, Dr. Doralee Donaldson, drew 149 signatures and ended up with PetMeds Express withdrawing as a sponsor of the event. Instead, representatives of PetMeds Express showed up to the NAVC and did a panel discussion, attempting to mend ill feelings from the Veterinarian community. Moving forward, PetMeds express intends to work with the Veterinary community, encouraging regular Vet visits and attempting to show Veterinarian’s that there is room in the market for both interests.

Financial Analysis

PetMeds was the first non-veterinarian owned commercialized online pet pharmaceutical company and first public company in the space. When new competition in the online space along with the competition from the retail segment began, profits began to get sluggish. By reviewing data taken from the company’s annual reports, we can see that PetMeds Express has experienced a decline in total revenues since 2010. Profit Margins stayed close to 10.5% in the years from 2008 to 2010, however 2011 and 2012 saw year over year declines, with a margin of just less than 7% for 2012.

By analyzing the online company from a different approach, we can see how the company is maximizing the potential of their people. According to Lowell L. Bryan of McKinsey Quarterly, an excellent measure an internet era company’s performance is profit per employee. In addition to measuring returns on invested capital, this shows the contribution made by the team members. Bryan says that “from 1995 to 2005, the top 30 largest companies in the world (ranked by market capitalization) have seen their profit per employee rise to $83,000, from $35,000.”

Using this methodology to analyze the annual profit to number of employees taken from PetMeds Express annual reports, we see they had their best year in 2010 with profit/employee of $114,546. The stock has suffered in the last couple years and so has the profit per employee; in 2012 the profit/employee was down to $80,478. Not bad for a small cap company.

The drop in profits is due to several factors, including the poor economy, which is causing pet owners to be more cost conscious, increased entrance into the market by other online retailers like Amazon.com, and an increase in competition from large retail chains like Wal-Mart, Target, Wal-Greens. This means that PetMeds Express must advertise more, and lower their prices to stay competitive, thereby lowering profit margins in the short term until other strategies, including additional advertising, help the company grow.

By examining the graph on the right, we can see how PetMeds Express has performed against the market. This graph shows how $100 invested in 2007 would perform if invested in PetMeds Express vs. the S&P 500, Russell 2000 and Nasdaq Composite Indexes. From 2008 to 2010, their stock experienced high growth and performed well against the market with the $100 investment at $187.09. However this changed in 2011 when the company experienced more competition and lower profit margin and pricing. If we look at the trend in 2009 PETS enjoyed a 48.5% gain, followed in 2010 by a 35% gain. In 2011 there was a 28.5% loss and a 21.9% loss in 2012 which puts the stock back on par with the other indexes, however still trending down.

Ratio Analysis

PetMeds Express has grown quickly and carved out a niche internet based distribution system for pet OTC and prescription drugs. By looking at the company’s solvency, liquidity and profitability, through ratio analysis we can see if there are some financial causes for concern outside of the slipping profits. We can get a better understanding of this by looking at the company’s financial ratio’s based on the last 4 quarters ending March 31, 2013

Liquidity

The company has a current ratio of 8.03 which is very high. This leaves the company in a good position if they need to acquire related competitors. This number is also due to the large amount of inventory the company, which can be seen by removing the inventory in the quick ratio of 5.81. The Net Working Capital is $59,162, so there is no immediate risk of the company running out of money.

Use of Assets:

The 12 month inventory turnover ratio is at 5.83. If we compare this to the largest Pet retail store, PetsMart, their 2012 inventory turnover ratio was at 7. If compared with a human pharmacy, the industry standard is 12. Even though PetMeds Express is below this, they also have higher overhead and a larger inventory holding expense. This lower ratio could also due to inefficiencies in the gray market system PetMeds Express must purchase through.

Profitability:

The return on assets ratio is.19 while the return on equity ratio is.21, so even though the company’s profit margin for 2012 was.07, they are still doing well for their shareholders. On top of this, the profit margin increased to from.07 to.09 during the first quarter of 2013, perhaps an indicator that the company is finding ways to lower their costs, or that the increase in marketing in response to more competition is beginning to work. By continuing to watch this number, we will get an idea of the potential for PetMeds Express to remain competitive.

Debt Indicators:

The total debt ratio of.11 and the debt to equity ratio of.12 shows that PetMeds Express may not be fully utilizing their leverage. Since they have hit a couple of rough years of declining profits, they should consider investing in other companies that could strengthen their position.

PetMeds Express has also experienced year over year drop in EPS in 2011 and 2012. EPS was 1.14 in 2009 and began to decline to.92 in 2011 and.78 in 2012. The PE Ratio in 2012 was 14 and is currently listed at 15.14 Based on this the price investors are willing to pay would be about 18 for 2012.

Using the 2012 PE ratio and analyzing some of PetMeds current market competitors in the pet and pharmacy business, we get an average P/E ratio of 19.5. Using this number we can multiply the industry average with PetMeds EPS of.82 leaving us with about $16 per share intrinsic value. It seems Pet Meds stock could be slightly undervalued currently.

Future Potential

PetMeds Express must do something to close the gap between their current and previous performance. The additional advertising the company started in the last 2 years has started helping them rebound. What are some other options the company may have?

Since PetMeds Express depends on the gray market for distribution, they have a high level of risk if large box stores leverage their purchasing power and connections to gain an advantage. PetMeds Express could manage to negotiate wholesale agreements directly from the pharmaceutical manufacturers, lowering their overhead. However this type of distribution would likely be available to their competitors as well if opened up.

The company is relatively financially healthy and facing a highly competitive market. Perhaps they could consider a partnership with the competition. An obvious partnership would be with one of the large retailers like PetsMart. Both Pet retailers face competition from Wal-Mart and other larger retailers. A partnership could open a new shared revenue stream for each company as well as potentially sharing their purchasing power. Though cannibalization of some other products couple play a role in the potential benefit of offering PetMeds pharmaceuticals at the popular and growing store front retailer. Though PetsMart has their own online retail, they do not carry pharmaceuticals. Perhaps the established brand of PetMeds Express would be able to handle the pharmaceuticals that these companies currently do not carry.

Perhaps looking to one of the leaders in the global pharmaceutical industry, like Pfizer, can give us some insight into the future potential of the market. Pfizer recently re-branded their Animal Health division into Zoetis, showing that Pfizer see’s the potential in this segment enough to brand for it specifically. With some good business decisions focused on creating partnerships, especially with the pharmaceutical manufacturing companies, PetMeds Express can continue to define itself as the online force to be reckoned with in the animal medicine industry.

Conclusion

The company has made it through some rough beginnings including several legal battles. They pulled through the internet.com bubble and grew into the largest Animal Pharmacy with 6% of the market. After examining the company’s financial ratios, it appears that the company is currently healthy. This is likely one of the reason’s Zack’s average brokerage rating for this stock is a hold.

After reviewing the company’s history and current stock performance we get a picture of an innovative company that grew with technology, but now must continue to be agile and adapt to change as competition catches up. PetMeds Express has gained 6% market share within the US Pet Pharmaceuticals industry since the company started in 1996. This growth attracted competition to the distribution chain. These competitors include other online retailers and large national discount retailers that are forcing prices lower and decreasing profit margins. In total, Since PetMeds Express was a pioneer in the nationalized pet pharmacy model during a fast moving internet era, they have been a major influence in Veterinarian’s losing 33% of this market and changing the distribution model within the industry in 17 years.

In the future, as countries become more developed, eat more proteins and own more pets, the need for animal pharmaceuticals will also grow. If PetMeds Express can find a way to exploit the growing global pharmaceutical market, they will open up a new world of revenue and profit.

Matthew Marsh is a Recruiting Manager with Staffing By Choice and the Interim CFO and Controller consulting firm, CPA By Choice. Our team can offer midsized through Fortune 100 companies both the long term and short term human capital needed to achieve their financial goal. If you would like a free initial consultation to go over your needs and see how we might be able to partner, reach out to us at

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Want to Work in Animal Conservation in Africa?

Wildlife_Conservati231771CHave an interest in wildlife conservation? Want to get some real life experience before going to university and studying for your dream job? There are many opportunities for the enterprising volunteer to work with animals in their gap year, and what better place than Africa to gain experience?

Africa has many beautiful animals, many of them in danger of extinction due to human interference and through environmental changes. Gain experience and expertise in your gap year and really make a difference in the field. You can also choose which field holds the most interest for you. Whether you want to work with endangered animals, on a game reserve or get veterinary training, it is all waiting for you in Africa.

Endangered Animals and Wildlife Conservation

Centres throughout Africa work on providing the best possible care for animals that are close to extinction. They take into their care animals that would have no chance in the wild on their own and care for them until they are ready to be released. These include the sick or injured and orphaned animal babies. This is extremely rewarding work for those who love animals and provides a deeper understanding of conservation and its place in Africa. Volunteers will be able to work closely with the animals, the like of which they are not likely to have been able to have contact with at home. They will get to feed them and take care of their day-to-day needs, and also watch and participate in their medical care. Nothing captures the wonders of Africa more than its beautiful animals, and preserving them for future generations is one of the more rewarding things to do with your life.

Working on a Game Reserve

Working on a Game Reserve in wildlife conservation will provide you with the edge needed to make it in this competitive career. As a volunteer you will get to participate in the day-to-day running of the projects, by collecting the scientific data which keeps the reserve running efficiently. You will learn to successfully manage an entire ecosystem, both the vegetation and the animals. Research of animals helps conservationists understand better how to help them. By participating in research on the game reserves, you are directly impacting the field and helping species that are in danger of dying out.

Veterinary training

Working as a volunteer vet in Africa is a unique experience in wildlife conservation, and one not to be missed. Your documented work experience can actually be put towards your degree and, at the same time, you get to help the exotic animals of Africa. As a veterinary assistant you will learn everything needed about the craft of being a vet; this veterinary training emphasises hands on experience, including experience in wildlife drugs and how and when to use them and how to work with large, potentially dangerous animals.

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