Pet Myths Debunked

Friday the 13th has long been associated with superstition, so it’s the perfect time to dispel some common pet myths. Read on to find out that you can teach an old dog new tricks, black cats are considered lucky, and more!

Black cats are bad luck – False
Black cats are actually considered good luck in many cultures. In Japan and Scotland, the presence of a black cat is thought to bring good fortune and prosperity to the home. Also, when sailors would look for a cat to bring aboard their ship, a black cat was preferred and believed to protect a ship from treacherous weather. Families of sailors and fishermen even kept black cats at home to help protect their loved ones at sea.

Cats drink milk – False
You might have heard of someone leaving a saucer of milk out for kittens, but cats are actually lactose intolerant and milk will upset their stomach.

Cats always land on their feet – False
Cats have a reflex that quickly twists their bodies in the air, however this does not guarantee that cats always land on their feet. Cats still get injured from falling, so make sure your cat stays safely away from balcony edges and open windows.

Dogs are colorblind – False
A dog cannot see as many colors as the human eye, but the canine retina can actually  distinguish some colors like primarily blues, yellows, and greens.

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks – False
Dogs can learn tricks at any age!  In fact, continuous training can add wonderful enrichment to your dog’s life.

Breeds on the banned list are always aggressive – False
Providing the proper socialization and training is important with any breed. According to the CDC, no dog is born inherently dangerous or vicious. The American Temperament Test Society also found that dogs considered to be an “aggressive” breed illustrated friendlier behavior than some breeds without an aggressive label.

A warm nose means your dog is sick – False
A dog’s nose can be a product of the environment. If you are worried about your dog being sick, look for other symptoms like lethargy or an upset stomach.

Indoor pets don’t need heartworm prevention or regular trips to the vet – False
There are many types of communicable diseases like distemper, leptospirosis, and upper-respiratory infections that can be tracked inside the home on shoes. Pets can even catch distemper by an infected animal, like a racoon, walking through your yard without having any direct contact. The American Heartworm Society has also reported that 1 in 4 cats infected with heartworm disease were indoor cats.

Cats purr and dogs wag their tail only when happy – False
Cats are also known to purr when they are anxious or nervous, and dogs wag their tails to show excitement, stress, and even aggression. It’s best to observe an animal’s entire body language and not rely on only one indicator.

Rabbits are low-maintenance pets – False
The average life of a rabbit is ten years, so adopting a rabbit is not a short-term commitment. Rabbits need several hours outside of their enclosure every day to get the proper amount of exercise, and they need lots of fresh vegetables for a proper diet. Also, a rabbit’s teeth and nails never stop growing and need to be managed properly to stay healthy. Many people also don’t realize that rabbits also need specialized veterinary care with yearly checkups.

Rabbits should eat lots of carrots – False
Carrots are high in sugar and are not a healthy source of nutrition for rabbits. However, carrot tops can be given in limited quantities as a treat. On the other hand, grass hay like Timothy hay should be available 24/7 and is essential to a rabbit’s health.

Bringing Home Your New Dog

Bringing a new dog home is an exciting time for a family, and you want to be sure you’re taking the right steps to welcome your new friend into an unfamiliar space. Here are a few tips to ensure your pet experiences an easy and successful transition into your home:

Before Your Bring Your New Pet Home

Dog-Proof Your Home
Before bringing your new friend home, be sure to move anything chewable up and out of the way. Some items might be obvious, but you will also want to position yourself so you are at your dog’s level to see what your dog will see. Give a thorough look around and make sure nothing harmful is in reach. This will help prevent your dog from chewing your shoes, books, toys, remotes, or other household items that may be enticing to a curious pet. Dogs also tend to chew on electrical cords, so tuck those away and out of sight. This might mean you will need to gate off certain areas of the house, specifically the kitchen and living room. You may also want to use a gate to block off the stairway, prohibiting access up or down the stairs.

Create a Sanctuary Space
Set up a bed or crate for your new dog and make this a sanctuary space. Create the sanctuary away from the rest of the household so that it offers your pet a feeling of peace and security. Use blankets or sheets to make the space comfortable and inviting.  If your new friend is still a puppy or doesn’t like to be alone, you can place the sanctuary in a more central location. You can also place a crate cover or blanket over the space to make it feel even more secure and cozy. Give your pet treats in this space so that the sanctuary is associated with an enjoyable experience. A good idea for a treat is a Kong filled with wet food or peanut butter.

Facilitate Responsible Introductions
If you already have a pet in your family, try to do a meet and greet before bringing the new pet into the home. The Virginia Beach SPCA conducts a meet-and-greet with any resident dog(s) prior to adoption; however, if you have other pets such as small animals or a cat, you will want to introduce them slowly and with supervision. Let them sniff each other through the door first so they can familiarize themselves with the new smells. When your pets do meet face to face, try to keep it short and sweet. It might take some time for them to get used to each other, and that’s ok! Make sure you don’t force interaction as this could cause fights and aggression. If you continue to have problems, consider contacting one of our recommended dog trainers.

Bringing Your Dog Home

Provide Supervision and Space
The time it takes to acclimate is different for every dog. For the first week or so, your new fur baby might need some space. Let your new dog explore the new environment as slowly as necessary, and if your new family member still prefers to take space away from the family, allow it. However, even if you give allow the extra space, remember to keep an eye on your new pet to prevent any chewing, accidents, or potentially dangerous situations. You will also want to give your new pet time to get used to the new environment before meeting extended family and friends.  Two weeks is good adjustment period, after which you can slowly introduce your new pet to new faces. Be sure to keep an eye out for signs of stress, such as panting, running away, cowering, growling, or pacing around the home. If these signs appear, give your pet some space.

Stick to a Consistent schedule
Set your dog up for success by starting a regular schedule as soon as possible. It is confusing to an animal if you change the rules, and it may contribute to problem behavior. Try to keep feeding times and bathroom breaks on a consistent schedule, with the general rule being that dogs up to 6 months of age should be let out at least every 4 hours and older dogs may need more frequent breaks depending on size and age. For food, keeping your dog on the same diet will not only be easier on your dog’s stomach, but it will also help with the initial adjustment phase. Pets thrive with routines as it helps with an overall feeling of security. If you decide to change to a different kind of food, do so gradually. The first two days should be 25% new food and 75% old food, the third and fourth day should be 50% and 50%, and then 75% new food and 25% old for the last 2-3 days before changing over completely.

Offer Plenty of Exercise and Training
Make sure your new friend gets lots of exercise. This doesn’t just mean walks; you will need to engage your pet in games of fetch, tug, and chase. Regular exercise will help prevent problem behaviors such as digging, chewing, and barking while also providing quality time for you and your pet to bond. In addition to exercise, have lots of interactive toys on hand and make sure to give your dog treats. You can also sign up for dog training classes which will strengthen the relationship between you and your pet, while also establishing healthy discipline and good dog behavior. You might even learn some fun tricks, too!

And, Lastly, Remember to be Patient.
Patience is the key ingredient to the successful integration of a new pet into a home. Every animal has his or her own individual personality and it will take time for both of you to settle in to your new family.

How to Make your New Cat Comfortable at Home

It is common for adopters to move a little too quickly when introducing a new cat to a new home. However, it is important to keep in mind that a change in environment, even a positive one, can be overwhelming and stressful to a cat. Remember that all the new sights, smells, noises, and encounters are exaggerated by a cat’s heightened senses. Make sure to take things slow so that a positive change doesn’t become a negative experience. A gentle introduction will allow your new cat to establish a place in your home without being overwhelmed.

As soon as you bring your new cat home, set up a small space in a quiet area, like a bathroom or closet. This space will house your cat’s food, water, bed, and litter box while your cat is adjusting to the new environment. When cats rub their cheek on or knead and scratch an object, scent glands on the cheeks and paws help establish their presence. This builds up confidence in owning the space, so having a blanket, bed, and/or scratcher will help your new cat mingle their scent with yours, ultimately feeling more comfortable in the new home. Cats feel more secure around their own scent, so don’t be alarmed if you see your cat sitting or sleeping in the litter box instead of on a bed or blanket. With time, your cat will become more comfortable and confident and should no longer feel the need to hang out in the litter box. Please visit this space regularly while allowing your cat to have down time in-between. All cats can adjust differently, so respect however long it may take for your new cat to adjust and feel at home.

As your new family member relaxes, slowly give your cat more room to explore. If you don’t have any other animals, you can start by leaving the door open and moving your cat’s food bowl outside of the doorway. Making sure the food bowl is still within sight of the safe space, but a bit beyond the established comfort zone. Food gives cats a positive reward for stepping out of their safe space and allows them to explore on their own terms. Gradually bring out the other items as you did the food dish. Don’t be tempted to expand too quickly or force a faster adjustment by eliminating your cat’s comfort zone altogether. This will cause undue stress which could create negative associations with certain areas or inhabitants of the home.

If you have other animals in the home, DO NOT bring other pets into your new cat’s safe space. Your new cat needs to feel confident and secure before other animals invade the space your new cat is trying to establish. Scent swapping and positive associations with food are recommended techniques and should be done before any face-to-face introductions.

Puttin’ for Paws

Grab your friends and hit the links at Greenbrier Country Club on August 17th for a day of fun at our annual golf tournament, Puttin’ for Paws. This tournament features great raffles, hole-in-one prizes, a delicious dinner, and awards for our top players.

And, of course some meet and greet time with adoptable animals!

11:00 AM – Registration & Range Open
12:00 PM – Shotgun Start

$500 Foursome | $150 Individual Player

All Registrations Include:
Cart Rental and Range Balls
Lunch & Unlimited Beverages
Ditty Bags
Awards Dinner

If you would like to become a sponsor or register a team, contact April Le or Emily Peck at events@vbspca.com or call 757-427-0070 ext. 145. You may also register online at www.vbspca.com/golf.

Sponsorship Deadline – July 27th | Registration Deadline – August 3rd

Questions? Contact us at events@vbspca.com

What is Catnip and Why do Cats Love it?

June 15th is World Catnip Awareness Day! If you would like to donate catnip or catnip products to our shelter cats, please drop off any donations to our shelter on Holland Road. Your donation will offer added enrichment to the lives of shelter cats who are patiently waiting for their forever homes. June is also Adopt-A-Shelter Cat Month, so stop by our cattery while you’re here and visit with some of our furry friends.

In the meantime, we thought we would celebrate World Catnip Awareness Day by sharing some fun facts about this feline treat:

  1. Catnip is a plant that’s part of the mint family. This perennial herb is easy to grow and can grow up to 3 feet high.
  2. Cats are attracted to nepetalactone, a compound found in the leaves and stems of the plant. “The most active ingredient in this compound is nepetalic acid,” explains Dr. Ann Marie Woyma, Medical Director at the Virginia Beach SPCA. Nepetalactone is an essential oil believed to mimic feline pheromones and trigger pheromone receptors in cats.
  3. Catnip sensitivity is something your house tiger might have in common with the big cats. Lions, tigers, panthers, and other big cats react to catnip as well.
  4. Only 50% to 75% of cats are sensitive to the herb, so don’t be alarmed if your cat doesn’t respond to catnip. “Whether or not a cat responds to catnip is actually inherited as an autosomal dominant trait, so it only requires one gene to create a response to it, kind of like brown hair in people” Dr. Woyma explains. Young kittens aren’t affected by catnip either. Cats with a sensitivity do not react to catnip until they’re at least 8 weeks of age to a year old.
  5. We don’t know exactly why cats have different reactions to catnip, but that could be a genetic issue also. Out of Dr. Woyma’s three cats, “One becomes completely mellow, another has no reaction, and the third rockets around the house like a kid on sugar.” While individual cat reactions may vary, catnip generally acts in one of two ways. According to the Humane Society of the United States, if catnip is eaten, it acts like a sedative. It it is inhaled, it acts like a stimulant. The effects last approximately 5-10 minutes before wearing off.
  6. Cats with a sensitivity will no longer respond to catnip if exposed too frequently. When cats no longer seem interested in their new toy, remove the toy/catnip for at least two hours so their senses can reset. We recommend you swap toys out every few days. “New toys combined with new smells are wonderful enrichment tools.”
  7. Catnip is safe for cats, but be mindful of how your cat reacts in case exposure causes unwanted behavior. Dr. Woyma explains, “There have been studies done where cats are exposed to an extremely large amount of catnip with no lasting effects, so you generally don’t need to worry about an overdose.” However, she does not recommend using catnip around pregnant cats because it can potentially induce labor.
  8. Catnip is safe for humans and has been used in teas similar to chamomile. Catnip has also been a popular home remedy from treating headaches to insomnia. The Humane Society of the United States even reports concentrated nepetalactone can be a potent but temporary mosquito repellent.
  9. Catnip can be used as a training tool. We recommend sprinkling or spraying catnip on a scratching post to promote positive scratching habits, just remember to refresh every few days. Catnip can also be used as a positive reward while brushing or to encourage play.
  10. Catnip can be purchased in stores, grown indoors, dried (most common), or found as a spray. It’s recommended to store catnip and/or catnip toys in an airtight container in a cat-proof area. With a limited supply of catnip, our cattery staff marinates cat toys with catnip in a ziplock bag to absorb the smell. Dried catnip can also be stored in your freezer to help maintain freshness.

The Virginia SPCA carries a variety of catnip toys for your feline friends at home!  Below are some of our staff favorites.

VBSPCA Recommended Catnip Products:
Kong Naturals Catnip Spray
Fat Cat Boogie Mat
Yeowww! Organic Catnip (Loose catnip)
PetStages Easy Life Scratch, Snuggle & Rest
Yeowww! Catnip Toys: Apple, Banana, Pollock Fish & Rainbow

You can directly help homeless animals in our community by purchasing your catnip items and other pet products at the VBSPCA Shelter. Thank you for your support.

Traveling with your Four-Legged Friend

June through August is peak travel season, and while you’re brimming with excitement over your summer vacation, your pet might not be as thrilled. The good news is that more and more Americans are traveling with pets, so if leaving your pet behind causes anxiety for you or your furry friend, traveling together is an option. Keep the following tips in mind if you plan to bring your pet along on your next adventure:

  • First and foremost, if your pet has never been in the car for more than 30 minutes, you don’t want to jump right into a 12 hour drive. Start by taking some time to help your pet acclimate to the car experience by going on some shorter, practice rides. You could even try a few short sessions of sitting in the car without ever leaving the driveway, rewarding calm behavior with treats and encouragement. Practice and preparation will make road trips a better experience for you and your pet.
  • Keep your pet in a seatbelt secured carrier or kennel where there is enough space to sit, stand, and turn around. If you choose to forgo the kennel, use a harness and secure it to a seatbelt. Your dog jumping into the front seat and onto your lap puts you at an increased risk of an accident. We like the Guardian Gear front-seat Vehicle Barrier for keeping dogs in the backseat.
  • Pack a pet travel kit with food, a travel bowl, harness, waste bags, grooming supplies, medication, first-aid, and any travel documents. You might also want to have your favorite mellow music playlist ready to go, which can help calm your pet’s nerves. You’ll want to avoid feeding your pet within three hours of departing to reduce the risk of car sickness. If you know you’re pet has a tendency of becoming car sick, your vet may be able to prescribe anti-nausea medicine or sedatives. When planning your route, schedule time to stop for bathroom breaks every two to three hours. And of course, never leave your pet alone in a parked vehicle.
  • If you are taking to the friendly skies, most airlines will allow smaller pets to travel in-cabin, under the seat in front of you, in a USDA-approved pet carrier. Airlines charge $125 on average for pet travel, and your pet will count as your carry-on item. Some airlines will still permit larger dogs to travel in a kennel in the cargo hold, but this is becoming significantly less common, and is not something that we would recommend. Additionally, health certification and vaccinations records need to be dated within ten days of your departure. If you are headed overseas, review the policies of the country you are visiting well ahead of time to make sure you don’t miss anything. Not all airlines permit pets on international flights and pet requirements differ from country to country. Finally, make sure you have an up to date photo of your pet in the event of any baggage mishaps.

Bon Voyage and best wishes for happy trails!

Tips from our Trainer: Master the Dog Walk

A tired dog is a well-behaved dog, but physical activity alone isn’t enough to stave off the side effects of dog boredom. Your dog needs consistent mental activity to remain engaged, and a daily walk is the perfect opportunity to provide your pet with a mental reboot. Add these easy tips to your daily routine for high quality walks your dog will love:

Reduce leash pulling by letting your dog exert some physical energy before the walk. 15 minutes of playing fetch or tug can remove pent up excitement. If your dog still pulls once you start the walk, don’t pull or yank back. This just gives your pet more incentive to pull. We recommend keeping high value treats in your pocket to help lure your dog’s attention back to you. Once your dog has returned to your side, reward him.

Practice makes perfect. Practice walking your dog in the house, backyard, front yard, or other areas that have fewer distractions. You want your dog to get in the habit of walking by your side and not running off after every sound, sight, or smell. Use high value treats as a reward for walking by your side, and use verbal praise and a training clicker to validate good leash behavior.

Your dog was born with a powerful sense of smell for a reason, and this means you need to provide your pet with opportunities to sniff and explore. However, letting your dog’s nose lead the way for the entire walk could negate any previous leash training. Offer intermittent sniff and bathroom breaks, and make sure to reward your dog for staying focused on you.

Before heading out, check to be sure your dog’s identification tags are secure and remember to always bring water, treats, and waste bags on your dog walk. For additional training fun and a full schedule of training classes and programs, visit the Happy Paws website at happypawstraining.org.

The Great Indoors

Cats are natural hunters. They’ve evolved from helping control pests on ships and farms to slowly becoming domesticated companions in our homes. Domesticated cats exercise their hunting instincts through play, finding food in the bowls we fill for them, chasing red lasers, or sneaking up on your ankles from across the room. However, as much as they pounce and play, cats also embody a sense of independence that is quite the opposite of their canine counterparts. But this air of independence can be misleading, because domesticated cats rely on us for their safety and wellbeing, despite their self-sufficient stereotype.

Help practice responsible pet ownership by keeping your cat indoors and not allowing your cat to roam outside. You may feel that a life inside is too restrictive for your little hunter, but indoor cats can live up to 6 times longer than outdoor cats, which makes keeping your cat indoors the best choice if you want to share a long life with your feline friend.

Not convinced? Here are a few more reasons why living indoors is a a safer and healthier option for your cat.

Sickness and disease.
Indoor cats are not exposed to parasites and other communicable diseases to which outdoor cats are susceptible. Ticks, fleas, intestinal parasites, ringworm, and ear mites are just a few of the dangers that can threaten your cat’s health and wellbeing. However, these dangers don’t just threaten your cat, your cat’s exposure to them can threaten other animals in your home, including you. If you live in an area with other outdoor cats, your cat can be exposed to the many contagious diseases among felines, such as feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and feline interstitial peritonitis (FIP), all of which can be fatal. Unvaccinated outdoor cats also run the risk of contracting and spreading feline viral rhinotracheitis (herpesvirus), calicivirus, panleukopenia, or feline distemper. And that’s just between cats. Other animals outdoor cats will come across exposes them to many more diseases and deadly viruses, like rabies.

Wildlife and Predators.
A cat’s hunting instinct can threaten the lives of wildlife, such as songbirds, baby bunnies, and other small creatures. As proud as your cat may be to have captured her prey, you may not be as thrilled to receive these special “gifts.” Furthermore, interactions with local wildlife can also risk injury and infection, which may not be easy to spot right away. Plus, your cat is not the only predator out there and can quickly become prey to coyotes, foxes, or birds of prey, all of which live in Hampton Roads.

Accident or Injury.
Animal traps and poisons are often used to target pests, but outdoor cats are susceptible to these threats as well. There is also the risk of getting hit by a car, which can happen in both urban areas and on country roads. A free roaming cat can also get caught in dangerous weather conditions, access poison or toxic substances, or become injured and physically unable to make it back home.

Lost or Stolen.
No matter how “street-smart” your cat may be, there is always a possibility of your cat wandering too far from home, getting picked up by animal control in another area, or coming across a stranger with unkind intentions. Approximately 2 million pets are stolen every year, and sadly not every person is a cat person.

Solution: Bring the outside in
Cats are still social creatures and need appropriate enrichment to live a happy and healthy life. Here are a few things you can do to make sure your cat is getting the enrichment needed to be safe and happy.

  • Put a cat tree by a window so they can view the great outdoors while remaining safely inside.
  • Create multiple levels of perches for jumping and exercising inside.
  • Set up a spot with cat grass and other treats, as well as different textures for your cat to enjoy.
  • Use both horizontal and vertical cat scratchers.
  • Engage in interactive play using wands and laser toys as a wonderful way to provide the mental and physical exercise your cat needs. Interactive play is also a great method for redirection if your cat seems too focused on going outside.
  • Use puzzle toys, so your cat can treasure hunt for treats.

If your cat absolutely needs time outside, consider a “catio” or secure outdoor enclosure. If you don’t have the time or space for a catio, you can take steps to get your cat used to a harness and take your cat on a walk!

Mutt Masquerade


Our annual Mutt Masquerade 5K & 1 Mile Walk will be held on Sunday, October 28th, 2018 at the 24th street beach park at the Virginia Beach oceanfront.

Annual Gala

Thank you to everyone who joined us for the Virginia Beach SPCA Western Wags and Whiskers, Howl at the Moon Gala on March 24th, 2018, for a beautiful evening at the Cavalier Golf & Yacht Club.

We would like to thank all of our sponsors including the DeCroix Family Foundation, Givens, The Franklin Johnston Group, New Amsterdam Vodka, McWaters Family Foundation, Old Point National Bank, Troutman Sanders, Exit Realty, Williams Mullen, Priority Automotive, Teide Enterprises, Taylor’s Do It Center, Atlantic Heating & Cooling, Creech Insurance, Merck Animal Health, Davis Ad Agency, C & M Industries, Armada Hoffler Properties, The Pet Loss Center, Davenport Asset Management, Core Assurance, Towne Bank, Morris & Jan Fine, Dave & Mickey Jester, James Somers, and Bruce L. Thompson.

Thank you to our Master of Ceremonies, Allen Fabijan.

We look forward to seeing you at the 2019 Gala! Contact the Development Office at events@vbspca.com for questions.

Photos and program videos from the 2018 VBSPCA Western Wags and Whiskers Gala can be found at the links below. Photographs are available for purchase. 50% of proceeds will be donated to the Virginia Beach SPCA. 

Don Monteaux Photography
VBSPCA 2018 Mission Video
2018 Lifesaver Award Jane Smith Wolcott
Painting with Pets