Protecting your pets from seasonal pests

By Brent Honcharenko

Tis the season! No, not that season. It’s pest season. As the snow has finally melted and the weather has warmed here in the upper Midwest, most pet owners are aware – or quickly become aware -of the dangers that ticks and fleas pose to their pets. In fact, in just the last few weeks, you may have already found ticks on your dogs (or yourself!) after time outside. Yuck! Despite how common these pests can be, here’s some additional information that shouldn’t be overlooked as we march towards summer.

Ticks are everywhere dogs like to be. They are found in wooded areas, shrubs, and brush with heavy undergrowth. These environments can be located near trails, walking paths, along the edges of parks and ballfields, or even in your backyard! When a tick has found its host (also known as your pet), it is crucial to remove it quickly and entirely.

The biggest health issue caused by ticks, besides the pain and itching your pet endures and the unpleasant appearance of the intruder, is the threat of Lyme disease or even Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Did you know that fleas thrive in warm, humid temperatures, but they’re not just seasonal pests? Although they become dormant when temperatures fall, they are present year-round! 

Because of this, it’s essential to protect your pet against fleas all year long. Fleas will cause itching and pain for your pet, and in some cases, flea-infested pets can develop tapeworms, which may lead to various health complications in all types of companion animals.

While many take precautionary measures to protect their pets from insect irritants like ticks and fleas, there’s another threatening pest that is often disregarded, but it definitely shouldn’t: mosquitos.

During the warm weather months, people often utilize mosquito sprays and things like outdoor repellent patio candles to protect themselves, but our pets need protection, too! Mosquito bites can affect them, too, by spreading bacterial and parasitic infections like heartworm and West Nile Virus. For some pets, contracting these diseases can lead to severe health issues, including death.

One simple measure you can take to limit mosquitos around your home and property includes removing standing water. You can also avoid letting your pet out at dawn or dusk when mosquitos are most active.

While some mosquito repellents are marketed for pets, finding the best prevention always starts with your veterinarian’s advice. Ask your vet what the best preventative options are for you and your pet’s unique situation.

Pit Bulls unfairly classified by misinformation and myth

By Brent Honcharenko

It’s no secret that Pit Bulls get a bad rap. However, the general stereotypes, misinformation, and myths about Pit Bulls are usually a bit far-fetched.

Unfortunately, the term “Pit Bull” has become associated to some with dogfighting, aggressive behavior and negative temperament.  However, according to pitbullinfo.org, there are no scientific studies that conclude any breed or dog type is “inherently more dangerous” than another. In reality, if you know someone who has a Pit Bull, they’ll likely tell you what a “big baby” their pitty is. These block-headed dogs are just as social, playful and affectionate as other canines.

Did you know that the term “Pit Bull” isn’t even an official breed? According to multiple sources, “Pit Bull” is simply a catch-all term commonly used to refer to dogs that are mixes of breeds that have ‘block-heads’ (large, wide heads) like most terriers (Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier), bulldogs, boxers, and bull mastiffs, among others. All of these breeds have common ancestors and similar traits.

Unfortunately, “Pit Bulls” take the brunt of bad press and legal banning of dogs in public places. This banning is called Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) and it is the legal way that cities, municipalities, and even landlords can deny families from having certain dogs as family members solely based on their appearance. Such legislation usually applies to breeds that have a stereotype of being dangerous or aggressive, with “Bully Breeds” commonly topping the list of dogs that have been deemed ‘unacceptable’. 

Many animal welfare organizations, as well as several other national organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and even the American Bar Association, universally reject BSL. Minnesota is also home to a groundbreaking nonprofit called My Pitbull is Family, which advocates for fair and equal housing for all dog breeds. Ruff Start Rescue is proud to partner with My Pitbull is Family and support the work that they do.

Just like humans, every dog is different. Each one has its own quirks, preferences, tendencies, and personality. We prefer to determine an animals’ goodness based on behavior, not appearance or breed label.

Ruff Start always has a number of ‘pit bull’ type dogs available for adoption. You can view all adoptable pups on our website.

How to Properly Care for Rabbits

By Rita Haney
Copy edited by Kristin Johnson

Adopting a pet rabbit has many benefits: they’re great companions, generally quiet company, and they’re adorable, too! However, a common mistake is to assume that rabbits are easy-to-care-for starter pets. This isn’t necessarily the case! They often require more knowledge and effort to maintain than you’d expect. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adopt one, it just means you need to make sure you have the right information to care for them. Don’t worry, we’ve got you!  Read on for the do’s and don’ts of properly caring for a rabbit in your home.

When feeding your rabbit…

Do: Make sure grass hay is always available to your rabbit.. Grass hay will provide them with their daily dose of vitamins, minerals, and proteins while making them feel full and allowing for proper digestion. Acceptable examples of grass hay include (but are not limited to) timothy hay, meadow, oat, rye, barley and Bermuda grasses. 

Don’t: Feed your rabbit legume hay such as alfalfa and clover. Legume hay is high in calories, calcium, and protein. Eating too much of it can cause your rabbit to develop obesity and digestion issues. 

Do: Nourish your rabbit with green foods. Vegetables such as romaine lettuce, carrot tops, cilantro, basil, beet greens, broccoli greens, and cilantro are great supplements to your rabbit’s diet for proper nutrition. 

Don’t: Overfeed your rabbit with commercial pellets. Although pellets are part of their diet, relying too heavily on pellets as a main source of intake can cause obesity and soft stool due to their low fiber and high carbohydrates.

When spending time with your rabbit…

Do: Allow your rabbit to have the occasional treat. They deserve it! Just remember to be mindful of sugar and starch content. Fruits such as bananas, blueberries, blackberries, apples, pears, and pineapples make good treats in small proportions. 

Don’t: Handle your rabbit too roughly. Because of their fragile backbone, it’s crucial to support their hind end at all times. 

When looking after your rabbit’s health….

Do: Have your female rabbit spayed when she is 4-6 months of age. Unspayed rabbits are at great risk for uterine cancer and other avoidable diseases. 

Don’t: Let too much time pass between grooming sessions. Although rabbits are naturally clean animals and groom themselves regularly, it’s important to brush your rabbit on a consistent basis to avoid digestive issues. 

Do: Pay attention to their regular behavior. Small changes in your rabbit’s eating and bathroom routine can be helpful insight into health issues. 

Don’t: Skip regular vet check-ups. Vets recommend rabbit exams be completed at least once a year. If your rabbit is over five years old, it may a good idea to go twice a year. 

When creating your rabbit’s space…

Do: Provide your rabbit with plenty of space to hop around. Even though they are small pets, they need space!  Rabbits thrive when they have a playpen or large cage with enough room for their litter box, toys, food, water, and plenty of lounging space.

Don’t: Leave your wires and cords out in the open. Rabbits are known to get themselves into trouble with these items and are likely to chew them up.

Do: Stimulate your rabbit’s mental and physical well-being by giving them plenty of toys. Rabbits are always up for a challenge, and there are many toys designed to stump them! They tend to love crawling into or scratching and chewing paper bags and cardboard boxes. Small balls or cat toys work, too!

Don’t: Choose a spot where your rabbit may feel lonely. Rabbits are social creatures by nature and like to be around people and, if introduced properly, other animals.

Rabbits can be amazing and fulfilling pets, but if you aren’t familiar with caring for a rabbit, adopting your first one may feel overwhelming. Rest assured that if you take the time to learn how to care for them properly, you will be well-equipped to give them a long and healthy life! You can see all of Ruff Start’s available adoptable animals at ruffstartrescue.org

A kitten holding it's paws up by their face

Did you know that declawing is illegal in 27 countries?

Declawing is the amputation of a cat’s toe at the first joint. It’s a major surgery that will leave your cat in pain, possibly for the rest of their life. It causes emotional anguish as well as physical discomfort.

image of where a cat's toes are amputated during a declawing procedure

Declawing can lead to chronic pain, arthritis, lameness, nerve and tissue damage, gangrene, abscesses, paw pad atrophy, and bone regrowth. 33% of cats suffer from behavioral problems after declawing, such as biting and not using the litter box.

So, what is the alternative?

Cat nails can be trimmed regularly, and various scratchers can be provided. Cats enjoy enrichment toys in multiple locations in the home to keep them busy. Be sure to promote healthy playing by not providing your fingers and toes as toys. Please reach out to your veterinarian or a behaviorist with any concerns about your cat before considering declawing. It’s natural for cats to scratch!

Watch Ruff Start Cat Foster Manager, Hannah, share tips to help your cats scratch on approved surfaces.

a dog named Winifred lying in the grass and chewing on a stick

Winifred has a rare condition: How you can help her and other animals like her

Winifred could have died in the shelter she came from without ever knowing the love of a family.

This adorable Schnauzer/Wheaten Terrier mix came to Ruff Start from a Texas shelter in October 2021. Before Winifred arrived, a family fell in love with her after seeing her pictures and reading her bio on our website. This landed her a foster-to-adopt (FTA) home before she arrived in Minnesota.

What should have been a wonderful new beginning for Winifred turned worrisome – she started to display some distressing symptoms including difficulty moving around and it was obvious to her foster-to-adopt family that she was in a great deal of pain. These symptoms didn’t make sense for such a young pup so we sent Winifred to get some testing done.

After several exams, we still didn’t have an answer for why her joints were so inflamed so she went to the University of Minnesota vetting center for additional specialized tests. After a number of blood draws and other diagnostic procedures, x-rays confirmed that Winifred had a fungal infection called Valley Fever, a non-contagious disease. If caught late this infection can be fatal, but if caught early enough recovery can be achieved through aggressive therapy.

An intake picture of Winifred. She's in a kennel in a shelter.

We’re happy to report that 2-year-old Winifred is responding positively to the antifungal drug, fluconazole. At this point, we’re cautiously optimistic about Winifred living a relatively normal life but know that flare-ups are likely and can lead to poor quality of life. She’ll likely need to be on this daily medication for the rest of her life.

We have hundreds of animals that join Ruff Start Rescue every month, some requiring specialized testing, treatments, medicines, and procedures, like Winifred. If you have the means, please consider making a monthly donation to Ruff Start Rescue’s Animal Care Fund to help offset the costs of procedures and medications. Monthly donations help sustain the rescue and give us more stability and flexibility to help even more animals.

a woman smiling at a puppy in her arms

Eight positive physical and mental side effects of having a pet in the home

By Rita Haney

Who’s really saving who? When you rescue a pet, it’s often praised how much you are doing to help improve their lives. However, research shows a mutual benefit between humans and companion animals. Taking care of a pet can have a positive effect on both your mental and physical health. Here are eight positive effects that having a pet in your home can improve the quality of your life:

1. Companionship: Having a pet in your home with you every day can give you a sense of security and caring for them can help you feel wanted and needed in your daily life. Pets bring about a calming presence and you’re sure to develop a loving bond with one another in no time.

2. Structure and routine: Taking care of an animal adds structure to your day by feeding them, exercising them and simply looking after and loving them. Adding these activities to your daily routine will make your days feel more structured and meaningful.

3. Lower blood pressure and cholesterol: According to the CDC, owning a pet is linked to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Specifically, cat owners are shown to have a lower risk of a heart attack by 30% and a lower risk of a stroke by 40%, research suggests.

4. Physical Activity: Many animals, especially dogs, need regular exercise. This is a great way to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, and even a short walk each day can add up to your physical health and well-being over time.

5. Calming effects: Having a pet around your home can reduce stress and anxiety. Playing with a furry friend can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax you. Additionally, petting an animal provides sensory stress relief, which in turn can lower blood pressure and can make you feel calmer and less stressed almost instantly.

6. Mood boosting: Pets will bring you their unconditional love and can be great listeners, which can boost your spirits and self confidence. By providing this companionship, these cuddly creatures offset feelings of loneliness and depression.

7. Avoid allergies: Studies have shown that babies who are raised with pets in the home could be less likely to develop allergies and asthma when they get older. This is more likely when the baby is exposed to the family’s pet before they’re six months old.

8. Get connected: Having an animal can be a way to meet people, helping you feel more connected to others. You may find yourself striking up a conversation over mutual ground at a dog park, pet shop or cafe with other pet owners.

It’s clear that having a pet in your home is not a one-sided relationship. Adopting a pet has the power to not only improve the quality of the animal’s life, but yours too! From your mental well-being to your physical health, companion animals will make a positive impact all around. You can see all of Ruff Start’s available adoptable animals at ruffstartrescue.org.

a woman holding a puppy and smiling at the camera
A picture of Mako as an adult dog

A Ruff Start Adoption Experience: Mako

“When my husband and I saw photos one morning of little Miguel on Ruff Start’s website, we thought there was no chance we’d be lucky enough to adopt him – he was an absolutely adorable 4-month-old puppy, and we knew he’d have a ton of applicants! Crossing our fingers, we emailed that we were interested and could hardly believe it when Jenni, his foster, reached out to us later that day.”

a picture of Mako as a puppy

“We were going to be first-time dog parents, and although we were so excited, we were a little nervous and had a lot of questions. Jenni was so helpful and patient with us, and she arranged a time for us to visit her home to meet him.”

“Right away, we saw how sweet and friendly he was – he wasn’t nervous at all to meet us, two total strangers (and wearing face masks, no less!) We could tell he was happy and felt safe and well-cared for in his stay with Jenni so far, and she told us more about him during our visit while we watched him play with his big bin of toys. The next step was a visit from Miguel and Jenni to our house, where we particularly wanted to see how he did with our two cats.”
Mako as a puppy with his adopters
“He barely even noticed them and was on his best behavior with Jenni, even at such a young age! Even more quickly than we could’ve hoped, Jenni helped us finalize his adoption, and we renamed him Mako and took him home! When we came to pick him up, it was a freezing cold day in February, and Jenni was so kind to make sure we had everything we needed, sending him along with a gift of some warm sweaters, treats, his food, and she even let him keep his blanket and some of his favorite toys!”
“Later that week, Jenni even drove all the way out to our house to bring us some extra flea and tick medication and was overall so helpful in easing our worries about helping a new puppy adjust. Jenni and I kept in touch over the next few weeks as Mako ended up having a minor bacterial infection, and she wanted to make sure he was recovering well.”
Mako as an adult with his adopters on a camping trip
“He’s doing great now, a year later, and I still make sure to post photos in the Ruff Start Facebook group so that Jenni can see what a big, handsome boy Mako’s grown into. We can’t overstate how much comfort it gave us to have Jenni helping ease us (and Mako!) into this new experience – thank you, Jenni, and thank you, Ruff Start!”

Whether you’re adopting or fostering, one-of-a-kind connections are formed here at Ruff Start Rescue. Learn how you can be a part of the Ruff Start family at ruffstartrescue.org.

A stack of outdoor cat houses

How to build an outdoor cat house

Cat houses give community cats a safe and warm place to rest during harsh winter weather. Follow these instructions to create an outdoor cat house.

Materials needed:

  • Large, durable storage bin that can withstand cold temperatures
  • 8 ft. x 2 ft. sheet of one-inch-thick rigid Styrofoam
  • Yardstick
  • Box cutter or utility knife
  • Straw, shredded newspaper, or other insulating material
An outdoor cat shelter that has "welcome cats!!!!" and "Stay warm" written on it

Assemble as follows:

  1. Cut a doorway six inches by six inches in one of the long sides of the storage bin towards the corner. To prevent flooding, cut the opening so that the bottom of the doorway is several inches above the ground.
  2. Line the bin floor with a piece of Styrofoam, using the yardstick and box cutter to cut out the piece.
  3. In a similar fashion, line each of the four interior walls of the bin with a piece of the Styrofoam. Perfect cuts are not necessary. Don’t make the Styrofoam go all the way up to the top of the bin but leave a uniform gap of at least three inches between the top of these Styrofoam “wall pieces” and the upper lip of the bin. There needs to be room for an interior Styrofoam “roof” to fit.
  4. Cut out a doorway in the Styrofoam lined up with the doorway that has been cut out already in the storage bin. Trace the outline of the doorway on the Styrofoam first before cutting.
  5. Stuff the bottom of the bin with straw or other insulating material to hold the Styrofoam interior wall pieces in place.
  6. Cut out a Styrofoam “roof” to rest on the Styrofoam interior wall pieces
  7. Cover the bin with its lid.

Tips: This shelter can be cleaned by taking off the lid and the Styrofoam roof. It’s also lightweight and may need to be weighed down. A flap over the doorway is optional. Catnip can be sprinkled inside at first to attract the cats.

Rosabella leans into her foster

Rosabella

Trapped in a crate while the winter temperature continued to drop, Rosabella didn’t have much time left. She wrapped herself as tight as she could to repel the frigid weather seeping through the wire kennel, but her emaciated body could only do so much to protect her. It’s nothing short of a miracle that a Ruff Start foster happened to be driving through the alley and noticed her. Now, Rosabella is in a safe, warm, and loving foster home.

Rosabella laying in a tight circle in a wire kennel outside
an overview picture of Rosabella that shows her malnourished body

After her arrival into our care, a medical exam revealed signs of neglect throughout Rosabella’s body. She has sores and splayed feet that suggest she’s been in a kennel for the majority of her life. And she’s only 19 pounds when she should weigh at least 45 pounds. Besides the terrible circumstances Rosabella endured, she is so loving and beyond resilient. It will take a while to safely bring her weight up to where it should be, but we are comforted knowing she has a whole community cheering her on.

Rosabella standing

Rosabella is quickly putting back on the weight she needs in her foster home. She’s also starting to play and show her endearing personality. Thanks to your support, Rosabella is well on her way to recovery and a loving forever home.

You can help Rosabella and other animals like her by donating to our Animal Care Fund.

Isley

Isley

Content warning: animal cruelty

The story we are about to tell you is one of the worst animal cruelty cases we’ve seen as an animal welfare organization. We are shocked this cat is alive. We are even more surprised that she is so happy and loving.

Her name is Isley, and she has endured and survived significant harm throughout her life. When you look at her pictures, you may think that she is a senior cat. But based on examinations by our veterinary care team, Isley is only about five years old.

We realize that sharing the details of Isley’s abuse will upset many of you but by sharing her origin story, it will make her story of hope and happiness that much sweeter. Companion animals are so resilient, and we are beyond grateful to give Isley a second chance.

What happened to Isley is extremely difficult to comprehend. If you wish to skip this part, please read on from the next paragraph. After multiple exams and x-rays, we’ve determined Isley sustained the following injuries while in her abusive home. All four of her legs, tail, skull, and hard palate have multiple old fractures. We suspect her abuser intentionally ground down her canine teeth to prevent painful bites from Isley defending herself. Isley’s front claws show signs of a botched declaw procedure as well.

Isley wearing a halloween sweater

There is nothing we can do to correct the old fractures, but we are keeping Isley comfortable with pain and arthritis medication. We are treating her for periodontal disease and awaiting results to see if she has mammary cancer. If the test results come back positive, we are hopeful that we caught it early enough to start treatment. We will remove her four canines through a dental procedure as they are causing her pain and are diseased. Our veterinary team has already spayed Isley and treated her for a UTI.

What does justice for Isley look like?

What Isley endured is unforgivable. We know, wholeheartedly, that we’d like to see the person that did this to her to be prosecuted. And that honestly wouldn’t be enough. While that piece of Isley’s story is out of our control, there is something that we can do. We can give Isley the best life to live starting now.

Watch a video compilation of Isley in her loving foster home.

Here’s where we need your help. We are creating a bucket list for Isley to make up for lost time, and we need your ideas to add to the list. We’re thinking of throwing her a birthday party, taking her to an aquarium, and giving her a gourmet meal. We know there are more ideas out there to help Isley squeeze every enjoyable moment of her new life. Please add your ideas here.

We are also raising money for Give to the Max Day to support our Animal Care Fund to help cover medical expenses for all animals in our care, including Isley. If you are in a position to give, please consider donating today! We will continue to update you all on Isley’s progress and her bucket list. 
Ruff Start Rescue