Fostering Kittens? Cats & Kittens Thrive with Training, Socialization, & Love

Fostering Kittens & Tips for Kitten Training

Fostering kittens and cats includes socializing kittens to help them become wonderful pets. Love helps but isn’t enough. Nothing trumps kittens for furry love. But when kitten season rolls around, local animal shelters drown in a furry tide of cats of all ages that need adoption. Kittens can become pregnant as early as 4-5 months of age! Yes, babies having babies–that explains the bumper crop of kittens, right? Learn more about kitten development in this post.

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One of 30 kittens at an adoption event where I was asked to take pictures…this baby was adopted, YAY! Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

Thank heavens for fostering kittens, dedicated shelter staff, and you–yes, YOU, one of the folks who volunteer, visit to help socialize the pets, donate your time or toys, or just SHARE this message to help give cats a paws up. Just spreading good information about care helps ensure kitties get the best chance for adoption. Y’all do the work of the angels.

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Bottle babies abound during kitten season! Image courtesy of Tonya Jensen

KITTEN SOCIALIZATION & CAT TRAINING

Yes, kittens (and cats) CAN be trained! I know that I’m preaching to the choir. Never doubt that you can make a positive difference while fostering, helping the babies through proper socialization.

In many cases, the new kitten will join an existing cat lover’s home and need introduction help. They may even get adopted by a family with DOGS! Learn about dog to cat intros here.

While we teach human kids the three Rs, kitten socialization involves learning the Three Ts.

Touching

Touch the baby all over gently with pets, handling the ears, paws, tummy and more. Being taught that touch is pleasant helps with bonding to people, and hearkens back to how Mom-Cat cared for her babies. A kitten that accepts and trusts handling will be less stressed by veterinary exams, and so get proper timely care as she grows up.

Talking

Kittens don’t use words to communicate but will need to pay attention to humans who do talk. She won’t understand all your words but certainly understand the emotion. You can teach kittens to pay attention to humans simply by responding to them with the same words and phrases each time. Try saying, “You’re beautiful.” or “I love you.” or “I’ll keep you safe, baby.” And mean it–and she’ll understand, and blossom and BECOME beautiful, and more confident.

Timing

Available on all Ebook, audio, and print book platforms!

Kittens and adult cats pay exquisite attention to the details of their life. They easily learn consequences when they make mistakes (or do something right) if you tell them THAT is what I like, or THAT is not acceptable. Since cats do NOT respond well to punishment, think about catching kittens and cats in the act of doing something RIGHT and rewarding the behavior with praise, toys, healthy treats, or praise. Give the reward immediately–timing is key–to ensure good communication.

I include socialization details (and more) in my award-winning COMPLETE KITTEN CARE book (hardcover now discounted in time for the holidays!).

Do you volunteer at your local shelter? Do you foster? How did you find your kitty-of-your dreams? Do tell! Read more tips here about adopting kittens.

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I recommend nothing unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Matchmaking Tips for Cats & Dogs & Introducing Pets

Do you know how to introduce dogs to cats? Or how to choose the right pet for your existing pet home? This past week’s behavior consults included a family with two cats wanting to introduce a young German Shepherd to their life. The couple has had lots of dog and cat experience but wanted specific tips to smooth the transition and keep their kitties happy and safe.

Image courtesy of DepositPhotos.com

Image courtesy of DepositPhotos.com

I applaud anyone willing to take these steps! It reminded me of years ago, when we introduced our eight-week-old eleven-pound Magical-Dawg to nine-year-old seven-pound Seren-Kitty. Every pet home has a different dynamic, and even previously dog-friendly cats may not take kindly to a new (scary-smelling-acting) stranger pooch. Here are some considerations when choosing a new furry love to join your existing pet family.

CATS & DOGS MATCHMAKING TIPS

Easy-going dog breeds that don’t view smaller critters as LUNCH! make the best doggy friends for cats. You can also predict some behaviors with puppy temperament tests.

A dog already socialized to a cat is best. Learn more about puppy development and socialization in this post. Adult cats that have already lived with and been socialized to dogs also help speed up the introduction process. Kittens that are clueless may be more accepting of a new dog friend, especially if they’ve seen Mom-Cat be friendly with those weird-smelling bark machines. Learn more about kitten development here, and also choosing kittens in this post.

Be aware that dogs’ and cats’ body language can mean contradictory things, so YOU need to interpret for them. Wagging dog tails invite you closer, but wagging cat tails warn you away. Just be sure your dog doesn’t get a face full of claws for being too nosy–that’s a terrible way to start a relationship.

Both pets need to be healthy. Cats need preventive care just like dogs do, and kitties that feel under the weather from illness or being spayed/neutered need time to recover before meeting the dog.

Savvy dog folks know that dog-to-dog intros work best on neutral territory–that’s outside your home, perhaps at a park. But cat intros for safety reasons need to happen INSIDE the house, so there are some clear differences in setting up the steps. You’ll find lots more details and how-to help for dealing with cat-dog challenges in my ComPETability(Cats-Dogs) book, but here are tips for getting started to build your very own peaceable kingdom between cats and dogs.

Read for more details about introducing cats to cats, refer to this post.

NEW-CatDogCompet-lorezHOW TO INTRODUCE CATS TO DOGS

  • Sequester the new pet in a single room with all the necessary accouterments (bed, litter box, chew toys, etc). Choose a room with a door that shuts completely, such as a second bedroom. Isolating the new pet tells your resident pets that only a small portion of the house has been invaded, not all the territory. Isolate the new pet in this one room for at least a week.
  • Expect cats to posture or hiss and dogs to sniff, whine, growl or bark on each side of the closed door. Feel encouraged once the barking and hissing fade, the canine “play-bows” at the door, or the pair play patty-cake-paws under the door.
  • After the new pet has been in the room alone for a few days, and any hisses or growls have faded, bring out something the new pet has scented. Choose something like a plate of food where she just ate. Allow your dog to smell it. THAT’LL bring on the wags!
  • Next, allow your new pet to explore the rest of the house while the resident dog stays outside in the yard. Alternately, have the resident cats wait in the vacated doggy isolation room to become more familiar with his strange smells, while the new dog sniffs around the rest of the house.
  • Install a baby gate in the isolation room so the pair can meet at their own speed but through the safety of the barrier.
  • Once the new pet feels comfortable navigating your house and meeting the other pet through the baby gate, prepare for whisker-to-whisker meetings. Avoid fanfare. Put the dog on a leash and then open the baby gate and watch what happens. Keep the pets away from halls, doorways or other closely confined spaces during initial meetings. An open room with lots of space reduces tension and gives the cat places to escape and you more control. The leash controls doggy lunges just in case.
  • Feed both pets during this initial meeting, on opposite ends of a room to distract them and also help them associate FOOD with each others’ presence. Peanut butter treats work well for dogs, and a stinky canned cat food for cats. Make these treats only available when the other animal is nearby to associate each other with good stuff.
  • Alternatively, engage them in play. Whoever your dog feels closest to should interact with the cat, so Rex sees YOU accept the kitty and will be more willing to follow his beloved owner’s example. Please be aware–unlike dogs, cats play SILENTLY, so if your cat vocalizes during interaction with the dog, the kitty isn’t happy. Separate them and try again later.
  • Continue to segregate the new pet in her safe room whenever you cannot directly supervise the pair. Most cats can jump over or can squeeze through the baby gate and regulate interactions. Continue to offer more planned meetings for another week, monitoring the dog until he can control himself and respects the cat even when off-leash.

REALISTIC GOALS FOR CAT AND DOG INTRODUCTIONS

Some pets become fast friends very quickly. Others dislike each other and always require supervision. Usually, pets learn to tolerate each other, especially if you’ve followed the match-making tips previously mentioned.

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It took time, but eventually with some very-yummy-cat-treats Seren deigned to come within sight of the Magical-Pup. Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

We began introductions six months before Magic even arrived, We installed a dog crate and pet gates in the kitchen, and moved the litter box to a safe place. After the puppy arrived, we took it slow. It took Seren three months to come downstairs when Magic was awake in the kitchen, but she finally got curious and peeked under the blanket that covered the baby gate. It took her another three months to feel comfortable enough to tell him off.

Seren never cared for Magic. She finally learned to tolerate him, mostly because we made sure the dog knew the CAT ruled and could do no wrong. As she got older, and couldn’t run as fast, she allowed him closer and he always respected her hisses to back off.

Magic-Karma

Magic alerted me that Karma-the-Stray needed our help, so it’s only natural they’re best buddies. Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

MAGIC ADOPTS A CAT

When Karma came home, it was love at first sight between the kitten and German Shepherd. Magic finally had a cat that would (SWOON!) let him sniff kitty tail! The introduction that took six-nine months with Magic and Seren only lasted three days between these best friends. Karma-Kat had already met dogs in his previous life, and loved them.

After Magic left this world, we adopted Bravo-Dawg as much to satisfy Karma’s yearning for a dog friend as our own. He looked very different, and introductions took about two weeks before Karma decided to adopt Bravo-Dawg as his new best friend. Because of the great size difference (Bravo 120 pounds, and Karma 12 pounds), we supervised constantly.

INTRODUCING CATS TO DOGS

Then Shadow-Pup arrived, and we needed to introduce him to both Bravo and to Karma. The puppy clearly had been around other dogs and gave Bravo all the right puppy-subordinate signals. They became friends within the week–still supervised, again because of the size difference, and Bravo’s potential pain issues from his cancer.

Shadow had the benefit of watching Bravo’s behavior with Karma, and the cat knew exactly how to handle the pup. Today the pair play chase, “bitey-face” wrestling games, and adore each other. We’re fortunate but I don’t take it for granted and we constantly monitor and reinforce good behavior. Read more about Bravo, Shadow, and Karma intros in this fun post with pictures.

So what are you waiting for? Maybe another pet needs you–and your dog wants a kitty friend of his very own, or your cat would love to have a dog to snuggle (or tell off!). Take it from Magic, Bravo, Shadow, and Karma–as long as you introduce them right, a cat and dog can be best friends.

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I recommend nothing unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Get the Sweet Smell of Success Choosing a New Cat Litter: Here’s How

For those of us who live with cats, and especially multi-cat households, choosing new cat litter is a very big deal. My Seren-Kitty (age 20!) and Karma-Kat have very different potty behavior, with the expected stink-icity. Cat litter odor offends us all, so it’s important to choose a new cat litter wisely. Read about kinds of litter and the history of litter here.

NOTE: This is an update of an older post. Even though Seren-Kitty has transitioned to her next life, much of the information remains helpful.

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Seren (left) and Karma rule my life–and that’s the way it should be, right?

AN ODOR-FREE HOME IS A HAPPY HOME

Cat litter odor means the world to cats. I’ve been “auditioning” several different cat litters over the past nine months or so. My old lady cat, Seren, is in early kidney disease and urinates a LOT. She also has decided to leave her “solids” uncovered. That may be to give an odiferous and visual message to the young interloper, Karma, or perhaps her paw-arthritis makes it painful to dig. Read this post for tips dealing with old cats.

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Karma’s facilities are in the master bath to contain his digging antics. We use a jumbo-size storage bin…and yes, he’s got a nice view of the stained glass to inspire him. Note: We recently relocated his box from the tub, into the laundry room. Read about that here.

Karma is more than twice her size, with understandably jumbo-size deposits. We were maintaining odor control pretty well (I’m a fanatic about keeping boxes clean) until Karma decided he should claim both his own big litter box in our master bathroom and Seren’s smaller one in the living room. He can barely turn around in that little thing…but he’s determined.

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I have another very large, low-sided litter box in my office upstairs…but when Seren decided this corner next to the piano was preferable, I listened. It gives her a clear view to avoid Karma-Monster.

CAT LITTER ODOR MATTERS TO YOU & CATS

Yeah, cat litter odor next to the piano. Oy. I was spending a LOT of time cleaning, swapping out box contents, changing from one litter to another, and keeping paws crossed that wouldn’t upset the kitties. After all, if the smell bothered me, the cats also could get hissed off. Humans typically have five to 20 million scent analyzing cells, compared to the cat’s 67 million. The king of scenting animals, the Blood Hound, has 300 million olfactory cells.

And German Shepherds, like Magical-Dawg, actually LIKE the pee-poo cat smell. So we not only had an odor issue but a nasty-dog-treat issue.

The bigger issue is–when the litter box odor bothers YOU, it bothers CATS and they’ll find another place to get creative. Complicating matters, litter with heavy perfumes also STINK to the cat, and they’ll also snub the litter box. That can mean some cats lose their homes or even their lives.

IT’S UP TO THE CAT

Cat litter box problems are the top complaint I get as a certified animal behavior consultant. I take it very seriously in my own home, and bottom line, it’s up to the cat to decide. It doesn’t matter nearly so much if I love the litter or hate it. My Seren-Kitty and Karma-Kat have veto power.

Because we have an off-white carpet, I’m not a fan of dark color litter. Pretty much all litter tracks, and it looks worse when the color contrasts. I’m also not a fan of very heavy clay products–my shoulders protest lugging the containers. And I’m really not a fan of strongly perfumed litter products. Yes, I’ve had all sorts of substrates in the box, and for the most part, my cats have been very flexible (I’m very lucky!). But with a variety of products from which to choose, the chances are good that one will fit even the most persnickety human’s (or cat’s) preference.

When you find a product your cats use religiously, don’t mess with success. Stick with the one your cats vote to use with their (ahem) liquid and solid approval.

CHOOSING A NEW LITTER

When choosing a new cat litter product, it’s best to keep one box the same. You don’t want to bet on the cat liking something new and have the cat veto you in no uncertain terms.

At the beginning of October, I changed Seren’s small litter box next to the piano. I left Karma’s box status quo for a couple of weeks. It’s never a good idea to abruptly change all options at once, so I wanted to make sure that both cats still had a choice (so my off white carpet wouldn’t turn another shade of crappiocca).

Seren immediately accepted the new product, yay! And within only a couple of days, my husband no longer asked me, “Did you scoop the box yet?” The cat litter odor did, indeed, disappear even though Karma decided he liked the smaller living room potty even better!

So now both the downstairs litter boxes contain the new litter, both cats are using their facilities, and Magical-Dawg has stopped “snacking.”


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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I recommend nothing unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Nailing Pet Claws: How to Trim A Pet’s Nails

Do you know how to trim a pet’s nails? Magic and Bravo both had jumbo-size nail claws and paws. Shadow’s nails are much smaller but used just as effectively to hold down toys, scratch himself, pounce on grasshoppers, and paw-pat (or paw-pound!) everything of interest. Karma-Kat’s claws and paws, even smaller, work just as well for his size. Whether big and blunt, or small and sharp, pet claws need nail trimming to stay healthy.

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Cat claws need trims, too.

Why Trim A Pet’s Nails

Most active dogs allowed to run outside naturally wear down the nails to a manageable length. Outside dogs may not need frequent nail trimming. However, dogs that spend most of their time inside–like Shadow–often require monthly or more frequent claw trimming attention. Even cats who hone nails on scratch objects benefit from regular claw clipping sessions. In my experience, the smaller the pet, the more quickly claws grow. Learn why declaw surgery isn’t a good idea, and all about cat scratch training here. By relieving cat stress you also can reduce illegal clawing.

Over-grown dog nails and cat claws can become caught in bedding and carpets and may split or tear. My old lady Seren-Kitty had that happen! She hung her dew-claw on bedding (thank goodness I work at home and immediately found her). She split the nail to the quick! Outside dogs also can split nails. Magical-Dawg tore his dewclaw from rough-housing and chasing in the field.

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Neatly trimmed dog claws keep paws healthy.

When Do Nails Need Trimming?

Keeping the toenails trimmed keeps them healthier. It also helps reduce inappropriate digging some dogs are prone to indulge. Dewclaws on the inside of the lower leg need particular attention since they never contact the ground and can grow longer, or even into a circle and grow INTO the flesh.

Dog nails at their longest should just clear the ground when the dog is standing. If you hear him “clicking” over the linoleum like a tap-dancer, he needs a trim. Overgrown nails cause the foot to spread or splay and can even curl and grow back into the dog’s flesh.

Most cat claws won’t “click” when very long. Healthy cat claws at rest will retract into the toes leaving soft-looking paws. But old cats and some kitties suffering metabolic disorders like hyperthyroidism develop thickened claws that don’t easily retract. When Seren-Kitty grew very old into her late teens and early twenties, she couldn’t care for her claws through clawing and nibbling. Her old cat claws became so thick, she couldn’t retract them, and also “clicked” when walking on hard surfaces.

Your groomer or veterinarian can trim a pet’s nails at routine visits. We did this with Bravo, so he got used to visiting our vet staff and enjoyed interacting with his medical team.

 

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how to trim a dog's nails

How to trim a dog’s nails.

Pet Nail Trimmers, Files, and Pet Persuasion

But it’s easy enough to clip claws yourself. I’ve trimmed Shadow’s claws from the beginning, as well as Karma-Kat’s claws regularly. Choose a convenient and SHARP clipper for the best results.

A variety of commercial nail trimmers are available with scissor-action or guillotine-style to cut the dog’s toenails and cat’s claws at the proper angle without splitting or crushing the nail. For small claws (like cats), human nail clippers also work well to snip off the sharp hook end. Choose the tool that you feel most comfortable with.

I’m a big fan of the Zen Clipper, sized for tiny to jumbo claws. The design helps prevent cutting too close or catching fur during trims. The scissor design makes it easy to handle. Cat version handles little claws, while a larger adjustable Zen Clipper works on small to large dog claws.

Cats smooth off rough edges after trims on scratching posts. But dog nails may need to be filed after trimming. Use an emery board, or a nail file available from a pet supply store to smooth the edges and keep them from getting caught in the carpet.

You can also explore using a nail filing/grinding tool that many professional groomers use. That also requires teaching pets to tolerate the noise and sensation, as well as paw handling required for all pet nail care.

Much easier to trim a Rottweiler’s nails when the dog willingly offers a paw.

Preparing for Clipping Claws

Many pets dislike having their paws handled. So I recommend gently handling paws as soon as a new pet arrives. Partner paw handling with favorite treats to associate toe touches as a positive experience.

With youngsters, trim just the tip of the nails every week. If they don’t need it, simply touch the claw trimmer, and make the clipping noise, so he knows it’s not painful or scary. Create a routine from the beginning as part of grooming care. What he learns to accept as a puppy or kitten predicts tolerance as an adult. This is particularly helpful with large-breed dogs like my Magical-Dawg German Shepherd or Mastiff breeds like Bravo who handle more easily while puppy-size.

Choose a location where you can easily handle your pet. I sit on the floor to trip Shadow’s dog claws. For Karma-Kat, we trim nails on the bathroom vanity, where he gets treats–already a positive association.

All the nails don’t have to be done in the same session. If you’re having difficulty getting the job done, finish the other toes later. Aim for one or two nails at a time, once a week, and you’ll have all four paws finished within a couple of weeks.

trim cat claws

Gently press the cat’s paw to express the claw, then snip the end.

How to Trim a Pet’s Claws

It’s helpful to have two pairs of hands during nail trimming, one to steady the paw while you handle the clippers. A wiggling pet makes it more likely you’ll catch the hair in the trimmer (painful!) or “quick” the nails, cut into the living vessels that feed the nail bed, and cause them to bleed. If you do happen to quick a nail, use a styptic pencil or corn starch and direct pressure to stop the bleeding, or rake the claw through a bar of soap.

When the nails are white or clear, the pink quick is visible and makes it easy to avoid the danger zone. However, dog toenails are often dark or opaque and hide the quick. So clip off only the hook-like tip portion that turns down. This is especially important if the nail has overgrown because the quick will grow further down, too. The same goes for cats—simply snip off the needle tip. Tipping the nails will prompt the quick to draw back up, so you can trim a little each week until reaching the proper length.

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LickiMats can be smeared with a soft treat to keep pet’s focussed. The red dial on the adjustable Zen Clipper lets you size the clipper opening to your pet’s nail. And the smaller size Zen Clipper (in my hand) works great for cats.

Bribes Are Legal!

I’m a big fan of “LickiMats.” There are several kinds available, and work to distract and reward the dog or cat for tolerating grooming or other hands-on attention. Smear something the pet loves on the licky-mat. Peanut butter works great for Shadow-Pup, and Karma-Kat loves cream cheese or smelly canned food. While the pet licks, you can clip one or two nails, wait a day or two, and repeat.

Practice patience. Don’t hurry. Nails stay in good shape ass long as all the nails get trimmed every two or three weeks.

Always reward your dog or cat for enduring a nail trim. Reserve a special treat he gets only after a successful nail trim, and soon you’ll have your pet begging for a pedicure. So, do you trim your pet’s claws? Do tell!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I recommend nothing unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Always Remember, Never Forget ALL the Heroes

On the twentieth anniversary, we salute and remember and cherish those who protected us and sacrificed so much. Thank you to the heroes, one and all.

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911Dog2 See slide show from the book (above).
911-dog Canine Health Center monitored health of the 911 dogs. It’s the least we can do for our canine heroes.
Retrieved Pictures of the 911 canine heroes.

And more here about our heroes.

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I recommend nothing unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!