Friday, December 31, 2010

Cat dandruff: What it is and what you can do about it

Maggie sometimes deals with cat dandruff

My husband and I joke that Maggie was a princess in a previous life. She does not play, and gets quite offended if the other cats try to play with her. She does not get any sort of dirt or moisture on her fur without going into an immediate and lengthy grooming session. She also takes a very long time to eat her food, as she must take each grain individually and chew it thoroughly. She will not interact with strangers, unless she is properly introduced.

I imagine that her latest health problem is very offensive to her ladylike sensibilities:  She has cat dandruff.

Small, white flakes are all over her back and head, and they stand out very clearly from her black fur.

She has this problem every winter, when the air is cold and dry. Her skin is sensitive, and just cannot take the winter air. So every holiday season, her fur is decorated with festive little flakes.

Some cat people add humidifiers to their homes in order to keep the air moist and comfortable. That's one option, but there are other things cat people can do to make things better.

For example, I supplement with fish oil. This natural cat food supplement provides Maggie's skin with the vitamins and minerals it needs in order to hang together when the air is dry. One little squirt is really all it takes to help her fur shine and her skin stay together.

I also look for opportunities to brush Maggie. It seems counter-intuitive, I know, but a brush can help with flaky skin. Each stroke helps to distribute the oils evenly throughout the entire coat, and that can help reduce the dander factor.

Here's hoping the princess will be back to normal soon. She really hates the flakes!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Communal cats: Adopt more than one!

Cats sometimes appreciate living in communities

The Oregon Humane Society recently took in nearly 75 kittens ranging in age from three to six months. This is truly an amazing amount of kittens, and the Humane Society is serious about trying to place them all in new homes. In fact, they’re dropping the price for a kitten to $50, which is about half the normal price. Additionally, new owners can adopt a second kitten for half price.

It’s a great idea to adopt two kittens at once. Kittens are wild, rambunctious animals that need a lot of playtime and roughhousing. Most kittens would prefer to do these play activities in the middle of the night, when you would probably like to be sleeping. Bringing home a pair of kittens may help you preserve your sleep while they play with one another. Kittens will also teach one another important lessons about how hard to bite during playtime.

The Humane Society is also offering discounts on adoptions of older cats. The first cat is just $25, and the second cat is free.  I think this is an amazingly good idea. Many of the cats at the shelter live in a communal area, and may have formed tight relationships with one another. Bringing a bonded pair into your home allows them to keep that relationship intact, and allows them to lean on one another as they learn the ropes at your house.

Bringing home just one cat to blend with your existing cats is always an option, of course. Watch the new cat closely before adoption, and ask about his/her temperament and previous living arrangement. Look for a cat that is similar in temperament to your existing cat.  In the cat world, opposites truly do not attract. Cats who are too dissimilar usually just fight.

I have successfully integrated small kittens into my home with my older cat. Lucy was brought home when Eamon was 8 years old. Eamon is a busy, needy, curious guy, so he appreciated having a young wrestling partner. His former wrestling partner, Maggie, was no longer interested in this sort of play, so she was glad to pass on the torch and step in an a snuggling partner when playtime was over. 

I think cats truly do better in pairs or trios. I hope this drive at the Humane Society is a success, and they’ll continue the plan in the new year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pets and Christmas trees: How to reduce holiday hazards for your dogs and cats

This Christmas tree is a safe option for Liam the pug

Christmas trees can be dangerous for dogs and cats. Curious creatures can climb on the trees and knock them over, breaking bones in the process and scattering shards of glass about. Pets can nibble on the branches. Since both live and artificial trees are typically not digestible, this can lead to vomiting or gastric blockages. Preservatives used in the water of live trees can also be toxic to pets.

After consulting this laundry list of worries, I decided to stop bringing any sort of full-sized tree into my home. The holidays are stressful enough without the worry (and expense) of emergency veterinary visits.

Instead, I use this vintage ceramic tree (which was an eBay find).

It's small (Liam is shown here as a size reference), so I keep it on a high table, away from curious pets. I spray the cord with Bitter Apple periodically, to keep the cats from chewing on the cord. I only turn the tree on when I am home and can keep an eye on it.

When I feel the urge to see a full-sized tree in all its glory, I take Liam for an evening walk and look at the trees that light up my neighbors' windows. Liam gets an extra walk out of the deal, and I get to enjoy the holiday scene. Everybody wins!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cats and candles: How to keep your home safe from fire

Cats getting too close to candles can lead to a fire

I use many candles to decorate the house around the holidays. I love filling the house with warm and shimmering light. And while my cats are not allowed on counter tops or the tops of dining room tables, they are allowed to climb upon coffee tables and windowsills.

Often, this means they're sharing space with candles. And that means trouble.

When I first started living with cats, I thought they would avoid fire. All of my dogs give lit candles and open fireplaces a wide berth. But my cats all seem fascinated by fire. Eamon will go so far as to dip his paw in a candle, catch his hair on fire and shake his paw to put the fire out. He has also jumped up on a table and caught his belly on fire with a lit candle (he rolled on the carpet and put himself out).

Because of Eamon, we no longer keep lit candles on our coffee tables and windowsills. We place these items on our mantle, where he cannot reach them. On occasion, I will place a candle in a hurricane lamp on the table, but only if I am right next to the candle itself and can keep curious cats away.

What do you to to protect your home from cat fire? That's a question you should be asking yourself, right now. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Submissive urination: What it is and how to make your dog stop doing it

Small puppies like Liam can be submissive pee-ers

A word of warning:  If Liam does not know you and you rush to greet him, prepare to get wet.

Case in point:  Over the weekend, we took Liam to a local pet boutique to pick out his Christmas gifts. It was a busy day, with shoppers galore, and we were busy looking at the merchandise.A clerk at the store bent over at the waist and petted Liam on the head, all the while using a high, sing-song voice.

Liam seemed thrilled with this treatment, and responded with a nice little puddle on the floor.

This submissive urination is very common in puppies. Sensitive, small dogs often respond to what they think is a threat with urination. This shows the aggressor that they intend no harm.

Most dogs outgrow this, as they become more confident. Liam has always been extremely confident, but he still responds to overwhelming greetings with urination, and I doubt that's something that will change.

There are, however, things that I can do that I haven't been doing. I should:
  • Restrict his access to people who greet him with high voices.
  • Allow new people to pet him on his chest and back, but not his head (this is less scary for a small dog).
  • Encourage people to crouch down to pet him, rather than bending over.
  • Make him sit in a calm position before he can be petted.
This is a lot tougher than my tried-and-true method: Picking him up when I think he's getting too excited. This works, as he seems more confident when I am holding him, and people are less likely to pet him on his head when he is in my arms. But it doesn't teach him anything.

Yet another resolution to add to the list.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Should you buy pet insurance?

Older cats like Jasper might need pet health insurance
Note: This is a very old blog post that no longer reflects my opinion on this subject. For a more comprehensive view of this issue (with new data!), click here

Last week, I took Jasper in for his advanced dental cleaning. He had a significant case of tartar buildup, and had multiple teeth pulled. He was under anesthesia for this procedure (of course), and at 10 years old, he's an older cat. As a result, he had extensive blood work testing performed, to ensure he could have anesthesia and still wake up without complications.

The final price tag for all of this work was close to $800.

Now, that's reasonable, considering the significant amount of work he had done. But several people have asked me if I had pet insurance, implying that if I did have insurance, the costs would have been covered.

I do not have pet insurance, and I don't advise it for most pet owners I know.

Many veterinary insurance policies contain hidden clauses that protect the company from large claims. A policy I considered for Liam (very briefly) wouldn't have paid for anything "known to affect the breed." This means all eye issues, hip issues and skin issues wouldn't have been covered. Additionally, any problems caused by "owner neglect" would not have been covered.

I couldn't think of anything that might happen to him that wouldn't fall within these two categories. Bee sting? Owner neglect! Skin rash? Breed-specific problem! Luxating patella? Breed-specific problem AND owner neglect (if I let him get fat first).

I do keep a savings account for my pets. And I do my due diligence to keep them healthy at home. I consider these steps the best kind of insurance.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pet lover green tip: Buy durable dog toys

Liam loves to destroy his toys
Liam loves stuffed dog toys. In particular, he loves to stand on them while he pulls upward with his teeth. He has a particular fondness for removing ears, feet and tails.

I know this is a common trait in dogs.

Most dogs love to break through the fabric on a toy to get to the soft filling. And most soft dog toys contain a label, telling you to "remove" the toy if it has holes and tears.

For most dog owners, "remove" equals "landfill." And since most toys are not made of biodegradable materials, you're tossing in a toy that will stay in the system for (possibly) hundreds of years.

A solution? I look for toys that claim to be made for "aggressive chewers." I stand in the store and try to tear ears and feet off the toys with my hands. If I can't feel the toy give, it's usually a good choice. If Liam tears that toy within a month, I won't ever buy that toy again. If it survives a month, I'll buy more.

If Liam does tear a toy, I'll repair it a few times before I give up on it entirely. I use embroidery thread and small, tight stitches. This explains why Liam's toy baskets are full of earless, footless, mutant toys.

I also limit his exposure to stuffed toys. If he begins the stand-and-tear trick, the toy goes up on a high shelf.

Is this system perfect? No. But does it reduce his impact on the environment? I'd like to think so.

Missed the other posts in this green pet series? Click here

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Pet lover green tip: Use biodegradable dog pickup bags

Dogs like Liam need biodegradable pickup bags
While it may be unpleasant, all dog owners should pick up after their dogs while on walks, hiking and camping.  Dog waste transmits disease, and is incredibly disgusting to walk through (as we all know).

But the way in which we get rid of dog waste is less than ideal. 

It has always troubled me that people put something compostable (dog waste) into a plastic wrapper.  This essentially seals the waste inside of a shell and keeps it from being broken down naturally. And that could have a huge impact on the environment.

Let's do the math.

I use two bags per day, on average.  If each bag takes 100 years or so to decompose, that’s a gigantic amount of plastic I could stuff into the landfill for later generations to marvel over.

Compostable pickup bags are a great solution to this problem.

They do provide an adequate barrier between the droppings and your hand, but they will break down naturally. You may be able to put them in with your compost for pickup. And even if you put them in the landfill, they will break down. Some people advocate flushing the bags themselves, but I have old pipes, so I won’t be trying this option.

So remember: Look for bags that break down the next time you're searching for poop solutions.

And did you miss the other posts in this series? Click here

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pet lover green tip: Choose eco-friendly cat litter

I have written on this blog about cat litters (I think I even used this photo of Lucy hovering by her cat box). At the time, I couldn't find an eco-friendly cat litter that my cats would use. This was a sting to my conscience, as I know many commercial cat litters contain clay harvested through strip mining. For more on that topic, click here.

Since that time, I have switched my cats to World's Best Cat Litter. This stuff is made out of corn, so it's natural and biodegradable. You can even compost used cat litter. This litter got national attention recently on the Colbert Report.

My cats do not prefer this cat litter, although they seem to moving toward a slow acceptance. I began the process by adding about a tablespoon of the new litter to their old litter. Each time I scooped out the box, I replaced the soiled litter with the new litter. All was going swimmingly until the cats were left with nothing but the new litter in their upstairs cat box. Now they are only using the downstairs cat box, which still contains a bit of old litter.

So I am starting the transition process again. Given the desecration of the environment caused by traditional cat litter, I simply must stop buying it.

If I've persuaded you to even consider trying this new litter, I've done my job. Give it a try!

Missed the last post in this series? Click here

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pet lover green tip: Spay and neuter

Tiny kittens like Maggie can have a huge environmental impact
A friend of mine who is active in the green movement once told me she was essentially fighting waste.

Many people use something just once, or only for a short time, and then discard it without considering how much energy is spent to make the thing or thinking about where the waste goes.

I think this same analogy could apply to companion animals.

Nearly everyone will find a puppy or kitten adorable and cuddly. (Maggie, shown here at 8 weeks old, is nearly cute enough to eat.) But many people will treat these animals like so much garbage when they are grown. Go on and search for animals older than 2 years old. Chances are, you'll find that most adoptable animals are this age or older. They were purchased as babies, discarded as adults.

We all know that many, many animals are euthanized in shelters across the country. Many lose their lives simply because there is no place for them to go. This seems the textbook definition of waste: old things are thrown out while new things are being produced.

This is the reason I believe any responsible pet owner should spay and neuter. And I think this topic rightfully belongs on a list of green tips meant to reduce waste.

Myths about the surgeries are numerous and persistent. However, allowing a female animal to have a litter of babies does not make her healthier as an adult. Allowing a male animal to be neutered does not make him less "manly." Having a litter of animals from one pet will not result in an exact duplication of that pet. Any time you hear someone say something like this, ask that person to stop and research the facts. Send the person to this link.

After you have spayed/neutered your own pets, consider donating to the Oregon Spay and Neuter Fund or participating in one of the fundraisers the organization holds. This organization provides financial assistance for low income families to spay and neuter their animals. It's a great way to have a bigger impact on the pet overpopulation problem in Oregon.

Missed the first entry in this series of green tips for pet lovers? Click here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pet lover green tip: Reduce energy consumption

Two cats in one bed
This week, I'll be writing a series of articles outlining things you can do to reduce the environmental impact of your animals.

Let's start with the obvious: Reduce the amount of energy you spend on keeping your animals "comfortable."

A passing glance through any animal supply catalog will turn up an alarming amount of devices that need to be plugged in. Water dishes, orthopedic beds and videos are just a few examples. I'll bet you have many of these devices, too. But do you need them all?

Look at how much your animal actually benefits from these items before you plug them in and ignore them. If your dog only spends his nights in his heated bed, don't plug it in all day. If your cat doesn't watch television, don't play the video on your DVD player all day. In general, opt for toys, beds and accessories that do not have to be connected to a power source.

Similarly, consider how much energy you spend on the atmosphere of your house. Your cats likely do not need to have the living room lights on all day, as cats have wonderful low-light vision. Nor do they need to have the heat cranked to 70 degrees. (My cats prefer to have the house a little cooler, as it gives them more snuggling opportunities.) Dogs with separation anxiety may benefit from a radio playing while you're out. But if your dog is not nervous and does fine without it, leave the radio off.

Reducing your energy consumption in even these small ways can have a big impact on the amount of energy power companies need to generate.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Coffee cup or lifesaver? (Or the tale of a dog walk gone wrong)

A coffee cup like this can be really handy when a dog attacks
Every morning, I walk with Liam. I carry along a cup of coffee to help me wake up. Until this morning, that has been its only purpose.

Now, I may add "weapon" to its list of intended uses.

Today, a crazed mixed-breed dog came roaring across the street at us. This dog was quite large, probably close to 70 pounds, and he meant business. His hair was up, his tail was down, and he was nearly silent. He was in a low run, aiming right for Liam.

Even though I had only been awake for 10 minutes, I had pretty quick reflexes (if I can be forgiven for complimenting myself). I hauled Liam up by his harness and held him in my left hand. This is one of the main reasons Liam wears a harness: it makes it much, much easier to pick him up.

I pick Liam up often, especially when we're dealing with unfamiliar dogs. Why? Because, typically, a dog will stop charging when Liam is up in the air. Most dogs realize they have to deal with me at this point, and they back off.

This dog, however, was on a mission.

So on to Phase 2. I started yelling, as loud as I could, "No!" "No!" "No!" This likely doesn't make my neighbors happy, but this approach also has worked in the past. Most dogs know at least this one word.

But I again had no success. By this time, the dog was at my feet, preparing to lunge up and bite Liam while he was in my arms.

So then came the nuclear option. I threw the steel cup full of very hot coffee at this dog.

I was worried I wouldn't have good aim, but since he dog was close enough, it wasn't difficult to score a direct hit to the muzzle. When the dog had a good whack on the nose with a very hard mug, and had a mane full of steaming coffee, he stopped.

His owner came out to retrieve him, likely drawn by my yelling. I tried to talk to him about this dog, and what had happened, but I didn't make any progress. I wonder if he'll notice that his dog smells like coffee with cream.

I've said it before on this blog, and I'm sure I will say it again:  If you have a dog-aggressive dog, please keep the dog under your firm control at all times. It only takes a moment for something like this to happen. In the interim, I am considering bringing coffee on my afternoon walks as well. We may need the protection. And I may need to buy a new mug. It looks like mine is dented.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Microchips and recordkeeping: Is your pup's chip up-to-date?

Liam seems safe with his microchip, but he could be at risk
When Liam was under anesthesia for his neuter surgery, I had a microchip placed. These tiny chips are placed underneath the skin with not-so-tiny needles, so I wanted to make sure he wasn't awake when the procedure took place.

Since that time, I've gotten married, moved, changed my name and changed my email address (you'd think I was part of a witness-protection program, but I assure you that this is not the case). That's a whole lot of change, and It suddenly occurred to me that, if Liam ran off and the finders attempted to reunite him with his family via his chip, they would have an extremely difficult time.

They might try to call my old numbers and get nothing but dead air. Same goes for email. And every day of delay could be agony for me, when I am waiting to be reunited with my little dog. 

So I called the company this morning and updated his information. In the process, I found out they had him listed as an all black pug mix. I had that corrected as well.

The company tells me that they will contact me (for a small fee, of course) at least once per year to ensure that all of his information is up-to-date.

Grudgingly, I will pay this fee.

During my time as a veterinary office worker, I encountered at least two dogs with out-of-date microchips. In both cases, the owners seem to have simply disappeared, and the dogs stayed with the people who found them. I'd hate to think of something similar happening to my little wild pug.

So, dear readers, I urge you to think about how many changes you've been through since your little dogs were chipped. It might be time for you to clean things up, too!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pug facials: The spa treatment could keep your dog's face clean

Liam the pug is wondering if it is time for his pug facial
As most people know, pugs have no muzzles to speak of. Their faces are compressed and their heads are nearly round.

They're adorable, of course, but while pugs lost bone in the breeding process, they lost no skin. And that can cause a lot of problems.

Most pugs have deep wrinkles around their noses, right underneath their eyes. Most pugs also have watery eyes from time to time. Add damp tears to deep wrinkles and you can end up with skin infections. These typically manifest as redness, combined with a powerful and unforgettable smell.

Pug facials can help, and they're really easy to do.

I clean out Liam's skin wrinkles once a week with a medicated rinse (like DVM Malaseb Flush). I wet a cotton ball with the stuff, wipe out his skin folds, and then dry them off with a fresh cotton ball.

On a good week, we can get through this process with just one wipe. But, there are times when that first swipe comes back with a whole lot of gunk on it. If Liam's eyes have been really watery, or he's been pushing his face into the dirt, he might need quite a few passes of the cleaning wipes. I just repeat that step until the cleansing cotton ball comes back clean. Then I dry things off.

It's not fun for anyone, him or me, but it does keep him out of the veterinarian's office. And for that, I am thankful.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Feline acne: What's that black stuff on your cat's chin?

Lucy deals with feline acne from time to time
Sometimes I struggle with the conflicting goals of keeping Lucy safe, and keeping her healthy.

For example: I have worried about providing ceramic or glass food bowls, as Lucy sometimes misjudges the depth or the width of the bowl and smacks her teeth on the edge. Stainless steel bowls are unbreakable, of course, but they are often made for dogs and have high edges, which also makes them a bad choice for cats as those edges irritate their whiskers. I figured low, plastic bowls were the best bet.

Turns out, we're switching to glass after all. Lucy has come down with a mild case of feline acne. She has two small, black, sore spots on her chin, right where it comes in contact with the edge of the bowl. This is a common allergic reaction to plastic, and should resolve with a few days of cleanings and no contact with plastic.

But I will be sitting with her during the next few meals, to make sure she accepts the new setup without breaking anything.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why you should brush your dog's teeth

Liam the pug likes having his teeth brushed
I'm a do-it-yourself sort of person when it comes to my pets. If I can take care of them at home, I can spare them a stressful trip to the vet and I can spare myself the expense.

This is why I brush Liam's teeth.

Dental cleanings at veterinarian's offices can easily cost $200, and this procedure involves sedation. Putting an animal under sedation is always risky, and should be avoided, if at all possible.

While I know it's likely he will have to have a dental cleaning at the veterinarian's office at some point, brushing his teeth at home helps me reduce the number of times he'll have to have it done.

My expenses are few. I buy dog toothpaste. Liam thinks it tastes great, so he enjoys these sessions. And I have a specialized dog toothbrush that lets me get inside of his tiny mouth with ease.

With those tools, I could probably scrub every inch of Liam's mouth. But, I brush only the outside of his teeth. Brushing the inside of his teeth makes him gag, and plaque doesn't tend to build up there anyway.

I make the sessions quick (about a minute) and I give a treat for his cooperation.

If you're ready to get started, this web site provides a video and good instructions.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Stenoic nares: The reason your dog snorts and snuffles so much

Liam and Seamus show off their stenotic nares
As is typical for most pugs, Liam was born with stenotic nares.  This is a fancy way of saying that instead of having wide-open nostrils, he had small slits.  I could hear him breathing, even when he was not running or playing hard.  His right nostril was particularly pinched, and would sometimes bubble with fluid.  The picture posted shows Liam at about 3 months of age.  You can see how small his nostrils are, especially when compared to the nostrils on his older Boston terrier brother.

I had thought this was normal for a pug.  It made sense that breeds with compressed faces would make more noises when breathing and eating and sleeping.  My veterinarian put me straight, however, and reminded me that this sort of chronic difficulty in breathing could lead to collapse of the trachea or heart failure. 

I had Liam's nostrils corrected when I had him neutered, and I had that surgery take place slightly earlier than I would have preferred.  I wanted him to fill out and grow a little more before he was neutered, but his breathing continued to deteriorate, so he went under at 5 months of age.  He had two small stitches put in each nostril, but was immediately breathing better.  I spent the next several months stepping on him, as I could no longer hear him breathing.

I meet many pugs who have not had this surgery performed, and they are unable to go for long walks or play hard without struggling for air.  It’s depressing, as I didn’t find the surgery overly expensive or hard on Liam.  Finding a good surgeon is important, of course, but for dogs who are struggling to breathe, it is a necessary correction.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Breed ban redux, part 2

Pit bull and her children
As promised, this is the second of two responses I've been mulling over regarding pit bull breed legislation. The discussion below is made up of several email messages I received from Christine Mallar, owner of Green Dog Pet Supply. I found them very illuminating, particularly the idea of the impracticality of increased breed legislation as a whole.

What it comes down to is responsible dog ownership for all breeds. Legislating restrictions on one breed is incredibly impractical, for the very reasons you mentioned, as well as the fact that only the "good" owners would be the ones suffering the ramifications of greater restrictions (people are still chaining dogs, letting them roam unneutered etc.) greater laws don't equal greater funding to enforce them.

There are no end to the numbers of breeds with individuals who are poorly socialized, and a restriction on a certain breed or breed mix doesn't begin to be practical or effective, and doesn't address the bazillion other individuals of other breeds that can be dangerous. I’ve met a Border Collie that I'm terrified of and I'm certain will put someone in the hospital before too long.  Why shouldn't those owners have been required to bring that puppy through classes when it was little?  I assume that acquiring that Border Collie had required planning, was expensive to buy, and his owners thought they were responsible people, but they didn't socialize it at all and it's like a Tasmanian Devil on a leash as a result. It's certainly not that dog's fault - he's terrified to be in public is all, and feels like he's defending his own life when out of the safety of its home. The owners refuse to work with a positive trainer, and so continue to punish that "bad" behavior mercilessly, so the dog is convinced that being near strangers in a strange place is even more dangerous than ever, creating a spiral of aggression.

So often when people say there was no sign of aggression before a bite, they simply weren't picking up on the dog’s cues. Also, so often as a trainer I saw people who punished warning signs repeatedly.  The dog stiffens, or growls when the toddler is manhandling the dog, and the owner punishes the growls over and over. The dog then suppresses the warning signals to avoid the punishment, but this starts having the effect of cutting the rattle off a snake. The tension rises and rises for the dog until something frightening or painful crosses the threshold of what the dog can handle and the dog reacts, and the people say it came out of nowhere. No dog is pathological enough to simply bite with no warning, but dogs all have a limit to what they can handle.  Dogs are dogs, and all dogs can be dangerous.

There have been many speculative reports of throwing numbers around 1800 lbs per square inch bite pressure; however, these are not based in fact.  The scientifically verified number is around 320 psi, the same as all other similarly sized dogs (humans average 175-200 psi by the way).  The larger the dog, the harder the bite, of course, so very large dogs like Rotties, Shepherds, Great Danes, Irish Wolfhounds, etc will be a great deal more powerful than a 45 lb pit bull. Also, no breed that exists has a "locking jaw", so ignore reports of this. All breeds grab and shake as well. An 8 week old Papillon puppy will grab and shake a sock when you're playing with it.

It would be impossible to identify the breeds presented in a mixed breeds dog (in my opinion, those genetic tests aren't worth anything yet), and the breed of a dog does not predict its behavior.  Upbringing/socialization/teaching a soft mouth is critical to all dogs to make them safe to be around. All dogs need responsible ownership to avoid being injurious to others, but that's a very difficult (I'd suggest impossible) thing to legislate.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Breed ban redux, part 1

Loving pit bull and her two children

Previously, I wrote about pit bull breed bans on this blog. At the time, I suggested that it would be advisable to enforce the breed more closely. I've since started to wonder if my response could have been slightly more nuanced.

I asked my cousin how she feels about this topic, as she is a guardian of both a pit bull and two small children. I've posted her comments below (having guest writers makes keeping a blog easy!). Another technical answer from a blog reader will come tomorrow.

My name is Rhiannon and I own two beautiful dogs, one Shepard/chow mix named Angel and a pit bull named Peanut.  They are both great dogs, and I don't think they would know what to do without each other.

We have had Peanut for about 6 years.  He was about 4 months old when we got him, and has been a wonderful and loving dog.  My husband picked him out for me for Valentine's Day but I was very nervous given my assumptions about pits and what they were like.  I told my husband that if the dog ever even looked like he was going to bite/attack someone, then the dog was gone.  My fears were so unfounded.  We have two little boys, a 4 year old and 2 year old.  Both love Peanut and he has been in their lives and close to them since birth.  Peanut sleeps in my 4 year old's room every night to keep the monsters away and every time my youngest sees him he gets right in his face and laughs. 

Peanut has always been good around children and other dogs.  When he was younger he was leashed up in our yard and a woman with a baby stroller came by. Peanut walked over slowly and sniffed the stroller, stuck his head a little closer, then went and laid down.  He was a hyper puppy so I was amazed at how calm he was.  Our neighbor's young son used to come and climb all over him when he was outside and Peanut would just lay there and let him.  This dog is very strong, all muscle, and when you see him he can look and sound scary.  He barks at strangers, plays rough with my husband, but always stops when he is told. 

I have heard many people ask how we can have a pit, not only around our children but around our other dog as well.  The truth is, Peanut is a gentle and loyal animal that I can't imagine not having around.  I feel safe with him in our home.

Peanut has shown me that you cannot judge a dog by its breed. They are all individuals, and every dog has the potential to be a great pet.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bell training your dog: Could this help dog potty-training problems?

Could these dog bells help you deal with potty training problems
My first dog was a willful little Boston terrier who never, ever mastered the art of letting me know he had to go outside to eliminate. Gross, I know.

When I brought Liam home, I vowed to learn from my mistakes.

I started bell training within 24 hours.

There are a lot of different products out there for bell training, and I know of some people who just string up Christmas bells by the door. I wanted to ensure success, so I bought a specific product made just for this. The product: PoochieBells. They're big, so I figured it would be easy for my tiny puppy to make them jingle.

I hung the bells on the front door. Each time Liam looked like he needed to go outside, I would pick up his foot, hit the bell with his foot, and open the door. Additionally, every time he brushed by the bells and they rang, out the door we went.

In one week, he had it figured out. No joke.

I still have two sets of bells in my house, even though Liam is much older now and doesn't require nearly as many tips outside. Having them available has been more fun than functional, at this point.

When little Lucy came home with me and urinated on the floor as she was unsure of where the cat box was, Liam rang and rang and rang the bell to let me know. And, when Liam has been playing a little too vigorously with Eamon, the old cat will ring the bell, hoping we will make Liam go outside and leave him alone. And Lucy has been known to ring the bells when she wants us to pay attention to her.

I would advise all owners to bell train, and keep the bells available. Allowing your animals to communicate with you directly can be both helpful and highly amusing.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The toy hospital: My dog ruins all of his dog toys

Broken dog toy with stuffing coming out
Liam is very hard on his toys. Tails, toes, ears and eyes are usually the first things to go on any toy I bring home. As a result, he is not allowed to be alone with any of his stuffed toys, and once a week I go through the toy box and look for the wounded and maimed.

Stuffed toys can be quite expensive, so I do not throw them out for minor tears. I stitch them up with thread and a heavy-duty needle. And when I have stitched up the same toy more than three times, out into the trash it goes.

This is extremely rare:  Liam often loses interest in destroying the toy once it has no eyes, ears, toes or tails.

It is important to check your dog's toys for rips and tears. The filling inside toys can clog up a dog's digestive system if he or she eats it, and surgery to remove this obstruction can be incredibly expensive. Tears can also be small and hard to see, unless you are specifically searching each toy carefully.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Cat sprawl: Dangerous sleeping habits for the blind

Why do cats like to sleep in the middle of the room
All of my cats like to lie down in the center of the room. I have become accustomed to stepping over cats while I walk, and I make certain to turn on lights before walking across the room when it is dark outside. If there's an open spot of floor, there's probably a cat willing to sleep there.

This behavior is not restricted to my sighted cats: blind Lucy also enjoys napping in the center of the room. This can be particularly dangerous, for cat and human, as she startles easily.

She can hear you coming, of course, and usually tries to move out of the way. But blind cats navigate through feeling their way around solid objects. When Lucy is in the middle of the room, she has no reference point. And when she is running or moving fast, she doesn't feel with her paws for something solid, and this can mean she runs directly into chairs, tables and even approaching feet.

I try talking to her when we are approaching her, but this doesn't seem to help. Very often, I have to talk to her while I am completely stationary, and allow her to figure out where she is and where she wants to go.

Luckily, she is young and spry, so this doesn't take very long. But it is something I must warn people about when they come to visit. Having a blind cat run into your leg is much more painful than it sounds, for the cat and for you.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cats and car engines: A terrible (but reasonable) combination

Jasper the cat enjoys sleeping on cars
My outdoor cats have 24/7 access to heated beds, heated sheds and sun puddles. For outdoor, semi-feral cats, they have things pretty good. Warmth shouldn't elude them. 

Even so, when the weather gets cold, they would prefer to sleep on the tops of cars. It's not unusual (or even all that weird).

The heat from the engine transfers to the hood of the car, making this a hard, but very warm, place to sleep. Some cats become so enamored of this heat, and so eager to seek it out, that they will actually climb inside the car and make a nest on top of the engine. This is extremely dangerous, as the fan belt can dramatically injure the cat if the car is started again.

I used to tap the horn before I started my car in the winter, just to ensure I had no unwanted travelers. Out of concern for my neighbors, I've started knocking on the hood of the car instead. And I do shoo away our cats when they are caught sleeping on top of the cars. Many people aren't tolerant of cat prints, claw marks and hair on the tops of their car, and the cats need to learn to respect that.

But can you break a cat of car sleeping? I'm not so sure. These guys love heat, and until there's a car that produces zero heat, this is likely to be a problem. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The breed ban debate

Update: This post contains opinions I no longer support. But I'm keeping it here, because it represents what a lot of people think about when they think about pit bulls. It's common, and it's misguided. See responses to this post here and here

It doesn’t seem possible to write about owning dogs or working with dogs without at least mentioning the pit bull breed ban debate.  This issue has come to the forefront for many pit owners who have been evicted from their homes due to foreclosure and now find they cannot find apartments or rental homes that will allow them to keep their dogs. See this article in The Oregonian for more information on that topic. (I might also add that this article contains what seems a factual error:  If you have a service dog, it is against the law to discriminate against it in housing.  But this is another topic.)
Breed bans are hot topics.  People who own pit bulls love them beyond all reason, and will fight to block any legislation.  They claim, accurately, that it is difficult for the average person to know what is or is not a pit bull.  (I had people ask me if my Boston terrier was a miniature pit bull, for example.)  Legislation would also have to determine how much pit bull heritage is too much.  Is one parent too much? A grandparent?
However, as Merrit Clifton states in his excellent research paper, we are seeing rises in insurance rates for dog owners and bans in rentals because pit bull owners refuse to accept the simple fact that the margin of error in a bite by a pit bull is extremely low.  As he writes:  “If almost any other dog has a bad moment, someone may get bitten, but they will not be maimed for life or killed… If a pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler has a bad moment, often someone is maimed or killed, and that has now created the off the chart actuarial risk, for which the dogs as well as their victims are paying the price.”
So I must say that, at this moment, I am supportive of increased regulation for pit bulls. I don't support an out-and-out breed ban that would call for death to all pit bulls. However, mandatory neutering for pet-only animals, extra licensing fees, monitoring of breeders, and mandatory obedience training all seem like reasonable steps.  Perhaps if the dogs were more expensive and heavily monitored, they wouldn’t be an impulse purchase and they would go into the hands of responsible owners.  Since they would take planning to acquire, and a commitment to own, perhaps fewer people would dump them in shelters as a result of lifestyle changes.  And perhaps if pit owners were committed to these changes, insurance companies and rental agencies could relax a bit and loosen some of the stringent rules they have imposed.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Weird cat behavior: Head shaking while eating

Eamon resting in a sun puddle after eating
My cats, both indoor and outdoor, tend to shake their heads when they have a mouthful of food. They pull in a bite, and then shake those heads like fury, back and forth and back and forth.

I have always wondered why they do this:  Are they trying to break the kibble's nonexistent neck? Is it for fun? Does the kibble have an irritating consistency? I tried to do research on this topic, and ended up stumbling across what has to be the weirdest site of the week.
Who got the unlucky job of determining how the feathers were plucked? Did the researchers provide the cats with the dead prey, or did they allow the cats to catch it by themselves? 
I know I am curious about my cats and their behavior. Perhaps I am more curious than most. But I certainly hope someone will stop me if I ever suggest something like this.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cats and laundry: Do you have a fresh-smelling feline?

Maggie the cat lying on a basket of laundry
Cats love to sleep on warm baskets of laundry. Warm, soft piles of fresh clothes are perfect places for a cat to nap. And aren't they cute when they're sleeping on our clothes? I think so.

But cute as this might be, it isn't always safe.

Cats can move from sleeping on warm, fresh laundry to sleeping in the dryer itself. As amazing as it might sound, people have put their cats in the dryer accidentally. Sometimes the cats come out with minor bruises and shock. Other times, the outcome is much, much worse.

While it's difficult to train a cat, to be sure, I work to encourage my cats to sleep in their own beds. I sprinkle the beds with catnip, I keep the beds clean, I place the beds in sunny corners or low-traffic areas, and I move the cats when they are sleeping in forbidden locations.

I miss that fresh-from-the-dryer smell on their fur, but it's just safer. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Food allergies in dogs: How to keep your pets safe

Liam the pug recovering from food allergies
I found out that the food we had been providing Liam isn't as safe as it would like it to be. The manufacturer switched production facilities and meat suppliers, and their foods have been subject to multiple recall warnings recently.

So I did what anyone would do: I switched him to Great Life dog food. I chose the chicken flavor, as its the closest thing to the food we had been feeding him. However, it turns out he is allergic to this particular formulation.

Liam's allergies aren't subtle. After just a few meals, he started dig, dig, digging at his knees, which broke out in small hives, and his feet and face began smelling like yeast. 

This is a pretty common allergic reaction to food, sadly, and it could be life-threatening if it keeps going.

So today, I switched him to a different formulation of the Great Life food. This formulation contains buffalo, which is a protein source Liam hasn't eaten before.

I'm hoping chicken is the offending ingredient in the dog food. But just in case, this new formulation also contains no corn, wheat, or potatoes. Perhaps these grains are the offending ingredients. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wordless Wednesday: Sleeping pet siblings

Pug and cat curled up in a dog bed

When the weather cools, my animals seem to get along better.  Perhaps they huddle together for warmth. Perhaps there is nothing interesting to see outside. Or perhaps they sense the impending holidays and know they should be good in order to get a visit from Santa. Whatever the reason, I am glad to see it.  Having a basket of sleeping animals at your feet is truly wonderful.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The "frog" command: How to teach your dog this adorable trick

Liam demonstrates a perfect frog pose

When Liam was learning the "down" command, I had trouble teaching him to stay put. His belly would hit the floor and he'd pop right back up.

To combat this, I taught him a command I call "frog." When he's in a down position, I flash him the peace sign, say "frog," and he'll splay his knees out behind him. It's much harder to pop up out of this position, so he tends to stay put for longer.

Using a clicker is a great way to teach a novel command like this. You can follow your dog around, click, give a treat and say a word when they do what you want them to do. After much repetition, they will learn that sitting in a certain way or doing a certain thing makes you come running with the clicker and the treats.

Then it's a small step to giving the command, clicking and treating. And then just giving the command all alone.

If your dog already takes up this pose from time to time, try clicking and treating every time you see it, while bellowing the word "frog." You'll have the pup trained in no time!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Cat love bites: What they are, and why cats do it

Lucy the cat preparing to deliver a love bite

Two of my cats like to give love bites: When I am petting them, they will nibble on my hands and arms. Eamon will alternate these little nibbles with actual licks, which is great as he also drools when he purrs. I appreciate the cleanup help. Jasper doesn’t drool, but he bites with quite a bit of force, and often breaks the skin.
Cat bites can be fairly dangerous, as cat teeth are sharp and can penetrate deep into tissues. Cat’s mouths also harbor bacteria, which can be deposited deep underneath the skin during a bite. So a love bite might be a sign of affection, but it can go horribly wrong very quickly. So it's best not to encourage the behavior.
Sadly, it’s difficult to break a cat from giving love bites, as it means scolding a cat that is trying to be nice. Most people don't want to do that, and if they do, the cat might just stop being affectionate at all, with or without the bites.

Here's what I do. When the cats bite me, I stop providing all affection and walk away.  They are learning not to bite me if they want me to keep petting them. Does it work? Not always. But I keep trying!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dogs in costume: Cruel or clever?

Liam does not look like a happy dog in his costume
Every year, I dress up my pug for Halloween.  Previously, he's been dressed as a flower, a spider and a dinosaur. This year, he will be dressed in a tuxedo (a look he debuted at a party we held a few weeks ago). 

Why do I do it? Because pugs are well-known for tolerating costumes. They love to be the center of attention, and Liam quickly learned that clothing on a dog makes humans squeal with delight, and want to pet him. (He does best in costumes without hats, however, as he doesn't seem to like to have his ears covered. I learned that with this costume, which made him a little unhappy when he first tried it on.)

The Oregonian recently covered the topic of dog costumes, including some great tips on how to choose an outfit and where to take your dog once he or she is all suited up. It's all good stuff, but the most interesting thing about this link, in my opinion, is the active discussion in the comments section. 

Many people still consider dog costumes a form of abuse. I couldn't disagree with this statement more. 

My pug loves attention. He lives and breathes for people to notice him. Wearing a silly outfit helps him do just that. 

Additionally, dogs have no inherent sense of pride. They do not look at themselves in the mirror and think, "Boy, do I look silly. I wonder what the guys at the office will say." 

Liam knows the costume means extra treats, extra attention and extra affection from random strangers. Seems he can't lose here.

As a parting comment, I posted this picture of Liam in an online contest. People voted for their favorite Halloween picture. We won, with an amazing number of votes from people who do not know me or Liam. Clearly, people find animals in costume cute and charming.  The trend is here to stay. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Adult dogs raising kittens (It's true! It's true!)

Seamus the Boston terrier and his tiny kitten
Twice during his all-too-short life, I brought home small, ill kittens and Seamus helped me raise them. Seamus was not particularly good with cats in general. He liked to chase Eamon and Maggie, lie on top of them until they shrieked, and chew on their ears. But something about the kittens brought out his softer side.

Perhaps their extremely small size helped him realize that they weren't adults and weren't to be treated as such. Or perhaps the kittens themselves initiated the change.

Very small, weak kittens don't seem fearful. They trundle toward anything that is warm or smells like food. Seamus was always warm, and since his jaw cancer left him with less-than-perfect table manners, he often smelled like food. Seamus allowed these small, weak kittens to sleep with him, to nurse on him, and to use his feet and ears as toys. He never groomed them or disciplined them. He acted more like a dog jungle gym.

I would chalk this up to the inherent goodness of Seamus, but the same thing happened when I brought home blind little Lucy and she met Liam. Again, she slept with him, nursed on him, and played with his tail.  Never once did he harm her.

I would never suggest that everyone bring home small kittens to their resident dogs, especially if you're unsure of how your dogs will react. But there is something so charming, so tender, about watching your dog help the smallest, most helpless, of creatures get well and learn to get along in the world.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tiny dog, big attitude: How your attacking dog could get hurt

Liam the pug recovering from the chihuahua attack

For the past two days, Liam and I have had our afternoon walk punctuated by an attack of Lola the Crazed Chihuahua. Liam has tags that jangle, so I am certain Lola could hear us from blocks away, and this just brought out the worst in her.

This is not terribly surprising: Many Chihuahuas are known for being territorial, aggressive and unfriendly toward other dogs.

Lola does have an early alert system: Her owners yell her name repeatedly when she hears another dog and begins to bolt from the yard. Both yesterday and today, I had enough time to pick Liam up before she rounded the corner. Her owners came out after her, picked her up, and away Liam and I went, with no harm to either party.

But these episodes worry me. Lola is about 3 pounds, and she's not very confident. She ended both barking episodes with her tummy flat to the ground, ears flat. Liam weighs in at about 24 pounds. He could whip her in a heartbeat (although he would be unlikely to), especially since she was flattened to the ground, ready to give in. I figured that picking him up was easier than paying for a visit to the vet for either party. 

But what if I had a Doberman or a Mastiff on the end of the leash? I couldn't have picked something like that up, and perhaps I couldn't have pulled it back from chasing her. Would Lola have survived the encounter? Since she has done this on two separate days, maybe this is normal behavior. Perhaps she has learned to submit when she feels outmatched. But I worry that her owners are setting her up to learn a difficult, and costly, lesson.

One day, I fear, she will charge something much too big, or too angry, to be restrained from having the fight she seems to want so badly.

If you have an aggressive dog, no matter how small, please keep it on a leash or securely in your yard. Not all dogs walking by are friendly, and not all owners will pick up their dogs to save your dog from a fight.

Liam and I thank you, in advance, for your cooperation.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

5 great tips you can use when bathing your pug (or any other dog)

pug in a bathtub
Pugs are prone to an amazing amount of skin problems, including allergies, mange, staph infections and yeast infections. This long laundry list is the reason I bathe my pug once a week, even though Liam absolutely hates it. But here's what I do to make it more tolerable.

1. Skip the stream.

Liam is deathly afraid of the faucet, so I use a plastic bowl to wet him down and rinse him off. He will not stand under a faucet of running water, and I don’t feel like wrestling. Also, using a bowl gives me a little more control:  I can ensure that no water gets on his face or in his ears.  

2. Use good product.

I use the Cloud Star Buddy Wash line of products (This stuff: Cloud Star Buddy Wash Dog Shampoo - Lavender and Mint -- 16 fl oz).  The shampoo is easy to rinse out (very important) and is all-natural.

3. Build in a checkup.

I make sure to feel Liam's skin while I am lathering up the shampoo. I feel for lumps, bumps, and spots that seem painful. That helps me ensure that this guy is healthy, and he also likes the deep massage that comes with a rub-down.

4. Rinse, rinse, rinse.

Leftover product means itchy pug. So I give Liam a long, warm rinse and follow that up with yet another long, warm rinse. During this second rinse, I look at his skin, watching for rashes, redness or other problems that might have been hidden by his thick fur.

5. Make the drying time fun.

After he's been bathed, I rub Liam down with a fluffy towel, fresh from the dryer.  He is usually cold, and that hot towel makes him happy. 

Do these steps make Liam thrilled about his baths? Um, no. But they do make the whole bath thing tolerable. And for him, that might be enough.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cats and keyboards: What's the fascination?

Eamon the cat keeping a close eye on the keyboard
My home office contains a wide, deep desk.  My computer takes up less than a fourth of the entire space, which allows me to scatter books and research materials about while I am working, without placing any of these items on my computer itself.

However, Eamon has decided that he should also be allowed on the desk, in order to supervise me and read what I am writing.

Because I am a typical cat owner who loves her cats beyond al measure, I thought that I was certainly the only person who had experienced this.  My cat just simply must be original in all matters.

Turns out, I was wrong.  There are multiple websites describing just this phenomenon in detail, including this blog by WolfDaddy and this very funny site that offers a program to detect cat typing.

Apparently, the post-modernists had it right:  There are no original ideas.  At least I got a good photo.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The cat litter conundrum: Is clay litter the only option?

cat and her litter box
I have a confession to make: I buy my cats clumping cat litter made from clay. 
I know that this is not sustainable: Cat litter in this form is not biodegradable, and it ends up clogging landfills.

Additionally, most commercial cat litter is made through strip mining, which adds insult to injury.

But here's the thing: I'm not sure I have other options.
I have tried two forms of biodegradable litter: Good Mews and S’Wheat Scoop. These litters were not terribly expensive. However, my picky cats simply would not use them for their intended purpose.

They enjoyed playing with the Good Mews pellets, and they liked sleeping on the S’Wheat Scoop.  This obviously does not help me.

Most cats prefer litter that is very fine and granulated. Most of the biodegradable litter I have tried is just not the right consistency. It's either made up of pellets so large that they seem like toys, or so grainy and somewhat soft, so it seems like bedding.  
I have toyed with the idea of trying another product, such as VetBasis or Nature’s Miracle, but I am a little afraid of the result.

Cats are very particular about their litter. If you do not provide the right sort of litter, most cats will compromise and use the wall, the floor, your bed... anything but the litter they do not like. I cannot bear this idea.  
So, unfortunately, I am sticking to my clay litter for now, and I am hoping for the day when better options appear. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

How to handle cat-to-cat aggression (without losing your mind)

two cats playing together
Maggie is our resident scapegoat.  She is small, and somewhat timid. She is the first to run from a room when a stranger enters, and the last to head toward the food bowl. It took her a full three weeks to adjust to living in our new house, while the others had the place mapped within 48 hours.
Maggie has a quiet voice, but she knows to yell when she needs my help, and so I dutifully come when she calls me. The last three nights, I’ve had to leave the dinner table to rescue her from an aggressive, dominant Eamon who has trapped her underneath a piece of furniture. 

This is incredibly depressing.  

Maggie and Eamon got into tussles like this when we lived in much smaller quarters, and I had hoped it would stop when we moved into our much larger house. Apparently, this isn’t the case.
Experts do have some suggestions, including:
  • Scruffing and hissing at the aggressor cat and placing him in a time-out for this behavior.
  • Throwing a toy between the two of them, so the aggressor has something else to fight with (seems like a long shot to me, honestly).
  • Covering the windows. The theory here is that the aggression is caused by a trigger outside the window (another cat, a squirrel, etc.) that the aggressor cannot do anything about, so he picks on a resident.  
For now, we will start confining Maid Maggie to her own safe room during the dinner hour, as this is when the attacks tend to occur. And Eamon will be wearing a bell, so she knows to run from him if he’s on the make. I will probably try the scruffing/hissing, too.  If all else fails, we will cover the windows.
Let’s hope this does the trick.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Do blind cats use their whiskers for sight?

Lucy the blind cat

When I stand over Lucy’s head, looking down, her whiskers look like branches from a wild and crazy tree.  They go from left to right, up and down, and sideways. I’ve never seen so many whiskers on one cat, and I’m thankful for them, as I know these whiskers are the reason she can be a mobile, active part of our family.

Cats have about 24 whiskers on their muzzles in two rows. Each row can move independently of the other row.  Each whisker is also connected to nervous tissue, meaning a cat can determine a lot about where she is just by listening to her whiskers.

A breeze can tell a cat about air pressure, temperature changes and the approximate size of a space (keeping her from cramming herself into a space that is too small). Whiskers are the first sensory organs to grow on a cat, meaning she learns to use her whiskers before she can see or hear.

Some experts say that cats born blind have more whiskers than a sighted cat. This would make sense, as blind cats need their whiskers more completely than do sighted cats.

However, Lucy will not sit still long enough for me to count her whiskers (nor would we want to put her through the torture).

But I am careful to protect her whiskers. I feed her in wide bowls, so she won’t break her whiskers by pressing her face into a shallow bowl. And I don’t brush her face or head during her weekly grooming sessions. I want her to keep those wild and crazy whiskers, however many there may be.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dogs and driving: What's the safest place for your dog in your car?

Pug puppy with his toy in the back of a car
Oregon currently bans drivers from texting and holding a cell phone while driving. A Tri-Met bus driver recently lost his job after being caught reading his Kindle while driving on his route. Oregonians claim to be concerned about the issue of distracted driving.

And yet, it is still common to see dog owners holding their dogs on their laps while driving. I've seen drivers talking to their dogs while driving, rather than looking at the road. And I've seen dogs leap from the driver's lap in order to run to the window to bark. 

We should all know better. Holding a dog in your lap while you're driving can be catastrophic for the dog in case of an accident. The airbag impact will crush the dog right into your chest. And small, active dogs are a huge distraction while you're driving. They bark; they move; they want you to interact with them.

I use a barrier to keep Liam in the back of the car.  He has a comfy bed, plenty of toys and a small bowl of water. He can see outside, and I can see him, but he cannot distract me while I am driving. This is the best way to keep everyone safe, and if you're not doing something similar with your dog when you're driving, it's time to start.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Have you been to the Lucky Lab in Portland? Take your dog!

Pug at the Lucky Lab with a person and a beer

Portland has over 30 dog-friendly bars and restaurants. Shocked? You shouldn't be. People in Portland love a good nosh. And they love their dogs. A dog-friendly spot lets people enjoy the two things they love, at the same time!

I'm a fan. To me, this is a fantastic way for you to give your dog a socialization opportunity, and you can grab a bite to eat or a tasty beverage in the process.

I've been to many dog-hip spots in Portland, and I do have a favorite: The Lucky Lab in NE Portland. Part of this favoritism is due to familiarity: This is the first restaurant I had ever been to that allowed dogs. The other factor has to do with the beer. It's tasty!

The experience here is fairly typical of dog-friendly bars: Patrons are allowed to sit outside with their dogs on leashes. Dog bowls and water are provided free of charge. Bar food includes peanuts and chips, which are easy to use as treats.

Liam enjoys the Lucky Lab. He has the chance to meet other dogs (that I have a chance to pre-screen for aggression issues) and he is usually surrounded by people who like, or at least tolerate, dogs. We work on his commands and his listening skills while we enjoy our beer and the fresh air of the porch.

So if you're looking for a great place to spend an afternoon, give it a shot! And if you see a tiny pug and me, come say hello!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Pet adoptions: The problem with

Pug puppy looking right at the camera
From  "I have a 5 month old (born May 1st, 2010) female registered and certified purebred black pug that I need to find a new home for… We are very busy people so we havent [sic] made alot [sic] of progress on potty training, she will go potty outside and can hold it but we cant [sic] take her outside on a regular basis all the time, so she wears diapers in the house. …However she has an inner eye infection in her right eye. We recently took her to her vet check up and we were told by the vet that she needs to be seen by a specialist. Considering I am moving and my financial status will be changing, I cannot afford to take her to a specialist at the moment..."

The Web is full of these sorts of stories, but seems especially prone to heartbreaking posts like this.  Perhaps the format is to blame:  since there is no word limit, people can spew out details that they edit from traditional newspaper postings.  There, this post would probably read:  "Pug for sale.  Call for information," and I could read that and proceed with the nap I had planned.

I don't like reading posts like this.  However, I do force myself to read them.  I need to remember that it’s still acceptable in this country to treat a dog like an expendable, replaceable object. This family bought a puppy, confined her to diapers, and chose to sell her when she developed a medical condition.  They aren't embarrassed to admit that in a public forum. 

When my friends and acquaintances talk of allowing their dogs to breed, I will bring up this family.  Until you are absolutely that you can vouch for the safety of all the dogs in the litter, throughout their lifetimes, you should not bring any more dogs into this world voluntarily.  The breeder who sold this dog to this family should share the blame for their ignorance of the responsibilities of puppy parenthood.

I responded to this ad, although I kept my opinions to myself. I am hoping they will let me purchase the dog, so I can turn her over to a reputable rescue agency.  The trick will be to pick her up and take her away without cursing at this family.  I will have to remind myself that, in the end, they admitted that the task was too great and they gave the dog up.  They should have some small courtesy paid for that decision.

In the meanwhile, I am looking at photos of Liam, taken when he was 5 months old (shown here), and I am showering him with cookies and peanut butter.  I know we do not have a nap in our future this afternoon.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pet personalities: Do you have party animals or shy guys?

Three colorful cats on an equally colorful couch
We are holding a large party at our house tomorrow, and we're debating the question:  Should we let our cats roam free through the house and meet people?  Or should we sequester them and allow them to be safe in just one room? 

The pros to sequestering:
  • The cats would be safe from trampling feet.
  • Our guests wouldn't feel forced to pet them.
  • They would not eat forbidden food.
  • They wouldn't escape through an open door.

The cons to sequestering:
  • We would have to ensure the door to their room stayed closed.
  • They would not be allowed to mingle (and some of them like to do that).
  • We lose a socialization opportunity for the shyer cats.

We will probably let the cats themselves dictate their own placement, in the end.  As they are cats, after all, I'm sure they have their own opinions.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Pug food obsessions: To treat or not to treat?

Liam the pug waiting for his dog treat
Liam adores cookies, treats, leftovers and high-cal chew toys.  Wave novel food in his vicinity, and you will have a friend for life.

Pugs do not have fast metabolisms, as a rule.  Most pugs are overweight now, or well on their way to pudgy in the future.  I know the average dog treat is the caloric equivalent of a candy bar for me:  something I should only have on a special occasion if I have been very, very good.

However, I enjoy watching Liam enjoy himself.  I like watching his eyes widen when he things he's going to get something really, really good.  And I like to be the person who provides that really, really good thing.

So I give him treats and cookies.  Sometimes I let him lick the plate.  I do keep things in moderation, and he is far from fat, but a little voice inside me does say, from time to time, that I wish I could throw caution to the wind.  I'll eat a candy bar every day.  He will eat treats and leftovers whenever he pleases.  And when we get too big to fit through the door, we'll order in.