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.