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!