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 craigslist.com 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!