Friday, December 30, 2011

Confusion about Multnomah County Animal Shelter

Resident shelter cat Maggie seems underwhelmed

While cruising through the pet-related news reports today, I stumbled across this very interesting article about the public's perceptions about Multnomah County Animal Services (MCAS). According to this article, people believe that MCAS is only involved in picking up unwanted, injured or dead animals and that MCAS tends to euthanize animals if they aren't picked up within three days.

By contrast, people believed the Oregon Humane Society (OHS) was involved in placing animals in loving homes.

Some people who adopted from MCAS were so confused that they insisted that they got their animals from OHS, even when they came from MCAS.

Frankly, I find this study deeply depressing. For starters, MCAS does a significant amount of good work in the community. The shelter workers take in all sorts of animals that no one wants, and they may spend months trying to find the right homes for these animals. They are careful to spay and neuter the animals before they're adopted out, and they often provide a significant amount of medical care to help sick animals recover so they can be adopted.

This work is paid for by our taxes, and by the licensing fees we pay for our animals. That is just one reason that I am adamant about keeping all of our pets licensed. The fees go to good causes (and, it's the law, people!).

MCAS needs a bit of a facelift, perhaps, but people should also remember that the shelter is stuffed to the gills with animals who need homes. Often, adoption fees at MCAS are lower than adoption fees at OHS, and the animals are just as deserving. I know many people consider OHS the first stop for pet adoptions, but I worry that MCAS is simply being ignored, hiding in the shadows of OHS.

Take a look at the animals available at MCAS by clicking here. Today, you can adopt a pet from the shelter for only $30. This is an amazing deal. Let's spread the word and help MCAS.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

What is a "forever home?"

Liam the pug cleans his paws in front of the fireplace of his forever home

People who do animal rescue often use phrases that both baffle and annoy people who do not do animal rescue. The phrase "heart dog" is just one example. If I understand this phrase correctly, it means that the dog in question is somehow very special to the person speaking, and the dog is therefore close to the person's heart. I think....

In any case, one phrase animal rescuers use all the time is "forever home." To outsiders, this phrase can be a bit baffling. After all, animals don't live forever, and very few animals live in the homes in which they were born. To cut down on confusion, I thought I might define what a forever home is.

When animal rescue agencies place an animal, they only want to do it one time. They want the animal to move from the rescue into the place the animal will live until it dies. This means the animal will have only one set of people to live with, and will never be given up, no matter what happens to the people.

So, adopters who want a puppy because it's cute may not be able to provide a forever home. They might be able to give the pup a perfectly suitable home until it grows up, but when it is no longer a puppy and no longer quite so cute, the owners might want to replace the dog with another puppy. The adult dog, then, goes homeless.

Adopters who want to adopt a dog but who have no money to pay for the dog may be in the same boat. Much as they might like the dog, if they can't afford to feed and house the dog now, it's likely the dog will get the boot when the people face an economic setback.

If an animal rescue is looking to place the dog just once, in its forever home, they might reject all sorts of people and continue looking for the right match. It might seem cruel at first, when the animal could simply leave the shelter quickly with the first person who comes along, but if the organization wants to just place the dog once, the patience could pay off.

Why is this all so important? Next time you have an hour or two to spare, go to the pets section on craigslist.com and look for adoption entries with the words "moving" or "lost my job" or "no time" in them. You'll find hundreds of adult pets who thought they were in their forever homes who are suddenly without any homes at all.

Forever homes seem to make emotional sense, but sadly, many people have no intention of providing their animals with forever homes. Let's hope this will change. If this little, clunky term helps turn the tide, I'll use it. Will you?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Irrational dog fear strikes again: How to help a fearful dog

Liam the pug is afraid of an exercise ball
Liam eyes the new enemy (note how snug he is to the wall).
Liam the pug has a confession to make: He's afraid of new things in new places. And right now, he has a lot to be afraid of. 

A few months back, I had surgery for my shoulder. Recovery is no picnic. My therapists ask me to do all sorts of wild exercises several times per day, and since my left side is so weak, I often have to use tools in my therapy. Since I can't hold my arm out to the left side, for example, I hold a stick in my right hand and shove my left arm out to the side. These therapies are awkward for me, but I think they're even more difficult for small and fearful Liam.

Liam is afraid of almost every tool I've used in my physical therapy. Bands and sticks have been particularly troubling in the past, and when I brought home this large exercise ball yesterday, I thought he might have an actual mental breakdown. He absolutely refused to be in the same room with the exercise ball, so he stood in the hallway, shivering.

Today, he will stay in the room when the ball is out, but as you can see in the photograph, he remains convinced that the ball is going to do him some sort of harm, and he gives it a wide margin. When I start rolling the ball for my exercises, he hides under the desk. If a stationary ball is scary, a ball on the move must be simply terrifying.

In a few days, with some coaxing and plenty of cookies, he should be clear of these fears. Then, we'll both wait to see what new tools the therapists will give me in my next session. I hope his heart can hold out.

If your dog is fearful like this, conditioning can help. Placing treats near the scary thing gives the dog a very specific reminder that new can be good. But the key is to go slowly. Dogs must approach their fears alone, without you pushing them to do so.

For Liam, it takes about an hour to approach something new. Some dogs can make the leap quicker. Some dogs need even more time. Just remember: Don't push. Let them decide, and soon, that new thing will be scary no more. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Home-grown catnip: How to dry and cure your harvest

Catnip drying on a rack in a basement
Isn't my basement glamorous?
As faithful readers know, I started growing catnip about a year ago. I bought one tiny packet of seeds for about $2, and hoped that I would have one stalk to give to my cats at the end of the growing season. Turns out, I set my goals a little low. I'm happy to report that I've harvested my catnip plants twice now, and each harvest produces about 6 months of treats. Looks like this was $2 well spent!

I know many of you are wondering why in the world I would grow my own catnip when it's so cheap. Whole Foods, for example, sells a tub of catnip for about $5. All I can say is that I have my reasons.

The plants aren't particularly beautiful, but they do put off a spicy, sweet scent that's quite pleasant. I also like the idea of growing the plants my cats will eat, as I'm sure it's grown with no pesticides or chemicals. To me, this is reassurance that is well worth the effort. And, let's face it, I'm cheap. Why spend $5 every 6 months when I can spend $2 once per year? In fact, if these plants keep on producing, I may never have to buy another tub again! Ha!

The most annoying part of this process, however, is the harvesting. It takes a long time to accomplish, and as you can see, it's not a terribly beautiful process.

I cut the stems back to an inch above the soil, and bundle two or three stems with twist ties. Then, I hang the bundles from a hanger in the basement, next to the duct work for the furnace and the hot water heater. This is a hot, dry part of the basement, and this is just the right sort of air to help the catnip dry. Even so, it often takes 6 to 8 weeks for the stems to completely shrivel. When the stems and leaves are dry, I run them through a spice mill until the pieces are fine.

This is just the sort of sprinkle my cats expect to see on their cat trees after their weekly grooming sessions, and I'm happy to provide it!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Caring for cat bites and abscesses

Jasper gets a cat bite hot pack treatment
Jasper enjoying his hot pack treatment.
Over the weekend, when the veterinary clinics were closed for the holiday, Jasper came to dinner with a crusty injury on his neck. Since Jasper is an outdoor cat and he's prone to fighting, I wasn't terribly surprised. Like most outdoor cats, Jasper develops these cat bite injuries from time to time.

Cats carry a large amount of bacteria in their mouths, and their skin tends to heal quickly. When a cat bites another cat, those teeth transmit infection deep beneath the fur, and the skin heals over that infection. Cats then develop a pocket of disgusting puss below the skin that grows and grows until it bursts to the surface.

When a cat develops an abscess like this, a veterinarian usually needs to anesthetize the cat, put in a drain and place the cat on antibiotics. It's an expensive proposition at any veterinarian's office, but it's very expensive at an emergency clinic.

Thankfully, however, not all bites become abscessed. If you can encourage your cat to show you injuries when they happen, you can actually prevent abscesses from forming through diligent home care. That seems to be what's happening here.

Jasper seems to have a tiny bite that's somewhat fresh. It's open, bleeding and smells clean. There's no real puss coming out, and he seems to be eating well and feeling well. If we didn't treat it, and that skin closed up, off to the vet he would go. But for now, home care is a viable choice.

Three times per day, Jasper sits on my husband's lap and receives a hot pack on his wound. This pack will draw up any infection that's present and we can scrub away any dead tissue. He likes these treatments, and he often purrs and kneads his paws. After the treatment is done, we clean his wound thoroughly with an antiseptic, and daub of antibiotic cream on the wound. We also check him for fever or pain. All seems to be well, at the moment.

Not a great Christmas gift for Jasper, to be sure, but I am happy that nothing too very serious is happening here. And, I am doubly glad that he is up-to-date on his vaccines. If he's going to fight, he'll need the extra dose of immunity. Otherwise, he could come home with something much more serious than a simple scratch. And I'm glad that he trusts us enough to show us his war wounds, long before they become abscesses.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas presents pose cat hazards

Lucy the cat munching on Christmas presents

Christmastime can be a time of danger for cats. Those brown paper packages tied up with string seem a heck of a lot like toys to curious cats, and they can quickly eat large pieces of that string during the course of one play session.

Cats who eat string can face some fairly serious health problems. Strings can get wrapped around teeth, and that bit of tissue can span the length of a cat's body from stem to stern, slicing up everything it touches. String can also wrap around organs, and cats that try to pull on those bits as they emerge could end up slicing their organs in half.

When I worked in the veterinary emergency clinic, I saw several cats that died due to string. And I saw plenty of owners forced to shell out thousands on life-saving surgeries for cats that ate presents.

It's bad, right? Thankfully, it's a problem you can solve.

I keep all wrapping paper and string in a plastic bin, deep down in the basement. I wrap up my presents behind a closed door, and when I'm done, I put all the packaging bits back in that bin for storage.

All of those presents I wrapped? They go in their own bin in the storage space. I'd love to display them, but it isn't safe.

During frantic unwrapping moments, I keep a brown paper bag on hand. All of the ribbons and paper goes into that bag as it comes off of presents. And that bag goes outside for disposal as soon as the fun is done.

If you follow these steps, your pets will be safe from Christmas wrapping woes. But, if something goes wrong and you know your cat ate string, call your local emergency veterinarian. You have no idea what that string is attached to and while you wait or pull. An emergency professional can provide advice that could save your kitty a significant amount of pain.


Have a safe holiday, everyone!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Does heat help arthritic cats?

Eamon the cat cuddled up to the heater
Eamon enjoys the heat from the oil-filled furnace.
Eamon has always been a heat-seeking cat. In fact, when he was a kitten, he would run to the nearest vent when he heard the furnace turn on and I would watch his whiskers ruffle in the hot breeze as he closed his eyes.

Ever since he hurt his back, however, Eamon has been an absolute freak about heat. He will drape himself over the other cats, snuggling into their warmth, and he'll sit so close to this little oil-filled heater that I'm afraid he'll melt parts of his fur. It started to make me wonder if his arthritis symptoms were reduced when he was hot.

There have been plenty of studies that suggest that some forms of human arthritis do better with heat therapies. Perhaps when the muscles are warm and relaxed, they tug a bit less on painful joints and bones and the people feel a bit better. Other forms of arthritis don't do well with heat therapies, however, since people with those diseases tend to feel as though their joints are hot and inflamed already.

For now, I try to keep things a bit warmer for Eamon, in case it helps. He has ready access to this heater during the day, and in the evenings, I make sure the furnace is up and running. I've put a few comfy beds near the furnace vents as well. I hope, however, that he won't choose to climb into the fireplace on Christmas Eve in the hopes of getting warm. I may have to keep the squirt gun handy to keep him out.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Breaking up a cat fight: How to do it without getting hurt

Maggie and Eamon the cats cuddled up in a chair
Maggie and Eamon sharing space quite happily.
I have three cats that live outside and three cats that live inside. All six of these cats fight with one another from time to time. As a result, I've become a bit of an expert at breaking up cat fights. I may also have a handle on why they fight in the first place.

The outdoor cats are a territorial bunch, and they're prone to participate in slapping fests around mealtimes. These are rarely epic battles, and it's extremely rare for any cat to emerge with injuries after the fights are over, but they can seem and sound pretty scary. One cat will start spitting and slapping, the other will spit and slap back and soon, they're chasing one another around the driveway.

The indoor cats seem extremely sensitive to change, and they'll fight when something small is amiss. When one cat is sick, for example, the others will beat on the sick cat mercilessly. Rarely does this cause any serious problem, however, as the picked-on cat will usually run to me for assistance or Liam will throw himself in the middle of the fight to keep the peace.

When the rare cat fight breaks out that seems serious, it's best to break up the action with one loud noise. Clapping your hands, pounding on the door, beating on the window or stamping your feet all work well. Some experts claim a blast of water is also effective, but it's not a method I've used.

Once the fight is over, it's best to do some research to determine why the fight broke out. In some cases, you can solve the problem. Taking a sick cat to the doctor might help, for example, or feeding the cats in separate areas can reduce territorial squabbles.

There are some fights you may never truly prevent, however, as some cats just seem to love their spats and they'll hold them no matter what you do. 

For more information about why cats fight, see this article. I remain convinced that no one can truly know why cats do anything they do, but this gal does seem to have a few theories that make some sense.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pug zoomies: Why your pug runs around like crazy

Liam the pug caught in the middle of a pug zoomie session
Flipping the ears back is Stage 1 of zoomie time!
Almost everyone who has a pug can tell you about the "pug zoomies." People who do not have pugs, however, seem to find the behavior a little odd. I've even had some people run up while Liam is in zoomie mode to ask if he's been stung by a bee or injured in some way. I thought I'd just clear up the misconception.

During a pug zoomie, the pug tends to:
  • Unfurl the tail. Liam can hold his straight down.
  • Flatten the ears.
  • Bend the back knees.
  • Run at high speeds in no particular direction. 
  • Make shrieking noises. 
I have no idea why they do this. Liam will break into spontaneous zoomies when my husband returns from work, and sometimes he'll zoom around the living room in the evening with no provocation at all.

I've seen multiple pugs do this at meetups, and I've heard that other breeds do much the same thing. In fact, my Boston terrier got the zoomies, but he didn't have a tail to flatten and he took a more upright stance in the run. My Boston also stopped the zoomies when he hit age 5, but Liam seems to be going strong year after year.

Zoomies can be a bit intimidating, and they can also be a little annoying. Having a dog running about and screaming while you're trying to sign for a package, for example, can be a little much. But I like to think that zoomies are an expression of joy, and if so, I hope Liam continues to zoom for the rest of his days.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Does your dog love his toys a little too much?

strange dog behavior

Dogs have plenty of habits that can seem disgusting to the average owner. Eating out of the cat box, sniffing the rear end of other dogs and rolling in dead animals tend to top the list. While I am happy to report that Liam rarely engages in these sorts of gross behaviors, there is one nasty dog action he likes to perform on a fairly regular basis.

Yep, Liam truly seems to love his toys.

In the evenings, when I am about to eat dinner, off he goes on a love extravaganza with one of his toys. There are a few special toys he seems particularly fond of, and any sort of large toy quickly becomes a target.

Now, the ASPCA says that this behavior shouldn't be considered abnormal, and dogs who do this once or twice per day shouldn't necessarily be stopped from acting this way. I think I speak for most dog owners, however, when I say that dogs pounding away in the living room aren't necessarily behaving appropriately. It might be normal, but it's certainly not desirable.

In most cases, I can stop the behavior by removing the toy and keeping that toy locked up for a few days. I can also stop the behavior if I ask Liam to perform a trick such as "sit" or "back up" and I give him a cookie for doing so.

But the ASPCA also suggests that dogs engage in this behavior when they feel left out or frustrated. It makes sense that Liam would feel this way when I am eating. He knows he won't be given table scraps, and he knows he's not allowed to beg.

Looks like I need to find puzzle toys or some sort of engaging treat to provide during dinner to help his mental state. One Christmas present, coming right up!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Measuring cat pain relief

Eamon gets in touch with his reflection.
Measuring pain in cats is notoriously hard, as cats like to hide their pain and pretend as though nothing is wrong. I've discovered that it's also hard to measure a cat's recovery.

When Eamon hurt his back, he was placed on prednisone and the veterinarian asked me to monitor his progress and taper his dose if I thought he was improving. For the first several weeks, I found myself following him around obsessively. He played with a toy. Does this mean he felt better? He didn't feel like grooming this afternoon. Was he hurting? This sort of thing can make you crazy, and eventually, Eamon took to hiding beneath the couch so I would leave him alone.

Now that several months have passed, I think we have both mellowed a bit.

I've discovered that I can best measure Eamon's pain level by watching his interaction with the other animals. If he's feeling well, he will run past the dog in the hopes of starting a game of chase. If he's feeling extraordinarily well, he'll wrestle with Lucy in the evenings. On the flip side, if he's feeling painful, he'll hiss and growl when his mates try to play and he'll choose to sleep by himself instead of snuggling with others.

This might not be the best way to measure pain in other cats, and it's certainly not an approach I've seen described anywhere else, but it's the measurement I'm using here. When he seems painful, I increase his meds just a bit. When he's been fine for several days, I lower the dose.

So far, things seem to be working. Here's hoping the trend will continue.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dogs, fish oil supplements and nausea: Yes, they are connected

Liam the pug spots his lunch on the counter
Liam spots his lunch on the counter.
Liam has a long and luxurious coat, but it takes a significant amount of work from me to keep him looking good. Allergies can cause his brown face to turn red, hives can make him dig at his skin and low-quality dog foods can make his fur simply fall out. To help keep him a bit healthier, I add a fish oil supplement to his food.

Until just recently, I had thought I was doing something wonderful that Liam would thank me for.

Fish oil supplements are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and these substances can increase oil production in the skin. This can make a dog a bit less itchy, and it can also help the coat stay thick and shiny. Also, some studies suggest that fish oils can reduce yeasts, so pugs like Liam might get fewer infections in their facial folds when they're taking in these substances.

Apparently, however, some sensitive dogs can get nauseated from fish oils. Last week, Liam became one of these dogs.

While he never vomited and his appetite was good, he left puddles and puddles of drool everywhere he went and he just seemed to feel terrible. When I stopped giving the fish oil, the problem went away.

According to some articles I've read, humans who get nauseated due to fish oil have had success when they've frozen the capsules. Apparently, this allows the oil to hit the intestines rather than the stomach, and this makes nausea a bit less likely.

It all sounds good, but I'm not quite ready to jump on the bandwagon yet. While I like the idea of reducing nausea, I am a little worried about Liam swallowing something large and hard. Choking is a real danger with this plan.

So for now, I am giving his fish oil supplements in the middle of the day, instead of in the morning. In the morning, he also has a vitamin powder, and perhaps the two substances together are too much. Also, in the middle of the day, he probably still has a little food in his stomach from breakfast, and perhaps this little food buffer will reduce his nausea. At this point, he doesn't seem nauseated, so my plan seems to be working.

Keep your fingers crossed!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I tried brushing my cat's teeth. The results might surprise you

Liam the pug tries to lick excess toothpaste off of Eamon the cat's mouth
Liam often tries to lick excess toothpaste off Eamon's lips.
Two times a day, I give Eamon a bowl of Rad Cat. This stuff looks a lot like wet, soggy hamburger, and in order to eat it, Eamon just licks the plate. He doesn't have to do any sort of chewing whatsoever. In theory, he doesn't need any teeth at all in order to eat this food. But cats use their teeth for all sorts of other things, including carrying toys and fighting off predators. Eamon might like to keep his chompers. And that's a bit of a challenge.

As a result of this diet and his age, Eamon's teeth have been simply terrible. His breath is awful, and since he drools when he purrs, he developed the ability to leave puddles of rank-smelling fluid everywhere he went. When I looked in his mouth, I could see that his teeth were covered with brown plaque.

Eventually, I know he'll need a dental cleaning. I wondered, however, if I could stave that off for a few weeks or months by brushing his teeth. Eamon is pretty mellow, and he is very food motivated, so I thought I might have a shot at success.

As it turns out, Eamon loves to have his teeth brushed.

I've been brushing his teeth at night, right after I brush my own teeth, and he's taken to running into the bathroom when he hears me brushing my teeth. I use a malt-flavored toothpaste he seems to like, and I use a tiny toothbrush made for cats. My brushing sessions take about a minute, and I focus my efforts on the outsides of his back teeth. I use soft, round motions and he seems to like the feel. Often, he purrs when I brush his teeth. When he's done, he whirls around my legs for a bit as a thank you.

I'm happy to report that his teeth look a slight bit less brown, after a week of brushing, and his breath isn't nearly so horrific. I think he will still need a dental cleaning soon, but in the meantime, I'll keep up with my brushing.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Keeping cats out of the kitchen

Eamon the cat looking at the Cat Scram
"Damn! She has the Cat Scram set up!"
In the months since Eamon's back injury, he's been taking a low dose of predisone. While this medication has helped his back improve, it has also boosted his appetite and he's become a total chow hound. If I am eating food, he wants a bite. If I am cooking food, he's willing to jump on the counter to steal a bite.

Obviously, I don't want a cat with a back injury jumping on and off the kitchen counters. Yelling didn't work, scolding didn't work and keeping the door shut 24/7 wasn't realistic. So, I invested in something called a "Catscram."

I think this invention is pure genius.

A Catscram has a motion sensor attached to it, and it can detect movement up to 6 feet away when sitting flat. When the motion sensor is activated, the device emits a high-pitched series of beeps that simply drives most cats wild.

I set up the device and all of the cats immediately left the kitchen. Maggie and Lucy have never come back.

Eamon will occasionally run past, but he is less and less likely to enter the kitchen these days. He only comes in now when he is desperate. In addition, I can hear the alarm go off (apparently, I have dog hearing) so I know when he has moved past the alarm. For me, this is an added bonus.

Dogs like Liam can hear the beeps as well, and Liam doesn't like the beeping, but he's not overly concerned about the alarm, either. Now, he'll set the alarm off and simply keep on walking as if nothing has happened.

Cats don't adjust to noises, but apparently, dogs can learn to ignore noises they dislike. Other motion sensors I considered shoot out bursts of air when an animal walks by. I didn't think Liam would ever adjust to that, but he has certainly adjusted to the beeping, and I'm glad for that. Since Liam doesn't ever get on the counters, he's allowed in the kitchen and I didn't want the device to keep him from moving about freely.

Now, a Catscram is far from cheap. In fact, it's a little bit expensive. But for me, it's worth the expense. It keeps my cats out of the kitchen, and it keeps me from yelling at them all day long. I'll gladly pay for that.

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.”

Monday, December 5, 2011

Time for the dog's rabies shot!

Liam the pug and Lucy the cat snuggling together
Lucy comforts Liam after his visit to the vet.
Let me say, right off the bat, that I am not against vaccines. Run a quick search on the web for "dog vaccines" and you'll come across acres and acres of sites that suggest that all vaccines for dogs should be banished from the Earth. (On second thought, don't look at those sites. They contain some pretty scary photographs. Even I don't like to look at them, and I've seen my fair share of animal misery from years of working in veterinary clinics.) This is not a blog entry that bashes vaccines.

While I don't hate vaccines, I do try to use common sense. I do not give my dog yearly vaccines, and I never give any of the "optional" shots. Liam isn't at risk for anything like Lyme disease, so I'd rather not expose his system to the vaccine for no reason. In addition, I never give multiple vaccines at the same time. I figure one shot at a time is enough for my immune system, and it should be good enough for Liam's system as well. If he needs multiple shots, we have multiple visits.

Last weekend, Liam was due for his rabies shot. This is not the sort of shot you want to let lapse. Most states, including Oregon, have strict rules regarding dog rabies vaccinations, and those can include steep fines. In addition, if a dog is not in rabies shot compliance and that dog bites someone, the county can impound the dog for a specific period of time, just to make sure the dog doesn't have rabies. Liam isn't a biter, but I still don't like to take any chances, so in we went.

The main problem with a rabies shot is that it must be given by a licensed veterinarian. While some other shots can be more inexpensive as a technician can give them, this isn't the case with rabies. In most cases, you must pay for a rabies shot and a complete physical exam. Then, you must renew the dog's license with the county. In Multnomah County, if you provide the rabies vaccine but don't pay for a license, you receive a nasty letter in the mail that threatens fines. It's easier to just pay up at the end of the vet visit, I find.

After $200 and a half-hour appointment, we were done. Now, I just have to break it to Liam that this constitutes his Christmas present this year.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Should your dog sleep in your bed?

pug in bed

Recently, one of my friends started a Facebook poll to ask how many dog owners let their pets sleep with them at night. I was one of the very rare few who didn't respond with enthusiastic stories of dog co-sleeping. Apparently, I am one of the few people who banishes the dog to the floor when bedtime comes around.

I'll admit that I once allowed both the dog and all of my cats to sleep on the bed with me, and I liked having them nearby. There's something deeply comforting about waking up and being surrounded by little furry creatures who seem to love you. But, I didn't like finding cat hair on my pillows or being kicked in the kidneys by a dreaming dog. My allergist also didn't relish the idea of pet dander entering my nose all night long.

So, the cats are no longer allowed in the bedroom at all, and the dog is confined to a bed on the floor. The results have been part good and part bad.

In the bad category, I've seen no behavior benefits. Many trainers state that allowing a dog to sleep on the floor sets up a clear pack signal, and that the dog will know that you are in charge when you no longer share your bed. In theory, the dog will listen better as a result. I'm no longer sure this is true. Liam is just as rowdy and willful now as he was when he slept with me.

On the good side, my breathing has improved and this may benefit both the dog and me. Being able to breathe makes me a more cheerful, patient dog owner, and this probably makes Liam's life a little easier to bear.

So, I will likely never go back to co-sleeping with the dog. It's yet another way I differentiate myself from my dog-loving peers, and I'm sure my husband is glad to see this transformation take place. Having to share a bed with a wife, a dog and three cats was simply too much for the man to bear for reasons of his own.

To read some really hysterical thoughts on this topic, click here. And if you'd like to provide a human sleeping partner with another reason to kick the dog out of the bed, click here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reminder: Come to the House of Dreams Auction and help cats in need!

Towels up for auction for the House of Dreams
Remember these beauties? They're up for auction this weekend!
Earlier this year, I wrote a post encouraging my readers to make items to donate to the House of Dreams auction. As a show of support, I made these little tea towels myself, and I donated them to the cause. On Saturday, from 10a to 4p at Tabor Space, my lowly tea towels and a variety of other crafts will be up for auction. All of the proceed will benefit the House of Dreams.

For those of you unfamiliar with the House of Dreams, a bit of background. This shelter is tucked away in a residential Portland neighborhood and houses a rather large number of cats. These cats have ample access to clean and cozy beds, and they are often gathered together on the sun-soaked windowsills.

Volunteers keep the place spotless, and the cats are given many socialization opportunities. In fact, they all live together as one large clan.

When I visited, I was amazed to see so many cats living together quite peacefully. The older cats seem to provide a calming vibe the younger cats emulate. House of Dreams is a no-kill shelter, and some cats have been residents for 10 years or more. These old dudes know how the place works, and they quickly whip newbies into shape.

For people who love cats and who are looking for innovative solutions to the pet overpopulation problem, it's hard to beat House of Dreams. Some cats are placed in loving homes, but if no suitable homes are found, the cats live out their lives in a beautiful, clean and calm environment. I think House of Dreams is doing amazing work, and it's a cause worth supporting.

So plan to attend the auction on Saturday! The address for Tabor Space is 5441 SE Belmont in Portland. You might walk away with some pretty awesome tea towels (or something else that's equally wonderful) and you'll help the cats in the process.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Does acupuncture really help cats?

Eamon the cat finds the flash on the camera a little distracting.

As I look for new ways to deal with Eamon's pain that don't involve large amounts of prednisone, one option keeps coming up again and again: acupuncture. Experts suggest that acupuncture can truly help cats overcome pain, and people who perform the treatments on cats claim that the cats tolerate the procedure without complaint.

In traditional acupuncture, practitioners use very tiny needles in a series of pressure points to release tension and balance the flow of energy. In veterinary medicine, the same needles are used, but those needles are usually only inserted in the area that's causing the animal pain.

In Eamon's case, he'd have needles in his back and his hips, while he'd probably have no needles in his feet or head. In about six sessions, he'd probably be done with the treatments.

In the Portland area, these treatments can cost quite a pretty penny, and I'm not ready to jump on the bandwagon without a few conversations with actual cat owners. Cats are masters at disguising their pain, so I am skeptical of idea that the cats actually improved from the sessions. Did their clinical signs get better, or did they just bury their pain so the sessions would stop?

It's hard to say, but there are some effective ways to do your homework.

Some veterinary acupuncturists allow you to attend sessions with client pets. You can come into the exam room and watch the procedure performed on another pet, and you might see the changes for yourself. I've heard reports of people watching pets fall asleep during their sessions, and that's bound to be convincing.

Others allow you to call people who have used the service. You can ask these former patients about their experiences and the benefits they've seen, and you won't have the acupuncturist monitoring the talk. Those clients could help you to make a good decision.

Or, you could simply pay for just one session and see what happens. Most allow you to go just once as a trial, with no obligation to take on more sessions. If you head to just one, you could get all the answers you might need.

What will I do? I'm not yet sure. But I'll keep you posted!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why your dog must learn the "come here" command

Liam the pug looking worried in a pile of leaves

One of the first lessons you learn in any basic puppy class is the "Come" command. Many dog owners wonder why trainers don't start with something useful like "Sit" or "Stay." Yesterday, I got a good reminder of why recall is so important.

At the end of a long walk, Liam and I ran into our neighbor's very small puppy. This little guy ran right across the street for a little play session. Apparently, he'd slipped out the door between the owner's feet, and he wasn't quite ready to come back inside again. Treats weren't working, and the dog just didn't respond to any commands.

Dogs who won't respond to commands can get in big trouble. They can run in traffic, get in fights or simply disappear. That's why it's so important to teach your dog to come to you, each and every time you call.

How can you do it? Most trainers recommend that you use very good treats to encourage the dog to come, and keep a leash on the dog 100 percent of the time until they always respond to your command.

But what can you do when your dog is loose and won't return?

Knowing your dog is key. Finding something the dog finds irresistible and keeping it nearby could help you prevent a tragedy. For some dogs, food will do the trick. For other dogs, a favorite toy can be an effective lure. And for other dogs like this little pup, playmates are the ultimate enticement. To reunite the pup with his owner, I kept Liam on his leash and we walked closer to the house. 

This story had a fairly happy ending. Liam was a little traumatized by the tension in the air, and he got nipped in the face a few times by a puppy who doesn't know his own strength, but he emerged in good spirits after the encounter.

The pup missed a crucial training moment, however. The owners simply caught the dog and forced him back into the house. This is the ideal way to keep him safe, of course, but it might have been slightly better to lure him into the house with the promise of play and then simply shut the door. I remain slightly worried that he'll break out again, and next time he might be harder to catch.

Let's hope the owners are working on the "Come here" command right now.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do your cats groom you? What does it mean?

Lucy the cat is sleeping in her bed
Lucy is tuckered out after a long grooming session.
While I don't make a habit of crawling around on the floor, there are times when I need to stretch, do exercises, pick up a sock or otherwise get a bit low to the ground. Lately, I've had to do a few shoulder stretches on the floor, so I am lying there for a few minutes at a time, several times per day. Lucy has decided that I need grooming when I am doing these exercises, so she'll run up to my head and start cleaning away at my hair.

Turns out, many cats will groom the heads of their owners. It apparently doesn't have much significance, except the cat is demonstrating an overwhelming amount of affection through the process. Cats who groom you take you as part of the pack, so you get the same treatment they'd give another cat.

I can't say that I like it much, however. Cat spit doesn't make a great styling product, and the idea of a cat standing on my hair while I'm trying to stretch doesn't increase my comfort level. So for now, I have to shoo away this affection. Perhaps she'll find a different way to show her love in the future.

If your cat tries to groom you and you dislike it, you can try redirecting the affection. Break up the love fest with a quick game of play with a feather toy or a laser. If that doesn't work, try giving kitty a treat to snack on. Even a nibble of catnip would work. That way, your cat has something to do with her mouth, and you have a chance to escape.

But if kitty is persistent, there is a nuclear option. Lucy will redirect love from me to anything else that's alive. If she licks me like crazy, I can put her in a bed with the pug or with her cat siblings. They don't mind the love as I do.

Good luck!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Want to stop animal abuse? Start by reporting it

Katie the tiny kitten in her bed
Katie, one of my many rescue projects.
Like many animal lovers, I become wild with anger when I hear about animal abuse cases. Yesterday, for example, I was incredibly discouraged to hear that a woman in Damascus was living in a home with 97 animals. Yep, I said 97. When I thought of the conditions those animals must have lived in, I started to feel that familiar wave of anger and grief begin to rise.

But, there is one ray of hope in that story. As mentioned on the Oregon Humane Society website, the animals were rescued, in part, because a friend of the woman reported the abuse to the authorities. One person chose to speak up for those animals, and that person was able to help turn the tide and get the animals they help they need.

It might sound like a simple thing to do, to simply speak up and report something that looks like abuse. But in reality, it's really easy to look away and keep our mouths closed. We may want to avoid upsetting our neighbors or alienating our friends. We may think that abuse isn't our business. We may wonder what good one voice can do in the face of so much indifference.

I wonder what would happen if we all banded together and made an effort to protect these helpless animals? What if you spoke up the next time you saw someone beating their dog? What if you reported the neighbor with 10 dogs chained in the backyard? What if you agreed to help spay and neuter the feral cats in your neighborhood? What if we all took off the blinders and started talking? How many animals could we save?

Direct action, such as taking in an animal and helping it prepare for adoption, isn't right for everyone. As I mentioned before, doing direct rescue work takes money and for many families, money is just too tight right now. I've done direct rescue several times, so I'm speaking from experience here. But speaking up is free and it's easy. It's something all of us can do, right now, to help.

If you see animal abuse, contact the non-emergency police line in the city or county in which you live. Report what you've seen, and take pictures, if you can. If the issue doesn't resolve, kick it up a notch by calling your local humane society or animal shelter. Show those pictures and file a report.

Yes, it can take time for those reports to work through the system. And yes, doing these things means talking about something that makes many of us uncomfortable.

But the animals need us. Together, we can change things. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to help when your cat tears her toenail

Maggie the cat in her cat bed
Maggie in happier days (she's not feeling like a photo today).
As long as I've had cats, I've given them all a once-over each week and checked for any lumps, bumps or spots of pain. It's just become part of the weekly routine, and it's something I've stuck to with absolute devotion. This all stopped about a month ago when I had shoulder surgery. It is very hard to wrangle a squirming cat with only one arm. So, I've done what I can and given them the basics on the weekends, instead of the full treatment.

I suppose it's not surprising, then, that at least one cat would end up with a medical problem. They're not accustomed to being on their own.

On Saturday, I decided to trim the cats' nails, and I discovered that Maggie's back foot had been somehow injured. Two toes on her back feet were stuck together with matted, caked blood and I have no idea when or how that happened.

Toe injuries in cats aren't uncommon, and most of the time, you need to take a cat in for medical help with a significantly torn toe. But there are things you can do at home for mild problems.

First, you have to see what you're dealing with. And that means moving slowly and gently. I soaked Maggie's feet and slowly pried her toes apart. A fast move would have hurt her, but a slow soak helps to break up blood clots, so it hurts a little less.

Once I could see things clearly, I could act. And often, that means cutting off the jagged edges, so the nail can't get caught on anything else. Maggie's toenail seems to be torn only at the tip, so I was able to cut most of the tear away on my own.

Then, it's time to monitor for pain. Limping, licking or digging are signs that extra help might be needed. Maggie is not painful, which may be because this injury is very old and she has adjusted. But I am keeping an eye on her toe, and I'm prepared to take her in if it gets worse.

This is time-consuming work, and you'd think cats would thank you. That's not my experience. Maggie is not at all pleased with the extra attention, and I'm greeted with slaps when I reach for her toes. I think she'd prefer to be left alone. Sadly, this isn't going to happen. Even if her toe does heal perfectly, I'm restarting weekly once-overs this weekend.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Living with a cat on prednisone


Eamon the cat in his chair, looking for trouble
Eamon is clearly looking for trouble here. Note the narrowed eyes...
Eamon has been on a low dose of prednisone for about a month. In that time, I have seen remarkable improvement in his back condition. He's able to run, jump, play and amble. He's had at least one session of play fighting with Lucy (which he hasn't done in over a year). Overall, he seems like the picture of good health. I can thank the pred for that.

That being said, prednisone does have some side effects for Eamon that drive me a little wild.

For starters, prednisone tends to interfere with a cat's metabolism, so Eamon is hungry all of the time. And by hungry, I mean that Eamon is yelling his fool head off around dinnertime, and he's choking down his food as fast as you put it down. He's constantly on the countertops looking for food. He's even tried to sneak into the basement and eat food out of the bag. I can't increase his meal levels, since we don't want him to gain weight and put more pressure on his back. But even when I do give him a small snack to tide him over, he still yells for more.

In addition, I believe the prednisone is making him slightly more frantic and active. He has always been a busy cat, and he loves to run, but now he's even more active than he ever was before. He runs up and down the stairs twice as much on prednisone days as he does on non-prednisone days. He runs into a room, forgets why he is there, and runs back out again. Sometimes I am concerned that he'll hurt his back even more with all of this running.

Long-term prednisone really can do wonders, and I am so happy that Eamon is no longer in pain. But I am planning to talk to his doctors about these disturbing changes. Perhaps we can taper his dose yet more.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dog book review: Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean

Liam the pug with his Susan Orlean book
Liam doesn't seem to find the book very engrossing, but I sure did!
Do you have plans for tonight? If not, head to the Hollywood Theater at 7pm for a night of canine fun. Susan Orlean will be reading from her new book about Rin Tin Tin, and then the theater will screen a Rin Tin Tin movie. I'll be there, and I am very excited. 

A full disclosure statement: I am an avid fan of Susan Orlean. Her tightly packed sentences and unexpected humor make her New Yorker articles a thrill to read. I had never thought of her as a dog lover, however. She wrote about people with great skill, but I don't recall seeing any articles that dealt with furry creatures of any sort. I approached her book with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Can someone who doesn't really LOVE dogs write a great book about dogs?

The answer, in my mind, is a qualified "Yes."

Orlean has done her research about dog breeding, dog personality types and dog training. People who are interested in the GSD breed will learn a lot through this book. But Orlean is, in the end, more concerned with teasing out the human/dog relationship and determining what it means to love a dog and build your life around a dog.

Most of us who have dogs tend to take this relationship for granted, and it can be a bit startling to hear her discuss how dog ownership tended to isolate some of Rin Tin Tin's handlers throughout the years. But, perhaps, her outsider's perspective gives her a view dog lovers simply can't see.

I'm eager to hear her speak, however, and I am doubly thrilled to have the chance to watch the movie. Now that I've read up on Rin Tin Tin, I'd like to see him in action! It sounds like tickets to the event are still available. Click here for more information.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

4 fall foods to share with your dog

Liam the pug posing with Hanner Jumbo apples
Liam posing with a crop of fresh Hanner Jumbo apples.
While most experts agree that dogs should stick to dog food for the vast majority of their meals, most dog owners can't resist slipping their dogs a tasty treat every now and again. I find this is especially true for me in the fall, when the house is full to bursting with fruits and vegetables I've brought home from stands, the store and the garden.

Here are just a few fall snacks I give to Liam:
  • Apples. A raw, unpeeled apple is full of nutrients and it has a texture that most dogs really enjoy. Liam will happily crunch and crunch on a small slice of apple for several minutes before he'll swallow. I think he wants to savor the juices before he allows the apple to leave his mouth. The seeds are toxic, however, so remember to give your dog a sliced, seeded bite of apple only.
  • Pumpkin. Adding a bit of cooked pumpkin to your dog's diet can help firm up the dog's stool, and most dogs really love the taste of pumpkin. Popping fresh pumpkin and water in the crock pot and cooking for an hour or two is a great way to create your own, cheap pumpkin puree without exposing your dog to added salt or preservatives.
  • Sweet potatoes. A thin dog can pack on the pounds with a bite of potatoes. In fact, Liam gets a little potato every day. Just boil the potatoes in water and mash them to prepare them. Leave the skins on for the added nutrients. 
  • Green beans. Dogs who have the alternate problem of packing on too many pounds can happily snack on green beans. These beans tend to fill the dog up, without adding many calories. Freeze your extra beans and pull them out for quick treats. 
Adding a few of these tasty snacks to your dog's diet can help you boost his fiber intake, but remember to just give a little bite as a snack. Overdoing it could cause stomach upset. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

"He's friendly!" A bit of dog-walking etiquette

Liam the pug on his leash looking a little worried
A neighbor of mine has a very boisterous, very large dog. I've met this dog before, when he came to investigate my gardening skills, and he seemed quite cheerful and friendly. This dog is also, unfortunately, very reactive on the leash and responds with barking and lunging whenever he sees another dog approaching.

Barking dogs don't really bother me very much, but the owner's behavior is beginning to grate. She believes, for reasons I can't explain, that the dog is somehow misunderstood and friendly, and she is constantly yelling "He's friendly!" at me, while she holds the end of the leash and he barks and snarls away. This morning, she nearly attempted to walk him in my direction to prove her point. Liam and I had to do some fancy footwork to escape.

Here's the etiquette lesson: If another dog owner is distrustful of your dog, walk away. If the other owner is nervous and holds onto a leash with the death grip, that person's dog is likely to become anxious and aggressive. The tension moves down the leash, and you have a fight on your hands. If the other owner says "No," this means "No."

Additionally, if you have an untrained dog and you'd like to brush up on that dog's skills, let your dog practice with other dogs you know that are of a similar size. Everyone you meet is not responsible for your dog's training. They are responsible for the safety and training of their own dogs. Liam might be friendly, but he's also under 30 pounds, and there's no way I will use him as bait in a training exercise with a 75-pound dog. When a big dog and a little dog fight, the little dog loses.

I see this woman twice per day, and I know we're facing a showdown. At this point, I may simply tell her that Liam is aggressive. Maybe she'll get the message.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Pugs, skin problems and detergent: Are they connected?

Liam the pug in a freshly washed bed
Pugs are notorious for skin problems, but when you run an internet search on the problem, most owners seem to focus only on fleas and foods.

While it's true that pugs can develop allergies to fleas and it's true that food allergies can lead to skin problems, laundry detergent can also be to blame.

Many laundry detergents contain a whole host of chemicals, including petroleum products and heavy fragrances. While they may not bother us as humans, our dogs may lick their beds, chew on their blankets and drool on their toys more often than we do (I hope). It's likely that a dog will ingest chemicals from detergents, and those chemicals can cause allergic problems.

I wash Liam's bedding once a week. It helps to cut down on any fleas he brings in from the great outdoors, and it keeps him and his bedding from smelling moldy and disgusting. This is particularly important during the winter months. He comes inside from a wet walk and dives into his bed. After a few days, that bed smells like wet dog. Yuk.

When Liam was a puppy, he developed a small case of hives on his belly on laundry day. I figured the detergent was to blame, since this was the only thing I introduced on the day he had hives, and the search was on for new detergent. Eventually, I settled on Dreft. It still contains more fragrance than I would like, but it doesn't seem to irritate his skin. 

Some dogs may still react to Dreft, which might mean more research is in order.

If your dog is itchy on washing day, this might be a great topic to broach with your veterinarian. A simple change in detergent could make a big difference to your dog.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Tapering prednisone in cats

cats asleep in bed
Eamon is feeling healthy enough to cuddle with his friends once more.
When your cat is facing a serious medical problem, like chronic itchy skin or painful joints, veterinarians often prescribe predisone. The medication can reduce inflammation and just make the animal feel better.

About a month ago, Eamon went on prednisone for a back problem and he went from being an immobile and painful cat to a jolly, snuggly guy in just a few days. Like most owners, I was resistant to taper him off a medication that seemed to be working.

Prednisone is a great medication, my veterinarian reminded me, but it's just not a great idea to give high doses of the medication over a long period of time. That's why veterinarians often suggest that you provide the medication at a high dose and then slowly decrease the amount you're giving until you find a low dose that works to control the chronic problem.

I am not the type of cat owner that argues with medical advice, so I follow dosage instructions carefully and we're tapering off the prednisone now. I am on the alert for signs of pain, stumbling or weakness and I'll be calling my veterinarian when I see any of these problems. He may go on a higher dose at that time, or we may add in a pain medication to help with the symptoms. I'm hoping that doesn't happen, but I'm prepared in case it does.

You'll notice that I am following instructions here. When I worked in veterinary clinics, I encountered many pet owners who refused to taper and would call multiple clinics to fill prescriptions for their pets. I have a lot of things to say about this behavior, and none of it is good, but the short version is this: Veterinarians have a pet's best interests at heart and they've spent many years studying animal physiology. Questioning their expertise is a bit silly, unless you're a veterinarian yourself. Always do what they say.

But if you can't resist the temptation to tinker, do your research first. I often look up medical conditions in this book The First Aid Companion for Dogs & Cats (Prevention Pets), and if I'd like to follow the recommendations I see there (rather than those my veterinarian requests), I bring the book with me to my animal appointments. I outline why I'd like to do something differently, and I give the veterinarian a chance to change my mind.

It's much safer to follow an approach like this. Rather than making some sort of snap decision about what my pet should do, I'm educating myself and then asking the pros for education. If the advice you're getting about a pred reduction just doesn't sit well with you, this could be an approach you might consider.

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.” 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Cats on the furniture: Why do they like your beds better than cat beds?

Maggie the cat sleeping on a chair in my office

By my count, there are 9 cat beds in this house. This afternoon, not one cat bed had a cat in it. Instead, the cats were all cuddled up in my chairs.

Let me be clear: The cat beds are all padded, clean and comfortable. They are all in cozy and draft-free spots in the house. And the cats have used them before. But in general, the cats just seem to prefer the human seating arrangements.

No matter how I try, I can't convince the cats to give their own beds the majority of their attention. Maggie is the worst offender. She's so bad, in fact, that we must keep the bedroom door closed or she will spend the entire day sleeping on my pillow (and I'll spend all night wheezing).

So what's the solution?

It's possible that cats sleep in these spots because they like the way a favorite human smells. Sleeping in a person's sitting spot is a way to stay connected to that person, even when the person is gone. You can help with that by lining pet beds with old shirts or laundry. That scent might linger, and you could help the cats to stay connected while in their own beds.

Also, some cats sleep in human spots because humans keep them warm. These cats will leap into your chair as soon as you get up, so they can suck up some of the warmth your body has left behind when you stand. These cats might love a heating pad or a warm bed. That way, they can stay in it all the time without fighting you for it.

But in general, keeping ALL cats off the furniture at ALL times just isn't realistic. Cats want what they want, and sometimes, that means they want your spots.

There are things you can do to make it tolerable. I place towels or blankets on the favorite furniture, so I can remove those coverings when guests arrive. No one likes to leave a visit covered in foreign pet hair, after all. I also vacuum the furniture frequently, so pet dander doesn't accumulate in the furniture. As a rule, it's hard to get pet dander out of thick cushions (like mattresses and pillows), so it's best to keep cats out of the bedroom if you have allergies.

Many cat owners complain that their cats use the furniture to sharpen their claws. I think all cat owners have dealt with this problem from time to time. The answer, for my cats, is to give them more stimulation. When I moved from a small condo with no view to a large house with a squirrel-infested backyard, the scratching ceased. I also trim my cats' nails regularly. When their nails are short, they're less likely to feel inclined to sharpen.

Would I like my cats to sleep in their own beds? Of course. But if I share and they share, it's not so bad.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How to make your dog walk nicely on a leash

Liam resting in his bed after a long walk
Liam resting after a long walk.
I take Liam for two walks per day, and three weeks ago, I would have said that Liam has nice manners on a leash. Now that I can only use one arm on these walks (since I am still wearing my sling after shoulder surgery), I have a different opinion. Liam tends to pull, run and lag behind on most walks, and he's hard to control with only one hand.

On a standard walk, most dogs will dart and pull. Male dogs, in particular, are notorious for this behavior as they like to mark most surfaces you pass along the walk. Even dogs that only weigh 24 pounds can pull you off your feet if they run in a different direction without warning. I can't imagine what my surgeon would say if I had to pull a Mulligan on my surgery because of my pug.

Training a dog to walk nicely on a leash isn't easy. Most of the time, you must be hyper aware of your dog, and stay on the lookout for head movements that signal a run is near.

Liam tends to pull his ears forward and tighten his wrinkles before he darts away. If I catch this behavior, I give him a sharp "No!" and he stays in line. If I don't catch the behavior and he darts away, I stay completely stone still and ask him to come back to my feet and sit nicely. I don't move forward or back until he completes this command.

Some dog owners can use no-pull halters that force the dog's head into an unnatural position when the dog pulls. The dog may end up looking down or flipping around at the end of a pull, and they may learn to stop pulling as a result. Unfortunately, most of these halters fit around a dog's muzzle. Snub-nosed breeds like pugs can't wear these halters, since they have no noses.

If anyone knows of a no-pull halter that would work for a pug, shoot me an email message. My surgeon and I would appreciate it!

But there is a secret weapon you can use in place of a no-pull harness. That weapon? A cookie. The theory is that you can use a treat to make your dog look at you, not at something else, and the cookie is a way to reward that behavior. The treat doesn't have to be huge to work. Even a tiny nibble will do the trick. As long as the dog gets something for behaving, you're on the right track.

I'm using cookies, and I can tell you that they work. Yes, it's hard to give out cookies with one hand, but the snacks keep Liam from pulling me off my feet. Catching myself with one hand if I fall would be harder, I reckon.

Good luck! Hope you have the same success I've had. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why do cats love heat?

cat next to heater
Eamon cuddling up to the heater (which isn't on).
Fall has arrived in Oregon, and that means I pulled out the oil-filled heater for my workroom. I rarely leave this room during the workday, so there's no sense in heating up the whole house. Instead, I just heat up this one room. It keeps me cozy, and it keeps me on task. Who wants to hang out in the cold part of the house?

My animals feel the same way, so in the fall and winter months, they're all in my workroom with me, trying to bask in the warmth. No one is more eager than Eamon, who practically danced for joy when I pulled the heater out of the closet. He hopped right up on this chair to snooze, and I didn't quite have the heart to tell him that the heater wasn't yet plugged in and therefore wasn't emitting any heat.

Theories abound as to why cats love heat. Here are my three favorites.

1. It's in their DNA. 

Back in 2007, scientists discovered that our domestic cats share genes with wild cats currently living in Saudi Arabia (check out the deets at National Geographic). That's a fascinating tidbit, and it could explain a lot.

If our cats originate with wild cats that live in the desert, that means their bodies might do best in super-hot climates. They've probably evolved to do well in places that are really hot. And since that's true, they're probably likely to seek out spaces that are really hot, like heated workrooms.

2. It's a background thing.

Very tiny kittens don't have the ability to see, and they can't hear very much, either. But, they need to find their mommas, so they can get the milk they need in order to survive. They do that, veterinarians say, by seeking out heat sources. Momma cats have hot bodies, and baby kittens are like heat-seeking missiles when they're hungry.

If this is true, adult cats might equate heat with childhood, and with nourishment and protection. When they're hot, they have a sense that they're safe and protected.

3. It has to do with health.

Senior cats like Eamon are even more attuned to the power of heat, and it's possible that their hot preferences have to do with health and bodily preservation. Senior cats can't regulate their body temperatures as well as young cats can, and they often have stiff joints due to arthritis. By sticking close to the heat, they can keep themselves just a touch healthier.

Which theory is the correct one? I really have no idea. But here's what I do know: I'll have a crowded workroom until the spring weather comes back around.

Friday, October 7, 2011

How to help vision-impaired cats (hint: Utilize your local animal aid societies!)

This pretty kitty with the wide eyes has a vision problem
I have many friends who are passionate about animals. Most of us have rescued many animals on our own time, and using our own funds, and we have homes full of animals that no one else wanted. This doesn't keep us from torturing ourselves with stories of animals that need help, however.

This morning, a friend of mine sent me a link to a Craigslist.com advertisement, and it has me a bit angry.

The in this ad cat is a purebred Persian. I have no idea where this person got him, but she's had him for 2 weeks and she's decided she's spent too much money on his care and she's trying to give him away to a new home. He needs a eye surgery, and she can't/won't pay for it. She states she'll need to euthanize him if someone else won't adopt him.

Why in the world do people rescue cats if they don't intend to truly help them? Why take in a sick animal only to boot it back out again for being sick? Rescue work takes money, and if you don't have money, you can't do rescue work on your own. You can donate to rescue organizations, you can donate your time to rescue agencies, but you shouldn't be taking in these animals if you can't afford to pay for their care. Now this cat is facing death or adjusting to a new home after having a painful surgery. Both of these are terrible options.

So what can this owner do instead? Plenty:
  • Contact a Persian cat rescue. This cat is a purebred animal, and has a decent shot at being placed through a dedicated agency. 
  • Contact a blind cat rescue. When this animal is done with surgery, he'll be vision impaired and eligible for placement at one of these organizations.
  • Contact Animal Aid. This group can provide financial assistance to people who cannot afford needed medical care for their animals. They may even be able to take the cat in for needed medical care. 
I feel terrible for this cat, and I am outlining these options for the poster in an email. Let's hope she takes my advice.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dog clicker training idea: How to teach your dog to speak

video
The "speak" command is useful for vocal dogs that don't seem to know when to keep their opinions to themselves. Why? Because by teaching a dog to "speak," you are implicitly also teaching the dog not to speak.

Think of it this way: Most dogs will only offer a trick if they think a reward is in play, and they tend to stop performing a trick when they get no treat in return. If you teach a dog to speak, that dog might stop speaking unless you ask for the behavior. That's the only way it's rewarding!

Teaching a dog to speak with a clicker is easy.

Start with a treat in your hand, and wait patiently for your dog to provide some kind of noise in order to get that treat. You don't need to wait for a full-on bark. A grunt, a sneeze or a wheeze will work. As soon as you hear that noise, hit your clicker and say "Good speak," while you're performing your preferred hand signal. Drop that treat, too.

Yes, there's a lot you'll need to do all at once, at the same time. But if a clutzy girl like me can do it, I'm sure you can, too!

In time, you'll shape the command by providing the click/verbal reward/treat only when the dog makes an actual bark. And soon, you'll need to work to extinguish spontaneous barks. Atsy dogs like Liam may offer vocalizations when you have a treat in your hands and offer no commands at all.

Eventually, as you get picker and picker about what constitutes a rewardable noise, you'll see your dog barks only when you want that bark. But there may be some bumps along the way.

For example, Liam now offers a back up on the speak command, likely because he learned the two tricks at the same time. I just wait patiently after giving the command and wait for him to offer up the right activity.

Want to try it? I recommend this product:  Karen Pryor, Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs Kit. You'll learn how to use the clicker the right way, and you'll get a starter clicker, too!

Have fun!


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.”

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Can pets help you heal?

Lucy prefers to help me from afar
Lucy prefers to give help from afar.
I'm back to blogging, after a week's worth of recovery from my shoulder surgery. During that time, I was too flat painful to do anything involving typing. And may of the fears I had when I wrote this blog post about preparing for surgery have come to pass. 

But while I wasn't able to write online, I was able to read quite a bit. And in this week following my surgery, I've read many stories of animals that helped their owners recover in miraculous ways after a major health incident. This is just one of many of these articles.

Either I have a set of spoiled critters or the claims are a bit bogus in the first place.

Liam spent most of last week trying to climb underneath my sling, which was incredibly painful for me. Once I cried out a few times, he kept his distance.

The cats were terrified by the change in my appearance and the way I was moving, and they simply avoided me at all costs and hissed at the sling when I took it off.

This phase has thankfully passed. But now, all the animals seem frustrated that I can't throw the ball, put the food down or pet them as I used to do.

Once again, while I would love to be a romantic and believe that animals sense our pain and want to help, I am reminded that animals are just animals. They are constantly most worried about their own survival, and our ability to provide food, care and comfort. For them, this surgery is disruptive and a bit scary. They don't see an opportunity to rise above and help. They see an opportunity for their lives to go downhill.

I can help by reassuring them, staying positive and sticking to routines. That's what I'm working on now. I'm off to feed them lunch right now, as a matter of fact. But if you're planning to experience something miraculous in response to your own health issue, take it from me. Your pets may love you with all their hearts. But healing? Forget about it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How to prepare your pug for your surgery

Liam the pug sleeping on a pile of laundry

Tomorrow morning, I am having surgery on my shoulder to repair a very old injury. After the surgery is complete, I'll be required to keep my left arm in a sling for up to 2 months. While this has serious implications for me (how in the world will I wash dishes?), this sling also has serious repercussions for Liam.

Like most pugs, Liam is a one-person dog. I am that one person. Case in point: See how comfy he looks in this photo? He's sleeping on the clothes I took off before I got in the shower. (And notice that he brought his ball in with him. Silly guy.) It's ever-so-slightly blurry because I had to run out and get the camera in the 30 seconds I had before Liam came to follow me. He is truly a Velcro pug.

And taking care of Liam takes time. He expects me to give him baths, hold the leash on walks, carry him around when he's nervous and wrap him with hugs when he's upset. With one arm in a sling, most of these tasks will be beyond my capability.

My husband can tackle these tasks, of course, but we haven't yet convinced Liam to accept the substitution. My husband has been bathing Liam, holding the leash on walks, giving him treatments and petting him when he's nervous. But if anything, these switches have made Liam even more nervous and now he will hardly allow me out of his sight.

I am doubtful that I can convince him to change his ways in the next 24 hours. I can only hope that he'll realize that something has changed when I come home from the hospital in a slung up and groggy state. Otherwise, the next few weeks are going to simply crawl by.

(As a side note, I will also take a short hiatus from the blog while I heal. I should be able to type again by Monday, and then I'll return to a mostly daily blogging existence. But until then, I'll be resting the old arm.)

If you're heading in for surgery, it might be wise to talk with your vet about your pug's prep needs. Medications might help to soothe overactive anxiety, as might a few sessions of pet acupuncture. If you know you absolutely will NOT be able to walk with your pet, hiring a dog walker is wise. After all, a tired dog is a good dog. You'll want those regular walks to continue. Finally, ease up on the laundry for awhile, and line your pet's beds with your clothes. Your pug might be a little less stressed during your procedure with your scent in the air.

Wish me luck!