Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Growing your own catnip -- Update

Small catnip plants are starting to grow
My home-grown catnip has finally sprouted! (If you missed the introduction to this project, click here.) As I expected it took close to 3 weeks for the seeds to sprout and push up through the soil. This was probably exacerbated by the fact that it's been an unusually cold, dark spring in Oregon. Most seeds like daytime temperatures of about 80 degrees to sprout, and we've had nothing approaching 80 in a very long time. But, I faithfully misted my seeds each morning and kept them covered with plastic wrap until the seeds poked through.

Now, I will wait until the seedlings are about 2 inches tall, and then I'll thin the crop to only the strongest little plants. This will ensure that they don't compete with one another, and have enough room to grow.

Typically, you move catnip plants outside when they're 4 or 5 inches tall, but I'm concerned about doing this as I think our outdoor cats will simply tear down the plants once they're tall enough to hold blooms. Instead, I may transplant them into a larger pot when they're taller and keep them on the sunporch. But I haven't decided. Watch for updates later.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Protect your pets from Easter hazards

Liam the pug with his Easter basket
I love Easter. In fact, I think I have more Easter decorations than Christmas decorations. Obviously, we celebrate in a big way here. But, some of the ways we mark the holiday could be dangerous for pets.

For example, now that the Easter bunny has come and gone, it's time to pick up the Easter baskets.

A traditional Easter basket contains many hazards for curious pets. Easter grass made of slick plastics can be quickly gulped down by your dog or your cats and can turn into an indigestible lump that must be surgically removed. And chocolate candy smells and tastes great to both dogs and cats, but neither animal should ever eat chocolate. In fact, enough chocolate can cause death.

So pick up the Easter baskets and put them where your animals can't reach them. Remember that curious and hungry animals can climb higher than you might think. It's best to place any food items in locked cupboards if you can't keep a close eye on your animals at all times.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Rabbits make great pets ... But not at Easter

A wild rabbit on the coast in Oregon
Wild rabbits are easy to see on the Oregon coast (but not so easy to photograph).
Take a quick spin through the heartbreaking pets section of Craigslist this morning and you'll see ad after ad full of baby rabbits for sale. People are encouraged to give their children rabbits as Easter gifts. Even the Oregon Humane Society, surprisingly, is getting into the act and is encouraging people to come to OHS and "learn more about rabbits" at an event tomorrow.

I agree that rabbits make wonderful pets. I had a rabbit as a pet when I was a kid, and he was a wonderful companion, both sweet and smart. But he was also a lot of work. He had to be fed at least once per day. His water had to be changed daily. His hutch had to be cleaned at least once per week. He needed weekly brushing, and often he needed to have his toenails trimmed.

He could also be a nuisance. He ate the bark off our trees, dug holes in the yard and broke into the garden and ate a significant amount of our vegetable crops.

In short, a rabbit shouldn't be an impulse purchase. This is a living creature that can be a part of the family for a long time. You'll have to feed it and house it and give it veterinary care every day, not just on Easter. It will need training every day, not just on Easter.

To repeat: It's a living thing.

To find out more about rabbit care, click on this link.

Please don't buy a live Easter bunny. Visit wild bunnies at the Oregon coast. Eat chocolate bunnies. Pet stuffed bunnies. But please don't treat the live versions as throwaway holiday art.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Paying it forward in Oregon: People helping pets

Two cats cuddled together
It can be very depressing to listen to the news these days. We're in the middle of several foreign wars, the economy is in shambles, teens in Portland are being shot as they head home from school ... It's enough to make you tune out and gaze at your animals as they sleep or look at cute videos of penguins instead.

One news item I stumbled across today made me feel slightly better about the state of the world.

Apparently, a woman in Oregon City was given a large bill at the end of her veterinary visit, and she was unable to pay the whole thing. So, a man in the lobby paid the other half of her bill.

No kidding.

He didn't want anything from her except for her to "pay it forward."  She claims that she did so by making lunch for her coworkers.

While this is pretty great and I'm sure they appreciated it, I'm not sure that this is in the proper spirit. Paying it forward means helping someone you don't know ... for no reason.

This doesn't mean the story isn't inspiring. I'm inspired, and this didn't happen to me or anyone I know.

Maybe we all should get into the spirit.

Pet owners can do a variety of things to pay it forward: volunteer at a shelter or donate pet food to people who have lost their jobs. For people who would rather make a difference in a less in-your-face fashion, consider donating to the animal rescue fund at your local veterinary office. Clinics often use this fund to care for stray animals or animals that have been abandoned by their owners. It's a way to make a real difference in the life of an animal.

In the meantime, go ahead and click on the penguin video. It's pretty cute.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dealing with a queasy dog: How to help a nauseated pet feel better

Liam the pug is feeling queasy
I've been transitioning Liam to new dog food, in the hopes that I can tackle his allergies, reduce his itching and make his skin healthier. While I am definitely seeing improvement in his skin, the transition hasn't been altogether smooth.

Last week, I discovered that cottage cheese is simply too rich for his delicate digestive system, and he threw up his lunches very soon after eating them. And then, a vitamin powder additive I tried also caused stomach upset, and I spent a sleepless night listening to him burp and smack his lips.

It's not uncommon for dogs to get a little queasy when you're transitioning them to new foods. In fact, it's not uncommon for dogs to get queasy at all.

Most dogs will eat things before even considering whether or not they're actually tasty, which can lead to nasty stomach upset. Liam's been known to eat anything he can gobble up on our walks, including garbage, cat poop and decomposing leaves. Once it goes down his gullet, it's too late to do anything about the problem. And often, he regrets his choices later.

This article outlines causes and treatment of nausea in dogs. I follow these guidelines closely, although I would add once small tip. Dogs who are nauseated can need a little extra love and attention from you. Nobody likes to feel nauseated. By providing your gentle, calm attention, you can help your dog calm down and feel better.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Springtime in Oregon: How dogs and cats feel about it

Cat huddled in front of a space heater
Springtime in Oregon means two things: It's cold and it's wet. Neither of these situations make my animals very happy.

Early morning walks with Liam become torturous, as he dislikes walking in the rain and will hang back on his leash, hoping I will turn around and head back home. If the weather is wet enough, he returns home soaking wet and I return with wet feet and a bad attitude.

Eamon dislikes the cold. He's growing older and simply cannot seem to deal with cooler temperatures without complaining. Most mornings, he curls up to the radiator I keep in my work room, sneaking closer and closer to the heat source with each passing minute. He sometimes has to push my wet shoes out of the way (which means they don't dry as quickly, but I try to forgive) so he can stretch out on his side in front of the radiator.

Here's hoping the weather will turn soon. I think we're all ready for spring.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In Portland, off-leash dogs are illegal

Liam is on a leash as he should be in Multnomah County
OK, folks. It's time to get tough. I have talked about this on the blog before, but some people still seem to need a reminder.

In Multnomah County, dogs must be on a leash while in public areas. This means they must be on leashes while they're in parks, at stores, at the local dog-friendly bar ... and they must be on leashes while they jog alongside you in the morning. If you don't believe me, please visit this link to the Portland Parks and Recreation website. If you flout the law, you can be fined up to $150 per infraction.

Once again this morning, Liam and I were forced to deal with an oblivious dog owner jogging along with an off-leash dog. This dog ran up to other dogs on leashes, wandered up on porches, urinated and defecated on the front lawns of several houses and darted into the street. At the end of our walk, he bounded behind us, hackles raised, and I had to fend him off until his owner rounded the corner.

Normally, I dislike hollering at my neighbors when this sort of thing happens. People tend to have routines, and the people you yell at today, you're likely to see again tomorrow. In addition, this is a terrible way to start the day. However, today I did yell, "You should be using a leash!" I feel pretty good about it.

Dogs who aren't on leashes can run into traffic and get hit by cars. They can bound up to leash-aggressive dogs and get into serious altercations. They can startle pedestrians who may react with fear and violence. It doesn't matter how good your dog is. It's against the law.

Let's start reminding one another about this. Let's have confrontations. Let's get this solved together.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cooking your own dog food: It's easier than you might think

A sample of what home cooked dog food looks like

As regular readers of the blog know, Liam has skin problems. He has reddish fur between his toes. He often develops brown rashes on his belly (and those seem to itch, as he scratches often). And he developed an infection in his facial fold that was difficult to get rid of, even with expensive antibiotics.

All of my research on the nasal fold problem lead me to an unfortunate discovery: It's likely that Liam has a food allergy and the food we've been providing isn't nutritionally adequate. He was on a buffalo diet, no grains included, and this was might spendy food that should have taken care of the problem.

My first dog, a Boston terrier, had very similar problems. I attempted to put him on a commercial diet for allergic dogs, but he got no better, either. In the end, I cooked his food for him. I figured he must have been allergic to some sort of trace ingredient in commercial food and this was the only way to solve the problem. I'm putting this theory to the test with Liam now.

There are many dog food recipes available online and in books. Many recipes call for the inclusion of grain, which I am reluctant to give. Many other recipes include no vegetables at all, which I also find a bit strange. The recipe I am beginning with includes: a scoop of canned pumpkin, a scoop of canned peas or spinach, a scoop of lowfat cottage cheese, a multivitamin powder sprinkle and a topping of canned sardines. (Yummy, eh?)

I will likely vary the ingredients included (maybe using egg or beef for the protein, sweet potato for the starch and carrots for the veggie) and I will likely switch from canned ingredients to fresh, cooked ingredients when summer comes and I can buy these things.

It's much to early to tell if this will work for Liam and his allergies. These things can take months to clear up. But in the interim, I can say that this home-cooked food seems much more tasty to Liam and it is cheaper, too. Here's hoping everyone wins.

For another pug owner's take on the home-cooking idea, read this article.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Growing your own catnip: It's an easy and fun way to treat your cats

Catnip seeds growing on a sunny windowsill
My cats are complete drug addicts. They absolutely adore catnip. However, when I buy them catnip toys, I find that they often tire of the catnip after a day or two.

They adore dried catnip, of course, but I tire of having sprinkles of green all over my carpets. I also tire of spending $7 to $8 per tub, and I am not always certain that the catnip I am buying hasn't been sprayed with pesticides.

This year, I decided to grow my own catnip.

My husband installed this nifty shelf in the sunporch of our house, which means the pots are exposed to heat and sun but I can keep the cats away from the plants as they grow. I've sprinkled this soil with a small amount of seeds, and covered the soil with plastic wrap.

Each day, I mist the soil with a small amount of water and replace the wrap. When the seeds sprout, I'll remove the wrap and thin the crop to just the strongest plants. When the plants are 8 inches tall, I can harvest the branches.

I will simply give my cats the snipped branches to munch on. If you'd like to grow your own catnip and dry it, this blog post will show you how.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Coping with canine separation anxiety

Liam gets through his canine separation anxiety with dog toys
I have the luxury of working from home most days. This means that Liam is within 1 foot of me for the vast majority of the day, and he tries to keep me within sight at all times.

Normally, you would think that this is an ideal situation for a dog. But it can lead to problems.

For the past few days, an assignment has taken me out of the house for the afternoons. I've left Liam in his accustomed space with his toys, beds and treats, but he howls as I leave and acts as though I've been resurrected from the dead when I return home.

I believe we're experiencing the beginning of separation anxiety.

Dogs with this condition become extremely stressed and fretful when left alone. They may cry and throw themselves at the door, or they may show extreme signs such as breaking down doors and windows to escape.

There are many, many resources on the web full of advice on how to deal with the problem. Most of them simply don't apply to me.

The best way I can correct this problem is to start going to work at an office full time, and I'm not planning on doing that anytime soon. One mistake I am making, however, is being excited to see Liam when I return home. Instead, I should be acting as though my return home is unremarkable and business as usual. I'm starting that now.

As I stated before, there are many websites full of advice on this issue. Here are two links for your perusal, one from ABC News and one from the Humane Society of the United States. As you'll see, some of the advice is contradictory.

My advice? If your dog has separation anxiety, it's best to hire a trainer who can customize a treatment plan specifically for you and your dog. This way, you'll get tips you can actually use, made just for you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cutting your cat's nails: How to do it and how often

Maggie is getting her nails cut
Cats love to scratch. A cat with sharp claws can make short work of your furniture, and can seriously wound any dogs or children you have in your home.

There's a simple solution: Cut your cat's nails.

It's easy, and with a little patience, most cats can learn to tolerate it. Mine do. 

Every other week, all of my cats enter the beauty salon (also known as the bathroom) and have their nails cut. I gently pinch each toe with the fingers of my left hand and trim the nails with standard nail clippers in my right hand.

I just snip off the tips, carefully avoiding the pink blood vessels near the base of the nail. With regular clipping, that blood-filled core moves down the nail, closer to the paw, so I can cut back more nail during these sessions.

While my cats do not like to have their nails cut, they are accustomed to these cutting sessions and they don't protest. I don't scruff them, restrain them or wrap them in towels. I just hold them on my lap and snip away. This is likely because I've been cutting their nails since they were kittens, and they know I will not hurt them.

This page from WSU has wonderful illustrations on this topic, if you'd like more information.

Friday, April 1, 2011

How to celebrate your cat's birthday

Lucy is ready to celebrate a birthday
Lucy checks out the loot.
As I was researching ways to mark my cat's 10th birthday, I was struck by the sheer amount of bad advice out there. (Sing a song to your cat? Slap a new collar around his neck? I don't think my cats would appreciate this sort of treatment.) To help future partiers, I thought I'd compile a list of cat birthday suggestions that might be useful and/or fun:
  • Buy your cat catnip/based treats. Eamon received both a catnip-filled cigar and a ball of pressed catnip. He loves catnip, so this makes an appropriate treat. 
  • Use a laser toy or feather toy to play with your cat. Spend one-on-one time with your cat.
  • Run a load of towels through the dryer, and heap them on your cat's favorite napping spot. Most cats love something warm, warm, warm to sleep in. 
  • Make yourself a cake. After all, you've done your part to keep your cat healthy and happy for a year, so treat yourself to something you love. (I made a chocolate mocha cake with mocha buttercream frosting. Yum!)
  • Donate to an animal charity of your choice, in honor of your cat. 
  • While it may not be fun, now is also a great time to schedule your cat's annual veterinary exam. You'll remember to make the call every year, and good health makes a great gift. 
As a final thought, some websites suggest that you provide your cat with a special treat on his/her birthday. I'm not certain that this is a wonderful idea. Many cats develop indigestion when their food is suddenly changed.