Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lucy Down the Rabbit Hole: Keeping Blind Cats Safe

Blind cats like Lucy can get into a lot of trouble
Normally, I am extremely careful about Lucy's safety. I keep doors closed, I keep the toilet lid down, I make sure she has a clear path to her bed and I clean up any spills when they happen. It's hard to keep her fully protected, however. She is incredibly curious, as are most blind cats, and she doesn't seem to know when she's in danger.

Case in point: This weekend, I inadvertently left the basement door open. I was doing quite a lot of gardening, moving in and out of the house, and I left the door open just a wee crack. When I came in from gardening, I noticed Lucy at the bottom of the stairs. I haven't fully Lucy-proofed the basement, so we don't let her down there. She could easily stumble on something sharp, wet or broken until I get around to fixing it up.

I scolded her from my high perch, and up she came running. But she somehow got startled as she was coming up the stairs, perhaps feeling a draft on her whiskers from the open laundry chute, and she took an abrupt turn to the right. Down the chute she went, which is a drop of about 10 feet.

This time, we got lucky. She didn't sprain anything but her dignity, and I carried her upstairs again to her bed to recover. But I should state that we got lucky. She could have easily broken her neck.

I'll take this as my reminder to close the doors and/or install some more baby gates. For more blind cat safety tips, click here. I should state that these tips seem to be geared toward sighted cats that are now blind.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Do cats really get spring fever? Or is that a cat myth?

Eamon is tired and sleeping in his bed
Eamon is very tired after a long day of driving me crazy.
Normally, I enjoy having my cats in my workroom. They help me remember to take breaks. They amuse me with their strange sleeping positions. And they lavish me with attention from time to time. All of this is wonderful.

There are days, however, when they simply drive me around the bend.

Today was one of those days. Today there were several episodes of kitty racing, up the stairs and down the stairs and up the stairs and down the stairs. Then they jumped up into windows and knocked things off. They cried for one another on different floors. Maggie and Lucy fought with one another for the attentions of Eamon.

My cats only go through these crazy sessions in the springtime. And I have a few theories about that.

While cats have pretty good internal thermometers, they tend to dislike weather extremes. They don't like days that are really hot, and they don't like days that are really cold. When the weather hits extremes like that, cats tend to hunker down and hope it will pass. They can't get crazy, as they are either too hot or too cold.

The spring, especially in Oregon, comes with ideal cat temperatures. It's between 55 and 70 most days, which is really not hot or cold. My cats just love that.

And, in the spring, I tend to open up windows and let the fresh air in. For indoor cats like mine, those open windows bring in all sorts of scents they can't access in the winter. They might smell other cats, other dogs, new people or barbecue. Any of these things could entice them to either joy or rage. And that could make them both more antic and more aggressive.

So to me, spring fever in indoor cats is a very real thing. But that doesn't make it any less annoying.

And sadly, there's not a lot that can be done about it. I can't really control the weather. I can use pheromone sprays like Feliway to help keep things calm, and I can play soothing music to mellow the mood. But this does seem to be one of those cat things that just has to happen, every year. It's my job to get through it without making it worse by losing my temper or getting impatient.

If you're looking for solutions, this article may help. It's about nighttime cat crazies, but a lot of this advice would apply to day crazies, too. Good luck!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Feline lip rodent ulcers are back

Maggie often has feline lip ulcers
Poor Maggie. Her upper lip is swollen and puffy and she doesn't want to eat very much. I'm pretty sure I know what will happen next. After a week or so, her lip will erupt into a bloody mess and she will be much more comfortable. She'll eat quite happily, although she'll get blood on her dishes and in the water bowl.

I know all this because it's happened before. She has a condition called "feline eosinophillic granuloma complex," which is also sometimes called "recurrent rodent ulcers." (These things do sometimes look like rat bites, which explains the name, I suppose.) This is, in essence, an allergic condition.

I have been able, in the past, to keep these problems at bay by switching her food. The last time she had an outbreak, about 2 years ago, I switched her to a grain-free diet in the hopes that I could prevent ulcers from ever forming again. But now that she's had another outbreak, it looks like I'm on the hunt for a new food.

If your cat has lip ulcers, it's best to work with your veterinarian on the proper solution. Sometimes food helps, sometimes an environment change helps and sometimes medications are needed. No web search can give you all the data you need.

But know that you're not alone, either. Maggie and I are right there with you. And we wish you the best!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Reinforcing dog bell housetraining

It's too cold out here! I'd rather pee indoors!
After we brought Liam home from the kennel earlier this month, he had two accidents in the house. Needless to say, I was shocked.

Liam has been trained to ring a bell when he has to go outside, and he's always been a stickler about using the bell each and every time he wants to go outside. All I can think is that he was allowed to urinate anywhere he wanted to while he was at the kennel, and he figured this was a good freedom to have when he was at home.

The wet, rainy weather we have here doesn't help, either, as Liam avoids going outside in these conditions. Just look at him in this photo! He looks miserable.

Thankfully, retraining a dog to use a bell is pretty easy.

Whenever I see Liam circling, I tell him to "Ring the bell!" in a high, idiotic voice. Then, I shuttle him outside to go to the bathroom. When he does pee outside, I congratulate him in my wee, weird voice and hustle him back inside for a cookie.

Why the high voice? Dogs often interpret that as excitement and joy. And for dogs with submissive pee issues like Liam, that voice often makes the water flow. By using it, I'm making him excited about going outside. And I am almost ensuring that he will actually pee when we get out there. Win win!

The trouble with this is that it has to be repeated—a lot. Every time Liam rings the bell, I rush him outside. And right now, we're in the testing phase. He's ringing the bell every 10 to 15 minutes, and hoping for a cookie each time. I hope this phase passes quickly.

Read more about bell training here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Oregon Humane Society Pug Crawl 2011 pictures

We had so much fun at the Pug Crawl this year! Instead of writing a formal article, I'll just let the pictures do the talking.
Liam and another pug at the pug crawl
Liam meets a similarly costumed pug.
A pug in a purple dress costume
Many pugs came in dresses this year.
A pug dressed up like Voodoo Donuts
Others came in Portland-based costumes.
Liam the pug with two buddies at the Pug Crawl for Oregon Humane Society
Liam got to wrestle with pugs young and old.
A pug relaxing with her person at the pug crawl
Some pugs chose to relax instead.
A Boston terrier at the Pug Crawl
Some other breeds were represented. 
Liam the pug at the pug crawl
A good time was had by all!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Come to the Oregon Humane Society Pug Crawl!

Liam the pug in his tuxedo for the Pug Crawl
Liam may appear in this costume, or something else altogether.....
On Sunday from 1 to 4, the Oregon Humane Society will be hosting the 11th annual Pug Crawl outside MacTarnahan's Taproom in NW Portland. This is considered a benefit event for the Humane Society, and a $10 donation per person is requested. All fees will go to help animals in the shelter.

But this is so much more than a standard fundraiser. Most pugs who attend come in costume, and owners are encouraged to parade them down the street for judging and prizes. There's a booth where you can kiss a pug, and lots of pug-related merch is for sale.

I know all of this only through word of mouth. In years past, it's been simply too hot or too cold for me to attend. I don't like to have Liam outside on pavement when the temperature climbs above 80 degrees, and he's miserable when asked to stand outside in the pouring rain. Sunday's weather in Portland is finally working in my favor. It should be warm, but not cold, and it may sprinkle, but not rain. So we're going!

Watch for photos on Monday.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hummingbird feeders and cats: How to keep your birds safe

Hanging a feeder high could help to protect your birds from cats
When I was a kid, everyone I knew had a hummingbird feeder. Since I grew up in an orchard town, we had hummingbirds simply everywhere, and it was great fun to see them zoom up, perch for a drink and zoom away.

My backyard doesn't have a plethora of blooming flowers, but I do have a few lilacs and I had noticed several hummingbirds checking out those plants. "Time for a feeder!" I thought.

Then I remembered that we have outdoor cats.

I couldn't bear the thought of our cats killing these birds, especially since some hummingbird species are endangered.

Lucky for me, I am married to a very handy guy. He rigged up our feeder on a nylon rope, so the feeder is well out of the reach of our cats but it can still be lowered for periodic cleaning and refilling. It's also right next to our windows, so we can see the birds when they come to feed. This might make entertaining viewing for our indoor cats. Everyone wins!

Placement really is key when you're putting up a feeder and living with cats. A very high feeder that isn't within leaping distance of a tree or a windowsill will make it harder for cats to lie in wait for a feathered feaster. But, hummingbirds also like to find feeders next to trees, flowers and other natural sources of nectar.

I've had great luck placing feeders next to flimsy plants like lilac, butterfly bush and lavender. These plants can be really tall, but they can also be willowy and bendable. That allows hummingbirds to rest on them, but they'll bend when a cat comes near. For me, that's been an ideal solution. 

As far as I can tell, we have no takers at our outdoor restaurant at this point. According to this site, I may have put up the feeder during the nesting time, when the birds are feeding insects to their young instead of drinking nectar. Just my luck. I will keep filling and cleaning the feeder, and hoping I get some visitors as the summer progresses.

For more information on feeding hummingbirds, including good advice on how to rig up a feeder, click here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How a home-cooked diet could help your dog

Liam the pug is enjoying his home-cooked diet
Liam has been on a home-cooked diet for about a month now, and I'm pretty pleased with the results. Here's why:
  • His face is much less red.
  • When I clean his facial folds, I rarely see any yeast colonies. 
  • The skin between his toes is turning from scarlet red to deep brown. 
  • He spends a lot less time chewing and digging at his knees. 
Those benefits are huge, and they aren't really surprising. I thought Liam's skin allergies would improve when he was on a better food.
The big change, however, has been in the quality and quantity of his coat.

Suddenly, Liam has long, overlapping hair on his belly that's simply never been there before. (I can't show it in the photo without making him take some sort of pornographic stance, but believe me that it's there.)

It's a little sad that he's growing this hair right now when the weather is warming up, but I am very pleased that his little system is doing well enough that he has the energy to make so much new hair.

I'm excited to see what else will happen as Liam continues to improve on the new diet. I'm hoping it won't mean yet more hair, though. If he sheds any more, I'll have to invest in a new vacuum. 

For more information on making a home-cooked diet, check out this website. The little chi in the photos is pretty cute, and the information is quite helpful.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pets, snails, slugs and slug bait: A deadly combination

This gigantic slug rode on my car all the way to the store and back
Our neighborhood is simply overrun with snails. This pretty guy, for example, held onto our car while we drove to the store, shopped and then drove back home. I scraped him away and deposited him on the lush greenery behind our house after we'd unloaded the car.

If you have slugs and snails in your yard, you can remove the pests by hand and either throw them away (yuk) or transport them to a portion of your yard you're willing to sacrifice (much more humane). 

But here's the main thing: Don't use bait. 

Many baits sold in gardening centers are neurotoxins. That means they kill the nerves inside the bodies of the creatures that eat them. To snails, that can mean a quick death. To dogs, that can mean a ton of seizures that cluster in a group. And each seizure raises a dog's body temperature. Without quick care, a dog that takes in slug and snail bait can die. And it's a terrible death. 

So no bait. Not ever. 

Additionally, keep your pets out of your neighbor's flowerbeds. You can't be positively sure that your neighbors aren't using bait to kill the pests, and it's best not to take a chance. The bait you can't see could be bait your pet chooses to eat.

For more tips on removing slugs and snails, click here. You'll learn about better garden choices, traps and daily picking. Your dog will thank you for it!

Small dog syndrome: How much are owners really to blame?

Liam sitting on my lap not showing any signs of small dog syndrome
I've been seeing a lot of information on the Web lately about the dreaded "Small Dog Syndrome." Websites like this one claim that is this a sort of dog mental illness, brought about by the terrible behavior of an owner who allows the dog the world with no consequences.

As defined by these trainers, small dog syndrome behaviors range from jumping up when uninvited, refusing to share toys or attention with other pets or humans, and barking/biting at strangers. These trainers claim this behavior is based exclusively on the bad behavior of owners who refuse to train their small dogs in the way that they would train their large dogs, and the small dogs pay the price. This site outlines a case for this theory in pretty stark terms.

On the one hand, I agree that small dogs are often allowed on furniture more frequently than large dogs. They are also picked up off the floor frequently. This makes sense. They're small animals.

However. I am not certain that this is an entirely negative act that is sure to cause damage and biting/barking. Liam likes to climb in my lap, and I like him to sit there. I pick him up often. And, he has never bitten a single person, ever.

Liam, however, must be invited before hitting the couch, and he knows the command "Not now" when he must sit next to me, rather than on me. If I had a large dog, this dog would likely be required to follow those same rules, and he probably would be allowed on the couch from time to time.

Secondly, I think this theory mistakenly holds large breeds up as ideals and doesn't take into account the specifics of smaller breeds. Saying that a chihuahua barks and growls because she is picked up and allowed on the couch while the Great Dane is quiet... that's just crazy. Some breeds are simply more vocal than other breeds. And small dogs don't have the market cornered on volume. The most vocal dog on my block is a German Shepherd.

This theory also neglects the reasoning that people use when they get a small dog: I can pick him up and snuggle with him. No matter your dog's size, it is important that dog owners enforce rules and create limits. But people with small dogs should be allowed to pick up their little dogs and hold them on their laps without feeling like they're committing a deadly sin.

Additionally, we also must respect the breed traits of our animals if our small dogs develop undesirable behaviors. We can't train our Min Pins to act like Golden Retrievers. They may always bark a bit more. That's what they do. We should respect their limitations and work within the breed, perhaps encouraging her to bark less frequently. Note I mentioned training here. Simply banishing a chihuahua to the floor without pairing this change with targeted training won't solve her problems. It may make those problems yet worse.

Don't believe me? Check out this list of the Top 10 easiest dog breeds to train. Only one breed listed here is considered a small dog. We could blame all of the owners of all the small dogs around the globe for improperly training their dogs, or we could remember that small dogs take patience and skill to train and methods that work on large dogs may not work on them. Blaming the owner is not helpful. Providing usable methods would be.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cats eating houseplants: Why do they do it?

This plant has clearly been a snack for my cats
In addition to having three indoor cats, three outdoor cats and a dog, I have several houseplants. I don't claim to be an expert at houseplant maintenance, by any means, but I have managed to keep several plants alive for 15 years or more. That's no small feat!

I have discovered, however, that one of my ferns has been suffering lately and dropping small leaves all over the table. I was about to pull out the big guns and repot the plant, when I noticed that all of the leaf destruction was occurring on only one side of the plant.

Next, I noticed Eamon up there, happily gnawing on fern salad when I was a few minutes late with his dinner.


Cats and houseplants often don't mix. Cats like to play with plant fronds that bend and weave in the wind, and they like to eat plants when their stomachs are upset. Mine like to stand in mine and romp around, which is why I only have spiky, tall plants.

The solution to the gnawing, for me, is this Bitter Apple spray. It's nontoxic, so it's safe for cats to eat if they choose to, but it really tastes terrible and most cats will avoid it at all costs. My fern also appreciates a good misting, so everyone wins.

I reapply every few days until the cats have broken the chewing habit, and then I put the spray away until it crops up again.

Many common houseplants are poisonous to cats and dogs. If your pets are gnawers, it's useful to review this list at least once per year and give away any plants you find on here to your non-pet-loving friends. Skip the spray and just give the plants away. Nothing is worth a trip to the ER for poisoning.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Long walks with male dogs: Why do they need to mark everything?

Liam the pug likes to mark everything when he walks
My husband and I were out of town for the weekend, and Liam spent a few days in the local dog daycare/kennel. He was (obviously) not treated to our daily walks around the neighborhood during this time.

Apparently, he is very displeased with this development and has become concerned that someone has taken over his route while he was away.

Why do I know this?

Because our morning and afternoon walks have stretched to epic lengths. He pulls out front on the leash so he can stop and sniff every flower and blade of grass and then douse the area with pee to claim it as his own. He was so determined to hit everything yesterday that he actually held urine back on our walk, and had to finish the job in our front lawn.

Normally, I try to be a fairly laid-back owner, especially when I can determine the cause of a new behavior and I know it will pass with time. But I do find this new development a little troubling, as I am worried that outdoor marking will soon become indoor marking.

The best way to prevent this behavior, from what I can tell from Dr. Google, is to encourage Liam to urinate in our yard before we even head out on a walk, and then to prohibit him from marking with a cheerful "Come on, boy!" when he tries to stop. I'm not at all certain that this will work, but I'm willing to give it a whirl.

If you are dealing with indoor marking behavior, this article from the Humane Society of the United States is quite helpful. If you have multiple dogs and have trouble determining who is doing the marking, or you have small dogs that leave tiny spots that are hard to find, these belly bands I've linked to on the left are amazing. They leave you with a tell-tale spot you can look for, and they're comfortable for dogs to wear. I have friends who swear by them.

Good luck!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Springtime, open windows and blind cats

Lucy the blind cat sitting in an open window
After many long, wet months in Portland, spring has finally arrived. This means we can open the windows once more and let the fresh air in.

If yesterday was any indication, Lucy will spend the entire spring and summer perched in an open window. In fact, she prefers the window in the stairwell.

This shocks me a little, I admit.

The windows on the lower level of the house are surrounded by trees filled with birds and bees. Typically, the sounds of prey nearby would attract her. These windowsills are also warmed by the sunlight in the afternoons, so they make prime napping locations.

But instead, she chooses a windowsill that is dark in the afternoon that faces the street. She listens for people and dogs walking by, but isn't treated to any prey noises.

The only thing I can think of is that there is a fast food joint down the street, and sometimes the smell of grilled meat wafts on the air to our house. Perhaps the smell of cooking food draws her to the window, and this is a bigger lure than the sound of potential food.

Hungry? This is the joint down the street. I may run down there myself.

But in the interim, I'll make sure the screens are packed tight every morning when I open the window. Lucy has great reflexes, and I have no doubt that she could right herself if she fell, but what then? What would happen to a blind cat lost in the neighborhood? It scares me to think about it.

So her safety must come first this spring. She deserves that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Be kind to animals week: How to mark the occasion

Lucy is ready to celebrate animals
The governor of Oregon has named this week "Be Kind to Animals Week." Many other states are celebrating animals this week as well with celebrations and parties. A quick search on the internet yields several stories about how you can honor animals during this week by donating money or having your pet vaccinated or buying your pet a new toy. These are all noble ideas, and I agree that more can be done to show your pets you care on a daily basis.

I also think we should take this week to think about the less-fortunate critters in our midst. After all, this week is about animals and not just about domestic pets. So, I'm planning to do my part. I am going to install a hummingbird feeder, to provide food to migrating birds that may need the nourishment. I'll also put out seeds for our resident squirrel population. And, I'll continue to talk to my neighbors about the importance of retraining our neighborhood coyotes.

For more ideas on how to honor your pets this week, click here.