Monday, August 29, 2011

How much care can you give a feral cat?

Feral cat Franklin in a photo taken through a window
I took this photo through the kitchen window. 

Trap-neuter-release programs are a huge boon for feral cats. These programs allow feral kitties to live out their natural lives in the communities in which they were born, and the caretakers of those communities agree to provide food and some sort of rudimentary shelter for those animals, as well as agreeing to spay/neuter the newcomers.

Franklin is in his own feral cat community in my backyard. At one point, there were about 5 cats in this community, and the ferals mixed with the semi-tame, owned cats my husband inherited. But now, there's just Franklin. I've been working with him, but it's hard. 

Now, Franklin won't run from me unless I am about 1 foot away. If a door or a window separates us, he won't run away at all. This is huge progress. But still, I am constantly reminded of the fact that I can only provide him with basic care. If he needs something major, he will never allow me to get close enough to help.

Case in point: Franklin has terrible seasonal allergies. His eyes water and drip during the spring and summer, and he often chooses to simply close his eyes instead of squinting through the mess. When the air clears a bit, after a rain or a cooler day, he can hold both eyes wide open once more but he has a giant crust around his eyes that he can't seem to clear off as much as he tries.

I would love to take him to the veterinarian and get him medicated eye drops to deal with this problem, and I'd happily apply those drops. I'd also happily clean off his face.

But I can't do either of these things from a foot away.

Helping a feral cat often means accepting these sorts of limitations. You provide them with a safe place to live, and you provide plenty of clean water and tasty food. But that's about the most you'll be able to do. They are still wild animals that cannot or will not accept your close contact. And often, that means these cats have to deal with bothersome health issues you could deal with, if they would only let you.

When I talk about this, people often remark that cats like Franklin would be better off dead. But let's think about that. His eyes may be watery, and his fur matted. He may have days when he doesn't breathe all that well. But he eats three times per day. He sleeps in a heated building at night. He has clean water. He runs through the grass with his cat pals. He sleeps in the sun.

He's no house cat. But I think he enjoys his life. I give that to him. If you care for a feral cat, you could do the same. Why not?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Dental care for cats: What are your options?

Lucy showing off her clean and sparkling teeth
Since I spent so much money on Lucy's dental cleaning this week, I've suddenly become quite interested in cat dental care. Specifically, I've been trying to figure out if there are things I can do at home to keep her teeth cleaner, so I can skip these expensive visits ever 2 to 3 years.

Unfortunately, I've come back with some bad news.

Unlike dogs, cats don't use chew toys or dental chewies. They might bat things around, of course, but they don't really sit down for long sessions of gnawing that might scrape off tartar. That means it's hard to deal with cat tooth problems with a treat or a toy. Cats just don't work that way.

Same goes for food. Some manufacturers make dental food, but I've used this before and I'm not sure it works. I didn't see any dental results, although I did start to notice that the cats had dirty, flaky coats after eating the food. The poor tooth results could be due to the way cats eat. They scoop food up with their jaws, but they don't really chew food thoroughly. Look closely at the next pile of kitty vomit you get in your house and you'll see what I mean. Most of it is eaten whole. That means the teeth do little work.

So, the final solution involves kitty toothbrushing. I brush the dog's teeth once a week, so I know how to do it, but I haven't yet been brave enough to brush Lucy's teeth. She can't be tempted with tasty toothpastes, because she's afraid of novel smells. (If you were blind, you might be afraid of smells, too.) And she doesn't tolerate behind held down so you can manipulate her. I am not sure I could brush her teeth without obtaining permanent scars.

Maybe I will change my mind and try it, though, if I keep looking at the receipt from the veterinarian. It's good incentive.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Feuding felines: Why do cats fight after a vet visit?

Three cats sharing the same bed

Earlier this week, Lucy spent the morning at the veterinarian's office, having her teeth cleaned (Did you miss the blog post about that? It's here.). While the visit was totally necessary, and I'm glad I had it done, it's resulted in some new and troubling problems. Now, my cats are fighting.

Maggie no longer seems to recognize Lucy at all. She hisses at Lucy whenever she comes within a 1-foot radius. And if Lucy keeps coming closer, the hisses get louder. 

I should mention that these two cats have never really been pals. They don't groom one another or choose to sleep together. In fact, I love the photo I used with this blog simply because it's documentation of the one time I saw them sleeping close together. It's so novel, it was worthy of a photo. I force them to eat in the same room to bring them closer together, but they simply don't seem to like one another much.

The hissing issue is totally new, however.

Apparently, this is quite common in the cat world. When one cat heads to the veterinarian, the other cat may find the scent of the vet too much to bear, and hissing and fights might break out. If the cat is high-strung, like Maggie, this problem can persist for several days. There is no record, unfortunately, of previously dueling cats getting along better after the vet visit. I had hoped this would happen, but I was apparently being optimistic.

Some cat owners rub baby powder on both cats to make them smell similar and stop the fighting. Others separate the cats and reintroduce them slowly over a 2-day period. I am going to try taking Maggie to the vet in a carrier whenever anyone else has a visit. If she smells like the offender, perhaps she'll be less inclined to get hissy. I am hoping, however, I won't have to try this idea out anytime soon. In the meantime, I am letting the two girls work it out. Since Maggie is only hissing gently, and she's doing a bit less of it each day, they seem to have a solution already within reach.

Jackson Galaxy has good suggestions about introducing a cat to the household. These steps may seem drastic when your cats know one another, but they're totally appropriate steps to take if your cats are actually fighting. Allowing them to hurt one another is never a good idea. A slow reintroduction in this model allows the cats to know one another again, and that could stop the hissing, spitting and fighting for good.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dog days and frog legs

frog dog
No, he's not praying to Mecca. He's trying to cool his belly on the floor.

According to the experts the "dog days of summer" technically take place from July 3 through August 11, when the dog star rises and sets with the sun. Many people, including me, have their own definition of the term. I use it when the daytime temperatures reach 80 for more than four days in a row. Using this definition, the dog days have finally arrived in Portland.

As a pug, Liam has a lot of trouble in the heat. When the temperature rises above 80, he can no longer take an afternoon walk. When the temperature rises above 85, he can barely make it outside for a quick potty break without panting and taking a rest when we arrive indoors.

When he's on the verge of panting, but not quite ready to take that final leap, he'll lie down in this frog-leg position.

This is a bit of a controversial subject for many dog chat sites, particularly in dog sites for Golden Retrievers. Some veterinarians say that dogs who lie this way have excellent hips, as they can control the ball and socket of the hip and rotate all the way out in this way. Other veterinarians say the ability to lie this way shows the hip is too flexible and the dog will have trouble down the line. There are some puppy buyers who will, or will not, buy a puppy based on whether or not the dog can frog.

I have no idea which stance is correct. I do know most pets will apply their stomachs to the cold floor to cool off. It's quick and efficient. Plus, it's also kind of cute.

For more information on the term "dog days," click here.  And to see just one example of a dog frog leg discussion, click here. And try a cooling mat! A dog spread out on one of these things actually has the opportunity to get cool. It could be a great help.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Blind cats at the dentist: Lucy's appointment recap

Lucy in the window after her dental appointment
Her beard got a tad matted during the ordeal, but she doesn't seem to mind.
A few weeks ago, I wrote up a blog in preparation for Lucy's appointment with the dentist. Despite all the plans and instructions I had pulled together, I was just sure that something would go wrong. (Missed that blog? It's right here.) I'm happy to report that things went swimmingly. 

The technicians were able to put in Lucy's arm catheter without my assistance (which is quite a feat). I stayed in the lobby, in case they needed me to hold her down for her arm shaving and needle poking, but she let the team handle her just fine. They didn't even need to restrain her tightly, they tell me.

I left for home, and the team got to work. They report that she remained quiet and docile throughout the procedure. Apparently, she likes this clinic quite a bit, and they did a wonderful job of making her feel comfortable and cared for.

They also allowed me to pick her up very, very early so she could continue her recovery at home. She was a bit of a drunk for the first few hours, and I attempted to gate her in one room, but she simply climbed over the gate and walked where she wanted to walk. Now, she seems completely normal.

Once again, I am reminded that these blind cats are incredibly resilient. I had made several plans based on the idea that she needed special treatment, because she was blind. As it turns out, she needed no special treatment at all, and she was a little resentful that I attempted to provide her with coddling.

I can't promise that I have learned my lesson and I will treat her just like my other cats from now on. It's not in my blood. But I know she'll keep reminding me in her own, gentle way that she doesn't need the babying I seem to need to provide.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Choosing toys for your dog: How to find the perfect plaything

Liam the pug loves stuffed toys
Liam and one of his favorites.
Liam has a toy obsession. He enjoys chew toys, balls, Nylabone keys, stuffed toys, rope toys and cat toys stuffed with catnip. He likes to use them as pillows when he sleeps. He likes to fetch them if you throw them. He likes to chew on them at the end of a long day. And he often likes to carry his favorite toys around in his mouth. Often, these toys completely obscure his vision, and he runs into chairs and tables. He's mad about toys.

My first dog, a Boston terrier, was the exact opposite. He would play with toys if other dogs were around, and he would engage in the occasional game of tug-of-war, but he had no interest in playing with toys on his own. Many of the toys I bought for him 10 years ago are still in the toy basket, and now Liam plays with them.

I find that most dogs do have innate toy preferences, and it can be a bit difficult to ferret those preferences out. 

While Liam will play with all toys, he has a specific preference for toys made of a curly fabric. I have no idea why. Other toys made of smooth fabrics get occasional play, but they're not nearly as popular. Toys that weigh more than 2 pounds are also not popular. When Liam is playing, I take note of the objects he's passionate about. Rather than trying to guess what he likes, I let him tell me through his play. 

To do this, you'll need a toy box filled with toys of different shapes, sizes, weights, noise-making capabilities and colors. Then, let your dog have at it while you take notes. In a few days, you'll have a very good idea of what your dog does and does not like. 

And at the end of that testing period, you can put the rejected toys to good use.

Hard toys like Kong toys, tennis balls and Nylabone toys can be donated to the Oregon Humane Society to help stimulate the pets there. Make sure the toys are in good condition. And be sure to wash them before you drop them off.

Small, stuffed toys are harder to find homes for. Kenneled dogs at shelters often can't be given these toys. If they rip the toys apart in the middle of the night, they could face fairly serious medical problems. These toys can be donated to Goodwill, where other dog owners can pick them up at a reduced cost and give them to their dogs to use while supervised. You might also have friends who would love your dog's rejected toys.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Good friends can help a blind cat

Liam and Lucy sharing a pet bed
Liam and Lucy are lifelong friends, and he provides her with real help.
Before I post new articles on this blog, I take a quick run through the statistics the blog automatically keeps for me. I can see how many people have read the blog, where all of you are from (Hello, Malaysia!) and what search terms people have used to find this site. Lately, I've noticed a sharp spike in some rather frightening blind-cat-related terms. Someone is searching for ways to confine, crate or otherwise box up a blind cat to keep it safe.

I have a better idea: Pair the cat with a friend.

When I brought Lucy home, I was terrified that something horrible would happen to her and that she'd never find her way around. What she did, that first day, was yell her fool head off until Liam (the pug) ran over to her. Then, she simply pressed her body into his and followed him as he walked. If she got lost, she yelled some more and he came running. In about two days, she had my condo all mapped out.

When I moved into this much larger house (which has a big set of stairs, by the way), Lucy once again called on Liam to help her with mapping. She followed at his heels as he walked, and she cried out for help if she felt lost. She was the first of my three cats to come downstairs, the first to eat and the first to find the cat box. She felt secure because she knew Liam would bail her out if something went wrong.

These two have a very special bond that I think is very touching, but perhaps not rare. There are many, many stories of animals helping others in their community, especially if those other animals are somehow maimed or disfigured. Allowing your resident animals to assist a blind animal may be the best step you can take. Isolating your blind animal could mean your residents will never truly accept that blind animal, and your blind animal will never really have the full life it deserves.

Blind cats are truly amazing animals, capable of overcoming the disability with remarkable speed and grace. Let your blind cat surprise you. Use baby gates to keep your cat from falling down the stairs, of course, but don't be afraid to let her explore the house at her own speed with the help of her friends.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It's time to celebrate Black Pet Appreciation Month!

Black pets like Jasper have longer wait times in shelters
Believe it or not, black dogs and cats have a hard time getting adopted. For some reason, people aren't drawn to the velvety fur of a black animal and they tend to get passed over ... and over. Some rescue organizations are working to change all this.

In fact, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is declaring mid-August to mid-September Black Pet Appreciation Month. (I'm not sure why it doesn't go from the start of the month to the start of the month, but I wasn't involved in organizing it.) The idea is that black pets will come with reduced adoption fees during this month. And the organization has created a ton of information that could prompt people to look at the black pets they've been walking right by as they shelter shop.

Best Friends Animal Shelter is pretty far away, but you don't have to travel to take advantage of the special. One shelter in the Portland area that is participating is Animal Aid. They have many, many black dogs and cats that would be eligible under this plan (and they're all pretty darn cute).

I should point out quickly that the Oregon Humane Society is not participating in this program. They did declare today Black Pet Day, but they're not offering a discount anywhere. You can, however, get one cat for half the adoption fee if you adopt another at full price. Adopting two black cats might be a great way to celebrate Black Pet Month, wouldn't you think?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why a tired dog is a good dog

Liam is a very tired dog
On most days, I take Liam for two walks. I take him out in the morning before I sit down to work, and I take him out again in the evening, when I am done working for the day (and writing this blog). Sometimes, people ask me why Liam needs so many walks. I think some people worry that I walk this little pug too often and I am going to wear him out. Perhaps this blog entry will convince them that two walks per day are truly needed.

Liam didn't get a walk in Monday morning, because I was tired and I wanted to sleep in. At the end of that Monday, Liam became a wild man. All of his energy had to go somewhere. He threw his toys around. He ran laps downstairs, he dug at his beds. And, he seemed to "forget" his commands, which meant that he also became just slightly disobedient.

Living with a dog like this isn't fun, of course, especially if you want to get any work done. But it also can't be all that much fun for him, either. He seemed stressed out and worried and just a little bit out of control.

After two walks per day, and a long training session, Liam is able to rest and relax. He plays with his toys, but he doesn't seem quite so frantic about it. He's also able to sit nicely and listen to me type, without becoming a whirling mess. We're both a bit happier.

Making time to train and exercise a dog isn't always easy. But here's my take on it.

When Liam hasn't had a suitable amount of exercise, I spend a lot of time either scolding him or correcting him. I have to watch him and mind him and corral him. I also have to clean up after the messes he makes. That's time-consuming too, and it's not very fun.

In my mind, I spend the same amount of time in either scenario. So why not do things we both find enjoyable? To me, it just makes a lot more sense.

So go ahead. Get out there with your pet! When the end of the day comes and you can both get in some epic snoozing, it'll all be worthwhile.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Places to take your dog in Portland

Liam enjoying the Rhododendron Garden
Liam enjoying the Rhododendron Garden.
People who have small dogs may not always want to take their pups to the dog park. Big dogs can do big damage to small dogs, and taking a little dog to the dog park can be unnerving for dog and owner alike. Luckily, there are many places in Portland that allow dogs on leashes. You can take your small dog without worrying about bigger dogs bowling over your little one. These are just a few of my favorite places:
  • Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. This large park has literally thousands of rhododendrons on display, along with many beautiful trees and ferns. Ducks and gees wander freely about the grounds, and I've even seen heron fishing in the ponds. It's a great place to take your dog for a stroll. You can teach the dog not to chase the wildlife, and you can see some lovely plants in the process.
  • Lucky Labrador Brewing Company. The SE Portland location has ample outdoor seating with sturdy benches spaced widely apart. The bar sells peanuts, which make great training treats, and many dog owners come on sunny days to relax with their pets. Some patrons do let their dogs run around off leash, but most owners are respectful if you ask them to keep their dogs away from yours.
  • The Grotto. This is a Catholic sanctuary, but even people who don't have a religious bone in their bodies might appreciate the big carvings and iconography. The plants that surround the grotto are also quite amazing, and very few dogs go here so you're unlikely to run into another dog charging away without a leash. 
  • Home Depot. I take Liam here to help him work on his distractability. There are people, kids, carts and crates here and it's a great opportunity for me to encourage him to look right at me instead of everything else that's going on. Plus, there are rarely other dogs in the store. I should mention, however, that Home Depot is considering restricting dogs in their stores after a little dog bit a greeter on the nose. (Note: I said a LITTLE dog, not a pit bull. Even little dogs bite!) Check your store before you go, in case your store has changed policies.
Now that summer has finally arrived in Portland, it's time to take your dog on an outing! 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Choosing a collar for your outdoor cat: How to balance safety with security

Beorn the outdoor cat in a reflective collar
Beorn's collar is reflective, which is why it seems to glow here.
Over the weekend, my outdoor cats Beorn and Jasper were fitted with collars. I knew it was something I had to do. But I'll admit that I was a little worried about the whole thing.

You see, these cats are old and set in their ways. And they've never worn collars before.

I was afraid they'd spend all day shredding the collars until they got them off. Or, I thought they'd just run away from me and my domestication preferences. Either scenario is bad.

But as it turns out, both cats adapted to these collars beautifully. That might be due, in part, to the thought I put into collar selection.

The collars I chose are specifically designed for cats. Where dog collars are designed to hold up to pulling and tugging, so you can clip the collar to the leash without worry, cat collars are designed to spring open and fall off at a big tug. Cats like to cram themselves into tight spaces and climb things. Collars that don't fall away when cats are doing these things could strangle a cat. And cats that are unaccustomed to collars might panic when they realize the collars don't come off. Breakaway collars are a better choice. Once these cats broke out of them once, they were much more relaxed about wearing them.

These collars also have very big, very loud bells on them. Beorn and Jasper have killed at least one bird in the past year, and that's one bird too many for me to deal with. Bells give the birds a fighting chance to get away before the cats pounce. But loud bells can be hard on a cat's sensitive ears. I chose collars with a bell I could hear from about 10 feet away, and I rejected collars I could hear at 12 feet. It's arbitrary, I know, but it helped.

I also hung their Multnomah County License tags on the collars, so these cats can be reunited with me if they disappear. But I wrapped the edges of those tags with tape, so they wouldn't cause yet more scary noise.

And as a final bonus, these collars have a reflective strip on them. While Beorn and Jasper usually stay in their little cat dorm at night, I'd like for them to be visible to passing cars if they decide to head out to the sidewalk for a midnight stroll. The cats don't mind it, because they can't see it. But the cars sure can.

Collars like this are easy to find, and they make a world of difference to a cat. This is a signal that the kitty is owned and loved, and that could keep it from getting trapped and removed. If your cats will let you, do try to collar them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Cat and dog pee killed my lavender plant

I declare this plant dead. Note how the cats have already marked the sign, too.
About a month ago, I had a spectacular lavender plant. It was big, bushy and put up beautiful, blue lavender stalks. I had high hopes that the plant would continue to grow and take over the nearly empty corner of the flowerbed I had reserved for it. Oh, it would be so beautiful.

Unfortunately, the neighborhood dogs and our outdoor cats had other ideas.

Every passing dog felt the need to pee on our poor plant, and then our cats would run over and mark it themselves, just to make sure the dogs knew the plant was spoken for. By my calculations, the plant was doused at least 15 times per day.

Lavender doesn't like to get wet. The roots tend to rot when they have been wet for a long time. And urine, whether it belongs to a dog or a cat, is high in nitrogen and that burns plants and kills them.

So, the plant began to wither away a little at a time and now it's completely dead. We even tried putting out a little sign to keep people from allowing their dogs to pee on our plant, but the cats keep dosing the plant with pee, and they hit the sign now, too.

Even though it's unsightly, I will probably leave the plant there. If I remove it, I'm afraid the critters will target the other lavender plants I have in that flowerbed and they all seem to be (mercifully) alive right now.

Dog pee can also cause dead spots on the lawn, for much the same reasons. This blog has some great ideas to help you tackle that common problem.

And are you ready to replace that dead plant? This might be a good option: Findlavender - Hidcote Blue Lavender Plant - 4in Size Pot - (1 Live Plant).

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, August 8, 2011

Crafting for cats

Tea towels that are completed and ready for auction
Completed tea towels, ready to go up for auction!
In my spare time, I like to do cross-stitch. It keeps my hands busy, and allows me to express a bit of my creativity. My animals love it when I get the sewing basket out, as it means I'm going to be sitting down for awhile and they can come sit with me. Most of my completed works have some sort of pet hair woven in with the thread as a result.

I recently completed this series of tea towels, but I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them. I had started them as a wedding gift, but the couple had broken up when I was about half-done with this project, and I didn't want to just give up.

So I was thrilled when the House of Dreams Cat Shelter put out a call for craft donations. I knew I had just the right home.

House of Dreams is a no-kill cat shelter in the Portland area, and I have a special fondness for them and their work. They hold a fundraiser each year to support their work, and they ask people in the community to donate their own crafts for sale to help the cats. I can't think of a nicer way to put my tea towels to work.

If you do any sort of crafts, I encourage you to make something special for the House of Dreams auction. This flier will tell you about the sorts of things they're looking for and how you can donate. And plan to go to the auction yourself on November 12 at Tabor Space. You may just find some little tea towels that you can't live without.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Dogs and fear: How to help when your dog develops a phobia

Liam the pug resting in his bed
Liam has most of this house mapped out. He can get around the house when it's pitch dark, and he can run at high speeds around the living room without touching anything but the floor.

I used to think this was a good thing.

Now I am not so sure.

Liam has, it seems, developed an irrational fear of anything that's out of place. Let's say that his urge to map the house has gone into overdrive. So if anything is in an unusual place, he gets worried.

Case in point: I moved a candle from the dining room table to the low sideboard we keep in the dining room. In the middle of the meal, Liam suddenly started producing these low woof-woof noises. He was holding his tail straight down, and had his hackles up in a row. He was extremely upset about this candle being on a different table.

This isn't a one-off reaction. Liam has also struggled with my husband's guitar (doesn't belong in the living room), my laundry basket (shouldn't be in the kitchen) and the ironing board (shouldn't be set up in the bedroom). He takes his rules about placement very seriously. When objects are in the wrong places, Liam gets scared.

It's not unusual for dogs to develop fear. High-strung dogs like Liam, in particular, are at risk for fear because they like to be in control of their surroundings and reduce the possibility of surprise. But there are a lot of things you can do to help.

When Liam becomes panicked about an object, I move into training mode. Here's what I do:
  1. I move the item onto the floor (if it isn't there already).
  2. I sit by the object. 
  3. I praise Liam for approaching the object.
  4. I touch the object myself and then I touch Liam. 
  5. I put treats around the object and encourage him to eat those treats.
It usually takes about 15 minutes for Liam to get over his fear and walk off. But it can take a lot longer. (The candle took him a full half-hour to overcome, for some reason.) The key is to move slowly and be patient. Rushing things can make a nervous pet yet more nervous. So it pays to be patient.

With your patience and training, you can help your fearful dog to overcome these phobias. You can do it!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Heading to a pet specialist? Here's how to prepare.

Cats like this one sometimes need the help of a specialist

I had an email from a reader yesterday, asking for medical advice. Now, I'm no veterinarian so I was absolutely no help on that score, but I did suggest that this reader take the dog to see a specialist. I tossed this information out as though the reader would know what that meant, but I am realizing this isn't always the case.

Specialty veterinary medicine isn't new to me. My Boston saw specialists multiple times for his advanced health care problems, and then I worked for a specialty veterinary hospital for many years and became accustomed to the work they do. I've also seen cats in shelters, like this one, who might need a specialist for one health problem or another. To me, a specialist appointment is pretty routine. But this is probably not the case for every pet owner out there.

So here's the deal. 

While a regular veterinarian can handle most things, there are some problems like cancer, diabetes, seizures and allergies that need specialized attention. Also, some surgeries are complicated and best handled by a surgical professional.

A veterinary specialist steps in to assist when a regular veterinarian needs just a little extra help. They're like a SWAT team that comes in, takes over for a short time, and then leaves the issue in the capable hands of the regular veterinarian. 

These specialists have advanced degrees and specialized knowledge, and their office visits can be much more expensive than a regular vet's office visits. This is, in part, why you don't want to run to a specialist for every little problem. They should only be consulted when your regular veterinarian can't solve the problem your pet is having.

Often, you'll be asked to bring your pet's medical records, your pet's medicine and your pet's x-rays. You must also bring your pet (unbelievably, we had clients who didn't bring their pets to their appointments). Sometimes, you can't feed the pet before the visit, so the veterinarians can do advanced blood work or other testing. Most facilities will tell you exactly what to bring to your appointment, and how to prepare your pet for the appointment.

When used properly, a veterinary specialist can be a valuable addition to your pet's medical team. And now you know how to prepare and get the most out of your visit!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Giving up your pet is not your only option

Gorgeous Siamese cat in a shelter

When I worked for veterinarians, desperate clients would call up from time to time to offer their pets for adoption. They'd bring handouts showing their beautiful pets, with the line, "Someone must adopt her, or I'll have to take her to the pound."

It bothers me. People always throw out the pound option, as though they could simply take their unwanted animals to wide-open shelters and walk away. Oregonian covered this topic in-depth this week. As this article points out, many shelters have incredibly long waiting lists, meaning you can't simply drive over there with your pet when you've made the decision. Often, you must wait a few months. (The Oregonian failed to mention that owners of purebred dogs can contact breed-specific rescues. But that's a topic for another day.)

My main problem with this article is that it suggests that people must either get on waiting lists and wait to drop off their pets, or they must struggle on alone and keep the pets regardless of their situation. I don't think these are the only choices available. Here are just a few alternatives:
  • If you're giving up your pet because you can't afford the animal's medical care, contact Animal Aid. You might qualify for assistance.
  • Behavioral problems can often be solved through the help of a dedicated trainer. There are many, many trainers in the Portland area, and I'm sure they would all appreciate the extra work. 
  • Local food banks often stock pet food, so you can help if your finances are really tight.
  • A move doesn't have to end in a new home for your pet. Local animal shelters often keep in-depth list of pet-friendly rentals. Call them up and ask for suggestions. 
Giving up your pet shouldn't be your first and last choice when your family faces an obstacle. Your pet is counting on you to provide a forever home, and you owe it to your pet to do all you can to make it happen.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How do cats stay cool in the summertime?

Outdoor cats on hot pavement
Beorn and Jasper seem to love the heat.

When the temperature rises, cats seem to truly love being alive. I have yet to meet a cat that won't sprawl on a sunny windowsill, and Beorn and Jasper will even nap on the pavement on hot days. They have special affection for afternoon asphalt, when the ground is warm from 10 hours of full sun exposure.

I know many dogs can't tolerate this sort of heat, so I started to wonder how cats could keep so cool when the temperature climbs.

Turns out, most cats take their grooming rituals into overdrive when the weather climbs. As they clean their fur with their tongues, they wet that fur down and the breeze across the wet fur helps them stay cool. Cats can also sweat through their feet, so they can dispel a bit of heat via that method.

This doesn't mean, however, that cats aren't at risk for heat stroke.

While most cats will seek out a cool spot when the weather is hot, trapping a cat in a hot car could mean disaster. And leaving a cat in a hot apartment all day could also kill a cat, if that cat isn't given any way to escape from the heat. This website lists some clever methods people use to cool their cats on hot days.

Looking for a good product? Try this:  K&H Pet Products Cool Bed III Medium Blue 22" x 32" as sold on Amazon. This cooling mat is a particularly good option if your home doesn't have air conditioning and your indoor temperature reaches 85 or above on a regular basis. The mat wicks up cooler temps from the floor and spreads it out along the water. My cats love to sprawl on this thing.

And, if you'd like to know even more about cats and temperature regulation, check out this post about how cats stay warm in the winter.

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, August 1, 2011

Taming cats with catnip

Jasper the cat drugged out on catnip
One of my catnip plants finally reached the harvest stage, and I dutifully cut the branch and gave it to Eamon, my resident catnip addict. Apparently, Eamon is a bit of a catnip connoisseur, and he doesn't like catnip unless it's been dried and broken into manageable pieces. He ran from my catnip branch, and Lucy completed the cycle by batting at the plant and hissing with all her might.

I was frustrated about this for a minute or two, especially when I thought about the other catnip plants I have been tending all spring, so I decided to take the branch outside to the outdoor cats. I thought maybe I'd play with them a bit, just to work on their socialization skills.

I think I hit on something.

Jasper the cat goes wild for catnip
As a true addict, he's lost all sense of modesty.

Apparently, we've been neglecting our serious catnip addict. Jasper went to work on the thing, chewing and rolling and thoroughly making a fool of himself. He even brought the branch to the front of the house, so he could eat it in the sunshine. When I brought more leaves outside, Beorn and even feral Franklin got into the act with their own displays of rolling and chewing.

I figured outdoor cats would find their own stands of catnip. I was wrong! And I am thankful, because I have plenty more catnip and I need an appreciative audience.

Also, if I am the giver of the good drugs, perhaps these skittish cats will learn to trust me a little more. If I continue to provide things that make them happy, perhaps they'll learn to associate people with good things, rather than with pain or fear.

In short, maybe I can tame them with catnip. This seems like a worthy cause, and it does make my months of work worthwhile.

Taming projects like this work best when the cat associates a person with the giving of something good. So if you're planning to give this a shot, you'll need to plan ahead. Here's a step-by-step action plan:
  1. Remove any wild catnip you might be growing in your yard. If they can get it without your help, you lose a key socialization opportunity.
  2. Save up your very best catnip pieces. You really want to use the good stuff. 
  3. Hand the catnip to the cats, while you keep a hold on one edge of the plant. They will need to eat it while you hold it. 
  4. Once the cats feel good about the nip, let go of the branch and let them have at it. 
  5. Repeat. 
I've been using this process with Jasper, since I had such good success the first time around. I gotta say: It's made a huge difference. Now, he looks for me and takes a step or two toward me when I come outside. Before, he ran away. It's working!

If you try it, I hope it works for you, too!