Friday, January 28, 2011

Pug eye injuries: They can happen in the blink of an eye

Action shot as Liam hurts his eye while eating
Pugs have eyes that protrude slightly, sitting in shallow eye sockets. Since their muzzles are short, they are often placing their eyes right next to food, plants and anything else they might be eating or sniffing. While I don't have any research to back me up, I also believe that pugs have a high pain tolerance and have become accustomed to mild eye pain. This means they often don't work to protect their eyes from injuries.

Case in point: Liam started winking and blinking early yesterday morning, right after breakfast. He seemed to get worse, rather than better, as time went on, so I took him in for an unscheduled visit to the veterinarian.

Turns out, he had a mild case of uveitis, and I was a little perplexed.

The staff figured he had hit or bumped the eye somehow, but I didn't remember anything like this happening. I'm very careful with Liam's eyes and his face, and he doesn't go outside unless I am right there to supervise. He just couldn't run into anything or poke his eye with anything without me noticing.

But then I figured it out.

I got home to feed him lunch, and then I saw the injury for myself.

Liam is a fast eater, so I use a small bowl to slow him down. But Liam doesn't want to eat slowly, and he's developed a painful workaround.

He's been shoving his face into the edges of the food bowl to get every last bit of food that he can. See that photo? See how his eye is being smushed? Eye pain be damned! He was going to get every bit of food and deal with the consequences later.

Now he has a new food bowl to use, and I have a reminder of my responsibilities. If he isn't going to care for his eyes, I am going to have to be more careful.

As are most pug people. Their little eyes are so sensitive, and even tiny injuries can turn into big problems. They depend on us!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Become an animal volunteer

Cricket was one of my first foster cats

On this Martin Luther King, Jr., remembrance day, we're all being asked to think of ways to volunteer to help others. Dr. King placed service high on his to-do list, and often asked his listeners to give back to their communities in any way they could. Volunteering seems a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much.

If you live in the Portland area, there are many ways you can honor Dr. King with service, and help needy animals at the same time. Here are just a few suggestions:
  • Be a foster parent for an animal in need. This is one of the most powerful ways to help animals. You provide care, feeding and socialization to an animal, who then goes on to live a long and productive life with a loving family. I can speak firsthand of the joys of being a foster parent: I have fostered two kittens thus far. Animal Aid is in serious need of foster homes for both dogs and cats. Pacific Pug Rescue is similarly in need.
  • Volunteer at a shelter. The Oregon Humane Society has a wonderfully structured volunteer program, appropriate for people of all ages.
  • Have an online garage sale through eBay and donate your proceeds to The Pixie Project. This link will show you how.
  • Build a fence for an animal through Fences for Fido. People 18 and up can donate a day to truly make a difference for a chained dog and his/her people.
The short answer is that there are many ways you can donate your time to help animals in need. I hope you'll consider it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Cat mats: How to treat them (and how to prevent them, too!)

Lucy the long-haired cat often gets cat mats

I brush all of my cats every week. They enjoy the extra attention. Up until yesterday, I thought a once-a-week grooming session was adequate.

Turns out, I haven't been brushing long-haired Lucy as often as I should. I've found two spots of matted hair in two days.

Long-haired cats can develop tangles of dead, matted hair very quickly. Typically, they form in areas of friction (armpits, neck) or areas where they cat isn't vigilant about grooming (withers and back). Left untreated, the mats get bigger and pull in more hair. This can mean that it becomes difficult for the cat to move, as her movements lead to pulling hair.

I've seen many websites suggest that you cut out cat mats with scissors. I am much too fearful of cutting skin rather than hair. Cats have extremely elastic skin. It's simply too easy to pull up on a mat, get a clump of skin and whack that with scissors.

Instead, I use a professional grooming comb. The comb has widely spaced teeth on one end, and fine teeth on the other. I use the wide teeth first. I hold the mat between my fingers (so I am not pulling on the skin) and use the large teeth to pull on the mat, very gently. It takes patience, but I can work through a mat and break it apart, bit by bit. The next day, I go over the same area with the small teeth, making sure all of the mats are gone. Lucy will not tolerate both steps in one day.

You may be tempted to use a helper during the process, to hold the cat down while you work. I think this is a bad idea. You can judge how painful the cat is by her movements. If you restrict her movements, you may be hurting her without receiving signals. Additionally, the cat will likely learn than grooming means restraint, which means it'll be harder to brush her next time, which means she'll have yet more mats. It's best to be patient and gentle here.

And the best bet? Groom a lot. That way, you won't have any mats at all to remove. Bonus!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Crate training your puppy: It's not cruel, it's wonderful!

Liam the puppy outside of his dog crate
A friend of mine recently got a new puppy, and mentioned that he was having difficulty teaching the dog to go outside to urinate, and that the puppy spent a lot of time crying at night. I suggested crate training. He looked at me like I was suggesting torture.

Why does crate training have such a bad reputation?

A crate is a natural environment for a dog. Small puppies like having their own "den" to retreat to when they're feeling worried or insecure.

Puppies also will not urinate in their dens. By taking a puppy out of his crate and taking him immediately outside to urinate, and lavishing the pup with praise when he does urinate outside, you're reinforcing positive behavior. By yelling at the pup when he pees in the house, you're simply instilling fear.

I used a crate with Liam. It helped with his potty training, and it helped me ensure that he was not doing anything dangerous when I was not home, such as chewing on electrical cords or snacking out of the cat box. Liam became so fond of his crate that I had to prop the door open when I was home, and he would often sleep within the crate when I was home but not paying direct attention to him.

This website contains good information on how to begin crate training (although it does have some unfortunate formatting). It's important to note that small puppies should be let out frequently to urinate, and they should not be left in a crate for an entire day. If you're gone from home for a significant portion of the day, you'll have to provide a place for your pup to eliminate. Use a baby gate to keep the pup in the bathroom, for example. I would recommend keeping the crate in that bathroom with the door to the crate open, so the pup can still hang out in the crate.

And as a final note, if you cannot commit to letting the pup out frequently, and you don't want to come home to deal with messes on your floors, do not get a puppy. There are several adult dogs in shelters who need good homes. Many of these dogs are already crate- and potty-trained.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Let's be clear: Cats both need and love their people

Cats like Eamon can't do without their people
The scene at my desk as I type.

I am always amazed when people tell me that cats are independent and don't need any human contact. I've seen many websites claiming that cats are, by very definition, stand-offish and selfish, preferring to be alone rather than with people.

This has not been my experience.

My cats were thrilled when I began writing from home, as they thought it meant that I could spend all day petting them. While I do lavish attention on them during breaks, the majority of time that I am home, I am staring at the computer and working. This doesn't please them.

Eamon, in particular, becomes upset if I do not spend enough time petting him, and will rest his chin on my right hand (my dominant hand, by the way) and exert just enough pressure that it makes typing difficult.

While it can be difficult to live with demanding cats, I wouldn't trade them. But it does make me a little sad.

My outdoor feral cat, Franklin, will likely never achieve this kind of openness and we will likely never have a lengthy cuddle session with him.  I'm not certain if that is his choice, as much as it was a choice made for him by his previous owners. When they dumped him in downtown Portland all those years ago, they likely told themselves that he was independent, selfish and able to care for himself without human contact. And, sadly, they made that myth a reality.

So the next time someone tells you that cats are independent creatures that don't need people, do try to stop them and correct them. It's that myth that allows cats to get dumped, and which allows some cats to turn feral. The more we cat people can speak out about the emotional needs of our animals, the better off we all will be. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Animal first aid: Could you help your pet in an emergency?

Liam and Lucy rely on my help when they have a pet emergency

I’m often on the front lines in a pet medical emergency. My animals are accustomed to staggering to me for help when they’re injured or not feeling well. 

I have dealt with:
  • Strained backs
  • Choking
  • Broken toes
  • Severe allergic reactions 
Thankfully, I can usually provide supportive care until I can whisk my pets to the emergency vet. But this wasn’t always the case.  

In my early years as a pet owner, I would make frantic phone calls to emergency vet clinics. When I worked in an emergency animal clinic, I started fielding these calls. It’s hard to calm people down and get them to focus on steps when they are upset. It’s harder yet to be upset and have no idea what to do next.

Being prepared is your best line of defense. Even if you don’t have a medically fragile animal, the day may come when you’re forced to be your pet’s EMT. 

Start by learning how to do animal CPR. This is a great handout to print out, study and then keep in a communal place, where you can grab it if you need it.  

Portland area residents might consider taking this first aid class from the Oregon Red Cross (link has expired; the class was a success, from what I hear!).  You’ll learn CPR here, and you’ll get additional training on how to deal with broken bones, poisons and bleeding.

Heading to the ER is always smart when your pet is in the midst of a medical emergency. Some things just can't be fixed at home. But, knowing the basics could help you to keep your pet safe, and your head calm, while you travel there. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why you should adopt a senior pet

Seamus in his senior years with a foster kitten

Puppies and kittens are easy marks for people looking for pets. They are small, round and cute, and many people look forward to shaping and molding these small creatures into ideal companions. I mean, really. Just look at my 3-week-old foster kitten in this photo. Couldn't you just scoop her up and cuddle her to pieces? I know I could. 

But adopting a senior pet can be just as rewarding, and senior pets may make a perfect fit for a busy family. Even grey faces, like Seamus's in this photo, can light up with joy when they see a forever home. And they come with a lot of benefits.

Senior animals often need slightly less training than a young puppy or kitten. It's likely that a senior pet already knows the rules of a standard household, and may just need a refresher course on how you like to manage things in your house.

Senior animals are also often less rambunctious than younger pets, and would prefer to snuggle and sit close to you, rather than running with you or chasing a ball. Often, snuggle time is just what a person wants when looking for a pet, so this makes seniors just ideal.

Additionally, senior pets often have their personalities firmly fixed by the time you meet them. This makes it easy for you to determine whether the animal will be a good fit for you.

Pacific Pug now has multiple senior pugs in their placement program, some as old as 12. If you're looking for a new friend to help ease the cold winter nights, I urge you to consider taking one of these elder beauties home with you.