Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pugs and water safety: Pugs can't swim!

Liam the pug stretched out on the carpet
Every day I find a new safety issue concerning Liam the pug. This week, it involves a cool feature that came with our new house. And that feature has a LOT of water. 

That feature is an outdoor hot tub. And it's a problem due to pug anatomy.

Pugs have really big heads and really short necks, so they're often top-heavy. When Liam was a puppy, he would run and fall flat on his face, simply because his head was much too heavy for the rest of his poor body to support. When this happens on land, it's pretty amusing. When it happens in the water, it can become a tragedy. 

Top-heavy breeds often can't support their heads above the water, and the short snouts they have don't allow them to pick their nostrils up above the water line. This can mean drowning, and it can happen in the blink of an eye. The dogs might not even make any noise during the episode, as they'll be trying too hard to pick up their heads. 

Drowning is of particular concern with man-made receptacles for water, like hot tubs and pools, because they usually come with heavy covers. These covers can trap heat inside the water, and keep bugs out, but little dogs can sometimes slip beneath the cover, and then drift to a secure spot beneath that cover where they can't get out, and then they drown. It's really sad, but it happens. Even thin covers on pools and hot tubs can be of concern, as dogs can walk across the cover, fall in and then be unable to find a way out again.

Thankfully, this hot tub sits well off the ground, and it also sits well off of the deck. There's no way that a short little guy like Liam could ever get in there. I don't think he could even jump in there, even if he wanted to. That means I don't need to do any prep here to keep Liam from drowning, simply because he'll never be able to reach the water line.

But I am still careful to keep him inside when the cover is off of the hot tub. He can watch me through the windows, but I don't want him coming near the water. If the tub wasn't so high, however, I think I would take the darn thing out. Fences and such would never keep out a determined pug, and I don't know how I'd live with myself if something happened to my dog in my hot tub. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Switching to a new raw dog food

Liam the pug is ready to eat his food
Liam praying I'll say, "Okay."
I've been feeding Liam a raw diet for well over a year now. On this diet, many of his skin problems have simply disappeared, and we're no longer dealing with horrid gas or endless vomiting episodes in the middle of the night. Since it took me so long to find just the right kind of food to give to this dog, you can imagine my distress when I found that Liam's food isn't for sale ANYWHERE in Salem. I was a little shocked, to be honest, as the food I'd been providing was sold almost everywhere in Portland. I even bought it at Whole Foods.

Anyway, shock and anger only gets you so far when you have a hungry dog on your hands that needs to eat some kind of dinner, so I took the plunge and switched to a new raw food, Nature's Valley Instinct Raw. Of the choices that were available at the Salem pet food store of my choice, it seemed to have the lowest fat content and the largest number of ingredients I could immediately recognize. It's an inexpert way to choose food, of course, but I honestly thought Liam wouldn't be able to eat this food. He's been so difficult to feed that I never dreamed I'd be able to simply pick a food, put it down and experience no ill side effects. I was just sure I'd only buy one bag of the stuff, and then bring half of the bag back when it didn't work. I just hoped I'd have time to investigate a new option in the interim.

Turns out, I was wrong and Liam has done wonderfully well on this food. I transitioned him slowly over a period of many days, and now that he's eating this food exclusively, I am still not seeing any digestive or skin problems. He also seems to really like the taste of this food, and it's easy to portion it out for his meals.

I also just got really lucky. According to online reviews I've read of this product, experts agree that the ingredient list is pretty close to ideal, and the company has a good reputation for providing a quality product at a reasonable price. So far, it's a product I would recommend for almost any pug. Liam certainly seems to like it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Moving with a blind cat: Is packing or moving worse?

Lucy the blind cat in our old house
Lucy in our old house, wondering what in the world is going on.
It's not too surprising that blind cats don't like to move to new houses. The packing process is distressing, as every day brings a new box to walk around, and all of those boxes have new smells that are disorienting and strange. Predictably, as the Portland house became more and more maze-like, with tiny tunnels leading the way from one room to another, the more upset Lucy became. She began to move in slow circles, trying to find the edges of things she might run into, and she sometimes vocalized late at night, calling out for another cat to help her find her way.

When she first moved into the Portland house, she remained quite confident throughout the entire process, and I began to wonder if this move would be harder because Lucy is simply older. Where little kittens are flexible creatures that easily transition from one environment to the next, older cats tend to become fixed and set in their ways, and they can be quite upset at the mere idea of change. I was worried we'd have a bad move on our hands.

Turns out, Lucy was intimidated by the packing, but once we got here, all of her fears seemed to resolve. Within 24 hours, she had the entire house mapped out in her mind, and she could quickly fly from one room to another. If she ran into an unpacked box along the way, she simply shook off the bump and kept moving. No circling and no mewling took place, and she ate like a horse.

I'm no expert, but I wonder if she's just sensitive to the emotions her humans were exuding. I find packing to be incredibly stressful, and I hate putting precious items away and thinking they might not make the trip in one piece. I hate cleaning up after packing. I hate having boxes stacked to the ceiling. This move was particularly distressing due to the sheer amount of stuff we had to pack. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry and walk in circles, too. However, I love to unpack, and this house is a particularly fun project to work on. I like to find new homes for things, and I like to uncover all of those objects and find that they made it in one piece. Once we got here, I was instantly happier. Perhaps Lucy was just providing me with a mirror for my own emotions, and I wasn't aware enough to see it.

I'm happy to report that we're both quite settled in Salem now, and we both seem to be doing well in our new environment. Here's hoping we have no more moves in our futures!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Our feral cat returns

Franklin the feral cat in his new home
Franklin peers out of his new house
In a previous blog post, I discussed the preparations I'd gone through to help our outdoor cats move to a completely new community. At the time, I was convinced that feral Franklin was gone, as I hadn't seen him for several days prior and had no evidence that he was anywhere in the vicinity. It seems I had given up on him a little too early. Over the past week, he's reemerged and now he seems to be settling into his new home.

Since Franklin is feral, he can't be touched and he certainly doesn't come when he's called. He might not even know that we call him Franklin. Taking care of a cat like this is really hard, especially when you're moving from one neighborhood to another. There's no way to convince cats like this that you mean them no harm and that staying with you will be best for their long-term health. Most of the time, they just run off as soon as they see you. Franklin is no different, and the move seems to have broken what little trust he once held for me. Before we moved, he'd get close enough to sniff my fingers. Now, he likes to maintain a 3-foot distance at all times.

The other boys are spending their nights in an enclosed space with heated beds. Often, they must be picked up and carried into this home, and Franklin would rather die than let me pick him up. For now, I've rigged up a little enclosure for him. It's a bit on the ghetto side of things, but he seems to like it.

In essence, this is a litterbox with a closing flap that I've filled with rugs, blankets and a heating disk. I have the door propped open with a stick for now, so he can get in and out, but eventually, I'll remove that stick so he can retain heat in there a little bit better. In this little makeshift bed, he stays warm and dry, and for an outdoor cat, that's a pretty good life. I'm hoping he'll learn to use the cat door in the outdoor enclosure the other cats use, and in time, he'll spend nights in there with his buddies. If he never chooses to do that, however, at least he'll be clean, dry and warm. Here's hoping he chooses to stay this time, and that he forgives me for moving him.

In the interim, I've learned something about feral cats. For the week that Franklin was missing, he was squatting about 6 feet from the door, right underneath the deck. He never made a sound, never ate a bite and never emerged for anything at all. He must have been simply paralyzed with fear and unable to do anything about it at all. If I had all of this to do over again, I think I would have been a bit more respectful of his fear, and I would have introduced him to Salem much more slowly. It seems like he needed weeks, not days, to adjust. That's something all feral cat keepers would be wise to remember.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dogs + asparagus ferns = Bad morning

Liam the pug looking queasy
Liam looking suitably miserable.
It's no secret that pugs are loud little dogs. They snuffle, groan, snort, wheeze and make other unmentionable sounds in the middle of the night. When Liam was a puppy, every little noise he made would send me into a panic, and I'd look in his mouth to ensure he wasn't eating something he shouldn't eat or chewing something I thought didn't need chewing.

Now that he's 5, I've started to ignore some of these noises.

It's a mistake I need to correct.

Before the move, I had an asparagus fern locked away in a room that was rarely used. The pets didn't have access to it unless I was there, and the plant pretty much grew unmolested, and it's pretty awesome now, as a result. After the move, I decided to showcase my green thumb by placing the fern in the living room, which is a highly trafficked area.

This morning, the smack-smack from the living room was Liam eating a part of this plant. He didn't manage to eat very much, but he did choke down a tiny bit of a stem before I made it into the room. Turns out, according to ASPCA, that this fern is considered toxic. Dogs who eat these ferns can develop vomiting, stomach pain or diarrhea.

Liam got two out of three, and I spent the morning listening to him cough and heave, while gigantic amounts of drool came pouring out of his little mouth. Fun times. I gave him Pepto Bismol (following dosage guidelines found here) and figured I'd give him 30 minutes to improve before I called a cab and took him to the emergency vet. Thankfully, his symptoms resolved before that time came.

Tonight, I am spraying that plant down with Grannick's Bitter Apple Spray. This stuff has a sickly sweet smell, but apparently, the taste is really foul. Whenever I use it on the plants, all of the pets won't go near them. For less than $10, it's a good investment. If that doesn't work, looks like my beloved fern will go up on the free side of Craigslist. I'm just hoping it doesn't come to that.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Keeping outdoor cats warm in the winter

Beorn the cat stretching as he emerges from the dog house
Beorn emerging from a mid-day nap.
In the new Salem house, our neighbors have many, many cats that seem to roam freely. This house was also vacant for a period of time, meaning that these cats seem to think that this house is also their house, and it should be defended at all costs. Since most cat fights happen at night, when the lights are low and the hormones are high, we've decided to confine our cats to an outbuilding when the sun sets. They have comfy beds, a litter box and a locking door that keeps intruders at bay.

What they didn't have was a source of heat.

We could have hired an electrician and put in some sort of heater or electrical outlet, but that had me a little nervous. Outdoor cats could pee on those outlets, shorting out the system or causing injury. They could also chew on the cords with similar ill effects. I didn't like the idea of confining them someplace where they could get hurt.

Instead, we invested in a Snuggle Safe disk and plenty of blankets.

I love Snuggle Safe disks. You pop them in the microwave for a few minutes and they stay warm for 9 hours or more. They can be washed with soapy water and there are no cords or things to chew on. I think they're the perfect solution for outdoor cats, and Beorn seems to agree with me.

Now, I heat up the disks at night, so they have comfy beds for sleeping, and I warm up another disk in the day, so he can sleep in a warm doghouse outside the writing studio all day long. He seems to think that this is absolutely wonderful. I think so, too.

Want to try your own? Click the link.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Preparing dogs for roofing projects

"What are they DOING up there?!?"
It's a sad fact that most real estate transactions involve roofers. New buyers want to ensure that the homes they're purchasing will last for multiple years without major investments, and most banks won't produce loans on homes with big, gaping holes in the roof. As a result, when August rolled around, I had to prepare Liam for the advent of a major roofing project that was likely to take several days to complete. I knew he wouldn't like anything about this.

Boot camp for roofing involves exposing the dog to loud, random sounds throughout the day. I looked for roofing videos like this one and this one, and I played them on the speakers of the computer at random times per day (at pretty loud volumes). I also tried dropping books and shoes in the upstairs bedrooms when Liam was downstairs, hoping to show him that loud noises from above don't always spell disaster. And finally, I kept all of the windows open all of the time, so he could become accustomed to people talking outside. I think his nerves were a little shot, but it seemed like this was about the best I could do.

When roofing day arrived and the workers started setting up shop, I took Liam around for introductions. He was allowed to sniff all of the workers, and get little scratches on the head, and then we went right back inside for a good day of work. I had hoped that he'd accept these people crawling around the house, as he'd had the opportunity to meet all of them at least once.

I'm happy to report that he did quite well throughout the roofing project. There were a few scary moments (for both of us) when the roofers made noises that could only be associated with earthquakes or the impending failure of the crossbeams, but Liam quickly went right back to sleep when the dust had settled. In just a few days, it was over. Whew!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Moving with outdoor cats: What's the best way to move a cat colony?

Beorn the outdoor cat in his new yard
Beorn relaxing in his new yard.
We recently moved about 60 miles down I-5, from a very industrial part of Portland to a smaller, quieter neighborhood in Salem. For my husband and I, one of the major hurdles to a successful move involved his outdoor cats. We couldn't exactly convince them that the move was necessary, and we weren't sure they would even want to come along. The logistics of the thing seemed a little daunting.

As we were planning, I looked at sites like this one. They all gave me basically the same set of options: I could move them all, or I could convince a neighbor to keep them and allow the cats to live in the neighborhood they'd called home for 10+ years. Honestly, it was a tough call. While I knew that catching these cats and moving them would be difficult, I didn't know if our neighbors (and the new homeowners in the house the cats lurked around) would be willing to care for the cats in the manner to which they had become accustomed. Since they were a bonded group, we couldn't just take along a few cats and leave the others behind, and abandoning them to fend for themselves was simply not an option.

In the end, we decided to risk it and move all of the cats with us.

About 2 weeks before our move, I pulled out the cat traps we owned, and I started baiting those traps with tasty food, two times per day. Beorn and Jasper can be picked up, of course, but feral Franklin cannot and I needed to have him get into that trap when it was time to go. Over time, everyone became accustomed to eating in the traps, and we felt ready to go. Franklin wandered into the set trap on the second attempt, and I had a moment of glee, thinking all would be well.

When we arrived at our new home, all three cats went into their new, cushy outbuilding (photos to come later) with water, food and a cat box. We went in multiple times per day, but we left the cats in there for three days. I wanted the cats to have time to adjust to the new sounds and smells of their environment, and I knew they could look out the window to map out their new turf. On the morning of the third day, they seemed ready to come out.

All three stayed in the yard that first day, sniffing and smelling and coming by for reassuring scratches and slow blinks. Unfortunately, we've not seen Franklin since. Jasper and Beorn have adjusted, and they're doing beautifully in their new surroundings, but our feral boy has just disappeared. It's been several days now, and I fear he's gone for good.

I try to comfort myself that we did the best we could by trying to move him and giving him a comfortable place to live when we had moved. But unfortunately, he didn't see the wisdom in our move and there was no way to make him stay where we'd like him to stay. I hope he changes his mind and comes back to us.