Sunday, September 29, 2013

Help for an itching, scratching, dancing, allergic pug dog

Liam the pug in his bed
Poor pug Liam has struggled with allergies for most of his life (and I documented a particularly nasty breakout in a previous post, with a photo that still makes me cringe). Thankfully, I manage to keep his allergies under control with frequent baths, a customized diet and a heavy reliance on the washing machine. By keeping his gut healthy, and the environment clean, I figured I was helping him to avoid all future breakouts.

Recently, however, he's had a terrible case of the nighttime itchies. In the depths of the night, I could hear him licking his feet, scratching his sides or just moaning. A bath didn't do the trick, and when I looked closely at his belly, he had a tiny little rash on his belly button.

This is an important clue, as the articles I've read suggest that food-based allergies manifest with ear and foot symptoms. If his feet were a burgundy color or his ears were gunked up with blackness, I'd likely be out shopping for a new food. However, his ears seemed perfectly normal, and his feet were the proper shade of tan. He only had hives in the one bare spot available on his body, which seems to suggest an environmental allergy.

Reading about these allergies in dogs is a little daunting, as the information seems to suggest that allergies in dogs are a lot different than allergies in humans. For example, I have terrible allergies, and when mine are acting up, I have:
  • Sneezing fits 
  • Hacking coughs
  • Watery eyes 
  • Deep congestion
  • A low voice (this is the only symptom I have that my husband wishes I'd keep)

This article suggests that some 70 percent of dog skin-based symptoms come from allergies. Instead of showing nasal and throat signs, these guys itch and scratch.

My first instinct was to hold off on Liam's daily bath, thinking that I might be stripping away essential oils with his weekly dip in the water. However, experts suggest that allergic dogs need more baths, as they carry their allergens on their fur. A bath helps to wash these away, and it keeps bacterial colonies under control. So the baths stay.

I did add in a fish oil to Liam's diet, as these products tend to keep the skin supple, which might reduce the itchy sensation. I also switched laundry detergents, opting for a product that has no harsh ingredients, fragrances or softening agents, and I'm using no fabric softener in his laundry loads. (This is a step I used to follow religiously, and have abandoned of late. It looks like that was a bad idea.)

I also started reading about the wonders of topical applications of coconut oil. This post contains a significant amount of information about that topic, but in essence, it seems that coconut oil has mildly antiseptic properties, as well as bring a pretty great moisturizer. By applying the product topically, an owner might be fighting the bacteria that causes itching, as well as making the skin just a little healthier. I gave it a whirl, and while Liam did a lot of dancing during the application, as though I was tickling him, he tolerated the treatments with no ill effects.

As a last-ditch effort, I also put him on a dose of Benadryl. (I'm not going to share the dosage here, as I think everyone should talk the use of OTC drugs over with a doctor. In general, the drug is safe, but it's not something that works for all dogs, and the dose can vary pretty dramatically by the weight of the dog.)

It's been about a week, and I'm happy to report that Liam has made a remarkable recovery. He's sleeping through the night, and the little rash is almost gone. Just in case, however, I'm going to stick to my treatment program for the time being.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September's BarkBox: Fun dog toys and treats for fall

Liam the pug with a shark toy
The last time we got a BarkBox, little Sinead went absolutely crazy for the whale from Hear Doggie. In fact, she loved that toy so much that she wanted to carry it with her almost everywhere, and she was devastated when Liam got a little rowdy and broke the thing. I had to go to Amazon and buy a replacement, as she just wouldn't be consoled with any other toy.

Not surprisingly, then, I was pretty eager to get this month's shipment, as I felt sure it would contain more toys she'd be obsessed with. At this point, it looks like the treats are the big hit in this box, but still, there's something in here for everyone. Here's my (not paid, don't worry) review of this month's box.

The Toy

The all-important toy in this month's shipment comes from Aussie Naturals (this is the toy on patient Liam's back in the photo above). It's a pretty long toy, which is perfect for the head-shaking thing Liam loves to do, but it has no stuffing, so he really won't be able to destroy it. I appreciate the durability of this toy, but I do have some reservations about it. Firstly, it has a little rope insert that's a bit heavy, and I worry that Liam will hurt my other pets with his head shaking moves and a weighted toy. Also, it's just a little big for wee Sinead. They haven't played with this toy as much as they did the whale.

The Treats

There are two types of treats in this month's box, and both are huge hits over here. The first is a dehydrated duck product from Plato that's about the size of a half-dollar. It breaks apart easily, which I like, and it's also low in scent. I can take one treat and break it in half easily, without walking away with stinky fingers. Bonus!

The other treat comes from Wagatha's, and these wee bones smell exactly like cooked pizza. I put them in a jar, and I swear, when I open that thing, I feel an intense need for cheese. The dogs seem to like the treats, too, as I get nice steady sit/stay behavior when I have one of these in my hand. This month's box came with a coupon for future treats, and I may need to cash that sucker in.

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier and a cookie

The Bonus

In addition to things the dogs might like, this box contained a product they might actually need: a liquid bandage. This spray-on product from VetraCare Pet is designed to dry quickly, producing a quick seal that can stop bleeding in a snap. If my dogs get into a sudden scrape, I can see using this product as a stopgap until we can get seen by our veterinarian. I haven't tried it yet (and hope I don't have to), but I'm happy to have it!

Overall, this was a great little box. We're hoping for more of the same next month!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bees and dogs: A garden that's safe for both kinds of creatures

Sinead the Boston terrier looking very tired
Sinead gorked out on antihistamines.
Let me say this upfront: I am a certifiable bee lover. As a pseudo urban farmer, I love the work they do in fertilizing my fruits and flowers, and as an environmentalist, I view bee colony collapse with alarm. In fact, I've been so motivated to help bees in my community that I've planted all sorts of bee-friendly plants, including:
  • Lavender 
  • Sunflowers
  • Dahlias 
  • Marigolds

When I walk through the yard and hear the plants humming with bees, I figure that I've done my part to help the little guys survive.

This week, however, I had a bee-related incident that makes me question my strategy.

Little Sinead is an inveterate sunbather, and at 7 pounds, she can access some stellar spots by crawling beneath flowering plants. These are the spots the chubby outdoor cats and the portly pug just can't reach, so they remain favored spots for a private nap. I've seen Sinead dart beneath these plants hundreds of times, and I've thought nothing of it.

Now that the weather is dipping, however, my flowering plants are shedding their blooms on the ground, meaning that bees are working territory that Sinead uses for travel. This week, she happened to step on a bee that wasn't too fond of the attention, and she got stung. Within 15 minutes of that sting, her front foot had swelled up to three times its normal size, and Sinead was completely unwilling to walk.

Normally, treating a bee sting is pretty simple:
Step 1: Remove the stinger with a credit card or the edge of your fingernail
Step 2: Keep the pet calm
Step 3: Provide ice and/or Benadryl

I've done this with Liam in the past, and he had no ill effects whatsoever. But Sinead wouldn't let me even look at her foot, and the dramatic swelling made me wonder if something else was going on. Since I didn't see the incident take place, I wasn't 100 percent sure that she hadn't fallen or been in a fight of some sort, so I wasn't completely sure that she didn't have a broken bone. So off to the veterinarian we went.

An emergency visit for a bee sting is a pretty routine affair. The vet muzzled Sinead and did a complete exam, and then provided shots of painkilling and anti-swelling medications. In a day or two, she was back to normal.

But I am on a mission to keep this sort of thing from taking place in the future. That might mean fencing, as well as raking of downed blossoms. Sinead might also need supervision when she's in the yard, just so I can ensure she doesn't head down a dangerous path.

Bees and dogs can coexist, and I think they do need to live with one another if we are to grow any kind of food or flower, but it will take a little planning and vigilance. That's the next step I need to take.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The pros and cons of a dog-friendly garden

Liam the pug next to pumpkin flowers
Liam and my pumpkin flowers.
This year was a first for Liam, as he had access to a fully functional garden. I wanted to plant some treats he'd enjoy (including carrots and pumpkins), as I've been worried about the amount of pesticides he might ingest from produce I bought at the store. But, I also had some concerns about planting a garden with two little dogs in the mix. What if Liam and his sister ate things before they were ripe? What if Liam peed everywhere?

Many of my concerns were well-founded, and I never did come up with great solutions (anyone have some?). But there are some good tips and tricks I learned this year that I thought might be helpful for future green thumbs. So, here goes!

Many plants like tomatoes and strawberries need a little boost of fertilizer in order to set fruit. Even if I bought non-toxic fertilizer, I knew the dogs would snorf that stuff off the ground before it had a chance to work into the soil. My (imperfect) solution was to plant these items in pots. Keeping the soil contained in this way allows for more targeted fertilization, but it also keeps curious dogs from doing much exploring.

Not all plants can grow in a pot, however, and those on the ground still need TLC. They need water, for example, and dogs like mine love the water. Keeping the pooches inside for the hour or so that follows watering is the best way to ensure that baths aren't part of the day-to-day action involved in keeping a garden up to par. Using a spray nozzle, rather than a sprinkler, can also be helpful in removing any pee marking the dogs choose to do on the plants.

During crucial growing times, when tiny leaves are just emerging from the ground, my dogs found it fascinating to run and jump through the garden beds. I have no idea why this is the case, but I know they thought it was great fun. I used chicken-wire fencing to keep them out, and I removed those fences when the plants were a little bigger. That way, I didn't crimp the growth pattern, but I kept wee feet from going crazy. When the fruit was about to ripen, I put fences back for a day or so. That keeps the dogs from exploring the beds with their mouths and running off with the fruits of my labor. 

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier with a pumpkin

On the con side, my plants didn't do as well as I had hoped. My pumpkins were blighted with powdery mildew, and since the dogs spent so much time running through those fields, I didn't feel comfortable using any kind of spray on the leaves. As a result, my haul was pretty small. Additionally, the dogs did trample a few of my plants, and Sinead ate a tomato or two, along with some strawberries. These are little complaints, of course, but they are complaints I'll have to address next year.

But in the interim, we're all enjoying the harvest, and maybe that's enough.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dog toenail trims: DIY or groomer?

Sinead the Boston terrier looking like a demon
What Sinead looks like when I try to trim her nails.
When it comes to pet grooming, I've always been willing to roll up my sleeves and handle things at home. My pug, Liam, has a weekly beauty session that includes a nail trim, an ear cleaning and a thorough bathing. My cats also have weekly nail trims and long brushing sessions. None of these pets enjoyed these activities when I got them, but in time, they learned to tolerate the things I seemed determined to do to them, and we all got along fine.

After a week of living with me, I decided to integrate Sinead into our grooming plans, and I expected a little resistance. Instead, I got out-and-out terror. She screamed, wriggled, scratched and then finally thought about biting. Holding her down to handle just one nail was so stressful for her that she felt hot to the touch, and my nerves were shot after holding a demon between my hands for minutes.

In the past, I would have continued with her training, working with her each and every day until she learned to accept the work I was trying to do. But instead, I've thrown in the towel and found a good groomer. Here's my reasoning:
  1. She hates it, and when I have clippers, she hates me. 
  2. I might hurt her when she's wriggling, and then she'll hate this yet more. 
  3. She tends to accept authority figures, like a veterinarian or a groomer. 
  4. A groomer can handle all four feet in just minutes. 
Dog owners seem pretty divided on this issue. Some people feel like taking a dog to a groomer for something that can be done at home is a sign of defeat, and that I am somehow allowing this 8-pound dog to rule my household. If I was firmer and stronger, these people suggest, I could somehow make her accept a nail trim.

Those of us who have difficult dogs, on the other hand, love our groomers. This isn't something our dogs seem willing to budge on, and I'd much rather enjoy my little dog, rather than fighting with her on a daily basis. Her life is better, and so is mine.

That being said, if your little dog won't accept a nail trim, you do have options. Sometimes, switching clippers can make a reluctant pooch more comfortable and less likely to lash out. Some people swear by grinding tools, for example, as they don't tend to cause any sort of pinching sensation. I've also heard that rubbing coconut oil on a dog's feet could prepare them for nail trims, as they learn to associate the smell and taste of something wonderful with the act of you touching their feet.

But if your dog never accepts your nail trimming efforts, don't despair. I welcome you into the club of the quitters. You're in good company.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Thoughts on cats and dental care

cat up a tree
I've always thought of cats as wild creatures that don't need much dental help.
Turns out, I was wrong.
For years now, I've brushed Liam's teeth. Since he's a pug, he likes anything remotely food based, so he'll willingly take part in a nighttime session of tooth brushing with beef-flavored paste. Similarly, I brush Eamon's teeth nightly, as he's old and his teeth show his age.

But, as it turns out, I've been engaging in a little discrimination in this house, and it's starting to impact my bottom line. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm alone in this.

When I added a Boston terrier to the family, I started brushing her teeth almost immediately. She has a pronounced underbite, and as much as she chews on toys, I knew her teeth would suffer as she aged. After a few weeks of practice and adjustment, she's learned to love getting her teeth brushed, and she trots right up to me when she sees the brush in my hand.

But my other cats? It never occurred to me to brush their teeth. I feed them kibble, which should clean their teeth, and I've never noticed bad breath when they come up for snuggles. In addition, I've taken Lucy in for one dental cleaning, so I thought she'd be in good shape for several years.

As it turns out, Lucy's teeth were just dreadful, a mere 2 years after her cleaning, and she had to go back in for another bout of sedation and cleaning. She almost lost 2 teeth in the process, and she spent an entire night trembling, crying and acting miserable when the whole thing was through. I was also out several hundred dollars.

So what's going on here?

Much as I hate to admit it, I think I'm one of those owners who has fallen prey to the independent cat myth. Since my cats are more aloof and self-sufficient, I think they don't need as much of my attention. I figure they can fend for themselves, and they might not need anything from me at all, aside from good food and shelter, in order to stay healthy. In reality, they also need daily care, just like a dog does, in order to stay at an optimal level of health.

This scenario seems to play out frequently across the United States, too, as statistics suggest that owners spend less money on vet visits for cats than they do on visits for dogs. Investopedia suggests, for example, that the average dog owner spends $211 per year on routine veterinary care, while the average cat owner spends only $179. That discrepancy could be due to all sorts of things, including size differences and vaccination differences, of course, but it might also be due to the independent cat myth. It's just easier to subtly neglect a cat, when it comes to health care, and both the pet and the owner pay the price.

I, for one, have learned my lesson. Now, every animal in the house has a tooth-brushing session with me at night. I've also made a point to check each cat for pain or discomfort on a daily basis, just to ensure that I'm not missing anything. I'm also working on brushing the teeth of the outdoor cats, although that is going to take time to accomplish (and merits its own blog entry).

I hope, as a result of all of this, that my cats will be healthier. I also hope that they'll live longer. I owe them that much.

Want more information? Check out this later blog post. Turns out, my stance on cats and dental care has "evolved" just a touch.

And if you're ready to do a little cat tooth brushing (and you should!), try this product C.E.T. Oral Hygiene Kit for Cats. This is the stuff I use, and it works great.

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.”