Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Don't panic! With planning, Halloween can be safe for your pets

Sinead the Boston terrier and her pumpkin

Creepy ghouls willing to smash the pumpkins of unsuspecting toddlers aren't the only things we need to worry about on Halloween, my fellow bloggers suggest. Now, we must worry about:
  • Cats catching fire on candles 
  • Dogs developing obstructions due to pumpkins or nausea due to chocolate
  • Demonic people who want to torture our black pets
  • Animals running loose in the neighborhood, frightened by the costumed children
We pet owners are encouraged to keep our pets out of costumes and behind locked doors, with their ID collars securely fastened, so they won't be forced to deal with the horrible holiday we choose to inflict on them.

Phooey, I say.

I have animals because I love them and I choose to share my life with them. As such, I'd never consider keeping them away from something I enjoy. In fact, I hope to help them participate in Halloween, and with a little planning, that's easy to accomplish.

Toxic decorations that can cause cats to catch on fire are easy enough to avoid. Just putting them on high shelves is enough to discourage old, arthritic cats like mine. And if I must have something at eye level (like a pumpkin), I can use battery-operated, flameless candles to illuminate the gore. Those disks don't catch anything on fire, and many have a realistic flickering action that can fool almost anyone.

Nosy dogs that like to eat things they shouldn't, including chocolate and pumpkins, are also easily foiled with a little product placement. Few dogs can climb a bookshelf in order to get to candy, and keeping pumpkins on a porch in the front, rather than in the backyard, can ensure that no nibbling takes place. Dogs can also be trained to leave the human food alone, and if they do so, they might be rewarded with treats that are appropriate for them. Planning, not banning, does the trick here.

I've mentioned the black-cat-and-Halloween myth before, but it still seems to persist in cyberspace. It's worth repeating, then, that there's no real evidence that suggests that black cats are at increased risk of dying at the hands of sadists on Halloween, when compared to their risk of same in any other month of the year. That's why shelters like the Oregon Humane Society continue to adopt out black pets throughout the season. We should all take a cue from them and ratchet down the hysteria about our own pets. After all, keeping cats safe at night isn't something we should be doing only in October. It's something we all should do all year long.

As for keeping wee pets safe from running away, training also plays a role here. Dogs can be successfully trained to stay away from the door when the doorbell rings, and if they can't, Halloween provides an excellent training opportunity. I plan to ask hubby to hand out the treats while I mesmerize my dogs with tiny morsels of their own treats. They'll be on leashes, in case they decide to disobey, but they'll also be on display in their costumes, getting good treats, so they'll be part of the fun.

Now I'm not saying Halloween is a hunky-dory holiday made to order for pets, but I do think there's a way to include them in the action while keeping them safe. Banishing them to a dark room, away from everything, might keep them safe, but it also might make the holiday truly frightful for them. If we really love them, why not include them?

At least, that's my philosophy.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

October 2013 BarkBox review

Boston terrier Sinead with a chew stick 
Living in the PNW has some distinct advantages (lovely weather, bike-friendly cities, fabulous wineries, etc.), but when it comes to the BarkBox, my kids seem to get the short end of the stick on a regular basis, waiting days and days for their treats to arrive from the far coast.

While we lucked out this month, getting the box just days after it had shipped, the dogs were picky, and as a result, our review is a little mixed.

Here's what we got.

Superior Farms: Dog Treats

The biggest hit in this month's box was a set of dried lamb's ears. My guys typically don't get treats like this, because I don't like all of the processing dried animal parts go through before they're shipped. I was relieved to see that these ears were just washed and dried, so there were no nasty and foreign-sounding ingredients to worry over. And they seem to taste great, as both dogs gobbled them right up.
Liam the pug with a dog treat

Baker's Best: Dog Treats

These treats get a mixed review, as Liam thinks they're wonderful, but Sinead won't touch them. They're made of goat meat, again with minimal processing, but they do seem to have a lack of scent. Perhaps the smell keeps Sinead eating, while no smell makes her run in fear. I have full confidence that Liam will eat what she rejects, however.

Fruitables: Dog Treats

This product came individually wrapped for Halloween, which will allow me to give snacks to all of my canine neighbors. I absolutely love that. And the small portions make them a wonderful addition for sweet Sinead. However, Liam doesn't seem to tolerate these treats, and tends to retch them back up hours after eating them. I'm not sure what's going on there, but Sinead will have to eat his portions.

Pet Qwerks: Dog Toy

I was excited about this toy, because it's small and therefore perfect for Sinead. It's also just really cute, but just one hour later, the once-cute toy looked like this.
Doy toy with a ripped ear
It seems that this toy isn't quite suitable for heavy-duty chewers, as my guys were able to rip one ear completely off. They still play with it, now that I've taken my sewing kit to the toy, but I'm leery of letting them play too hard with something that falls apart so easily.

Your Dog's Diner: Dog Treats

This product will allow hubby to make a bunch of meatballs for the dogs for their holiday festivities. I love the idea, but haven't yet tried the product. I can't wait, though!

All in all, there's something in here for both dogs. It'll be fun to see what the folks at BarkBox do next month.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Of blind cats and baby gates

Blind cat Lucy behind a baby gate
It seems that I spend most of my life trying to keep my resident blind cat from harming herself, given the number of times I've written about the topic on this blog (see examples here and here). Most of the time, my solutions work quite nicely, and I can pat myself on the back for a job well done. There are times, however, when my safety ideals confuse Lucy. The latest problem concerns a baby gate.

My house has a fully finished basement, which contains the favored litter box for kitties that need a little more privacy than they might experience upstairs. It's in a wee little bathroom, in an out-of-the-way part of the basement, and the box is big and accommodating. For cats who have serious business to do, this is the place in which to do it.

Unfortunately, getting to this box means going down some complicated stairs. There are two small steps down, a landing and then a twisting set of carpeted stairs. Lucy can navigate these steps just fine when she's moving slowly, but if a wee Boston terrier chooses to chase her, she seems to lose track of the number of stairs, and she tumbles head over heels until she reaches the bottom.

In addition, her little deposits tend to be eaten by curious (and disgusting) pugs, and when she comes to investigate with purrs and head butts, she's sometimes bullied. It takes me a few moments to break up the ruckus, and by the time I get there, she's been subjected to a lot of playful mouthing that might make her a little uncomfortable.

Baby gates are an obvious solution to this problem, as they allow acrobatic cats the opportunity to jump over, while dogs are left watching the action through the bars. With a baby gate in place, Lucy can use her box in peace, and she can make her way down the stairs at a slow and steady pace without being chased. Her dog interactions would also involve supervision.

My house doesn't provide a perfect baby gate setup, however, as the landing at one end is small, and the doorway at the other end is too wide to accommodate a gate. I've been forced to put it at the top of the stairwell, which means the cats must jump it and land two steps down. Lucy can handle this part just fine, but she can't figure out how to jump over the gate when she's standing on the landing.

While I know quite well that she can jump over the gate, as the distance is smaller than the distance from the floor to the top of my bed (and she sleeps up there all day). But something about the jump confuses her.

When I first put up the gate, a few months ago, I figured she'd get used to the idea and would figure it out.

No dice.

Now, she just sits on the other side of the gate, patiently meowing until I come and open up the door to let her through. I'm thankful the gate has a hinge, so this is relatively easy to do, but I wonder how long she'll keep it up. I suppose it's the price I'll pay in order to keep her safe.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Where I stand on the great pet insurance debate

Sinead the Boston terrier puppy in her bed
It's been 6 years since I've had a puppy. Since that time, a lot of things have changed. Now, I can do more than just microchip my dog; I can outfit her with GPS. Instead of buying her dog treats at the store, I can hire a company to select treats for her and mail them right to my house. And if she got hot, instead of using a hose to provide relief, I can wrap her up in a nifty cooling towel that will do the job for me.

Innovation is a wonderful thing.

But the changes I've found most impressive have nothing to do with treats, toys and chips. Instead, they have to do with pet insurance.

When Liam was a puppy, I looked into pet insurance, as I knew pugs were prone to all sorts of skin conditions that can result in hefty vet bills. The first plan I looked into, provided by a company I won't name, excluded coverage for any condition that was considered endemic to the breed. In a way, the conditions Liam's pug counterparts endured worked like a preexisting condition for him, even though he was only 3 months old and had no health problems at all.

Needless to say, my searching stopped right there, and from that point onward, I became an intransigent bad-mouther of the pet insurance business (I even wrote up a pretty nasty article about the topic on this blog). These plans are expensive, and if they didn't include genetic conditions, they seemed worthless, as many of the most expensive problems facing our pets have been found in their genetic brothers and sisters. And, almost any condition could be considered a breed-specific problem, as long as just one pet of the same breed showed symptoms.

Many people felt the same, it seems, and modern plans changed in order to entice more naysayers like me. They did good work. I looked at two this week, and here's what I found.

Healthy Paws pet insurance provides lifetime benefits to dogs, and there are no caps on coverage. Everything from prescription medications to surgeries is covered, and there are no sneaky clauses about genetic conditions or breed-specific problems. As long as the dog didn't have the problem when the coverage began, the owner is covered.

Trupanion pet insurance works in much the same way, with no sneaky clauses and full coverage for all sorts of surgeries, medications and procedures. The company even provides a sample policy online, just to ensure that clients know what they're expected to get well before they buy.

Insuring Sinead under one of these plans would lost me about $30 per month, and I'd have a deductible to meet before the company would pay. That deductible is per condition, in most cases, so there would be times in which I'd have to shell out money for the whole bill, even though I had insurance.

However, if Sinead got cancer, diabetes, Cushing's disease or some other horrific medical problem, or if she was somehow injured or wounded, I'd have coverage. Without it, I might spend thousands in order to make her well. Sometimes, I might be forced to make decisions about her medical care based on the cost of that care, and that seems just awful.

It's worth pausing, though, to consider that small point. Some medical conditions that impact our pets, like cancer, can be ameliorated through medical treatment. Chemotherapy, for example, can give a dog months of happy life, in some cases. Surgery for a broken bone can help to save a limb. But sometimes, the interventions we provide our pets with aren't really best for them. Is orthopedic surgery right, when it results in months of crate rest and possible arthritis down the line? Would a cheaper amputation be better for the health of the animal? Should a dog with cancer get an expensive and painful debulking surgery with months of chemo just to get 3 more months of life? I'm not sure.

I would like to think, though, that insurance could help me to make these decisions without the cost of the therapies clouding my judgement. If I could just take the recommendations of a doctor and weigh what's best for Sinead, without taking my finances into account, maybe I'd make better choices.

At this point, I'm still debating. I've seen other bloggers tackle this question by creating spreadsheets of current expenditures and current insurance costs, and while that seems reasonable, it doesn't take into account sudden catastrophes. Those costs are just unknown, and they must factor into the decision.

Anyone have advice or stories to share to help me decide? I'd love to hear your comments.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Protecting birds from outdoor cats

These two pictures, placed side by side, should explain the problem I'm having at the moment.
Bird feeders

Jasper the cat outside

Yep, I'm one of those people that has both bird feeders and cats. I've written about this issue before, when little Jasper killed some small bird in my yard in Portland. At the time, I was devastated, and I put belled collars on all the outdoor cats. My solution at that time also involved making my yard hostile to birds. I had no feeders out, and I was certain to avoid all plants that produced seeds. By belling the cats and removing the birds, I figured I had the problem solved. Even when the outdoor cats took their collars off, there were no birds for them to kill. Smart me, right?

But when I moved here, I started to wonder if I was doing the right thing by banning birds. After all, the Audubon Society suggests that world bird populations are on the decline, due to urban sprawl and pollution. The tiny birds we all grew up with an love are becoming more and more rare, and a lack of food is part of the problem. Additionally, birds in my own corner of the world are struggling to survive during this time of climate change. Just last week, I saw a report regarding a massive die-off of swallows in Oregon, due to the freakish weather we've had this fall. 

Anyone who loves birds can't read reports like this and feel content to go forward with business as usual. Feeding the birds just seems like the right thing to do. 

The cats, however, had other plans. 

Our outdoor cats can't come indoors, for reasons I've outlined here. They're also quite old, and not as spry as they once were. When I set the feeders up for the very first time, the old men did nothing at all. In fact, they didn't even look at the feeders that were swarmed with birds. 

But last week, Beorn found his mojo, and he killed one of my little birds. 

Cats can't wear standardized collars with buckles, as they tend to strangle on them. They squeeze into small spaces, and before you know it, the collar is stuck and the body is not. So we must use breakaway collars. Unfortunately, most breakaway collars are designed to fall apart at the slightest touch, so Jasper and Beorn are adept at pulling them off with just one foot.

Going without a collar isn't an option now, however, as the death of one bird is too many for me. So I bought a breakaway collar for both boys, with a very loud bell, and I chose the collars that had the least amount of give. It's been 4 days, and both boys still have collars on. 

But if they take them off, I'm heading to the pet store to buy in bulk, and I'll put a new one on them each and every morning. It's really the only thing to do. Cats like Beorn and Jasper kill up to 3.7 billion birds each year, according to a recent study, and I just can't be a part of that kind of die-off. Here's hoping the boys will cooperate.