Wednesday, November 27, 2013

5 ways to keep your dogs safe and sound this Thanksgiving

Sinead the Boston terrier with pumpkins

This is Sinead's first spin through the fall season, and I'm planning to include her in the festivities. I think she'll enjoy the activity, and the added attention, but there are a few wee dangers lurking out there that I'll need to prepare for. I thought sharing them here might be a good idea, as it might allow you to do the same for your dogs. So here goes!

Skip the leftovers and handouts.

It's tempting to load up a dog's plate with turkey and ham bites, and slather the whole thing with gravy. However, these fatty meals can do a real number on a dog's innards, and sometimes, these meals can even put dogs in the hospital. Dr. Heidi Houchen covers this issue in great detail in a wonderful post she wrote for Spot Magazine, and I'd encourage every dog owner to read that before even thinking about giving a dog a plate from the table.

Keep dog collars on at all times.

Sinead and Liam both have two tags on their collars, and they jingle to beat the band. Often, I take their collars off in the evenings, so I can get a little peace, but I won't be doing that on Thanksgiving. With so many people coming and going, in and out, there are too many chances for little dogs to slip into the night. It's best to ensure that they have tags that can allow them to get home again. (As well as I.D. chips, which I've written about here.)

Watch for dog/kid interactions.

Big family get-togethers can sometimes mean allowing dogs and kids to come together in unusual combinations. Some dogs (like mine) have very little kid experience, and some kids have very little dog experience. Rather than letting the wee ones work it out, vigilance is required. I'll be keeping Sinead on a leash, so I know where she is in relation to my very small nephew, and I'll be on alert when they come within touching distance. Chances are, all will go well and there will be no need for caution. But a scuffle could certainly ruin the mood, so it's best to handle the issue with care.

Allow for frequent puppy potty breaks. 

When my dogs get excited, they tend to drink more water, and that means they need to head outside on a regular basis. Ignoring that signal could mean undoing months (or years) of training, as desperate dogs might just pee where they stand. Watching the clock and taking the dogs out every few hours is the best way to ensure that they get the relief they need, when they need it.

Mind the trash. 

In the evening hours, when the party has been going on for quite some time and the turkey coma has set it, people tend to get a little lax about sanitation. Cups and plates pile up in the sink, and some bones and napkins don't quite make it into the garbage can. Sneaky dogs can pull together quite a meal in a scenario like this, and again, they could get quite sick as a result of this foraging. Taking frequent sweeps through the kitchen can help, as can judicious use of the leash. I plan to take both of these steps.

Thanksgiving can be great fun, but it's best to think ahead avoid any pitfalls that may lie between you and turkey bliss. If I've missed any glaring safety steps, let me know in the comments section.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Canine corneal ulcers (aka, Sinead loses a bet with a coffee table)

Sinead the Boston terrier with a sore eye
Like most puppies, Sinead is a whirlwind of energy. In particular, she loves to run at high speed for tiny, fluffy, squeaker-filled balls. Most of the time, she's like a precision weapon, able to home in on that ball as it moves through the air, and she can snatch it before it hits the ground.

Unfortunately, catching a ball like this means watching the ball while running. This means Sinead is often looking up while she runs, rather than watching the space into which she's running. On Wednesday, predictably, this ended in disaster.

One throw took a bad bounce, and it landed quite close to an antique side table in the living room. Liam and Lucy are posing in front of this table in the photo below, and as you can see, it has a lot of sharp angles.
Liam the pug and Lucy the cat in front of a table
Sinead ran right into one of those sharp angles with her wide-open eye. I saw it happen, and while she didn't scream or cry and there was no blood involved, I knew we were dealing with a pretty serious problem.

Wee dogs like Sinead (and Liam, too), have smashed-in faces and very prominent eyes. Put these two factors together, and they add up to a dog that's prone to eye injuries. There's no muzzle to take the blow, and the eyes are just big and ready for a poke.

Within 2 hours or so, Sinead had been seen by the ER doctor, and her little scratch had been confirmed. With that diagnosis in hand, she was started on antibiotic therapies that could keep opportunistic critters from digging into her cornea and making that original wound yet deeper than it already was. She also had pain control medications on board, so she'd be less likely to cry.

It's been close to 48 hours now, and I'm happy to report that she's doing much better. She can keep that eye wide open, and she doesn't seem inclined to cry or dig at it. But I'm glad I acted so quickly.

In the past, with my first Boston terrier, I allowed minor scratches to fester, hoping they would heal on their own. In one instance, I thought a cut could wait until morning, when my veterinarian's office was open for business. By the time I got there, Seamus already had a bacterial infection complicating his eye injury. That cut took a long time to heal, and it took some of his vision away as well.

I'm determined not to let that happen to Sinead, so I'm vowing to be on top of any and all cuts she might get. And for now, no more fetch in the house!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 2013 BarkBox review: Dog toys and dog treats galore!

Liam the pug with a chew toy from BarkBox

I have big plans for this month's BarkBox. In just a few weeks, Sinead will be a year old, and I was hoping to throw her a bit of a party. I thought I'd set aside a few items from this month's box, along with a few other choice treats, so I could save myself a shopping trip and some added expense. It seems like a great idea, but it also means that I'll have a slightly truncated review this month. But stay tuned for photos and treats from Sinead's birthday, if you want to know the dirt on the items I'm not explicitly discussing here.

N-Bone Pearly Whites are the big winners in this month's Box. Liam is clearly enjoying his little treat from the goofy picture I've posted here, but both dogs seemed to like the idea of a minty chew. They settled right down with their bones, and there was no fighting and no residue left when treat time was over. I like that.

I brush both Liam and Sinead's teeth (which I've discussed here), so I'm not certain I need to add a dental treat to their daily routine. But if I need a few moments of quiet contemplation, it's nice to know that they'll accept these treats without leaving a mess behind. I might need to pick up a few for that purpose.

Bocce's Bakery Truffle Mac & Cheese Cookies had me a little perplexed, at first, as these treats don't have any kind of scent at all. When I opened the bag, I couldn't even smell flour. However, the dogs really loved these cookies, and they asked for more and more of them. In fact, they got more excited about these things than they did about any other cookies we've had in BarkBoxes in months past. So who knew? These are the treats for them.

Happy Howie's Sausages round out the treats the dogs have tried, thus far, and they (predictably) found these little snacks irresistible. Sinead likes them so much, in fact, that she won't eat them in front of either me or Liam. Instead, she takes her tiny bite of meat underneath the couch, so she can eat it in peace. That's a sign of love, in my book.

I like these treats because they're soft. Jerky treats often have a brittle, tough texture that can encourage chewing and work, but I'm always afraid the dogs will try to gobble those treats and swallow huge bits in the process. The soft nature of these treats doesn't fill me with the same sense of terror, and I can even break the treats apart in order to give them bite-sized snacks. I like that a lot.

Etta Says Jerky is a special treat I'm holding back for Sinead's birthday, and as a result, I have no real words of wisdom to share. But I'll be sure to discuss this product in detail when the party has passed!

P.L.A.Y. Zuccchini Toy is this month's plush item, and it's remarkably cute. Plus, it's made quite well, with double stitching and very sturdy fabrics. I hope it'll last a little longer than last month's toy, which had an early death I outlined here. Very sad. Anyway, this will be a special toy for Sinead's birthday, but the toy also came with a bonus that will make her day extra special. Attached to this toy was a recipe for cupcakes for dogs! I'm planning to make her a batch. That's a nice little addition.

All in all, this was a great BarkBox. As usual, I'm anxiously awaiting the next one!

Friday, November 15, 2013

These 4 steps can help you react to pet food, medication or toy recalls

Sinead the Boston terrier and her dog toy
Sinead clearly loves her toys. And I'm not sure I'd know how
to make something like this.
Watching my Twitter feed lately has been a nerve-racking experience. First, there were stories about dogs that fell ill and died after eating jerky treats. Then, there were stories about a common heartworm medication that also seemed to be sickening pets. And then, yet more dog treats were recalled.

It's enough to make any pet owner go pioneer. I started looking up recipes for dog treats I could make in my dehydrator, and I started wondering if my pets really needed to take flea and tick medications.

Thankfully, I regained my senses. After all, if I did create each and every item of food my two dogs and five cats ate, I'd have little time left for work. Plus, there are medications they need, and toys they want, that I simply don't have the ability to make in my residential kitchen. At the moment, I still need suppliers.

But, I did come up with a few commonsense tips pet owners can use in order to protect their pets from, and respond to, the recalls that are sure to come in the future. If I missed any, please be sure to add them in the comments section.

1. Pay attention to the source.

Many of the items that have been recalled in recent days have been made in other countries. China, in particular, has been associated with some of these concerns regarding meat products. China was also linked with the massive pet food recall of 2007.

I'm no chemist, and I haven't had the opportunity to check these products for contamination, but at the moment, I don't feel safe in buying any product that comes from a producer that operates overseas. But sticking to that plan means more than just looking for the "Made in the USA" label, as many producers import their raw materials from overseas and package them in this country, all while sticking to their flag-waving label.

Red-alert words include:
  • Distributed by
  • Imported for
  • Manufactured for
  • Sourced for
These are the sorts of phrases that indicate that some part of the product isn't made here. For now, I just can't buy anything that isn't made in the USA.

2. Buy from the same supplier.

When I lived in Portland, I had at least three different locally-owned pet stores I'd visit on a regular basis. Each had a slightly different product lineup, and sometimes, the price difference between the facilities saved me quite a bit of money.

But, when one of the foods I normally purchased was recalled, it took me several weeks to find out. Why? Because the batch number associated with that recall was only sold in one store and not the other two. Since I hadn't visited in several weeks, I didn't see the warning sign in the store and kept blithely feeding my guys something that could harm them.

Each time there's a recall, a reputable store will put up a big sign about that recall on the shelves where you'll grab your next packet of food. Going to the same store lets you see that sign a little easier.

3. Monitor the recalls.

New recalls are posted on a regular basis, and it can seem annoying to keep track of all of the data, but it's something we pet owners can and should do. The American Veterinary Medical Association keeps separate databases of recalls for animal food and animal products, and newer entries float to the top of the website. Checking the sites weekly can help you to spot problems as they unfold.

I also have my Twitter feed loaded with animal lovers and veterinarians, and that allows me to plug into the hive mind and find out about products that might be making pets sick, even though a recall hasn't yet taken place.

4. Report, report, report. 

If a product you purchase or use on your pets makes those pets sick, it's your duty to report it.

I know, I know. I've mentioned this before when Eamon had a terrible reaction to a flea medication. But still, I know of dozens of people who had food- or medication-related reactions unfolding in their homes, and who never reported the incidents to the FDA, the manufacturer or to a veterinarian. Instead, they just threw the products away.

Each time you report a problem to a manufacturer or the FDA, a tiny report is drawn up. If enough reports come in, the manufacturer or the FDA has a larger incentive to hold a recall or otherwise explain the issue through better product packaging. Staying silent could mean allowing yet more pets to get sick.

I should say here that I'm not a fan of gorilla vengeance, in which pet owners write scathing blogs about the deaths their pets may or may not have endured due to a product. Companies can sue, and unfortunately, they do. The safer bet is to work with the authorities and allow them to do the right thing. Reporting can make it happen.

I'd love it if no recalls took place in the future. But these steps can help us, if they do.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Life lessons from a mouse and a cookie

The issue of persistence, even in the face of defeat, has been on my mind a lot lately. Often, wee Sinead is to blame. As she grows and takes on adult characteristics, she's decided that the Boston terrier should be in charge of the household, and we've had to resort to strict puppy boot camp techniques to force her to accept the authority of the humans. It's tiring work, and it's not always successful.

I've also been doing some intense running in the early morning hours, sans dogs, and as the weather continues to cool, running becomes less and less pleasant for me. I come back from a run tired and wet, and my times aren't really improving, but the dogs still expect their food right on time, no matter what.

I'm also working on blogging more, and driving up readership numbers, and some of my experiments are wonderful while others seem to fall flat. So when I stumbled across this piece produced by Coppyblogger, I was pretty excited. Pep talks about an issue you're struggling with are always wonderful, and the tips provided here seemed pretty straightforward and easy to implement.

And yet, just a few days later, I found a video that had the same message, but it was a little easier to understand. Click on the link above to see what I mean.

This little mouse has a gigantic cracker right in front of his nose, but he can't figure out how to haul that thing up and away. In the space of just a minute or two, he tries more than 50 different methods in order to move his big treat, and he fails each time. In fact, he seems to grow so frustrated that he thinks about giving up and walking away, but in the end, he turns back and tries just one more time. It's that last, persistent gasp that allows him to get the cracker of his dreams.

Talk about continuing to fight in the face of insurmountable odds! It's the same message found in the Copyblogger piece, but it's presented in a much more entertaining way (with fewer takeaway tips, of course, but still....).

Now, I know that I've spent an embarrassing amount of time on this blog taking apart the idea that animals can somehow be inspirational to their human counterparts, particularly when they're doing things that any other similar creature might do.

For example, I've written extensively about Lucy's blindness (examples here and here), and in each entry, I've suggested that her disability doesn't make her either more or less rewarding or inspirational than any other cat. Since she doesn't know about her disability, she doesn't valiantly overcome any challenges. She just is.

I've also written about poor disabled Seamus who had to learn how to eat when he lost part of his jaw bone to cancer. Again, I don't think I found his story inspirational as much as just sad (but feel free to read the piece here and come to your own conclusions).
Seamus the Boston terrier and his missing jaw
Seamus days after his surgery.
But I seem to have had a change of heart this week, and I blame a wee little mouse and his cracker. For some reason, I connected to his struggle with the huge cracker, and several times this week, I thought about his little mouse pep talk. Perhaps if I tried just one more time, I'd think, the same great outcome would happen to me. This isn't the kind of sea change any piece of writing might inspire in me. Only the silly animal video seemed to do the trick.

Don't worry: I won't be writing articles anytime soon about how my animals inspire me to train better, run harder or work more effectively. However, I might read such articles from others with a bit of an open mind.

What do you think? Are your animals inspiring? Share your thoughts.

Friday, November 8, 2013

3 quick ways to keep your dogs safe when you're not there to supervise

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier sharing a bed

Most of the time, having two dogs is pretty peaceful. My two love one another, and they are even starting to snuggle regularly, which is something I thought would never happen (see my mournful thoughts about that particular topic here).

But any two dogs can get into a squabble, and if one party won't back down, the fight can escalate until one dog is either injured or killed. It sounds unlikely, but these fights can even take place in dogs that have previously spent their lives together in calm companionship. (See this blog entry for a particularly heartbreaking example.)

It might seem depressing to assume that two dogs will always come to blows when left alone, but there are some things we humans can do to reduce the changes of something horrible happening to the wee ones we care for. I'll list them in order of safety, from least safe to most safe.

1. Train the dogs to share, and ensure that they never roughhouse in any way.

Some would claim that teaching their dogs that any sort of rough play is unacceptable can keep them from getting into a tangle when the people aren't around. If the dogs know that they must share, or the consequences will be severe, they might not even try to start something with another dog. In time, they might even forget that it's an option.

I've tried this with my dogs (see a previous post here), and my success has been a little mixed. On the one hand, my two are much less likely to get into a fight in front of me, since I started insisting that all aggressive snarling and growling was forbidden, but I've never been able to keep my dogs from doing a little rough play. And at this point, I'm not sure that I'd want them to be polite with one another 24/7.

My high-energy dogs need to burn off a little steam from time to time, and they seem to enjoy the opportunity to run, jump and play. They like to wrestle with one another, and they seem willing to back off and let the other win from time to time. Here's an example of the fun they'd miss if I banned all rough play.

Sinead the Boston terrier standing over Liam the pug

Sinead is winning here, and they look like they're having a great time.

I think training has a place in ensuring that dogs learn how to settle their differences without flying off the handle, and training can help to ensure that dogs at least begin to get along when people are out of the room. But I don't think training will help to prevent a squabble when the dogs are totally alone for a long period of time (like an hour). There are just too many variables, so this remains the least-safe option.

2. Pick up most dog toys. 

Dogs have specific toys that they seem to gravitate toward, and some are willing to fight to the bitter end to keep the other dog from even touching those items. In this house, high-value toys include:
  • Nylabone keys 
  • Hear Doggy whales 
  • Small, red balls (I have no idea why) 
  • Kongs filled with something tasty, like peanut butter
  • Rawhide anything
As mentioned, training can keep dogs from fighting to the death when you're standing right there, but these toys might be the prompt for a squabble when you're gone. In addition, some fights can even start when there's no high-value toy at stake. For example, one party might want to play while the other is sleeping. This sweet image, for example, might have turned into a fight if Liam wasn't willing to give in and play with persistent Sinead.

Boston terrier and pug playing

If I can't be there to supervise, all high-value toys are put in a toy box with a lid, so neither dog can start a rumble. If I do leave low-value toys out, I ensure that there are at least four available. That way, there should be no resource guarding. It's not the safest option, but it's a start.

3. Keep one, or both, dogs confined. 

When it comes to the safety of my dogs, I don't think you can ever be too careful. That's why I keep one dog confined in a crate when I go out for more than about 10 minutes. Since Sinead is smaller, and she likes to be in small, cave-like enclosures, she's the crated party. Liam is in his bed in the same room, and I keep the door closed.

A crating setup like this allows both dogs to be in the same room together, so they can continue to bond. But, they can both have access to treats and toys, to help them pass the time while I am away. I know they won't fight, because they can't reach one another, but I know they won't be lonely, either.

To me, this is the safest, best option. If you have another technique you're using with your dogs, I'd love to hear it in the comments section.