Friday, December 19, 2014

What does your dog really want for Christmas? (Hint: Your help)

Sinead the Boston terrier and her presents

If you're anything like me, your pets have presents under the tree. In fact, it's likely that you have a number of wee little gifts tucked away, so you can give your dogs a big surprise on December the 25th.

Now, I enjoy giving my dogs little presents from time to time. And when those gifts are edible, my dogs are thrilled to get them. But it might be time to take a little pause to think about what's best for all pets, not just the ones we have at our feet.

Consider this: The Humane Society of the United States suggests that there are 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats in American shelters right now. And millions of them don't make it out of those shelters alive, even if they're healthy and adoptable.

Before you pick up another toy for your pet or another box of cookies, consider donating to your local shelter instead. Chances are, your pet might not need something new. But a pup waiting for a home in a shelter certainly would appreciate the gesture. It might make that wee one just a touch happier, and that could make the pup more eager to interact with visitors. That's just the kind of thing that gets dogs adopted.

Liam the pug with his Christmas snowmen

So what would your pet like instead?

Mine would enjoy a little more lap time. In fact, they'd probably love it if I spent an entire day off of the computer. That way, I'd have my hands free to pet them, throw toys for them and otherwise handle their every wish. They'd probably like that a lot more than presents. Maybe your dog would feel the same.

And if you have a lonely pet, why not consider adopting a companion this Christmas season? There are plenty of wee dogs, big dogs, active dogs and lazy dogs all languishing in shelters right now. There's bound to be one that could be your dog's BFF, and during the holiday season, you might have vacation time open in which to help the dog make a smooth transition.

As for me, I'll be taking some of my own advice. I'll be stepping away from the computer until the new year, and lavishing my pets with attention. I look forward to seeing you in 2015. And, if you haven't had a chance to "like" the fan page yet, I urge you to do so! That could be your gift to me.

Have a safe and happy holiday season, everyone!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cat Christmas decoration safety: Watch out for snow globes!

Eamon the cat with his snow globe

It's the holiday season again, and that means we're all busting out the decorations (and then picking them back up in the morning, after the cats have knocked them over in the night). Typically, I keep most decorations up high, just so I can be sure that they'll be out of the way of little kitty paws. But now I have an even greater reason to lock down those decorations: A common bit of cheer that I use has been linked to cat poisoning and death.

Yep: I'm talking about snow globes.

I have a ton of them. They're filled with fluid and a little fake snow, and when you shake them up, it simulates a winter wonderland. It's pretty great for this part of Oregon, since we rarely get snow and yet still dream of a white Christmas.

Apparently, these little globes aren't filled with simple water. Instead, they're packed full of chemicals. In fact, they're stuffed with something that's related to antifreeze.

Maggie and Lucy with their snow globe

Antifreeze is really deadly for cats. The attack starts in the kidneys, and it then spreads throughout the cat's body. In as little as 24 hours, a cat can die from exposure to this stuff, even if kitty takes in only a few tablespoons.

If it sounds like an alarmist tale, check out this heartbreaking blog entry from a cat owner who lost her little one after he broke her snow globe and cleaned the residue from his paws. This kind of thing does happen, and it should put all of us on alert.

At the moment, I have pretty geriatric sighted cats who don't do a lot of jumping. And blind Lucy doesn't do any jumping at all. So my globes are safe up high on the mantelpiece. That's where the majority of them are right now.

The big one Lucy and Maggie are posing with is on the coffee table, but it's heavy and bulky. I don't see the cats trying to move it. And if they do, it'll fall only about a foot and land on carpet. Shouldn't be any breakage there.

But still. This news makes me question adding to my collection!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Yet another reason to walk your dog: You could get fit, too!

This is what Liam looks like each and every time I ask him if he'd like to go for a walk. He tips his head, he thinks for a moment and he drops whatever he's doing to run to the door. He absolutely loves to hit the sidewalks. It's something that makes him happy, and that's a big reason why I make time to walk him at least once every single day.

I've talked a lot about walking with dogs on this blog (here's a recent example), but I recently read a New York Times article that gives me yet another reason to promote walking. And it's a biggie.

This particular article discusses a study conducted in Maryland. Researchers split participants into two groups. Everyone who participated had an obese dog, but only half of the owners were given dog exercise guidelines from a veterinarian. They were typically told to walk the dog at least 30 minutes per day. The other participants were given general guidelines for pup weight loss only, with no prescription for exercise. And apparently, some vets in both groups stressed the importance of weight loss for a dog's health.

When the researchers followed up three months later, those that were specifically told to exercise had done so, and the dogs were slimmer. Also, those that were just told that being obese was bad for puppy also had exercised said dogs more (even if they weren't specifically told to do so), and the pups had lost weight.

Liam preps for a pre-dawn walk.
But here's the thing: The owners lost weight, too.

The researchers suggest that dogs can be powerful agents for change. We'll do things for their health and well-being that we won't do for ourselves. We love them, and we want what's best for them, so we'll make those sacrifices for them. Where these people may not have considered walking for their own health, when they were told that the dogs needed to walk, they hit the bricks. And everyone got better. (Read the column here.)

Of course, walking a dog brings all sorts of other benefits, too. A walk helps you to establish a line of communication with your dog, and that often means you have a stronger bond when the walk is through. And walks help to stimulate your dog's mind, so the pup has less of a boring existence.

And, best of all, walks wear the pups out. See how tired Sinead is after her walk?
She's ready for a good, long nap. And a walk gave that to her.

So if you're not walking your dog now, I encourage you to start. And if you do walk, keep it up! It's good for you and your pup.

Shameless promotion: Have you liked the blog fan page yet? Please do so!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Aggressive cats? 5 innovative solutions to bring the peace back

Eamon hasn't been feeling his best, and that means I've seen an uptick in aggressive episodes. He's been lashing out at the other pets (and at me), and the other cats have been striking out at one another, due to the increased stress the whole household is facing.

Fun times.

I've been pouring through cat behavior books, reading up on training blogs and otherwise looking for solutions for the past few weeks. Here's what I've tried that seems to be turning the tide in this household.

1. Find the root of the problem. 
Normally placid cats don't simply become aggressive out of the blue. There's something bothering them that's forcing a change in their behavior. Finding that little problem is often the first and most meaningful step to take in bringing peace back to the community.

For Eamon, that meant getting him an adequate level of pain control.

The Adequan supplement I had been using wasn't providing him with enough relief from his arthritis-based discomfort (read more about that here). I could see that clearly, as he was limping in addition to lashing out. Once I added in a pain reliever (Gabapentin), he was much more comfortable and a lot less angry. His problems were solved.

The other cats didn't see this kind of immediate relief. They remained a little fearful, on edge and feisty. Their feelings were hurt, and the community had been disrupted. So most of these other steps were designed to help them to recover.

2. Provide more hiding spaces. 
Cat attacks in my household happened when Maggie and Lucy walked a little too close to Eamon. I think he was worried about being stepped on, so he became aggressive as a defensive mechanism.

Even though he is not attacking them now, they remain nervous about being out in the open. I moved a few favorite beds to tucked-in corners protected by furniture. Lucy is in one such bed in this photo.
When the cats feel nervous but they still want to nap, these beds provide them with the perfect solution.

3. Encourage helper animals. 
Sinead has been (strangely) an excellent ally in this struggle for control. She's fearless, so displays of aggression don't really work on her, and she likes to snuggle, so she provides affection when Eamon isn't feeling well enough to do so.

I've been providing her with treats for interacting gently with the cats. I've also been talking in a calm and soothing voice whenever I see her snuggle or provide some kind of cat affection. I'm training her to be ever-so-nice, and I think her help is allowing these sad cats to remember that this household is still a place filled with love.
4. Spend additional time on grooming. 
In a healthy cat household, cat scents intermingle with grooming. One cat licks another, and then they switch roles. All of that licking and petting allows the two scents to blend, which allows the cats to remember that they know one another and like one another.

There's not a lot of that going on right now, so I've been spending more time on grooming. I brush one cat with the cat brush, and then rub that cat down with a towel. I then use the same towel and the same brush on the next cat.

I'd like to think that helps the scents to intermingle, but even if it doesn't, it allows me to spend more time with each cat, doing something they like. That's bound to be helpful.
5. Try not to overreact. 
As the cats become reacquainted with one another, there are bound to be wee squabbles. They bicker and grumble and posture. That's just something that fearful cats do when they're unsure or uncertain. While those little spats can sound scary, I try very hard not to interfere.

If I step in too soon, I risk transmitting the message that the other cat should be avoided. If they can work it out between them, they should do so. There's no need for me to pop in there unless things are dire.

Same goes for cat/dog interactions. Eamon smells a little different to the dogs, and they feel the need to sniff him and check him out. I let them do that, and I let Eamon grumble and swat if he's had enough. I trust them to work through things.

I do stay close at hand, however, and ready to step in if things seem to get too rambunctious or if one party seems especially aggrieved. That's exceedingly rare, thankfully, but it's something to watch for.
I'm hoping these steps will help Eamon to heal up in relative safety, without putting the rest of the cats in harm's way. And I hope that I can keep their relationships intact, too!

Special aside: I've started a Facebook fan page for this blog. If you'd like to keep up on the comings and goings of these guys on a daily basis, check it out! Love to see you. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pug deep thoughts: 5 expressions translated into English

Curly tails, smooshed faces, underbites... Pugs are simply designed to look a little silly. (And that's a big part of why we love them.)

But beneath the wrinkles and creamy fur lies a delicate sensibility. In fact, these little dogs can be intense worriers, filled with doubt about the world and their place in it.

Don't believe me? Let's tap into the pug-translate-o-meter and decode what Liam is thinking in these five photos.

"What's life really about? I mean, there are toys on my back and
sunshine here at my feet. What what's that really worth?
What does it all mean?"
"Why do people insist on taking my photograph? Does it mean
that I'm good looking, or are the humans making fun of me?"
"Is my food really organic, or is that just a marketing label
that I can't really trust?"
"I know I peed on these leaves yesterday, but the rain washed
my marks away. Is all of life so futile?"
"Sure, I have a lot of toys right now. But are they really enough?
Maybe I should get a few more."
Cheer up, Liam! Life is wonderful! Maybe I should give him a few extra snacks today to boost his mood. What do you think?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Need a #GivingTuesday idea? How about cat overpopulation prevention?

Most of us who love cats already have cats. (In fact, most of us have more than one cat. That's sort of the way it works.) It's hard for us to add yet more of these furry creatures into our homes, since our resident cats probably won't appreciate the added company.

But that doesn't mean we can't band together and make things better for our feline friends. And so-called #GivingTuesday gives you the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Today is the day that's been set aside for charitable contributions. We're all asked to dig deep and donate to the organizations that do work we believe in (and if that organization meets certain guidelines, that donation is tax-deductible).

Supporting local spay-and-neuter programs could be ideal on this day. 

Feral spay-and-neuter programs can have a dramatic impact on the number of homeless cats within a specific area. All of the cats in a feral colony are trapped, neutered, vaccinated, tagged and released. They continue to live in the areas in which they've become accustomed, and their ear tags keep them from future surgeries, but they can't bear any more kitties.

When communities unveil programs like this, the results can be pretty remarkable. In the Portland area, for example, shelters have reduced euthanasia rates in cats by 76 percent (wow!) due, in part, to an aggressive spay-and-neuter program. (More info about that here.) That means more adoptable cats are leaving the shelters and working with new families, and that means fewer ferals are living their short lives on the streets.

Adoptable kitty in Salem shows off his ear tag.
I've been volunteering with my local humane society for about 6 months, and during that time, I've seen many adoptable cats languish at the shelter for months and months, simply because there are too many cats and not enough homes.

It's tempting to just whisk them away to my home, just to get them out of the shelter. 

But wouldn't it be great if adoptable, sweet, healthy cats like this just flew out of the shelter, because there were too many homes and not enough cats?

Donations might make that happen.

My local shelter is holding a #GivingMewsday today, and is actively seeking out donations to cover spay-and-neuter surgeries for feral cats in my community. Any donations are welcome. And if you're not in Oregon, consider donating to your own cat coalition on this giving day.

The cats will thank you.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Including your dog in your holiday plans: How to do it right

Small dogs like to be included in the holiday planning process
If given the choice, I'd rather keep my dogs with me, rather than being separated from them. I like to include them in most things that I'm doing, especially if I'm doing something fun.

But sometimes, the things I enjoy aren't the things my dogs might enjoy. That's especially true during the busy holiday season. The cooking, partying and decorating all appeals to me. But a lot of that can be really stressful or downright dangerous for my dogs.

Here's what I do to keep them safe.

First off, I don't bring them to parties or family gatherings. They rest in their crates while we're out and about, and they're thrilled to see us when we get home. While it would be fun to bring them to parties, there are risks at parties they just don't face at home, including:
  • Unusual foods
  • Strange people
  • Strange dogs 
  • Fast-moving objects (like kids) 

Any or all of these things could make the dogs misbehave, or they could either be injured or fall ill. It sounds paranoid, but it takes just one non-dog-savvy person giving small Sinead a piece of fudge to ruin an entire weekend. Keeping her home means keeping her safe.

This just might be the smallest Boston terrier in the world

When I am at home, I provide both dogs with safe spaces in which to get away from the hustle and bustle. While I'm decorating, cooking or otherwise scurrying around, the dogs appreciate small spots they can hide in. They can still see what I am doing, but they feel a little protected in these spots, secure in the knowledge that they won't be stepped on or won't have things dropped on them. That's something they really appreciate during this busy season.

And finally, I don't give them people food, even though there is an abundance of it about during the holidays. There are so many ingredients in holiday foods that can be toxic to dogs, and even safe-seeming foods can cause sickness if the dogs eat too much. So I stick with the meals they're accustomed to, supplemented with dog-safe treats from BarkBox or my local pet shop. It might not be as exciting as a human meal, but it is bound to keep these dogs safer.

The holidays can be exhausting, as Liam demonstrates in this video. But they don't have to be hazardous to our little dogs. With a little planning, even the most vulnerable pup out there can make it through this season with ease.

Happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cat illnesses: Senior cat behavior provides pain insights

Eamon has been living with arthritis-related pain for many years now. Earlier this year, I started him on Adequan (I wrote a blog entry about that here), in an attempt to help keep him comfortable and happy. We had great success at first, but now, there are a few behavior changes that have me concerned.

First off, Eamon isn't moving around as much as he once did. He's always been the kind of cat that leaps onto the counters to investigate leftover food, and he tends to pace around the living room right before his meals are due for delivery. I've noticed that he no longer gets up on the counters at all, and the yeowling before meals has stopped altogether. He still eats well, but he just doesn't seem as interested in doing extra work for a touch of extra food.

Eamon is also incredibly grumpy, and that's becoming a little dangerous. Last week, when Sinead and Liam got into a little bit of rambunctious play with a new toy, Eamon turned into the fun police, smacking poor Sinead in the eyes and then biting me on the arm. He's never done anything like this before.

Finally, Eamon is also doing a little bit of nighttime crying. He sits in the middle of the room, and he lets out the most heartbreaking little cries. When I get up and sit with him, he stops. But when I try to go back to bed, he starts again.

In veterinary appointments, Eamon seems no worse than he was previously. His x-rays show the same level of damage, his weight is maintaining and he isn't grumpy about being handled. A cursory examination shows a senior cat with arthritis at a stable level of joint deterioration.

But clearly, this is a cat that's painful. And leaving that pain untreated could mean more outbursts that put the rest of the members of this household in a little bit of danger.

So I'm talking with Eamon's doctor about adding in a pain medication. That's tricky, as cats can't handle many of the pain medications experts use with dogs. They have slow metabolic processes, so drugs dogs can take stick around in little cat bodies for far too long, and that tends to lead to irreversible organ damage. That's not something anyone wants.

But there are some good opiate options for cats, and some other novel anti-seizure drugs that seem to help cats deal with ongoing pain. I'm hoping that by adding something like this to Eamon's regime we can keep him comfortable enough to stay with us for just a little longer.

Friday, November 21, 2014

November BarkBox review: Pups are ready for Thanksgiving!

This month's BarkBox came with a Thanksgiving theme (naturally). This might be my favorite box yet, as the things included are oh-so adorable. Here's what we got.

Swag Company Cornucopia 
This cornucopia toy was custom-made for BarkBox. The outer shell, which Liam is nicely investigating up top, is filled with a ton of very small, chewable toys that look like seasonal food. I've been stuffing this shell full of the little toys, and the dogs have to figure out how to get those wee bits out. Mind-body workouts like this are great outlets for dogs, and I'm thrilled to have this toy for my two.
Plato EOS Turkey and Sweet Potato Treats 
These grain-free, GMO free treats are chock full of real turkey, and they are easy to break apart. Liam and Sinead love these treats, but they also seem to chew them slowly. That means they taste great and they feel a little like jerky between their teeth.

Petmate Chef Heggies 
This toy is almost too cute for words. Seriously. A teeny hedgehog in an apron with a little chef's hat? Gah. I seriously considered keeping this guy on my desk, rather than subjecting it to dog drool and canine canines. But, Sinead seems to be playing with this toy rather gently, so perhaps it won't be destroyed. At least I hope not...

Safemade Apawthecary Cleaning Wipes 
We're putting in a new lawn this fall, which means my backyard is 100% dirt, at the moment. So, you can imagine my joy at seeing these wipes. They're made to keep wee little paws clean, and they don't contain ingredients that will irritate sensitive paw pads. I love them.

Caru Pet Food Company Beef Stew 
The dogs are bound to be thrilled on Thanksgiving, as that's the day I'm planning to open up this box of all-beef stew. I'll be sure to take video of the gobbling, as it's bound to be epic.

Thanks again to BarkBox for another wonderful month's worth of goodies!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What to do to break up a cat fight

Beorn and Jasper are street fighters, and they have the scars to prove it. (Notice Jasper's notched ear in the shot above. That came from a cat fight, and it never did heal quite right.) I do what I can to keep them from brawling, including putting them inside a safe space at night, but they still manage to get into squabbles from time to time.

At the moment, their arch nemesis is the neighbor's cat: Riley. I have no idea why there's bad blood between my cat beauties and this big boy, but these cats really despise one another.

Often, the best advice involves prevention. Keeping cats from fighting in the first place means that everyone stays safe and sound. But, it's hard to do 24/7 prevention when your cats spend a lot of time outside. They go where they want to go, and they do what they want to do. There's little one can do to enforce a perimeter.

I try to keep Riley out of our yard by putting on a mean anti-cat face when I am outside. It's hard, because I love cats, but I don't want him to think that our yard is a good place for him to hang out. So when I see him, I make a lot of noise, and a throw down a lot of angry arm movements. Meanwhile, I shower my cats with treats and attention when they're in my back yard (where Riley doesn't go).

The net result is that my cats stay in the back yard 90 percent of the time, and Riley stays off of our property altogether. But in that 10 percent of time remaining, cat fights sometimes break out, often on my front lawn (hello, neighbors!). Here's what I do.
Step 1: Grab the water bottle.
I keep a standard spray bottle on my desk, filled with cool water. When a fight breaks out, I'm ready to handle it. 

Step 2: Walk toward the cats while yelling. 
If the cats are in the yelling-but-not-hitting phase of a fight, they might break apart when you offer a distraction. A loud noise is often enough to break their focus, which means that one cat or another might choose to walk away. 

Step 3: Direct a stream of water at the center of the conflict. 
If the cats will not break apart after you yell at them, a spray of water might do the trick. Try to hit both cats with the water at this point, so they'll both be surprised enough to stop moving. Ideally, they'll look at you, and you can move onto the next step.

Even if cats break apart while you yell, you might need to spray one cat. For example, Riley often looks up when I yell, but that moment of distraction can inspire my cats to smack at him. He's not looking, so it seems like a great time for a sneak attack. Be ready to spray, just in case.

Step 4: Continue to spray the cats until they separate. 
Cats that are still close together can fall right back into fighting if they're close together. Be ready to continue to spray the cats until they start to move apart. I direct the majority of my water to the cat that's showing the most aggression, which allows the other cat to run away to safety.

Step 5: Put yourself between the two cats. 
When one cat runs, the other sometimes chooses to follow. That can result in a continued fight just a few feet away. I put my own body between the fleeing cat and the aggressive cat, and I keep spraying that aggressor to keep that cat in place until the other is gone. 

Step 6: Stay put until one cat has completely left the area. 
Cats can be surprisingly stubborn, and sometimes, really breaking up a fight means sticking to the spot for a long time. If you leave too quickly, they may start in again. Stay in place until you can no longer see the fleeing cat.

Step 7: Put your own cat in a neutral spot.
Once the fight is 100% contained, it's time to find your own cat. If your cat is the aggressor, that's easy. You've been spraying that cat for ages, and know right where it is. If your cat has fled, the work is a little harder. I rattle treat bags or shake the food dishes to lure the cat back. Then, I pick up my cat and put that cat in the backyard, far away from the action.

Yes, this is a lot of work. And thankfully, it's not work I have to do very often. Prevention is always better. But should you have to break up a cat fight, these steps might work best for you, too.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Liam gets a lipoma (a fatty dog tumor)

I pride myself on doing thorough cancer checks on my dogs. Every week, they get the once over when they're being brushed or bathed. They're accustomed to being poked and prodded as I look for lumps, bumps and points of pain.

Up until now, I've never felt anything on either dog. But a week or so ago, I spotted a good-sized lump on Liam's shoulder. It's about the size of a grape, and it was easy to squish this thing between my fingers and move it from place to place. It didn't cause him pain, but it certainly didn't belong there.
I'm pinching the lump here.
Liam had just been through a rabies vaccine, and at first, I wondered if he was having a reaction to that shot. It's not uncommon, my research suggests, for dogs to get soft lumps in the spots where they've had shots. The immune system responds to the stuff in the shots by sending out troops, and those troops cause things to swell up. It can look scary, but often, these bumps go down with time.

But lumps and bumps like this can also be indicative of cancer. Tumors in the spaces between the skin and the muscle aren't all that uncommon in dogs, and sometimes, those tumors come with no symptoms like pain or lethargy or disinterest in eating. Dogs just get bumpy, and the lumps aren't good for them.

I've already lost a dog to cancer, and he was Liam's age when he died. The thought that my pug would have cancer just devastated me, and I was almost too worried to make an appointment to have the lump looked at. What if it was cancer? What if it was incurable cancer? It all seemed too difficult to bear.

Thankfully, I collected my wits and we went to the vet's for a checkup. First off, the staff looked at his chart and reassured me that we were not dealing with a vaccine reaction, as Liam had his rabies shot in the other shoulder (whew!).

So the veterinarian pushed a very small, very thin needle into Liam's bump, to pull out some cells for further examination. Liam didn't flinch or cry at all when this was going on, which was a nice surprise (he can be a little bit dramatic). Minutes later, the veterinarian returned to tell me that Liam's bump was benign. He has what's known as a lipoma.

A lipoma, as this excellent article points out, is a benign tumor that's common in middle-aged and elderly dogs. No one is quite sure what causes these tumors, but studies show that these are encapsulated bits of fat inside a dog's body, close to the skin but not embedded in the muscle, and they don't cause pain or ongoing health issues. As long as Liam's spot doesn't get so big that he has trouble moving or using his leg or shoulder, there's nothing we need to do for this spot. We can just leave him alone.

I've seen articles, like this one in Dogs Naturally Magazine, that suggest that Liam's lipoma is indicative of an underlying health problem. I shouldn't vaccinate him or give him flea medications, these authors suggest, or I've been feeding him low-quality food, so he has a lipoma that is my fault.

It's tempting to take the blame for these spots. After all, if I've done something wrong, I can do something right next time, right? Well, no. Lipomas are considered a natural part of the aging process, according to my veterinarian, and they're not spots that can be either prevented or cured. Playing the blame game doesn't help. They appear. When they do, they should be tested. And that is all.

I don't like the fact that Liam has bumps at all, of course, and it's a little hard to hear that I can't prevent him from getting more of them. But, I am thrilled that this particular lump isn't anything I need to panic over. It won't shorten his life, and that's the best possible news.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

It's Adopt a Senior Pet Month! Why you should give old cats a chance

senior tuxedo cat outside in the sunshine
All across the country, animal shelters are putting up signs, writing up press releases and writing Facebook posts about November's status as National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. I've seen dozens of these notices come flying by on my computer, and a lot of them read a bit like this:

"Senior pets are often overlooked at the shelter, because potential owners worry about shortened life spans and increased costs when they see pets of an advanced age. We'd like to change that. Please visit our profiles of senior pets, and bring one home with you."

It's all very admirable, but I think these messages could be improved with stories written by real people with senior pets. They're the ones who live with these creatures and know what they're like, and they might have the missing piece of data that could help to change a reluctant adopter's mind.

And as it just so happens, I have four senior cats living with me right now. Here's why I wouldn't think twice about adopting them, if I happened to see them in the shelter.

1. They're still very playful and fun. 

Some seniors can be quiet, retiring and very relaxed. Mine aren't. They still like to run, jump, play and get crazy. They also manage to do things every day that make me laugh. Beorn, for example, likes to fold his arms underneath his body and rest his torso on top of the car, so he looks a little like a mascot on the prow of a ship. Check it out:
Funny Russian blue cat on top of car
I have no idea why he does this, but it makes me laugh every time.

Seniors still have the capacity to be great playmates. They're not doorstops that simply accept love and give nothing in return. Mine are just as entertaining now as they were when they were kittens.

2. They take time for cuddles. 

Kittens and juvenile cats can be biting and running machines. They have a lot of energy to spend, and a lot of things to figure out about the world, and they sometimes can't be bothered to slow down long enough to be good companions to you or to their roommates.

My seniors as a little different. While they do play, they also enjoy sitting and resting and snuggling. They're wonderful companions to have around on cold evenings, as they make great lap warmers. But they're also quite nice to one another, as snuggling and resting together is a favored activity. I love to see cats snuggle, so this makes me happy, too.
Two big cats in one small cat bed

3. They have wisdom and common sense. 

Ever tried to get any cleaning done with a kitten in the room? I have, and let me tell you, it isn't easy. You bring a bucket of water in, the kitten falls into the bucket after trying to play with the water, you scoop the kitten back out of the water, and the kitten tries to play with the water again. Raising a wee one like this means constantly watching out for hazards and dangers, and spending a lot of time steering little bodies away from things that will kill them. Sure, kittens are cute, but they can be really nerve-wracking.
Tiny kitten in animal shelter
My senior cats are still interested in me and the things I'm doing, but they're also wise enough to protect themselves. They might investigate the water in a bucket, for example, but they're not going to climb in there and drown. They're smarter and wiser than that. It's this wisdom that makes them easier to live with, as I don't have to be so alert for all of the trouble a tiny kitten might get into.

Adoption is, of course, a very personal thing. People fall in love with cats for all sorts of reasons, and few of them have to do with age. As a result, it's reasonable that someone might walk into a shelter determined to adopt a senior and walk out with a kitten instead. Love can be unpredictable.

But clearly, seniors do have a lot to offer their owners. I hope many get the chance to prove that this November.

Friday, November 7, 2014

4 things dogs really want this winter

Liam the pug in his bed

It's not quite winter in Oregon yet, but this morning was definitely chilly. It was so chilly, in fact, that Liam and Sinead weren't all that thrilled about going for a walk. I think they'd much rather stay in bed when it's cold and dark.

But that cooler weather got me thinking. If these spoiled pooches could pull together a wintertime wish list, what would be on it? Here's what I came up with.

1. Space heaters. 

Liam is demonstrating this point quite nicely in the photo at the top of this blog. I have this little heater in my studio, and it blows hot air from the bottom vent when it's on. In the wintertime, Liam pulls his bed closer and closer to this heater, hoping to catch some heat before it escapes into the middle of the room. (Rest assured: He's never around it without supervision. No fires here!)

2. Jackets and coats. 

Sinead has very little fur on her wee body, so she has a hard time staying warm when the weather gets cooler. She absolutely must have hoodies, coats and shirts to get through the winter months. (And she looks pretty stylish in them, don't you think?)

Sinead the Boston terrier in her jacket

3. Plenty of toys.

In the summer, Liam and Sinead can burn off a lot of energy by running around outside. That's a lot harder for them to do when it's cold and/or raining. They'd much rather be indoors, but they still have plenty of energy to burn. Toys come in handy here, as the dogs can play fetch, tug-of-war and so much more with toys. Play keeps them busy (and it also seems to make them pretty happy).

Liam the pug with his basket of toys

4. Heated beds.

While I try to keep the house and my writing studio warm, Liam and Sinead both enjoy beds that have an extra boost of heat. I use SnuggleSafe disks in the house to keep their beds warm through the night, but during the day, I also use a heating pad to warm up Sinead's favorite napping spot. She bolts over to that bed in the morning, and she really doesn't move around much as the day progresses. For her, it's bliss. (Again, rest assured that I only use a heating pad during the day, when I can supervise. Heating pads can cause burns, so it's vital to make sure you're right there to watch when your dogs use them.)

Sinead the Boston terrier in her bed

I'm sure the dogs have other things they'd love to see in the winter, like yummy snacks and warm meals. I'll try to cover some of those food-related preferences a little later this month (maybe with recipes!).

Stay warm, everybody.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Feline oral resorptive lesions: Maggie loses two teeth to them

Maggie the tuxedo cat

Poor 10-year-old Maggie can't catch a break with dental difficulties. She's dealt with feline rodent ulcers for years, and in the midst of the latest outbreak, I took her to the vet for help, and during our visit, the team spotted not one but two feline oral resorptive lesions (FORLs).

I didn't know anything about these things at all, so I decided to do a little digging. Unfortunately, what I found out isn't great for Maggie.

From what I understand,  FORLs are really common in cats older than 10. They're a kind of a mystery, as experts don't yet know what causes them. But when they appear, they seem to rot the dentin in the tooth, meaning that the tooth just seems to melt away into nothingness. In time, the whole tooth can break off, and the gums provide poor protection for exposed tooth roots.

Maggie's lesions had progressed to Stage 2, which means her teeth were already very eroded. Polishing wouldn't help, and the tooth brushing I was doing at home wouldn't make things better. But here's the weird thing: She had no symptoms.

Maggie has always been a slow eater, and it isn't uncommon for her to leave a bite or two in the bowl. She did that when she had lesions, but she'd always done it before. I didn't see any blood, she didn't flinch when I brushed her teeth and she didn't seem sensitive to being petted on the jaw. If I hadn't taken her in for another issue, I'm not sure I would have noticed these spots. That has me nervous.

Maggie the cat is smiling
Showing off her new smile.
Maggie lost two teeth during her dental appointment: both on the bottom, right in front. She ate wet food softened with water for a few days, and we had pain medication to keep her comfortable. I also used a foaming rinse in her mouth (which she hated) in order to help the spots to heal.

But she remains at risk for future lesions, and since she shows no signs of them at home, that means she absolutely must go in for checkups regularly. This isn't the sort of thing I can catch, nor treat, at home.

It's another good reminder that senior pets need regular veterinary care. Even if they seem healthy at home, there may be hidden issues that require our attention.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Are your dogs ready for Halloween?

Liam the pug with his Halloween toy

Right now, I should be prepping my house for Halloween. I have pumpkins to carve, lights to plug in, candy to buy and a costume to throw together. There's a lot to do! But I also have a few extra steps I'll need to take in order to ensure that Liam and Sinead are ready for some spooky fun. Ready for my to-do list?

1. Put up a barrier. 

I rarely let Liam and Sinead walk out the front door. We go out the side door for our walks, and they head out back to the bathroom. I had hoped that this move would keep them from running up front when people come over, but it hasn't quite worked out. As soon as that door opens, off they go.

Since I'll be opening and closing that door quite a bit for little visitors, I'm planning to set up a barrier to keep them away from the door. Baby gates allow them to see visitors without launching at them.

2. Check the tags.

Even though I'll have barriers up, there's the possibility that Liam and Sinead could sneak out the door. Things get crazy and accidents happen. That's why I'll make sure they both have collars with appropriate tags on all evening long, and I'm making sure their microchip data is up-to-date, too. That way, if the unthinkable happens, I'll get reunited quickly.

3. Take photos.

If Liam and Sinead do escape, I'll need to put together posters with their photographs and my contact information. That means I'll need current photos of their little mugs all ready to go. This one is easy for me, since I take their photos all the time for the blog, but it's still there on the list.

4. Hand out good treats. 

It's easier to keep the dogs calm when they have something delicious to nibble on. That's why I held back a treat from the October BarkBox for tonight. When the little ones start to ring the bell, the dogs will have a treat to work on, and that might help them to ignore the noise just a little bit.

5. Prep the crates.

Despite my best precautions, all of the activity might get to be too much for these little dogs. So I'm preparing their crates with warm bedding, and I'm putting those crates in a room that's far from the front door. If they get overwhelmed, they can rest in their crates with the radio playing.

What are you doing to help your dogs celebrate? Share with me in the comments section!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

5 things blind cats would say (if they could talk)

Lucy the blind cat on my bed

"What's going on in that little mind of my blind cat?" It's a question I ask myself often. When Lucy starts jumping up and down in the middle of the night for no reason, when she sits in corners and yells, when she darts from one room to the other.... She can be very perplexing.

And while I will probably never know what she's really thinking, I thought it might be useful to outline at least a few of the conversations I'm pretty sure she would have with me, if she could talk. So here, in no particular order, are what I imagine to be Lucy's top requests.

1. "Stop moving the furniture around." 

Lucy the blind cat on her chair

I rarely do large overhauls of the furniture in this house. Lucy needs to know where things are, so she can zip from room to room without running into anything solid. But, I've found that even tiny shifts of an inch or so will throw her off. If I don't put the chair right back in place after vacuuming or I move the toy box just an inch to the left after filling it up for the dogs, she'll run right into it. I know she wishes I would stop making running so hard.

2. "Make the dogs pick up their crap." 

Liam and Sinead with dog toys

I know Lucy would be happier if the dogs kept all of their toys in pretty bags (like this one). But they often play with toys and then abandon them in the middle of the floor when playtime is over. And, you guessed it, Lucy runs right into those toys over and over again. And she can never really tell where they're going to be. If the dogs were tidier, I know she'd be happier.

3. "Stop washing my beds all of the time." 

Eamon and Maggie the cats in their bed

Since Lucy shares her home with two cats and two dogs, she also shares her beds with all of these creatures, too. And all of that traffic adds up to dirty, smelly beds that need to get washed. But, Lucy navigates her world through her sense of smell, and frequent washing of her beds can make it harder for her to track safe places for sleeping. She likes it when she can sniff out that bed from a mile away. Unfortunately, I don't like smelling her bed like that. She'll just have to forgive me.

4. "Lavish me with love, not pity." 

Lucy the blind cat

Sure, Lucy can't see. But she also doesn't know that she can't see. She's always been like this, and she's a perfectly happy kitty girl. She'd love it if guests came to see her and petted her because she's pretty and friendly and nice. She gets annoyed when guests won't pet her head, as they're worried about hurting her. And she really dislikes anything that feels like an "examination" rather than affection. Love, not pity, is best for her.

5. "Give me treats for playing along with this thing you call a blog." 

Lucy the cat on her couch

Lucy is remarkably tolerant about being photographed for this blog, even though the clicks of the camera baffle her, and she doesn't understand why she should hold still when no one is petting her. But she dutifully plays along with it, even though she probably hopes she'll get something nice out of her cooperation, like catnip or kibble. This is a request I can easily handle.

Any requests you know your cats would love to share with you? Share them with me in the comments section!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The October 2014 BarkBox review is here! (And the dogs are pretty happy)

Liam the pug with his BarkBox toy

The folks at BarkBox got into the Halloween spirit this year with an absolutely fabulous collection of spooky dog toys and dog treats for my crew. Here's what we got!

Liam is posing nicely with his Simply Fido ghost, and he's been carrying that toy around ever since it arrived. This is a flat toy, made of a very sturdy fabric with a crinkly, crunchy inside. Liam likes to take this toy and shake the daylights out of it, and he also likes to play tug-of-war with it. This has been a huge, huge hit.

Similarly popular was a tiny treat from Hare of the Dog. Wee little bits of rabbit jerky were easy enough to break apart, and Liam absolutely adored them. But unfortunately, he also ate them so very, very fast that they weren't really all that valuable in this household. I like treats like this to satisfy at least a 30-second gnaw time. Anything quicker seems like a waste. So I'm thrilled that our box also included some Etta Says pressed meat strips and some Twistix treats. We've had both of these products before, and I know they take a long time to eat.

And clearly, the dogs know what they are and love them. Isn't it obvious?

Two dogs looking for dog treats

We got one more long-time treat in our box: Superior Farms Nick-Knacks chews. These are made of lamb's ears (ew!), but they don't come with a lot of preservatives or salt. They're natural, and they don't smell offensive. I'm sure the dogs will love them, but I'm holding them back until Halloween. (Hey, even dogs need special treats on holidays, right?)

Sinead the Boston terrier and her toy

Sinead is posing here with the last toy in the box: An "Invincibles" cat from Plush Puppies. It's designed for smaller dogs, and it has a pretty loud squeaker. Sinead thought this was perfect for her, and she enjoyed chewing on it, throwing it around and sleeping with it. But, this toy isn't quite invincible. After about 24 hours of Sinead love, this toy just fell apart. The squeaker came out, the felt fell apart... Gah. It couldn't stand up to her attention.

Thankfully, BarkBox does offer a guarantee, so I notified the company that the toy wasn't working out for us. Within minutes, company officials sent me a coupon I could use to pick out something else for the dogs. So another ghost toy is coming their way. Spooky great!

So all in all, we were pretty pleased with our BarkBox this month! And as usual, I can't wait to see what they'll send us next month. Interested in getting your own BarkBox? Use my code! You'll get a discount, and so will I.