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.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Feeding a picky, sick cat: What works?

Senior cat is lurking by the Halloween decorations
Sweet Beorn continues to lose weight and struggle with his overall health. His kidney disease (which I've written about before) continues to progress, and often, he doesn't seem well enough to wolf down a big meal. Sometimes, he doesn't want to eat at all.

Over the past few weeks, I've worked on a number of different flavor combinations, and I've hit on some innovative dishes that this guy really likes. While not all cats might like the same menu he does, here are a few meals that seem to be big winners in this household.

Kibble with Lunchmeat Sprinkles 

Beorn seems to find the crunch of cat kibble really satisfying, but he won't dive into a meal unless there's a little something extra to spark his long-term interest. If I put about a tablespoon of shredded turkey or roast beef on a standard helping of kibble, he'll lick his plate clean. Without the topper, he'll walk away after a few nibbles.

Good options: Solid Gold Indigo Moon Dry Cat Food

Novel Cat Food 

Typically, cats eat the same diet with few variations. But sick Beorn has become a bit of an adventurer. He likes to try different flavors of the same brand of cat food, or different brands of the same flavor of cat food. It's something new, and it seems to remind him of a time when he really liked meals. I'm lucky, in that I have a great pet supplier with a massive supply of different foods to choose from. Otherwise, I might run out of options!

Good options:  Weruva Best Feline Friend (BFF) OMG Variety Pack

Boiled Chicken with Potatoes 

This meal came about accidentally, when I had a few nibbles of a meal left on my plate at dinnertime. I put that out for Beorn, after he'd turned up his nose at his cat food, and he gobbled that meal right down. Now, this can be a risky idea, as not all foods people eat are great for cats, but when the ingredients are simple and the spice and salt load is low, leftovers can be great for picky kitties.

Canned Clams in Juice 

This sounds totally disgusting, I know, but a can of clams can do wonders. The contents are spectacularly odoriferous, so just a tablespoon on top of almost any meal can entice a cat to eat. And the juice can go into a bowl of water nicely, and that can encourage cats to drink, too.

Good options:  Bar Harbor All Natural Chopped Clams

Baked, Organic Organ Meat

A good friend of mine has a farm, and she raises both chickens and pigs. She's been gracious enough to provide me with organ meat from her farm, so my freezer has been stuffed with unmentionables like livers, hearts, gizzards and lungs. I think it's totally gross, but if I bake it and chop the meat into little bites, I can sprinkle a few on Beorn's meals and watch him swish his tail with delight. He just loves this stuff, especially if it's warm (ew!). 

Two outdoor cats hoping for dinner
No matter what I do, I may not ever get Beorn to clamor for dinner like his brother. (Notice him perched on the railing by the back door, because I am taking too long to bring the food outside. Bad kitty.) But, taking a few simple steps to make his meals smell a little better, taste a touch more amazing or seem somehow novel might push him to eat. And if he does, that might mean that he stays around a little longer.

That's what I'm hoping for, anyway!
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.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

5 problems unique to small dogs

Sinead the boston terrier in her bed

Sinead is an extraordinarily small dog. Instead of weighing in the 24-pound range, like a lot of other Boston terriers, she only packs about 8 pounds on her wee little frame. In the nearly two years that I've had her, I've noticed that there are some very specific hazards that she faces, that much larger Liam does not. Here are just a few of them.


Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier

When I worked in the veterinary field, we used the shorthand term "BDLD" to stand in for traumatic injuries inflicted by a big dog on the body of a small dog. It was a way to process paperwork just a little bit quicker, so these ill animals could get the care they needed ASAP.

Unfortunately, injuries like this are pretty common. When little dogs interact with dogs that are much heavier and stronger, quick moves the bigger animal might make can do an incredible amount of damage. Here's a case in point.

A few weeks ago, I was watching similarly matched dogs playing together in an open play group. The larger of the two was a touch aggressive, and was therefore wearing a muzzle. But the smaller dog didn't have great manners, and kept pestering the big girl. Her response? To lie down on him until he submitted.

Now, this is excellent dog-to-dog communication, and both of these guys walked away with no injuries. But if this big gal busted this move on Sinead, I'm not sure she would have been so lucky. An 85-pound body pressing on hers might have just smashed her. And if that big dog hadn't worn a muzzle, a correction with teeth might have killed her.

Liam is a bit larger, and I often don't worry about him interacting with other dogs. He can handle himself. But Sinead? Not so much. I think we both feel more comfortable when her interactions take place with dogs that are roughly her size.

Heavy toys

Sinead the Boston terrier and her keys

Like most dogs, Sinead is ball-and-chew-toy obsessed. (Note the blurriness of the photo above, for example, as I couldn't get her to sit still for a shot when the toy was available.) She loves to get her own toys out of the toy box and carry them around.

But many dog toys are really heavy. Some weigh a pound or two, and I worry about the health of her neck when she's pulling these things from place to place. She has to point her chin skyward to heave them off of the ground, and I can hear her grunting with effort as she moves around. That also can't be great for her neck.

Also, heavy toys could simply knock her out if I throw them and she runs to catch them before they hit the ground. When they weigh quite a bit and momentum is in play, they can do a lot of damage. That's not something one must worry about with larger dogs.

Big snack bites 

Sinead asking for a dog cookie
"What do you mean, I can't have big bites?"
 Many dog treats come in bites that are roughly an inch long and an inch wide. That's the perfect size for dogs like Liam, as he can get both sides of his teeth working on each morsel. But treats that are this size, and that are a little hard to chew, can be choking hazards for Sinead.

I discovered this last night, when I gave her a jerky treat. She tried to chew it, and somehow, she got the thing wedged to the top of her mouth, trapped there between her teeth. She couldn't move it with her tongue, and the length of it was sparking her gag reflex. I had to pry the thing out (and sneaky Liam ate it--Ew).

Most treats must be either cut up or torn up for her wee little mouth, and that's something I'll have to be much more cautious about.

Underfoot injuries 

Sinead the Boston terrier sleeping

Loafing around is a big part of what Sinead does all day, and often, she does that work in the middle of the room. That allows her to keep an eye on any food prep that might be going on, and it allows her to head out the door with anyone who is leaving. She likes to be in the middle of the action.

But a quick and misplaced step could be really dangerous for her, as her body is just not that big. I could crack her ribs, break her leg or otherwise really screw her up if I'm not paying attention. That's (again) not a hazard associated with big dogs. They just have more mass, so they're more likely to cause an out-and-out tripping, rather than sitting beneath a descending shoe.

Toxic reactions

Sinead the Boston terrier in the sunshine

Any dog could become ill when exposed to a toxin like chocolate or coffee. Dogs like Liam can also struggle with allergic reactions to common things like bug bites and fabric softener. It's something that happens.

But since Sinead is so small, she's at a higher risk of developing life-threatening reactions. The amount of exposure required is just so much smaller, because she has a much smaller body mass. That means keeping her environment safe is of vital importance. I can't afford even the tiniest slip.

Now, I think that all of this hard work is well worth it. She's a unique dog, and I wouldn't change a single thing about her. But, I do think it's important to cognizant of the challenges faced by little dogs like her. And if you're considering a little dog, you'll need to be aware of the issues, too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why you should take a closer look at black cats this Halloween

Maggie the black cat in front of Halloween decorations

At the moment, I have two predominantly black cats: Maggie and Jasper. Both are extraordinarily camera shy, so they don't often appear on this blog. But today, I thought it might be important to coax them out into the limelight.

Why? Because black cats like them have a slightly harder time getting adopted. And since shelters are full-to-bursting with cats right now, I think it's important for everyone to understand why peering past fur color and looking at personality might be important.

First off, I should point out that a few recent studies suggest that there is no accepted bias, when it comes to shelter pet decisions. One study, for example, found that people shopping for dogs tended to pick critters based on age and temperament, not color. But still, anecdotal evidence suggests that black cats tend to languish in shelters a little longer than their more colorful counterparts. Folks at the Cat Adoption Team suggested, in a recent article, that a herd of kittens leaves the shelter in a pretty predictable pattern: The colorful ones go first, and the black ones are left behind.

Now, this really makes no sense, as a cat's personality isn't determined solely by color. Black cats aren't destined to have certain personality traits that other colors might not have. But, in our modern media age, black cats might struggle because they just don't photograph well.

Check out this photo of Beorn. Note how his green eyes and silky fur just seem to compel your attention.

Beorn the cat showing off his green eyes

Now look at this photo of Colette (an adoptable cat at Willamette Humane Society). I took this shot with the same camera and used the same color-correction techniques, but her fur just isn't as bright and her eyes don't have the same glow.

Colette the black cat looking wistful

Now, if I was shopping for cats online, I might be more drawn to a bright and colorful cat like Beorn. He's just a little easier on the eye. Since so many shelters use online photo galleries to portray their pets, this could be a very real adoption barrier that's hard to overcome.

So, if you're in the market for a cat, I encourage you to head into the shelter and take a peek at the dusky kitties. You might be able to help break the bias and get a great companion in the process.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Preparing the dogs for winter (think: clothes, beds and more!)

Sinead the Boston terrier without a sweater

Right now, it's over 80 degrees in my home town. But, the weather forecasters say that cooler weather is coming. Next week, for example, we're supposed to dip down into the high 60s, with temps in the 50s at night. That means winter is coming, and there's one little dog here that needs to get ready.

Bostons don't have a lot of fur, and Sinead is smaller than the average Boston. Put these two things together, and you have a little dog that shakes like crazy when the weather is cool. And if I don't want to spend all winter watching her shiver, I have to do some prep.

Sinead the Boston terrier in a sweater

Sweaters are an important part of the planning process. Now, many people think it's cruel to put a dog in any kind of clothing. But little dogs with little fur just aren't capable of keeping their bodies warm without a little help. A sweater helps to trap in body heat, and that means that she can wander around in cool temperatures without really suffering.

Two dogs in one dog bed

Heated beds are also quite helpful, and even furry Liam likes to take advantage of those. I use a heating pad on a very low setting, and I turn it on in the morning when these guys come to work with me, and I turn it off in the evening when I leave. They love to snuggle on the heat.

It's important, however, to resist the temptation to use a heating pad on a dog that can't get away from the heat source. I don't use these products in Sinead's crate, for example, as she can't move away. And if she were injured and unable to move with ease, I wouldn't use it at all. Burns can happen with lightening speed, so it's best to avoid the temptation to put heat pads anywhere and everywhere.

Sinead with one leg extended

In the spring and summer, Sinead spends a lot of time in the yard, lying in the sun or chasing bugs. She entertains herself. But in the winter, she simply doesn't like to go outside. It's cold, it's wet and it's just not appealing. As a result, I try to keep her toy box filled with new and exciting options when the weather is cooler. A variety of different choices helps to keep her entertained, and if I throw the toys periodically, she'll get some much-needed exercise, too.

Two dogs waiting by the door

Finally, I also make sure to reiterate good house-training habits in the fall. Liam and Sinead are trained to ring this bell when they want to go outside, and I make sure that they're both ringing that thing like crazy when the weather is cooler. (I reinforce that good habit with treats.) Pups can get lazy about going outside when the weather is bad, so it pays to remind them of what good habits look like, and how rewarding good habits can be.

So while I'm not looking forward to the cold, I think I have a good plan of action. Have I missed anything? Chat me up in the comments and let me know.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Dawg Grog: An unsolicited review of a product (that I actually really like!)

Sinead the Boston terrier and her dog grog
Beer, recycling and dogs. Someone took all of these things, mashed them up together, and made a product out of it. Only in Oregon, right?

But this particular product isn't really a gimmick. It's actually a pretty cool beverage for dogs, and I like it so much that I'm writing a little blog entry about it without either compensation or a request from the producer. Wild!

Anyway, I first found out about Dawg Grog when I attended a meetup (cleverly called a "Yappy Hour") held by my local humane society. The humans had beer, and the pups had grog. Sinead was much too freaked out to try the stuff, of course, but I was intrigued by it, so I picked up a bottle to take home.

Two dogs waiting for a treat
"Will you stop typing and give us some already?!?!?"

What caught my eye was the inclusion of glucosamine. Both Liam and Sinead have wacky joints, and they're already taking supplements that do a great job of keeping them protected. I was interested in providing that protection in a form they might actually like.

Plus, I'm always on the lookout for new treats, particularly those that come in liquid form, as they can be frozen and served on super-hot days when I have a hard time keeping these guys cool.

I'll leave you to check out the ingredient list on the manufacturer's website, but I can tell you that this stuff is non-alcoholic and non-carbonated. But it does use a byproduct from the brewing process, so it smells a little like beer. And these guys love it.

I can pour it right over their meals, just like this.

Dog food samples

And watch them scramble to eat this as quickly as they possibly can.

Cats can also try this treat, but Lucy seemed a little confused by the whole thing. I gave her a bowl on the other side of the baby gate (to prevent theft from overeager dogs), and this was her response.

Lucy the cat looking confused
"Um, what is this?"

Thankfully, nothing goes to waste in this house. Even though Lucy wasn't eager to give this a try (and neither was Eamon or Jasper or Beorn or Maggie, so it was a full cat strike at this house), there were plenty of other takers.

Dogs hoping for beer
"Can I have hers? Please?"
This product isn't being sold in Salem at the moment (darn!), but I can buy it online. And you can bet that I will buy it. The dogs love it!