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.