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.