Monday, August 31, 2015

Is that stray cat a senior cat? 5 signs shelter vets look for

Black cat in sunny window with plant
Stray cats don't carry a lot of paperwork. Typically, they just show up as if by magic, and the humans that find them and care for them must make a lot of assumptions about who they are and what happened to them in the past. Often, that involves making educated guesses about age.

Troy, for example, wandered into a yard in Salem about a year ago, and even though his finders worked hard to find his family, they couldn't connect him with humans who were missing him. So off to the shelter he went.

Once he arrived, he went through an intake and triage exam, and during that visit, the team determined that he was at least 10 years old (and probably older).

Why did they think that? Because he had these 5 hallmarks of an older kitty.

1. More than a few grey hairs. 

Troy was probably a solid black cat for much of his life. He doesn't have white paws, a white belly or a while nose. Even the skin inside of his ears is black. But he also has quite a bit of salt mixed in with that pepper.

Older black cat turning grey

See those silvery hairs around his shoulders? That's not dirt. That's grey hair. And it suggests that Troy is aging.

2. Stiffness and soreness. 

Older cats just don't move very quickly, and if they're extremely elderly, they may have a bit of arthritis (like Eamon). That means they can walk around an exam room, but they may not walk all that quickly. And they may need to do a bit of stretching when they start and stop the trek.

Troy did all of that on exam, and he continues to do it at home. He gets around, but he's not a fast mover at all.

3. Speckled eyes. 

This is a fascinating one. Older cats develop a unique form of eye color change. Rather than showing the humans clean and clear color, they have a few speckles of brown where pure color once was. Toy definately has this feature, but I've taken a few photos of cats in the shelter that show this feature more clearly.

Senior cat with green and speckled eyes

This pretty girl is Pockets, and she was about 6 years old in this photo. On the outer edge of her right eye, you can see the tiniest brown spot emerging. It's very faint and small, but there it is.

Now check out Quincey, who was 16 when I snapped this shot.

Quincey senior cat speckled eyes

He has one big spot in his right eye, and several more in his left eye. It's easy to see why he's older than sweet Pockets. His eyes tell the tale.

Now, some eye changes like this can be due to other things, including some types of eye cancer. But in general, tiny speckles of brown dots in the eyes are a general sign of age. If they appear, the cat's probably on the older side.

4. Gnarly teeth. 

Many cat people (including me!) make pet oral health a priority, and we brush those cat teeth on a regular basis. But that isn't a behavior that's universal at this point, so a lot of older cats have really horrible teeth. Troy certainly did, and he lost many of his teeth in a dental procedure performed right after I brought him home. That's really common in elderly cats.

5. Changing body shape. 

This might be hard to explain, but bear with me.

Lots of senior cats go through what experts call "fat redistribution." They end up with long, lean profiles when viewed from above, but from the side, they have low and swinging bellies. They may not have a lot of fat on their hips or backs, so they feel bony when you pet them. But they may have a great deal of fat just whirling around in their bellies.

Troy is too thin overall, so he doesn't have that low belly. But see his thin back and hips from above?

Thin back cat viewed from above
See that tuck at the hips and the widening at the ribs? That's really common for senior cats.

So these are the signs of seniors. And they're vital to look for, especially as winter comes on. Senior cats like this will struggle if they're left to their own devices when the weather gets cooler. They need warmth, shelter and food.

And they may not be able to survive as community cats, as the younger and stronger kitties among them will most assuredly beat them in competition for resources. So when you see these guys and you know their owners aren't to be found, take action. Scoop them up and take them to your local shelter for a chip scan and intake. You could end up saving that cat (and making an adopter like me very happy).

Friday, August 28, 2015

Dogs and heating pads: Pure bliss (as long as you're careful)

Small happy Boston terrier dog on red heating pad
When Sinead isn't sitting on my lap or terrorizing the other animals in this house, she's parked in her little dog bed in the bedroom. Sometimes, she even manages to cover herself up with a little fleecy (as she's done here).

There are dozens of sleeping spots in the house, but I'm pretty sure why she chooses this particular bed. It's the one with a heating pad.

Now, the conventional wisdom is that heating pads shouldn't be used in dog beds because they're awfully strong and dogs are relatively sensitive to heat. By putting a pad in a dog's bed, the saying goes, you'll risk giving that dog a burn and/or you'll overheat the poor critter.

Boston terrier Sinead falling asleep on her heating pad

But just look how happy Sinead is on her heating pad. She looks downright blissful, in fact, and I can't imagine taking that away from her. She likes the pad, so I make it available.

There are some important safety precautions to keep in mind, however.

Heating pads like this one should never be used inside of a dog crate. When the door is latched, the pup can't get up and walk away from a bed that's growing just a touch too hot. And unless the door is removed altogether, it's possible that a sleepy pup could wander into the crate and have the door swing shut behind them (this has happened to both Liam and Sinead).

Sinead sleeping on her Boston terrier heating pad

And finally, small puppies and rowdy chewers aren't good candidates for the heating pad treatment. These products do plug into the wall, so there's a cord that some dogs might be tempted to chew. Any pup that chews could get a nasty shock from the cord, so it's best to provide another option for these sorts of critters.

The weather is cooling down here, so I'm imagining that Sinead will be spending more and more of her time on a heating pad. Any readers have stories to share of their dog's love affair with heat? Hit me up in the comments!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cats in bathtubs: Can human bathwater really be tasty?

Black cat in tiled bathtub
Quick poll: How long has it been since you've had a shower or a bath in perfect peace and solitude? Chances are, if you have a cat, it's been a long time since you've had the bathroom to yourself. In fact, if you have a cat like mine, you are probably accustomed to looking for cats before you either step into or out of the tub.

Cats like Troy here seem fascinated with the leftovers in a traditional tub after anyone has taken a bath or a shower. As soon as the humans turn on the water, here's where he sits.

Black cat in tiled bathroom, looking into the tub

Thankfully, he usually waits to take up this position until I've left the shower. But he gives me only a minute or two to make that escape before he hops up on his perch.

And what does he do from there? You guessed it. He licks the walls and base of the bathtub. There's something about that water he just adores.

Black cat Troy looking for bath water

Obviously, this isn't a great habit for Troy. He needs water, of course, but traditional human beauty products are filled with all sorts of things that just aren't good for delicate kitty digestive systems. But, since Troy is old and cranky, I can't keep him from an activity he deems important. If he wants to lick that tub, dammit, he's going to lick that tub. But there are some things I can do to keep him safe.

A longer-than-average rinse of any product allows me to leave the tub with (mostly) water and very little residue. That means Troy won't encounter a great deal of soap or lye or perfumes when he hops up. I can counter that long water usage (for those of you eco-conscious people out there) by turning off the water while lathering.

And, any product I use is certified organic, free of artificial perfumes and colorings. My stuff is all certified cruelty-free, too (more on that here). That's just better for me, and it's better for him, too.

What about you? Are your kitties tub surfers? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: 6 cat portraits

Lucy blind cat in cat bed
This morning, I spent a few hours taking portrait shots of adoptable cats in our local humane society. Since I was all warmed up on my cat-coaxing after that work, I thought I'd give my own kitties the same glamour shot treatment. So here are all six of my cats, in no particular order.

Up top here is Lucy, my 7-year-old blind cat. She always poses so nicely.

Rescued senior black cat Troy on the carpet
 And here's rescue black cat Troy. He's of indeterminate age (maybe 14? 16?), but he still has a lot of spunk and character.

Maggie the tuxedo cat on her couch
This is Maggie, my 11-year-old tuxedo cat. She doesn't show up on the blog very often, mainly because she really doesn't like cameras. But she really is a gorgeous cat.

Brown tabby senior cat Eamon in the hallway
And here's Eamon. This guy is rounding the corner on 15, and he has his ears flattened here because his arthritis is acting up today. He's a little aggressive and he's doing quite a bit of limping. I'm hoping his meds help and that he feels better soon.

Grey Russian blue cat resting on the deck
Beorn the Russian blue here is 15, and he 's our semi-feral, so he lives outside. It looks like he's been walking through my tomato plants recently, as he has a little tomato top on his elbow in this photo. Silly guy.

Black and white cat and ferns
And finally, here's the other semi-feral cat living here: Jasper. He is also rounding up on 15, but he seems remarkably healthy with no limping, no weight loss and no dental concerns. He's a healthy man.

So that's my crew! It's a lot, right?

Remember: This is a blog hop! Do visit the other posts below, for more pictures of happy pets.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Air quality testing for brachycephalic breeds like pugs and Boston terriers

Boston terrier in a dog bed
Over the weekend, the air quality in Oregon got bad. And by "bad," I mean that the air was filled with smoke from fires burning all across the state. The sun was glowing orange through a thick bank of clouds, and I couldn't see more than 1-2 houses down the street. Everything was covered in this big bank of muck, and no matter how I tried, I couldn't see through it. At one point, the air was even declared "unhealthy" by state regulators.

I have chronic allergies, so I can't tolerate air like this. And as it turns out, brachycephalic dogs like Liam and Sinead can't, either.

Sinead the Boston terrier studies her medical dictionary.
Ready for an anatomy lesson? Sinead is.
Dogs use their muzzles to clean the air they breathe. Each little sniff of air moves through passageways lined with little hairs and a great deal of mucus, and that works to trap particulates that might be inside the air dogs breathe.

Snub-nosed dogs like Liam and Sinead don't have much muzzle to work with, so they're destined to take in more particulates in the air around them. And when the air is as bad as it was over the weekend, those breaths can be deadly. Each little sharp particle of muck can lodge in their lungs, and that can trigger irritation and coughing.

After just a few minutes of outdoor potty time, both Liam and Sinead had running noses, and they both engaged in a few episodes of reverse sneezing and general coughing.  The air just hurt them, and it probably wasn't too good for the long-term health of their lungs.

Sometimes, air quality problems are easy to spot. If the air is black, there's an issue! But some air quality incidents aren't so dramatic. That's where this website can be helpful. A quick glance at this site can tell you whether the air you're breathing is safe for both you and your pets.

Boston terrier in the bright sunshine
"But I like it out here!"
So what should you do if that air quality reading is bad? Simple: Everybody needs to stay inside. If it's too warm to keep the windows closed, run an air conditioner with a HEPA filter. You'll have cool and clean air, and healthier pets.

Now, I check this website fairly frequently as a matter of course, simply because I struggle with poor air quality myself. But now that I've seen my dogs struggle with bad air, I might check the site for them, too. If we're planning to do something long and strenuous outside (like hiking or socializing), I'll want to make sure it's safe for them. The site makes it easy.

But in the interim, I'm also doing a little rain dance over here. We need those Oregon fires to go away, and we need the parched land to green up again. Come on rain!

Another reminder: Have you signed up for Lucy's cat food sweepstakes? Time is running out! Click here for details.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Blind cat tips: Helping your kitty to adjust to furniture changes

Blind cat Lucy resting in her cat bed
Living with a blind cat means making a few sacrifices. For example, most room re-decoration projects are out-and-out banned.

Lucy moves from room to room with relative speed because I don't move the furniture around. She has scent markers on almost every single piece of furniture I own, so she can glide from one marker to another without worrying that she'll bump into something and get injured. If I moved the furniture around all the time, she wouldn't be so comfortable with those high-speed runs (and she might not be comfortable overall).

But sometimes, I do need to shift things up just a little bit. This weekend was one such time.

We've been hit with horrific wildfires in Oregon this year, and over the weekend, the Willamette Valley worked like a huge funnel for all of the smoke. At one point on Saturday, the air quality in my hometown was so bad that the EPA declared our air simply "dangerous" for all living creatures.

That meant the air conditioner/HEPA filter I have in my writing studio had to make the move into the living room. Opening the windows just wasn't safe for me or any of the critters that live with me. Using the filters meant I could keep things cool and safe.

But this is a hulking piece of equipment, and since it's typically in another building, it probably smells pretty weird, too. It's been 48 hours, and Lucy still isn't really accustomed to this thing. Here's video proof.

Notice her very cautious approach to that big, silver air conditioner? She's really not sure what to make of it. But thankfully, she has a few things on her side.

1. Lucy has a seeing-eye pug. 

Notice that Liam the pug is right there to help Lucy through her fears. When she gets a little too excited about this unit and she starts to go into a sniff-a-thon, Liam is right there to break the spell. And she gives him a little drive-by snuggle as a thank-you a little later in the video. Liam works a little like her seeing-eye pug, and she appreciates the help.

Blind cats aren't always friendly like this, so they may not always like to have friends and guides. But for Lucy, having access to a friend helps her to feel comfortable in new situations.

2. The house is full of things Lucy has already marked.

The footrest right by this air conditioner is a particular favorite piece of furniture for Lucy, and she sticks close to it as she investigates this new thing. She even gives it a little chin and flank rub as she walks by, to mark it again.

It's easier for blind cats to adjust to something new when those new things are next to things they already know and love. That's why I'd never plop her into a room with all new furniture. She needs new mixed with the old, in order to make the leap. Most blind cats do.

3. I'm there to provide verbal cues. 

Whenever Lucy goes near this thing, I praise her and encourage her. She is very responsive to any kind of noise and encouragement, and hearing me talk about this thing seems to soothe her.

Blind cats are, in general, very responsive to tone of voice and praise. They need coaxing and cheering and encouragement, especially when something is new. I chatter at Lucy almost all the time.

The smoke has cleared from this area, so I'll be able to move the air conditioner back to its accustomed spot a little later this afternoon. But with these tips, I know I can help Lucy get used to the next change, when it comes.

Anyone else out there with a blind cat? What tips did I miss? Love to hear them in the comments.

And just a reminder: Lucy's cat food sweepstakes is still going. Only a few more days to sign up! Click here to get started

Friday, August 21, 2015

August 2015 BarkBox review: Dog toys and dog treats for summer!

Sinead the Boston terrier carrying a furry dog toy

Our August 2015 BarkBox review is here! We've had a few days to settle in with all of the toys and treats in our box, so I have quite a bit to tell you about everything packed inside this monthly shipment of happiness. So let's get started!

The dog treats 

We had quite a selection of dog treats in this month's box, including what seems to be a last-minute replacement. See, every BarkBox comes with a postcard listing what's included, and my shipment doesn't quite match the card. We should have gotten a turkey chew from a company called "Treat Planet," but instead, we got two sticks from Etta Says!. No complaints here, as both Liam and Sinead love these things. But if you were hoping to read up on Treat Planet, I'm sorry to disappoint!

Liam the pug in a down position with treats
We did get (as promised) a bag of Fruitables Skinny Minis Watermelon Chewy Dog Treats. I'm thrilled about that, as Liam is enrolled in a training class right now. I have been looking for treats that are tiny, chewable and low in sodium. The treats I've been using just take too long for him to gobble, and they leave him desperate for water at the end of the class. These things are better. They smell a little like watermelon (weird!), but Liam will happily work for these without many water needs arising.

Side note: Isn't the frog dog thing just perfect? That's how he prefers to do a down/stay these days... I have no idea why. And he didn't eat these off the floor, which means he has really been working on his "leave it." Yay!

The final treat bag is packed with Benny Bully's Plus Banana. The name isn't deceptive. That's exactly what these treats contain: meat and banana. I haven't opened them yet, but I know the dogs are looking forward to these things.

 The dog toys

There's one toy in here that's caused a bit of hilarity at my house. It's a fuzzy, rope-based toy with a fire hydrant printed on the front, and it comes from Harry Barker. Sinead is more than a little obsessed with this toy, and she's taken to carrying it everywhere. She's also worried that I will take it from her, hence the sheep eyes in this photo.
Boston terrier with Harry Barker fuzzy dog toy
Geez, now why would I take this from her? It's fuzzy, it's small, it looks pretty durable, and she likes it. That's a win, for me!

And there was one more toy in here: A footed ball from Petmate. It looks a little like a ball on first glance, but when you peer closer, you can see that this thing is covered in wee little muscles. It's pretty funny.
Pug posing with a toy from his August BarkBox
Hard toys like this are excellent, as I can toss them around in the yard for the dogs in the evening. They always want to take plush toys outside, which is a big no-no. So it's nice to have a hard toy that is durable for outside play.

So that's it for this month! If you'd like to try your own BarkBox, use my affiliate link for a price break (and I'll get a little gift, too!). If you'd like to see reviews of previous BarkBox offerings, click here or here or here or here.

Oh, and have you signed up for my cat food sweepstakes, going on right now? What are you waiting for! Click here for the details.

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post. I write about these products because I like them. But, 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.”

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Cat food sweepstakes: Let your cats try Solid Gold, courtesy of Lucy!

Lucy the blind cat sleeping under a chair

Update: The sweepstakes is closed! Thanks to everyone who entered. Winners are Jules McNubbin (grand prize) and DZ Dog (second winner).

Lucy knows it's time for dinner, long before the other cats even have a clue about meal prep. That's because her sense of hearing is so acute. Since Lucy is blind, she really relies on those fuzzy ears of hers. And when I'm popping dinner into the bowl, she's well aware of everything I'm doing.

But even so, it's sometimes hard to get her interested in food. More often than not, she knows that I'm prepping her dinner, but she refuses to hop up out of her sleeping spot in order to nosh. I put her bowl out, and she just stays in place.

Cat food bowl in the middle of a room

A lot of that changed when I enrolled Lucy in the Solid Gold Free Spirit Challenge. Lucy was introduced to a new type of cat food here, and she's a big fan. As am I.

Solid Gold cat foods come with a number of really great advantages. These foods:
  • Are produced in the United States
  • Contain no soy, sugar, artificial preservatives or by-product meal
  • Deliver probiotics 
That means they're full of the things Lucy needs in order to stay healthy. But they're free of the things that could make her sick.

Most importantly, these are foods that Lucy will actually eat. She might never be a girl that runs to the bowl at dinnertime, but when she does hunker down with her food, she eats happily and completely. That means these foods are delivering a texture and a taste she really likes.

Blind cat Lucy eating Solid Gold cat food

I'm thankful that the kind people at Solid Gold gave me the opportunity to try out this food. And I'm thrilled to announce that they'd like to let my readers try out their products, too!

The grand prize winner of this sweepstakes will get a prize pack containing food (you have a selection of flavors to choose from), along with a few other goodies. And a second-place winner will get some coupons for food.

Ready to enter? Almost. Here are a few rules and regulations:
  • The contest starts today, and it will end on 8/27/2015.
  • No purchase necessary.
  • To enter, use the widget below. No other entry formats allowed. 
  • The number of eligible entries received will determine your odds of winning.
  • The winner will be chosen at random via Rafflecopter from the eligible entries. 
  • The name of the winner will be posted on this blog, and I'll contact you via email, too. 
  • The winner will have 1 week to claim the prize, and if it's not claimed, a new winner will be chosen at random via Rafflecopter.
  • The grand prize will be sent to the winner by Solid Gold, so you'll need to provide a valid mailing address. I'll send the coupons via mail, too.
  • Open to residents of the United States, older than age 18.
  • Void where prohibited by law. 

So what are you waiting for?

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Good luck!

Disclaimer: I was sent samples to try as compensation for this blog post. I wasn't paid for my time, nor was I provided with specific words to use in my review. All of the opinions expressed here are my own (and they weren't purchased!).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Funny pet photo outtakes

Funny Boston terrier photo with eyes closed

Typically, when I'm choosing photos for this blog, I look for shots of the pets that are somehow inspirational or interesting. But let's be honest: These guys get really tired of having a camera in their faces all the time. And they're not at all worried about showing their displeasure.

Case in point: The top photo comes from this photo shoot. Sure, 90 percent of the shots were perfect. But then there was this photo of out-and-out defiance.

Trust me, I have zillions of these. Here are a few samples.

Funny cat photo of Eamon giving the stink eye

Eamon is the master of the stink eye. I shot these for a Wordless Wednesday post about his attitude, but this shot is even snarkier than the others I chose. Look at the stink eye!

Funny pug photo of Liam on his birthday

This comes from Liam's birthday photo shoot. He got tired of waiting for me to get the perfect shot of him and his frozen yogurt, so he looked to his dad for a release command. Sneaky boy.

Troy the cat is hiding in his scratching post

I have no idea what I had planned to use this photo for, but it's clear that Troy doesn't feel like being a model. The contrast between his downtrodden expression and this silly scratching post house just kills me.

Lucy the blind cat hiding in her bed

I've been taking a lot of photos of Lucy lately, as she's helping me with a Solid Gold sweepstakes starting tomorrow (be sure to check back for epic prizes!). She got so sick of the whole thing that she ran into this little hidey-hole underneath her cat bed. Notice the outstretched paw? That's for batting at me.

In general, I'm blessed to have cooperative pets. But clearly, I need to give them a day off from time to time!

Thanks for looking, and be sure to visit the other blogs in this hop!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Dog training tip: Practice "Leave It" in the yard with your pug

Pug sitting nicely waiting for a command

It's really easy to get Liam to throw down a "Leave it" in the living room. I can put a toy, a cookie or a piece of cheese right between his front paws, and he won't move a muscle to get it. When we're in the living room, he is 100 percent focused on me and what I'd like for him to do.

If I wanted to sit back and congratulate myself on my trained house dog, I'd stop working on this command right now. But here's the thing: The objects I need Liam to leave alone on a regular basis are hardly ever in the living room.

Case in point: The other day, my husband found this little guy in our backyard. We think he fell out of the big trees waving in the wind on that stormy day, and while he was very much alive, he needed to be left in peace so his momma could get him.

Tiny pink baby squirrel in a box resting on a towel

Now I don't think Liam would eat a baby squirrel like this. But he might sniff it or paw at it or (heaven forbid) try to pick it up to bring it to me. Without a good "Leave it," I probably couldn't get him away from this squirrel before he did something that we might all regret.

So we've been working on this command in the yard. I bring out a bag of tasty treats, and I put them in my hand, on the ground or on Liam's paws and tell him to leave those treats alone. If he waits for a second or two, he can have a better treat that's in my hand.

While we're practicing, there are neighbors talking, birds chirping, other dogs and cats running by and various other distractions. It's loud and it's challenging, and it's much more similar to the situations he'll be facing when he uses this command in the real world. 

I'm hoping to pull this method out when we encounter small children, loud sirens or charging puppies. If I can get him to leave it and look at me instead, I'll have better control. He'll just never learn that lesson in the house.

This isn't a lesson that's easy for food-motivated and people-obsessed pugs like Liam to learn. But it's a vital one. So practice we will!

(And as an aside: That squirrel is fine. As soon as we found it, we were in touch with a wildlife rehab center and they provided detailed instructions about what we should do. We followed those instructions, but the mother never did venture out of the trees to pick up her baby, so we transported it to the center. The great team at Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center tell he's eating and getting great care. Yay!)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Rotation feeding for cats: The how and the why of adding food variety

A close shot of Lucy the blind cat
When you find a cat food you like (and that your cat will eat), you're often tempted to buy that brand and that flavor forever. I know: I've done it.

But there's some evidence that switching things up from time to time could be great for your cat.

This method of feeding (which is typically called "rotation feeding") involves changing foods on a pretty regular basis. And it's something I've just started with Lucy.

Why rotate?

While experts are pretty divided about where our indoor cats come from, most agree that there's a free-roaming kitty ancestor out there that moved from individual hunting to human handouts. Cats like this probably had wildly differing diets from one day to the next, depending on what they could either kill or steal.

A rotation diet for cats replicates that eating pattern, and that might be good for cat mental health. These guys like variety and stimulation, and often, the food bowl is a prime target of interest. By putting something a little different in there from time to time, we could give our cats the surprises they're hoping for.

Also, some veterinarians (like Jean Dodds) suggest that using the same food source for an endless amount of time creates a sub-par gut that can't digest unusual foods, and mono-eating cats might not be getting the nutritional profile they could get with different types of foods.

(I'd like to see more hard research on this score, as I'm not really satisfied with the arguments that underpin gut health and rotation feeding. Pointing out that humans wouldn't have optimal health on restricted diets isn't really good enough for me, as humans aren't cats. But I digress...)

For me, the big benefit of a rotation is that it helps to reduce pickiness. Cats that eat the same thing, year in and year out, can become so in-tune with that food that they'll reject even a manufacturer recipe modification. And heaven forbid that food is gone for good. By teaching the cats that anything they get in their bowl is probably good for them and tasty, too, I could help to avoid some of the huge picky-cat problems I'm dealing with in senior cat Troy right now.

Lucy the blind cat resting in her green cat bed before dinner
"Is it time for dinner yet?"

 How to begin rotation feeding for cats 

Rotation feeding is easier when you're buying from a manufacturer with an extensive product list. Lucy, for example, is eating Solid Gold at the moment. That means she has all sorts of flavors at her kitty fingertips, including some made with turkey, some with rabbit, some with duck and some with fish.

I could incorporate rotation feeding by choosing a different flavor when her current bag of food runs out. And when that bag runs out, I could switch again. There's so much to choose from, that would be really easy.

If Lucy were a canned food fan (which she is not, sadly), I could also get variety packs of food and dabble different flavors on her meals from time to time. That variety of flavor and protein could be a great way to give her tastebuds kick.

Do you want to try this for yourself? Be sure to check back in on Thursday. I'll be launching a sweepstakes for Solid Gold food. Come and enter!

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post. Solid Gold provided Lucy with samples of food to try, and I agreed to write up notes about my experiences in exchange for those samples. No money changed hands, and this reflects my opinion only. 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, August 14, 2015

Platform beds for dogs: 2 things I love about them (and 1 thing I don't)

Pug and Boston terrier on platform bed

Platform beds, like the one Liam and Sinead are sitting on here, are top dog bed sellers. And for these two dogs, this was a bed that they had to wait for. I'd been hearing about the benefits of these things for years, but I just couldn't see how or why they'd be appealing to a dog, and I didn't want to spend my money on something that just wouldn't get used.

So I waited. And now, I regret that.

These things come with all sorts of great perks for dogs, and I'm going to outline a few of them in a second or two. But, there's one big drawback to mention, too, and that just might keep you away from buying them in the future.

Ready? I thought so.

Perk 1: They're inexpensive.

A standard platform bed (like this Elevated Pet Bed) will set you back about $30. At first glance, that doesn't seem like much of a cost savings. After all, typical dog beds (like this Donut Bed) also run in the $30 range.

But, platform beds are almost impossible to destroy. Unlike a typical bed, that's covered in something soft and stuffed with something softer, a platform bed is made of something sturdy like canvas, and there's no stuffing at all. That means this $30 bed could last for years and years and years. It's a great value.

Tiny Boston terrier on a platform bed

Perk 2: They're easy on old joints. 

Both Liam and Sinead have a few orthopedic issues. Liam's come from aging, while Sinead's bad knees are probably genetic. That means these guys are probably uncomfortable on hard floors, even if there's a bed between them and the floor.

Platform beds are different, because they suspend the dog in the air. It's like a hammock, and that can be really good for sore joints.

While I see Liam and Sinead adjust and adjust and adjust their positions when they're in typical beds, they'll plop down on these platforms and stick to the same spot for hours. That seems to indicate, to me, that these beds are a little more comfortable.

Main drawback: Platform beds need a modification before the dogs will use them.

Liam's ideal place to rest, hands down, is on top of human furniture. Like this.

Liam the pug resting on the couch
See that tucked paw? He's not leaving the couch anytime soon. And why would he? This couch is soft, covered and up off the ground.

Platform beds, without some kind of amendment, can seem a little firm to my spoiled pooches. They're hard, unlike couches, and neither Liam nor Sinead would use this thing until I put another bed on top. That pink, fuzzy thing? It's a failed dog bed that Liam and Sinead loved to pieces. Once I added that to the platform, they were all over it.

So my advice? Consider adding one of these things to your collection. But make sure to pop another bed (or a soft blanket) on top for an added enticement. Otherwise, your kids might give your new bed the heave-ho.

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.”

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why do cats sit on paper?

Black cat Troy lying on a piece of paper on a desk

As the trusted office cat, Troy has a comfy bed on top of the desk. But, if I spread out even the smallest piece of paper on my desk, he's right there to warm it up with his body.

He does the same thing in the house. If I toss the paper on the floor when I'm done with my reading, he'll make that into a comfortable napping space. Mail I drop on the way from the mailbox to the kitchen table becomes a sleeping mat. Receipts he can snatch from my purse are used to soften the floor underneath his ribs.

Why in the world do cats do this?

There are all sorts of theories.

Some cat trainers point to the thermodynamics of paper. Apparently, this crinkly stuff gets warm faster than carpet or wood or concrete, so cats sit or lie on paper in a bid to get warm. (Big disclaimer: I can't find an engineering study that proves this theory true.)

Others suggest that cats lie on paper in order to get human attention. Kitties know that humans are drawn to paper, these experts say, so they lie on paper in order to get our attention. If they stay on stuff we like, they'll get our attention.

And other say the crinkle sound of paper is attractive to cats. They are noise-activated creatures, these trainers say, so they like beds that are responsive.

I'm not sure about all of this. I think Troy just enjoys novel experiences, so he likes to lie on sheets of paper I've just tossed down. If I left paper down all of the time, it might lose the appeal.

But some manufacturer out there should hop on this and make a paper bed, don't you think? Maybe something woven and recycled, with crunch and spring? Make me a prototype! I have the perfect tester right here.

Do your cats love to sleep on paper, too? Shoot me a note and fill me in. Love to hear your cute kitty stories.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Senior cat + sunny window = bliss

Brown tabby cat in sun-drenched window

I find myself taking a lot of photos of Eamon these days. It's an intentional move. His health continues to deteriorate a little more each day, and I know he won't be with us for much longer. So I find my fingers itching to snap a photo when I see him looking alert, awake and comfortable. I hit the mother lode this week, when he curled up in the sunniest spot of the house for a long nap.

Brown tabby senior cat looking out of a sunny window

Senior brown tabby cat lit up by sunshine

Senior brown tabby cat in a puddle of sunshine
Thanks for looking!

And remember to check out some of the other blogs in this week's blog hop.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

How to calm a hyper dog with the "Watch me" command

Obedient pug doing a watch me with a Boston terrier lying down

Let's start off with a quiz: Which of these two dogs is currently taking a class for hyper dogs at Willamette Humane Society?

If you mentioned Liam the pug, you're right.

And, yes, it wasn't too hard to get that question right, either. After all, Liam is demonstrating some remarkable focus in this particular photo. He's sitting nicely, and he's doing something that's extra important: He's looking right at me.

The "watch me" command is absolutely vital for hyper dogs, because it helps those dogs to train their attention from something stimulating to something reassuring.

Let me give you an example.

Over the weekend, Liam went on a long trip with me to another state. Once we arrived, he spent an evening in the company of about 10 adults, 4 kids and one adorable poodle. Liam didn't know most of these creatures at all, and pretty much everybody was walking, eating and making noise.

To Liam, this is a recipe for absolute insanity. If I didn't have a way to calm him down, he would have become so overstimulated and so upset within the first 5 minutes that he'd be at risk for overheating.

The "watch me" command helps, because I can pull his attention away before he gets too amped up. If the kids run and he feels like running, I can force him to look at me for a minute or two, so he won't get carried away. If people have pizza that Liam really wants to eat, I can get him to watch me instead, and he can get rewarded with a treat that is appropriate for him to eat.

The command works a little like a pause, so he can collect his rational mind and think things through before he acts. And it's an easy one to teach.

I taught Liam to watch by:
  1. Putting him in a sit.
  2. Holding a treat in my hand, and holding that hand close to his face.
  3. Slowly pulling the treat up to the level of my eyes. 
  4. Saying "Good watch me!" and handing out the treat when he looked from the treat to my eyes. 
Within just a few sessions, he had that down.

This is a command Liam learned years ago, as part of his puppy training, but I suppose I never thought to deploy it in social situations. But now that we've used it in a crowd, and I've seen Liam calm down quite a bit with this technique, it's one I'll be using a lot in the future.

We have another class tomorrow afternoon, so watch the blog next week for more updates. And if you missed the original post about this training class, click here for details.

If you've found a trick or tip that works great for hyper dogs, leave me a note, won't you? I'd love to learn. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

When cat rescuers attack! 3 ways to keep your senior cats safe outdoors

Beorn is sleeping in this photo, but this cat does look sickly.
With the dog days of summer upon us, Beorn spends a lot of the day looking just like this. He's sound asleep in the shade of the laurel hedge on my property. To him, he's in just the right spot. He's cool, he's outside and he's at home.

But to a cat rescuer, he might look like a thin, stray, sickly kitty that needs medical attention, ASAP. And that could mean Beorn's nap might end up in a trip to the cat shelter.

It's happened in this neighborhood before, and while I understand why a rescuer might be moved to save first and ask questions later, it makes me a little nervous. After all, for fragile guys like Beorn, a trip to the shelter could mean exposure to life-threatening illnesses. He just doesn't have the energy stores he needs to fight off something serious.

But since I can't move him inside (for reasons I've explained here), I need to do my part to make sure my neighbors are aware that Beorn just isn't homeless and ill. And there are a couple of ways to tackle that issue.

Beorn isn't a homeless cat. He has water dishes and brushes available.

I try to keep Beorn's accessories in open, easy-to-see spaces. On the back deck, for example, he has several water bowls, two cat beds, a cat brush and cat treats. Three of those things are in this photo.

Anyone walking by my back desk who might see Beorn will also see all of the cat beds and cat things I need in order to keep him healthy and happy. That person might then reasonably assume that the cat lives next to all of these things. That person might then leave Beorn alone, or ask me about him before doing anything to him.

If Beorn would wear a collar for more than 5 minutes (grrr), I could put a few words about his medical condition on his tag. I might say something like "senior cat" or "frail cat" above my address, so anyone who looked at him would know that I am aware of his condition and that I am treating it. That's another way to signal to a rescuer that Beorn does have a home and doesn't need to be saved.

Senior cats have no problem with meowing loudly and showing off their teeth

I can also follow Beorn's example here and open up my mouth to communicate. When I stop and chat with neighbors, I remind them that I have cats that live outside, and that I am taking care of them. I remind my neighbors of what these cats look like, how old they are and what medical conditions they have. I try to point them out to my neighbors, too. That way, these same neighbors won't be compelled to think of these guys as strays. They'll hear me discuss them, and they'll know to ask me for questions.

In general, I love living in a community in which rescue plays such a big role. It's awesome to think that community cats have a group of humans ready to help them when they need that assistance. But by following these few steps, I can ensure that my cats don't become part of the problem my neighbors are trying to solve. And in the end, that's best for everyone involved.

Did I miss anything? What else do you guys do to protect your outdoor cats?