Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When is a pug a senior?

Liam the pug with his pig toy

Senior pugs need different things than adult pugs. Diets, exercise routines and vaccination schedules all need a tweak when a pug moves from the adult category into the senior category.

But lately I've been wondering when Liam should make that shift.

Liam is 8, so he's certainly no puppy. And he's developing some pretty thick and shiny grey hairs all over his little muzzle. Rather than looking like a sweet monkey, he's looking a little more like a distinguished old man. But is he really a senior? I tried to get consensus.

Sadly, there is no real consensus.

Pugs typically live to age 13 or 15, per the AKC, which means they have relatively long lives (especially when compared to giant breeds like the Great Dane, as those guys don't usually live long enough to experience a double-digit birthday).

So generic statements like "Dogs are seniors at age 7 years," don't seem quite right, to me. After all, that blanket statement probably relies on an average lifespan from a cadre of dogs that might all be different sizes with different relative life spans. Why should I make my pug out to be older than he really is?

Similarly, age seems to be a touch relative with pugs. Thin pugs like Liam, who have been through stenotic nare surgery, are likelier to have healthier hearts than chubby pugs with breathing problems. That should make Liam live longer, so he might be considered an adult for a longer period of time.

Plus, Liam just doesn't seem old. He's as frisky as he ever was, willing to take a few zoomies around the coffee table most nights, and thrilled to go for walks in the morning and in the evening (as long as it isn't raining). He seems healthy. He seems pretty darn young.

So I'm going out on a limb. I'll say that Liam is still just a plain adult, not a senior. Next year, I'll reassess. By the time he's 10, though, it's probably safe to let him slip into senior status.

What do you think? Good call, or am I off my nut? Leave me a comment.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The straight dope on cat dentals: How long recovery really takes

Troy the cat recovering from a dental
When old cats like Troy have dental procedures, they often have extractions. Brittle, addled kitty teeth are very difficult to repair, and they can cause these dudes a lot of pain. Rather than adding to that pain with fillings and root canals and such, vets just pull the broken bits out. It's a quicker surgical procedure, and most cats adjust to life without a full set of choppers.

But the recovery process can be a touch long.

And people aren't very honest about that.

When I was doing a little research on cat dentals, I saw a lot of articles like this one that suggest that old cats can bounce right back and eat hard food just hours after a dental with extractions.

That wasn't my experience.

The first day after Troy's dental, he was groggy and tired. The pain medication kept him comfortable, but he wasn't awake and aware enough to do anything close to noshing. And affection? Forget it. This guy wanted to be left alone.

By day three, Troy would eat just a little (as long as I manipulated the hell out of his meals). But, he often needed pain medications after his meals. Without that dash of drugs, he thrashed his tail and pawed at his mouth.

And by day four, he didn't want to eat much at all. He seemed a little afraid of the food dish, worried about whether or not his meals would cause him pain.

So back to the drawing board I went, softening his food yet more, and serving it in new bowls in new spots in the house, only after he'd been provided with pain meds.

Now, he's eating about 75 percent of what I'd consider ideal. And he needs a lot less pain medication. But he's still a touch reclusive and a little twitchy.

So my guess is that we're looking at a week of recovery.

Now, old cats with bad teeth are in a lot of pain, and there's no doubt that providing them with dentals is the right thing to do. They need help, and they should get it.

But it's important to note that they can heal very slowly. Plan on weeks, not hours.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Dogs on airplanes: Training starts early!

Sinead the Boston terrier in her airplane carrier

In May, little Sinead will head to Nashville with me to attend the 2015 BlogPaws conference. It's a long trip, and she'll have to travel by air. That's something she's never done before, and I'm doing my best to help her prepare.

Short-snouted pets like Sinead just can't travel via cargo holds. She can't regulate her body temperature as well as dogs with big sniffers, so she can't handle spending time in spaces that aren't climate controlled. So she'll be in the cabin with me (which I prefer anyway). But it'll still be an unusual experience for this small dog.

Sinead is a lap dog, and she's accustomed to spending most of her time sitting out in the open on the tops of my legs. She just can't do that in an airplane. She'll need to be confined at all times, and she'll need to stay at my feet, not on my lap.

Plus, the carrier she'll call home during this trip is smaller than the crate she uses at home. She has plenty of space in which to stand up and turn around, but she can't really sprawl out in this carrier. She will need to stay somewhat tucked under and still. That will be new.

So, I bought her carrier early, and we've been doing some training.

Sinead is crate trained, so she knows all about going into a box-like enclosure when I ask her to do so. And she knows common commands like "sit" and "down," so I can work with her as she is inside the carrier.

Sinead lying down in her carrier

Every day, we run through a few simple commands with her in the crate and all of the vents open wide. She can pop her head out of the top, and if she gets really frightened, she can run right out the door. Every day, I close things up just a little more. In time, she should be able to handle herself with the whole thing shut tight.

Training like this will make the trip a little less stressful for her, as the crate won't be a new and unusual environment. And it should make the trip easier for me, too, as she'll be more likely to behave when she doesn't feel frightened.

If you're coming to BlogPaws, we'd love to see you! Leave me a note in the comments, so I'll know who you are. Then, you can see Sinead in action in May!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

5 ways to tempt a cat to eat after a dental cleaning

Troy the cat with his tongue hanging out

Here's what poor Troy looks like the day after his dental. He's short five teeth, and he really doesn't seem to be feeling all that great. But, he still needs to eat. He's thin, and he had to skip every meal yesterday in order to prepare for his surgery. So I've been employing all sorts of weird tips and tricks to boost his appetite. These are just a few of the things I've tried, hoping to make this boy nosh.

1. Adding in baby food. 

Plain, no-salt, meat-only baby food is a big treat for cats. It smells terrific, and it's soft and easy to lap up. Putting just a dash of baby food in front of even the sickest of cats often works like a charm.

2. Soaking kibble in water. 

After a series of tooth extractions, Troy probably doesn't want to do a lot of chewing. But, he does seem to like the taste of his kibble. Soaking those nuggets in water for an hour or so can soften them up, so sore kitties cat eat without chewing.

3. Heating up the whole mess. 

A mixture of softened kibble, enhanced with a dab of baby food, should be a great treat. But, sore kitties may need a little more in order to take the plunge. Popping the dish in the microwave for 10 seconds makes the meal a little more fragrant, and sometimes, that entices cats to do a little snacking.

4. Using a treat topper. 

Shelter cats like Troy are accustomed to getting snacks in rattling treat bags. Volunteers love to give these cats snacks, and when I volunteer, I'm pretty heavy handed with the treats. As a result, Troy tends to come running when he hears anything that sounds like a snack bag. Putting a few tasty treats on top of meals can sometimes fool cats into thinking that the whole dish will taste like a treat. (I've used this technique with Eamon before, too, and have had great results.)

5. Using pain meds. 

After tooth extractions, Troy's mouth is really sore. And since it's sore, he's not terribly willing to use it to do something difficult, like chewing or lapping. Making sure that cats have adequate pain control is key to ensuring that they feel well enough to eat. But timing is important, too. Pain medications can be powerful, and they can zonk cats out. I'm using meds after meals (not before), so he'll be awake enough to eat.

Does it work? Not always. Troy ate like a champ this morning, but here's what happened to his lunch.

Beorn the cat eating food

Yup, that's Beorn eating Troy's food. (This is great, by the way, as Beorn also has a history of picky eating.)

When cats are in pain, they might not eat as well as they should. Troy is no exception. So while I'd prefer it if he ate a lunch in addition to a breakfast, I'll settle for what I can get. As long as he's eating at least half of his normal intake, I'll settle for that for now.

Do any of you have awesome cat tips to share? Tap them out in the comments. I'd love to hear your ideas!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Big cat yawn!

Troy the cat is yawning

Troy goes in for his dental today, so it seemed like an appropriate time to show off his choppers! I'll write a little update later this week, just to tell you how it all worked out. Senior dentals can be a little complicated, so I'm sure I'll have good information to share. Be sure to check back!

And please leave me a comment, too, so I'll know you were here!


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

March BarkBox review: Dog toys and dog treats galore!

Liam the pug with his two dog toys

Our March 2015 BarkBox was a little late in coming this month, so my review is also coming just a little later than usual. But, for those who are unaware of the goodies in this month's box, I have a treat for you! We got some pretty nifty stuff this month that I think almost every dog out there would love.

There were two big toys in this month's box, and Liam took a shine to the larger of the two. It's a canvas bone made by Harry Barker, packed with filling and two squeakers. It's big enough for rough gnawing, but light enough to make for good throwing and retrieving. That makes it a good toy for mid-sized dogs like Liam.

The other toy is very, very small. And that makes it a good match for very small Sinead. This little turtle from Loopies is soft and slick, with one squeaker packed inside the shell of the toy. Sinead likes to chomp on this guy (and make a hell of a lot of noise), but she also likes to just carry this toy around from place to place. It's already looking a little worse for wear after a few days of love (note the discoloration), but it should clean up nicely in the wash.

Sinead the Boston terrier with her toy

Two sets of treats from Etta Says came in our box this month. One is a pressed bison meat chew (the dogs love these things), and the other is a coconut-based mini-treat. Liam and Sinead have never been exposed to these treats before, and we had a bit of a mixed reaction. Liam gobbled his right down, but Sinead seemed less inclined to eat these. She put the treat down for a minute, hoping I'd give her something better. When she realized nothing else was coming, she deigned to eat the treat. I'm not sure what that's all about, but we'll see if she likes those treats more when she's accustomed to them. Maybe the coconut smell is something she will learn to love.

Liam and Sinead trying treats

Liam is wondering if there are MORE treats in this box. And the answer is "yes!"

The last treat is a lot like a science experiment. Here's what the treat looks like right out of the bag.

Treats on a plate

And here's what it looks like after a minute in the microwave.

Treats on a plate

These snacks from Yeti Corp are made with yak and cow milk, and they puff right up like popcorn in the microwave. Liam absolutely loves these things, and they make for nice meal toppers for picky pet eaters. We like them.

So that's it for March! If you missed the February review, read it right here. And tune back in next month, when I'll have another review to share.

If you're interested in getting your very own BarkBox, share the love and use this link. I'll get a free box. Thanks!

Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link. Should you click on it and make a purchase, I will get a free product in exchange. All of the opinions in this post are my own. No money changed hands in return for this review.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Blind cat introductions: How to do a cat-to-cat meet-and-greet

Lucy the blind cat
Before I turned Troy loose on my resident cats, I did a lot of reading about cat-to-cat introductions. Site swapping played a big role (and I wrote about that here). All was going well, except for the Lucy/Troy introductions.

Here's the issue.

In addition to site swaps, most cat-to-cat introductions involve separated feedings. One cat has a tasty bowl of food on one side of a door, and the other cat has the same setup on the other side. Then the door is replaced with a baby gate covered by a sheet. Then the sheet is gone. In time, the two cats are eating right by each other. By using this method, you demonstrate with sight and smell that the other cat is no threat. Every meal goes smoothly, with no fights, so the cats have proof that the other cat is peaceful.

It's hard to do this with blind cats.

Lucy can't see that Troy isn't menacing her. That means she isn't secure enough to eat. And since she isn't secure, her body position isn't friendly. That means Troy doesn't feel secure enough to eat. When I tried these introductions, I ended up with two cats facing one another and doing really nothing at all.

So here's what I tried.

Lucy will lose her mind for catnip. She'd rather have that above any other thing, even if it means she'll be attacked. When it comes to the herb, she doesn't care.

So I put her scratching post right by the baby gate, and I lured her to play with some catnip. She ran right up to roll and scratch and lick. Troy watched that from a distance, and I saw his body posture relax. She looked playful, not harmful. He could see her and smell her, and she ignored him. That made him a little more comfortable.

After a few sessions of this (like two), Troy started cheeping at Lucy during her play sessions. He's a friendly, kind cat and he wanted to join in her fun. He walked up to the gate, chirping and cheeping. She could hear that, and since those were friendly noises, she accepted them. She started to accept him. In time, they could touch noses through the gate.

After about a week of supervised feedings/playtime and site swaps, Troy was ready to have face-to-face meets. And he's done extraordinarily well. He's even won over Maggie, who typically hates everyone.
Troy and Maggie on the same bed

They're not exactly snuggling, but they have relaxed body postures. And they're in the same room. That's pretty good for a first meeting.

But Lucy needs more time. She isn't quite sure what this new cat is all about, and she's not sure she won't be harmed. She's not attacking Troy, but she is choosing to hiss at him just a little bit, especially if he gets too close.

I work hard to transfer scents. I pet him and then her. I swap out their bedding. I swap out their food. I say her name while petting him. I say his name while petting her. Every day she gets better.

But clearly, when it comes to blind cat introductions, the emphasis must be on introductions that come with sound and with scent. Those gated feedings just do not work on these sightless guys. By using toys, treats and scent, those introductions can go a little more smoothly.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Primal goat milk: A special dog treat with added health benefits

Liam the pug with his goat milk

Last weekend, I set out to fill my pet food shopping cart with delicious tidbits I could use to tempt a picky cat. One little treat I got had an unexpected benefit: The dogs love it! And as it turns out, this little treat is good for them, too.

The treat is made by Primal Pet Foods. It's goat's milk product that's enhanced with all sorts of probiotic goodies like lactobacillus and enterococcus. It's sold frozen, but within a day or two in the refrigerator, it warms right up for easy pouring.

I've been using this product to reconstitute the dehydrated raw food I serve to Liam and Sinead. Neither of these guys are picky pups, so they don't eat with more vigor now than they did before. But this product appeals to me because it could protect their internal health.

Multiple studies on humans have uncovered a strong tie between robust gut flora and robust physical health. (Here's one of my favorites. In this study, the researchers found that women who took in probiotics had changes in brain function, including changes involving emotional processing. What they ate changed how they thought. Wild, right?)

Now dogs aren't humans. That much we know. But, they do have digestive tracts that are quite similar to ours. If our guts benefit from robust flora, theirs might do the same.

And, these dogs often have tummy difficulties. They root around in the yard and eat things they shouldn't. They snack on grubs and dirt and grass, unless they're stopped. Plus, they hoover up anything they find on the kitchen floor. After a day of indiscriminate grazing, they have tummy rumbles like crazy.

I've used a powder to boost their gut flora content, and they don't seem to mind that much. But I like the idea of giving them something that's more like a treat to boost their health. So we'll definitely be picking up more of this stuff.

As an aside, do you wonder why the pug often gets the spotlight in these product reviews? Let me demonstrate how Sinead typically looks when she's asked to pose.

Sinead giving me the stink eye

Note the excellent stink eye capabilities here? She's never pleased to stand or sit next to a treat that she could be eating. So unfortunately, she rarely works as the headline model.

Sorry, Sinead fans! Liam will have to take the honors on this (and most) product reviews. Hope he'll be an acceptable substitute!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Brush those cat teeth! It could save you a ton of money

Troy the black kitty on the floor

Brushing a cat's teeth seems like a crazy-person activity. You know, it seems like the sort of thing that a cat-obsessed person might do while she's wearing a fur-covered robe and drinking from an "I love cats" coffee cup.

But in reality, there are many far-from-crazy reasons to brush those kitty choppers. For example, that brushing could save you a ton of money. 

Get this: A typical cat toothbrush starter kit costs less than $10. That whole thing should last at least 6 months. That means brushing your cat's teeth will cost you less than $20 a year.

But dentals? Those can cost a whole lot more.

Consider Troy. This guy has probably never had any kind of dental care in his life. His teeth are absolutely rotten, from the gum line on up. He needs antibiotics before he can even have a dental, but his stomach is sensitive, so we're looking for just the right meds to kill the germs and keep his digestive tract intact. Each med switch costs $20 or so.

The dental itself, with the multiple tooth extractions he probably needs, might end up costing $500 or a little more (less if he needs fewer teeth pulled).

So tooth brushing could have saved me $500 or even a little more.

Eamon is snacking on treats

How do I know this? Because Eamon, who is the same age as Troy (or perhaps a little older), has never needed a dental. He's still able to grab treats with his teeth, and he doesn't need intensive medical care to keep him chomping. That's because I brush his teeth, and I've been doing that for years. No $500 dentals for him. Brushing his teeth saves me money, and it keeps him in good health.

So go ahead! Risk being seen as the crazy cat lady. You'll save money and keep your cats healthier in the process. That's something anyone can get behind.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Crazy pug!

Liam the pug is upside down

Every once in awhile, Liam gets a yen to do some rolling. The urge typically strikes him when I'm reading (and therefore not paying attention to him at all). This is the sort of thing I see when I look down. How can I resist?

Be sure to leave me a note, so I'll know you were here for the hop, and do check out some of the other sites listed here, too!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The pug personality: How much do pugs sleep?

Liam the pug is falling asleep

Pugs are often described as big dogs in little packages, willing to spend a great deal of time playing with kids, chasing after balls and generally trying to amuse the people they live with. This might very well be true, but there's something else that's a key part of the pug temperament: sleeping.

Liam is a champion sleeper. Ever since he was a wee puppy, he's been deeply invested in getting a good night's sleep each and every night. He's often asleep long before I am, so his snores are part of the soundtrack I listen to when I'm drifting off to dreamland. And during the day, he sleeps a ton. He's sleeping right now, in fact.

On days in which I've asked Liam to do something big, like head out to a meetup or help in the garden, he's even more exhausted than he might be on a typical day. I snapped this video, for example, of Liam on the day I popped him out to the Portland pug meetup. It's harder to find a pug that's sleepier than this.


Meanwhile, this is what Sinead the Boston terrier looked like, just a few feet away. You'll notice that she's as spry as anything, ready to head right back out for another adventure.

Sinead is awake and looking at the camera

Sure, Sinead is a lot younger than Liam is, so she might have more energy due to her age. But in general, I find that Bostons just have more get-up-and-go, when compared to pugs. A pug likes to sleep. That's just what pugs do.

And it goes back to what these dogs were bred for. Pugs are companion animals, meant to keep their people happy. And since people tend to view a sleeping dog as a comfort (think of all of the paintings you've seen of a dog sleeping by a fire), it makes sense that pugs would sleep a lot. It's what their humans want from them.

Personally, I love this part of the pug personality. I like it when Liam sleeps. It's just part of what makes him a wonderful companion pet. But those hoping to get a pug and make it work all day should keep this in mind. Pugs might not have it in them to work all day. That's just not what they do.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Cat-to-cat introduction tutorial: How to do site swapping

Troy the cat looking out the window

By my count, Eamon and Maggie have been introduced to four cats. Each and every time I've brought a new cat into the home, my introduction has been brief (30 minutes or less) and things have gone swimmingly. The residents have always accepted the newbie with little more than a touch of hissing.

But, all of these cat-to-cat introductions have involved adult cats meeting one kitten. And it's possible that the greetings went so well because my cats felt compelled to protect the newcomer (not kill it).

So now that I'm trying to introduce an adult to a pack of adults, I need to do things a little differently. The first stage of the plan involves sequesters and site swaps.

During the sequester phase, Troy (the newbie) is kept away from the other cats. During the day, he's in the cat-free studio with the dogs, and in the evenings he's in a guest bedroom by himself. He can see just a little beneath the bedroom door, so he can watch the other house cats as they come and go, but he can't touch those other cats.

But I want him to know what these cats smell like, and I want them to know Troy by smell. So we're working on 30-minute site swapping.

During a site swap, the resident cats are confined while the newbie has free run of the house. That allows the newbie to map the house a little, and it gives that newbie a great deal of information about what the other cats smell like and what they have access to.

During Troy's first site swap last night, he ate a bit of the house-cat food, drank out of the house-cat water bowl and used the house-cat litter box. He sat in each and every one of the cat beds in the house, and he sunbathed on the windowsill for a bit. In short, he spent some time figuring out what it might be like to be a member of this household.

While Troy walked around, the resident cats spent some time in the bedroom, using his litter box, drinking his water and eating his food. They got to know him just a little better as a result.

I'm happy to report that there were no signs of bad behavior during this swap. No hissing, no inappropriate peeing and no open-mouth breathing. Everyone was very, very relaxed. And when they went back to their accustomed spots, no one seemed stressed about the behavior. That means I'm doing everything right, and I can keep using these swaps to help everyone get to know one another.

And, I can start work on the next phase of introductions: Door-to-door eating. More on that later this week!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Let's be clear: A declawed cat is not a safer choice for your pug

Liam the pug with his toy

In January, a New York legislator introduced a bill that would outlaw cat declawing. Most animal lovers (including me) were thrilled with this idea. I was so thrilled, in fact, that I hoped I'd see similar legislation pop up in Oregon, where I live.

But I've seen quite a few pro-pug people suggesting that they should have the option to declaw cats, since it's better for the health of their dogs. Here's just one example.

Check out this article, and then scroll on down to the comments (Update 20160729: They've disabled comments.). One poster here claims that she's declawed every cat she's had during the past 40 years, during which time she's rescued both cats and pugs. She suggests she won't be able to rescue cats, if this ban is passed, due to the dangers of cat claws and pug eyes.

This is all hokum, of course.

Pugs and Boston terriers do have rounded, exposed eyes. That's what makes them so adorable and so adoptable. They look like cute, wee babies for all of their lives.

But, those exposed eyes are vulnerable to injury. And those injuries can happen fast. Sinead had an eye ulcer, in fact, due to running into a table at high speed (here's a blog entry about that). When the eyes are big and buggy, they can get hurt. It happens.

But, both of my dogs have lived with cats for most of their lives. They've interacted with shy indoor cats and bold outdoor cats. They've both been slapped around quite a bit.

And you know what? Not one single eye injury (not ONE) has taken hold due to a cat claw.

That's worth stressing. When Liam met my husband's semi-feral cats for the first time, and those cats had never been around dogs, they did not hurt his eyes. They just did not. They swatted at him with their claws in, and his eyes were fine.

At the moment, Liam and Sinead are learning to live with sweet Troy, who has been declawed. And when the dogs come too close to him, he swats at them with his weaponless mitts. But are they safer? I don't think so.

Troy the cat stretched out on the floor
Troy takes a powder in the middle of the room. It's a risk, since
he has no claws to use if he's attacked or provoked.

If the dogs were to come too close to a weaponized cat, that cat could whip out the claws and do a head, leg, nose, ear or chest scratch. It could be a tiny little cut that's just enough to make them back off.

If Troy gets cornered, all he can do is bite. And let me tell you: Cat bites are nasty. They're deep, they hurt and they can cause scarring. He could bite them anywhere, and that damage could be killer.

So should we take out his teeth, too?

Of course not.

The answer isn't to take away a cat's defenses. The answer is to carefully supervise your cat/dog interactions. My dogs have zero access to cats when I am not around. They sleep in crates (Sinead) or in the bedroom (Liam) without cats when I am not home, and they spend time in the yard with the semi-ferals only when I am in the yard. They behave, because I make them do so.

I am hoping we pug people can come together to support legislation like the New York bill. The sooner we stop mutilating cats, the better off our entire world will be.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Introducing a new cat to your dogs: Height is key

Troy the kitty on a high shelf

I took the plunge. After months and months of resisting the allure of the shelter cats I blog about for Willamette Humane Society, I felt the need to add one to my own home.

So, without further delay, I introduce you to Troy. (Some of you might remember him from a blog I wrote a few weeks ago.)

Now I just need to introduce him to my dogs.

In this household, the dogs are the top of the food chain. The things they accept are the things all the other pets will accept. So, I am starting the household introductions with the dogs. And I'm working hard to make sure it goes just right.

Troy is declawed, so he can't harm the dogs with his claws (Update 3/13/2015: But he could very well bite them. They are not safer due to his lack of claws. I don't want anyone to read this as a love song to declawing.). And he has at least some history with dogs, so he should acclimate to them in time. But, cats can be unpredictable, so I'll need to do what I can to keep all the parties safe.

At the moment, that means using height. Troy can jump up on high beds and high shelves, where the dogs can't. I've given him plenty of access to windowsills, so he can get away as needed. And he has a few high beds he can leap on if he feels cornered. I'm hoping he'll use those.

But I am also working with Liam to help Troy feel comfortable with dogs. Liam has excellent cat-reading skills, and he's already picked up a bit of discomfort from Troy. He's giving my big boy a wide berth, and that could help to make Troy understand that many dogs can be trusted.

Introductions like this can take weeks to get right, so this will be an ongoing process.

But in the interim, please help me welcome Troy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Two-way dog head tip!

Liam and Sinead are both performing a head tip

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier are masters of the head tip. The trigger word for this beauty was "cookies." Not a surprise, right?

Please leave me a note, so I'll know that you were here. And do visit some of the other posts shown here. That's what a blog hop is all about!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cat book review: The Secrets of Lost Cats by Nancy Davidson

blind cat and book

What happens to families when their cats escape and can't be found? How long do they keep on looking? Do they ever get to see their cats again?

These are the sorts of questions Nancy Davidson tries to answer with The Secrets of Lost Cats: One Woman, Twenty Posters, and a New Understanding of Love, and her answers may surprise you.

I was interested in this book, as my neighborhood explodes with lost cat posters in the springtime. The weather warms up just a touch, and people seem willing to fling open their doors and let their cats explore at will. Many don't seem capable of getting back home again, and their owners beg for help with these little posters.

Davidson treats these posters like a mystery, and she devotes a chapter to each poster she finds. She contacts the writer, takes notes during the conversation, and then writes up her thoughts.

Spoiler alert: Many of the cats in these posters don't make it back home again. And second spoiler: Much of this book has to do with humans, not cats.

As a rule, cats make for terrible interview subjects. They don't speak clearly, and they're reluctant to share information. Since Davidson can't interview the cats, she talks with the people. And since she's a therapist, she talks a lot about how her interview subjects either do or don't fit into specific psychological profiles.

I found a lot of this really fascinating. For example, it wouldn't occur to me to think that a cat's disappearance could trigger a childhood feeling of abandonment. And, it wouldn't occur to me to think of a repeating conversation as a symptom of mental illness. Davidson makes these connections, and they say a lot about the mind of a therapist. I liked that.
cat reading a book
But I suppose I wanted the book to be more about cats, not about cat owners. The title implies that we'll learn about felines, so I thought this book would discuss where cats go when they're lost or how they survive when they're free and clear. I thought I'd see notes about tracking and rescue and miraculous survival. Instead, there's a lot of kitty introduction followed by human stuff. It's interesting, but I wanted more cat things.

Regardless, I would recommend this book for cat readers. The writing is really beautiful, and some of the insights Davidson provides are profound. I walked away with a lot to ponder.

I just wish there were more cat stories. Maybe in a sequel?


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.”


Monday, March 9, 2015

The March Portland Pug Meetup: Great pug fun!

Sinead the Boston terrier at the park

Sinead was all smiles during the Portland Pug Meetup this weekend. In fact, it's safe to say that she was the belle of the ball. There were no other Bostons in sight, so she stood out, and she wowed the crowd with her good looks and coquettish ways.

Here are a few of the reasons we'll be bringing her and pug Liam back next month.

1. Great socialization opportunities

There were dozens of pugs out on this bright and shiny March morning, which gave Liam and Sinead plenty of opportunities to greet and play with other dogs. Check out this crowd shot.

Pugs sniffing in a circle

Pug conga lines this this are awesome because they give these dogs a chance to learn to respect boundaries. Grumpy pugs give corrections when they're overwhelmed, which gives my dogs a chance to learn to read body language. And exuberant pugs that won't back off remind my dogs to come to me when they're overwhelmed. These are priceless lessons, and they're all over the place at these meetups.

2. No-fear running 

Liam loves to get his running on, and sometimes, he gets chased and overwhelmed in mixed dog parks. At a pug meetup, he's with similarly sized peers, so he can run everywhere without much worry. Here is is at the front of a running pack, with wee Sinead in the mix in the middle.

A group of pugs with Sienad in the middle

It's hard to find those exercise opportunities outside of a pug meetup, which makes them so valuable to me.

3. Deep-set exhaustion

Look how tired and relaxed Liam is on the way home.

Liam the pug in his kennel

He had a great time, full of new friends and new people, and he spent much of the rest of the day resting up after his big adventure. Sinead was the same. I love giving them the chance to really go all out, and the pug meetups provide that for me.

So we'll be back! If you were there, drop me a note! I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Reverse sneezing: What all Boston terrier owners should know

Sinead the Boston terrier in her bed

Flat-faced dogs like Sinead make all sorts of noises that other dogs simply don't make. She snorts and sniffles and wheezes, and sometimes, she even coughs. But she also makes a very specific set of noises when she's a little too excited and she has a little too much snot.

It's called "reverse sneezing," and it's pretty common for pups like Sinead, especially in the springtime. Thankfully, it sounds a lot scarier than it really is.

A reverse sneeze is nothing more than a dog's attempt to clear out a blocked nasal passage. Pups can't blow their noses gently, so they stand with their feet apart and blow air back out and back in, trying to move the mucus along.

When Sinead gets a fit, she stands with her feet far apart, and she holds that stiff posture until she clears that wee nose out. In a few minutes, she's done.

In most cases, it's best to leave reverse sneezing dogs alone. Typically, they'll go through the episode without a lot of stress, unless their owners stress out. If I get worried and I overreact, Sinead gets nervous, too. And then the episode lasts longer.

Sinead looks cute in her bed

But, if the whole problem seems to last and last without getting better, there are a few things owners can do to help. When Sinead seems stuck, I massage her throat very gently. Often, that makes her swallow, and that action helps to clear out her sinuses. If that doesn't work, I place my fingers over her nostrils for a second or two. As she inhales against my fingers, the blockage gets moved and she feels fine.

Dogs who reverse sneeze a lot (like daily) should see the doctor, experts say, as it could be a sign of some anatomical disorder. And episodes that last and last with no relief might also merit a visit to the doctor (or the emergency veterinarian, depending on the severity).

But, I've never had an episode of the wheezies last for more than just a few seconds. With a little patience and a touch of help, my dog gets through them without difficulty. I hope your dogs have the same experience!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

3 things that define a perfect cat bed

Lucy the cat in her bed

A courageous cat could make almost anything into a bed. Piles of laundry, warm windowsills or even human beds (as Maggie demonstrates here) make great snuggle spots for a cat in need of a nap.

But you know what works better? A bed that's made for a cat.

When cats sleep in their designated cat beds, they leave behind fewer pesky hairs on human furniture. And, cats sleeping safely in their spots have a reduced chance of getting stepped on or otherwise injured by fast-moving humans.

But, unfortunately, most cats won't just plop down in any bed you buy for them. They're picky, and if you don't pay attention to the picky, you get things that the cats won't use.

I've found that there are just three attributes my cats look for in beds. If I can provide those three things, I've got a winner.

Here they are.

1. The whole thing must be washable. 

Cats are tidy creatures, and while they don't like perfumed laundry soap and fabric softener, they also don't like beds that smell like vomit or litter boxes. My cats are much more likely to use beds that I wash frequently than they are willing to use beds that just can't be washed.

That means their beds must be so durable that I can sweep them up and toss them into the wash. No plastic parts, fancy fillings or intricate closings can be allowed. The whole thing should be durable enough to be tossed into the wash on a regular basis.

2. It should have at least two high sides.

My cats will spend a bit of time in a bed that doesn't have sides, as long as it's placed in a primo spot. Lucy is demonstrating that point up top, as she's lounging in a bed close to the window that doesn't have a lip to it. If the spot is good, the cats will accept almost any bedding.

But, all of my cats will flock to beds that have high, sturdy edges. Here's Eamon in the current favorite option.
Eamon the cat in his bed

Notice how he can lean against the edge of this bed. That seems to help him feel safe and secure, as though other cats can't creep up on him, so he can fall asleep without worrying. Sometimes, too, he uses these shelves as an impromptu pillow, resting his chin on the edge while he sleeps. I don't think he needs a pillow, but he likes to have one. And this bed has a built-in pillow for him. That's pretty much perfect.

3. The bed should be big enough to encourage sprawling or cuddling. 

Some companies sell wee little beds for cats, suggesting that these guys like to sleep in really tight spaces. I've tried a few of these beds, and my cats don't seem to enjoy them. They either like to sleep together in a ball, or they like to sprawl out.

Here's the size of the current favorite bed. Notice how much room Eamon has left over.

Eamon in his very big bed

This is the smallest size of bed that he will accept.

When I'm shopping, I try to picture fitting two 10-pound cats into the bed. If one wouldn't fit, the thing is too small.

When I find options with all of these attributes, I buy a ton of them. That's why my cats are often sleeping in different-colored variations of the same bed. Why mess with success? But I am in the market for some new beds, as these are growing just a touch raggedy (hence the blanket liner in the green bed; I'm trying to make it last), and I can't get this particular bed anymore.

Anyone out there know of a terrific bed manufacturer? Leave me a note in the comments if you do. I'd love to find a new source!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Boston terrier in pajamas

Sinead in her pajamas

Even though the days are warm, the nights are still super chilly. And that means Sinead is still (still!) wearing pajamas. She looks pretty good in them, right?

Sinead looks a little embarassed in her pajamas
Sinead pulling a puppy face

Thanks for looking. And do leave me a comment, so I'll know you stopped by!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

5 dog park behaviors to watch for

pug and Boston terrier on the grass
On Saturday, these two cuties will head to Tigard to romp around with a pack of pugs in an open dog park. Years ago, I took Liam to these things monthly. But now, it's rare for the dogs to go. And I figured I should prepare by brushing up on my dog-park monitoring skills.

After looking through my notes and doing a little comparative reading, I've come up with five behaviors I'll be looking for at the park. If I see any of them, I'll know it's time to intervene.

Here goes!

1. Humping. 

Yep, it happens. When a group of dogs come together, it's not at all unusual for them to figure out issues of rank through the use of humping. The dog on top is the dominant force, while the one on the bottom is not.

Some dogs react pretty cheerfully to humping. They recognize that they're not at the top of the ladder, and they go on about the rest of the play session without comment. But, I often find that humping leads to other nasty behaviors, like growling and chasing and fighting. That's why I intervene with humping, either by removing my dog from that part of the playground or speaking to the owner of the humper. A little proactive action goes a long way toward preventing problems.

2. Chasing. 

Liam loves both to chase and to be chased, and at 24 pounds, he's big enough to handle that kind of behavior from his fellow pugs. But Sinead is so much smaller at 7 pounds, and she runs the risk of being trampled if she's chased by pugs. Plus, Sinead gets worried while she's being chased, and that sense of fear can make a game turn serious in a hurry.

So if Liam chooses to do some chasing things, I won't say a word. But if Sinead joins in, I'll probably give her an in-the-arms time-out until the action settles down a little.

3. Guarding. 

Even though there are specific rules about toys at dog parks, it's not unusual for families to bring favorite toys for their pets. And sometimes, dogs get pretty snarky when their toys are interesting to other dogs. I've seen pups go into full smackdown mode over something really simple, like a ball or a stuffie.

Guarding behavior is really easy to spot, as it involves a high tail, a lot of barking and a great deal of growling. If I see behavior like that, off to another area of the dog park we will go.

4. Menacing. 

The park we're headed to is split into areas for big dogs and areas for little dogs. I like that, as it allows for much more safety for our wee dogs. But, there have been times when people choose to disregard the rules, and they bring big dogs into the little dog area, and those big dogs choose to get ugly.

There's a moment of menace that happens before a brawl. Lips curl, muscles tense and time slows down. That's the moment at which I call Liam to me, and we high-tail it outta there. Liam is 100 percent accurate in his recall in these situations, so I can get him out fast. But I remain on alert for that hint of violence, so I can step in just as soon as I need to do so.

5. Muzzle punching. 

Since we'll be surrounded by pugs, it's unlikely that we'll see a lot of exuberant dog-to-dog behavior. Pugs seem to have the same play style, and it involves a lot of running and play bowing. But, there are some dogs that punctuate a play bow with a muzzle smack. They hold their lips tightly closed, clench their jaws, and pop the other dog with that tube-like weapon.

Liam is absolutely intolerant of muzzle punches. I have no idea why, but he will flip his lid if he's punched more than once like this. He shows his irritation my coming to me and asking to leave. He is dead serious about this.

So I watch the crowd for the punchers. If I see them, I try to keep Liam away from them. That allows us to stay longer at the park. But if the punchers appear and he wants to go, of course, we will go. This is supposed to be fun for him, and if he's not enjoying it, we will head on out, ASAP!

So wish us luck at our pug adventure! And if you're at this Portland pug meetup, do come up and say hello. I'd love to chit-chat!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Shelter stories: Meet Troy the cat

black cat in an animal shelter
Once a week, I do a bit of volunteering with the Willamette Humane Society. I clean up the cat cages, spend time socializing the wee ones and then write up a blog post about a few select cats. Sometimes, the cats I work with stick with me, even though they don't seem to resonate with potential adopters. I thought I'd talk them up in a series of posts I'm calling "shelter stories." Here's the inaugural edition. 

Sweet cat Troy forced our meeting. As I was dashing by his kennel to pick up supplies, Troy hopped up out of bed to give me a little chirrup of greeting.

I was hooked.

At the time, there were something like five cats in the shelter that were just like Troy. All of these cats had ebony fur. All were older than 10. And all of them had excellent multi-pet histories. I just knew one of the four would be left behind. With such a big selection of cats who have the same attributes, one is bound to be overlooked.

Troy was the unlucky one, and four weeks later, he is still waiting.
black cat in a shelter
On the one hand, I can understand why a family might resist his charms. He's at least 10 years old (maybe older), so he doesn't have years and years of happy life left to devote to a family. For those afraid of loss, picking a younger cat might seem wise.

And, Troy is a thin little guy. He was found as a stray, and since he has no claws, he probably struggled to find food to eat. He can't bring down birds and rodents like other cats. And since he has no weapons on his hands, he can't fight his way to food bowls. So he got thin while he was in the wild. Petting him is a sad reminder of his rough life, as you can feel his little bones.

That kind of thinness is hard for Troy to overcome in the shelter, in part, because he is so friendly and engaging. He leaps right up whenever he sees people, and he doesn't lie down unless he gets attention. That activity burns a lot of calories, and it doesn't leave him with a lot of spare time in which to eat. So he came in thin and he's still thin. It's a problem, and it could be part of what keeps this guy from getting adopted.

But, Troy is doing his part. In fact, he's working really hard at salesmanship.

He uses chirping and cheeping to draw your attention. He reaches out of his kennel to grab at your hands and hair. And should you open the kennel door, he leaps out to give full hugs while he purrs. He's trying to tell a family how much he wants a home. I'm just hoping someone out there will listen.

I'm keeping my eye on Troy, and I'm looking forward to seeing him on Wednesday. I have some ideas about treats he might like. But, gentle readers, I encourage you to share his story. I'd like to see him adopted. Soon. Can you help?

Update: I'm a sucker, and I took Troy home myself. Now, he's a regular in this blog. Read his inaugural post involving introductions right here.