Monday, October 31, 2016

A dog-friendly Halloween in 3 easy steps

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier with their pumpkins

Halloween has always been a special holiday for pug Liam. I brought him home just a few weeks before Halloween, so it was the first holiday we celebrated as a family. I'd like to think that he has at least a few good memories concerning costumes, candy and celebrations. (Including this year, when he dressed up like a spider. Good times.)

But Halloween can be a little disconcerting or even downright frightening for some dogs--including fearful dogs like Sinead the Boston terrier. When she thinks about Halloween, her memories might not be filled with fun and happiness.

There's a lot you can do to help fearful dogs--or dogs in general--to enjoy the Halloween season. Here are my top 3 tips.

Sinead the Boston terrier and a pumpkin

1. Invest in delicious dog snacks. 

My dogs are both very food oriented, and there's very little they won't do if they think there's a treat reward waiting for them. I can boost up their affection for a day that's important to me if I provide them with some kind of tasty snack.

Hubby and I tend to make some kind of feast for Halloween. This year, we're making a turkey. Liam and Sinead will be thrilled to get just a tablespoon of lean meat, and that's not a snack that will pack a huge caloric punch.

If you're not that into cooking on a Monday (and many people aren't), a dog cookie snack might do the trick. The idea is to provide a sort of out-of-the-blue treat the dogs don't have to work for. That makes the day itself rewarding, and it might be just the thing your dogs have been hoping for.

2. Use your happy voice. 

Halloween is filled with scary noises. Even the jazz radio station I habitually listen to has been playing songs scattered with sounds of women screaming, cats wailing, chains rattling and things moaning. Dogs hate these sorts of noises.

When I hear unusual noises, I whip out the happy voice. It's higher than my normal speaking voice, and I tend to use a sort of sing-song cadence. I tell the dogs things like: "Isn't this fun?" or "Aren't we having a great time?" or "Isn't that silly?" The dogs know this is the voice I use when something wonderful is about to happen. Using it in moments when sounds have them scared can help them to break unpleasant associations and learn to tolerate these weird noises a little better in the future. 

Liam the pug in his tie

3. Take the wee ones on a ghoulish walk.

I don't take in trick-or-treaters on Halloween, as the commotion is too hard for blind cat Lucy to tolerate. But Liam likes to see small children having fun. And the more I can expose Sinead to small children, the less likely she is to be afraid of them. Walks help a lot.

On Halloween, I like to take the dogs for a walk at dusk. They see plenty of people dressed up in costume, and if it's not raining, I have them wear costumes, too. They see a lot of friendly people, and they get a lot of attention. Liam lives for attention, so he loves this. Sinead can tolerate it with cookies, and it's good for her training.

Remember: Halloween comes with some safety dangers for dogs, so you will want to be cautious. but I hope I've given you some good ideas on how to make the holiday canine friendly. Let me know what you think in the comments, okay?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

What's Halloween like for a blind cat? A Sunday Selfie question

Lucy the blind cat prepares for Halloween

Like most blind cats, Lucy enjoys holidays. She likes it when the people have time away from work (so they can spend more time with her!), and she likes the extra food that comes with big celebrations. She may not be able to eat most human foods, but she enjoys a good nibble of meat from the human's plate from time to time.

But there's one holiday Lucy really hates. And I thought I'd use our photo shoot time for the Sunday Selfie from The Cat On My Head to help her prepare.

Yup, Lucy hates Halloween.

Lucy the blind cat with her toy

For starters, Lucy really doesn't like it when the humans wear costumes. She has an idea in her head about how big we humans are and how much sound we typically make when we walk, bend or run. A costume can make us seem much bigger than we are normally, and most make some kind of nose when we walk. Whenever I am wearing a costume, Lucy hunkers onto the floor like a flat little thing. She seems to know I'm underneath the costume, but she doesn't like me wearing it.

Then, there are the candles. Lucy doesn't like candles at all, as she knows they're typically hot and a little unpredictable. A few of the Halloween decorations I once owned came with candle attachments, so I could do fun flicker effects. Lucy was absolutely terrified of those, so away they all went--with one exception. I have to keep that in rooms where Lucy won't go.

Lucy the blind cat poses for her selfie

And finally: The dreaded doorbell. Most animals don't like doorbells, but Lucy is petrified of the sound. She has no idea who is coming in or going out, and since the dogs tend to bark when the bell rings, there's a lot of chaos due to a doorbell.

Keeping Lucy safe on Halloween means trying to keep kids away from the front door. I put candy out on the front porch so they can grab and go, and if that doesn't work, I turn off the lights. For added protection, we all nestle in for movie night on Halloween, so Lucy can spend time with us without hearing the commotion outside.

She's worth it, right?

Do your cats hate Halloween, too? Leave me a note and let me know how you handle things.

Thanks as always to our hosts for the awesome hop!

And be sure to visit a few other blogs before you go. You'll be glad you did!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Celebrate National Cat Day: 5 reasons to adopt a cat!

Popoki the cat in her bed

This little red bed is, hands down, the favorite cat nap spot for sweet Popoki. If she isn't outside watching the birds from her catio, she's snoozing away the hours in this little bed (which is made for dogs, but that's a story for another day).

Anyway, she looks very relaxed in this bed. And she should. When she's in this bed, she feels warm and protected and safe.

But it wasn't always this way.

Just a year ago, Popoki was one of the estimated 3.4 billion cats that entered the shelter system, looking for a new home. Luckily, she found me. Many other cats aren't so very lucky.

And October 29th is devoted to all of those shelter cats. It's National Cat Day, and here are 5 reasons you should celebrate the day by heading to the shelter to take home a new companion.

1. This is a slow time for cat adoptions. 

During the summer season, animal shelters are absolutely stuffed with little kittens, and they are very alluring to most families. They work a little like bait to bring adopters in, and often, adopters take home an older cat when they can't find the kittens they want. The kittens bring them in, but the adult cats seal the deal.

In the winter, all of that stops. There are no little kittens to bring adopters through the shelter doors, and that means adult cats languish and hope people will come to visit them. If you adopt now, you're helping to ensure those older cats aren't forgotten.

2. This is a great time to introduce a new cat to your home. 

The holidays can be full of hustle and bustle. But they're also full of time away from work and school. That makes the holiday season a great time to bring home a new family member. You'll be around to make introductions, conduct playtime and otherwise help the new cat to understand the rules of your household. If you're off at work or school, those tasks are a little harder to complete.

Popoki looking tired and regal in her cat bed

3. There are far more cat looking for homes than families looking for cats.

Let's face it: Many cats that enter the shelter system just never make it out again because there are too many cats and too few homes. Every time a family chooses to take home a cat, those numbers even out just a little bit more. Your adoption could, almost certainly, help a cat to avoid a shelter death. 

4. The cat you rescue is bound to be your devoted friend for life. 

I think cats know when people rescue them. They can sense what they avoided, and they can be very loyal to the families that save them from the difficulties they might have faced alone. Popoki, for example, is one of the most loyal and loving cats I have ever met, and she always looks for me and tries to cuddle with me, even when I am working. Sure, she might have been like this even if I didn't rescue her. But I think it's more likely she feels this way about me because I did rescue her. She knows I helped her. 

5. Because: cats! 

Why do you need a reason to take home a cat? They're awesome little bundles of fun, whether they're playing or sleeping or just looking gorgeous. Everyone should have one.

So what do you say? How are you going to celebrate National Cat Day? Leave me a note in the comments, won't you? Love to hear your plans.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Pumpkins and dogs: A perfect Halloween combination

Sinead the Boston terrier and her pumpkin

Boston terrier Sinead has a few extra navigation steps to take when she's ready to walk out the front door for our dog walks. Over the weekend, I purchased these mammoth pumpkins and I'm planning to carve them up for a wonderfully festive Halloween backdrop for the handful of trick-or-treaters we entertain every year.

So these guys are just for decoration. And they make a nice backdrop for a Wordless Wednesday photo shoot.

But posing Sinead with these pumpkins reminds me of all of the benefits these veggies have for small dogs like her.

Sinead the Boston terrier closes her eyes

As the dog of a blogging human, Sinead is exposed to a great deal of variety in her diet. She is often trying new dog treats, new dog food and new dog shampoos. Every day, she's trying something new. While I do my part to read ingredients and question providers before I offer Sinead anything new, there are times when the things she tries just don't agree with her. And that means her poop moves from firm to liquid.

Pumpkin really is a lifesaver here. Pumpkin is packed with fiber, so it can absorb liquid that's moving through the digestive tract. That absorption helps to slow the food down, so the liquid can be absorbed before it leaves the body as diarrhea. A tablespoon in her meal does her a great deal of good.

Pumpkin is also a low-calorie treat that tends to be filling and satisfying. If Sinead feels like her meal rations are a little too small, I can add pumpkin to her meals to help her feel a little more full when she's done eating. That can help her stick to a diet and lose weight without feeling as though she's missing out on the foods she wants to eat.

Sinead the Boston terrier watching the squirrels

Even though pumpkin does have a lot of benefits, there are some things to be aware of. Firstly, if you're choosing to feed canned pumpkin, make sure you're buying pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling). I also look for added sugars and salts. The less that's in those cans, the better.

And, don't think you can recycle a carved pumpkin into dog food. While it's true that dogs do have hearty digestive systems, they can be sensitive to mold. And the inside of a carved pumpkin is absolute mold perfection. It might be tempting to keep a pumpkin out of a compost heap, but this just isn't safe.

Do you feed your dogs pumpkin? I'd love to hear about it, especially if you prepare it (rather than buying a canned product). Shoot me a note in the comments and let me know!

And do be sure to visit the other blogs in this hop from BlogPaws. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Cat playtime! 3 key ways to make time for cat play

Fergus the cat playing with his new toy

Christmas came a little early for the menagerie cats. The nice man in blue came with a huge box stuffed with cat toys, and everyone has been sampling these toys all week long (more on that in a minute).

Since the cats (all of them) have been playing so frequently this week, I've seen a dramatic decline in behaviors I don't like, including chasing and mock charging and pawing at the humans. These guys have been playing really hard and then sleeping really hard. In short, they're enjoying life a little more.

That's something I want to encourage. The happier my cats are, the better! And it means I'm adjusting my life in just a few ways to ensure that everyone has playtime everyday. Here's what I'm doing.

1. Replace social media time with cat play dates.

Like most people who have smart phones, I'm accustomed to snatching a few minutes here and there for precious Facebook, Twitter and Instagram time. A quick 15-minute browse through all of my channels helps me to feel at least somewhat connected to the virtual world.

But the real world is a little more important, don't you think?

Replacing just one of these social media checks with a cat play date helps to ensure that the cats get a little playtime sprinkled throughout the day. And spending time with the cats is rewarding for me (and some studies suggest that spending time on social is actually bad for your mental health). Replacing something potentially bad with something potentially good seems like a winner all around.

Fergus the kitten with his toy

2. Invest in self-directed cat toys. 

This one is super easy for me, as I won an amazing giveaway of interactive pet toys from SmartyKat (thank you, Sweet Purrfections!). This blog post is illustrated with photos of little kitten Fergus playing with an interactive, battery-operated, twirly ball. The more he bats at it, the more it moves and spins.

Toys like this are great for those hectic moments when a kitty needs to play, but you don't have time to completely direct the play session. I've been setting this toy down when I'm doing something like washing the dishes. When I'm done, I pick it up and round out the play date with 5 minutes of laser toy play. He gets a workout in, and I get my tasks done.

Fergus playing with a cat toy

3. Keep kitty toys handy.

Some cats, including Fergus, will do something akin to fetching. If I throw a cat toy his direction, he'll scamper after it and play with it for a few minutes before growing bored and coming back for more attention. I keep a bowl of mice and pom poms and other little toys in an easily accessible place, like the coffee table. That way, when I'm reading or talking on the phone, I can toss him a toy and keep him engaged in play. It's not terribly distracting for me, and it keeps him busy.

Bowl of cat toys

Playing with your cats is a commitment, to be sure. It takes planning and dedication, so you stick with the goals you've set out. But the enrichment your cats get from your small devotion to play is really huge.

How often do you play with your cats? And how do you stay motivated to keep the playdates going? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know!

Monday, October 24, 2016

October 2016 BarkBox review: Spooky dog toys and dog treats!

Liam the pug with his BarkBox

Liam the pug might not look very excited. But believe you me: This is one thrilled little dog. Why? Because the mailman brought him his BarkBox shipment while I was away from home at a business conference. He's been staring at that box for about a week, just waiting for me to get home so we could open it up and investigate what's inside. He tells me the wait was more than worthwhile, due to the really cool dog toys and dog treats we got this month.

Let me tell you more!

First, let's talk about the favorite toy in the shipment, both for the dogs and for the humans.

Liam the pug with his new toy

I adore a good Halloween gag, and this month's shipment had plenty of things for me to chuckle over. But this toy is the funniest one we got. Yes, it's shaped like a plot of earth with an attached tombstone dedicated to a squirrel. This thing cracks me up.

But it's a great dog toy, too. Every square of the turf contains a little squeaker toy for the dogs to play with, and the headstone also has a squeaker. It's very durable, and it seems enjoyable to gnaw on, as Sinead has been attached to it since it arrived.

Now, let's talk treats. We had three different snacks in this month's shipment.

Three sets of treats from BarkBox

We've received these marrow bones from Butchers Block Pet Treats in prior boxes, and I know the dogs really love them. My dogs aren't able to swallow the bones whole, and they've never chipped the bones with their teeth. They eat the marrow, rip the skin off the edges and call it good. But they need about 30 minutes to do all that work, so these are great treats to hand out when you need to get a lot done.

Next, we have a meat-based treat from Caru. They're grain-free snacks, and the first ingredient is beef. They're a fairly firm treat (a little like jerky), and I know my dogs will appreciate them when we're out on our walks.

And finally, we have some soft treats from a company called Chloe & Cupcake (which doesn't have a website--so weird). These are very soft treats made of duck and pumpkin, and my dogs are absolutely obsessed with them. They did all sorts of tricks for them this morning, and I expect that to continue.

We had one more toy in our box, shaped like a broomstick. Very clever, and Sinead took to it right away.

Sinead the Boston terrier and her toy

She didn't even let me put it down before she started chewing, and that's typically a sign that we've hit on a toy she'll like for quite awhile.

Lest I forget, there was one more thing in this shipment that made another family member happy.

Popoki the cat sitting in her box

Popoki loves to sit in these boxes, although she barely fits. I always leave them behind for her.

That's it for this month's shipment! If you'd like to see reviews of prior boxes, click here or here or here or here. And if you want to try your own BarkBox, use my code for a discount. And leave me a comment, so I'll know you were here!

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.”

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sleepy cat Sunday selfies

Maggie the cat asleep on her bed

Maggie the cat was my chosen feline for today's Sunday Selfie post, although she decided to take a low-key approach to her photography session. In fact, I couldn't get her to get up out of bed at all for her photo. So I took my photos as she drifted in and out of sleep.

Someone hoping to get photos of alert, awake cats would have do to a great deal of planning. After all, most experts suggest that cats sleep for about 12 to 16 hours per day. That long sleep time is something they inherit from their large-cat ancestors, who also sleep a great deal.

Big cats need to sleep so much because they expend so much energy when they find a prey animal, chase it, kill it and then eat it while defending the kill from other predator animals, including hyenas and vultures.

It's a lot of work!

Maggie the cat almost asleep in her bed

Maggie is no huntress, and she's never chased anything through the savanna. But, she also lives her life with a pesky kitten that seems to have an endless passion for play. Often, her naps are interrupted by a small cat that stalks her or pounces on her or chases her. She has to sleep when she can, so she can be ready to rumble when he wants to play again.

Lately, I've been working hard to take the pressure off of Maggie, so I've been playing a few games of my own with the little mister.

I recently got a big jackpot of toys (more on that on Tuesday, so check back!), and I've been devoting at least 30 minutes to playing with Fergus each day.

Think it's working?

Fergus the kitten asleep

Fergus has been sleeping harder these days, as he's pretty worn down by all of the play and stimulation. And he's been less inclined to start unprovoked play sessions with Maggie, because the two of them have been playing together in games I've been directing.

Fergus covers his eyes

Fergus would like the camera to go away so he can get back to his nap. I'll leave him to it.

Thanks as always to our hosts from The Cat on My Head. This is such a fun hop, and I look forward to it all week.

Before you visit the other blogs in the hop, leave me a comment, won't you? I'd love to know more about you and your cats.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shelter cat stories: Meet Cole the rescue Persian cat!

Cole the black Persian cat

Nothing makes me happier than helping a sweet cat to move out of a shelter and into a loving home. This week, I had the honor of helping this sweet guy to do just that.

Meet Cole. He's about 3yo, and he was found by a good Samaritan in a nearby neighborhood. We was hungry and searching for food, but walking was really hard for him. He was packed tight with mats that pulled on his skin, and every step pulled those mats a little tighter.

This kind lady took the kitty in, but she made a pretty crucial mistake. She tried to brush his mats out.

Cats with deep mats are in a great deal of pain, and brushing these cats can intensify that pain. It's a lot like pulling hair, and each pull has the potential to rip a cat's skin. This sweet guy tried to tolerate it, but when the brushing wouldn't stop, he bit his savior. So she brought him to the shelter to get additional help.

Cole the Persian cat in profile

Since Cole had bitten a person, he was required to spend a little time in quarantine. But when he was up for adoption, my phone lit up with messages. The team at Willamette Humane Society knows that I have a thing for flat-face pets, so they tell me when they have new babies in the house.

And when I saw him, I got an idea.

My sister has a longstanding passion for Persians, but she's been without a cat for many years now. She's been looking for a new kitty, so I sent a photo over to her, just to see what she thought. We started talking temperament and personality, and I went to meet this guy to see if he might be a good fit for her family.

Cole the sassy cat

Since he arrived in the shelter, kitty had been shaved (to remove the mats) and he'd been neutered (which might keep him from wandering away the next time). Despite all of those treatments, he remained very bold and sassy in his kennel, rolling over when he got any kind of attention and batting at the hands of people when they walked away.

The team put the cat through his paces, as I told them he'd be living in a noisy household with sports fans, plenty of guests and a very intelligent and inquisitive 4yo boy. Kitty was unflappable under even intense testing. It seemed like kismet.

So on Sunday, I brought kitty (now named Cole) to meet his new family. And I've been promised many, many updates.

There are a couple of takeaway points here. First, this is yet another example of a purebred cat in an open shelter. Anyone who says shelter cats are all "mutts" would be wise to learn about Cole (and Popoki). Also, this is a shelter cat with no behavioral problems. Anyone who says shelter cats all come with problems might also like to learn about Cole.

And finally: Even if you don't volunteer in a shelter, never underestimate the good you can do in getting shelter cats good homes. Share their stories. Do a little cat pimping. Help them to get out. It's such a great feeling when you know you have saved a life.

Thanks for reading! Be sure to leave a comment, so I'll know you were here.

And visit the other blogs in the hop! You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Feral cats love selfies, too

Jasper the cat sitting on his hot tub

Feral cats can be hard to love. They flee when we try to pet them. They pee on our cars. They poop in our flower beds. They fight all night and keep them awake. Some people would go so far as to say that a feral cat is a nuisance that should be eliminated.

Jasper here, who is about to celebrate his 16th birthday, almost lost his life due to that thinking. So I thought it was appropriate for him to pose for today's Sunday Selfie Series for The Cat on My Head. After all, today is National Feral Cat Day.

Jasper started life as a kitten in a colony of feral cats that had set up shop in a warehouse in Portland. There were many cats in this colony, and there was no infrastructure to support them. None of them were neutered. As a result, these guys eliminated everywhere, they fought for food and there were more of them every day. It was a very difficult and terrifying life, and at one point, the owner of the warehouse promised to bring in an extermination team to kill all of the cats onsite and stop the problem for good.

Jasper the cat

A group of concerned citizens stepped up to trap, spay and rehome as many cats as they could before the extermination date arrived, and Jasper was one of the lucky ones that was saved. He was a little less than a year old when he was trapped, and he was very fearful and worried for the first year of his rescue.

Hubby was a part of this rescue, and he worked with Jasper to help acclimate him to the kindness that humans had to offer. In time, Jasper did learn to trust. (Some of the other cats hubby rescued were never this trusting.) But he maintains a few feral habits, including a complete disregard for cleanliness and a deep-set need to fight with other cats. So he lives outside, with a heated space to sleep.

Many feral cats in Jasper's colony weren't so lucky. Those that couldn't be trapped were killed. It didn't have to be this way.

I support trap/neuter/release programs for cats like Jasper--particularly programs that assess the ferals for adoptability. Programs like this can shear cats with potential for good homes away from the feral life. These programs also allow altered cats to live in the communities they know, without reproducing. And they allow active communities to feed those cats where they live, so they aren't constantly fighting for food. 

Today, I stand with Ally Cat Allies to support TNR. I think Jasper would be proud of that.

I also wanted to thank everyone who responded with such kindness and concern this week, due to Popoki's dental. I'm happy to say that she recovered from anesthesia quite nicely, and she didn't need any dental extractions. She's still not eating as much as I might like, but her anorexia is getting better. I think we're on the mend.

Popoki the cat sleeping in her chair

I'm glad she's better, as I'm heading out of town on a business trip today. So she'll be leaning on hubby for care (and she can be a little more aloof with him than she is with me). I hope she doesn't test him!

Since I'll be out of town, I won't be blogging on Monday, Tuesday or Thursday (as I normally do). But I have something really special to share on Wednesday, so be sure to check back.

And check out the links. You'll be glad you did. And leave me a comment, so I'll know you were here! I'll be back next Sunday with more great cat photos to share with you.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

How can you help when your old pug can't go for a walk?

Old pug on his bed

Liam the pug lives to go for walks. He always has. In fact, when he was a very tiny puppy, he insisted on going for walks with his older brother dog--and he refused to let me carry him even one step. He uses walks to investigate the world around him, and he never gets tired of reading peemail or searching for hidden berries and snacks. Walks make him happy.

But lately, Liam has also been showing some troubling signs of arthritis. He wobbles and hobbles a bit when he first gets up out of bed, and when he does go for walks, he seems to tire quickly. Sometimes, he even lets me pick him up and carry him on the way home.

It's possible that he's still dealing with the after-effects of his summertime back injury. If so, this might be an issue that could be resolved with medications and therapy (which I will be discussing with his veterinarian post-haste).

But it reminds me that Liam is aging. Even if he gets up to 100 percent this fall, there will come a time when he will simply not be able to go for our 2-time-per-day walks. His body will wear out.

Liam the aging pug

So how can I help him to stay connected with an activity he loves so much, even when he's unable to engage in that activity?

There are a couple options.

I could use a cart to help him go on walks. I have a little stroller I used this summer when Liam hurt his back, and while he prefers to walk over being pushed, he did seem to enjoy the opportunity to be out in the fresh air in his cart. I could work on training him to accept that cart more fully, and I could pop him in that cart on days when the walk seems as though it's too much to bear.

I could also work packing as much into a walk as I can while shortening the distance that we walk. Doing scent work by tossing treats into the grass and staying in place while he looks for them could help to engage his mind without making him put so many miles on his feet.

And I may also consider looking for more engaging toys to enrich his home life. Food puzzle toys, tug toys and chew toys all help him to use his body without walking long distances. They also give his mind a workout, which he might enjoy.

I know I'm not the only one out there with an aging animal, and I'd love to hear how you help your pets to stay active and engaged when walks become a little less than ideal. Share your comments, won't you?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Pretty kitty needs a not-so-pretty cat dental

Popoki the cat poses in front of books

Normally, Popoki is a picture of cat health. Her fur is glossy, her eyes are bright, her gait is even and her breath is sweet. She's young and very robust, so I rarely worry about her health. But over the weekend, she started showing very minor symptoms of illness. And if I hadn't acted on them, her health could have taken a very serious turn for the worse.

On Friday afternoon, Popoki decided to eat about half of her lunch. On Saturday, she wouldn't eat her lunch at all. By Sunday, she'd started to skip breakfast and lunch. And on Monday, she wasn't eating anything at all.

Cats like Popoki can be in deep trouble if they don't eat regularly. A cat's body in starvation mode secretes a huge amount of fat, and all of that fat can get picked up by the liver. A fatty liver causes severe nausea, which makes a cat feel even worse. In time, a cat like this won't eat at all. And it can lead to death. (That's what happened to foster cat Panda.)

Popoki the cat caught in mid-yawn

I started force-feeding Popoki on Monday, to ensure she got the calories she needed to keep her liver healthy. And I started looking closely at her habits. She was walking normally, using the box normally, drinking water without issue and purring when approached. She was out in the open (no hiding), but she didn't really want her head touched.

Major clue.

When I opened up her little mouth, I got a gander at some really nasty looking teeth. She has deep plaque on the gum line, and some of her more prominent teeth are stained with black. She didn't want me to touch her head overmuch, so I couldn't get a great look at what was happening, but what I could see had me worried.

Yesterday, she went in to the vet for some bloodwork, urine work and a physical exam. All was clear, aside from that sensitive mouth. Her doctor could see even fewer teeth than I could.

Popoki the cat looking pensive

Popoki was sent home with pain medications, and an hour after she got that dose, she started eating again. So the symptoms I was seeing were caused by pain. And today, she's in the clinic for a sedated oral exam, tooth cleaning and possible extractions.

Popoki isn't yet 3 years old, and I brush her teeth nightly, so it's a little surprising that she would have these serious dental issues. But her breed does put her at risk. That flat face pushes her teeth into a strange pattern, and it's possible she collects more food in her teeth than does a cat with a standard mouth. This might be just one of plenty of dental procedures she needs throughout her cat life.

But I'm thankful that I know what to look for in the future. She is so sweet and kind-hearted and trusting, so she simply won't show me pain if she can help it. Instead, she'll just stop eating. That will be my hallmark to watch for in the future.

Wish her good luck at the dentist's! And do leave me a note so I'll know you were here, okay?

And if you'd like, consider joining this hop from BlogPaws and meet more dogs and cats. You'll love it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Shelter cat stories: Can you help Blair?

Blair the shelter cat

As most of you readers know, I had to step away from volunteering with the cats at Willamette Humane Society this fall. It was a tough decision, and one I didn't make lightly, but it was the right decision for me. Even though I am no longer in the shelter regularly, I will admit to watching the organization's adoptable cat page pretty regularly. And there's a familiar face on there this week that needs a bigger community.

Meet Blair.

I met this sweetheart of a girl cat back in June, when she was very new to the shelter system. She'd been found alone and starving in a Salem neighborhood, and she was unable to walk very well. She was also quite grumpy about having her belly and her legs touched.

As it turns out, Blair had endured some sort of trauma (kicked? hit by a car?), and she had an abdominal hernia. When I met her, she was in the cone of shame during her recovery from that surgery, and she was a little unsure about most of the people she met.

Blair the cat recovering from surgery

I worried about her and her chances for adoption, but when she wasn't wearing her cone, she seemed a little happier about people touching and petting her. She started to learn to trust. And then, she moved into a communal space with a very friendly and very adoptable cat, and the magic happened.

When she had this big-guy roomie as a mentor, she became a lot friendlier and a lot more confident. She started flirting with people through her windows. She started to find happiness again.

Two cats living together

I had hoped this pair would be adopted together, but that didn't happen. The black cat (Monkey) went to a great home, and Blair went into a home that didn't work out for her due to financial problems. So back she came to the shelter.

I don't want Blair to sit in the shelter for months, waiting for the right family. I want her shelter cat trip to be blissfully brief this time. But that means we need to network her. She is in Salem, Oregon right now. I'm wondering if there's anyone out there who can come and get her. Or if there's a reader out there who might be willing to do a form of transport. I'd like to get sweet Blair out of the shelter and into a home where she can thrive. It seems only fitting.

What do you think of sweet Blair's story? Can you think of a way to help that I haven't mentioned here? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know, okay?

Monday, October 10, 2016

3 foolproof ways to keep dogs out of the kitchen

Liam the pug loves the kitchen

If Liam the pug had to name a favorite space within my house, I know just what he'd bark about: a 3-foot space that sits right in front of the stove. This space gets grease splatter when my husband is frying things, and sometimes, said husband drops hot morsels of things like meat in that same space. So, not surprisingly, Liam tries to spend as much time as he can in that space when dinner is cooking.

As you can imagine, this is a huge problem.

Many of the things we humans eat (like onions) are simply not safe for dogs to eat. And many very hot things (like sausage) can burn a pug if they move right from the pan into his gobbling mouth.

Also, it's very hard to do anything involving cooking when there is a small dog standing in the exact space in which you need to stand to keep the food prep moving.

So keeping Liam and Sinead out of this space is vital. And since I believe in positive reinforcement training (not yelling and punishment), that means I have to get creative about making the kitchen spot less appealing and rewarding.

Here's what works for me.

1. Designate a treat space. 

Pugs are food motivated little creatures, and that means they can be lured away from one space with another food item that is both delicious and readily available. The key is to work on the "wait" command, so the dogs will move into this space and stay there until the treat is ready to eat.

Liam the pug with his treat

In the summertime, I use the great outdoors as the treat space. When the meal work is ongoing, the dogs head outside for some sort of chewy treat, like a jerky stick. That keeps them out from underfoot and happily chewing on something good, instead of lurking in the kitchen.

In the fall and winter, that's a little harder. The dogs don't want to head out into the rain for anything, even snacks. But, I have had good luck in using a bedroom with the door closed. They eat their treats and wait happily until I open the door again.

2. Enforced play during dinner prep.

Treats are great, but dogs that eat treats all the time can quickly become dogs that are absolutely huge. Playtime helps, as it distracts them from the snacks they'd like to eat, while they burn calories. Liam and Sinead both enjoy a good game of fetch, and they'll happily run after a ball as long as I'll throw it. If I'm cooking, I ask them to bring me the ball while I'm at the stove, and I can just kick it away for them to grab. If it's not my turn to cook, we can play tug or fetch in another room while hubby cooks. He can also play tug or fetch while I cook.

3. Beds on the perimeter. 

If I'm doing something long and complicated, so I can't either play or bribe with treats, I use nap spaces. Liam and Sinead both have favorite beds they adore, and if I bring them to the edge of the kitchen, and I put them in a down/stay, they'll relax in those beds. In time, they'll even fall asleep in those beds. Putting the beds at the edge of the kitchen allows them to watch me as I work, which means less getting up to see if something yummy is happening. They seem to like that a little better.

Any readers out there have good tips for dogs in the kitchen? I'd love to hear them. Drop me a note in the comments, won't you?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sunday cat selfie: Blind kitties in dog crates

Lucy the blind cat in her dog crate

Blind cats like Lucy rely on their sense of smell to help them navigate the world. Lucy was my very first blind cat, and when I brought her home, I expected her to avoid things with heavy scents. I thought she'd find them somehow repulsive or overwhelming. As it turns out, I was about 100 percent wrong.

Lucy seems to enjoy things that come with a thick scent, and the funkier the better. Case in point: She decided to pose for her selfie for The Cat On My Head in her very new and favorite sleeping space.

Lucy the cat sleeping in a dog crate

Look closely, and you'll see what's unusual about this nap choice.

Yup, she's bedded down inside of her brother pug's bed inside of his dog crate. While I bathe Liam pretty darn frequently, he's also a bit of a licker, both of his body and of his bed. That means the spaces he sleeps in smell an awful lot like pug.

He sleeps in this crate in the evenings, when my lap is crowded with Lucy and Sinead and he wants a little more space. Sometimes, he chooses to spend the entire night in this crate, as he's too tired to hop up and head upstairs when the humans are ready for bed. 

Lucy often reaches through the kennel bars to pat her snuggled brother, and she climbs in that funky bed when he leaves it. She spends a lot of her day here.

Kitty in dog bed

I have a feeling that she finds the scent of her brother somehow comforting. And I do have the crate tricked out with all sorts of softness, so she might find that part appealing as well.

So we'll let her pose for her selfie from here. And later today, I'll have to disappoint her by washing that bedding to keep things clean for the pug. Here's hoping she forgives me for washing a space she loves so much!

Want to learn a few tips and tricks involving life with blind cats? Check out this post. A simple thing many people do for blind cats makes things so much harder for them. Find out what it is. 

Please leave me a note, so I'll know you were here. And be sure to visit some of the other blogs in the hop!

It's always so much fun.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

MozCon 2016 tips for pet bloggers

Sinead the Boston terrier with Moz toys

Why is my tiny Boston terrier sitting with these two strange toys, you ask? It's partly because I have a cookie in my hand, and this little dog will do damn near anything to get cookies to move from my hands to her mouth. But she's sitting there because I have expertly staged this photo to help you pet blogger readers begin to experience the joy that is MozCon.

MozCon is an annual marketing conference led by a Seattle marketing company (Moz) with a very silly mascot (Roger the robot--shown here in doll form). This year, my company sent me to Moz to pick up SEO tips I could use to serve my clients better. But along the way I also picked up a few tips that might be wonderful just for pet bloggers.

Here are my top 5 tips, in no particular order.

1. How many questions can you answer?

Many pet blogs deal with common questions: can my cat eat that, why does my dog do that, how often should my ferret do this exercise, etc. Google loves, loves, LOVES these sorts of questions. Why? Because the algorithm has shifted to provide mobile readers with quick answers on the fly. There's a tiny answer box up top of searches in question form, and the answer scraped from a website shows up in that box.

When you're writing up your blog, think about answering questions in a short, comprehensive manner up high on your blog. You can expand that answer later, of course, but answering it up high could--just maybe--help you to grab an answer spot. And that could make your site more visible.

2. Is your pet blog localized? 

Most pet bloggers think of their sites as somehow universal. We're not writing in a specific place for specific people living in a geographic area. We're writing for everyone, all the time. But, as Google's algorithm shifts and begins to favor great, big sites for generic terms, nailing down local search becomes more and more important. Local searches might be the best way to get seen in your community.

How can you do that? Think about ways to write about things happening with pets in your community. And reach out to trusted pet-related websites in your community and ask them to link to your site. That could help you to maximize your performance locally.

Tiny Boston terrier and her robot toy

3. Are you delivering unique value?

Readers are bombarded with content every single day on tons of different devices. They cannot pay attention to all of the content out there, simply because there's just too much to see and read on a given day. Cutting through the clutter means delivering content that has some kind of unique value to people who read it.

Assess your competition and really look hard at your content. Are the pieces you're putting together really different than the content others deliver? Are people responding to it, and if so, why? Thinking hard about how you can really make yourself different could result in different traffic ratings you might be pleased with.

4. Test your calls to action carefully.

Many pet blogs I visit use traditional CTAs, including popup boxes, email list signups and other forms of lead generation. These are bells and whistles that take time and money to implement on a site, but people who implement them should test them on many different devices to make sure they work. For example, that popup you have on a desktop device might be impossible to close on the screen of a phone. And telling people to "click here" on a phone makes no sense, while it might be fine on a desktop. Testing is vital.

5. Remember to tell your stories.

The beautiful thing about a pet blog is that it's a place designed for story sharing. Every animal in your house has a story to tell, and you have your own stories to share about the animals you live with. Stories work best when they follow an arc:
  • A normal
  • An explosion
  • A new normal

And they're optimized when they include vivid, strategic and exceptional detail. Instead of just tossing your stories away with two-sentence summaries ("My cat ate a bird, but he's fine."), think about ways to really describe something that happened in a way that builds suspense and intrigue and empathy in your readers. Go a little deeper.

Your MozCon journey

These are just a few high-level tips from what was a very detailed conference about online marketing. If you're hungry for more, I encourage you to head to the Moz website and download a few slide decks. You'll see tactical instructions about all sorts of SEO things, including coding, and you might glean even more about how to make your site as good as it can be.

And if you want a few more pet blogging tips, check out my entry into the 2016 Pet Blogger Challenge. Good stuff there, if I do say so myself.

But for now, I'd love to know what you think of these takeaways. Anything you can use right now? Shoot me a note in the comments.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Boston terriers need winter sweaters!

Sinead the Boston terrier in her sweater

What do Boston terriers and convection ovens have in common? They both rely on the movement of air over something moist in order to generate heat. In Sinead's case, it's a flaw in her heating system. Since her muzzle is very short when compared to another dog breed like a collie, she has a short amount of time to pull in and heat air through her nasal passages before it hits her lungs. As a result, she gets cold. A lot.

The solution? Sweaters. A well-made sweater can help her to trap in the heat her blood makes as it moves through her body. And sweaters that wrap tight around her middle can concentrate that heat where it's needed: around her vital organs.

Sinead looking proud in her sweater

Now, I know a lot of people think it's somehow cruel to dress a dog in anything that even slightly resembles clothing. These people leave me comments on the blog from time to time suggesting that I am somehow using Sinead as a substitute for a human child, and that I am torturing her by dressing her. (WTH?)

But seriously. A sweater is a necessity for her. I don't dress her in sweaters because I get some kind of sick pleasure out of it. I dress her in sweaters because she needs them.

And this year, she has a particularly lovely sweater to wear, made by hand by my sister. She's an awfully talented knitter, and I think she did a lovely job here, don't you?

Leave me a note and tell me what you think.

And this is a blog hop! Be sure to visit the other blogs in the hop and say hello. You'll be glad you did.