Thursday, March 31, 2016

Can cats with FIV live with other cats?

Once a week, I head on over to Willamette Humane Society for some kitty therapy. I spend time petting and snuggling these guys, but I also try to find out their backstories and their preferences, so I can write profiles for potential adopters. And when it comes to cats like this guy, Alex, that writing isn't easy.

That's because Alex has FIV.

FIV is an infectious disease that is typically transmitted through deep and penetrating cat bites. These are the sorts of injuries stray cats like Alex might endure during a turf war. One cat wants the other cats to stay away, and that cat uses teeth like weapons. If those teeth punch through the skin and deep into subcutaneous tissues, bits of virus enter the tissues too. And those virus cells can spread throughout the body.

Alex was certainly in some kind of fight. In fact, when he came to the shelter, he was missing a great deal of fur and skin above his right eye. Those injuries could have been caused by something like a fan belt, but they could have been caused by another cat.

In the shelter, Alex is an amazing flirt. He rolls and chirps and purrs and head butts. He's really trying to win people over. But when people see that "FIV" target by his name, they worry.

And should they?

The answer is: Maybe.

I spent a lot of time this week watching a very absorbing presentation on co-habitating cats and FIV status. The researcher points out, pretty definitively, that cats that live together and share things with one another are really not at risk for passing FIV to one another. In fact, she points out that the viral load that's required to pass the infection through something like saliva is incredibly high. Even momma cats struggle to pass the disease to their kittens. It just doesn't happen.

But cats that bite can pass FIV along. And let's face it. Some cats bite.

We don't know what happened to Alex and his face. If he was involved in an issue with another cat and he was fighting for his life, maybe he'll be the sort of cat that overreacts to any sort of aggression. And if he does, he might use his teeth to prove his point. And those teeth could come with FIV. With him, it's unclear.

But not all FIV cats are like this. Consider this guy, Fritz.

Fritz the cat

He also has FIV. But he came into the shelter with a great history of living with other cats. And he was housed, for a time, in a kennel with another cat. He never even considered fighting. He never did anything to provoke the other cat, either.

So what's a writer to do? Or an adopter?

All adopters should know that the cats they are considering come with FIV. And honestly, that shouldn't deter the adoption. The researcher I mentioned a second ago cites a study in which there were no differences in life span among cats with FIV and without. It doesn't shorten a life.

But, people hoping to choose a cat with FIV need to consider issues of personality very, very carefully. Do the resident cats bite? Do they like to fight, even in play? Does the newcomer have a history of fighting in the home? Or is the history unknown?

If adopters do take those FIV cats home, they should also be really, really careful about introductions. That means closed doors, screens, baby gates, and more. There should be no opportunity for teeth to hit body parts until the owner is SURE the pets will get along. That's a process that could take months to complete.

Meanwhile, sweet Alex waits for his home. He's been waiting since February. I'm just hoping he makes the right match soon--with a family committed to his health and well being.

Interested in the research I mentioned? You'll find it here (scroll on down to the bottom). And are you living with a cat with FIV? I'd love to hear your story in the comments.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Live the puglife: How my pug helps me avoid blogger burnout

Liam the pug looking at flowers
Every week, I cruise through animal blog sites, and I read up on what my colleagues are doing, thinking and saying. Many of these sites are strictly pug blogs, but I love me a good cat blog too. If it's about animals and it gets updated frequently, it could be on my pet blog reading list.

But I've noticed a new and disturbing trend.

Many of the sites that I knew and loved are no longer updated on a regular basis. And others that I have just discovered are calling off blogging altogether, simply because they didn't get enough engagement or they didn't feel as though they had anything of import to say.

That, my friend, is burnout. And it's not a problem that's unique to pet bloggers.

Anyone who writes for a living can face a moment in which the words will not come. Anyone can feel as though there is nothing left to say. Anyone can have a crisis of confidence.

The solution? The puglife.

Liam the pug in the flower bed

Liam the pug is my blogging, working and socializing soulmate. Why? Because he really knows how to take care of his mental health. Every day, his schedule consists of:
  • Eating
  • Walking
  • Playing with toys
  • Napping
  • Eating
  • Walking
  • Playing with toys
  • Snuggling with mother
  • Heading to bed

This is a very well-rounded schedule for any living creature. Liam gets his nutrition, his intellectual stimulation, his exercise and his socialization done every single day of his life.

And his day does not consist of:
  • Obsessive worrying
  • Concerns about his body shape or size
  • Demands from a boss he cannot please
  • Fights with people he loves

He has no room for that soul-crushing business. He has plenty of other things to do. Including taking time to smell the roses.

Liam the pug smelling the flowers

Okay, I am being a little simplistic here. I'll admit it. But I do think that our dogs can be great role models for good mental and physical health. They live in the moment, and they get things done. When I feel worried about work or relationships or this blog or any number of other things, I look to Liam for guidance. And when I see his serene little face, it makes me feel better.

Do you think it would work for you? I hope so! I'd love to see everyone keep up with the blog thing. And I'd love to see you at BlogPaws this summer in Phoenix. I'll be there! If you're heading over, drop me a note in the comments! And be sure to visit the other blogs in this BlogPaws hop. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why give Benadryl to a dog with a mast cell tumor?

Sinead the Boston terrier looking sleepy
Sinead the Boston terrier is very nearly done with her mast cell tumor treatments. But she doesn't look too happy about the whole thing. In fact, she looks downright exhausted. And there's good reason for that. Twice per day, she's taking in a tiny sliver of Benadryl with her dog food. And that drug could be a key weapon in her cancer recovery.

Benadryl is, as you probably know, an antihistamine medication. Humans and dogs use this drug to help them deal with seasonal allergy problems, like sneezing and wheezing and itching. The drug works to calm down the body's histamine response. And it's that histamine that is responsible for most of the misery people feel during the allergy season.

That histamine response is also part of the mast cell tumor process.

A mast cell tumor is made up of tiny cells that play a key role in releasing histamine. They clump together in one big batch, instead of working as independent entities throughout the body, and that little clump is the tumor.

Surgery involves cutting out that clump, and Sinead's electrochemotherapy appointment helped to kill off any remaining cells. That means her tumor is pretty much gone. In fact, you can't even see it anymore.

Sinead the Boston terrier falling asleep

But she might still have rogue little mast cells in the area. Benadryl helps to keep those cells in check. And that could keep them from re-clumping and forming a new tumor in that old and bad spot.

Sinead needs to take Benadryl for another week. That will mean she's been on this therapy for about 2 weeks after her chemotherapy appointment ended. That's a pretty common treatment protocol. Most veterinary teams advise people to use the medication for about 2 weeks after medical appointments, just to help the area stay clean.

But Benadryl can also be a great medication to give before surgery. Why? Because a clump of mast cells can be really dangerous. If they all release histamine at once--which they might want to do if they are poked during a biopsy or a surgery--it can cause a body-wide reaction. That reaction could involve bleeding, swelling or seizing. Using Benadryl before these procedures can ensure that the clump stays silent. And that could mean the difference between a procedure that is safe and one that is a little dangerous.

Anyway. For another week, Sinead will be soft and sleepy like this. Benadryl can do wonders, but it can be super sedating. But when that week is out, she'll be back to her old Boston self. Cancer free, this time.

Monday, March 28, 2016

3 great ideas for dogs that eat too damn fast

Pug looking longingly at food
Is your dog a gobbler? If you live with a pug, I'm sure you know just what I am talking about. Dogs that really love their food simply cannot wait to get all of it inside of their mouths. They open wide, and they inhale. That can cause all sorts of problems, especially for small dogs. A fast gobble could cause a dog to choke, and all of the air a dog pulls in while gobbling could cause vomiting.

You can't make a dog love food a little less. But, there are things you can do in order to make your dog slow down a little while eating. These are three things I've tried.

1. Use dog training before meals. 

My dogs gobble faster when they're in a sped-up mood. And they can get sped up when they're watching me pull their meals together. They know the good stuff is headed their way, and they can't wait to get started on it. If I didn't intervene, they'd take all that anticipation and frenzy and apply it to the meals.

Training can help a ton here. I ask my dogs to sit nicely while I am preparing their meals, and I make them sit until they calm down. That means no moving, no trembling, no barking and no scrambling. When they are still and focused, then I give the release word and they start eating.

Pug and Boston terrier waiting to eat

Yes, that means these dogs have to hold their horses for a long time before they eat their meals. But it does keep them from choking.

2. Use a big bowl.

Traditional dog trainers would have you believe that smaller bowls make for slower eating. They reason that a tiny bowl is hard for a dog to work with, and that means the dog will need to eat slowly and maneuver carefully to get all of the food out.

Unfortunately, stress tends to cause even faster eating. My dogs get so worked up when they can't actually get to the food that they will paw at the bowls repeatedly, until all of the food falls all over the floor. And the noise of the bowl falling and the food spilling makes the dogs even more frantic.

A larger bowl allows them to eat the food without feeling stressed about it. And that might help them to eat a little slower.

Liam the pug eating his food

3. Break up dog feeding times. 

Fast-eating dogs are sometimes driven by hunger. They gobble because they just can't believe how long it's been since you handed out food the last time. Feeding them more frequently can help. And sometimes, that means feeding dogs more than twice per day.

My two eat when the humans eat, and that means they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have the benefit of working from home, so I can manage that. But I do think it makes for a better and less stressful mealtime for them.

One thing I didn't mention: Puzzle bowls. I've never used them, as most are made of plastic. My two can't handle plastic. But if any of you have used them for feeding and you've found them helpful, I'd love to hear from you! Drop me a note in the comments.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Pets and toxic houseplants: How many do you have in your house?

Troy the cat next to his houseplant
The entire month of March was devoted to pet poisoning prevention. As a result, I've pulled together a ton of articles this month about common hazards your cats and dogs can face on a regular basis, including threats posed by lawn chemicals, standing water, beer and medications.

Today, I wanted to focus on one of those threats we all have, but that few of us think about: Houseplants.

There are something like 100 common plants that can sicken a snacking cat or dog, and when I scanned this list today in preparation for this blog, I found a ton of plants I already have in my home. Those include:
  • Asparagus fern
  • Snake plant
  • Diffenbachia
  • Sprengheri fern
  • Meyer lemon

Other plants I have are safer, including:
  • Ficus
  • Spider plant
  • Bracken fern
  • African violet

My sweet Eamon, who left the world this summer, lived to eat my plants. At least once a week, I found him gnawing on the leaves of my plants. And sweet Troy shown in the photo up top, who also left the world this summer, also did his share of plant eating.

The cats I have now show no interest in eating my plants. But I am still quite careful about plant placement. Anything that shows up on this ASPCA list of toxic plants goes into rooms that are walled off from cat life. And these plants are also in pots that are up on tables or in windowsills, so the dogs can't graze on them as they walk by.

If you can't manage those steps with your plant-loving pets, you could give Grannick's Bitter Apple Spray a try. It doesn't harm plant leaves, and it comes with a taste most dogs and cats really hate. But in general, it's best to keep these plants up and away from curious mouths. The spray wears off, and when it does, the gnawing can commence.

 Do you have toxic plants in your home? If so, how do you protect your pets? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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.”

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Live bunnies make terrible Easter gifts: Make mine fake!

Liam the pug with a porcelain bunny
We're just a few days away from Easter, and Liam the pug and I are preparing. Over the weekend, we pulled these little porcelain guys out of storage, and we're using them to decorate the house. But the pug and I aren't the only ones who are getting ready for a big holiday. Bunny breeders are on the hop, too.

A quick glance at my local page tells me bunny hobby breeders hope to entice families to add live bunnies to kiddie Easter baskets. If I wanted to, I could pick up a whole pack of bunnies for about $20 per head. And most of these little rabbits are advertised as "great for Easter!"

Liam with a row of fake bunnies

While bunnies might be seasonal, they really don't make great gifts. For one thing, very small rabbits often don't stay small. Some rabbit breeds can grow up to 20 pounds or even more. That means that the little basket you bring the bunny home in could be much too small in a much too short period of time. Also, bunnies are living and breathing creatures that need food, veterinary care, entertainment, companionship and more. They aren't decorations. They are a lot of work.

And a lot of families find that out the hard way. A 2012 study of rabbits in shelters found that more than 77 percent of these creatures were owner surrenders (so they weren't found randomly hopping around the street), and most were surrendered due to an owner's unwillingness or inability to care for them.

That means many bunnies become unwanted bunnies in time. I'd wager many of these unwanted bunnies started out as Easter gifts.

Liam the pug looking up with bunnies at his feet

There's an ongoing campaign called "Make Mine Chocolate" that aims to convince people to replace live bunnies with candy bunnies in Easter baskets. But, this is a dog blog, and we all know that chocolate is toxic to dogs.

So my counter suggestion: Porcelain bunnies! They're just as cute, they last a long time, and they make for perfect props for Wordless Wednesday posts for BlogPaws!

What do you think? Will you avoid live bunny gifts? Leave me a note and let me know. And do visit the other blogs in the hop. You'll be glad you did!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Electrochemotherapy for dogs: Take that, mast cell tumor!

Sinead the Boston terrier in her bed
Tiny Sinead the Boston terrier has been fighting a pesky mast cell tumor for several months. First, she had the little speck analyzed in her doctor's office through aspiration. Then, she had surgery to cut out the nasty bits. And then, she headed to a specialist for more talks about what should happen in her future.

But yesterday, she had a treatment that might end this whole problem for good.

Sinead had electrochemotherapy for her mast cell tumor. That treatment involves putting a tiny bit of chemoreactive stuff (cisplatin, in her case) into the spot that once held her tumor. Then, an electrical pulse was shot through that same spot.

Electricity tends to break cells apart, and it's powerful when used in combination with chemotherapy. Instead of simply flooding the area with chemicals that may or may not enter the cells, a doctor can put just a tiny bit of the agents into one specific spot. The electrical pulses break the cell membranes apart, and that allows the chemo agents to enter the area and kill off cancer cells.

Sinead the Boston terrier giving me the stink eye
Her stink-eye abilities remain intact.
We were warned that Sinead's tumor spot might swell up. And I've seen online photos of dogs that lost hair around the spot. Sinead has endured neither of these problems. I can see a tiny bit of swelling above that left eye, but it's no worse than a bee sting. And the site isn't painful at all. She doesn't wince when I touch it, and she isn't scratching it or worrying it.

This is a great therapy option for Sinead, as it allows her to kill off the cancer without losing her eye. And this targeted form of therapy is less likely to cause whole-body reactions like nausea or fatigue or weight loss.

And best of all, this is a treatment that comes with a very high cure rate. Some studies suggest that it can keep tumors from coming back for a little more than 3 years (and counting!).

Sinead the dog in her bed

Sinead is taking Benadryl for about 2 weeks, just to ensure that any remaining histamine cells (which are the cells that are packed inside of a mast cell tumor) are cleaned up and moved away. And she will need a recheck, just to make sure all has gone well.

But for now: Bye, bye cancer! We will not miss you!

Monday, March 21, 2016

The secret life of cats: Can you name a top kitty stressor?

Popoki the cat with her toy
Go ahead: Name the top source of stress your cat faces in an average week. Did you think about vacuum cleaners, veterinary visits, empty food bowls or often-gone owners? I would have, about a week ago. But then I stumbled across a pretty fascinating interview that has changed my mind just a little bit.

In the article, the author interviewed a man who has spent his life researching all sorts of animals. For the last few years, he's focused on cats. Much of his work was done in shelter situations, but he has also done some home assessments. Sometimes, he works as a tacit observer of kitty behavior. And sometimes, he changes the equation by manipulating the cats with toys and food and other props.

In his opinion, the top source of stress most cats face comes from living with other cats in the home. This author thinks that cats just aren't as social as their canine counterparts, and that some cats simply never adjust to living with another cat they just don't like. Being forced to live with the cat they don't like causes them so much angst that it could imperil kitty health, the man says.

Popoki the cat with her toy

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two "celebrity" cat trainers that would disagree. These people might suggest that cats who don't get along just need a better socialization plan. They need to learn to meet one another in controlled environments that have been optimized for cats. If that work is done, the cats should all get along just fine.

But, living with Popoki proves that some cats just don't like other cats. As many times as I have tried to introduce her to Maggie and Lucy, she simply will not learn to love them. We get to a point in the introduction process where the cats are loose together in the house, and Popoki either starts yelling with fear or forcing attacks. Slow and steady just doesn't work with her.

So maybe this guy is on to something. Maybe cats that simply don't get along now will never get along, and maybe forcing them to do so could be bad for their health.

But what's a person in this situation to do?

I am lucky enough to have a few cat-friendly environments. Popoki can stay in my writing studio with me while the girls lounge inside, or she can spend time in the family room while I hang out with Maggie and Lucy upstairs. Everyone gets mom time, and everyone stays separate.

Even without those ideal rooms, though, I could probably make things work. Site swaps where one cat stays in a bedroom and the other has free reign of the house also allow cats to live in the same house without touching one another. That could be a good solution for some cats, too.

But I'd love to hear from some readers out there that have managed to make unfriendly cats love one another. Can it happen? And if so, how did you do it? Love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

And, if you'd like to see part of the interview I based this article on, click here. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday cat selfie: Cats in laundry

Lucy the cat sleeping in a pile of laundry
This morning, when I set out to find Lucy for our Sunday cat selfie photo shoot, I couldn't find her. I called and called and called, and she simply would not appear. I couldn't quite figure it out, until I turned around and looked at this pile of laundry.

Since it's been so wet and muddy here, the dog beds have been caked with dirt. The dogs go outside, they get mud on their toes, and they walk those muddy toes into their beds. In time, the beds are just as dirty as the great outdoors.

So I've been washing those beds about once a week, and when the beds are all clean, I put them in a pile until I can redistribute them. Apparently, Lucy thought this pile of very clean and warm laundry was the perfect napping spot. So I went ahead and snapped her shot for The Cat on My Head where she was resting.

Lucy the cat in a pile of laundry

Most cats will sleep in piles of laundry like this, especially if it's come straight from the dryer. It's super sweet and understandable, but it can be a little dangerous. I know of people who have stepped on cats sleeping in laundry, and I know of some people who have put semi-damp laundry back in the dryer, with the cat still entangled.

If your cat is a laundry sleeper, it's best to pat things down on a regular basis. A quick tap before you step on, move, or pick up the pile should make the kitty dart back out again. And all of that tapping could remind the kitty that this is not a safe space for sleeping, and that could help you to head off a future nap crisis.

But in the interim, enjoy some Lucy looking snuggly. If you do enjoy it, leave me a comment so I'll know what you thought. And, remember to visit some of the other blogs in the hop.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

BarkBox March 2016 review: Dog treats and toys with a Sherlock theme

Sinead the Boston terrier chews on a toy
I'm a long-time subscriber to BarkBox. I'm always on the lookout for new dog toys and new dog treats, and this monthly subscription service seemed like a great way to help me up my pet purchasing knowledge, without having to do a whole lot of research.

Over the last few months, the format of the box has made that research a little harder.

At one point, the BarkBox came with stuff from a whole slew of different providers. And the newsletter that came with the box told me a little more about the companies involved. Through BarkBox, I learned about Etta Says and other companies I buy from all the time now. But newer boxes are filled with 90 percent of products made by BarkBox. And the newsletter doesn't say much about the products anymore.

For awhile, I was peevish about that. But this month's selection highlights why BarkBox is still a good value. Let me tell you more.

Liam the pug with his dog toy
This month's box came with two dog toys. One, which Sinead is posing with up top, is shaped a little like a pocketwatch. It has a rope on one end, and a big ball with a squeaker on the other. This is a pretty cool toy that I know the dogs will like to play with.

The other toy Liam is posing with. This little plaid Scottie dog is made with acid-free dyes and the insides are made with recycled plastic bottles. There's a two-way squeaker inside, and it's just the right size for my small dogs.

In theory, I could get toys like this anywhere. But BarkBox stands behind the toy selections. If my big-time chewers mess up these toys, I can get a replacement or a refund. I know my pet store wouldn't do the same. That makes these toys a great value.

Sinead the Boston terrier looking at treats
But there's more than just toys in this box, as Sinead has just discovered (such a sad face in that photo!). Each month, we also get a bunch of different types of treats. And this month, we got some from new suppliers I haven't heard of before.

The first is My Doggy. Apparently, this company was created by a pet owner looking for all-natural treats for her picky pups. The treats we got are small, and they're made with peanut butter. I'm sure the dogs will love these.

The other company is called I'd Rather Be With My Dog. These treats were made for training, so they're small and easy to break apart. And they come with a guarantee, so if the dogs don't like things from this company, I can get my money back.

The final little bit of snack is from the BarkBox company, and it's a slab of jerky. I know the dogs will love that, but I am grateful to have some selections from new and different providers this month. I just hope the dogs like them!

If you'd like to see reviews of prior boxes, click here or here or here or here or here or here or here or here. And if you want to try your own BarkBox, use my code for a discount.

Thanks for stopping by! Before you go, do leave me a comment. I always love to see what my readers think. And be sure to check back next week. Sinead has her mast cell tumor chemotherapy treatment on Monday, and I'm hoping to have an update for you on Tuesday or so.

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. I was not compensated for this review. 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.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: No beer for dogs (Even on St. Patrick's Day)

Liam the pug in his green tie
A pug named Liam certainly must celebrate St. Patrick's Day. It's his culture! And it's fun. If we humans are celebrating, the dogs must celebrate, too. And Liam even has the perfect little green bow tie to wear to celebrate the season.

But, there's one thing the humans can have that the dogs cannot. That thing: Beer.

As much as I dislike the idea of connecting alcohol over-consumption with the Irish culture (the idea that Irish people were lazy drunks was used repeatedly during the Famine, and it possibly helped to contribute to the loss of life on the Isle, as many people thought the Irish could recover from their difficulties if they would get sober /rant), I know many people celebrate the day with pint after pint of beer. And many of those beers come with pretty emerald colors.

I also know that many people pour out a little beer in bowls for their dogs. I've seen people do it. Hell, I've done it myself.

Turns out, this is a terrible idea.

Dogs simply don't metabolize alcohol in the same way that humans do. For starters, most dogs don't drink on a regular basis. That means they have zero tolerance for the impact of alcohol, so they grow impaired quite quickly. Also, the average dog is much smaller than the average human. Give a dog a human-sized amount of beer, and that dog is likely to experience ethanol poisoning.

Liam the pug licking his lips

Even though dogs should not drink beer, most will do so if they're given half the chance. That means party planners must be quite careful. All beer glasses should be up off the floors and away from the edges of low coffee tables. All keg nozzles should be secure and drip buckets covered. And all trash cans with beer glasses should come with lids.

And if you're looking for a safe and thematic snack for your pup, consider green beans! They're tasty, crunchy and super healthy. Plus, you know, they're green.

Are you planning to celebrate the day with your pet? Leave me a note about your plans.

And we're participating in this week's blog hop, sponsored by BlogPaws. Be sure to check out the other entries! You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Are human medications really safe for your cat?

Popoki the cat looking right at the camera
Imagine for a moment that your cat got sick or hurt. It's late at night, your kitty is really not feeling well, and you don't want to head to an emergency veterinary clinic for help. If you can, you'd much rather handle the problem on your own at home, preferably with the tools you already have.

If you're like a lot of people, you probably end up staring at your human medicine cabinet. Are there any medications in there you can use to treat kitty's pain or discomfort?

Recently released data from the ASPCA may cause you to stop long before you do any medication sampling. As part of National Animal Poison Prevention Month, the ASPCA released a list of the top toxins that sickened pets in 2015. And, you guessed it, human medications topped that list.

Lucy the cat sitting on her couch

In 2015 alone, more than 28,500 cases of poisoning due to medications were reported to the ASPCA poison control center. That makes drugs the most deadly risk your pets might face in your home, and chances are, this is an exposure you can totally prevent.

When I worked in the animal emergency room, I dealt with several cases of animals unintentionally poisoned by their people. One poor lady clipped her dog's toenails too close, and she gave him a (toxic) Alleve for pain. Another family rushed their cat to the clinic after providing him with an aspirin for his discomfort. Both of these pets had very serious reactions to these drugs. And both families had to live with the knowledge that they had given something to the pet that made it sick.

Very ill pets should always go to an emergency clinic. No amount of at-home care can match the types of treatments available in an animal hospital. And all of those treatments have been tested and proven effective in animals. If your pet is sick, this is the place to go.

And if your pet is merely uncomfortable but not overtly sick, consider heading to your regular veterinarian for care and advice. Can't afford that visit? Check out this list of low-cost veterinary options from the Humane Society of the United States. You might find a new provider that could work with you on payments, or you could apply for a grant to get funded care for your pet.

But whatever you do, don't reach into that cabinet and start handing out your pills. You could end up making a small health problem a whole lot worse.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Boston terrier mast cell tumor: Dealing with incomplete margins

Sinead the Boston terrier asleep
Sinead the Boston terrier spent most of her weekend in this position. Taking walks, playing with toys and begging for food are exhausting tasks, and when she's completed them, it's time to curl up and catch a few zzz's.

Me, I was glued to the computer. Sinead has a big appointment coming up next week, and I wanted to prepare for it.

A few weeks ago, Sinead had a biopsy for a very small mast cell tumor located right above her left eye. (If you missed it, the original post is here.) I waited anxiously for the pathology report, and when it came, I had some reasons to celebrate. The whole tumor was gone, and it ranked right in the middle of the grading scale.

But after losing my first Boston terrier to cancer, I didn't want to take any chances. So I took Sinead to a veterinary oncologist for a second opinion. And I got some bad news.

Mast cell tumors in the Grade II realm (like Sinead's) can be really unpredictable. Some behave like completely benign bumps, and they go away without a lot of treatment. Even bumps that only come part-way out sometimes never cause problems. But some Grade II tumors do come back. And some come back in a dangerous way, spreading to the lymph nodes and the organs.

One way around that: Surgery. But the cut around the tumor needs to be huge at 2cm. Sinead's cuts were only 1mm all the way around. Here's a visual. That pencil tip is 1mm. The stamp is 2cm. See the difference?

A pencil tip and a stamp used to describe mast cell tumor margins

And that amount of tissue would need to come out all the way around the tumor. So she'd have 2mm cuts all around that tumor, if it was done with the right margins. So her entire incision would be 4cm all the way around.

That's really bad news, as I can't do that sort of surgery on Sinead's head. Why? Because her eye is just 1cm away from that tumor. If we did a surgery with margins, she'd lose her eye.

Sinead the Boston terrier in closeup

Thankfully, there is another option.

Next week, Sinead will head up to a clinic in Seattle for an innovative form of chemotherapy. The team drills chemotherapy agents into the tissues using a spark of electricity. The whole procedure takes about 10 minutes, but she'll be sedated for the process. Her stay will be longer. But she only needs one appointment to get the whole thing done.

Electrochemotherapy like this is expensive, so I am thankful Sinead has insurance. But even though I don't have to worry about the finances, I do have other things to fret about. For example, I'm told her eyelid will swell up quite a bit after the process, and I'm not sure how that will feel for her. I'm also not sure about scarring on her eyelid. Will she keep her hair? I'm not sure.

But there is one thing I'm sure of: This provides the best way to ensure that the nasty tumor doesn't come back to end her life. To me, that's the priority. This treatment will help, and I'm glad it's an option.

But am I worried? You bet.

I'll keep everyone apprised of her progress in surgery. She'll be in Seattle overnight on the 21st, so I won't have an update until the 22nd. But check back, and I'll be sure to tell you how it went. And I appreciate any kind thoughts you can spare. We both need the reassurance!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Your cat probably hates Daylight Saving Time as much as you do

Maggie the cat posing with a clock
Did you lose an hour of sleep last night? Chances are, you did. And so did your cat. Yup, it's Daylight Saving Time in America once more, and humans and kitties alike are struggling with the transition.

How do I know that? Because this sweet and charming face, belonging to Maggie, held a look of sheer confusion at breakfast time this morning. I prepped her food, but she thought it was coming much too early. She wasn't quite sure she should eat it or skip it.

Perfect topic for a Sunday Selfie, sponsored by The Cat On My Head, right? So I plopped Maggie down for a clock photo session, and I dug into the research on cats and time. What I found is a little fascinating.

Maggie the cat in profile with a clock behind her

According to the latest research, as reported by ABC News, most animals (with some exceptions) do not experience time in the same way that we do. They don't have the ability to match a specific event to a specific point in the day. That means your cat doesn't really know that it's food time at 8am. It just doesn't work that way.

But, cats do have the ability to measure the distance between two events. So your cat probably knows when several hours have passed between meals. And your cat probably knows when that distance is either excessive or brief, compared to the normal distance between two events.

So if your cat always eats at 8am and 8pm, and you try to move that meal up to 7am, your cat will be confused. It's coming too soon, when compared to your typical meal-to-meal interval.

Maggie the cat in a selfie with a clock

We can't keep daylight savings changes from happening, as much as we might try. But there are things we can do to make it easier for our cats to adjust. That means really paying attention to intervals. The distance between meals should remain the same, and you should use a timer to mandate that, if needed.

If those intervals are the same, in theory, our cats should learn to adjust to the new time. Until we change it again.

Fascinating, right? I thought so. And I'm thankful Maggie was willing to sit next to that clock for our photo shoot. The green of her eyes really made the green of that clock stand out. I always want to take great snaps for this hop, and I think it worked!

Please leave me a comment, so I'll know you were here. And as a bonus selfie: It's me and Sinead. I'm planning a special followup blog post tomorrow, all about her mast cell tumor treatments and appointment with the oncologist. Do check back, so you'll know what she has going on.

Sinead the Boston terrier and the author of the blog
Thanks for looking!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Standing water makes for sick dogs

Liam the pug is thinking about drinking from a puddle
Liam the pug is a true Oregon dog, so he goes for walks in the rain and the shine. And this time of year, his walks are much more likely to be wet, not dry.

With spring in Oregon comes rain. And that means almost every sinkhole, crevasse and crack is filled with water. And Liam sometimes thinks those puddles make for nice watering holes.

Pugs can be heat sensitive, and a springtime temp of 65 can make Liam really thirsty, especially if we've walked for quite some time. He starts to pant, and each little breath causes him to lose quite a bit of moisture from his mouth. It's reasonable for him to look for puddles to drink from.

But, those puddles could be filled with all sorts of nasty stuff. Standing water is often made up of runoff from yards and flowerbeds that have been treated with herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers or mulches. Any of these additives could be poisonous to a small dog.

Also, standing water could come with a sheen of oil or antifreeze. And some pools of water contain giardia or leptospirosis spores.

Liam the pug is pleading to drink out of a puddle

In theory, contaminated water would taste bad or smell bad, so dogs wouldn't want to take a sip. But Liam often looks at me with longing when we walk past a pool of the stuff. He's desperate to drink out of this puddle in my side yard, for example, even though that pool of water is crammed with leaves, dirt and other contaminants. He doesn't care. He wants to drink it.

Beefing up the "leave it" command is an excellent way to get past these fall dangers. I use that command when I see Liam thinking about dropping his head to drink from one of these pools. If he looks at me, he gets a cookie.

Bringing water along in a bottle or bowl can also be helpful. That way, when your dog sees something to drink, you can replace the nastiness with liquid you've brought from home. I routinely use water bowls while hiking with Liam, but in the spring, I might need to take along a bowl, too.

And finally, if you see your dog drinking from a puddle, don't panic. Lure the dog away with a treat, and then monitor for health. Any trembling, vomiting or other unusual symptoms should prompt a visit to the veterinarian.

I know we need the rain, so I am choosing not to complain. But I urge everybody to be careful with the puddle season. No sick pups on my watch!

I'm joining the Pet Parade by Rascal and Rocco this week!

Be sure to check out some of the other awesome blogs included. It's always a good time. And be sure to leave me a message, so I'll know you were here!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Wordless Wednesday: Cat toys aren't interesting without you

Popoki the cat and her toys
Cat people invest in toys. You'll know when you've walked into a cat-friendly home, as you'll probably step over, trip on or completely crush a wide assortment of mice, balls and pom-poms with each step you take.

My house is like that. I think that cats absolutely need toys in order to lead active and fulfilling lives. Toys remind them to play, so they stay young and whimsical. And toys provide a plethora of exercise opportunities, which most pudgy cats really need.

There's just one problem.

Popoki the cat with a selection of her cat toys

Some cats, including Popoki, will happily sleep with their toys. They might even carry them around from place to place. But these cats can't be persuaded that the stuffed thing you're calling a toy is really a worthy replacement for prey. These toys don't run or scamper or do prey-like things. They just sit.

This is how Popoki will play with her toys if I don't help her. Notice the lack of pouncing and jumping and scampering. She's just lazily batting this thing around.

Popoki the cat batting a cat toy

Even if I try to help, it doesn't always work. Here's a video I shot today. She's playing a little more, granted. But she's not really going wild with the whole play thing.

I think she's humoring me.

Laser toys, string toys, pole toys and battery-operated movement toys are better for cats like this. There's a motion and an activity involved with these toys, so they end up being more stimulating and more amusing. As a result, they get more wear.

But I'll keep the little toys around, just in case. She might decide she really does love them, at some point down the line. And even if she doesn't, they make for good Wordless Wednesday props, right?

And this is a Wordless Wednesday entry, pulled together for BlogPaws. Be sure to visit some of the other blogs, and write me a note, too!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

When does your dog need a cancer specialist?

Sinead the Boston terrier in the sunlight
Sinead the Boston terrier has a truly wonderful general-practice veterinarian. I trust him to guide her health, and he's done so ever since she was just a 6-month-old puppy. But she needs outside help. And it doesn't mean I don't trust my own vet.

Earlier this month, Sinead was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor. She had that tumor surgically removed, and her tumor report was filled with mostly good news. But she still has cancer.

When your dog has been diagnosed with cancer (and the National Canine Cancer Foundation says that dogs get cancer as often as humans do), it's reasonable to get help when your own veterinarian has run out of options. If Sinead's tumor couldn't be removed with surgery, it would make sense to head to a specialist for specialized care she couldn't get in a regular clinic.

But I'll argue that it also makes sense to head to a specialist when the news is good, but it's still about cancer. When that happens, you're usually filled with questions.

For example: Mast cell tumors arise from tissues that play a role in the immune system. Since Sinead's system is clearly reactionary, should she have vaccines in the future? Or should we skip all vaccines and give her system a break?

Next: Sinead's tumor was pulled out with clean margins. That means there were no tumor bits at the edge of the tissue they removed from her head. But, there's still a chance that the tumor will come back. If it does, where should I go in order to get help?

Sinead the sunbathing Boston terrier

Veterinary oncologists devote their careers to the understanding of cancer cells. They live and breathe this stuff, and that means they're on the cutting edge of research. They might know new things a regular veterinarian just wouldn't know, and they might have innovative approaches to cancer recurrence that a regular veterinarian just doesn't know about.

A simple consultation appointment allows you to ask all of the questions you might have about the cancers your dog has now, and the risk of future cancers. You could walk away from that appointment with a plan of action you could share with your veterinarian at home, and that could keep your dog alive for longer.

So today, Sinead heads over to see a veterinary oncologist in Portland. And I'll be sure to report back on what we've found and what the plan of action entails.

But know this: If your dog has cancer, I think you should head to a specialist for help. You might get answers you just can't find elsewhere—including on blogs like this. If I can push just one person to make an appointment, I'll consider that a job well done.

Wish us luck at our appointment!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Exotic shorthair cat breathing problems: What they mean for you

Popoki the cat in a closeup photograph
Popoki the exotic shorthair has an absolutely mesmerizing little face. This photo shows how open and loving her everyday expression is. But this photo shows something else, too. If you look close enough, you'll understand why this breed of cat needs special protections.

Exotic shorthair cats have a compressed facial structure. Their noses are pushed in toward their skulls, so Popoki's face is nearly flat, when seen from the side. She just has a tiny little bump or blip of a nose.

But she also has really tiny nostrils. Look closely at that photograph and you'll see what I mean. Her nostrils are about half the size of a normal cat's nostril. If she breathes with her mouth closed, she really has to work to pull air through those tiny nose holes.

Tiny nostrils are endemic in pets with tiny faces. It's a common problem for pugs and Boston terriers, in fact, as they also deal with small muzzles. And since the problem is so common, medical pros have come up with some solutions that can help.

When the nostrils are so small that the pet whistles while breathing or has to open-mouth breathe on a regular basis, veterinarians can go in and snip excess tissues out of the nostril. This nare surgery widens the nasal passages and allows the pet to breathe a little easier. Liam had it done as a puppy, and it was remarkably helpful. He went from wheezing everywhere to breathing nearly silently. And his recovery was a snap. For some cats, this is a good solution.

Popoki the exotic shorthair cat on my desk

But not all cats need that surgery. Some can get by with a few day-to-day alterations from their beloved humans.

That protection starts with air conditioning. Cats like Popoki can't pull hot air through inches and inches of wet nasal passages. Their noses just aren't very long. Air conditioning can cool the air before she breathes it, and that could keep her from feeling the need to breathe rapidly through her little nose.

Protection also comes through product selection. Popoki can't handle a lot of dust or contaminants or debris. When she breathes these things in, they irritate her nose yet more. And that makes already small passages even smaller. Low-dust cat litters and perfume-free cleaners can help her to breathe without snorting and sniffing. And that could be a big help, too.

And finally, that protection involves disease control. When I come home from volunteering at the animal shelter, I am careful to wash up thoroughly. I take off my shoes and scrub the soles, and I put all my clothes in the washer. If I head to a veterinary appointment, I do the same when I get home. Cats like Popoki really struggle with the congestion that comes with a cold, so I need to do my part to keep her infection-free.

Is all of this work worth it? You bet. I wouldn't change Popoki for anything.

Do you do anything special to keep your flat-faced cats healthy? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Hit me up!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Just how lazy is a pug? A Sunday selfie question

Liam the pug in his dog bed
Pugs are often called the "perfect apartment dogs." They rarely bark, and if they do, they aren't very loud at all. They don't grow to more than about 25 pounds, so they don't take up a lot of space. And they want to be close to their people at all times, so they don't need their own rooms or getaway spaces. Seems perfect, right?

But there's another reason why pugs make for great apartment dogs. And Liam the pug is demonstrating this quite nicely. When compared to other dog breeds, pugs are downright lazy. I couldn't even get him to pop up and pay attention for his Sunday selfie post for The Cat on My Head.

Liam the pug is lazy in his bed

These photos were taken several minutes apart. Notice that he hasn't moved at all. He's found a sunny spot, and he's sticking to it. No matter what comes, he's staying put.

Pugs do have their moments of whimsy. They're prone to pug zoomies, for example, and if there's any kind of food involved, Liam will spring right to attention and stay that way until he has a bite. If there's some reward involved, a pug can be just as busy as any other breed of dog.

But in general? This is a super lazy, super chilled-out breed. And that makes pugs perfect Sunday Selfie models. No blurring, no craziness, no endless posing. They stay put.

Liam the pug in a Sunday selfie

Nicely done, Liam!

Thanks, as always, to our wonderful blog hop posts. I always love to see the great things other families come up with on Sundays.

Do leave me a comment, so I'll know you were here. And be sure to visit the other blogs up today!