Thursday, March 30, 2017

What does a cat rodent ulcer look like when it's new?

Maggie the cat looking out the window

I talk about cat rodent ulcers quite a bit on this blog, mainly because Maggie gets them frequently and has done so for all of her life. But it strikes me that I typically talk about these sores when they're in a late stage of development. When her ulcers are open and a little bloody, that's when they appear on the blog.

But in reality, many of Maggie's ulcers never erupt into painful, bloody sores. Much more frequently, she has a very mild form of ulcer that is--I've been told--not very painful. And with the right therapy, I can keep those sores from getting worse.

Maggie has another one of these issues now, so I thought I might show you what it looks like. Here she is in closeup. Look at her lower lip here.

Maggie the cat in closeup

See how half of her lower lip is white? Now, look closely at that white part. There's a tiny bit of black here. That's the ulcer.

Rodent ulcers are caused by an overactive immune system. And they respond as do most immune system problems with swelling. Maggie's little black lower lip is puffy in just one spot, so I can see it on the bottom of her face, peeping out through her fur.

Maggie's lip can stay in this phase for weeks. When they appear, an injection of Depo-Medrol, which is a steroid medication, can help to take the swelling down again.

Maggie has that vaccine quarterly as a preventive measure, but she often gets ulcers like this the week or so before her injection is due. Within a day or so of having that injection, the swelling goes back down.

In acute stages, ulcers like this are spectacularly bloody. Maggie has bled all over her fur, her food bowls and me when an ulcer has gone wrong. And those open lesions can cause scarring--and some have tied that scarred skin to cancer.

So spotting an ulcer when it's early and new is pretty vital, even if seeing it is a little hard.

Rodent ulcer closeup

I look for lips that are so puffy that they shine, like this. Lips shouldn't be shiny. And when I see it, off to the vet we go.

I hope this helps some of you out there who are also dealing with rodent ulcers. There are plenty of ways to treat them, in addition to Depo-Medrol, but you have to know what they are in order to get your cats the therapies that are needed.

If you're using another therapy with your cat, I'd love to know about it. Drop me a note in the comments, okay?

And if you want to see what the next phase of these ulcers look like, see this example of a top-lip ulcer, and this example of a middle-of-the-mouth lesion. Both look pretty scary, but both healed just fine. If you're dealing with this, there is hope!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Dog book review: Loyal by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh

Liam the pug with his book

Spring is here in Oregon, and that means the dogs and I are spending a lot of time inside, in order to stay out of the rain. This week, we've been keeping ourselves entertained with an amazing book called Loyal: 38 Inspiring Tales of Bravery, Heroism and the Devotion of Dogs, written by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh. I was sent a copy of this book in return for my honest review, and I was so glad to have it on hand this week. I liked it much more than I ever expected to.

Many books about dogs are unintentionally sad. I have lost count of the number of dog books I've read that outline a person's amazing connection with a dog that dies before the book is over. I sometimes resist the urge to read books about dogs simply because I can't stand the heartbreak.

This book is different. The author focuses on stories about dogs that have done something really extraordinary for the people that they love. These are dogs that serve, and I'm happy to say that most of the dogs discussed in this book were alive and well when their little snippet stories were through. That means, you can read them and feel mainly joy and respect for our connection with dogs, not sadness about the short length of time these guys live.

Liam the pug with his book

Each story is relatively short. Liam here is posing with a story about Xander the Oregon pug, and that text on the right of the book contains the full story about Xander. So these are short little snapshots.

I found myself picking up the book at random times throughout the day, when I had 10 minutes and needed a pick-me-up. Taking in one quick story gave me a little feel-good boost when I needed it. In my opinion, that's the best way to consume this book. Sitting down and reading too many at once can make the stories blur together. Reading them individually, with time between, helps each story to stay distinct.

Liam the pug with his book

My only wish is that the author had chosen a few more small dogs to highlight in her book. The vast majority of dogs that get a mention here are large, with Labradors and German shepherds dominating the coverage. I know these are the breeds of dogs most often chosen for police work and therapy work, so in a way, it makes sense that they would be overrepresented. But as a person who loves small dogs, and who thinks small dogs get a ton of flak from people who think they are foo-foo creatures who can't be trained, I wanted to see more of their small faces. Maybe we'll have a sequel?

That minor issue aside, I seriously loved this book, and I encourage you to purchase it, either as a gift or just for yourself. The link I included here will take you right to National Geographic, the publisher of this book. If you'd like to find out more about what other readers thought of it, you can check the book out on Goodreads too.

Happy reading!

Disclaimer: I was sent a free copy of this book in return for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Looking for more content about awesome pets? Check out this blog hop. You'll love it!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How can you make a deaf dog come when called?

Liam the pug listening

Liam the pug can no longer hear routine, everyday sounds. He can sometimes hear very high, very loud sounds. But that's rare. For all intents and purposes, this little pug is deaf.

Together, Liam and I are adjusting to his deafness. And as part of that adjustment, we're working on transferring his knowledge of commands from a verbal to a visual format. That means he needs to be able to perform on hand signals alone, not vocal controls.

Many of these transitions are easy to make. But there's one that's very important, and very hard to get right. That command: Come here.

This is a command I could once yell at Liam over great distances, and he'd come running and running back to me wherever I was. Now, he can't hear me when I call.

We've settled on a command that looks a little like waving. I hold my hands by my knees, with my knuckles facing Liam, and I draw my hands toward my body in one big gesture. And he comes.

But that only works when he can see me.

Enter the helper.

Sinead the Boston terrier listening to commands

Sinead the Boston terrier is 100 percent accurate on a recall. Whenever I call her, she comes right over. And typically, she comes over just as fast as she can when she hears the command.

Liam may not be able to hear me call the dogs in from the yard, but he can see Sinead running to the door. He always watches her carefully (as he is doing in this photo) for cues. If I ask her to come into the house and he sees her running, he comes along as well.

Liam and Sinead listening

The other helpful command to reinforce with both dogs is watch me. This command forces your dog to look you in the eyes, despite whatever else might be happening in the area. I've always used visual cues for this particular command (I move my hands from the ground to my eyes), so both the dogs know what it means if I say nothing at all.

Lately, hubby and I have been asking the dogs to watch us on a regular basis. If the dogs are in the habit of checking in with a glance every now and then, they're less likely to run away and need a call back.

We have a lot of work left to do with Liam, but thankfully, he loves to learn. And he's a very quick study. With a little patience and persistence, I'm sure we'll be able to communicate beautifully, even if he can't hear what I'm saying.

Any of you dealing with deaf pets? If you have tips you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them. Drop me a note in the comments, won't you?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Blind cats are cats first

Lucy the blind cat on her chair

Lucy here is shedding her thick winter coat, so she's not looking her best. Her ruff is full of dreadlocks and her back is full of fuzz. (And she's discovered that she really doesn't like to be brushed, so cleaning her up is an epic battle.)

But even though she might not be ready for the camera, she wanted to participate in the hop this week, because she has a little message to share.

That message: Blind cats are cats first, blind second.

What do I mean by that, you ask? I mean that many people define these little creatures by their inability to see. They think the sensory loss these guys experience is what defines them as a being.

In reality, what defines these guys is their essential catitude.

Lucy the cat rolling on her chair

I've had letters from readers asking me why their blind cats do things like:
  • Run around in the middle of the night.
  • Cry when they're confined to small rooms.
  • Bite during play. 
  • Fight with other cats. 

Many people think that their blind cats behave this way because they're blind. It's my suspicion that these cats behave this way because they are cats.

Few of the behaviors Lucy exhibits are due to her essential blindness. She can get spooky around new things, like my walkers and crutches, and she is very sensitive to loud noises. She also hates to be carried. But many of her other quirks seem well within the range of normal for a cat. Most of them are totally normal for a tortie.

I try to reassure readers when they write about their blind cats, and I try to help them learn how to treat these cats like any other cats they might have. They should get the same love, the same play, the same exercise and the same boundaries. They can make new friends, and they need friends. All of that shouldn't change.

And why shouldn't it change? Because people who believe that their blind cats behave badly because they are blind might be more likely to give these cats up. Blind cats are always blind. That can't change.

But behavior? You can totally work on behavior through training (including clicker training!) and love and persistence. Those undesirable behaviors can totally change.

So that's Lucy's message for the day, and she'll cap that message off with a smile for her friends at The Cat On My Head.

Lucy the blind cat posing for a selfie

It's Sunday, and that means it's time for the selfie blog hop. Have you joined in yet? You should. But before you go, leave me a note so I'll know you were here, okay?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Office cat intrusions: How to handle your kitty when you're busy

Popoki the cat in her chair

Last week, the internet exploded with glee in response to a man's interview conducted from his home office. No cats were in the video (which made me a little surprised that it was so popular; we all know cats rule the internets), but I'm sure cat parents who work from home can relate to what happened.

In case you haven't seen this video, go here and watch it now. I dare you not to laugh. Here he is, trying to give a talk about something very serious, and both of his kids decide that it's the perfect moment to pop into the office for a visit.

I laugh--but it's a knowing laugh.

Popoki is my office cat, and oftentimes, she does things that others might find a little intrusive. For example, at the end of a very long day in the office when she thinks I should stop typing and start putting food in her bowl, she will start to make very overt and direct suggestions, like this.

Popoki the cat resting her head on my keyboard

And, she sometimes decides that I need to take care of something at the exact moment I'm on the phone with a colleague or a client. She has yet to walk across my desk during a video conference, but I'm sure she's thought about it.

Banning my cat from my office isn't the right step for me. Popoki works as a stress reliever and a companion, and I know having her around makes me a better worker. I am able to let things go and really focus on work (and not emotion) because she is here.

But since I do work remotely and have to spend quite a bit of time on the phone or video chats, I have to take steps to ensure that she won't be a distraction. Here are the four things I always do to help ensure she stays in the background.

  1. Introduce new toys at the end of the day, when I'm no longer taking calls. Most cat toys make some kind of sound, and those sounds can be very distracting to callers. By giving her new toys at night, that allows her to play like crazy when sounds don't matter.
  2. Give her a treat right before calls begin. A hungry cat is a persistent cat. If I can make sure she has something tasty in her tummy before I must do something important, she'll be less likely to pester me. 
  3. Place very comfortable beds around the office. Popoki has her pick of sleeping spots in the office, including sleeping spots in a loft that is far from the desk. If those beds are enticing enough, she'll stay there (and not in the way of the camera) when I need her to. 
  4. Make time for play before the workday begins. Popping into the office 15 or 20 minutes before I log on for work gives me time to use wand toys and other interactive play options with Popoki. That wears her out, so she is more likely to sleep during the day. 
Popoki is a cat, and she can be unpredictable as a result. She even tried drinking a little tea last week, for example, which I never thought she'd do.

Popoki the cat with tea

But by planning ahead and trying to make her environment as friendly as possible, I can ensure that embarrassments don't happen in my office. I think that's a good thing.

Do your cats come into your office? What do you do to make it work? Leave me a note and let me know!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lap cats and dogs: Everyone wants a cuddle

Sinead the Boston terrier asking to sit on my lap

What happens when the weather is cool and wet? Dogs and cats can't go outside for their regular exercise sessions (even the cats go for walks in this household), and they think the house is a little too chilly for active play. That means--in this household anyway--that we get a lot of requests for lap access.

I should point out that all of my animals know that they should ask before they jump up for lap time. My dogs may be little, but they could do a lot of damage if they jump up unexpectedly. And my cats have had drinks spilled on them enough times that they know they should ask before leaping too.

But since the weather is so cool and crisp, every time I look down, I see a little face asking to be let up. Like this.

Popoki the cat asking for lap access

In general, I try to let the dogs and cats hop on up when they ask nicely. If I ignore their requests, they might stop asking for permission altogether. And that could mean I'd have dogs and cats leaping into my lap unannounced.

But since I do try to say yes so often, and I have so many little pets, I sometimes get myself in trouble. Like this.

Three pets on one lap

Look closely and you'll see Liam the pug, Sinead the Boston terrier and Lucy the blind cat all on my lap at the same time. That's a lot of pets! And not quite enough lap.

Here's hoping the weather warms up soon, so these guys can get out and about with ease (and so my lap can get a bit of a break!).

Do you train your pets to ask for permission before leaping? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know.

And this is my entry into the Wordless Wednesday blog hop as hosted by BlogPaws. Be sure to visit the other blogs in this week's hop. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Cats love interactive play: 4 steps to get started

Fergus the kitten resting on my lap

How do you get a zany cat to rest nicely in your lap? Play is the answer. And if the cat is as rambunctious as little Fergus here, not just any type of play will do. He needs a very focused, very vigorous form of play. And that means he needs me to get involved.

There are tons of cat toys out there that are made to stimulate a cat's hunting behaviors, and many of those toys rely on cats to get creative. They must bat balls around or pounce on paper or chase after a toy that pops in and out of a cube. They must choose to play and they must play alone.

Fergus can and will play like that from time to time. But what he really loves? Interactive play.

Fergus the cat playing
He loves play so much you can't see him doing it.
These are play times when someone human in the house is involved in the action. That makes the play a little less predictable. And to Fergus, that makes the play more fun.

If you haven't gotten involved in play like this before, here are a couple ways to get started.
  1. Look for very simple toys that you must operate. Skip over the battery-operated toys and the fancy, self-directed bits. Look for toys operated by wands or sticks or elastic. These are the things you move and the cats chase. That makes for better interactivity. 
  2. Move the toy very slowly at first. If your cat has never been offered an interactive toy, that kitty could get scared by your fast, whipping movements. Try gliding the toy across the floor slowly, or try waving it back and forth very gently. 
  3. Let kitty catch the toy from time to time. It's tempting to keep the party going by continuing to whip the toy around. But that kind of play can frustrate the cat. Allow kitty to win from time to time, and then start over again. 
  4. Pay attention. Cats can give subtle, hard-to-interpret signals during play. Fergus does. Notice that his paws are folded and he's not touching the toy. At first glance, he looks done with play. In reality, he's just planning the next attack. The more you play with your cat, the more you'll learn to interpret these signals (and the more fun everyone will have). 
Fergus the kitten with his toy

Fergus is still young and very crazy, and he needs play sessions in order to burn off energy. That allows him to be nicer to his roommates. When you're using play to help with these energy issues, the sessions can go on for much longer than you ever thought possible. Fergus, for example, will play for at least 45 minutes at a stretch. I've had 90-minute play sessions with him a time or two.

If you need to cut down on the amount of time you spend, look for ways to make the play more vigorous. If I have something else that must be done after the play so I need to speed things up, I incorporate more leaping into the play, and I make him run from one room to the other. Things can get so crazy that even the dogs get a little worried.

Liam the pug and Sinead the Boston terrier
"Please make it stop."
But this kind of play suits Fergus. How do I know? Because he would simply walk away if he wasn't having fun. He doesn't, so I know I'm on the right track.

Do you play interactive games with your cats? Share your tips in the comments!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Sunday cat selfie love story: Two kitties learn to coexist

Fergus the kitten resting

Before I sat down to write this cat blog post this morning, I went to a yoga class for adults. Yoga is part of the recovery plan for my broken leg, and since I have cats, I can't do yoga at home. (Have you tried yoga with cats? If you do, set a timer and see how long it takes for a cat to get on your back. It takes 10 seconds here.) Next door to my adult class, they were holding a yoga class for little kids. Many of the parents of those yoga kids were in the adult class. And as I listened to them, some phrases sounded really familiar.

"He plays and plays and just never calms down."

"When it's time for bed, he still has so much energy."

"I feel like her mind must be racing all the time."

I know these parents were talking about their human kids, but these same little phrases could easily apply to Fergus. This guy has boundless energy (and always has), especially around mealtimes. I can play with him for an hour and he still has energy left behind.

That boundless energy has been really hard on senior cat, Maggie.

Maggie the senior cat
Note that she still hates my walker. Look at those wide eyes!

Maggie has a very gentle way about her, and she doesn't appreciate Fergus and his invitations to romp. He approaches her with all the right play gestures, but she never seems to want to play along. So he pounces, she screams and I run over to break it up.

Or I did.

I'm not quite as fast on my feet as I once was, and this has meant these two little kitties have been forced to work out their difficulties and enhance their communication. I try to help by engaging them in joint play sessions like this (more on this on Tuesday, so check back!).

Fergus and Maggie playing together

But much of the work has been done between these two cats. And they seem to have fallen in love a little bit.

Fergus continues to attempt to engage Maggie in play, and she continues to avoid those advances. But when he is quiet and calm, she has started to engage him in a few cuddle sessions. Earlier this week, we caught her grooming his head for a few minutes. This morning, she even tried to crawl into his bed with him. And this afternoon, she was sleeping on the couch with an exposed belly--which Fergus just sniffed and didn't attack.

These are all wonderful signs, and it makes me wonder if I've been too quick to try to correct behaviors cats can solve on their own. Maggie must be like the parents in my yoga class, understanding that Fergus is just a baby. She may be irritated, but she certainly doesn't hate him. And by allowing her to communicate that, everything between these two cats is going better.

I just had to share this success story with the Kitties Blue on The Cat on My Head as part of the blog hop.

And Fergus wanted me to end the post with a proper selfie. He is posing so nicely here on my lap (you can just see my hip and my walker in the background). Despite his kitten crazies, he remains a loving and sweet guy. And you must admit that he's darn gorgeous too, right?

Fergus the kitten on my lap

Do all of your cats get along? And if they don't, how do you help? Leave me a note in the comments and let me know. And be sure to visit the other blogs in the hop! Good stuff this week.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Cats in bowties (Just in time for St. Patrick's Day!)

Fergus the kitten in his bowtie

As a rule, cats don't need to wear clothes. They have an insulating layer of fur that keeps them both warm and dry, so they don't need another layer to keep them protected from nature. But there are times when a little bit of bling can be a good thing for a cat.

For example, I'm putting Fergus in his little green bow tie here to help grab attention for a very special little kitty (more on that in a minute). I need the tie to help me tell the story. And since I'm using the tie in the right way, it doesn't bother him.

My secret: Photo shoots with clothing and cats must happen very, very quickly. I had the lighting for this shoot all set up long before Fergus came into the picture. And I didn't pop his tie on until I had my camera focused on the place where he'd sit.

That setup meant the photo shoot was done before he could even complain about it. And I used so many wonderful treats that he was willing to do a little work with me. He even wanted to flirt with me.

Fergus the kittten flirts for the camera

So these photos are perfect for St. Patrick's Day. That green on the tie reminds us all of the celebrations to come. So shooting with a tie makes a ton of sense.

But I put Fergus in this costume to help me tell a story of a cat that needs rescuing. Right now, he's waiting at Willamette Humane Society in Salem (where Fergus came from). And he needs our help.

This kitty's name is Gizmo, and he's a 16yo Siamese. He came into the shelter system when his owners fell ill, and he's not having a wonderful time at the shelter. Apparently, he's a little shy when he meets new people. But look at how much he wants to sell his awesome self. This is his official shelter photo.

Gizmo the Siamese

That hat and tie aren't placed there via Photoshop. Gizmo allowed the photographer to put those props on him, and he stayed in those clothes throughout the shoot.

Let's think about that for a minute.

The shelter is a loud and chaotic place, and it's likely Gizmo didn't know his photographer well. He had probably never been in the photography studio before. He should have been scared and hiding. He should have maybe been a little angry. But he overcame all that and worked with the staff. I think he should get credit for that, don't you?

Gizmo has a good history of living with both dogs and cats. He's been declawed in front, so he will need a strictly indoor-only home. And he will need slow introductions, since he's shy. Gizmo has also come down with a cold in the shelter, so he'll need some TLC while he heals up.

Can you help Gizmo with a share this St. Patrick's Day? Fergus and I will thank you for it. He needs our help!

20170318 update: I'm happy to report that Gizmo was adopted!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Oregon dog dreams of spring

Sinead the Boston terrier in her sweater by the fire

Springtime in Oregon can be unpredictable--and if you're a dog--it can be a little heartbreaking. Just ask Sinead the Boston terrier here. She may look awfully cute in her little sweater, but deep down, her little soul is crushed.

Very small dogs--and Boston terriers in general--are most comfortable when the weather is warm. Sinead is happiest when it's about 82 outside and about 82 inside. That's when she stretches out on the floor or in the grass with a smile on her face. And when she gets up from those comfy spots, she has a little spring in her step. You can see her come alive when it's warm.

Sinead the Boston terrier in her bed

We had a few days last week when the temperature moved up into the 60s. The sun was shining, the grass was waving in the breeze and Sinead got a little excited. She spent some time sleeping in sun puddles in the morning, and in the afternoon, she hopped out into Popoki's catio for some fresh air. She felt like spring was here.

But by Saturday, that warm weather disappeared. We were back into the 40s and 50s with rain falling in sheets from a black sky. Sinead was absolutely heartbroken about that, and she started sighing dramatically before she'd head out to the yard for her potty breaks.

Sinead the Boston terrier in front of the fire

So for now, she's back in her little sweaters all day long. And I've pulled her bed in front of the heater, so she can soak up the warmth. I keep telling her that spring is really, really coming. But until it arrives for good, she's prepared to brave the cold.

Has spring sprung where you are? And what do your pets think of it? Drop me a note in the comments and let me know, okay?

And be sure to join the Wordless Wednesday blog hop, as hosted by BlogPaws. You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Are declawed cats scaredy-cats? (I think so)

Popoki the cat on her stairs

Popoki the cat looks pretty darn relaxed in the photos I take of her. She knows me, she knows the camera and she knows the space where photo shoots take place. This is a controlled environment, and as a result, she has nothing to be afraid of. She seems to know that.

But if I changed even one thing about that formula, I'd have very different photos. A new human, a new sound or a new object would send her running. And a new cat? She'd scream in fear.

Why is she like this? I have a few theories. But there's one I like best. I think it has to do with her declaw surgery at 6 months of age.

Popoki the cat looking up

Cats use their claws in a very specific way. A cat that feels threatened or upset can give a whack with claws out and put the intruder human or animal on notice. A claw swipe is just enough to help a cat transmit fear, but it's not so aggressive that it means the cat must followup with a full-blown biting attack.

Cats that are naturally reticent (which Popoki probably is) use their claws quite a bit. They swipe at veterinarians, at house guests and other cats. They carve out space with their claws.

If you take a cat's claws from them, that leaves these cats with no real way to display their discomfort. They must either run or prepare for a full-on attack when they're threatened. And since they don't have all the weaponry they might use in a full-blown attack, they know they'll go into fights they can't win.

What would you do? You'd run. Whenever you faced something that made you nervous, you would run.

Popoki the cat looking angry

People who continue to support declaw surgery (even now, there are people who do this) often say that cats without claws are no worse for wear. They say cats without claws adjust.

But I think the adjustments these cats make are adjustments that can make them a little harder to live with. These are cats that can seem suspicious, eternally on guard and essentially alone. They behave that way due to their trauma. And that trauma is something we can't understand or really fix.

The best way to combat the continuing ignorance of people who support declaws is to remind them of the stories of cats like Popoki. Give them specific instances of cats who weren't "just fine" after a declaw. Help them to see the truth for what it is.

Want to do more? I recommend the Paw Project. Your donations help to keep that advocacy work going. It's advocacy so many cats like Popoki will benefit from.

And just in case you think Popoki is alone in her behaviors, come back on Thursday. I have a story to share about another shelter cat (and declaw victim) that's looking for a home. He'll need our help, and I'm hoping you can join in!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cats on wheels! Kittens are braver than you might expect

Fergus the kitten on a scooter

In about 2 weeks, Fergus will transition from a kitten to an adult cat. But given his behavior, you might not know that adulthood is looming. Fergus still has a great deal of spunk and energy. And his favorite thing is to explore new items that enter the household.

Recently, he's become really enamored with something most of the other pets are afraid of. So I decided that he could pose for his Sunday selfie on this object, so I could tell you a little about what's going on (and how it might apply to your cats).

Fergus the kitten on a knee scooter

Fergus has recently discovered the joys of the knee scooter. This is a piece of equipment I use to help me move from room to room as I recover from my broken leg. It has a padded cushion for my leg that sits at about knee level, and typically it's sitting next to a place where I am sitting. I hop off the scooter and I get into a chair.

For a cat, this is pretty much a perfect place to sit. Fergus is close to humans (which he loves) and he's at lap level, so he can grab any food we might be eating (which he also loves). So whenever I am not on the scooter, he wants to sit on the scooter.

But since he loves it, the scooter is also a touch dangerous.

This thing has four very solid wheels, and it has a very wide turning radius. I don't have a lot of control over how it moves, especially when I am going backward. And when I am on the scooter, it's carrying about 100 pounds of weight.

All of the other animals know to stay about 10 feet in front of or behind me when I'm on the scooter (and some are so afraid of it that they run whenever they see it). But Fergus tends to wind underfoot while I am wheeling. And sometimes, he's been run over.

Fergus the kitten looks angry

It's hard to train a curious and happy-go-lucky cat to be afraid of something. But it can be done. I've been using hand claps and waving hands when I get on the scooter or start to move it backwards. Big gestures and loud sounds tend to freak cats out, and they're good indicators that something dangerous is happening.

I also use loud words like "LOOK OUT" when I am about to bump Fergus with the cart. He tends to scurry when that happens, too.

Thankfully, not much more training is required. In a few weeks, I should be able to start walking again. When that happens, I'll be returning this scooter to the rental shop. I'm sure Fergus will miss his perch, but he might not miss having a more mobile mom.

So, in honor of his last week of scooter work, here's the Sunday selfie he'd like to share with his friends at The Cat On My Head. I think he did a nice job, don't you?

Fergus the kitten on his scooter

Thanks for reading, and do leave me a note before you go. And be sure to join in the fun in the blog hop! You'll make new friends and have a great time. I always do.

Have a wonderful Sunday! And be sure to check back on Thursday, when Fergus dons a special celebratory costume for St. Patrick's Day.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Stubborn pug? He could be deaf

Liam the pug looking up

Liam the pug is accustomed to working on blog photo shoots with me--especially around the holidays. He knows I break out elaborate props and backdrops, and then we sit down together to take photographs of him posing with those props. We've been doing this work for 6 years now, so he knows the drill.

But my new Liam posts might look a little different. That's because Liam seems to have lost most--if not all--of his hearing.

In a typical blog post, like this St. Patrick's Day post from last year, I put Liam in some sort of pose, and I use oral commands like "wait" or "stay" to make him hold the pose. He follows those oral commands quite well. Or at least, he did.

This year, I wanted to pose Liam with this little whiskey bottle for St. Patrick's Day. It's cute. He's cute. I thought it would be a perfect match.

Liam the pug with his whiskey prop

Posing him with the bottle was no problem at all. The real issue involved making him look at the camera. Liam just doesn't want to do this anymore. He either looks up and over the camera, trying to catch my eye. Or he looks at another person in the room (like my husband) for instructions.

Liam's developed these coping skills all on his own, and he was so good at using them, that neither my husband nor I realized that Liam was deaf until about a week ago. We have a good excuse: We've both been very busy with my broken leg and all of the changes that's prompted. But Liam was showing signs quite some time ago.

For example:
  • Liam just flat-out stopped coming when he was called. We could call and call and call for him, and he just wouldn't show up. When we'd go to him to get him, he'd look surprised.
  • He started sleeping in late in the morning, rather than springing out of bed when his bowl came out of the dishwasher.
  • He started growling at Fergus and Sinead during play sessions, if they tried a pouncing maneuver. 
  • He tried to keep my face in sight at all times, even when we were walking. 
 Looking back, these are super obvious signs we should have noticed. But we didn't. We thought he was being a stubborn little pug who was a touch grouchy from time to time. We misinterpreted things.

But the big kicker came last week, when Sinead was in the living room barking at a supposed intruder, and Liam was in the kitchen with me. Typically, one barking dog makes all the other dogs bark. Liam often tears off to join her in barking. This time, he didn't.

I got nervous then, and I did another test. I held a toy behind my back and squeezed it to make it squeak, he didn't turn his head at all. He just didn't hear it.

We've run dozens of other experiments with doorbells and whistles and dropped food and crinkling treat bags. We get the same reactions each time. If Liam can't see it, he does not react to it. 

Liam the pug in closeup

There is one approved, formal hearing test for dogs, and there is a veterinarian about an hour from my home that performs these tests. But, this BAER test involves placing three electrodes on the dog's face for the duration of the test. Liam is an absolute whirling mess of nerves at the veterinarian's office, and he has become so upset at anything near his face that he has nearly hyperventilated. Considering that there is no real treatment for deafness like his, I'm not sure I want to put him through a formal test--just in case.

That said, an infection has been ruled out for Liam. Serious ear infections and wax plugs can cause signs of deafness, so dogs who can't seem to hear should always go to the vet. Liam did.

But deaf dogs can--and often do--live very productive and helpful lives. They adjust, as Liam has done, with the help of their people. I'll be learning more about hand signals, for example, and we're already looking for ways to modify the few hand commands he does know into big gestures he can see from long distances. Watch for that on the blog in the coming months.

But this St. Patrick's Day, raise a glass to a very smart and sweet little pug who has been dealing with this challenge admirably, all on his own. Liam is truly extraordinary, and I'm so glad he's with me. And do leave me a note before you go, okay?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The human bed is really for cats, right?

Fergus the kitten on the bed

Any allergist will tell you that cats should not be allowed on a human's bed. Cat hairs, and the dander generated by cat skin, can be an irritant to the sinuses and lungs. People who have allergies--even if they've had allergy shots, like I have--really should limit exposure to these kinds of triggers.

I know all that. I've read the literature. But seriously. How can you kick a comfy cat off your bed?

Fergus the kitten in closeup

Fergus here has both of his little paws curled in. Cats only do that when they're really comfortable and planning to stay in place for awhile. Fergus rarely folds his paws in like this, because he's a young dude and he has a lot to do. Long naps don't really fit into his master plan. But when he does have his feet curled, he's really parked.

And I don't blame him. The bedroom is a little cooler than the rest of the house, so I would imagine that it's much more comfortable for hairy guys like Fergus. And the bed is piled high with winter coverlets and quilts, as the nights are still quite cold in Oregon. This is a soft bed for a kitty to take advantage of.

Fergus the cat yawning

See? Seriously. How can I move him.

So I don't. If he makes it into the bedroom and he gets comfortable, he gets to stay. If the bedding is filled with hair when it's time for bed, a quick runover with the vacuum can pick up the chunks. And for everything else, there's Zyrtek.

How about you? Do you let your cats or dogs sleep on the human bed? Drop me a note and let me know.

And don't forget to visit some of the other blogs in this week's BlogPaws hop! You'll be glad you did.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Sinead's springtime dog shapeup plan

Sinead with her mother

Sinead the Boston terrier loves the spring. That's due, in part, to the warmer weather that comes along with the spring. This little dog simply does NOT tolerate colder temperatures. When things start to warm up, she gets excited. And that's good, as we have a lot to do this spring, this little darling dog and I.

Disclaimer: This post was triggered by a request from Nature's Recipe. Sinead received a free bag of dog food for her participation. No other compensation changed hands. All opinions are my own. 

I'm still in the recovery stages from my broken leg, as this photo makes clear. My leg is still encased in this boot (which both Sinead and I hate), I have to use a walker or knee scooter to get around, and I can't put more than just a little weight on my left foot, so real walking is out. I have another month of this work, and then I'll pop back to the doctor to see if my bones have knitted enough to allow me to start really walking with both of my feet.

Since I can't do much walking, Sinead hasn't been walking much either. She gets nervous at the idea of being away from me while she walks, and she doesn't seem to care for the shorter, focused walks my husband provides. Plus, it's cold.

So what's she been doing instead? She's been snacking.

Sinead at the dining room table

Her portions have been cut, and in theory, that should help her to lose weight. But it's hard to replace the value of walking with her mother twice per day. Before I was injured, we both walked 2 miles each day. Now, she doesn't walk much at all. And that change is starting to show in her waistline.

So this spring, when I get the all-clear from the doctor, we'll be making every moment count by working back up to walking. We'll go nice and slowly, so she can explore the world as we travel and I can build up muscle in my withered left leg. And we'll enjoy our time together, as we once did.

Treats play a key role in walks with Sinead. I use them to help her overcome her persistent stranger danger syndrome, and I use them to motivate her to keep going when she wants to rest instead. Typically, I use meat-based treats. But when Sinead is watching her weight, we need something different.

So I'm happy to have the opportunity to try this grain-free, salmon-based food from Nature's Recipe. The bites are small, even for little dogs like Sinead, so they make for ideal training treats.

Sinead eating her kibble

And since Sinead eats kibble for her noontime meal, I'm happy that this food is nutritionally sound. The first ingredient is salmon, which is ideal. The first ingredient in any dog food should be something a human both recognizes and would eat.

Another bonus: This food is relatively easy to find. In fact, I can get it at my local grocery store. If Sinead and I head out on longer walks to far-flung places, it's nice to know that I can get her the food she needs if I run out.

Sinead the Boston terrier with her food

So this spring, look for a woman walking very slowly with a tiny dog. And look for that woman handing out teeny-tiny bites of food to keep that little dog motivated. That woman will be me, and I'd love to say hello!

But don't wait for that time to talk me up. Before you leave, drop me a comment about what you'll be doing this spring with your pets. Are walks in your future? Let me know!

Disclaimer: Sinead was sent a bag of this dog food to try, in return for an honest opinion. All words here are my own, and no other form of compensation changed hands. Rest assured that Sinead and I only review products we think have real value for readers.