My Wicked Tribe, or just the Tribe, is the group name I use for my collection of crazy, zany and silly pet animals. Over the years these pets have included everything from fish, reptiles, amphibians, rodents, birds and rabbits up to the current crop of chickens, cats and dogs. You can learn more about me and my current Tribe here.
This site is geared for pet parents, particularly those owned by a dog or cat, who are not in veterinary medicine. It is for people who are looking for help with their pet challenges. Especially the challenges of managing multiple pets with kids in the house. If you feel overwhelmed by all of the information that is floating around on the internet, then this site is for you!
I also hope you find these posts entertaining. Sometimes, all you can do is laugh at the insane situations that having pets will get you into!
I am not a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM). I can, however, offer you the perspective and experience of someone who worked in veterinary medicine for 10 years. Think of me as that vet-working friend you text at 8pm to ask about flea control.
I am open to comments about and ideas for this site! I have a list of things I think would be useful to write about, but I do intend this to be a long-term project. So if I haven’t written about something you are interested yet, let me know!
You can find my summary blog page here.
Come on in and join My Wicked Tribe…
If you have ever had a dog who had ear problems, you know what a pain they are to treat! Not only can it take a while to clear up the infection, many dogs have reoccurring issues with their ears. Some of my clients would be in 4-7 times a year for their dog’s ear infections! In this post, I am going to explain why some dogs have chronic ear problems, and give you some tips for preventing them!
When we hear “ear infection” we almost always think of bacterial infections. I suspect that this is because most of us are given antibiotics to treat our ear infections!
While dogs can develop bacterial infections in their ears, these are almost always secondary infections. The main agent behind most ear infections in dogs is actually yeast. Yes, yeast! Those same one-celled organisms that make bread rise and beer ferment!
We actually have yeast cells all over our bodies, and our dogs are no different. As long as the yeast growth is under control there are no problems. However, when something happens to upset the balance on your dog’s skin, the yeast can take over and spread. This leads to a yeast infection.
Yeast infections are often seen in places where the skin folds over on itself. Some dogs have facial “wrinkles” that develop these infections. Others get infections around their tails. Of course, the most common place for a dog to develop a yeast infection is in their ears.
Yeast cells grow rapidly when they are in a warm, moist environment. Dog ears, especially ears that hang down, are the perfect home for yeast. While any dog can get a yeast infection in their ears, breeds like cocker spaniels, retrievers, basset hounds and the like are especially prone to them.
Droopy-eared dogs are more likely to have this problem because the hanging ear flap traps the moist, warm air in the ear canal. Over time, the yeast reproduces and starts an infection. If your dog has a lot of fur in the ears, then the fur also prevents the air from circulating in the ear canal.
When a dog starts to develop a yeast infection in their ears, they shake their heads, rub their faces and paw at their ears. If the infection is not promptly treated, this can lead to trauma in the ear. At some point, bacteria joins the party and causes a second infection. Now you have a full blown ear crisis!
Some dogs are what we refer to in veterinary medicine as “ear dogs.” These are the ones we see in frequently for ear infections. Eventually, repeated infections can cause chronic swelling and even scarring in the ear canal. This inflammation makes the canal even smaller, reducing the air flow further and making future infections more likely.
Why do some dogs become “ear dogs?” As I mentioned above, some breeds of dogs are more likely to have this problem because of the way their ears hang down.
Others may develop infections if they spend a lot of time in the water or get frequent baths. The water can become trapped in their ears, leading to a yeast overgrowth and infection.
A big reason that dogs get chronic ear infections, though, and a hugely frustrating one, is allergies.
When you talk about allergies in dogs, most folks think of food allergies. It is very trendy right now to switch your dog to a special boutique brand after declaring that they are allergic to corn, or a protein like chicken or beef.
I am not saying that food allergies don’t exist, or that people are wrong to worry about their dog’s diet. In my experience, food allergies in veterinary medicine are under reported simply because most people don’t do all of the testing needed to “prove” their dog or cat has one.
Many allergies in pets are NOT related to food, however. Environmental allergies are incredibly common. I live in the Willamette Valley in the state of Oregon. This is one of the worst places in the world for those who suffer from “hay fever!” I have seen this in our pets as well!
The most common signs that a dog is suffering from environmental allergies are skin and ear problems. If your dog is one who is always licking their feet or legs, or is often itchy for no obvious reason, then allergies could be the cause. Ear problems frequently go hand-in-hand with allergies.
Chances are, if you have an “ear dog” you also have an allergy dog! Get the allergy symptoms under control, and you reduce the chronic infections.
Preventing an ear crisis is easier and less expensive than treating an infection. Regular ear maintenance can stop infections in their tracks.
First, I recommend that you become familiar with what your dog’s ears smell like normally. Yes, I want you to sniff your dog’s ears!
Most technicians and veterinarians can identify a yeast infection by its odor. They do an ear cytology to confirm things, but trust me, a yeast infection smells like a yeast infection. I liken it to the smell of bread dough when it is rising, or what the dregs of beer smell like the day after a party.
Knowing what your dog’s ears smell like normally will help you identify the early signs of a yeast infection. As soon as you smell the yeast you can start taking action! You may even avoid a visit to the vet!
Get a good quality ear cleaner made for dogs, and a bag of cotton balls. Do regular ear cleanings on your dog. I prefer a cleaner like Epi-Otic, but any cleaner designed for routine ear cleaning will do.
Avoid using water, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol or apple cider vinegar. These products can irritate the delicate skin in the ear canal and actually cause infections. You do not need to use a prescription ear cleaner for routine maintenance, but you do want a product made for pets.
Have your vet or groomer demonstrate how to do an ear cleaning. Depending on the size of your dog, there are different techniques you can use for an easy cleaning.
For smaller dogs, you can often saturate a cotton ball with the cleaner, place it in the ear canal and then gently massage the base of the ear. You should hear a “squish” sound as you massage. For larger dogs, you may need to pour the cleaner directly into the ear canal. Then place the cotton ball in the ear and massage.
Remove the cotton ball and allow your dog to shake their head for a minute. Fluid will fly out. I do these cleanings outside, so I don’t have to clean the walls after, but doing it in a garage or bathroom works too.
When you dog is done shaking, check the ears. Use a fresh cotton ball to wipe away any material you see on the ear flap and visible part of the ear canal. Repeat the cleaning if there is still a lot of gunk in the ears.
Don’t go digging into your dog’s ear with a cotton ball or with a cotton swab! You are far more likely to push the debris back into the ear.
It depends. If your dog has frequent ear infections, then doing a cleaning once or twice a week may be ideal. For most dogs, cleaning a few times a month does the trick.
You can cause problems by cleaning too often, or being too aggressive with the ear cleanings. The goal is a quick and gentle maintenance routine.
You should do ear cleanings after every bath, or if your dog goes swimming or gets soaked in the rain. This will get the water out of their ears and help prevent a yeast infection from forming.
If your dog has a lot of fur in their ears, you will need to have your groomer or vet remove it regularly. The best way to have this done is through “plucking” the fur…basically, gently pulling the fur out. Don’t do this at home unless you know how to do it. There are a few tricks to plucking fur without causing pain and discomfort.
Dogs with really fuzzy ears will also benefit from having the fur shaved from the inside of the ear flap. Think cocker spaniels and labradoodles.
Removing the fur from the ear canal and inside of the ear flap will increase the air circulation in the ear. This helps prevent moisture and yeast growth. It also makes ear cleanings easier, and more effective. The gunk is less likely to get trapped in the ear canal when the fur has been removed.
Furry dogs may need this plucking done as often as once a month.
Allergies are common in our pets. If you suspect that your dog has seasonal or environmental allergies, talk to your vet about allergy medications. Many over-the-counter allergy products made for humans can be safely used in our dogs.
In my experience, Benadryl isn’t the most useful medication for canine allergies. It works great for bee stings and insect bites, but for other allergies I haven’t found that it does much other than make the dog sleepy. Benadryl doesn’t seem to be very helpful for dogs who suffer from chronic ear issues.
If you have a dog with severe allergies and/or chronic ear problems that are not controlled by OTC meds, you may need to try something else. There is an amazing medication for canine allergies called Apoquel that I just can’t recommend highly enough. It has been a miracle drug for many dogs with allergies. The major downside is that it is very expensive.
If you get the allergies under control, chronic ear infections will be less frequent.
If you are doing regular ear cleanings, you will likely spot a infection while it is in its early stage. I check my dog’s ears once a week, even though I only clean them about once a month.
Signs that an infection is getting started include a slight odor of yeast and more gunk in the ears than usual. Your dog may start shaking their head, or rubbing their face on the floor or furniture.
If you notice these signs, do an ear cleaning. Check that there isn’t fur in the ear, and if there is, have it plucked out.
If I suspect an early ear infection, I monitor it daily and do a cleaning every third day until the symptoms resolve. If the symptoms get worse, or don’t resolve themselves in a week, then I head to the vet. I don’t usually use any medications in my dog’s ears unless the vet recommends I do so.
If you catch a yeast infection early, you can often clear it up without needing to use a prescription ear medication.
Sometimes, despite preventative care and home treatment, a dog still develops a full blown ear infection. Don’t mess around with this situation. Get professional help!
When I wrote my last update on my senior schnauzer Ajax, I thought the next post would be the sad one. Truly, at the time I didn’t think things could be managed any better. Still, I made some changes and waited to see how things went in the month of August…and was shocked at how well she has been doing! In this post, we will talk about managing senior dogs and some things you might try to make them comfortable and help settle them down.
One of the hardest parts about having a senior dog are the changes in behavior that many of them experience. It feels like one minute your dog is normal (acting as they have their entire adult life) and the next they are a different animal.
Suddenly they might wake up grouchy, or snap at you when you disturb them. They don’t have the patience with other animals that they use to have. You might see signs of dementia, where your dog walks up to a wall and stares at it for hours or wanders around in circles. Especially at night, managing senior dogs can be really stressful on the whole family.
Some of these changes could be related to pain, so it is important to have a vet evaluate your pooch. Arthritis, indigestion and constipation (and other gastric conditions) are all common problems in senior pups…and they are very treatable! Hearing and sight loss can explain why a senior dog is suddenly acting strange. Many seniors are more susceptible to urinary tract infections, so have that looked into if your dog is having frequent accidents in the house.
Once you have seen the Vet and started any recommended medications or supplements, then it is time to look at your household routine. What can you do to accommodate your dog’s new normal?
My biggest problem with Ajax was the alteration in her sleeping patterns. Up until last spring, Ajax always slept on the bed with us. In fact, she was a champion sleeper! If Suckerfish slept in on the weekend, Ajax would be right beside him. 12 hours, 15 hours, it didn’t matter.
This all changed abruptly last spring. Suddenly Ajax refused to sleep on the bed. Ok, we made her a nice bed on the floor. It didn’t work, though. She would sleep for a few hours, and then start wandering around at 3am. She would stumble over things, try to climb the golden retriever, bash into the door and generally leave me unable to sleep at all. Also, she started having accidents in the bedroom. There is nothing like getting up in the middle of the night to use the ladies room and stepping in poo!
I needed a break; all these sleepless nights and early mornings were killing me. So we tried having her sleep in the kitchen, gated in for her security. I felt so guilty! We were only going to do it on the weekends. The rest of the week I would just get up with her.
Having her sleep in the kitchen worked! It worked amazingly well, in fact. The first few nights I got up to check on her, and there she was, sound asleep. Sure, some mornings we wake up to a mess on the floor. But mopping linoleum is easier than shampooing a carpet. No more stepping in poo in the middle of the night!
I thought she would be distressed at the change…but it was all in MY head. I realized I was the one distressed at the change. I wanted her in the bedroom. She is happy in the kitchen. I’m sure she still wanders around at times, but when I check on her she is always sound asleep.
Start with a list of the problems. For Ajax, it was difficult to wake her up without startling her. She has never been an aggressive dog, but is now very intolerant of being handled and tries to bite when we groom her. She has more frequent accidents in the house. And the big one- the not sleeping at night.
Once you have your list, you can start working on the solutions!
For Ajax, we started waking her up differently. I find that if I gently pet her on her rear (away from the teeth if she tries to nip), I can slowly wake her up without any drama.
We bought a muzzle we can use if we need to do any grooming. We haven’t had to use it often, but it’s there if we need it. I also move slowly with her if I have to handle her. I find that if I go very slowly, I can usually accomplish what I need to without upsetting her. It takes me three times as long to do a nail trim, but I’d rather do it slowly than rush through it and have her break out the teeth!
We pay close attention to her and take her outside more frequently than we use to. When we see her staring to sniff around, we just get her outside. This has dramatically reduced the accidents inside.
If your senior dog is also suffering from a canine version of “sundowners syndrome” you might want to try changing your sleeping arrangements. A kitchen, a bathroom, even a heated garage or basement might be a better option than just toughing it out in the bedroom. Don’t get caught up in the “but they have always slept with us” loop.
Instead of thinking of these behavioral changes as a phase, think of them as the new normal and adapt accordingly. My goal as a Dog Mom is to give Ajax the best quality of life possible for as long as I can. Her dementia means I can’t just treat her as I always have without creating more problems.
One additional step I have had to take actually involves another of my dogs. I love my Crazy Bug, but the JRT in her just brings with it a bit of mischief. More than mischief…sometimes she is a downright bully. This wasn’t as much of a problem when the other dogs could insist she respect their space (and food). But a few weeks ago Crazy Bug tried to eat Ajax’s food, and went into full attack mode! Poor Ajax!
Luckily the wounds were minor and all on Crazy Bug’s side. It brought home to me that we needed to make some changes around feeding the Tribe. We always feed them in their crates with the doors open. Crazy Bug usually finishes first and then checks out what the others are doing. She has never attacked any of the other dogs before, so I didn’t expect her to attack Ajax.
Now we know better. Crazy Bug is securely locked in her crate during meal time and I take her straight outside after. This way Ajax can take her time eating and we don’t have to worry about the little bully starting fights. We are also working with Crazy Bug to reinforce some of her training, and that has helped as well.
I have no idea how much longer we are going to have our little schnauzer in our lives. I do regular evaluations of how things are going, always aware that things can change in a heartbeat. So far, we have been able to adapt to her new needs without having to take unreasonable steps, or having her sacrifice her quality of life.
Ajax seems content with her new lifestyle, and I still see a spark of her old personality pop out several times a day. Since she can’t hear very well, I can’t call her to me any longer. But she has learned a signal! If I reach out and tap her, she will follow me. In fact, when I do this she bounces around behind me in excitement. Ok, sometimes I have to steer her with my feet to direct her to the door. But we are learning a new way to communicate, and it feels good!
I recently was asked to write a guest post for The Everyday Dog Mom on a fall topic. I decided to talk about the Back to School Backslide in potty training and flea control.
Autumn brings many changes to our lives. The kids head back to school, the leaves start to drop and the weather gets cooler. We don’t always think about how these changes effect our pets.
Two common problems I often encountered in the fall when working veterinary medicine prompted me to write this post.
First, I always had a few clients who had gotten puppies or new older dogs over the summer. When fall hit they would report that their pooch was suddenly having accidents in the house again. Why does this happen, and what can you do to fix it?
Second, many people have flea outbreaks in the fall and early winter…just when they have stopped using flea control. Obviously the easy solution to this problem is using year round flea control. But is that the only answer? And WHY does this problem always crop up in the fall?
You can find the answers to these questions and the solutions to the problems here!
It is hot outside! The temperatures here in Portland, Oregon are close to 100F this week, and the rest of the country seems to be cooking as well. To prevent problems with hot dogs, follow these safety tips!
1. No car rides! Leave the pups at home when running errands. Even in the morning time, your car can rapidly heat up, and that cracked window does nothing to keep them cool. A car can overheat in minutes at 70 degrees. Keep the hot dogs out of the car during the summer months and avoid a tragedy.
2. Exercise your dogs in the early morning, when the air and pavement are coolest. Hot pavement can easily burn their paws, and exercise in the hot afternoon can lead to heat stroke. Follow the 5 second rule- If the pavement is too hot for you to touch for 5 seconds, then it is too hot for your dog’s paws.
To learn more about the dangers and signs of heat stroke, click here.
3. Make sure your dogs always have access to cool water. Use ice cubes, give them frozen veggies as snacks (mine love frozen green beans and carrots). You can even make frozen low sodium broth cubes in ice cube trays to encourage hydration.
4. Keep them safe at the river/lakes. Bring potable water with you for them to drink and prevent them from drinking from the river/lake. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t let them drink it. If they are swimming, use a doggy life jacket to keep them safe. Keep an eye out for algae advisories-some locations have toxic algae blooms going on, and this is dangerous for both humans and dogs. Also, watch out for dead fish!! Dogs love to snack on them, but in our area they can get a parasite from eating fish that can make them very ill (commonly known as salmon poisoning, although other dead fish can carry it).
You can never read too many books about pets! Whether a classic by James Herriot or a story on the canine hero’s of 9/11, there is always another great animal book waiting to be read! The book I am recommending today is Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World. And boy, does he ever! You will laugh, and if you are like me you will shed a bucket of tears over this fantastic feline! Dewey the Library Cat is one amazing ball of orange fluff!
Dewey’s story almost ends before it starts! The author, Vicki Myron, who is also the librarian, narrates his story as she remembers it. During a terrible snowstorm, Vicki just happens to go into the library to remove books from the overnight deposit bin. Inside, she discovers a kitten! He is only a few weeks old, and somehow he has managed to survive a night in the metal box in below-freezing temperatures. Barley alive and with frost bitten feet, Vicki rushes him to the vet.
One thing that really makes this story resonate is the genuine compassion of the author. Vicki is a single mother struggling to make ends meet and keep the small library in Spencer, Indiana open. You get the feeling that she has seen a lot of grief in her life, but instead of making her tougher it seems to make her more empathic towards others. Even when the Vet recommends euthanasia, she can’t bring herself to do it. He is a tough little kitten, and she is determined to give him a chance.
The little bundle gets his name, in homage to the Dewey Decimal System! From the very beginning, everyone is surprised by how well he manages his injuries. Soon Dewey is spending his days wandering around the library and making new friends. Vicki quickly notices that Dewey is careful around the books (mostly), and doesn’t seem to bother people who are not interested in cats. Then she finds out that he has formed a special bond with several patrons, including a disabled child.
Dewey seems to have a unique ability to connect with people individually, and to sense what they need from him. He becomes the star attraction of the Spencer Library. As his fame grows and spreads, more reporters arrive to meet Dewey and Vicki. Soon, he is world-famous for being Dewey the Library Cat!
Some readers may object, but I enjoyed learning about Vicki’s life and the challenges she overcame. This story isn’t just about Dewey and his special qualities, it is also about the woman who saved him. We all face challenges in our lives, and yet somehow we have to go on. I think there is something I can learn from everyone’s personal story. Vicki’s struggles and problems resonate with me, and made the book a better read. Dewey was a unique cat, but Vicki is also a unique woman, and I am glad to have met her on the page, so to speak.
The story ends as all pet-stories will. And yet, the legacy of Dewey lives on. You can read more about the impact Dewey had in the sequel, Dewey’s 9 lives. It is on my list!
If you would like to share Dewey’s story with your children, there is a beautiful illustrated children’s edition you can get!
You can find my Top Ten Great Animal Books for Kids here!
At some point, every dog parent has to give their dog a bath. Whether you use the kitchen sink, bathtub or a self-wash business, there is more to bathing your dog than most people think. Here are the most common mistakes I have seen folks make while bathing their dog, and how to avoid them!
Humans enjoy a hot shower or bath, so it is no surprise that people accidentally think that their pet will enjoy the experience as well. But let me ask you a question…have you ever spilled hot water on your shirt? What happened? The wet shirt stuck to your skin, right? If the water was hot enough, that wet shirt might have even caused a burn.
Now picture a dog with longer fur, like a golden retriever…what is that hot water going to go to their fur? Same effect as the hot water on your shirt. Dogs also have more sensitive skin than we do, magnifying the effect of the water’s temperature.
So what temperature should you be using? Most groomers and veterinary clinics recommend using lukewarm water. You can feel the perfect temperature on your forearm (not your hand) with a little practice! The water should feel warm enough on your forearm that it is not cold, but just slightly cool. If the water feels warm on your forearm, it is still a bit warmer than ideal.
Do you love using a product that makes your pooch small like a lavender satchel? Maybe you favor a musky, more perfumed puppy? Does your dog head straight for the compost pile after a bath?
Dogs have a much more sensitive nose than humans, and many odors we find pleasant are painful or rank to them. You will noticed that veterinary staff generally do not wear any scents or perfumes on the job- because we recognize that this is unpleasant to many animals. Once you bathe your dog using a “stinky” floral or perfumed product, they can’t get away from the scent! Until they find that pile of goose poop in the park…
Pick a shampoo made for dogs that has a mild scent. It’s fine if your dog smells clean after a bath, but they should not smell like a bouquet of roses. You dog will thank you!
Sometimes you have to do the bath first. A wet, muddy puppy is not very brushable. But I often see folks at self-wash places just toss their dogs into the tub and go straight to the bath. And then I watch them scrub and scrub, or see them spend a ton of time trying to untangle wet matts of fur.
Do a through, full-body brush down before you get your dog in the tub. This will loosen the dirt from the dog’s fur and skin, making it easier to wash away. It is also much better to shave or brush out the matts first- just like with human hair, wet fur is really hard to untangle.
Does your dog hate baths? Maybe they put up with them, but still kind of resent the whole process? If you are all about getting the business done when bathing your dog, you are missing a great opportunity to train and engage with your dog!
Make the bath process more fun for your dog! I give my golden, Deuce, a massage while I am working in the shampoo, and he loves the process!
‘For a dog who dislikes getting a bath, use something to distract and occupy them. Smear wet dog food, peanut butter or even a squirt of canned cheese (squeeze-cheese) on the tub by your dogs head and let them spend the bath time “cleaning” it it!
How long do you spend rinsing your dog off after a bath? Just until the “soapy” feeling is gone? Then you, like most folks, are NOT rinsing long enough!
Pet shampoos are not designed to be as “soapy” as shampoos designed for humans. You might notice that these animal products rarely create as much lather as you would expect. In fact, we often use too much shampoo when bathing our pets just because we are trying to get the same sudsy feeling we get while shampooing our own hair.
The reason this matters is that shampoo that is left on your dog can irritate the skin and make them itchy. When I worked in Vet clinics I would typically see two or three dogs a year that developed skin infections shortly after having a bath. The use of hot water during baths and a too-short rinse cycle are common suspects in these cases.
Rinse your dog for at least a full 5 minutes (and longer for one that is very furry or has a dense undercoat). Rinse well past the point where you can feel any soapy areas. Be sure to rinse their underside, between their legs and under their tail- several times. Start the rinse-cycle on the back of their neck, down their back, to each side, tail, and then progress down to their belly. Be sure to lift and rinse their feet and pads well too. Do this rinse several times.
Do you have a great dog bathing tip? Post in the comments or on our Facebook page!
Sometimes it seems like the only people who can afford pets are the wealthy! Certainly it is easier to manage the routine and emergency pet care when money isn’t a problem. But being financially challenged does not mean you are limited to house plants and a goldfish! In this post I am going to go over some strategies you can use to be a great pet parent regardless of your financial situation! You CAN have a pet on a limited budget!
We don’t always choose to adopt a pet- sometimes they pick us. However, if you can plan ahead a bit it will make managing the first year or so much easier.
The answers to these questions will help guide your choice of pet (or your choice to wait). For instance, if you are limited to public transportation, then I would recommend you stick to pets small enough that you can comfortably place them in a carrier. Many buses will not allow big dogs on board.
If your housing is not stable and you move frequently, you might want to wait a while and focus on saving up the money you will need for a pet deposit.
The first time I made this assessment, right after I graduated college, I immediately realized I was not ready to have a pet. I moved frequently (every 3-6 months), my income was inconsistent and I was often living in situations where pets were not allowed. So I waited.
I also made the best decision I have ever made financially: I started saving money towards my future pet! Some months I could barley afford to sock away $5, sometimes I could sneak a whole $30 away. It varied. But I was consistent in putting this money aside and not using it no matter what happened! It was for my pet, and nothing else.
2 years later I was finally in the right place to get my first pet, my wonderful calico Queen Boo Boo. The money I had saved over the years covered my pet deposit, all the new-pet supplies I needed for the first 6 months AND her first year of veterinary care! Even though I spent the majority of that year unemployed (another story), I was still able to be a great pet parent. She had everything she needed to grow into a healthy cat!
This is not an easy question to answer. It really depends on many factors. If you want a big dog, your expenses will be much higher than for a smaller one. A bigger dog will eat more food. Medications, such as flea and heartworm preventatives, will cost more for a bigger dog. Also, the cost of a spay or neuter will be more for a bigger breed than a smaller one.
If you plan on having a cat that goes outdoors, then you will want to save some extra money to cover typical outdoor-cat emergencies. Outdoor kitties often get into fights, leading to wounds and abscesses. You will also need to be diligent in keeping up their flea control and vaccinations. Outdoor cats are much more likely to be exposed to rabies than an indoor cat, for instance.
If you adopt from a shelter or rescue, it might cost more at the beginning but you won’t have many additional Vet expenses at first. Most pets from shelters and rescues have at least started their vaccinations and are usually altered before their adoption.
A young puppy or kitten is going to cost you more, for vaccinations and spay/neuter, than an older one that has already had these done. You might be better off getting a young pet (6-15 months) rather than an 8 week old baby.
I recommend budgeting an additional $60 a month for a small dog or cat, up to $150 a month for a giant-breed dog. Why these numbers? You should be able to manage a cat or small dog on around $30 a month in most locations. The other $30 can either be saved for a pet emergency or used to buy pet insurance.
The worst part of having a pet while you have limited financial means is that you are generally less-able to afford an emergency. There is nothing more heartbreaking than being in an emergency vet hospital, facing a huge bill you can’t afford to pay.
Veterinay clinics are not banks. They usually will not allow you to pay for care in installments. Most emergency clinics require a full deposit before they will treat your pet. A hit-by-car situation can easily land you a $4000 bill in an ER. So how do you plan for having a pet on a limited budget?
Here are a few things you can do in advance to plan for a pet emergency:
Congratulations! You are read to bring home a new bundle of fur! Here are a few final thoughts on having a pet on a limited budget.
For dogs, crate training from the very beginning is a fantastic way to both train your new dog and keep them safe when you are away. You can often find crates at garage or yard sales, or used online. Keeping a dog crated while you are away will keep them out of trouble and reduce the chances of an emergency.
A crated dog isn’t going to eat chicken bones out of the garbage. Or get into the medicine cabinet. Or eat that bag of raisins you left out on the kitchen counter.
Don’t leave your dog outside while you are away. Gates get opened. Fences get jumped or dug under. Pets get stolen.
Keep your cat indoors. Indoor cats live longer. They have fewer emergencies as well. They might not need as many vaccinations as an outdoor kitty (they still need some vaccines, of course). If you want your cat to enjoy time outside, harness-and-leash train them! Or build a Catio (cats using catios should be vaccinated as an outdoor kitty, since they can be exposed to the same nasties).
I am not a huge fan of vaccine clinics, but if you use them like this they can save you a lot of money. Basically, a vaccine clinic is where a vet does a quick exam on your pet and then gives them the needed vaccines. The process is usually done in under 8 minutes. Pet stores often advertise these clinics a few weeks in advance, so you can plan ahead and bring your pet on that day. The cost of the vaccinations is usually substantially less than at a veterinary clinic.
A vaccine clinic exam will not replace your pets yearly exam! You will still want to take your pet in for a comprehensive exam and discussion with your local vet at least once every 12 months. Vaccine clinics are only about whether the pet is healthy enough to have the vaccines. It is quick and it is NOT the same exam a regular Vet will provide.
At one of my local vaccines clinics, the cost of the vaccines is about half what the local vets charge. Vaccine clinics buy their stock in bulk and see more patients every hour. They only do vaccines and so they don’t have the equipment or staff costs of a full service Vet clinic. This allows them to charge less for doing vaccines-only. Use this to your financial advantage!
Do you have a good tip for managing a pet on a limited budget? Please share it in the comments section or on our Facebook page!
I mentioned in a prior post that I have been having some extra challenges with my senior mini schnauzer Ajax. Senior pet challenges are just part of the cycle of pet ownership, but they can be tricky and exhausting. Here is an update on my Ajax and our journey towards the Rainbow Bridge…
It wasn’t the first sign that she was showing her age, but it was the one that struck me the hardest. Towards the end of February I noticed that Ajax was not sleeping like she use to. This is a dog who would sleep in with Suckerfish, my partner, until the afternoon hours. As long as someone was in the bedroom, she was content to sleep alongside us.
At first we noticed that she didn’t want to stay on the bed overnight. We would lift her up (she hasn’t been able to jump on the bed for a year) and then I’d hear her get down in the middle of the night. She may have fallen off a few times, but usually I would hear her jump down. Ok, no problem, the bed is packed with other dogs and cats (and humans) anyway. We set her with a dog bed (eliminating any floor space other than the doorway) and she sleeps next to the golden, Deuce.
Then she started waking up earlier on the weekends, and was no longer happy to stay in the bedroom with Suckerfish. Again, no problem, she just gets up with the rest of us and Suckerfish can have the bedroom to himself.
Within a few weeks, Ajax was waking up before our alarms, even on weekdays. Not just waking up either- she started chewing on the carpet and even ripping out the carpet fibers. Once I covered the tiny bit of carpet by the door with a sheet, she started just wandering around the room. She blunders into the golden, trips over my water bottle, knocks on the door. Without fail, she wakes me up.
‘So I get up when she gets up. Some days it is as early as 4am. Most usually she is up by 5:30am. My sleep started to suffer greatly. But this is what you do when you have a senior pet, right? You just have to work with them as best you can. Senior pet challenges and all that. Suckerfish and I agreed that I would get up with her 6 mornings a week, and one weekend morning he would just take her outside for potty and then they would crash together in the living room while the rest of us finished sleeping.
Suckerfish is blessed with the ability to fall asleep quickly and at the drop of a hat. I, on the other hand, have a hard time falling asleep, have trouble staying asleep and once I wake up, I’m up for good. This situation is wearing me out slowly.
In the last several weeks, we have noticed that Ajax is starting to have problems going to sleep as well. Some nights it takes her 10 or 20 minutes to settle down and go to sleep. Last night I just couldn’t take it anymore. Suckerfish stayed up till the wee hours of the morning playing video games. I had already gone to bed when he brought the Tribe in for the night.
Ajax just would not settle down! 20 minutes of wandering around the room knocking things over! I kept getting up and putting her on her dog bed, to no avail. Finally, I just gave up. For the first time since she was 8 weeks old, she did not sleep in the bedroom with us. I took her out and gated her in the kitchen. I slept until 7:30am!!!
We are going to try this again tonight. I don’t want to do it all the time; I feel bad about making her sleep away from us. On weeknights it won’t be so difficult (I hope). Obviously if she continues having problems going to sleep then this may just be a permanent solution.
Starting around the time she lost her ability to sleep in, she also developed pica. After she eats dinner (less commonly after breakfast) she scrounges around everywhere for a hour or so eating anything she can find. I have pulled rocks, sticks and even fur out of her mouth. I can’t stop her, so I just do my best to limit what she ingests.
The wonderful side effect of eating all this indigestible material is that she now vomits frequently (2-3 times a week). This is always in the morning before she eats breakfast, and is usually a mixture of fur, hair and plant material. Of course I worry about her health, and that the material might cause damage to her digestive system. But I haven’t found a way to stop it entirely…so I’m just rolling with the senior pet challenge.
It is sad to see Ajax declining. I have to watch her like a hawk on the stairs or she will fall and tumble down them. The fact that the other pets run into her does not help! Big Deuce just doesn’t understand that she is not a rough-and-tumble Battle Schnauzer anymore.
She sleeps well during the day, and definitely has less energy than ever before. But she still gets crazy excited for food, and she still likes to chase the cats in the evening. She appears comfortable, if confused at times. She loves when I give her rub downs; I do a gentle massage all over her body. She enjoys her veggie treats and sometimes gets excited to go play outside.
I know we are not far away from having to make a decision on how long we can keep doing this. If you have read my post on euthanasia then you know I am not avoiding the thought, not at all. I’m ready when she is. I just feel that things are manageable for now, and that she still gets enjoyment out of life, although much less than a year ago.
The fact that I also have an elderly mother who is not in the best of health doesn’t make it easier, I’m afraid. I try and keep the two separated in my head…but it is hard NOT to compare my senior dog to my senior Mom!
I am taking things day by day and week by week. We could even have a few months left…but I doubt more than that. I could send her over the Rainbow Bridge today and no one would argue against it. Ultimately, the decision will likely be mine to make. When I think we have hit the point where she is not enjoying things enough, or if her dementia, pica and sleep patterns get worse…then it will be time. Suckerfish says he is ready, whenever I think the time is right. Since I have the veterinary background, I get to make most (all) of the medical decisions…no pressure, right?
Please share your own senior pet challenges in the comments section! You are NOT alone! Anyone who has owned a pet has eventually gone through this phase. Shared experiences help us all.
The 4th of July is almost here. For many of us, the “booms” have started and our pets are feeling the stress. You might have noticed that every rescue, vet clinic and pet blogger out there has been posting tips and warnings in recent weeks about the dangers of the holiday to our pets. I came across a story this week that I want to share with you. Don’t let this July 4th horror show happen to your dog!
A year ago, animal control officer Heather Terpening was having a normal shift when she received a call about an injured dog. When she arrived at the scene, she found a panicking, bleeding boxer mix and saw this (pictures posted with permission):
A neighbor had heard some fireworks go off, followed by a huge crash and scream. Following the sounds, they saw a huge mess and an injured dog. No one was home at the time this happened. So these great neighbors called for help.
Officer Terpening arrived and was able to get the bleeding boxer into her truck, with a bit of help. Luckily, the boxer was ok after some veterinary care, and was reunited later with her family! When Officer Terpening shared this story on her Facebook page, however, things took a strange turn. While some people thanked her for her Public Service Announcement about the dangers of fireworks and scared dogs…many others attacked her! People accused her of having faked the pictures!
I can tell you from personal experience that a dog with sufficient motivation can go straight through a window!
I was dog sitting for a friend who had two labs. The yellow lab was an older gent, well behaved. The black lab was a huge beast of a dog! 120 pounds of pure, mischievous labness. He was my favorite, even though he always got into trouble.
My friend did not believe in using crates or any kind of restrictions on his dogs. He actually gave them free run of the house and also left the back door wide open while he was at work. So it was not uncommon to come home and find that the black lab ate a 5 pound bag of flour. Or chewed on the blades to the food processor. Or killed a squirrel in the yard and brought it into the kictchen…
It was dusk, and I was taking a shower and getting ready to head out to a party. The dogs had just eaten and were hanging in the living room. Suddenly I hear the dogs barking and feel a crash boom through the house. I could feel the vibrations through the wall of the bathroom! I quickly toss some clothes on and dash out to the living room.
The yellow lab was standing in front of the window, still barking. Except that the window was gone! There were a few shards of glass in the corners, but that was it. And I notice no sign of a black lab…yikes!
Grabbing some shoes and a leash I dash out the door. There is a pile of glass in front of the window…and a trail of blood. I follow the trail down the street. A few blocks away I spy a group of people on bicycles…and a bouncing silhouette that can only be the lab I am looking for.
He is a mess. I can’t tell how many cuts he has but every time he moves more blood drips to the ground. I quickly ask the folks on the bicycles what happened as I wrap a towel around a bad cut on the lab’s shoulder. They tell me they were just peddling down the street, holding some lit sparklers, when they heard the sound of breaking glass and the next thing they knew a monster-sized lab was running alongside them!
We exchanged phone numbers, and I rush the lab to the nearest emergency clinic. I couldn’t get a hold of my friend (pre-cell phone days), but I had his credit card in case of an emergency. A few hours later, and a lot of sutures, we get home and I can start dealing with the shattered window. I never did get around to going to the party. I had to keep the lab leashed to me as well, just in case he decided to go through the hole in the window again.
The good news is that the black lab healed well, and other than a few scars had no permanent injuries! My friend replaced the window, and nailed a futon frame over it to prevent him from being able to go through it again.
It turned out that the black lab has always been facinated by those sparklers, and has chased people before and even jumped up to try and grab them out of people’s hands. My friend thought it was funny but hadn’t thought to warn me about it. I’m not sure how we could have anticipated a group of people bicycling down the street at dusk holding sparklers…or that the lab would decide to go through a window and join the fun.
In the end, all was well, although things could have gone differently. What if I hadn’t been home when he went through the window? What if he had been hit by a car while chasing after the bicycles? What if…? This wasn’t my first July 4th horror show (the first was when my house caught fire from fireworks when I was 10), it was just my first that involved a pet. I still have the mental scars today.
Believe me, a motivated dog can and will go through a double panel window. A scared dog, in a panic, can easily injure themselves trying to get away from whatever is scaring them. I want to thank Officer Terpening for permission to use her story and pictures in this post. No one faked these pictures, or these stories. Crazy things happen to pets around the July 4th holiday. We don’t have to fake anything.
I wish you and your Tribe a safe and happy 4th! You can read some tips on keeping your pet safe this 4th of July here.