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Entertaining a Cat.

Cat sitting in a cardboard box

Henry is a cow cat, a black and white, non-tuxedo cat, a rescue, maybe about nine years old. Cow cats are notoriously close to their humans, I’m told (“needy” is a word I hear a lot), and Henry is ultra affectionate. He’s also playful and (to me) surprisingly smart.

I came home from a meeting today to find that he had lined up all of his bigger toys: three scratching blocks of different varieties, Lambie (big stuffed animal), Chickie (ditto), Mousie (you get the drift), tennis ball, two organic wool clothes dryer balls that he filched from a laundry basket one day when I wasn’t looking, two sparkly balls, three balls with little noisemakers inside (a gift from a dear but clueless friend), a medium Amazon box, part of a feather, and his aluminum foil ball. At the end was his newest store-bought toy: a circle toy that has a ball in it that he can touch and reach and knock around the circle but never get the ball out.

As I massaged my fingers from their clenched position (20 miles on icy highway at Interstate speeds, driving an SUV in a high wind blowing across stubble fields), he began to play. He’d made himself an obstacle course to leap around, climb over, stalk from behind, run around, and generally tease himself with before getting to the highly-desired circle toy that was his reward for his basic-training-style efforts.

Initially I felt guilty for not recognizing that he needs more mental stimulus, then proud of his brainpower, and then curious. How do we keep an indoor cat active and engaged, especially in a small apartment when bird feeders are forbidden and funds are limited?

Some experts suggest getting a second or even third and fourth cat. After the initial settling of the pecking order, they often will play, hunt, and sleep together.

Interactive time with the human is also recommended. Most cats love to “help” change the sheets on the bed. Why not take an extra five minutes and give them a bedmouse to stalk and pounce on? Or let them get under the sheet and then pat that furry little bottom or tummy?

If your cat responds to catnip and you don’t object to its use, try keeping the nip in a lidded container along with some of the small toys. The toys will pick up the scent of the nip and become highly valued play objects for the remainder of their probably-limited life.

Some cats enjoy watching cat videos on TV or computer, or will watch a screen saver endlessly. Some enjoy listening to bird song on YouTube, or the sound of a cat purring. When you pause at the keyboard, find a website for your cat, who is probably sitting between you and the monitor anyway.

If you have hardwood or tile floors, give the cat a couple of chopsticks to bat around, or an empty plastic water bottle, a rolled up sock (with a little catnip on the inside?).

Or, for the ultimate experience: tissue paper, and for exceptionally good kitties, tissue paper in a box. Oh joy! Tissue paper in a box with a treat or favorite toy hidden in the folds. Eureka!

What have you come up with to amuse your furry little Einstein?

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Help your dog with its cough using natural remedies

 

By Marilyn Miller

Dog with a bag of cold water on his head

Your best friend went to the bark park or doggie daycare and now he has a little cough. Of course, the first thing you’re going to do is call your vet and see if the dog needs to be seen or requires professional treatment.

But what happens when it’s a simple cough that will go away in its own good time? What if your dog’s coughing is keeping not only him awake, but you, and oh by the way, you have to go to work in the morning.

Here are some natural remedies you can try. Again, clear these with your vet before you try them.

A spoon of (preferably locally-sourced, raw, dark) honey can give both of you several hours of blessed relief. We know in humans honey not only calms a cough but gives some pain relief from the sore throat caused by coughing. Not too much, now. Too much will give your dog loose stool and nobody wants that. Try a teaspoon for a 40-pound dog, see how it goes.

Fresh pineapple contains an enzyme that reduces inflammation and swelling. Some dogs like to chew on the core of a pineapple, and some stores selling fresh cut pineapple will sell you the cores for pennies. The core is fibrous and will keep them occupied for a few minutes. Otherwise, a bite or two of fresh pineapple as a treat or with food. It has to be fresh pineapple, not frozen or canned, because processing destroys the enzyme. Again, too much will give the dog some loose stool, so start slowly.

What do you eat when you have a cough or cold? Chicken soup, of course. Put some chicken broth in your dog’s wet food, or even serve it in a bowl as a first course or snack. It’s soothing to the throat.

Keep the air in the house from being too dry. Especially in winter, the humidity level in our homes can seem lower than that of the Gobi Desert. This dryness will cause your dog’s (and your) mucus membranes to crack, causing discomfort and more coughing and possibly leading to more infection. If you don’t have a humidifier, try skipping the clothes dryer and hang your damp clothes up to dry, or put a tea kettle on the stove to barely simmer (watch the water level, don’t want a fire). Even setting cups or glasses of water around will help a little bit.

Similarly, steam may give your dog a lot of comfort. Run the shower with the bathroom door closed, and then let your dog sit in there for ten minutes or so.

If you smoke, please don’t smoke around your dog when it’s coughing. It’s an irritant.

Ask your vet if there is an over-the-counter cough syrup you can give the dog. Opinions on this seem to vary among vets and it’s not suitable for all dogs. Do not give a cough suppressant without your vet’s okay.

Coconut oil may have some anti-viral properties and is soothing. Most dogs will lick it right out of the spoon. Try a tablespoon for a 40-pound dog and see how it goes.

Take the collar off and replace it with a harness. You don’t want pressure on the throat.

An internet search will show there are a number of herbs that may be useful, but please talk to your vet before trying them. Some of them can make underlying heart, kidney, or liver disease much worse. Please don’t experiment.

Of course, if the dog doesn’t want to eat or drink or seems listless or worse yet, weak, get him to the vet pronto. Kennel cough can turn into pneumonia, and some types of cough aren’t viral at all, but are symptoms of other health problems. But in the normal course of things, this cough will pass and your dog will be back to his usual happy self.

What have you used to relieve a simple cough in your dog? Let us know in the comments section. Thank you!

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Service dogs for children and adults with autism

By Marilyn Miller

Kai's mom watches as her autistic son leans against his new service dog, Tornado. (http://4pawsforability.org/kai-and-tornado/)

Kai's mom watches as her autistic son leans against his new service dog, Tornado. (http://4pawsforability.org/kai-and-tornado/)

Autism is a disorder — actually a large spectrum of slightly different disorders — for which there is no diagnostic test, no known cause, and no treatment or cure. People on the spectrum generally have difficulty in communication and social interactions, exhibit repetitive behaviors and obsessions, and are easily overwhelmed and even pained by the ordinary stimuli of daily life. They have difficulty interpreting other people’s tone of voice, body language, or facial expressions. Even small changes in daily routine, for example, a favorite shirt being unavailable for the time it takes to wash and dry it, can cause tremendous emotional reactions.

Caring for a child or adult who falls somewhere on the autism spectrum is a moment to moment challenge. Every person is different and there are so few givens. You love them to infinity and more, but the exhaustion and frustration are real. Fortunately, they are now training service dogs to help people living with autism.

To begin with, the dog adds structure to the day. It must be fed, watered, brushed, taken out to potty, and exercised at regular, dependable times every day, even on the inevitable more difficult days. This kind of structure is essential to the person, helping them feeling safe and centered. Moreover, the dog is a friend who never fails. It demands nothing. It gives everything. The dog is a good social icebreaker and also a reliable social protector.

Jonny and his girl Xena

Jonny and his girl Xena

Here are just some of the benefits that have been identified by research. People with autism benefit from having a service dog in the following ways and more:

  • The dog has an overall calming effect. The value of this cannot be over-emphasized. Being able to stay calm and centered can make the difference between having a decent day and having a string of exceptionally difficult days or even weeks until calm is found again.
  • The dog can be trained to find a person who is lost. (People with autism tend not to identify potentially dangerous situations correctly, and wander off readily.)
  • The dog can be trained to stay in one spot to prevent the person from wandering off.
  • If the person’s repetitive behavior can lead to self-harm, such as repeatedly striking him/herself in the head, the dog can be taught to interrupt these behaviors so that the person focuses on petting or otherwise interacting with the dog.
  • People with autism sleep longer and more soundly when they have a dog.
  • Because the dog needs verbal direction, the person’s speech and use of complete sentences improves.

People on the spectrum often have excellent memories and often are skilled in music, the arts, and math. They often have wizard computer skills from toddler age. They have much to contribute. And has they have for thousands of years, dogs are helping humans, asking no more in return than a place in the den and a friendly pat.

Here are some links to videos or Facebook pages so you can see the daily small miracles these dogs are performing.

Sources:

  • Journal of Pediatric Nursing. 2014 Mar-Apr;29(2):114-23. doi: 10.1016/j.pedn.2013.09.005. Epub 2013 Oct 16.
  • Grandgeorge M, et al. (2012) Does Pet Arrival Trigger Prosocial Behaviors in Individuals with autism? PLoS ONE 7(8): e41739. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041739
  • O’Haire, M. E., et al. (2013). Social Behaviors Increase in Children with Autism in the Presence of Animals Compared to Toys. PLoS ONE, 8(2), e57010.
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