Gifts that count for our four-legged friends

Gifts that count for our four-legged friends

Do you include your pets (or the pets of your friends) on your gift buying list? Many people do and companies know this, catering to those who might want (need) another outfit for their purse Chihuahua or bling for the collar of their Rottweiler. Let’s look at some useful suggestions of things for your pets.

Show that you really love your dog and cat by getting them ID tags and microchips. This permanent form of identification can truly be a life-saver if your pet ever slips out the door or fails to return home. The collar and tag is like the seatbelt – your first line of defense in an accident and the microchip is the airbag – extra insurance “just in case.” Both are free at our shelter for Rohnert Park and Cotati residents, so you can seem generous and have all your pets done.

Have you stopped walking your pup because he’s dog reactive or a strong puller? You might consider enrolling in an obedience class, but that could be difficult if he’s reactive to other dogs. A transitional leash is a great tool to help you control your dog and enjoy walks again. Get one at Having the right collar is important for cats, too. Be sure yours is a safety collar – with either elastic in it or a breakaway clip.

Even better for keeping cats safe is a cat enclosure, which allows your cat to enjoy the outdoors safely. Build one yourself or check out the easy to assemble ones at That is the ultimate gift for cat lover and a way to ease the guilt at keeping cats indoors but wanting to keep them safe.

For small pets like rabbits or guinea pigs, check out the chewable toys at There are safe wicker baskets, wooden chew toys, treats, tunnels, books and more. Everything to make a house bunny binkie (that’s an expression of joy – when a rabbit jumps straight into the air). Most of these items would be fun for a bird, or other small pets, too. I’m trying not to forget anyone.

If you have friends who are animal lovers, here’s a gift idea that’s a win-win. Go to and find something that they will like. There are t-shirts, jewelry, accessories, pet supplies, socks, purses – you name it and it’s there. So not only does your friend get something cute that’s pet related, every time you shop at this site a donation is given to animal shelters.

You can help us directly by doing all of your amazon shopping at and selecting the Animal Shelter League of Rohnert Park as your charity to support. I love doing that – trying to buy things that support the local economy or are fair trade friendly and buying them through sources that support charities that I can select.

Keep in mind not only what you are buying but also who you are supporting when you buy that item and make everyone a winner.

Halloween Safety Tips

Halloween Safety Tips

It’s official, my dogs are more popular than me. They got invited to a Halloween Party and I haven’t been (well, technically, I guess I was invited, too, because they do need a ride to the event but no invitations to a just people party).

Dog costume parties seem to be getting more and more popular. People, it seems, will take any excuse to make their little furry darling even cuter than she/he already is. And dressing your dog as a fairy or witch can be pretty darn cute (or funny).

Just don’t expect your pet to enjoy being turned into a dragon or cowboy unless you already have him used to wearing clothes. Many animals panic when they have something wrapped around them – it feels like they are trapped. And you might think it’s hysterical when your cat is running through the house chased by a dragging cape but believe me, she’s not having any fun.

Get your pet used to wearing a costume a little at a time and have plenty of treats handy to use as rewards. Which means if you’re just starting today, you may be lucky enough to get just one photo snapped before she wiggles out of the outfit. Next year start earlier.

Besides costumes, Halloween has other tricks in store for unsuspecting pets – and pet owners. Be sure all your furry family members are safely inside before the witches and goblins (and superheroes and princesses, etc.) hit the street trick or treating. It’s amazing how reactive even the best dog can be when confronted by a zombie and you don’t want to risk someone being hurt or your pet being scared away.

For that same reason it’s a good idea to lock your pets in a bedroom while the door is being opened frequently. Better to not set off your dog’s guard instincts if he thinks the goblins are too threatening! And you certainly don’t want your cat slipping out the door between the ballerinas and action heroes (of course all your pets are microchipped and wearing ID tags, just in case, right? We do it for free so bring them in this week if they’re not). Don’t trust that your dog will recognize the werewolf as the child next door – he might not. Children don’t always realize how scary even a pretty costume (with capes, twirly skirts, swords and hats) can be to an animal not accustomed to seeing people dressed that way. And masks that prevent good eye contact are especially frightening to dogs. Protect everyone by keeping them separated and not taking chances.

Remember, too, that chocolate has an ingredient that is poisonous for our pets in addition to the sugar and caffeine that’s in other candies. Make sure your stash of goodies – both the bowl that is by your front door to hand out to trick or treaters, and the bags that your children bring home after going door to door – are safely out of reach of furry mouths. Even if your pet doesn’t eat enough to be life threatening, it’s never fun dealing with the vomiting and diarrhea that ingesting candy causes. Just a little precaution and planning can help make this a safe holiday for everyone – full of treats and fun.

Dog park etiquette important to pets’ safety

Dog park etiquette important to pets’ safety

There’s been a rash of incidents in our city’s dog parks, so perhaps it’s time to review some rules of etiquette for using them. Use of the parks are on the honor system because they are not monitored (except by users, who can be a fairly close and vocal clique). Incidents have included everything from dogs being abandoned in the parks to a small Chihuahua being killed by another dog – and everything in between.

There is always a risk when you let your dog interact with other animals, especially new unknown ones. And there is an assumption of liability when you enter a dog park. So unless there is a history of known aggression, there is less animal control can do about incidents when they occur there. Even dogs that have played well in the past can have fights – like when children play together – someone almost always ends up crying. Why does this happen? There are a million reasons.

Possibly, one of the dogs is not feeling 100 percent, so their tolerance is lower. Perhaps two dogs are playing well when a third enters and changes the dynamic. Maybe one pup is feeling pushed around or threatened by a bigger dog and, in turn, takes it out on a smaller one who innocently walks by.  Animals pick up on their owner’s fears and emotions, too, and if you are acting nervous around certain dogs then your dog may react to defending you. Some guard toys and treats, so it’s best not to bring them along – although what’s a romp at a park without a tennis ball (bring two so you can share if someone starts hogging it).

Tensions can often be diffused by attentive parents who separate and distract dogs before a tussle can break out – that is your job at the park – to be constantly monitoring how, and what, your dog is doing. Too often pet parents don’t pay enough attention to their dogs and instead are buried on their cell phones or a book. And then they are caught by surprise when a fight breaks out and no one clearly knows what happened or who started it (helpful to prevent it from repeating).

Would you know how to safely break up a fight? The No. 1 reason people get bit is they stick their hands in between two fighting dogs (hint: that’s the wrong thing to do). Fights can be scary – it usually sounds like they are completely shredding each other but know that the vocalizing is in place of actual damage, each dog is just trying to intimidate the other. Often when the dogs separate there is only slobber on the other and no real marks at all. That’s the best case scenario. In that situation, usually just a loud, firm “knock it off” will get the dogs apart. Or try to use a chair or some other physical object that you can put between the dogs.

If the dogs are actually biting each other, pulling on them can just cause more damage by tearing the skin they have hold of. Instead of reaching for their collars (and getting your hands close to their faces) grab their back legs by the inner thighs and lift the back end off the ground. This will both startle the dog and throw his balance off, usually resulting in his opening his mouth and releasing the other dog. At that point, depending on the size and weight of the dog you have hold of, you can swing him away from the one just released. Because reaching for the back end is not instinctual, you might want to practice on your dog (do it lightly as if you are playing) so you can feel what it’s like.

Obviously only dogs that are completely comfortable around all types of dogs should be brought to a dog park, but there’s always a first time for any behavior. By being observant and really watching to see if your dog is enjoying the park, you can prevent incidents from happening. Sometimes, though, I think going to the dog park is more about the social interaction of the people rather than the dogs!

Distemper dangerous to your cat or dog

Distemper dangerous to your cat or dog

Imagine you stepped out of your house one evening to go for a walk and was confronted by an obviously sick, disoriented raccoon. What would you think? Rabies would come to mind, most likely. And you could be right because all of Sonoma County is considered a rabies endemic area. More importantly, would you know what to do?

A couple weeks ago Rohnert Park dispatch got a call about a rabid raccoon in front of someone’s home in the E section. As rabies is a threat to humans, the call was taken seriously, but because it was after hours and beyond the scope of our usual calls, we turned to Sonoma Wildlife Rescue for assistance. Advice from the wildlife experts is that you should never attempt to catch a sick wild animal yourself. If you can contain it in some way that can be helpful; but you should never attempt to catch, or even touch, a sick raccoon or opossum. Don’t offer it food either, although if it’s that sick it probably won’t eat anyway. Just call for help as soon as possible.

Turns out this critter didn’t have rabies (whew!) but had distemper, which has very similar symptoms. Raccoons are special because they can catch and carry both canine and feline distemper. Although those two have the same name, they are very different viruses and can exhibit different symptoms. These viruses are not transmittable to humans but can definitely infect our pets. Distemper can spread through direct or even indirect contact with the saliva and nasal discharge of infected animals.

Canine distemper is the one most often mistaken for rabies because the animal can appear disoriented and will have a discharge coming from the eyes and nose (hence appearing to be frothing around the mouth). Distemper begins with upper respiratory symptoms such as sneezing, watery eyes and fever. It progresses to the gastrointestinal system causing vomiting and diarrhea and then can go into the nervous system causing fits, seizures and paralysis. Distemper has no cure, so treatment (for dogs and cats) is mostly supportive therapies and focused on relieving symptoms.

In cats, distemper first attacks the blood cells compromising the immune system and leaving the kitten vulnerable to other viruses. It then affects the gastrointestinal system, causing vomiting and diarrhea leading to dehydration. The cat might then show signs of seizures looking similar to the canine version but the two are distinct diseases and not transmittable between species (your dog won’t get distemper from your cat and vice versa). However, feline distemper can survive in the environment for a very long time.

Unvaccinated and young animals are most at risk, so if your dogs and cats go outdoors and are not up-to-date on their vaccinations (current recommendation is every three years), now would be a good time to make an appointment with your veterinarian. We now know we have distemper in our raccoon population, and who knows how far that animal travelled shedding the virus before he ended up at the house in E section!

Right medications can save you a lot of trouble

Right medications can save you a lot of trouble

We’ve all seen the warnings – “do not use on cats” or “for dogs only” – written on various medications. And for the most part most people pay attention and follow the directions. But there’s some things that people feel comfortable doing that is off label – like buying the large dog size Advantage tubes and splitting it between multiple cats. It’s the same ingredients just packaged for a different weight so there’s no harm if you know the proper dosage to use.

Playing around with other medications, though, can have some serious side effects up to and including death. For example, Tylenol can be fatal to cats. And there are some tick products, Advantix being one, that is so toxic to cats it warns about using on a dog if cats come anywhere near him. One of my volunteers, Amy, recently found that out the hard way and wanted me to share her experience as a caution to all pet lovers out there. It’s a story worth telling, so I appreciate her sharing.

Amy went to her usual feed store and asked for a box of the large dog Advantage to treat her cats for fleas. She had recently added a new feline, Chevy, to her family and wanted to make sure she was not bringing in some extra guests. She saw the warning on the box that said “for dogs only” but she was experienced in splitting the dose down to cat-size. She applied the product to her new cat and went about her day. When she got home from dinner Chevy came staggering down the hall to greet her drooling profusely. Realizing that something was quite wrong, Amy scooped the cat up and rushed her to the emergency hospital.  She told the clinic that she assumed the cat was having a reaction to the Advantage applied earlier that day. As a new cat, Amy had no idea if Chevy had ever had Advantage before or had any known allergies.

The emergency staff immediately went to work on Chevy, bathing her, clipping her fur and giving fluids but asked Amy to go check the box and verify it was just Advantage that she used. Imagine Amy’s surprise when she arrived home and took a closer look at the box and saw that it was Advantix! It’s easy to see how a mistake like that could happen – a noisy feed store combined with a soft-spoken voice. Advantage and Advantix sound a lot alike. The boxes they come in are the same size and shape and look very similar. So unless one really checked the label carefully, the mix-up would be easy to miss.

It was a scary night, not to mention expensive, but Chevy pulled through fine. The lesson learned is how important it is to really read labels before giving any medication to our pets. Even if you get the prescription directly from your vet, especially if you have multiple pets, you should look it over carefully and question anything that seems odd to you. The technician might have inadvertently pulled another pet’s file and filled the prescription for the wrong weight or species. Don’t be embarrassed to question and verify that you are getting the right stuff. You’re the one who will be spending the night in the emergency clinic – and worrying that your pet might not pull through.

There’s nothing worse than simply abandoning unwanted pet

There’s nothing worse than simply abandoning unwanted pet

You probably thought that with that ugly growth on her nose that it would be a quick euthanasia.  But we are committed to giving every animal a chance, so we struggle with these decisions.  Did you drop her off because you found out that it’s cancerous and the treatment was costly?  That would be useful information so we wouldn’t waste our time and limited resources repeating whatever tests you had done.  She is still eating and loving and active, so she doesn’t seem to be in a critical state…yet.  But knowing what you know of her history would help us make a better treatment plan.  Not that we can cure her if it is cancer.  Or realistically find her an adoptive family.  But it would help to know her prognosis so we could possibly find her a hospice or rescue situation.

The same is true of the older Yorkie that came in as a stray.  Our tests show that she is hypothyroid.  Did you already know that?  Has she been on medication and just got lost (if so, where are you to claim her back?  She’s been on Facebook, and in the Press Democrat and Community Voice)?  It’s expensive to have to do these tests, and a waste of money if it’s something the parents already know.  We have to start from scratch to find the right level of medication to control her thyroid.

If you don’t want her back because of this condition, please come in and surrender her to us.  Having her name, at the least, can help a scared dog feel more comfortable; and knowing if she is 9 years old or 14 (our vet tends to be generous in aging animals!) would be helpful too.   Having her full medical history, again, can assist us in our treatment and placement plan.

You don’t have to abandon your pet here. We will take him in (or refer you to the right shelter for your area that will).  We truly try not to judge or shame people for surrendering their animals even when the reason seems frivolous to us.  There is no blame or finger-pointing!  We know that most people take the decision to surrender a pet seriously and are heartbroken to have to do it.  There is important information that only you know that can be very helpful in placing an animal in a new home.  Does he hate being brushed?  Is she afraid of loud noises?  Has he ever lived with children or other animals?  Is her limp from a past injury or something new?  Don’t make us guess and try to figure these things out!

We want to help your animals and we know you want the best for them too.  Owner surrendered animals are scheduled by appointment so that we know we have the space to accommodate them. Your willingness to work with us will help them get that second chance at a new family.  We also have behavior counselors available and other resources that might help you solve whatever issue you are struggling with so that you may not have to surrender the pet you love. Call us at 584-1582 and talk to us about your issues and concerns to give us a chance to help before you get to that breaking point and just leave the animal tied to our door!

Tick Season is Here!

Tick Season is Here!

Reprinted with permission from Carrington College

Ticks are small, resilient creatures. Not even frost in winter can eliminate them – they are able to return once the temperatures rise again. Now that spring has arrived, pet owners ought to remember these little pests can carry potentially deadly diseases. They enjoy hitching a ride on dogs, but can also easily jump from your pet onto you. However, you do not have to panic if you find one or more ticks on your beloved pet. As this guide from points out, you can get rid of these little pests on your own before they have the chance to cause too much damage.

Remove the Tick

If you suspect your pet has ticks, do a thorough exam on your pet. Put on gloves and check inside your dog’s ears, under its armpits, between toes and around the face and chin. Ticks are black, brown or tan, and have eight legs. If you find one tick, continue searching to see if there are more. Remember that some ticks can be tiny – barely the size of a pinhead.

The next step is to get a pair of clean tweezers, grab the tick’s body as close to the head as possible and firmly pull it out of your pet. Disinfect the area where the tick was found and put the tick’s body in a jar filled with alcohol. Keep the jar in case you need to show the tick to your vet at a later date. That way, the vet can test the tick for any diseases that it may have transmitted to your pet.

Disinfect the area where the tick was found with alcohol to prevent infection. You may also want to consider applying a topical tick killer to your pet just to be on the safe side. Keep an eye on your dog just in case it may still develop a tick-borne disease. Symptoms may include arthritis or lameness, lethargy, swollen joints, fever, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, neurological problems, anemia or breathing difficulties. Be aware that it can take 7 to more than 21 days before such symptoms can appear.

Clean the Home

If you suspect that your dog brought ticks into the house, take immediate action. Should you see ticks in the home, call a pest control company to eliminate these pests once and for all. If you are not sure if your home has ticks, vacuum the entire house and all your furniture and then place your vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag before disposing of it. Treat dog bedding, carpets and even your bedding with a store-bought tick killing solution.

In case you have a large yard, put up store-bought tick tubes or make your own. Mow the grass regularly and keep bushes cut back. If you have a smaller yard or an extensive tick warfare budget, you may want to build a tick barrier from mulch, stones or gravel between the wooded, bushy areas of your yard and your lawn. You may also want to consider removing any outdoor furniture, equipment or toys away from potentially tick-filled thicket.

If you found ticks on your dog, keep an eye on it for the next few weeks as some tick-borne diseases take as long as three weeks for symptoms to show. Take your dog to the vet if it loses its appetite, has difficulty moving or breathing, experiences neurological problems, has a fever and/or is fatigued. Thankfully, removing ticks in a timely manner minimizes the risk of infection and helps you and your pet avoid having to deal with potentially life-threatening illnesses.

My Dog is a Cone-head!

My Dog is a Cone-head!

My dog is a cone-head – literally!  He has to wear an Elizabethan collar (so named after the style of dress of Queen Elizabeth) nicknamed the E-collar, until the staples come out of his face where he had his tumor removed.  The collar prevents him from scratching at the incision with his back leg and ripping the sutures out, which he would do in less than a minute.  But not only does he look ridiculous, it is, I’m sure uncomfortable and frustrating.

There are other names for the device – at the shelter we call it a party hat referring to the lampshade that you might end up wearing if you indulge too much at a party.  I’ve also heard it called the cone of shame, but I think that’s just how the dog feels when they have to wear one!  It does resemble a satellite dish so people joke about what stations the animal is picking up.

Imagine the worst itch you’ve ever had and no way to get at it!  Yes, he was on pain meds for the first three days and he’s still on antibiotics, but neither of those directly helps with an itch.  I upped his dose of antihistamine to give him some relief, but from the sound of him scratching on the plastic I can tell it’s not completely effective.  I’ve always thought it was cruel of people to just put a cone on their dog when they are having a flea reaction if they don’t also do something to actually treat the problem or give relief to the animal from the itchiness.  This is not not quite the same thing, but I know incisions itch so I’m suffering the mom-guilt of not being able to make it go away.

The cone is awkward in other ways – he is constantly bumping into my legs, into the doorjambs, banging into tables and chairs and just generally being super clumsy.  You can also tell it’s difficult for him to get into a comfortable position to sleep with this thing on his head.  Fortunately there are some new styles out that try to get away from the big, hard plastic cone that make it so difficult for dogs to eat, drink and rest comfortably.

One new style is the same shape, but it’s made out of a very stiff fabric so it doesn’t hurt as much, or do damage when they bump into you and the walls. There’s another one on the market that looks like a big buoy ring that goes around the neck.  It allows the dog to eat and drink a bit easier, but it can be harder to keep on.  The bite-not collar, which looks like a neck brace – is a very wide, stiff collar that prevents the head from turning to chew on the back end.  That, and the concept of putting on a t-shirt or Onsie-type body suit on your dog works great if the material actually covers the itchy spot or incision.  Neither of those would work, though, to prevent a hind leg from scratching at a wound on the cheek.

Sorry to bore you all with more about my dog but he’s the main focus right now – especially with that big cone on his head!  It certainly garners a lot of sympathy from everyone at work so in that way he is rather enjoying all the attention.  Hope that makes up for some of the misery!

Cancer in Dogs Hits Home

Cancer in Dogs Hits Home

This has not been a good week for Golden Retrievers in my family.  My Brandy, who is only about 5-years-old had what I thought was a fatty cyst on his cheek.  But it kept growing and when it got to be the size of a marble I made an appointment to have it checked by the vet.  Naturally, it couldn’t wait and ruptured; making a pretty ugly open wound on his face.

The vet agreed it needed to come off and did an in-house cytology to see if there were any mast cells (cancer) so she would know how big a margin she needed to take off.  Sure enough there were mast cells, so that means a bigger mass removal (fortunately he has large jowls with lots of skin) and a biopsy to see how aggressive a cancer it is.  That will happen next week (might have the results by the time this is printed) so for now he’s on antibiotics and a topical wound cleaner.

In the meantime, yesterday I got a text from my sister who also has a Golden.  Basmati (their last name is Rice) is a 10-year-old male that was adopted from our shelter.  Basi hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of days and then yesterday seemed to be in a lot of pain so she rushed him to the vet and they found that a tumor in his spleen had ruptured.  Talk about an emergency surgery!  He had his spleen removed and is still in critical condition from all the blood loss.  Sadly, there is a 90-95 percent chance that it is hemangiosarcoma—an incurable, aggressive cancer of the blood vessels.

Brandy is my third Golden, so you would think I would know a lot about them, but I just found out that they are on the list of the top nine dog breeds susceptible to cancer.  Actually my first Golden also succumbed to cancer, but that was so long ago that I didn’t make much of a connection.  For your information the other eight breeds on the list are: Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs (that was my last dog and he did die from lymphoma), Bouvier des Flandres, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Labrador Retrievers, Bichon Frises and Boxers.  All but the bichon are large breed dogs so there’s that commonality.

The diagnosis, of course, is just the first step.  Assuming Basi pulls through this initial surgery, my sister has to decide if she’s going to try chemotherapy on him.  Knowing that, at best, it will buy just a few more months.  I might be facing a similar decision after the biopsy of Brandy’s mass comes back.  There are more treatment options available for animals than ever before, but it all comes with a price tag—both financial and emotional.  It’s never easy deciding what to do, unless your finances are such that you really can’t do anything and then the decision is sort of made for you.

For the rest of us it’s a matter of weighing the chances of recovery and/or the quality of life against the financial strain and the guilt of knowing we didn’t do “everything” possible.  Never an easy position to be in.  Please send healing thoughts to both Brandy and Basmati and give your dog a hug to appreciate his/her good health!

Easter Bunnies

Easter Bunnies

Thinking about getting the kids a real bunny for Easter?  I’m glad!  Not so much glad that you’re getting the kids a rabbit for the holiday as that you are at least doing some thinking!  We can help you out on that part – in fact, this Saturday (and the second Saturday of every month) is our Bunny Day where all our knowledgeable rabbit volunteers are on hand to answer questions and to show off our adoptable buns.  That would be a good first stop to learn more about the care that a rabbit requires.

Sadly, less than five percent of the baby bunnies (and chicks) purchased on a whim around Easter make it to one year old.  Of those that survive, many get surrendered to shelters when the novelty wears off and the reality of the daily care sinks in.  These are living animals that need food, water and a clean environment daily, not to mention exercise and other enrichment activities and toys.  The good thing about rabbits is that other than being altered and a yearly check-up, they don’t need much in the way of medical care.  Unless they get sick and then it’s almost always an emergency!

Since rabbits are prey animals, they see and interact with the world in a different way than dogs and cats, who are predators, do.  Prey animals disguise their illness until it’s almost too late – unless you are super vigilante – so by the time you notice they’re not eating or pooping, it’s a crisis.

They can be frightened to the point of having heart attacks just by having an aggressive dog charge their cage (not even making contact physically with the rabbit).  And they can break their backs if picked up the wrong way (so young children should never be allowed to pick up the bunny).

On the plus side, they make wonderful house pets.  They are quiet, can be litterbox trained, and can get ample exercise running around the house or a safe room.  Once altered, the male’s urine loses that strong odor and they stop marking.  With good care a fixed bunny can live 8-10 years or longer!  So it is a long-term commitment and should be thought through carefully.  Since the children will probably have moved on in interests, if not physically from the home, it’s important that the parents are also into having the rabbit as a pet.  We know who’s going to end up doing most of the care!

Bunny Day at the shelter is a great time to explore the options, and meet some adorable rabbits.  Our volunteers can answer more of your questions and help you select a rabbit that would work for your family and lifestyle.  Occasionally we have bonded pairs available, and that’s always a plus since rabbits are social creatures and humans tend to have busy lives.  It’s so sweet to see two bunnies grooming each other and cuddling.  One of the things our volunteers like best is the dating service they offer.  Helping single rabbits find a compatible match is so satisfying!

Hope you can hop on by during one of our monthly Bunny Days and check out the action.  If you have a rabbit, bring him/her along for a free mani/pedi and shop our Bunny Boutique for fresh hay, treats and toys.  All proceeds help support the shelter’s small animal program.  If you decide that a real rabbit isn’t quite the right choice for your family –we’ll have some chocolate ones available instead!