The Peanut Butter Plan (for dogs who hate pills!)

Recently, Patricia McConnell wrote a great post about giving a dog a pill. If you haven’t read it, especially if your dog is a Pill Ninja, go check it out!

These guys take a lot of pills. Emmett has his thyroid medicine, his liver medicine (the size of a horse tranquilizer… that one’s a toughie), two different chemo pills, an acid reducer… and that’s just at breakfast! With the exception of the giant liver pill, the rest get mixed in his food (Dr. McConnell’s first suggestion!) along with his supplements. Which we’ve switched to powder form. Due to the million pills.

Lucas takes his joint medications and, periodically, a doggy aspirin or eight. Really, for his weight, the current formula we have suggests eight. That’s a lot of pills. And he doesn’t like them. At all.

Of our three, Lucas is the only one who’s earned Pill Ninja status. Before we found a daily that he liked, he used to pick it out of his kibble, finish eating, then carry the pill off to spit out – presumably thinking he was pulling the wool over our eyes.

Over the weekend he hurt his foot. It wasn’t his joints, like he was stiff or sore, but his front right foot was clearly aching. He hobbled around. Cried a bit. Paced (because climbing in his bed wouldn’t make us feel bad). Stared. Hobbled some more.

We knew it was time to give him his Pirin Tablets (please tell me someone else loves that movie, too???). Our go-to solution with him has been a peanut butter lollipop!

Instead of smearing the pills with peanut butter – he sees right around that ruse – we LOAD a spoon with peanut butter, then tuck the pills deep in the mound of yumminess. He can’t resist it!

Three crazy adorable pictures to illustrate:


Is your dog a pill ninja? Or, like Em, can you just toss them in your dog’s bowl? What’s your go-to pill technique? 

Home cooking for your dog? Don’t make this mistake! (We did. Shoot.)

Does this ever happen to you? You figure out something GREAT! So great that you can’t help but get EXCITED! And the more excited you get, you find yourself getting a smidge… carried away?!?


That’s what happened with home cooking for Cooper.

{{If you need to catch up, here’s why we decided to home cook, and here’s how Coop was doing at last check-in.}}

He was doing phenomenally well. His system was actually digesting his food (gasp!) and he had consistently solid poops. We wanted to take photos and frame them, they were so good. Better than being solid? There was no more blood!


Well, for a little while anyway.

Home cooking for your dog Don't make this mistake!

Because we had so much success with a range of grains, carb sources, and veggies AND he was doing well with a couple different proteins, we decided to mix things up.

All at once.

There’s the mistake: When you are trying your dog out on a totally home-cooked diet, especially if that dog has digestive problems, stick to one change at a time. One. For real.


We started him on pork, and it seemed to be going OK, so we switched out his veggies and his carbs. Then we decided to give oatmeal a whirl. Then, two of the supplements that I ordered came in, so we stirred those in, too. There were five new things in his bowl all at once. Here is where I have to smack my head and ask, “What were you thinking, lady?!?”

And then he got sick.

Like, really, really sick. Like, worse than before.

Back to having emergency accidents around the house. {{Incidentally, he had a big one directly in front of our CritterZone, and I didn’t smell it until it was already… dried… That thing is pretty sweet. I’ll have a post and coupon code about it soon.}}

The blood was back, and he actually dropped about three pounds. In a week.

The big problem, of course, was that we didn’t know what it was that he reacted to so violently. The pork? The oatmeal? The supplements? No clue.

We had to clear out his system, so he ate boiled potatoes and steamed apples – and literally nothing else because he couldn’t keep anything solid in him – mixed with water to keep him from dehydrating. He ate nothing but that for over a week.

Once we were clear that he was clear, we started adding items back in, one at a time.

It’s been several weeks, and we’ve shifted one bite at a time from the potatoes and apple to his current mix: salmon, quinoa, green beans, apples, and supplements. We’ve been slowly shifting out the salmon and adding in lamb, which has gone perfectly. So far. But I’m not going to push it. I learned my lesson.

Let this be my warning: If you’re home cooking for your dog, especially a dog as sensitive as Cooper, never ever add more than one ingredient at a time. Give that ingredient a few days (or even a week – our new plan) to settle, then add something new.

So that’s the update and our cautionary tale! As we work out other combinations, I’ll be sure to share. I’ve gotten tons of amazingly good questions via email and on Facebook, which I’m compiling into an FAQ-style post. My plan is to tackle the supplement piece in a post by itself first (that’s been the most-asked question), so look for that next week!

Thanks for sticking with us through this! Please join in with your insights in the comments or on Facebook! I’d LOVE to hear your experiences and ideas – the more info we can all get, the better we can serve our pups!

My dog’s stomach is holding me hostage

There’s nothing like stepping in a pile of dog poop. In your living room.

I woke up Monday morning. Put on my glasses. Walked toward the hallway to take the herd out and feed them. I flipped on the light and spotted it: a massive pile of Cooper poop just inside my office door. He had gotten up at some point in the night, and Cooper – unlike his brothers – does not strive to wake me up for an emergency. Instead, he sneaks off, goes, then climbs back in bed.

Coop in bed.
“Sorry, lady.”

We’re still testing ingredients, and the cottage cheese was totally my fault. I should’ve known. But, alas, I figured it was finally out of his system.

Then, Monday night while I was at class, this happened, and I suspect that Cooper ate the cat food.

Scratch that. I know Cooper ate the cat food.

Tuesday morning I awoke just after 5 to Cooper barfing on the rug in my bedroom. Cleaned it up, walked downstairs to find… another massive pile of Cooper poop, this time in the living room. Actually two piles, but I didn’t see the second pile until I had stepped in it while cleaning up the first. Damn dark carpets and bad eyesight.

So, I put them in the yard, cleaned it up, fed everyone (Cooper is on BLAND), then started the coffee. I walked up to my office, powered on my computer, and glanced at my email. I went downstairs to pour my first cup… and there was another pile of poop that was brand new. In the exact spot I had just cleaned. Of the three, that was the only one that made me mad because I was RIGHT THERE. He could’ve gone to the door. I would’ve heard him. But nooooo.

All day Tuesday was Poop Watch 2014. I had a huge stack of papers to grade, and it was impossible to concentrate. I kept him in my line of sight at all times. I took him out almost hourly. I needed to go to the post office and the grocery store, and all day long I kept telling myself: As soon as he poops, I’ll run those errands as fast as possible. Heck, I needed to shower, but after three inside poops, I wasn’t letting my guard down for a second. Not. One. Second.

By the time 11:45 pm rolled around and he still hadn’t pooped, I wanted to cry. I threw in the towel. I decided to gate him in my bedroom with me. Never has he had an accident in the bedroom (a den thing, maybe?) so I figured it was my best bet.

Wednesday woke up to him barfing.

But no poop!

{{Aside, we recently switched Newt’s food. Wednesday morning she decided to barf it all up. I guess she was showing solidarity for Cooper. But she kindly did it all over the bathroom floor, which is tile. For that, I am grateful.}}

He went outside before breakfast and again late afternoon. I had class – last one of the semester!!! – last night, and I was convinced I’d come home to poop. I gated them all in the living room and crossed my fingers. No poop! Yippee!

So, last night, I gated him in with me again.

I woke up to him running in frantic circles at 2 am. Rushed him out and he went. Back to bed. Same thing at 6:45. We had to get up anyway, but sheesh.

John’s been out of town since last Friday. He’s on his way back now. I think his punishment for abandoning me should be renting a steam cleaner and cleaning the rugs this weekend, don’t you?

I seriously feel like I can’t leave the house, but I still have to go to the post office and grocery store! The next time he poops outside…


Still waiting…

Yesterday, Emmett had his round of tests at Purdue’s small animal hospital. He was due for a battery: blood work, x-rays, ultrasounds, and aspirations of three new lumps.

These Purdue days are very long days, and yesterday was compounded by John being out of town. It’s about 2.5 hours each way. I left the house extra early – at 7 – to drop Lucas and Cooper off at doggy daycare. Then, Emmett and I drove up to Purdue for his 10 am appointment.

Emmett's December Purdue appointment
Relaxing in the lobby…


The way it works there is that you get checked in, then at his scheduled appointment time, you meet with an oncology technician. She went through his chart and paperwork. We discussed the medications he’s on and any side effects (none, thankfully), appetite, energy level, all that good stuff. Because he had a few new lumps, she went over those next and mapped them for the oncologist to check out.

Then the stressful part starts.

They basically execute each test and procedure as the equipment and staff are available, which means they take him back around 10… and he finishes up sometime after 3. For me, sitting in the lobby and worrying makes the whole experience far more stressful. I think the techs understand that, and they offer to take your cell phone number and call with updates throughout the day. So, I left my number and went to the nearby mall to do some Christmas shopping. I spotted the Pinups for Pitbulls book at the West Lafayette Barnes and Noble!

Pinups book

Anyway, by the time I finished up shopping, I still hadn’t heard from the techs. It’s excruciating to wait all day, that’s for sure. I ended up at Starbucks – I brought a pile of papers to grade, and ate scones and drank coffee. Just after 2, the oncology resident called and said that he wanted to meet with me around 3. I panicked. At his past appointments, the doctor came out to the lobby, said “all good news,” gave me his paperwork, and that was that.

So, I rushed over there and waited. And waited. And waited. Then waited some more.

Just before 4 the doctor called me into an exam room. By that time, I had burnt off all those scones calories from jiggling my legs and wiping sweat off my palms!

His blood work was good, though his liver enzymes were slightly elevated again, despite being on Denamarin, a liver drug. He said the elevation wasn’t enough for him to worry yet, but we’re going to repeat the blood work in four weeks. Two of the three lumps were just fat cells.

The third, though, they’re concerned about because it’s a different texture, much firmer, than the others, and he wasn’t able to get a good sample for his slides. He did send what he had to cytology, and I’m still waiting to hear back. They promised a call today, so I’m basically sitting here holding my phone.

On the drive home, I realized he didn’t mention the “gall sludge” that showed up on his last two ultrasounds, so when he calls I’m going to ask about that.

We made it to doggy daycare by about 6:20 – they close at 7, so I was nervous – then back home twelve hours later, just before 7 pm to decompress. (Wine.)

So, that’s where we are! Worrying about the results is definitely keeping me distracted, and today hasn’t been particularly productive! Thanks so much, everyone, for all the wishes and crossed fingers on Facebook yesterday. As soon as I know what’s what, I’ll leave a note in the comments below.

Waiting… waiting… waiting…

Home cooking for our dog: What we’ve tried + resources

Yesterday I started out explaining why we’re home cooking for our dog. In short: his health was a mess. We’ve been at it for a while now, mostly experimenting, but we’ve seen incredible results already.

Home cooking for your dog: Ingredients and resources

The first thing we did was to throw out all our previous “insights” into what he could and couldn’t eat. We had been working on one thing, one issue, one symptom at a time for so long that we no longer felt confident that any of our notions were correct. I pulled a couple dog cookbooks off the shelf and flipped through. The pattern that emerged was, essentially, mixing a meat protein source, starchy stuff (like sweet potatoes), fruits and veggies, grains, and supplements. I found this article from Whole Dog Journal to be useful in weighing ingredient possibilities, especially this:

It’s important that the diet you feed your dog is “complete and balanced,” meaning it meets all of your dog’s nutritional needs. It is not important, however, that every meal be complete and balanced, unless you feed the same meal every day with little or no variation. Home-prepared diets that include a wide variety of foods fed at different meals rely on balance over time, not at every meal. Similar to the way humans eat, as long as your dog gets everything he needs spread out over each week or two, his diet will be complete and balanced.

Our next step was to start testing ingredients to see what he tolerated. We started with a base of quinoa and mixed vegetables, which we steamed, because we had fed those to him in the past with no reactions, then we futzed with the proteins. Keeping the base the same, we tested tuna, pork, and lamb. All those were good, so we added in some whole wheat pasta, then varied the vegetables. Who knew that Cooper loved Brussels sprouts so much! We then added steamed spinach to the base, which went well, then we tried steamed kale, which did NOT go well. In fact, the kale experiment was the first time in nearly three weeks that he had diarrhea. So, kale is off our list! He’s also good on sweet potatoes and white rice. Next up: brown rice and squash. We’re also going to try turkey and salmon in the next round of proteins. As for ingredient testing, this chart has been incredibly useful.

But here’s our key: We are only changing ONE ingredient at a time. We isolated a few things that we could count on and only make one change at a time. Yes, it’s making this process take forever (we need to cook a new batch of food nearly every day), but it’s helping us isolate what works and what doesn’t.

While we’ve been working through our ingredients list, I also downloaded this PDF guide from The National Academies that details the minimum daily requirements for vitamins and minerals. I know that ultimately he will get much of his requirements from his food, but while we’re testing and to be extra safe, I wanted to get him on supplements that would get him to his daily minimum. Using the guide, I downloaded the labels for a handful of supplements. I’d be happy to share my comparisons with you if you’re interested, but after a lot of number crunching, we decided on these vitamins with this calcium supplement. Combined, the two get him almost to the full daily requirements outlined in the guide. He also gets a scoop of pumpkin with breakfast and a scoop of coconut oil with dinner.

My ultimate goal is to nail down a few proteins, a variety of fruits and vegetables, some of the carbs, and a couple grains… then go to Sam’s Club and buy them in bulk. Ideally, I’d like a freezer stocked with daily portions so that we aren’t cooking every day, but I’m not willing to do that until we have a solid rotation of possibilities. On Facebook, Lisa suggested preparing batches in the Crock Pot (genius!!) and on yesterday’s post, Pamela recommended Dr. Pitcairn’s book (which I actually have), so I’ll be doing a bit more tweaking before that stage.

I read tons more, in addition to talking to our vet, but the resources I’ve linked here are the ones I found most useful.

Preliminary results: His stomach is the best it’s ever been. Ever. In four years. His coat is shiny, and his eyes look clearer. I think he seems happier, too, but John says we can’t quantify that. (But, trust me. He seems happier. 😉 )

So, there you have it! I’ll let you know how everything progresses, but thank you to everyone who shared your experiences yesterday. So helpful! If you have any more questions or comments or have a favorite recipe, please do share in the comments!