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Accommodating a senior dog

“His teeth are in great shape for a dog his age,” our new vet said.

A DOG HIS AGE?! I thought. WHAT is she talking about? He’s a PUPPY!

I was indignant.

It was the same sort of angry annoyance I felt the first time I didn’t get carded…

But, of course, he’s not a puppy. My little, huggy-bear, smoochy-face Lucas is 7ish years old. According to the ASPCA, “Most dogs enter their golden years between seven and 10 years of age, with large/giant breeds becoming seniors earlier than small breeds.” At around 80 pounds, Lukey’s a pretty large breed… and lest we forget his genetic ancestry.

Add that to Emmett’s 10ish years, and we’ve got the beginnings of a retirement community going on over here!

Old dogs


In truth, when I stepped back and thought about it, I realized we’ve been making subtle accommodations for them without ever giving conscious thought to the aging process.

We put a bench at the foot of our bed because Lucas was having a difficult time jumping up. Now, Emmett won’t jump up on the furniture at all, so I placed a dog bed in my office (while the other two usually lounge on the furniture like so, Emmett was always on the floor as shown in that pic… not good for his aging bones). We feed them less, though we’ve increased our exercise regimen. They both get joint supplements. Lucas can’t jump into the back of my SUV anymore, so we taught him to put his front paws up, then we lift his back, though I think we may be investing in a ramp in the near future.

All these changes happened incrementally. We barely even noticed, really.

On the one hand, I guess that shows they’re aging well.

On the other, it shows that we need to be more cognizant of their elderly pup status.

A few things I’m thinking about:

  • Purchasing more rugs. Our house is all wood, and Lucas is starting to show signs of his back legs slipping on the wood as he tries to get up. (Added bonus, it’ll help Newt gain traction when Cooper is in all-out chase mode.)
  • Adding pumpkin to their diet to encourage digestive health.
  • Replacing (or repairing, if possible) the worn out dog beds that don’t have any cushion left.
  • Scheduling twice-a-year checkups with the vet instead of just an annual shot fest.

What am I missing? Are you currently accommodating a senior dog? Any tips or tricks? What’s working for your senior pup? 

Do dogs dream?

You probably have anecdotal evidence that your dog dreams. Maybe he runs in his sleep or yips or snarls or even sleep walks. Maybe you have theories (he finally caught that squirrel!) about what your dog dreams.

Interestingly, there is a ton of research that shows dogs do, in fact, dream just like we do. They take information from their day and assimilate it in an abstract way.

Back in 2001, MIT researchers used brain monitoring technology to watch rats’ brains as they learned to run a circular maze to earn a food reward. They used the same technology to monitor their brains while they slept, and for many of the rats, the brain patters matched, indicating that they were dreaming about running the maze.

In a Pyschology Today editorial, Dr. Stanley Cohen writes that it would be more surprising if dogs didn’t dream since we understand so much of their brain structure and function. Further, he shares how to tell when your dog starts to dream:

It is really quite easy to determine when your dog is dreaming without resorting to brain surgery or electrical recordings. All that you have to do is to watch him from the time he starts to doze off. As the dog’s sleep becomes deeper his breathing will become more regular. After a period of about 20 minutes for an average-sized dog his first dream should start. You will recognize the change because his breathing will become shallow and irregular. There may be odd muscle twitches, and you can even see the dog’s eyes moving behind its closed lids if you look closely enough. The eyes are moving because the dog is actually looking at the dream images as if they were real images of the world. These eye movements are most characteristic of dreaming sleep. When human beings are awakened during this rapid eye movement or REM sleep phase, they virtually always report that they were dreaming.

Personally, I’ve always known – yes, anecdotally – that my dogs dream. Emmett has bad dreams. His fur stands up. His lip curls. He snarls and whimpers. Lucas has active dreams where he’s running and chasing (and, probably, catching! it’s a dream after all!) because his legs windmill in the air or his nails click on the wood floor as he moves rapidly in his sleep.

Cooper, though… Cooper has good dreams. No, Cooper has great dreams! I think he’s playing with Newt or running with Lucas or snuggling or ripping up toys or… who knows… all of those at once. Why do I think that?



What do you suppose he’s dreaming about? from Maggie Marton on Vimeo.

What about your dogs? Do dogs dream? Are they “active” sleepers, moving and running and barking? Do you have theories about their dreams? Are they catching squirrels or eating ice cream? 



Who cares for your pets when you’re away?

Some people have a friend stay with their pets. Others have the kid down the street check in, while others hire a professional. There are a lot of options. Which is the right one?

Last week, Pamela at Something Wagging This Way Comes shared a tongue-in-cheek post called Top 10 Traits of a Pet Sitter Who Won’t Kill Your Dog. She took a humorous look at the topic but cited some heart-wrenching examples to illustrate the importance of finding the right pet sitter.

It came at the perfect moment: That very day, a husband and wife team of pet sitters came by to meet the boys and talk about their experience.

My babies need top-notch care!

My babies need top-notch care!


It’s going to work out with these pet sitters for days when we’re away, though they don’t offer overnight care, so we’re still going to need to find another solution. Possibly a boarding place in New Orleans… TBD…

When I shared Pamela’s post on Facebook, it sparked a good discussion, though I was saddened to hear how many people have horror stories from pet sitters! Our pet sitter in Bloomington, Ann of Bloomington Pet Pals, offered a few really valuable suggestions, which I wanted to share here. Ann wrote:

  • They should have a federal tax ID number which just means they pay taxes as a business. They should also carry liability insurance which protects your pets and property. Ask to see proof of their insurance and what it covers – see if it covers transporting your pet b/c that’s a special provision you have to add. Ask if they have had any claims. Ask to see proof of their bond. If they don’t carry liability insurance and a bond, look for someone else.
  • Ask if the person you meet is going to be the only one doing the sitting. Many times, you meet the owner of the company but they may use others to do the job, which isn’t necessarily bad, but you should know.
  • Ask if everyone who works for them is covered by their insurance or bond.
  • Your sitter should be in communication with you daily (at least) while you are away – via text or email. They should send photos. If you know your neighbors ask them to watch for the sitter and notice how long the person stays – are they in and out in 5 minutes or do they stay the length of time they say they will?

Such great advice. While you can’t predict or prevent every problem, doing your due diligence is critical when it comes to finding someone to take care of your fur babies!

Who takes care of your pet when you’re away? Do you hire a pet sitter? Go to a kennel? Any other advice to share with someone who’s considering a pet sitter? 


Idiopathic head tremors

Editor’s note: This is a guest post that I requested on behalf of everyone whose dogs are suffering from idiopathic head tremors. Based on the comments from my previous post (found here) I knew this was a topic that warranted further review. If you have additional questions, please leave them in the comments so we can continue our discussion!


Cooper, my guy with idiopathic head tremors

What You Need to Know about Your Dog’s Idiopathic Head Tremors

Many dog owners have to watch their precious friends suffer from idiopathic head tremors on a regular basis. This problem can make owners feel helpless as their pets experience uncontrollable “head bobbing.” Some dogs bob their heads side-to-side, while others bob up-and-down. Either way, many have described the bobbing as resembling the “dog version” of Parkinson’s disease in humans.

Idiopathic head tremors can occur with just about any “bully dog breeds.” Some of these breeds include Bulldogs, Pit Bulls and Doberman Pinchers. Researchers continue to conduct studies. Yet, currently, no one really knows for sure why the tremors occur. Theoretically, the tremors are harmless. However, they can sometimes resemble seizures, which can be very stressful on owners.

How to Deal with Your Dog’s Idiopathic Head Tremors

If your dog experiences these annoying tremors, it’s important to remain calm. According to experts, the head bobbing doesn’t actually affect your pet. Yet, panicking will only cause your best friend to panic as well, which may cause the tremors to increase.

Instead, evaluate the condition of your dog. Is your buddy responsive and alert? What color are your furry buddy’s gums? Have any other parts of your pet’s body been affected by the tremors?

A typical idiopathic head tremor episode will generally last around three minutes. Once the head bobbing is over, your dog should return to normal, as if the tremors never occurred at all. If your dog does appear to have been affected, contact your local veterinarian immediately.

If your dog suffers from tremor episodes several times per day or over a period of a few days, that’s a good reason to visit your vet. Most pets never experience tremors while actually in the vet’s office. So, try to get your dog’s episodes on video. That way, your veterinarian can review the footage and use it to help him/her make an educated diagnosis.

Are Idiopathic Head Tremors Hurting Your Dog?

Many dog owners have reported their pets having recurring idiopathic head tremors for a while. Then, they suddenly just stop altogether. Until that happens, keep a journal which details the tremors. This will help you better understand what some of the possible triggers may be for the head bobbing condition.

In the meantime, remain calm, because these seizure-like symptoms are not life-threatening. That means they have no long-term effects on your dog. The actual point of treatment is to lower the stress and anxiety levels of dog owners who hate watching their pets suffer.

Dog owners with pets who suffer from idiopathic head tremors say that their buddies are entirely aware during episodes. Their ears stay up as if alert. They respond to your calls and commands as usual. And, their appetites aren’t affected.

The next time your dog suffers a tremor episode, simply try calling her/his over to you. Then, have your pet sit still so that she/he can focus. Usually, this will help to release your pet from the “tremor trance.” Some owners even say that doggie treats can also release them from the trance.

This article was written by Ryean Bishop for Bannock Animal Medical Center (BAMCvet). Worried about your pet’s idiopathic head tremors or other medical issues? Contact BAMCvet to schedule your pet’s appointment today.

Finally, for reference, here’s a video I posted of Cooper having a tremor on Saturday:

Idiopathic head tremors: A typical Cooper tremor from Maggie Marton on Vimeo.

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Leave a comment, feed a shelter pet

The State of Pet Health Report, the first report of its kind from Banfield Pet Hospital, has a brand new consumer-friendly home on the web, www.StateofPetHealth.com.

StateofPetHealth.com gives pet owners access to the PDF version of the Report, as well as the latest news, insights, & tips on preventing disease in pets, including overweight & obesity, kidney disease, arthritis, and more – all from the comfort of home.

StateofPetHealth.com features include:

  • Overweight & Obesity: Check your pets’ Body Condition Score and daily caloric needs
  • Check out geographic trends and trends in disease
  • Learn about the top diseases affecting pets and which breeds are most at risk
  • Prevention tips and many other special features to ensure pets live long and healthy lives

Check out the report when you have a chance. It’s chock full of really interesting information!

And now, to celebrate the report,  for every comment that this post receives between now and Saturday, Banfield will donate one bowl of food to a pet in need through the Banfield Charitable Trust. What could be easier? Leave a comment; feed a shelter pet! Let’s see how many comments we can get in a week!

New here? Welcome! You can subscribe via RSS or email so we can keep in touch and keep talking dogs!

Do you have a pet care emergency plan?

Several weeks ago I had a reaction to one of my many medicines and landed in the emergency room in the middle of the night. (Stupid cancer.) Thankfully, my mom was able to make the hour-and-a-half drive down to help me and take care of the boys.

Emmett is busily researching emergency preparedness.

That experience, combined with the heartbreak of watching people across the country dealing with fires, floods, and more, got me thinking about my pet care emergency plan. Do you have one?

Some things I’m thinking about:

  • I have fabulous pet sitters who my guys know really well. In an emergency, I know I could count on them and that the boys would be comfortable and happy with them. If you don’t have a pet sitter or boarding facility lined up, consider arranging something in advance so in case of emergency, your pup isn’t meeting a new person or going to a new place.
  • Beyond professionals, or for an odd time of day, I know I can call my mom and my wonderful next-door neighbors anytime, day or night. Although, I asked them both if that was okay first – not everyone wants a midnight call.
  • For additional preparedness, consider making an emergency kit for your car that contains a little food, leashes for each pet, and a photocopy of their shot records. If you’re ever in the unfortunate situation of being evacuated, you’ll be ready to go – with your pets.

I’m sure I’m skipping over a lot of things you can do to have a solid pet care emergency plan. What am I missing? Do you have a plan in place? 

This was supposed to be a Wordless Wednesday post

Whew, have I been tired! This is an outward reflection of how I feel on the inside:

If I were to perform my exhaustion in some sort of interpretive dance, it might look something like this:

The bottom line? I’m learning that I can’t keep up right now and – here’s the hard part for me – that’s okay. I’m trying to let go, at least a little. I’ve been watching TV (umm… how did I miss Gilmore Girls when it was on originally?! The show is fab!) and snuggling the pups. I’ve been reading blogs and clicking around on Pinterest, but I can’t get up the energy to actually comment, post, or write.

But I wanted to stop in and say hello! I also wanted to post these sleepy, snuggled-up pics for Wordless Wednesday, but I somehow missed the entire day. Ah, well.

Hope you’re having a great week!

Idiopathic head tremors

If you’ve been reading for a while, you might remember when Cooper first experienced his head tremors. I thought it was a seizure. It was horrifying and scary, but after tons of tests and a consultation with a veterinary neurologist, the diagnosis was “idiopathic head tremors.” In other words: his head shakes, but we don’t know why.

It doesn’t seem to cause him pain. He seems a bit disoriented during the tremor, but then he’s totally fine immediately after. I can usually distract him out of it by asking for some very basic behaviors (sit or high five) and doling out treats. I noticed that he tries to get it to stop by turning his head all the way to the right and holding completely still.

We’ve tracked the tremors – time of day, duration, notable events, food, exercise, and so on – but there is no pattern that we’ve been able to discern. It’s so frustrating.

Anyway, he was snuggled in bed while I was folding some laundry. I looked over and saw him start to tremor, so I got a few seconds of video so you could see what we’re up against. You can see him try to hold his head to the right, then I tried to give him a treat. Thankfully, if it happens when he’s in a relaxed position like this (versus standing or in the middle of play) it seems less severe and doesn’t last as long.

Have you experienced anything like this with your dogs? For me, it’s not even the worry about the tremors, but it’s that the medical mystery aspect is so frustrating!

Also, please check out this article on idiopathic head tremors contributed by a veterinary practice.

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On the mend


Howdy, folks. John here again. I figured it was about time for another update on Maggie, the dogs, and even me! Maggie finished her daily chemo treatment two weeks ago. Right now, it seems like that was all went by in a blur, but I know it wasn’t like that for Maggie, who felt completely miserable the entire time. She’s now on the second week of the 11-month portion of the treatment. She has to give herself a shot three days a week. Last week when she started, it was pretty bad. Migraine headaches, nausea, fatigue, all of the same stuff she’d been feeling for the past month. The side effects aren’t as bad now, mostly she’s just tired all the time. But, she’s able to work on some of the projects she put aside while all of this was going on. We had our weekly meeting with the oncologist today, and he seemed pleased with how everything was going, and told her that since the shots weren’t kicking her butt, he saw no need to lower the dose. Everyone reacts different to the chemo, so throughout the treatment, the oncologist will lower the dose as needed. Maggie made it the entire month without having her dose lowered until the last two days of her treatment. Most people need the dose lowered the first week. I tell you this so you’ll know how tough she is… Anyway, she’s doing well, and the dogs are of course keeping her perfect company.

During her month-long treatment, she was spending her time at her parents’ house in Indianapolis and Emmett, Lucas, and Cooper were her round-the-clock nursing staff. They had so much fun, but I think they’re glad to be home. We’re happy, because it means we can get Cooper back in doggie daycare, which means it’ll be quiet around here to get some work done! Trust me, we love him, but he is one loud (and sometimes annoying) little bugger. Since there aren’t any major dog-related revelations or happenings, here are some recent pics of our guys (I got an awesome new camera for Christmas…).


Emmett's so distinguished...


He looks tough, but he's so small!




More pasta!

He's guarding us from the children who dare ride their bikes in front of our house...



I take the pictures, but I don't edit them. He's still handsome!


Give us that treat and no one gets hurt....

A quick update

John here. I just wanted to give everyone a quick update on how Maggie is doing these days. Yesterday, she started her third of four weeks of daily chemo. Some days are better than others in terms of the side effects, and even though it’s a pretty rough process, we know it’s for the best in the long-run. However, knowing that doesn’t really help much, especially on the bad days.

We’ve had some amazing support from family and friends, and we couldn’t be luckier when it comes to the doctors and nurses we see every single day. Through all of the surgeries, blood draws, infusions, meetings, follow-ups, check-ups, and all of the other daily activities, we are constantly reminded of, despite everything, just how lucky we are. Seriously, if you’re a doctor or nurse, you should know how much you’re appreciated. If you’re not a doctor or nurse, thank any that you know.

Emmett, Lucas, and Cooper haven’t left Maggie’s side in the past months since all of this has been going on. Surprisingly, Cooper has actually stepped up to be Maggie’s protector. She’s been staying at her parents’ house during the week since she gets her treatments in Indianapolis, and I’ve been going back and forth from there and Bloomington, and the dogs have stayed with her. The first few nights, when things started getting bad, Cooper slept on Maggie’s feet the entire time and even growled at her parents when they came to bring her food, tea, medication, or even another blanket. He finally came around and realized they were there to help, but you’ve got to appreciate his level of concern for Maggie. Truly amazing that little guy is…

These next two weeks are going to feel like forever, but once they’re done, things should start to get a little better for her. Again, a big “thank you!” to everyone who has sent a kind word, had a positive though, sent a card, or even just posted something nice on her Facebook page. Your continued support means more to her than you can ever imagine, and I truly appreciate everyone keeping Maggie in your thoughts.

I apologize that I don’t have any cute dog pictures to go along with this post. Hopefully, we’ll have some good pictures of Maggie feeling better covered in a pile of dogs in no time!


*Maggie didn’t proof this post, so I apologize if there are any grammatical errors!