Older dog peeing in the house? Tips and products for dealing with frequent urination / Prednisone pee problems

When he started getting older (around 13), our Boston Terrier, Jack started peeing in the house. At first we thought it was just his old age. But eventually we discovered that he had an advancing brain tumor (cystic meningioma) which was gradually reducing his mobility. Eventually, couldn’t move without great pain, so he was going in the house to avoid having to walk outside.

To treat Jack’s brain tumor, we were prescribed Prednisone, a steroid drug used by both people and pets. The drug literally saved his life and continued to keep him healthy after radiotherapy. But there is definitely a catch to Prednisone: A huge increase in the number of times your dog will have to pee each day. We were totally unprepared.

Held hostage by pee
After going on Prednisone, Jack was peeing once every waking hour — on the carpet, in his bed, in his crate, and everywhere in between. At night it was slightly better … he had to go once every couple of hours. But that made for some pretty sleepless nights.

And the constant deluge of bodily fluids made for many loads of laundry and mad dashes to clean up pee on the floor. No one really told us about the frequent potty breaks we were in for due to the drug side effects. The good news is that the pee breaks are manageable once you figure everything out, as there are many products out there that can help. Below you’ll find several tips on how to deal with the constant flow of pee that you might have to deal with older dogs or dogs on Prednisone.

Tips and products for dealing with older dogs that pee in the house / urinate frequently

1. Pee pads / puppy pads are your best friends

When you have an older dog or one on Prednisone that has to pee all the time, you don’t want to ruin your nice carpet, rug, bed, or car seat. To protect your stuff, you’ll want to buy pee pads, and lots of them. There are two main types: reusable cloth and disposable paper puppy pads.

Reusable pee pads
The cloth puppy pads are a lot nicer than the disposable ones. They typically absorb more liquid, tend stay in place better, and contain splashing more effectively. On Amazon, you can buy reusable puppy pee pads designed for pet use, which tend to be square and can have fun, pet-themed designs. Another option is to buy mattress pad protectors for people, which usually have a more plain design and come in a wider variety of (often larger) shapes, which makes them more ideal for use in a bed, on a sofa, or in the back seat of a car, for example.

But if you’re thinking you want to only use reusable pee pads, know that it will take at least a few hours to turn cloth pee pads around after they’re soiled, and you probably don’t want to feel chained to the washing machine all day — that gets old very quickly!

Disposable pee pads
No matter how many reusable pee pads you have, you will want disposable puppy pads as a backup, especially for dogs on Prednisone — you’re going to be dealing with a large volume of pee! Also, f you ever travel with your dog and won’t have easy access to a washing machine, disposable pee pads are lifesavers. Amazon sells 100 pee pads for about 18 dollars.

As mentioned before, disposable puppy pads aren’t as good as the cloth ones, but there are products that help you deal with some of the of the weaknesses of disposables. For example, a waterproof silicon tray for puppy pads can help you contain some of the splashing issues you might experience with thin pads, and it can help your disposable pee pads stay put better too, they like to slide around if stepped on fly away if there is any wind.

Pee pad best practices
One strategy that will help you keep your sanity is to use multiple layers of pee pads stacked on top of each other. Some dog owners put many disposables on top of each other, or place reusable pads one underneath disposable ones. That way, when you can peel off the top layer and you’ll already have a backup in place.

While Jack was going through radiation therapy, he was weak and sometimes unable to control himself at all, which made for many accidents. We ended up making a giant rug out of disposable pee pads to protect the hotel carpet (pictured above), with some reusable ones strategically scattered about. Eventually things got better, as Jack regained his strength, and we provided him with better pee options / trained him on where to go.

sod grass for dogs to pee on

2. Build your own grass pee area: Sod or Astroturf

If you live in a house or apartment without easy access to the outside, you might want to build your own little lawn / doggie pee area in the corner of living room or out on the porch. Our living area is on the 3rd floor, so getting outside can be a bit of a trek, so we came up with two solutions using real sod and artificial grass.

Real grass dog potty
We decided to put a little bit of natural greenery on the balcony so Jack can just step outside quickly to do his business. Now instead of having to carry him down flights of stairs for a quick pee, we just have to open the door and he’s standing on actual grass that he can potty on. Sod is great at absorbing liquids and smells. It’s also pretty easy to clean if Jack decides to poop on it — we just use a doggy bag to pick it up as if we were outside.

To set up a real grass doggie pee area, we simply purchased a tough, flexible car trunk liner to protect our wooden deck from the moisture and dirt of the sod and to contain pee. If you have a metal dog crate, you might already have a plastic tray that might also work —although these might be smaller and more shallow depending on the size of your crate.

You can head to your local landscaping store or garden store and pick up a few pieces of sod, but your should call ahead to make sure it’s available. Home Depot and Lowes occasionally have sod, but usually only in the warmer months. In Austin, we go to a place called King Ranch Turfgrass where 24″ by 18″ pieces cost about $2-$3 each. A larger 24″ x 48″ roll of sod goes for about $7. You’ll need to buy sod once a month, as eventually the grass dies and starts to stink. To fill the 40″ rectangular trunk liner we use with grass, you’ll need 3 piece of smaller sod or one larger roll.

Know that you won’t be the only dog owner to do this. The folks at the landscaping company I shop at told me that many people buy a few pieces of grass to put out on the porch for their dog. There are a couple of companies that will ship you grass in the mail, but it’s many times more expensive ($20 for a small piece) and you have to pay for shipping. But if money is no object, this might be a convenient option for you.

Fake grass
If it’s not convenient for you to buy real grass, you can order artificial grass online. Fake grass reduces splashing very well and it never dies or goes brown. The type of Astroturf we bought allows liquids to drain through very easily, which you want if you want your pee area to continue be odor free. A permeable turf also allows you hose it down from time to time for cleaning.

In general, Jack prefers the real grass, but we have the artificial grass pad inside too for times when it’s raining or too cold to go outside. To protect the wood floor underneath, we put disposable pee pads underneath.

3. Doggie door for a sliding door

If you have an older dog that needs to pee all the time, taking him or her out all the time can be a chore, or perhaps impossible when you have to go to work. Therefore, a dog door that your pet can pass through whenever they need to can be extremely handy, and it can help you avoid accidents that involve your dog peeing inside the house.

But a traditional dog door you install in a wall or door doesn’t work in every house. I live in a multi-level condo where the only practical place for a dog door is through a sliding glass door leading out to the balcony where we have a patch of real grass.

After a bit of research, we discovered an easy-to-install dog door insert that works with a sliding patio door system … no hole cutting required. This professional-looking dog patio door includes a clear glass panel and comes in multiple colors, so it matches with your existing door when installed.

Now all of our pets can go outside out whenever they want, but we had to train them to use the door first. For Jack, we stood on the opposite side of the closed dog door, then tempted him to step through using treats. We first held the door flap up for him, but over time let the door contact his body more and more so he could understand that he could push the opaque plastic flap open on his own.

The only challenge with this dog patio door is that it needs to be properly sealed if you want to keep the outside air from getting in. For this, you’ll need some good weather stripping tape. I bought four rolls of the rubber foam linked above to form a double seal on both sides of the product.

4. Doggie diapers and belly bands

At times after Jack’s radiation, we felt like we were hostages to dog pee. Especially when we were away from home, we were always nervous that Jack was going to pee indoors at someone else’s home, in the hotel, or in their office (we take him to work sometimes).

Now we use belly bands, which are essentially highly-effective fabric diapers made of an athletic material. They look like tuxedo cummerbunds or utility belts that wrap around Jack’s waist and penis (they only work for boy dogs). The belly bands help contain even large amounts of pee thanks to an absorbent fabric.

Belly bands are awesome and can take away a lot of the stress that comes from wondering whether you’re going to find a wet surprise in the corner. But you should know that once your dog pees in either a belly band or a dog diaper, you’ll want to change them. It’s not good for your dog’s skin to be in contact with pee for extended periods of time, as there is the possibility of infections or burns (from acidic urine) if that area stays wet for too long.

We ended up buying 15 belly bands (they come in packs of 3) because we like them a lot. Also, we didn’t want to have enough so we could use them every day without being chained to the washing machine all day, every day — it takes a while to dry them because they were designed to soak up and retain water.

When he had less control over his bladder, Jack could go through 5 of these a day. Now that Jack has more control and is trained to go in a designated peeing area, we only use belly bands on longer car trips, or when he goes to the office with us.

Since he’s a 20-pound Boston Terrier, the medium belly band fits Jack well. Also, the black model blends in with his fur, so that’s our favorite color. There are a wide variety of options and sizes available for all dogs though, and some of the choices are quite colorful if you want to make a fashion statement. For bigger dogs with a larger bladder capacity, some dog owners insert either Maxi pads or incontinence pads to absorb any extra liquids. However, a 20-pound dog like Jack doesn’t necessarily need the extra material.

Note: Belly bands work for male dogs only. Because of differences in anatomy, female dogs will have to use doggie diapers.

5. Doggie monitor / surveillance camera

One final product that has been super helpful for keeping an eye on Jack has been a wireless surveillance camera, which allows us to check in on him from a smartphone. When we leave the house, we can see how he’s doing from anywhere, which gives us peace of mind.

We really like the a product called the Wyze Cam, because it allows us to review a couple of weeks of recorded footage for free. Many wireless cameras (such as the Nest camera) charge a recurring monthly fee you want to be able to record and play back video. With the Wyze Cam, all you need is an inexpensive MicroSD card to enable the same feature.

Also, the Wyze Cam allows you to record timelapse video. Above, you’ll find a sample timelapse video that was useful for showing the vet how Jack’s head was bobbing his head back and forth over time, before his brain tumor diagnosis.

The best part of the Wyze Cam is that it only costs about $25. Plus, the Wyze Cam app is pretty intuitive, and you can view and save videos using any mobile device that runs iOS or Android.

Radiation treatment for dog brain tumors: A personal experience

If you read our previous post, you know about the steady decline and worsening symptoms that led to our Boston Terrier, Jack’s canine brain tumor diagnosis. Once the neurologist showed us the MRI results in February 2018, we knew things were bad. The size and position of his brain tumor were clear, and with a cystic meningioma diagnosis, the clock was ticking.

Jack could barely stand without falling over, his appetite was gone, and he had already lost 25% of his body weight. Multiple veterinarians gave him about one month to live. We definitely wanted to do something to prolong his life, but we had to do it quick. What lay ahead was a ton of research, many decisions to make, and lots of doctors’ visits … all in a very short amount of time.

What to do when your dog has a brain tumor
When a dog gets a terminal cancer diagnosis, there are several medical courses of action you can take. And the decision you end up going with can be highly personal and dependent many factors. We aren’t doctors, but we did navigate the often confusing journey that dog owners have to take when presented with a cancer diagnosis. The following were the medical options presented to us (as we understood them) for a canine brain tumor:

  1. Surgery — where tumor is physically cut out and removed. In our case, this was not an option, given how deep inside the brain Jack’s tumor was. Doctors could not reach the cancerous growth without doing significant damage to the rest of the brain. Getting a biopsy of the tumor was not even an option in Jack’s case. While not good for us, surgery is a viable option for many, especially if the tumor is clearly defined, easily accessible, and has not metastasized (or spread) throughout the body.
  2. Chemotherapy — where the patient is administered a drug (typically orally or through an injection) that attacks the cells in cancerous tumors, hopefully killing them off without damaging other parts of the body. Chemotherapy is often used to treat cancer that has spread, or metastasized throughout the body. In our case, chemotherapy was not an option due to the fact that most chemo drugs are ineffective on cystic meningiomas, as many cannot cross the blood-brain barrier.
  3. Radiation therapy — where powerful X-rays are focused on a tumor, damaging the DNA in the cancerous mass. While radiation doesn’t kill the tumor cells right away, when those damaged cells attempt to divide and grow, they will die. Because Jack’s tumor was deep within his brain and couldn’t be treated by other methods, this was a good option for us.
  4. Palliative care — where the symptoms of the tumor are treated, but no effort is made to remove or stop the tumor from growing. Palliative care would include the administering steroids and anti-convulsant drugs in an effort to make the dog more comfortable, but will not result in the cancer going away. So in effect, while drugs like the steroid prednisone might reduce the swelling in the brain (AKA edema), thus minimizing pain and suffering, it will not shrink the the tumor itself. On prednisone alone, the doctors gave Jack only 30 days to live, so we wanted to go above and beyond palliative-only treatments.

After learning about the options, we chose to pursue radiation therapy because Jack, while 13 years old, was in good health otherwise. We didn’t think he was ready to go, and we certainly wanted to have him around for as long as possible as long as his quality of life was good.

Radiation therapy

So from there it was off to talk to a radiation oncologist in Austin, who spent about an hour going over how radiation works and some of the risks involved with the procedure. We also talked about the many different types of radiation therapies available.

Radiation treatment works by delivering a predetermined dosage of radiation to the tumor or tumors. A CT scan must be performed before any radiation is delivered to map the location of the tumor so the radiation oncologist knows where to direct the x-ray beam.

Types of radiation treatments available have names such as IMRT (intensity-modulated radiation therapy), SRS (stereotactic radiation surgery), SRT (stereotactic radiation therapy), and “conventional” radiation therapy. You might also see brand names such as CyberKnife and TrueBeam.

The differences between these technologies can be a bit confusing at times. Regardless of the specifics, the main differences we found between treatments are the number of treatments required and the precision / accuracy of the radiation dosage delivered to the tumor. The type of treatment that’s best for your dog might be a determining factor in which vet you go with, as the machines are very expensive and some vets don’t have access to the latest technology.

Besides dosage, one of the main concepts to understand is “fractionation.” To improve the safety of the radiotherapy, the radiation dosage is often divided up, or “fractionated” across multiple treatments. So instead of 1 single treatment session, the patient might go in 3, 5, or even 20 or more times.

Based on our research, the number of treatments required is highly dependent on how precisely the machine can deliver the radiation and how much risk you are willing to take. Here’s a quick rundown on how everything was explained to us.

Conventional radiation therapy
Conventional radiation therapy was explained to us as having the accuracy of a shotgun. While the beam used will definitely hit the tumor, it will also hit surrounding healthy tissues as well. As a result, the dosage of radiation needs to be delivered in small fractions so that healthy tissues have time to recover between treatments. And because “normal” non-cancerous cells are more adept at repairing themselves than tumor cells, eventually most of tumor will die off and shrink.

With conventional radiation therapy, we were told Jack would need more than 20 treatments, doled out over the course of a month. This would keep the risk of side effects very low. Here’s the problem though … your dog will need to be anesthetized for every treatment, which can be stressful and hard on their health. And with Jack having a heart murmur, we definitely didn’t want him to go under that many times. Also, with Jack’s estimated 30 days to live, we didn’t really have the time to do 20 treatments.

Newer radiotherapy technologies (SRT, IMRT, SRS, TrueBeam, Cyberknife, etc)
SRT, IMRT, and Truebeam are all newer, much more accurate technologies than conventional radiation. Doctors said that if the beam used in conventional radiation is a shotgun, these technologies produce a focused beam more akin to a rifle, capable of much more accurately hitting the target. Some of these technologies boast millimeter accuracy.

As a result of the improved accuracy that come with treatments like stereotactic radiation therapy, radiation oncologists are capable of delivering the radiation dosage in fewer sessions, while keeping the risk of damaging healthy tissues low (although some radiation oncologists still advise going with 20 sessions to reduce risk even further). In our case, Jack received SRT treatment from a TrueBeam machine, in 5 fractions. Our radiation oncologist determined this would be the best balance for us given the characteristics and location of the tumor, and us not wanting Jack to be subjected to anesthesia too often.

This is the TrueBeam machine used to treat Jack’s brain tumor. It looks a bit like a robot from a science-fiction movie. Notice that the device (like many others used in radiotherapy) rotates around the patient to deliver radiation from multiple angles to more effectively target tumors or reduce the risk of damaging surrounding tissues. Also note that this treatment was first used on humans, then more recently, veterinarians started using them.

Risks of radiation
With any medical procedure, there are risks. And radiation therapy is no different. In Jack’s case, because the tumor was right next to the optic chiasm (which controls vision), we were told that one of the main things that could go wrong would be loss of vision, or total blindness. And while the chances of this happening were less than 1% with 20 fractions of traditional radiation, reducing the number of treatments to 5 more powerful fractions using an SRT machine raised the chances to 5%.

Additionally, radiation therapy is not a guaranteed cure for cancer. More than likely, some tumor cells will survive the radiation and might grow back over time. In other words, radiation is great at halting the growth of a tumor or even shrinking it, but the cancer might come back eventually.

How long does radiation extend life?
We were told that the median added life time following radiation therapy is 18 months. That means that some dogs live longer, and some don’t live as long. IT was explained to us that the distribution looks roughly like a bell curve, with 18 months being in the middle, and most outcomes falling close to the median. However, a small percentage dogs live much shorter than that and some live much longer.

How much does radiation cost?
Radiation therapy isn’t cheap, and the cost can be a deciding factor for many, especially those without pet insurance. While the actual costs of radiation therapy is around 7 to 8 thousand dollars (in Texas … your results may vary), when you add the required MRI and CT scan, plus multiple specialist visits, a more complete figure is closer to 11 or 12 thousand dollars.

The costs for SRT and conventional radiation are about the same. While newer machines cost more to use, with conventional radiation you have to pay for 20 hospitalizations and 20 rounds of anesthesia vs 5 or fewer with SRT.

How long does each radiation treatment last?
While delivering the radiation itself lasts only minutes, we still had to drop Jack off bright and early, before 8AM each day. And then after the treatment was done for the day, the doctor wanted to observe Jack for a couple more hours just to make sure he was OK and to wait for the anesthesia to wear off. Most days we were able to pick Jack up at around 3PM, but other days he stayed ’til 5PM.

Initial prep for radiation therapy takes a while, as doctors and technicians need to ensure the computer is calibrated to precisely target the brain tumor. They also have to make sure the molds used in keeping your dog’s head still (could be a mask or a “bite block”) are set up correctly so that they can reliably deliver radiation accurately to the correct location each day. As a result, we got Jack back after closing time on Day 1.

Other radiation considerations
Your dog needs to be healthy enough to get radiation treatment. Because radiation is hard on the body, and your dog will need to recover afterwards, treatment might not be right for all patients. Additionally, because multiple rounds of anesthesia can be risky, you will want to check with your general veterinarian to make sure everything else is OK first. They can also serve as impartial third party to guide you though the process.

In our case, we made sure to get a echocardiogram to make sure Jack’s heart would be strong enough for the procedure. If your dog has a heart murmur, we strongly recommend talking to a cardiologist or an internist before surgery. In general, if you have concerns about other health issues, do your homework and make sure to ask questions during your vet appointments.

Also, it’s better to get radiation sooner rather than later. Your dog will only get weaker as the brain tumor grows. Additionally, because there aren’t that many radiation oncologists, there’s usually a waiting list. If time is of the essence, don’t delay in scheduling an appointment for treating your dog.

Note: We’ve heard of some cases where a dog goes through something called “palliative radiotherapy” instead of the regular, more intense curative procedure because of other health concerns.

Jack’s initial radiation treatment results for cystic meningioma
As we mentioned before, Jack received 5 fractions of radiation during his SRT / TrueBeam treatment. Each day we got him back from the vet, we noticed some significant changes.

Day 1: 20% of dosage delivered — No big changes observed, but Jack was a little more fiesty than usual, which indicated that he was getting his energy back.

Day 2: 40% of dosage delivered — Appetite was coming back, and Jack was able to eat larger chunks of meat. Previously, his bite was weak and he could not chew or swallow some foods.

Day 3: 60% of dosage delivered — Jack loved to cuddle again, and stopped flinching when you reached to pet his head. This lead us to believe that he was in less pain. In fact, he started walking right up to us and demanding pets by nuzzling his head in our hands. His vision was much improved, and it felt like Jack was surprised to be able to see clearly again. He stared at us in the eyes very intensely, where before he would not make eye contact.

Day 4: 80% of dosage delivered — Jack’s sense of smell came back, and he started to sniff for the scent of other dogs outside, and he began to mark again. He also started lifting his leg up to pee for the first time in months. His appetite was ravenous after this treatment, where we would barely eat anything before. It felt like we were getting our dog back again.

Day 5: 100% of dosage delivered — Jack started making normal dog noises again. He began to whine to let you know what he wanted. He even walked up the stairs at the hotel a few times on his own. Previously, we had to carry him up every single time.

Does my dog have a brain tumor? Our journey to diagnosing cystic meningioma

The following is an account of what led up to a cystic meningioma brain tumor diagnosis in our 13-year-old Boston Terrier, Jack. By sharing our experiences we hope other dog owners can spot some of the early signs and get treatment for dog brain cancer before its too late.

Jack posing for the camera on the day he was diagnosed with a brain tumor

2 months before diagnosis: early signs
On December 8, 2017, our beloved dog, Jack, experienced an unusual spasm (which in hindsight, we realize was a seizure) in the middle of the night while sleeping in our bed. We’re not sure how long it went on for, but by the time we woke up, we found him tangled in the sheets, flailing back and forth. He was completely wrapped up, like the meat inside of a dumpling trying to escape its wrapper.

After a panicked 10 seconds of trying to free him, we were able to extract him from the overlapping layers of fabric. By this time, he was panting extremely heavily (perhaps hyperventilating?) and his tongue and lips looked very pale. Clearly overheated, we gave him a cold shower. After 15 minutes he stopped panting, but he was a bit shaky on his hind legs and acting a little strange, so we took him to the vet a couple of hours later.

After performing and reviewing X-rays, the vet found evidence that he might have a bulging disc in his spine, which is typical of his age. Also, upon looking at his joints, she also found signs of arthritis. The most likely conclusion at the time was that he might have thrown out his back while thrashing around under the sheets. To deal with his back injury, he was prescribed the pain killer Tramadol and the anti-inflammatory, Rimadyl.

He slept a lot those first days after the incident as he recovered. Over time, things improved for a while, which was consistent with a back injury slowly healing. He could get around more easily on the Tramadol, but he had a hard time swallowing the pill because of its bitter taste. Getting him to take any pills at all was a challenge, but after a week, we figured out that crushing the pills and adding them to food was the most effective thing we could do.

Speaking of food, over time, we noticed Jack becoming pickier with food, often refusing to eat treats he once loved. Also, he stopped greeting us at the door when we came home, but this happened gradually, starting even months before he had his back spasm. In fact, at times he would act surprised when he saw us in the house even though we called his name beforehand, which led us to suspect that his hearing and vision were getting worse (which is common in older dogs).

Over the course of a month following the incident, and we started to gradually notice some other weird signs. He started peeing inside the house, which we thought might be due to him not wanting to go out in the near-freezing January cold. And when we did make it out the door, the hairs on his back (the hackles) stood straight up, indicating a pain or fear reaction.

Over the next couple of months, things would get gradually worse. He stopped responding to his name being called at all, and vision was getting progressively worse. There were points when he would just walk straight into walls because he didn’t notice them coming as he walked towards them.

That said, there were days where he seemed pretty normal, followed by setbacks where he could barely walk at all. One day in January, at about 10AM in the morning, we both watched him violently snap his head back, then urinate on the floor. This was another seizure, although we didn’t realize it at the time.

Eventually, by late January, Jack could no longer do activities that were once very simple for him, such as walking down a flight of stairs or jumping up onto the sofa. Some days, he could hardly muster the strength to even squat long enough to poop.

While laser acupuncture and chiropractic treatments (yes, you can really get this done on dogs) helped him with the back pain (enabling him to stand again), even when he was feeling good, he had trouble walking straight. It started out as a slight lean to one side, then after a day or two, he started walking in large, clockwise circles. Over the course of a week or so, the circles got tighter and tighter, to the point where he was basically chasing his tail, sometimes tripping over things.

Right before his brain cancer diagnosis, his circling and balance was so bad that he couldn’t even stand up straight. When he wasn’t moving around, he was sitting in a slumped over position with his head hanging low and to the right. Often he couldn’t even sit up without leaning heavily against one of us or a wall.

Finding the underlying cause: The guessing game

Getting to the final diagnosis of a brain tumor was not a straightforward journey. We’ve already talked about the early diagnosis of spinal issues that didn’t fully explain all of the symptoms. We also thought Jack’s decline in health might be due to a whole host of other underlying causes. Only after much Googling and consulting with many different doctors were we able to narrow it all down to a brain tumor.

  • Jack has small cysts in his eyes (they look like tiny gray translucent beads), which is common in Boston Terriers. We were worried that was why he couldn’t see. But the opthamologist (eye doctor) said that he while they were obscuring his vision a bit, he could still see through them.
  • We read about vestibular / old dog disease, which affects balance, and can cause dogs to stumble. This one can clear up on its own, but the neurologist ruled this out based on his other behavior, such as the head hanging to one side, and side-to-side eye twitching that we noticed from time to time.
  • Bacterial meningitis is another possible cause of shaky legs and head tilting, and is treatable with antibiotics. The neurologist mentioned this as a possibility, but this was ruled out by the MRI.

The brain tumor diagnosis

While the neurologist strongly suspected that Jack had a tumor, there was no way to know for sure without an MRI. And unfortunately for us, she was correct. When the results of the scan came back, you could see a brain tumor 1.5cm in diameter, sitting at the base of his brain, next to the pituitary gland and regions of the nervous system that control vision and balance.

Jack’s MRI on the day of his diagnosis. The image on the right includes contrast, which allows you to see the peanut-shaped tumor located next to the thyroid gland more clearly.

In our minds, this was the worst case scenario, as there is no guaranteed cure for a brain tumor, and cancer is both mysterious and scary. When the news came back, both of us were in a state of shock initially. But we knew we had to act quickly, as multiple doctors told us that the average survival time for a dog with Jack’s diagnosis is 30 days.

This particular type of tumor, cystic meningioma, is resistant to chemotherapy. Additionally, because the location of Jack’s tumor makes it particularly inaccessible without risking damage to the rest of the brain, surgery was not an option. The only recourse for us was to do radiation, which involves shooting high-powered X-ray beams at the tumor in order to damage cancer cells.

Typically, scheduling a series of radiation treatments is hard to arrange quickly. But luckily, thanks to MJ’s persistence and slots unexpectedly opening up, we were able to see all of these professionals within a few weeks

  • General vet, who helped narrow down the potential causes of the issues, then refer us to specialists
  • Neurologist, who was able to definitively diagnose the brain tumor as the cause of Jack’s symptoms
  • Cardiologist or Internist, who can verify that your dog is a good candidate for radiation. Jack has a weak heart, so we needed to make sure he could take the repeated rounds of anesthesia that are a part of radiation therapy.
  • Radiation oncologist, who actually performs the radiation treatment. In Jack’s case, he received stereotactic radiation using a Varian TrueBeam machine. This required 6 visits—one for a consultation, plus 5 radiation treatments over the course of a week.

More details on that process in our next post.

How to Help Stray Dogs

It’s heart breaking to see stray dogs. Dogs are meant to be cared for by humans, not left alone to live on their own.

Last summer (2013), I started seeing two stray dogs roaming around inside of my gated condo community. They stayed and I saw them constantly. I started leaving food and water out at all times. They would come out of hiding from the green belt and follow me when I walked my dogs.  They followed me enough to know where I lived but they would never get close enough for me to touch.

I started giving them chicken jerky and the brown dog would come take it from my hand. After a lot of chicken jerky, I had to up my game to get both dogs to come closer and come into my backyard. I started cooking them real chicken and that got the white dog to like me a lot more enough for him to come hang out closer to me.

So the plan was to get the dogs to trust that the backyard is a safe place.  I couldn’t just trap them there because my fence is short and white dog could easily jump out of it. I wanted to take both of them together. I waited until the day I could get them in the backyard on a business day so that animal control could take them. I still couldn’t touch them, let alone leash them and get them in my car.

About 1.5 months later the day finally came when I got the dogs follow me to the backyard during a business day. I got a collar on the white dog and leashed him. I leashed the brown dog too. I tried to lead the white dog and the collar came off.  When I tried to go for it again with the collar he barked at me in warning and gurred.

Animal Control was called. Called again. And called again. We were told by 5pm… then we were told there’s 2 day waiting period. I can’t hold them for 2 days. I had to stay in the backyard with them all day to make sure they didn’t escape.

It was too hot for the dogs to remain outside and they had been on their own too long. As last resort, with encouragement, I just went for it again with a loop I made out of a stronger leash I had and it worked! Leading the dogs to the car was a huge struggle. Driving to Austin Animal Center was scary because I didn’t know how they were going to react.

We needed help getting the white dog inside the shelter. He got carried in by staff member at Austin Animal Center.

Shelter said the white dog was a Pyrenees mix and most likely feral. Brown dog way chipped. They got placed in the same kennel together in the stray holding area. I think they were happy to be in AC away from the hot Texas summer heat. This all took place on a Tuesday. I went to go visit them on Sunday and couldn’t believe how much they have improved! They greeted me. Let me pet them. Let me walk them. Shelter volunteer said she sees many strays improving like these dogs.

Dog Fosters
Dog Fosters

The dogs who get brought into Austin Animal Center are on stray hold for five days. If they pass (no major behavior or medical issues), they are placed in the adoption program. This means they are safe. AAC said their euthanasia rates are really low now. Austin is no kill 90% or more. They were really helpful with sharing information about the dogs and said we could call and email to check on them.

The dogs were eventually adopted. Yay!


Here are some tips on getting stray dogs to safety.

  1. Call out for the dog to come to you. If the dog is an escaped pet, it’s likely that the dog will be friendly and come to you. Check for a dog tag and call the human. If the dog doesn’t have a tag, try knocking on the houses near by.
  2. Sometimes you’ll see the dog run right back into their yard and come back out again. The dog will probably stay in that area and is used to going in and out of the gate.  Leave the human a note describing how you saw the dog on the road. They probably have an idea of the dog’s activity but hearing from another person will make the danger more real to them.
  3. Do not approach if the dog seems scared of you and gives you warning signs to back off. Instead try to herd the dog away from the road to a safe area.
  4. If you can’t bring the dog to a shelter, it’s important to stay with the dog until Animal Services show up. Be very detailed with them and let them know the situation.
  5. If you have to stop your car to avoid a stray, try not to break suddenly but rather come to a slow stop if you can.  Make sure to check for cars behind you and turn on your emergency signal.  When this happens, I try to block the traffic behind me and try to slow the cars coming from the other direction.

More tips from The Human Society, WikiHow, and Missing Pet Partnership.


How to Guide for Handling Bugsy

Here is a straight forward list of how to handle Bugsy. He has improved A LOT but he will always have some aggressive traits. It’s just how he is. He has bad days. You have to train yourself how to handle him. I can tell you what has worked for us and you should use our tips. But you may find other things that work better for you. Use this as the base of your training and go from there.

Bugsy will become a devil dog sometimes. As in growling and showing teeth.

When he gets like this, do not challenge him. Do not yell at him to stop or make contact with him. He will retaliate and you won’t be happy.

He gets this way in his bed. A lot worse in a crate so I gave up on the crate. Try to put his bed in the living room in a space without direct traffic. You will see the worst of it in the beginning as he needs to get used to a new environment and learn that he is safe. This behavior will decrease as he learns to trust you. He stops growling as soon as he feels safe again.

Make his bed a happy and safe place. When you walk by his bed, throw treats in there. But don’t make eye contact or say anything. You just want him to associate you and the bed with things he likes (treats).

When he is in devil mode, shaking his treat box. It snaps him out of it sometimes. When he snaps out of it, tell him to come to you. Make him do commands (come, up, sit, spin, etc). If he does this, give him a treat. If he doesn’t, don’t treat him.

When he is acting up, grab his leash and start walking away. I would leave his leash on at all times. This will especially be helpful if he tries to lay on the sofa. If you try to push him off of it, he might bite you.

We have let Bugsy be on the sofa a few times. Usually when he has been so good. We have stopped this completely since Bugsy does snap at the end if he get startled.

Don’t let Bugsy hide under things or he will become the devil dog. When he is scared, he will try to hide in a room or under furniture. He will do this specially if it’s raining/thundering outside. He hates bad weather. It makes him scared. Best option is to tie him to something so that he cannot hide.

Until you have him in check that he will not go on your sofa or try to hide somewhere, tie him by his bed when you are gone. It will work like a crate without having to put in one.

Handling Bugsy at first will be challenging and maybe even overwhelming. But as long as you are willing to train to handle him, you will be fine. After you have learned this, rest is easy. Bugsy is low maintenance dog with many fun, quirky sides to him. It’s easy to take care of him and he is non-destructive. He knows lots of tricks and he walks on the leash well.

My days with Bugsy now are pretty uneventful. We go for walks. He flips over for belly rubs. He attempts to communicate with me. I think it’s about either he has to poop or he wants to play. He runs and taps on the door if he needs to pee sometimes. I know he will go into devil mode from time to time but I have the situation under control as long as I follow my own tips.

The rewards of having Bugsy far outweigh the downsides!  He is an adorable, playful, terrier mix that loves to do tricks.  The only thing you need to do is learn to handle his fear related quirks.  Just remember not to challenge him when he goes into devil mode – he is in a scared, defensive mode but will quickly snap out of it if you let him know that everything will be OK.

Animal Rescue Through Austin Pets Alive! – How to Save a Life

Our foster dogs come from Austin Pets Alive! an animal rescue organization that takes dogs off the euthanasia list from animal shelters in the Austin area. Now that they have taken over the former Town Lake Animal Shelter, this animal rescue organization is saving more lives of dogs and cats than ever before. With growth, more funding is needed to save as many lives as possible.

You would be surprised what kind of dogs and cats are euthanized everyday. There are many healthy puppies, kittens, and well behaved animals with many more years ahead of them killed simply because there is no space.

One shelter I volunteered for gave a new dog at the shelter only 5 days to

  1. get into their adoption program if there is space
  2. get adopted
  3. be taken by other shelters.

If non of these 3 things happened, the dog was put down.  5 days are given to a stray dog with an ID (dog collar, microchip) but if an animal has no ID, the time gets cut to only 3 days. When you adopt a dog from Austin Pets Alive! you are saving a life.

Update: Bugsy the Great Kibble Catcher

Bugsy learned some tricks from Zoom Room.

It’s been nearly 10 months since fostering Bugsy. We have had our ups and downs but he is now so much better, manageable, and quiet cute. Bugsy is still looking for his own human to love who can be patient with him.

Here are couple of things you should be aware of to prevent a grumpy Bugsy (photo to the left) which are totally manageable.

  • Restrict his space. Bugsy needs to be really restricted on where he is allowed because once he gets into a confined space (under furniture) or on sofa/bed, he exhibits similar behavior as when he is in a crate.. very growly.
  • No small children. Bugsy should not go to a home with small children. He can be unpredictable at times.
  • He wants to be solo. Bugsy would do best if he is the only dog in the house but he is ok with other dogs …eventually. It will take time under a watchful eye.
  • He is protective of his sleeping area and will growl if he feels his space is being invaded. You can eliminate this behavior by taking the actions below.

1. Give him a doggy bed only to sleep/rest in outside of your room. I placed his doggy bed in the living room.

2. Do not crate him. I’ve taken away his crate.  He has issues with the crate that I don’t think he will ever get over. (I tried)

3. Do not allow him on the bed or sofa.
Bugsy is not allowed on the bed or sofa because he will show space protective behavior. Sometimes he seems ok.. and wants to cuddle with you on the sofa and I do give in sometimes but eventually he will get growly and I have to scold him.


Bugsy needs a patient person who will keep up with the rules above. Other than that, when you adopt Bugsy, you will see that he is a very good companion. Bugsy is a low maintenance dog and non destructive. I’ve had him since January and he has not chewed on anything other than his food and snacks. He is affectionate enough to the point of walking over to you and flip over for a belly rub but he is no snuggle bunny or a kisser. He has been socialized with people and warms up to other humans pretty fast. He acts as a good watch dog though as he dislikes foreign noises in the house such as door knocking or unfamiliar car sounds.

Bugsy is super potty trained. If he has to go he will let you know by tapping the front door with his paws. You just have to make sure he goes on set schedule. Currently he goes in the morning, afternoon, evening, and before bedtime. He will be ok without going out during lunch time if you can’t make it.

Bugsy is happiest and best behaved when he gets his exercise. He loves walks and staring at things from the car or a kayak.

Bugsy doesn’t like to swim but he will dip his feet in the water. He is also ok with bath time.

~ MJ

The Foster Dog we Almost Kept – Sagey the Dachshund mix

Sagey was one of our favorite foster dogs! In the time we took care of him we found him to be a very friendly and cuddly dog that was joy to be around. However, he wasn’t always this way.

Sagey was found on a ranch with a pack of other wild Dachshunds. When we got him from Austin Pets Alive! he was initially extremely scared. The first night in my apartment, he stood completely still in one spot for almost 3 hours. As the days went by, he became a more social dog but it took him almost two weeks to fully warm up to us.

He got the name Sagey for two reasons. First of all, he looks like a sausage so we started calling him “sausagey”. Also, the name of the community I live in is ‘The Sage’, so Sagey was the name that stuck.

Over the month that we had him, I grew pretty attached to him – I loved how he liked to play and run in the back yard, and he was always on the sofa next to me when I worked from home. He was also a funny dog, often hiding under the bed and only sticking his nose out from the bed skirt. He liked to keep a collection of stuffed animals and shoes under the bed, but he never chewed any of them up.

I liked Sagey so much that I gave serious thought to adopting him permenently. However, I finally decided that I wasn’t and still might not be ready for full-time dog ownership, and we can affect more dog’s lives through fostering!

Thanks for reading – Hope you enjoyed this first post about Sagey!


More reading:
Dachshund Gifts
Dachshund Merchandise for dog Lovers

A Chihuahua Named Bugsy – First Foster Dog of 2012

Photo Credit – Peter Tsai

This is Bugsy (on the right), our first foster dog of 2012 and 21st foster to date. I picked him up last Wednesday so he has been with us for a week now. Previously he was with another foster parent for a month who was a foreign exchange student, but he went back to his home country.

Bugsy (previously known as Baby) is a male chihuahua/terrier mix that was surrendered to Town Lake Animal Center (now Austin Animal Center).  As you can see in the picture, he is about the size of a cat and he has a slight (cute) underbite. Bugsy is about 5 years old and  you can read his full bio here.

Bugsy is sweet and smart. He is house broken and non destructive. He has no problem with being crated, but once he is in there, he becomes aggressive and growls because (we are guessing) he has fear issues. At first it was disheartening to see him become like this, but with some dog training help from Jennie Chen (@misohungry on Twitter), Peter and I learned to better take control and reduce the aggressive behavior.

This is a video taken yesterday which shows his progress.  Good doggy! We learned he is good at catching treats with his mouth and he knows how to sit.  Bugsy has been getting better each day and it’s getting easier to put him in and out of the crate 🙂