Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Daily Health Check

Gizmo gets a health check every morning, and I highly recommend it for all pet owners. It helps you to recognize what's normal for your pet, and lets you catch problems really early on. And, as an added bonus, it gets them used to being handled.

I feel all along his back and sides for any lumps or bumps, his feet and pawpads get looked at to make sure they're in good shape, and I look in his eyes, ears, and mouth. I also check under his tail just to make sure he's keeping the fur there clean and dry.

Important Note: Always end the health-check with ear-rubbings. Otherwise, the fox will be obligated to scream at the top of his lungs to let the entire county know that you're skipping the most important step, and that you're neglecting him.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Red Fox To English Dictionary

If you ever find yourself needing to translate a fox's various noises to English, here is a helpful guide of various vocalizations that he consistently makes, and what they seem to mean.

A throaty, three-or-five syllable call that roughly means "Someone come here!" He continues to call until someone in the family goes to where he is. It doesn't generally matter if it's a human, the dog, or one of the cats, so long as someone goes to him.

A high-pitched kit-like version of the same call that means "Ragtatter come here!" It is always three syllables, never five. If a different member of my family responds to him while doing this, he will continue to call until I specifically go in to see him. Thus far, I am the only member of the family that he uses a distinct "Come here!" call for.

A short "Awrf?" sort of noise that always ends higher-pitched than it starts. It seems to mean "What's that?" or "Look at that!" and is always accompanied by him staring at the object of his interest.

A lower-pitched "Awrrf!" that he uses whenever he sees a man in our house that is not my dad or brother, generally accompanied by him immediately finding something to pee on. His body language for this is usually very alert, but not aggressive. "Hey! Hey dude! This is my house! Just so you know."

A high-pitched whining, accompanied by ears laid back. Usually accompanied by him opening and closing his mouth as he whines, making an "Ar ar ar ar ar" sound. Generally this means "Someone is being mean to me!", though recently it almost always means "The kitty is teasing me!". He will sometimes hide his face while doing this (i.e. in my lap, down the neck of my shirt), which gives it more of a sobbing sound.

A high-pitched grumbling with a throatier sound to it. Generally this is heard during routine tasks that he dislikes (grooming, nails getting trimmed, baths, etc.) Back when I could walk him, he'd also start doing this when it was time to turn around and come home. Seems to mean "I don't like this!" or "I'm not happy."

A high-pitched warbling sort of noise; we've dubbed it a "Yarwarble". He uses this during play, and will often yarwarble and sink into a play-bow before pouncing or nomming or kicking with his hind legs. It seems to mean "I'm about to do something that might be misconstrued as aggression, but I'm just playing, so don't get scared or mad!"

High-pitched incoherent shrieking. This means "I'm not getting what I want and I'm mad as hell about it!" or "SOMEONE IS STEALING FROM ME!" Generally accompanied by flattened ears and pacing. He does this when dinner is late, or he's not allowed to steal something from the dog, or I won't take him outside when he wants to go outside, or I turn off the cartoons he was watching, or any other little situation where something is "taken away".

"Gekkering." Sort of a gurgling, rattling squawk. Always accompanied by a really intense foxy smell. He only does this when he is REALLY upset or REALLY scared. Not one I see very often, thankfully.

Squealing: Similar to the "Someone is stealing from me!" shriek, but the body language for this is completely different. Generally we hear this one when he gets a particularly good treat, or a new toy. He will pick up the object in his mouth, wag his whole body from his shoulders back, and just squeal at the top of his lungs. Probably means something along the lines of, "I'm so excited I just have to scream about it!"

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Visit To The Vet

Gizmo went to the vet today (part of why he got his bath today also. Figured I might as well have him mad at me all at once).

He was very, very well-behaved. Didn't scream or squawk or bite or growl the whole time. He was obviously stressed and didn't enjoy it, but he didn't put up a fight either. He even got shots, had blood drawn, the works. Everything checked out OK, and he got sent home with a clean bill of health. He's in fantastic shape. (The vet even asked me if I'd give him a copy of the recipe for Gizmo's noms; I was really flattered.)

Oh, my suspicion that Gizmo was still growing has been officially confirmed. He's nice and lean and well proportioned, but today during his visit he weighed in at nearly 15 lbs (last visit he was more in the neighborhood of 12). I'm not too surprised, though; his dad was a pretty big fox too.

Unfortunately, there was a down note too. Gizmo seems to have lost quite a bit of his socialization due to the county-enforced isolation. It's been 6 months since he had contact with anyone but me and my mother, and the effects of this isolation on his happy-go-lucky, love-everyone personality are very clear. The one Vet Tech (at least, I think that's what his job title is) used to be one of Gizmo's favorite people. He always greeted him like a happy puppy.

This time around, though, Gizmo sent off just about every fear-signal in the book. Laid his ears back, arched his back, hunkered down to get small, curled his tail, avoided eye contact, whimpered, the works. Nothing aggressive, but lots and lots of fearful and avoidance behavior. It broke my heart to see him act like that around someone he used to love.


After a solid week of being Impostor Mommy, I'm finally feeling better so my voice is now back to normal. Gizmo was overjoyed to have "me" back, so naturally I had to spoil it by giving him a bath this morning.

I have to admit, he was a pretty good boy during his bath. No screaming or flailing or constantly trying to escape. He DID poop in the tub, but he always does that, so no surprises there.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

You're Not My Mommy

There's a little trilling/chirping noise that I often use when I'm greeting Gizmo. It's nothing too fancy, but it is distinctive, and so far as he's concerned I'm the only human in the whole world who "calls" him that way. It's how I usually tell him good morning, how I say hello when I get home, how I answer him when he's doing his "Come play with me!" warble. It's an all-purpose greeting with very positive connotations, and can mean anything from "Hello!" to "Let's play!" to "I see you!".

Well, recently, I've been fighting a sinus infection, and it's had a pretty drastic effect on my voice. Without thinking, I tried to trill at Gizmo anyway, but the sound didn't come out right. It was more of a broken squawk than anything else. Clearly not the sound I've been greeting him with his whole life.

The response was instantaneous, and really quite interesting. He laid his ears back, and shrank away from me, giving me an incredibly wary, suspicious look. When I entered his play pen to play with him, he let out a wail and ran and hid in his play tube. I looked in after him, only to see him crouched at the back, whining and giving me the stink eye. No amount of coaxing could get him to come out.

He doesn't mind playing with me if I forget to trill, but apparently I'm not allowed to trill and get it wrong. After all, if I can't do the "mommy" trill correctly, I must really be an impostor.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The kitty is being mean to me!

Gizmo and my cats have something of an ongoing sibling rivalry. No real aggression, of course, just an ongoing pattern of annoying each other.

This morning, one of our cats, Taz, was sitting with her back to the bars of Gizmo's indoor play yard. I watched as he hunkered down, very carefully crept over to the bars, and swatted her one. She responded by turning around and batting him in the nose about six times.

Gizmo's answer to this was to come limping up to me, whining pitifully. No doubt saying, "Mommy! The bad kitty was being mean to me!". It's like it never once occurs to him that I  SEE him starting it. The limp was a nice touch too--I had no idea that a well-deserved swat on the nose could make you limp.