healthy living
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Physical Therapy
Finding a conditioning program for your pup

Last weekend, I attended a canine conditioning seminar given by Petra Ford, P.T., CCRT and Kristine A. Conway, D.V.M. of Aqua Dog Rehabilitation. I'm always interested in ways I can keep my dogs in top physical condition, particularly since I compete with them in agility.

Canine physical therapy and rehabilitation has been a rapidly growing field in recent years. I think this is partly due to veterinary medicine taking a more holistic view of the dog and more people participating in a variety of activities with their pets.

When thinking about physical therapy, rehabilitating injuries naturally comes to mind, but what I found most interesting was physical therapy's role in preventing injuries. During the seminar, Petra and Kristine first evaluated each dog's structure and then recommended stretches and strengthening exercises we could do to prevent injuries in the future.

I've taken my dog, Nemo, to get chiropractic adjustments and massages, but what I really liked about physical therapy was the active role I played in Nemo's treatment. Petra and Kristine showed us how we could do these exercises at home and make a real difference in our dogs' physical condition.

Learning the exercises was great, but the most critical lesson of the day was how important it is to know your dog's normal behavior and movements. I know from experience that our dogs will do whatever you ask of them, even if they're hurting. It's really up to us to diagnose an injury before it develops into a serious problem.

If you're interested in learning more about canine conditioning, ask your veterinarian to recommend a physical therapist in your area. It's ideal to see one in person to get a baseline evaluation and hands-on guidance, but if that's not an option, there are many books and DVDs available on the topic.

News: Guest Posts
Say No to Dog Bites
More than 4 million preventable injuries each year
Body Language of Dogs

Out with friends last week, one of our group revealed that she had been bitten by a dog as a child. It was a serious bite and, 40 years later, I can still see the scars on her cheek. It quickly turned into a dog-owner-busting session: The mothers in my group complained about how people let their dogs wander right up to their kids. I agreed that’s no good but I also told them I often have the opposite experience: Parents allowing their children to zero in on my dogs, even as my dogs turn away or cower. (They aren’t used to being eye-to-eye with toddlers.) While we’ve never had an incident, it’s unnerving and we calmly steer out of their path.

I know a dog doesn’t have to be a “biter” or behaviorally challenged to bite. Sometimes they are simply afraid, and when the person inspiring the fear can’t read the signs of fear in the dog, the outcome can be injurious.

Around 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year, many of them children. Fortunately, the majority of these painful interactions can be avoided. During this National Dog Bite Prevention Week, it’s a good time to bone up on why dogs bite and how to avoid being on the receiving end.

Behaviorist Sophia Yin created a downloadable poster illustrating signs of fear and anxiety in dogs along with a video demonstrating how to approach a dog appropriately. It's an excellent primer on bite-avoidance.

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s tips on how to avoid being bitten include:

  • Don’t run past a dog. The dog’s natural instinct is to chase and catch you.
  • Ask for permission from the owner before petting a dog.
  • Don’t approach a strange dog, especially one that’s tethered or confined.
  • If a dog threatens you, don’t scream. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.
  • If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.

On the owner side:

  • Obedience training can teach dogs proper behavior and help owners control their dogs.
  • When a stranger comes to your home, keep your dog inside, away from the door in another room. (The AVMA's tips are especially focused on mail carriers, who are on the front lines of dealing with dog attacks.)
  • Dogs can be protective of their territory and may interpret the actions of visitors as a threat.
  • Spay or neuter your dog. Neutered dogs are less likely to roam and bite.
  • Dogs that receive little attention or handling, or are left tied up for long periods of time, frequently turn into biters.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
K9 Massage Growing in Popularity
More and more pups benefit from massage therapy

Last year my Sheltie, Nemo, and I were running an agility course and he uncharacteristically ran around the last few jumps. He wasn't limping or showing any pain, but I knew he wasn't himself. So I brought him over to the massage therapist who had a stand set up alongside the other show vendors.

I had never gotten a massage for Nemo before, so I was skeptical if it was really going to do anything. But I quickly saw him relax and the the therapist showed me how to feel for the inflammation she found in his back thigh muscle, which is probably what was causing his reluctance to jump.

It was amazing to feel so connected to Nemo and his well being. I've been wanting to take a pet massage class every since and it seems that I'm not alone.

The New York Times writes that pet massage workshops have grown in popularity in recent years. The International Association of Animal Massage and Bodywork's membership has more than doubled in the last four years. Instructors all over the country are reporting that they can barely keep up with demand for classes.

Although there are no studies that prove the benefits, it's thought that pet massage therapy can aid in increased circulation, improved digestion, strengthened immunity, stress relief, muscle relaxation, and relief from conditions such as arthritis.

The verdict varies among veterinarians. Some recommend massage to aid in recovery, while others are concerned that done incorrectly, massages could aggregate a medical condition or prevent people from bringing their pets to the veterinarian.

I know many people who have seen the benefits firsthand, but proven or not, I see nothing to loose in spending quality time with your pup.

Has your dog gotten a massage before?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
If I’d Known Then What I Know Now
What would YOU do differently?

It’s common to hear people who train dogs say things along the lines of, “You have to ruin one dog before you know enough to get it right with other dogs.” I don’t think first dogs are “ruined” by a lack of experience, but I do believe that subsequent dogs often benefit from what we learn along the way that helps us do better by our dogs.

  Who among us doesn’t think back to former dogs and wish we’d known then what we know now? For my part, when I look back on my experiences with my first dog I wish had known more about nutrition. I did my best to feed him high quality food, but I could do far better now with what I’ve learned since then.   I also wish I had been more skilled at canine massage and other bodywork. I regularly massage dogs, but like any other skill, it takes practice. I practiced on my first dog, learning a lot in the process, but I’m better at it now than I was then. In his older years, he had some pain and discomfort in his legs and hips. Though I did everything I could to ease his suffering with medical help and what I could do for him at home, I can’t help but think that I could have made him feel better now than I was able to then.   What do you know now that you wish you had known with a previous dog? 


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Preparing for an Emergency
Are your pets ready for the worst?

All of the recent natural disasters has me thinking about preparing for emergencies, including making a plan for the dogs. April also happens to be Pet First Aid Awareness Month, so it's the perfect time to put together a first aid kit and emergency supplies. Here are some tips I came across when I started thinking about my emergency plan.

Think Ahead

  • Put an "Animals Inside" sticker on your door (available free through the ASPCA)
  • Know which hotels along your evacuation route are pet friendly
  • Know which friends, relatives, boarding facilities, animal shelters and/or veterinarians can care for your animals in an emergency

Prepare Your Pets

  • Include pets in evacuation drills
  • Get pets used to going in their crates
  • Make sure all pets are wearing collars with identification and/or are implanted with a microchip

Gather Supplies

  • Create a pet first aid kit
  • Create a portable emergency kit with leashes, harnesses, food, drinking water, medication, and information on feeding schedules, behavior problems and medical records
  • Create "lost posters" with current photos of each of your pets (a free template is available on the Animal Rescue League website)

Check out the Red Cross' and the ASPCA's web pages for more resources on creating a pet first aid kit and preparing for an emergency.

Do you have an emergency plan for your pets?


News: Guest Posts
Spring Showers Bring Flowers and Some Risks for Dogs
Beware foxtails, slug bait, busy wildlife and more
Harley leaping for joy.

If it wasn’t for the stubborn little crocuses in my front yard, I’d be hard-pressed to believe spring has come to Seattle. But officially the season has sprung, and in most parts of the country, the change is happy news for dogs, who will be spending more time sniffing, romping and rolling in the outdoors. Hooray!

  While longer, warmer days bring joy to our hearts, they bring some risks to our dogs. “Every seasonal change can bring dangers, but spring presents some specific risks that can be easy to address, as long as pet owners know what to look for,” says Dr. Peter Bowie, a veterinarian in Marin, Calif.    Among Dr. Bowie’s seasonal priorities is antifreeze. While the deadly chemical is most often associated with winter, he says, veterinarians at the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center of Marin see just as many antifreeze poisonings in the spring. Whether it’s due to shade tree mechanics cleaning their radiators, unidentified leaks, or portable basketball hoops, ethylene glycol–based antifreeze winds up in driveways and streets where it tastes sweet to dogs and, even in tiny amounts, may cause sudden kidney failure.  
   Foxtails are another not-so-fabulous right of spring. These grass awns, which sprout in abundance this time of year, have microscopic barbules along their surface. Once they catch on animals’ fur, they can become lodged in their skin (most often in the webbing between the toes), ear canal, or nose. Foxtails cause extreme discomfort and often lead to bleeding, infection, and, in the case of ear canal migration, ruptured ear drums. If swallowed, foxtails can lodge in the throat, causing swelling and infection. If accidentally inhaled, they can cause serious damage and infection in the airways or lungs. (Check out Protecting Your Dog Aganst Foxtails by Nancy Kay, DVM).   
    Activity in the garden can also be detrimental to our dogs, the use of slug and snail baits, in particular. These combine an attractant, usually apple meal or some other sweet-smelling base, with an active chemical compound such as metaldehyde to poison whatever swallows the bait. Unfortunately, this can include our pets. Increased rat activity also means increased use of rat poison this time of year, one of the deadliest things your pet can ingest. 
    Fertilizers, even organic or natural fertilizers, can harm pets. Blood and bone meal are common organic fertilizers, which makes it tasty for pets but can cause vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatic inflammation. Grass and flower fertilizers can also contain toxic chemicals that may be deadly if ingested.   If you’re planting, remember some plants are toxic for dogs, including azalea, chrysanthemum, daffodil, rhododendron, sago palm and tulip. Consumption of these plants can lead to kidney failure in animals. The ASPCA provides a complete list of toxic plants with images.   “I urge pet parents to get outdoors and enjoy the season, just remain aware of your pets’ surroundings,” says Dr. Bowie. “Changes in the environment can be stimulating to them, but new smells in the yard or garden can also be harmful. Simply take extra precautions: be sure all chemicals are completely out of your pets’ reach, keep small pets on a leash at all times when outdoors, and remove foxtails as soon as you see them.”    Wildlife Companion animals aren’t the only critters more active this time of year. Brian Adams of the Massachusetts Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) reminds us that spring is a time when wildlife is on the move. He suggests a few simple steps to minimize or prevent conflicts between us or our pets and wildlife.  
  • Never feed wild animals intentionally or they will view your yard as a food source. The includes cleaning up spilled birdseed from feeders, which may attract turkeys, rodents, and the animals that prey on them. If you have bears in your area, remove bird feeders.
  • Avoid unintentional feeding by keeping trash and compost secured and by feeding pets indoors. 
  • Drive carefully and watch for wildlife crossing roadways, especially in areas where road salt remains from winter storms; this attracts wildlife.
Learn more from MSPCA about how to humanely live with wildlife, including advice on critter-proofing your home and what to do when you discover an orphaned animal.   If your dog spent a good chunk of the winter, cashed on the coach, eating a few too many sweet potato chews, you also want to be gradual about bounding into a spring exercise regime. “Often, pets get overly excited to go outside and strain themselves,” says Heidi Ganahl, CEO and founder of Camp Bow Wow. “Make sure you monitor your pet and start slow before engaging in strenuous physical activity.”   Still, there's no denying it’s a perfect season for launching a daily exercise regime. Dawn Marcus describes the health benefits and a plan for starting a successful walking plan.   Finally, another ritual of the season, spring cleaning poses risks for our pets. It’s important to think smart about your cleaning. Many cleaning products are irritating or even toxic for dogs. Invest in eco-friendly products, such as homemade cleaning solutions featuring vinegar or enzyme-based cleansers.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Healing Power of Dogs
More health care professionals are bringing their pets to work

Any dog lover knows the unique ability our pets have to cheer us up when we’re not feeling well. As a pet therapy team, Nemo and I have seen firsthand the power of pets to cheer people up at the hospital, often a very depressing place.

And it seems that health care professionals are catching on. The Wall Street Journal reports that a growing number of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and other therapists are bringing their dogs to work to calm patients.

Research shows that a few minutes spent petting a dog decreases levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, in both the human and the dog. It also increases prolactin and oxytocin, the hormones that control nurturing and security, as well as serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that boost mood. One study found that five minutes with a dog was as relaxing as a 20-minute break for hospital workers.

Even medical schools have acknowledged the importance of pet therapy. Many schools, like Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine, offer a human-animal interaction class for medical and psychiatry students. As more studies are done on this topic, I hope that more health care professionals will be encouraged to listen to the research and bring their pets to work.



Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Weight Loss Resolutions
Vet hospital encourages cats and dogs to lose weight in 2011

It’s that time of year when everyone is making their New Years resolutions, many related to losing weight. In recent years, obesity has been a problem among both humans and pets, which can lead to a myriad of health consequences, including a shorter life span.

To encourage pet weight loss resolutions, the Vinton Veterinary Hospital in Virginia is sponsoring a Biggest Loser competition for dogs and cats. The promotion runs from today through April.

The program is free and all participants must call and schedule a check-in. As a baseline, all pets will get on the scale, have a “before” photo taken, and get an individualized diet and exercise plan. All participating cats and dogs will return every two weeks to get weighed and chart progress. The pet that loses the most weight (by percentage) will win prizes including a year’s worth of Science Diet food, Frontline, and Heartguard.

If you don’t live near Vinton Veterinary Hospital, you can still evaluate your pet. Purina has a helpful chart on their web site to help determine if a dog is overweight. If you suspect your dog needs to lose a few pounds, consult your veterinarian for advice on how to get to a healthy weight.

Looking to shed pounds together? Check out my blog post from last year about running with your dog to start exercising.



Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Toxic Holiday Plants
Watch out for dangerous mistletoe this December

For years I’ve avoided Poinsettia plants around the holidays because I’d always heard that they were highly toxic for animals. But according to Veterinary Medicine magazine, the toxicity of Poinsettias has been greatly exaggerated. 

Research estimates that the average animal would have to ingest 500 to 600 Poinsettia leaves to surpass toxic levels. The most common symptom is irritation to the mouth and stomach, which sometimes causes vomiting. 

I didn’t know until recently that two other common holiday plants are also considered toxic, one very highly. Holly is similar to Poinsettias and can cause vomiting and diarrhea. However, Mistletoe is the real holiday danger. Ingesting the plant can cause gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular collapse, dyspnea, bradycardia, erratic behavior, vomiting, diarrhea, and low blood pressure.

After learning of mistletoe’s toxicity, I will not be hanging any in the house. But I have started buying some Poinsettia plants. To be safe, I keep them high and out of reach of the pets. I also make sure that I periodically sweep up any fallen leaves. It’s always better to err on the side of caution to ensure everyone has a safe holiday season!

If you're wondering about the danger of any greenery around your house, visit the ASPCA web site to check their comprehensive list of toxic plants.



Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Velcro Dogs
Picking up allergens a hazard

Usually when people talk about “Velcro dogs,” they mean the kind who are clingy and extremely emotionally attached to their guardians. That sort of Velcro dog makes sure you never feel alone, much less lonely, and keeps you from ever having to go any place, such as the bathroom, all by yourself.

  There’s another kind of Velcro dog, which is perhaps of greatest interest to people with allergies. These dogs are the ones who go frolicking through the fields and gardens bringing home seeds, pollen, dust and every other sort of allergen that can get attached to a dog’s fur.   I had a client with severe allergies to all sorts of plants as well as many other things. She got a poodle specifically because her research had revealed that this breed is less likely to aggravate allergies than many other breeds. And it was true—her dog did not seem to set off her allergies. Unfortunately, if her dog went outside, as dogs tend to do, he collected all sorts of debris in his coat that DID cause her allergies to flare up. She was the one who first referred to his coat as a sort of Velcro that attached to anything and everything that she was allergic to.   By keeping him groomed with a fairly short cut, by staying on top of the advice of her allergist, and by choosing carefully where her dog was allowed to run loose, she was able to enjoy both her dog AND the feeling of being able to breathe, but it was a situation that required a lot more management than she had originally been anticipating.   Has anyone else had this problem of allergies being triggered not directly by your dog, but by what got stuck in your dog’s coat?