healthy living
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cutting Nails
Reducing the stress for you and your dog

There are few parts of dog guardianship that are less agreeable than cutting nails. In fact, the only task that I dislike more is picking up poop, and depending on the dog, clean-up duty may even be preferable to nail trimming.

  I worked for almost a year as a dog groomer, so I know a few tricks about getting nails trimmed no matter what. Whether it’s keeping a dog occupied with treats or a favorite chew toy, the promise of a walk immediately afterwards, calming holds to use with struggling dogs, or trimming one nail a day for three weeks and then starting over, it is possible to cut any dog’s nails. I even occasionally advise using a muzzle. It’s better to get it done quickly in order to minimize the stress for the dog or the chance of a bite to the human, and if a muzzle makes that happen, it may be the best option.   Of course, many people have dogs who patiently present each paw and sit like a statue while each nail is cut. For the rest of us, it’s worth trying out a variety of techniques to learn what works best for your dog.  


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mushrooms Can Poison Dogs
Heavy rains in Arizona heighten danger

Veterinarian Julianne Miller, in an interview with Arizona Public Radio, says that she has seen three times as many cases of mushroom toxicity in dogs this summer compared with previous years. The reason for the increase is that Flagstaff, Ariz., has had the fourth wettest monsoon season ever, with nearly 10 inches of rain in just over two months. Fungi thrive in the wetness caused by heavy rains, and are doing so well that the forests even smell like mushrooms.

  Many wild mushrooms are dangerous for dogs. Liver damage and death are possible, although Miller has not seen either of these this summer. Presenting problems include vomiting, body tremors, twitching, drooling, wobbling, salivating, or even seizures. Dogs, like people, can also experience hallucinations after consuming some types of mushrooms.   The best way to prevent dogs from eating mushrooms is to limit their access to them. Removing all visible fungi from yards to prevent dogs from going after them is wise, because many dogs do not learn to avoid them even after an experience with toxic mushrooms. Avoid walks in heavily mushroom-infested areas and leash your dog in areas with them if your dog is the type to try them.   Has your dog ever suffered ill effects from consuming wild mushrooms?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Inadvertent Toxin, UPDATE
Human hormone treatments have a negative effect on pets

[Editor's Note, 7/30/10: The Food and Drug Administration has published a warning urging that children and pets not be exposed to Evamist, a hormone spray used to treat hot flashes in menopausal women.]


Most pet lovers are careful about keeping medicine bottles locked away in a cabinet, far from the reach of little ones. But this may not be enough to guard your pups against the effects of some topical medications.

According to the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), the popularity of human topical hormone treatments, often used for menopause, is having an unintended negative effect on pets. The hormone replacement treatments are available in a lotion, gel, or spray that is applied to the arms or legs. Apparently the hormone can be spread to pets simply through contact.

In recent years, veterinarians have started to see spayed dogs and young female puppies with swollen vulvas as if they are in heat, male dogs with enlarged mammary glands and abnormally small penises, and loss of fur in both sexes.

VIN reports that dogs will often go undiagnosed for months because veterinarians aren’t familiar with this problem. Human doctors are also unfamiliar with the situation and therefore do not know to warn people with pets. It’s important to create a greater awareness since the effects of these medications worsen over time and can lead to other serious conditions associated with high hormone levels. 

Before reading about this, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind that any topical medications I use could be inadvertently spread to my pets. And apparently the FDA already knew this was a potential problem. The government organization has documented cases of children being accidently exposed to hormones through topical therapies. As a result, the FDA now requires two manufacturers of testosterone treatments to put warnings on their packaging. 

Whether you use hormone therapies or not, this is an important reminder that you can never be too careful when using medication.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Trash Parties
Does your dog get into the garbage?

My sister and brother-in-law had a dog named Kiwi whom I truly adored. A chocolate Newfoundland, she died three years ago and is still missed. Among Kiwi’s many wonderful qualities were intelligence, an easygoing nature, gentleness with my children and all kids and a willingness to endure the high frequency of grooming required to keep any proper Newfie looking and feeling her best.

  Was she perfect? Heavens no! But in her list of unfortunate traits, there was really only one that mattered—Kiwi LOVED trash. Combined with her intelligence and height, this passion made it very difficult to prevent her from getting into the garbage. My sister and her husband became resigned to the fact that they would regularly discover that Kiwi had thrown herself what they liked to call a “trash party.”   Now, you’re probably thinking, what about covered and secured trash bins? Cabinet locks? Hauling all trash outside immediately? Keeping trash too high for Kiwi to reach? These are all good ideas, and work on many dogs. But Kiwi was no amateur. With brains, dexterity and size all working to her advantage, Kiwi would not be deterred. She was highly motivated to get to any food. This was a dog who would work for lettuce or even pea pods, so she was pretty serious about getting to the good stuff.   Not all dogs get into the trash. Our dog Bugsy only ever got into the trash if something like a hunk of chicken was in there. He didn’t bother for anything else, and we had an uncovered trashcan that sat out in the kitchen. I tried telling my sister that Bugsy was so good because of the high level of training I gave him, but she wasn’t buying it, and you shouldn’t either. Not all dogs are trash fiends, and for those who are, it’s not a crime. Dogs are scavengers, and those persistent about scavenging are often resourceful, creative and would have a better chance surviving in the wild than dogs who ignore food sources. Of course, I worry that dogs who get into the trash will hurt themselves or choke on something, so it’s no laughing matter, but I don’t think it puts a dark blot on their character either.   Does your dog get into the trash? Have you found a way to stop this behavior, or have you learned to live with it?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Too Much of a Good Thing
Water intoxication strikes active dogs in the summer

During the summer months, a big concern is placed on preventing dogs from overheating. I’ve been doing a lot of running with my pups lately, so I’ve been very careful about keeping them hydrated. 

When I ran the race earlier this month, I made sure that we took plenty of water breaks. I even used a flavored canine sports drink to encourage Nemo to drink liquids. Having previously suffered from heat exhaustion and dehydration myself, I’m careful to not let anything happen to my dogs.

So you can imagine my shock when I recently learned that excessive amounts of water can actually be deadly. When too much water is consumed in a short period of time (especially if the dog isn’t urinating or throwing up any of the water), the balance of electrolytes in the body is disrupted, which can cause a disturbance in brain function. Water intoxication can lead to brain damage, heart failure, and death.

Fortunately water poisoning isn’t common, but it’s important to be aware of the danger. The most frequent cases involve swimming dogs that ingest too much water or exercising or playing dogs that drink too many fluids. 

Symptoms include lethargy, nausea, a bloated appearance, vomiting, dilated pupils, glazed eyes, lack of coordination, light gum color, and excessive salivation. Symptoms can progress quickly to difficulty breathing, collapsing, loss of consciousness, and seizures.

Because water intoxication can progress so quickly, time is critical. If your dog exhibits these symptoms, get to a vet immediately to run blood work. A low level of electrolytes will confirm the condition. Treatment includes fluids, to put electrolytes back in the system, and sometimes a diuretic.


News: Editors
“Blowing” Off Mosquitoes
Fans can provide relief from summer stingers

No one likes mosquitoes. And since only one bite from an infected one can spread heartworm in our dogs, we have to be doubly aware of how to prevent being bitten by them. The New York Times had an interesting piece that looked at the effectiveness of using wind—in the form of a fan—to deter flying pests from landing on you or on your dog. What makes the fan an effective deterrent is that it “dilutes and disperses” carbon dioxide that we, and our dogs, exhale. CO2 is the major chemical that attracts mosquitoes! Entomologists at Michigan State University who studied this link concluded “fan-generated wind should be pursued as a practical means of protecting humans or pets from mosquitoes in the backyard setting.”

News: Guest Posts
Urban Wanderers
Rescued strays inspire art and hopefully donations

An indomitable stray named Chill is among many cats and dogs providing inspiration for dozens of works of art—paintings, photographs, sculptures and drawings—in an exhibition entitled Urban Wanderers, which opens at the Saint Louis University Museum of Art next Friday, July 16.

  Chill was a neglected, abused street dog until she was rescued by Randy Grim of Stray Rescue of St. Louis, a no-kill organization dedicated to rescuing stray animals in need of medical attention and place them in loving, adoptive homes.   “Man can be downright evil and cruel at times. One such person felt it necessary to disfigure, crush and mutilate parts of Chill’s body and cut off one foot,” Grim writes in his story about the decision to rescue her. “No longer could she run or play with her pack. Her mutilated body made it impossible for her to scavenge for food or keep up with her horde of dogs that provided a sense of security and being. For the past month, we wondered where she was but now we know, she was unable to move. She was dying.”   They rushed her broken, flea-infested, anemic and infected body to an emergency vet where she has seen many months of intensive care. She is now healing—physically and emotionally—at home with Grim until she is ready to move to a wonderful full-time home. Read her complete story here and here.   The Urban Wanderers exhibition opens with a reception on Friday, July 16, at 6 p.m. Stray Rescue supporter and actress Loretta Swit will attend the reception and several of her paintings will be displayed. In addition, rescued dogs and cats will use their paws, tails and noses to create works for the show.   All these creations, as well as select pieces by Swit, will be available for purchase through a silent auction to benefit Stray Rescue of St. Louis. The exhibition is free-of-charge, open to the public and runs through August 29.   In related news, the lack of shelter space that, in part, contributed to Grim’s need to triage strays, including Chill, is improving. Soon, Stray Rescue St. Louis will open the doors of a new Animal Companion Center, with 69 kennel runs. Initially, dogs will be transferred to this facility from the city pound in Gasconade, which is in a crisis. Additional, runs will be added in a second phase at the new shelter.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fighting for a Variance
Should dogs be allowed in coffee shops?

As I’ve blogged previously, I love being able to bring my dogs everywhere possible, especially restaurants. While health codes keep dogs outside on the patio, there are certain bars and coffee shops that let pets inside. For a long time my area had Coffee Labs in Tarrytown, N.Y., a cafe that encouraged patrons to bring their dogs, even though it was not technically allowed.

Earlier this year, the Westchester Country Department of Health issued a warning that ended seven years of canines gracing the shop. As you can imagine, local dog loving customers were devastated.

Since then, owners Alicia Kelligrew and Mike Love, have been working towards getting a dog variance issued. They argue that food is not prepared on-site and they haven’t had any problems in seven years of operation. The duo already has a petition with over 2,000 signatures.

Last Thursday, Alicia and Mike took the request to the local Board of Health meeting. The 12-person board will ultimately decide whether or not to grant a variance to Coffee Labs. No decision has been made yet and there will likely be a public discussion before that happens.

I understand the concern for not allowing pets in a food store, and if all people were responsible and respectful it wouldn't be a problem. However, it would be nice if the two sides could meet in the middle – like allowing dogs at stores that don't prepare food on premise.

Do you think dogs should be allowed in coffee shops?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An iPhone app that can help dogs

ChocoTox is an iPhone application that determines whether or not a dog has ingested a toxic amount of chocolate. You enter the dog’s weight, the amount of chocolate eaten, and the type of chocolate. The type of chocolate is as critical as the other two factors because the darker the chocolate, the more theobromine it contains, and theobromine is what is actually toxic to dogs. Once you’ve entered this information, ChocoTox lets you know if a visit to the veterinarian is warranted.

  In her blog about ChocoTox, Nancy Kay, DVM and author of Speaking for Spot points out that there are situations in which veterinary intervention is essential. These include if more than one dog has gotten into chocolate so that there’s no way of knowing how much each dog consumed; if the wrapper or other packaging was also ingested; or if anything else toxic (such as drugs) was in the chocolate that the dog ate.   I’m sure I’m not the only person who has ever had a dog eat chocolate by mistake. My Lab mix once helped himself to a giant serving of chocolate chip cookies that were cooling on the counter. Luckily, he ate far too little chocolate to suffer anything more than perhaps an overly full belly. Has your dog gotten into anything chocolate, and if so, did it become a serious situation?


News: Guest Posts
Food for Thought
Pondering the benefits of commercial pet food

When New York Times columnist Jane E. Brody wanted the truth about feeding our dogs and cats, she turned to Bark contributing editors Malden Nesheim, PhD, and Marion Nestle, PhD, who provided details about pet food that Bark regulars know well—such as, higher price doesn’t necessarily mean better quality.

But they also presented a bit of a paradigm shift, for me, regarding the $18-billion-a-year commercial pet food industry. After years of bad press resulting from catastrophic pet food recalls and ongoing questions about pet food safety, I’m used to thinking the worst about the industry. But here’s a tidbit on which to chew:

Because all pet food is made from the byproducts of human food production, Dr. Nestle says, "the pet food industry serves an important ecological function by using up food that would otherwise be thrown out."

And proponents of home-prepared foods—many motivated by nutritional and safety concerns—should consider this: "If everyone cooked human food for the 472 million cats and dogs in America, it would be like feeding an additional 42 million people."