healthy living
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Danger in the Driveway
Basketball hoops may contain deadly antifreeze

A friend recently e-mailed me about a German Shorthaired Pointer who died from ingesting antifreeze. Being animal lovers, the family had always been careful not to keep the toxic liquid around the house. 

Determined to find the source, they soon discovered that the antifreeze came from a portable basketball hoop in their driveway. Following the instruction manual, the previous owners had put antifreeze in the base to prevent the water, which weighs down the hoop, from freezing during the winter months. Small holes in the top of the base allowed some of the antifreeze to leak out.

I was shocked to learn about this potential danger, particularly since portable basketball hoops are so popular. There are several on my street alone, although I don’t know if they contain antifreeze or not. 

As an alternative to the mixture of water and antifreeze, the ASPCA recommends filling bases with sand. They also caution the use of so called non-toxic antifreeze, as these liquids have the potential to cause gastrointestinal irritation, central nervous system depression, and death from respertory failure. 

I know I will be more mindful of basketball hoops when walking around the neighborhood and visiting friends.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Taste Test
Humans and canines put treats head to head.

For humans, healthy food usually comes at the expense of taste. Given how concerned we are about feeding our pups the best, Lou Bendrick at Grist.org decided to run a humorously unscientific study on whether dogs prefer healthy or unhealthy treats. 

The testing panel included Burn the Border Collie, Lulu the Cockapoo, Sugar Ray the Pug, and Austin the Australian Shepherd. And to make sure the treats were safe, Lou had a group of humans taste test as well.

The experiment tested Wagatha’s Super Berry Biscuit, Newman’s Own Organics Salmon & Sweet Potato dog treat, Mr. Barky’s Vegetarian Dog Biscuits, Harmony Farms Health Bars with Apples & Yogurt, Organix Organic Dog Cookies (organic peanut butter flavor), and Milk Bone Medium Dog Biscuits. 

After much tasting, the canine favorite was Wagatha’s Super Berry Biscuit and the human favorite was Harmony Farms Health Bars with Apples & Yogurt.

I replicated the experiment on a smaller scale, but my chow hounds didn’t seem to discriminate like the dogs did in Lou’s study. They happily scarfed up any treat that came their way, healthy or not. 

Treats made with quality ingredients can get quite expensive, especially if you do a lot of training. Sometimes I’ll make my own treats, so I can control what goes in, but more often I just use fresh meat, like boiled chicken. Fresh, healthy, cheap, and my pups go crazy over the stuff!

What are your dogs’ favorite treats?

News: Guest Posts
Cats 1, Dogs 0
Study links asthma risk to dogs, not cats

I feel like I have a built-in radar for dog versus cat stories. Or rather, I’m sort of a magnet for them. I know it drives some Bark readers crazy—those who don’t feel a need to make comparisons and think I should stop feeding the feud. Well, if you are such a high-minded egalitarian read no further. If you’re with me (and keeping score), add a hash mark to the “Cat’s rule” side of the ledger.


A recent study, led by Dr. Chris Carlsten of Vancouver General Hospital in British Columbia, Canada, revealed a three-fold increase in the risk of asthma for children who were exposed to high levels of dog allergen. According to Carlsten, the culprit may be high levels of endotoxin on dogs, a microorganism known to cause inflammation in the lungs. Meanwhile, neither cat nor dust-mite exposure seemed to increase a child’s asthma risk. I wonder if parents who read the study will opt for cats when Susie and Jimmy start begging for a pet? (A big meow to our friends over at PawNation for this story.)

News: Guest Posts
Xylitol Alert
Artificial sweetner is dangerous to dogs

March 14 is the start of Poison Prevention Week, so here at The Bark we’ve been getting alerts about which household products are toxic to pets. The poisons lists feature pretty much the usual suspects, including, but not limited to, Ibuprofen (such as Advil), Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol), antidepressants, chocolate, certain fertilizers, pest control products, and a special Easter-season warning about certain types lilies that are especially toxic for cats. But the folks at the Pet Poison Helpline surprised us with xylitol.

Many sugarless gums, including some Trident, Orbit, and Ice Breaker brands as well as candies contain xylitol, a sweetener which is toxic to dogs. Desserts and baked goods can also be made with xylitol. Even small amounts when ingested can result in a life-threatening drop in blood sugar, or with large amounts of ingestion, liver failure. Signs of low blood sugar include vomiting, weakness, difficulty walking, tremors, and seizures. Treatment includes decontamination, checking a blood glucose/sugar level, treating with IV fluids and glucose, liver monitoring tests, and drugs to protect the liver.

Learn more at the Pet Poison Helpline including the tip sheet: Poison proof your home.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Avoiding Plastic
Making adjustments for the environment and our health

This year, my New Year’s resolution isn’t to get back into shape or qualify for agility nationals, although they’re two things I am trying to do.

For 2010, I decided to keep it simple and reduce my dependence on plastic. Not only is it better for the environment, but as we’re increasingly finding, it’s better for our health, both human and canine.

Avoiding plastic isn’t easy, as I wrote about last year when I discovered that BPA is present even in canned food, but there are many easy switches we can make for our pups.

Food and Water Bowls
I’ve long used stainless steel bowls because they’re resistant to chewing and easy to clean. The Raise a Green Dog blog talks about the dangers of plastic and ceramic bowls, yet another reason to switch to stainless steel.

Food Storage
There are many plastic food storage options, but even if they’re made of food-safe materials, I’m still inclined to seek out a stainless steel version. The only option I’ve found that is big enough for a good amount of kibble is this version made by PetCo. I haven’t bought it yet because of the hefty price tag and the fact it’s endorsed by aversive trainer, Cesar Millan, but I haven’t found any good alternatives.

Poop Bags
So this doesn’t technically qualify as avoiding plastic, but currently I reuse the plastic bags my newspapers come in to pick up poop. I haven’t had to buy poop bags, but if I did, I’d consider biodegradable bags.

Shopping Bags
Using reusable bags has become very popular in recent years. It seems every store has their own version, however, PetCo and PetSmart’s versions raise money for animal-related charities.

Water Bottles
Filling stainless steel bottles with tap or filtered water will save you money while avoiding the potential risk of plastic. Recently, I even found a stainless steel bottle for pets. The roller ball mouth piece makes it perfect for travel.

These are just some small adjustments I’ve made to avoid plastic. I’d love to hear your tips and ideas!

News: Guest Posts
Food Safety Watch
How to report problems to the FDA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is on a public outreach tear these days. A few days after announcing a Twitter feed, with regular updates on food and drug safety issues (pet food recalls among them), it has released a video primer on how to report concerns about and adverse reactions to food and drugs for people and/or animals. Hopefully, this campaign on the consumer side is matched by aggressive inspection and enforcement efforts to ensure products are safe before they come to market.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Diets for Dogs
Navigating the canine obesity problem.

This time of year, many people have diets and weight loss on the brain. But humans aren’t the only ones that could stand to lose a few pounds. A study by Pfizer Animal Health found that veterinarians consider 47 percent of their patients to be overweight, making them susceptible to a myriad of health problems and possibly a shorter life span.

Earlier this month, I wrote about exercising with your pup, but for obese pets, dietary changes may be necessary. In the last few years, inspired by both the growing human and canine obesity problem, many brands of low calorie animal diets have cropped up. 

A recent study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, looked at almost 50 of these so called diet dog foods. The researchers found a wide range of calories, ranging from 217 to 440 kilocalories per cup.

The study also found that many dogs fed according to the directions on the back of the packaging would not result in weight loss and might even cause the pets to gain weight. 

I’ve never followed the feeding guidelines on the back of food packages. Quantity depends not only on the brand of food you feed, but on your particular dog and his activity level. I routinely feel my dogs’ ribs to regulate their diet. If I can feel too much, I increase the amount I feed and vice versa.

If you’re unsure how much you should be feeding your dog or how to tell if your pup is overweight, discuss proper diet and identifying characteristics of obesity with your veterinarian. Check out PetEducation.com’s online resources to educate yourself before you get to the veterinarian’s office.

How do you regulate your dog’s diet?

News: Guest Posts
Are Vegan Dogs the Future?
Humane Society goes into the dog food biz

Earlier this month, the Humane Society of the United States announced it would be marketing an all-natural, vegetarian, organic dog food called Humane Choice—responding to the public’s desire for a cruelty-free option with ingredients we can trust. I admire the work of the HSUS, but I greeted this announcement with a big, Huh?

  First, is it really a good idea for a nonprofit advocacy organization to go into a commercial venture supplying food to the animals they are supposedly working to protect? Isn’t that a conflict of interest? Especially, when food safety is such a controversial and important issue.   Second, vegetarian dogs? Really? No animal protein—someone is going to have to explain this to my dogs. To me, this sort of feels like the last straw in remaking dogs’ in our own image. I’m no food expert but Susan Thixton at TruthAboutDogFood.com isn’t liking what she sees on the label. Here’s what she has to say about the first five ingredients: “Organic ground canola seed, organic brown rice, organic soybean meal, organic buckwheat, organic flaxseed. This dog food would rate in Petsumer Report three paw prints on a five paw print scale. It does not contain chelated or proteinated minerals (for better absorption); it does not contain probiotics (to build a stronger immune system).  An email sent yesterday (2/5/10) requesting country of origin information of ingredients has not been responded to; my guess would be some vitamins and minerals are sourced from China.”   And don’t get me started on the fact that the food comes from Uruguay. What about supporting our farmers? Not to mention the environmental impact of creating a new product that has to be sent from another hemisphere. I really want to hear what Bark readers think. Is this the future? Does it make sense to you?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Dog in the Road
How best to help

While driving recently, I was preparing to turn onto the main highway near my neighborhood when I saw a dog in the middle of it. She seemed scared and confused, and looked about to bolt, but seemed unsure where to go. I was terrified for her—cars were coming at 50 miles an hour and the roads were still snowy and even icy in patches from the almost 5 feet of snow plus some rain that recently landed on Flagstaff.

  I unrolled my window, called “Come!” and clapped my hands, smooched, and called out “pup pup pup” in the high-pitched happy voice so often spoken of in dog training books. Miraculously, she moved enough in my direction to avoid being hit by the cars and trucks, but it was close. Several of the drivers honked and swerved to avoid her. I then tossed her some treats to lure her towards me, and took hold of her collar and led her into my car.   Then I was able to read her tags (thankfully up to date!) and call for her family to come pick her up. They were frantic with worry as she had never gotten out before and they had no idea where to look for her. Like many dogs in the area, she probably left her own yard by standing on top of a snowdrift and simply walking over the fence. (This is probably the reason we have had so many more loose dogs in our neighborhood than ever.) She had wandered over a mile from home and crossed the highway at least once before I saw her.   If you see a loose dog at risk of being hit by a car, there are many things you can try. My favorite techniques are 1) Call “Come!” or use the sounds that attract dogs—clapping, smooching, or saying “Pup pup pup” in a light, happy voice. Many dogs are not trained to come when called, but it is always worth a try. The other sounds often bring in dogs without training. 2) Open a car door. Many dogs are happy to get in any car, though this is of course risky since you are inviting a strange dog into an enclosed space with you. I’ve done this with dogs I know, or particularly small or sweet looking dogs. 3) Hold a leash up and say, “Want to go for a walk?” Many dogs will come right over because those words and a leash have always meant fun. 4) Toss treats and lure the dog to you with food. (I realize not everyone has treats or a leash in the car at all times, but I usually do.) 5) If it’s safe, get out of your car and run away from the dog. Many will follow and at least they are out of the road at that point. 6) If you can’t get near the dog, try saying “Go home!” or “It’s dinnertime!” That may get the dog headed back to the safety of home, though it’s impossible to know whether they have to take a dangerous route to get there.   There’s no guarantee that any of these techniques will work or that they won’t put you at risk either of injury from traffic or a possibly frightened dog, and they are just a few of the possibilities for helping save a dog from traffic. Have you had luck saving a dog from being hit by a car with any particular technique?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Keeping Track of Recalls
FDA compiles pet food recalls in a searchable database

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently launched a searchable pet food recall database, similar to the resource that already exists for humans. The database contains the 971 pet food recalls that have occurred since the beginning of 2006. It’s scary to think that there have been almost a thousand recalls in the past four years alone.

I’m glad, however, to see that the FDA is responding to the growing need for resources like the new database and the Pet Health and Safety Widget that they created last year. The best part about the pet food recall database is the ability to easily see if a company has a bad track record, information that everyone should have at their fingertips. I’m hoping that the FDA will make a similar database for pet drug recalls.

I’ve always relied on the FDA web site and various dog e-mail lists to keep myself informed of the latest recalls. The database and the widget definitely make this easier. How do you stay on top of the growing list of recalls?