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News: Guest Posts
Dog Days of Cleaning
Tools to Groom

For those of us with dogs, summer is a season to be outdoors—early morning walks, afternoons at the lake or beach, weekend camping trips. Life outdoors is great but it has a tendency to follow you home as it attaches to your dog’s coat and paws … burrs, sand, mud and plain old dirt. Having our own pack’s three coats and dozen paws to clean and maintain, we’ve searched out a small arsenal of canine grooming products to help combat the inevitable summer soiling. Here are some of our favorite tools to keep ready in your mudroom, porch or garage … wherever your dog grooming takes place.

The Groom Genie
A new handy brush that untangles knotted fur with its unique bristle design. Brushing with this ergonomic tool also massages the skin to soothe and calm your dog—and fits in easy in the palm of your hand. What is often a stressful chore for both you and your dog becomes an enjoyable activity. The debris from your dog’s coat is easily removed from the brush, and affords you the chance to check your dog for bumps, bruises and hot spots.

GroomMitt
These sturdy cloth mitts allow you to wipe down your dog without a bath. The neutrally scented product tends to stay moist in the package until used. The manufacture claims an all natural formula and biodegradable materials. All we know is when Lola comes traipsing in with who-knows-what on her paws and the after odor of a good roll … we reach for these indispensable wipes to do the dirty work.

Messy Mutts Gloves and Chenille Grooming Mitt
These colorful latex gloves fit snugly without cutting off your circulation and making your arms perspire like other cleaning wear. The soft chenille mitt is highly absorbent and the finger-like shapes allow a gentle, deeper reach to track down dirt. Use with or without water to good effect.

 

Shampoo Sponge
Bath Day sponges are all natural, certified cruelty-free, ethically sourced, compostable and detergent-free. They fit easily into the hand, plus they don’t foam up too much. These lightweight sponges free up our hands to better control our bath adverse pups. It also gets the job done quicker and saves precious water. Good for travel and spot cleanups, too. Available in three formulas: oatmeal, tea tree and watermelon.

RinseKit
This ingenious devise solves the age-old problem of a spot bath on the go. Store in your car or truck and use the RinseKit to give your dog a quick shower with its pressurized spray that lasts up to three minutes without pumping or batteries. The container holds up to two gallons of water, comes with a six foot hose and a spray nozzle that offers seven different settings. Great for travel and at home.

News: Guest Posts
What Else Is In That Supplement?
Dog fed blue green algae supplement develops liver problem, report finds

A new report by researchers at U.C. Davis points to the need for oversight of nutrition supplements. The pills and powders fed to pets to boost their health come with no assurance of getting what you pay for—or more than you bargained for, like toxic contaminants.

In this case, a tainted organic algae powder was damaging the liver of an 11 year old Pug, who lost her appetite and was lethargic after several weeks use. The authors say it’s the first documented case of blue-green algae poisoning in a dog caused by a dietary supplement. (Most reports of illness involve dogs exposed to water containing certain blue-green algae toxins.)

Blue green algae supplements are sometimes fed to dogs to relieve arthritis or boost the immune system.

Many consumers believe these products can only be sold if they are safe for use, the authors say. “Unfortunately, the opposite has been demonstrated in several studies showing the contamination of blue-green algae supplements with microcystins.”

With the use of commercial health products on the rise, the risk is growing. While supplements are regulated by the FDA, there are no requirements for proving them safe or effective before marketing. That is, the industry “is largely self-regulated,” the report says.

Toxic blue-green algae blooms occur in Oregon’s Klamath Lake, where supplement manufacturers harvest much of their source material. In 1997, the state became the first to regulate the amount of mycrocystins allowed in supplements.

Adrienne Bautista, the lead researcher on the current report, says in an email that the tests may not catch every problem. The tests many companies use to certify their products are below the 1 ppb Oregon limit are often ELISAs, Bautista says, which mainly detect “the LR congener of microcystin.” But there are more than 100 other congeners likely to have similar modes of action that the tests are “quite poor” at finding. So even if the supplement tests below the 1ppb for this common toxin, others may still be present.

What could lower the risk from these particular supplements is to produce the algae in a lab-like setting, Bautista says. “By harvesting it naturally, you have no control over contamination from other algae.” 

The researchers call for stronger oversight of dietary supplements for companion animals, and greater awareness among veterinarians.

With treatment and by stopping the supplement, the Pug made a full recovery.

 

Wellness: Healthy Living
Fight the Bite
Summer is prime time for fleas and ticks.

Keeping these nasty little blood-suckers off our dogs and out of our homes requires vigilance, but it’s work worth doing.

If you live in an area of the country that endured what seemed like an endless winter, you may think that the flea and tick population was diminished by the cold, and be tempted to let down your guard. Don’t do it. As Sheila Pell notes in “Tick Talk,” her excellent Bark article on the subject, “For ticks, it seems, the ice age was a snowbird’s vacation.” (Read the article online here.)

Both fleas and ticks transmit or initiate a host of unpleasant conditions that can seriously affect our dogs’ lives. Depending on where you live, ticks are responsible for Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, canine ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, tick paralysis and American canine hepatozoonosis. From fleas come tapeworms, allergic dermatitis, and other bacterial and viral pathogens.

Plus, it’s not just dogs that these pests bedevil. They also like another warm-blooded mammal: us. All the more reason to take them seriously.

Reliable advice on how to prevent or eliminate flea problems on your dog or in your home and yard can be found at the ASCPA website, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has a page dedicated to ticks. Also on the subject of ticks, the best place to start, bar none, is the Tick Encounter Resource Center, the outreach arm of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease. This incredibly thorough and well-illustrated website has a plethora of tools to help you assess the tick threat in your area, as well as practical suggestions to offset it.

So, arm yourself with the facts, then take steps to protect your pups and other pets, yourself, and your family. Let peace of mind prevail!

Wellness: Healthy Living
Protect Your Dogs From Ticks

With tick season upon us, we spoke to Bruce Kornreich, Associate Director for Education and Outreach at the Cornell Feline Health Center, to learn the fine points of tick monitoring and removal. Ticks pose a serious threat to both dogs and their human companions. Canines are at risk of contracting tickborne diseases like Lyme disease, Hemobartonellosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and others. Like the old scout motto says … be prepared!

Bark: How do you remove a tick?

Kornreich: To remove a tick, use a fine-tipped tweezer, hold it near the animal’s skin, grasp the tick and pull upwards without twisting. You should never directly handle or crush a tick with your hands. To dispose of ticks after removal, place them in a sealed bag, flush them down the toilet, wrap them tightly in tape, or immerse them in alcohol. Washing your hands well after removing a tick is a good idea.

Bark: What about those remedies we learned at camp?

Don’t believe the old tales about using burned matches, nail polish, or Vaseline to kill ticks embedded in the skin. Removal is a much better idea, and do it as soon as possible because there’s evidence that suggests the longer you wait the more likely it is your pet will contract a tickborne illness.

Bark: How should I monitor my dog for ticks?
Regular tick checks are really important for pets and humans. To find ticks on your cat or dog, you will have to feel them all over with your fingers. It’s a lot harder to find ticks on long haired animals than short haired animals. Often people won’t find them until they’ve taken a blood meal, which makes them larger and more conspicuous.

If the tick is engorged with blood, then it’s been feeding for a while and it’s more likely that your pet could contract a tickborne illness. You can preserve the tick by taping it— with clear tape—to a piece of paper and keeping it in the freezer or preserve it in a small container of rubbing alcohol. If your pet becomes sick in the following weeks or months, your vet may be able to identify the tick, and that may provide information about the possible diseases involved.

In dogs, Lyme disease is one of the most common tickborne illnesses. Lameness is often the first sign of Lyme infection, and if your dog becomes lame during tick season you should be doubly suspicious of the possibility of Lyme. Other signs of infection include lethargy and fever.

Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Earth Day Tips
Reduce Your Paw Print

This year we celebrate Earth Day’s 45th anniversary. This annual event is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement back in 1970. The passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed. Today, events large and small raise awareness of the fragile balance we hold our planet, and educate to bring changes to the dangerous course we’ve set.

Our dogs bring us closer to the natural world, and help us appreciate the environment we share with them. They too will benefit by our stewardship improving. We all need to pitch in to make a difference. Here are some simple ways to raise eco-friendly dogs and reduce our mark on the world.

Adopt Rather Than Buy
The ultimate in recycling, go green by adopting a dog from your local shelter or rescue group. There’s a wonderful animal (both purebreds and mixed) waiting for a good home at your local shelter.

Spay/Neuter Your Dogs
It is the most effective way to reduce the pet overpopulation problem.

Choose Foods Wisely
Buy dog food that is made with organic and humane ingredients. Eliminating chemicals and additives in food is safer for your dogs and the environment. Better still, purchase locally produced food or make your own. Avoid plastic bowls, which can leach chemicals.

Make Waster More Eco-Friendly
Use biodegradable poop bags as opposed to plastic whenever possible. Consider installing an underground pet-waste digester in your yard.

Buy Quality
Cut back on landfill by buying fewer canine accessories, and investing in well-made, long lasting beds, toys and leashes and avoiding the disposable variety.

Buy Recycled
Purchase products that are made from sustainable, organic, and/or recycled materials.  Seek out companies with proven commitments to recycling packaging materials and waste products on the production end.

Clean Green
Use eco-friendly cleaning ingredients like vinegar or baking soda. There are many natural commercial cleaning products available on the market—non-toxic and safe for animals. Shampoos as well.

Grow Green
Plant a tree to celebrate your dog! Plant an organic herb garden, including parsley, thyme and rosemary to “spice” up your dog’s meals. These herbs can make a perfect kitchen-grown garden too.

For a more comprehensive guide to living green with pets … see more simple strategies for reducing your dogs’ paw print.

Wellness: Recipes
Recipes For Dogs: Barbara Laino’s Homemade Dog Food
Healthy home-cooked meals for your dogs

In the April/May 2011 issue of The Bark, we interview Barbara Laino about the nutritional benefits of feeding your dog home-cooked meals in addition to, or in lieu of, commercial dog food (see “Home Cooking with Barbara Laino” April/May ’11). Here are two more recipes cooked up at Laino’s Midsummer Farm in Warwick, N.Y., that are sure to please your pup’s taste buds and keep her healthy:

Homemade Dinner Recipe for Dogs

This recipe feeds 2-3 large dogs for 7-10 days.

Grind the following ingredients in a meat grinder. Alternate ingredients so the grinder does the mixing for you. For instance, grind six necks, one carrot, a handful of pumpkin seeds, then six more necks and so on. Mix with a large spoon as you grind.

Meat:
• 40 lbs of chicken neck without skins
• 10 lbs of chicken hearts
• 5-10 lbs of organic chicken livers
• 2 cans of pink salmon (optional)

Vegetables:
Can be interchanged with other vegetables and fruits (no grapes or onions). Dogs and cats usually do not like citrus.
• 2-5 lbs carrots
• 1/2 a bunch of red cabbage
• 1 beet
• 2 apples
• 1/2 a bunch of spinach or other dark greens

Other ingredients:
• 1 cup of raw pumpkin seeds

Add a couple of the following items. Have these ready on hand as you are grinding and add a sprinkle here and there of each so you can thoroughly mix the batch of food.
• 9-12 raw whole eggs (optional)
• 2,000 mg of vitamin C powder
• 1/4 to 1/2 cup of Thorvin kelp powder
• 1/4 cup of tumeric powder
• 1/2 to 1 cup of dried parsley
• 1/2 to 1 cup of dried oregano
• 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
• 1/4 cup of tahini
• 1/4 cup of raw honey

After grinding and mixing all ingredients thoroughly, keep the food in a sealed container in the refrigerator.

Midsummer Farm Homemade Fish-Based Dog Dinner

(The below recipe is for 1 medium dog for 3 days, about 10 1-cup-size meatballs) This recipe can be made in larger batches for efficiency sake. This raw food can easily be frozen in meatball shapes appropriate for the size animals you are feeding.

Serving Sizes of Raw Meatballs:
• For a large 50-100 pound dog – three to five 1-cup-size meatballs per day
• For a 20-40 pound dog - two or three 1-cup-size meatballs per day
• For a 1-10 pound dog – one to two 1/2-cup-size meatballs per day
*Remember – this is a concentrated and efficient food source and is power packed. You won’t have to feed as much bulk-wise as with a commercial food; most commercial foods have a lot of fillers.

Ingredients
• 2 pounds of Frozen Fish Fillets. I like to use an oily fish like Mackerel or Whiting.
• 1-2 cans of Alaskan Wild Pink Salmon
• 1/4 - 1/2 pound of Beef Liver
• 1-3 Eggs (optional)
• 2 cups of Chopped Veggies (can be any combination of carrots, cabbage, broccoli, cooked squash, green beans, cooked yams, apples, berries, kale, spinach). Do NOT use onions or grapes of any kind.
• 1/2 cup of Pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
• 2 tbsp Honey
• 2 tbsp Dried Parsley
• 2 tbsp Dried Oregano
• 2 tbsp Tumeric Powder
• 2 tbsp Thorvin Kelp Powder
• Optional: 1 cup of cooked oatmeal, barley, or brown rice

Directions:
Alternate putting frozen (still frozen grind much easier), liver, vegetables, and seeds through a meat grinder. As you grind into a big bowl, add and mix in the canned salmon, eggs, honey, dried herbs, powdered kelp.

Keep in a well-sealed container in fridge. Scoop out appropriate amounts for your pet, or if you made a very large batch that is more than can be consumed in about 5 days, roll into meal-sized meatballs and freeze. Then you can just take out whatever number meatballs you need and defrost them a couple days before you need to feed them. Meatballs will last at least 3 months in the freezer.

To learn more about homemade dog food and its many benefits, see our interview with Barbara Laino.

Note: We've omitted the garlic originally in this recipe.

News: Editors
NBA Player Klay Thompson Stars at the Dog Park
Klay Thompson and Rocco play fetch at Berkeley's Cesar Chavez Park

Ever wonder how a professional athlete handles the pressure of competition and a grueling 6-month long schedule? For burgeoning NBA star Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors, it’s a walk in the park … the dog park. When Klay isn’t in the gym or on the road, he likes to take his dog Rocco, an English bulldog, to his local off-leash area at Cesar Chavez Park in nearby Berkeley (CA). We’ve seen him there, playing fetch and doing what dog people do … unwinding, taking in some fresh air. “With me, my friends or my family, I can’t help but talk about basketball, so this is my escape,” Thompson is quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle profile.

ESPN analyst and hall-of-fame player Charles Barkley calls the 6 ft 9 Thompson the best NBA player at his position—strong praise. Thompson’s team, the Golden State Warriors, apparently agrees, recently resigning their star shooting guard to a multi-year, $70 million contract. What was Thompson’s response at the post-signing press conference? “We were trying to get the contract signed, and all he wanted to do was go home to his dog,” mused Warrior general manager Bob Myers.

We know the joys firsthand of Cesar Chavez Park OLA, it’s where the idea for The Bark was born. In fact, the 17-acre OLA overlooking the San Francisco Bay was founded by Bark co-founder Claudia Kawczynska in 2000. One of the founding dogs was Claudia’s dog Nellie … named after former Warrior coach Don Nelson. A bit of history we think Klay Thompson would appreciate.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Dog Circovirus
A Virus Worth Watching

It’s not new, but a member of the circovirus family, usually linked to diseases in pigs and some birds, is now showing up in dogs. Research data from the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that this emerging virus, either alone or as a co-infection, may be a contributing factor in canine illness in California.

Data collection is underway in multiple regions of the country to determine if exposure to circovirus is common and widespread. Dog-to-human infection has not been documented.

“We know from looking at dog samples that were stored in our archives that canine circovirus has been around for at least five years,” said Patricia Pesavento, DVM. PhD, associate professor, Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “We are seeing it in dogs now because we are looking for it, and we have the tools to diagnose it now. The canine virus is not a modified strain of porcine circovirus, but is a completely different virus from the same virus family.” The good news is that circovirus does not always result in illness, being found in the stool of 14 of 204 healthy dogs screened.

“From what we know now, circovirus is not a major cause for concern, and the cases we’ve identified post-mortem seem to be isolated,” said Dr. Pesavento.

Among dogs that were sick and had circovirus in their tissues, vomiting and bloody diarrhea were the common symptoms, said Dr Pesavento. “However, diarrhea isn’t necessarily predictable, since two dogs had clinical signs that were limited to the central nervous system, and in those cases blood vessels in the brain were most affected. This reflects the fact that the virus seems to affect the vascular system.”

A symptom as non-specific as diarrhea could come from wide variety of common causes including other infectious agents, ingestion of foreign bodies or toxins, overeating rich treats, and even stress. Dr. Pesavento added that, among infectious agents, parvovirus is very common and can cause vomiting and bloody diarrhea.  

Circovirus is shed in feces, and transmission is presumably fecal-oral transmission. Doggie daycare and boarding facilities, where many dogs are gathered in one area, can be a prime source of infection for many illnesses, although the virus is not confined to boarding facilities.

To reduce the chance of any viral illness and to avoid infecting other dogs, apply the same simple measures that you would in a child attending daycare. Avoid contact with ill animals and contact with other dogs if your dog has symptoms of illness. Clean up your pet’s stool and avoid contact with other pet’s stool whenever possible.

“As you well know, dogs are not very picky about what they put in their mouths,” said Dr. Pesevento. “Monitor dogs carefully if they have ‘dietary indiscretion’ that causes vomiting or diarrhea that is mild and short-lasting. Blood in any vomit should be addressed quickly, said Dr. Pesavento.

Consult your veterinarian to get the correct diagnosis, including any laboratory testing. Prompt treatment, regardless of the cause, gives your dog a better chance of quick recovery and avoids infecting other animals.

“There is no circovirus-specific treatment, said Dr. Pesavento. “As with most viral infections, your veterinarian can treat symptoms with supportive fluid therapy or antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections.”

A healthy pet is more likely to have a fully functional immune system to fight infections, so good preventive care is also important.

More than anyone, you know when your dog is not behaving normally. Prompt veterinary treatment can be critical to a good outcome, so address all illnesses early for the overall health of your pet.

 

 

 

 

 

Wellness: Healthy Living
Sleeps with Dogs

A snoring spouse, sirens and glowing electronic screens can all make it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Research from the Mayo Clinic finds that pets can be part of the problem, too.

Patients at the Mayo Center for Sleep Medicine were asked about causes of interrupted sleep in 2002, and only 1 percent mentioned their pets as an issue, though 22 percent had pets sharing their beds. When patients were asked similar questions in 2013, 10 percent reported that their pets disturbed their sleep.

Dr. Lois Krahn, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, says, “Dogs disturbed sleep by wanting to sleep in a particular place on the bed (where the sleeper would prefer to place their feet, under the covers, on the pillow), needing attention and creating sounds [such as] whimpering during dreaming.”

One benefit of having a dog is having a warm body to snuggle up with at the end of a long day. But sometimes, what you love gets in the way of what you need. In a 2009 survey done by Kansas State University, Dr. Kate Stenske found that more than half of dog owners allow their dogs to sleep in their beds.

How can you reconcile your need for solid sleep with the comfort of your canine companion?

First, take an honest look at how well you sleep. Do you fall asleep quickly, or do you spend a long time tossing and turning? Are you up in the night, for your own needs or to take care of something else? In the morning, are you energized or do you rely on coffee to get going?

If your dog is getting in the way of your falling or staying asleep, it’s time to make some changes. Try moving her from your bed to her own bed in the same room; create a comfortable space near you but on the floor. This is a hard habit to break, so plan to work on it. You’ll have to keep moving her back to her bed when she climbs up with you, but be patient and offer lots of praise.

What about doggie sleep sounds? If you don’t want to use earplugs, try white noise from a fan or other appliance with a constant humming sound.

Once you take back your sleeping space, you may realize that the dog wasn’t the problem. Dr. J. Todd Arnedt of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Michigan has tips for what he calls good “sleep hygiene.”

• Avoid evening exercise.
• Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and comfortable: reduce external light sources, turn off the TV and find your best sleeping temperature.
• No caffeine after mid-afternoon, and no alcohol in the evening.
• Make the bedroom a place for intimacy and sleep only; leave work outside.
• Establish an evening wind-down time. Lower the lights, do quiet activities, have a light carbohydrate snack.

If you make these changes and insomnia is still stalking you, it’s time to talk to a professional for more in-depth study.

Most dog owners can continue to enjoy the comfort and companionship of their furriest family member through the night. But if sleep is evasive, you may want to take a closer look at what’s keeping you up at night.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Teach Senior Dogs New Tricks to Stay Healthy
Tuning in to your senior’s needs.

There’s something disconcerting about being middle-aged and watching my once-agile dog leap ahead of me into old age. No, not leap—she’s too creaky for that, stiff and slow almost overnight, it seems. She’s suddenly terrified of the kinds of storms she once danced through; she spurns a morning walk to go back to bed, circling awkwardly in an effort to get comfortable. Once down, she’ll lie there for hours on end, chin over the edge like Snoopy at his most dejected.

She’s depressed about getting old, I decide—never dreaming that it’s I who haven’t made the necessary accommodations.

“A lot of old dogs get what I call the ‘shrinking world’ syndrome,” says certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Lore Haug. “Their owners get in a rut with them; they start walking the dog less” (gulp) “and they don’t train the dog or teach him tricks. The dog doesn’t get as much stimulation and enrichment—maybe they stop taking the dog to the dog park—and there’s a significant decline in mental and physical challenges.” Stung, I mention Sophie’s arthritis. “So maybe she can swim. Or the walks are shorter. Or maybe you just take her into a wooded park, lie down on a blanket and let her look around and sniff.”

It’s the slowing we have trouble with; we expect our dogs to be the same forever. Instead, their senses of sight and smell grow less acute, their joints stiffen, or their legs may splay like Bambi’s on slick hardwood floors. Some develop a canine equivalent of Alzheimer’s: “It’s called cognitive dysfunction syndrome,” Haug explains, “and it shows up with dementia, changes in their sleep-wake cycles—they might pace all night and sleep all day—vocalizing at night, forgetting their training. You say ‘Sit’ and they stare at you blankly.”

Other dogs develop anxiety disorders for the first time, anything from separation anxiety to storm phobias or nocturnal panic attacks. “The dog may be less social, not coming to greet you, or might get clingier with increased anxiety,” Haug says. “Sometimes they’re just disoriented; they go to the back door but poke their nose at the hinge side. Sometimes we see aggression and irritability. But because anxiety is one of the symptoms, the more you keep the dog stretched mentally, the more you are able to control some of those reactions.”

The wonderful paradox is that by working within your dog’s new limits, you can lessen the change in her responses. Choose games she can still play readily, amusements that don’t stress her, and she’ll be as eager as ever.

“Find new ways to connect with your dog,” Haug urges. “Teaching a trick is not only good for the dog’s brain, but it’s a fun, low-pressure way to do something that doesn’t require a lot of physical strength. The trick doesn’t need to be a backflip. They can bow, cover their eyes with their paws, flick their ears…” Grooming is another way to connect; so is hanging out on the porch or at the park.

It’s not just the dog who needs to learn new tricks—we do too.

Easing Their Way
Start by accommodating your dog’s physical changes: Put down carpet runners, plug in a night-light, buy a memory-foam dog bed or steps or a ramp up to your bed. Luckily, dogs are so firmly entrenched as family members that manufacturers have responded with a variety of products that improve seniors’ quality of life: There are thermoregulating cooling pads for dogs who don’t handle heat well and heated beds for dogs with arthritis (there’s a reason old dogs are always sleeping by the fire in those chilly English country houses).

“Older dogs need softer toys,” notes Catherine Frost, brand and product champion for Planet Dog. Her whitemuzzled black Lab, Ollie, is the model for Planet Dog’s line of Old Soul toys, which are made from a compound that’s gentle on dogs with older jaws, sensitive teeth, reduced “snout strength”and weakened muscles and joints. Similarly, Senior Kongs are constructed with softer rubber.

“Their olfactory sense has probably diminished, so stronger scents are good,” Frost adds, “and high-contrast colors are important so they can see the toy clearly. But the notion that they don’t want to play anymore? That’s not true at all! To be able to lie down and just chew helps them relax and keeps them from being bored. You can’t ever assume that your dog doesn’t want to play.”

Even for dogs at their healthiest, transportation can be tough, and older dogs often don’t hop into a back seat the way they used to. Haug suggests creating a surface that “provides stable footing but is not so firm that when the dog lies down, he’s uncomfortable.” For big cars and vans, there are ramps and steps; take breed and body shape into account when making your selection, however. If you have a Dachshund, you don’t want the short, steep steps, which are popular because they take up less space. Make sure the steps’ treads are deep enough for sure footing and wide enough to forgive a misstep.

It’s also a kindness to soften distractions such as sudden loud noises, and to avoid abrupt changes in routine. Older dogs can be more easily startled; as they’re less able to maneuver or defend themselves, they feel more fragile and grow more fearful, reluctant to play with new dogs or children, distressed by chaos and commotion. (Dr. Debra Horowitz, a veterinary behaviorist, notes that dogs’ neurotransmitter functions change with age—oxygen levels go down and brain chemistry is altered.)

Sometimes, the startle or anxiety is just because the dog can’t see or hear as well as he once did. Cataracts can start to form as early as age seven, for example. But overall, sensory declines are rarely as traumatic for dogs as they are for us egoridden humans; often the changes are so gradual that the dog adapts, and you might not even realize he’s blind or deaf, especially if you have other dogs and he’s following their lead. Susan McCullough, author of Senior Dogs for Dummies, says, “If you sense your dog’s hearing is going bad and he or she doesn’t already know hand signals, teach them now. If your dog is blind, now is not the time to change the furniture. Dogs are amazing, though, in their ability to compensate. I had a dog who still responded to vibrations, so I’d clap my hands and she’d come to me. Creativity goes a long way.”

Food for senior dogs isn’t as complicated as the marketers make it, according to Dr. Donna Raditic, a vet certified in alternative therapies and currently a post-grad resident in nutrition at the University of Tennessee. “Older dogs can eat the adult diets. The development of geriatric diets is a bit of marketing, plus some old beliefs that lowering protein levels spares the kidneys. Actually, we now know that older dogs and humans need more protein. The main concern for geriatrics is to watch calories, because they tend to be less active, especially in winter.”

Older dogs should be monitored for dental problems, like bleeding gums or tooth loss. Even bad breath can signal something as simple as tartar buildup or as serious as oral cancer, kidney disease or diabetes mellitus. And when dogs do fall ill, nausea can decrease their appetite. “Often owners think their dogs are being picky—they are not—they don’t feel well!” Raditic exclaims. “It can be very difficult to keep weight and condition on an old dog with a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract.”

Glucosamine and chondroitin are thought to be beneficial for arthritis, and anti-inflammatory pain meds can help, too. How do you know when your dog’s in pain? According to Haug, the signs are pretty obvious. Look for “restlessness, crankiness, irritability when handled, difficulty getting up or lying down, looking stiff, being unstable, moving very slowly. Sometimes, if they move suddenly, their joints scrape together.” She sighs. “The thing that’s underappreciated, even sometimes by veterinarians, is how much these dogs can benefit from pain medication. Some are restless at night, only because they can’t get comfortable.”

Check Your Assumptions
Another thing to remember is that you need to observe your dog closely, scrutinize your own assumptions about aging (some of us think getting old is the end of the world) and act accordingly. “The most crushing thing is this sense—I’m sure it’s not intentional—but it’s almost like the worth of the dog isn’t the same anymore,” Haug says. “People will stop giving heartworm prevention or shots; they say, ‘Oh well, he’s old, we’re just going to feed him until he dies.’” She pauses, then says quietly, “They deserve better than that.”

Ted Kerasote, author of the acclaimed memoir Merle’s Door, is a superb athlete; when his dog Merle couldn’t do the ski runs anymore, it broke Kerasote’s heart. Then it made him examine his own impulses. “The first thing to be clear about is whom you’re indulging. Very often, because we want to run or mountain bike, we delude ourselves into thinking, ‘The dog loves this,’ and we push the dog far beyond where he needs to go. The problem is, dogs age much more quickly than we do. Say you get a dog when you’re 30, you’re now 38 and in fine shape, and the dog is possibly geriatric.”

Kerasote is currently working on a new book, titled Why Dogs Die Young and What We Can Do about It. “Most of the people I’ve spoken with who have really long-lived dogs change their dog’s food periodically, seasonally,” he remarks,“just the way a wild wolf would have different food seasonally, and the way we would.”

The biggest factor of all, though, is real engagement. “We are very self-serving: Many of us live busy urban lives, so we buy a whole passel of toys and leave the dog alone all day,” Kerasote says. “The older the dog gets, and the more he’s been left at home, the more he spirals into this kind of depression. People may need to think about budgeting for a dog walker. Or your dog might even be happier driving to work with you, enjoying the ride, sleeping in the car, going for a few short walks and driving home with you. We tend to think, ‘Oh, that’s just an old dog, he loves just lying around.’ Well, have you given the dog a choice?

“You need to find ways to perk up your dog,” he continues. “I’ve never seen a dog who preferred playing with a toy to two or three friendly peers.” Of course, as the dog gets older, the key is finding other dogs who won’t be rough or over-exuberant. But the results are worth the search.

McCullough has one final reminder: Don’t write everything off to aging. A single imperious diva bark to summon you might not be a sign of reduced mobility or altered brain chemistry; it might just be a single imperious diva bark because it’s fun to summon you. Refusal to eat or mobility issues could be signs of other problems, not age-related at all.

There’s one thing age can’t affect, she emphasizes, and that’s the bond you’ve already forged with your dog. “With a puppy, you’re still building that bond,” McCullough points out. “With an older dog, the history’s been created; all you have to do is celebrate it. Revel in it. And when you’re uncertain what to do, let love be your guide.”

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