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Wellness: Healthy Living
Dogs Can Make Children Healthier
What would we do without dogs
Dogs Can Make Children Healthier

We know dogs make us happy, but as an increasing number of scientific studies are demonstrating, they also make us — and our children — healthier. A 2010 study in the UK found that children who lived with dogs spent 10 minutes more each day engaged in physical activity than did those in dog-free homes; the researchers even tallied up the extra number of steps they took (360, on average). Now, two studies published earlier this year point to some even more salubrious effects of life with dogs, especially for very young children.

One, conducted at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland, concentrated on infants during their first year, and investigated the effect of contact with dogs on the “frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections” during that period. Information about the length of time a dog spent indoors was also gathered, and turned out to be one of the key indicators.

The results were eye-opening. Children with dogs at home were healthier overall, had fewer infectious respiratory problems, fewer ear infections and were less likely to require antibiotics. Researchers considered these results supportive of the theory that children who live with dogs during their early years have better resistance throughout childhood. They also found that the effect was greater if the dog spent fewer than six hours inside, possibly because the longer dogs are outdoors, the more dirt they bring inside with them. The more dirt, the more “bacterial diversity.” This diversity is thought to have a protective influence by helping the child’s immune system to mature — that is, respond more effectively to infectious agents.

A study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, found that living with dogs may prevent children from developing asthma. Mice fed a solution containing dust from homes with dogs developed a resistance to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a childhood airway infectious agent. RSV, which is common in infants, is linked to a higher risk of childhood asthma. According to Dr. Susan Lynch of the study team, “Exposing the gastrointestinal tract to pet dust and other microbes early in life prepares it to respond appropriately to a variety of invaders. But since our modern lifestyles involve living in immaculate houses, our immune systems often overreact instead.” Early childhood is a critical period for developing protection against allergies and asthma, and exposure to pets can help.

All in all, these studies are proving that dogs, especially those dirty ones, are not only important family members, but also make our children healthier. And in that regard, they may also have a positive impact on health care costs. Adopt a dog, heal a child!

Wellness: Recipes
Sophie’s Green Bean Casserole
With Sweet Potato, Thyme, Oats and Bone Marrow
Sophie

When there’s a chill in the air, Kit loves to dig into a warm, satisfying stew. Kit and her sisters can’t think of a more comforting variation than this recipe from The Culinary Canine by Kathryn Levy Feldman. With delicious marrow meat and caramelized veggies, it’s more than a tasty treat. Chef Nick LaCasse makes this extra nutritive with oats, a powerhouse source of protein, fiber, iron and B vitamins for your pup.

Ingredients

  • 4 pieces of 3-inch crosscut
  • marrow bones
  • salt
  • 1 pound fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium sweet potato or yam, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • olive oil
  • honey
  • sprigs of thyme

Directions
Blanch the marrow bones by placing them in a pot, covering them with cold water and bringing to a simmer. Remove from heat. Place the pot in the sink and run cold water over the bones until cooled. With your thumb, push out the marrow from the center of the bones and dice small. Set aside.

Put a slightly salted pot of water on high heat and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add green beans and simmer for about five minutes until very soft (or slightly less if your pooch likes a little more crunch). Set aside.

Place the sweet potato or yam pieces in the same water and simmer until tender but not mushy.

Place the pieces on a rack to airdry for about 10 minutes. When dried, put the pieces on a baking sheet, sprinkle with oats, drizzle with a little bit of honey, olive oil and add some thyme sprigs. Roast for about 25 minutes until the potato or yam starts to caramelize around the edges. Remove the thyme sprigs and set aside.

To serve, place a few spoonfuls of the oat/sweet potato (or yam) mixture on a plate and top with green beans and diced marrow. To garnish, pinch thyme leaves from the sprigs; they will be dried and fall from the stems easily.

This is enough for two to four meals, depending on the size and appetite of your dog.

 

Wellness: Healthy Living
Should you buy pet insurance?
Risk Management
Photograph: Steph Fitzsimmons

A year ago, one of patty Glynn’s three dogs, a five-year-old Chinese Crested named Merry, became ill and very nearly died. It turned out that she had inflammatory bowel disease and required transfusions, among other care. Blood work, emergency vet-hospital treatment and after-care expenses brought the total close to $5,000; luckily for Merry, Glynn and her husband, Stew Tolnay, were able to handle the bills.

However, that experience convinced Glynn that it was time to buy pet insurance for all three of their dogs. When she checked into it, she discovered that approximately 10 companies now offer pet insurance in the United States.

By asking friends and doing her own research, she eventually decided which was best for her situation. Of course, Merry’s earlier condition was considered preexisting and excluded from coverage. Still, the insurance allows Glynn and Tolnay to rest easier, knowing that if their pets develop a serious medical problem in the future, some of the costs will be covered.

By the Numbers
According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2011–2012 National Pet Owners Survey, in the U.S., about 78 million dogs and 86 million cats live with us. On average, dog owners spend $248 and cat owners, $219 per year on routine vet visits.

But what about the unexpected, like Merry’s illness, or the puppy who swallows a sock? Plus, specialty veterinary care is now available — ophthalmologists, oncologists, neurologists — which means that the costs of care are steadily increasing. Even the average cost of a typical corrective surgical procedure, for dogs in this case, are enough to give one pause: gastric torsion (bloat), $1,955; foreign-body ingestion (small intestine), $1,629; pin in broken limb, $1,000; cataract (senior dog), $1,244.

You’d think that, faced with these numbers, everyone who has pets would also have pet insurance. Yet less than 1 percent do. Should you buy pet insurance to cover your pet, and your bank account? Unfortunately, like many things in life, there’s no clear yes-or-no answer.

Some are fortunate in that they have the resources, or the willingness, to go into debt for their pet’s care if necessary; they are, in effect, opting for self-insurance. Others, perhaps without extra resources or who just want to sleep better at night, like Glynn, prefer paying a monthly insurance premium of anywhere between $20 and $60 (depending on the age of the animal and the coverage) in the hope that it will cover expensive vet bills down the road.

Like all insurance, pet insurance is, at its most basic, a gamble. We pay the premiums hoping we’ll never need to use the coverage. If we do, our gamble has, unfortunately, paid off.

Before You Buy
Pet insurance is a relatively new industry in the U.S. Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) offered the first policy in 1982. Today, many companies offer policies, which is good, but it also makes choosing the best policy for you and your pet more complicated.

Before you sign on the dotted line and write that first check, do your due diligence.

Read the policy very, very carefully.
Most of the complaints I read on various websites seemed to stem from the fact that the pet owner didn’t fully understand what was and wasn’t covered, and so was shocked when a claim was denied. Each insurance company offers a slightly different product, and you can’t assume that one policy is like another. Read them! If you don’t understand the terms, it’s worth the cost of a half-hour consultation with an attorney to make sure you do.

Understand co-pays, deductibles and caps.
Co-pays and deductibles are the amounts the policy requires you pay out-of-pocket for each claim. For example — keeping in mind that each insurance company has its own definitions for these terms — you submit a claim for a $500 ER visit that we’ll assume is covered. You have a per-incident deductible of $250. Your insurance covers 80 percent, so your co-pay is 20 percent. The insurance company will make the following calculation: (Claim x insurer’s copay)– deductible = insurance payment. So, altogether, you’ll pay $400 rather than $500 for that visit: ($500 x 80%) - $250 = $150; $250 + 150 = $400. Then, to complicate things, policies have caps. According to Adam Karp, an attorney specializing in animal law who agreed to analyze three sample pet insurance policies for me, those purchasing pet insurance “must be aware of the multiple-benefit caps, as an animal may reach one cap before another and lose out on further payouts. Generally, there are three caps in play at any one time: lifetime, period and per incident.”

  • The lifetime cap is the maximum amount the insurer will pay for the life of the insured pet. “Once reached, you may as well scrap the policy,” says Karp.
  • The period cap is the limit the policy will pay for that animal within a specified time frame, such as a year. Karp warns, however, that “because insurers can decide not to renew the policy for any reason before the end of the policy term, this makes the lifetime cap illusory”; after hitting one or perhaps two period caps, the insurance company may simply decline to renew that pet’s policy.
  • The per-incident cap limits how much the policy will pay for each “incident.” When reviewing policy terms, pay close attention to how this term is defined. As Karp notes, insurers tend to pool or stack conditions into one incident, which limits their exposure. Make sure your vet’s billing statements are very clear regarding what the various tests and procedures are for when you submit claims.
  • Know the policy’s exclusions.
    The list of conditions and treatments not covered by individual policies is specific to each policy and each company, and too varied to consider in this article. Again, another reason to read policies carefully, with your pet’s particular needs in mind. Be aware that some policies have breed-specific exclusions, and according to Karp’s analysis, few, if any, cover dysplasia and ligament-tear repairs. In some cases, you must purchase additional coverage for cancer and other conditions.

    Following are some of the terms included in policy exclusions that you should understand thoroughly before you purchase.

    • Congenital condition: A discoverable condition that the pet was born with. These occur in every breed, often from inbreeding, or can be caused by mutation. Examples include limb deformity, cleft palate and deafness.
    • Hereditary condition: An inherited condition that may or may not be obvious at birth. Indeed, in some cases, it may not manifest itself until the pet is elderly. Common examples include hip or elbow dysplasia, certain eye conditions, and OCD (osteochondritis dissecans), an abnormality in bone development often seen in large dogs.
    • Developmental condition: A condition resulting from a failure to develop normally in some way early in life. These are usually structural — for example, a kinked tail, cleft palate or a heart anomaly — caused by trauma, malpositioning, infectious agents (virus, bacteria, parasite) or reaction to drugs or toxins while developing in the womb.

    (Note that some conditions fall into two categories. For example, cleft palate can be congenital or developmental. Deafness can be considered a hereditary congenital condition.)

    According to Karp, in all policies, unless an additional rider is purchased, “congenital conditions are deemed preexisting and not covered. Some policies bar hereditary and developmental conditions as well, unless additional coverage is purchased.” Karp notes that a policy he recently reviewed was one of the few to define a “chronic condition” to mean “not curable.”

    “Thus, even if the condition went into remission for a year, if the initial onset preceded the effective date of the policy, it will be deemed an incurable and preexisting condition,” he says.

    Make sure your current vet qualifies under the terms of the plan you choose.
    Some insurers define a primary vet as one who is licensed and is also a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). As an aside, vets don’t have to join the AVMA in order to practice; it’s voluntary. Some choose to join the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) instead, yet under such a policy, if your vet chose HSVMA over AVMA, her services wouldn’t be covered.

    “Another concern,” says Karp, “is that [few] policies cover experimental, investigative or non-generally accepted procedures, as determined by the veterinary medical community.” That is the sort of language lawyers love. Does it mean the AVMA? The HSVMA? Or some other more vague, local medical community?

    Have a headache yet? Believe me, this is just the tip of the insurance-lingo iceberg. It’s complicated, confusing and a little terrifying, because the financial investment you make when you purchase insurance is significant and you want to be sure it pays what you hope and need it to pay. Each company’s policy includes numerous terms, conditions and exclusions, as well as dispute- resolution provisions. You need to understand them all.

    Rolling the Dice
    So what are you really insuring against when you purchase a policy? The short answer: anything that would cause you financial hardship and make you ask yourself if you can afford the care your pet needs. None of us wants to be in the position of making an important decision about our dog’s care based solely on cost.

    Here’s an illustration that makes this issue very real.

    In 2002, Dana Mongillo, dog trainer and owner of Fuzzy Buddy’s Dog Daycare in Seattle, Wash., purchased pet insurance with a cancer rider for Mango, her healthy young Boxer. It initially cost her $20 a month. Over the next few years, Mango remained healthy and no claims were made on the policy. Then, the premium increased to about $50 a month. “Paying $600 a year for nothing is a little indulgent,” says Mongillo, “and I remained on the verge of canceling the policy for months. But then a vet visit for a slight limp ended up with the worst diagnosis possible: Mango had cancer.” The diagnosis came in 2008. Mango received treatment and care for two years before he finally succumbed in 2010, at age eleven. “While I helped Mango through the final weeks of his life, the insurance was suddenly very wonderful,” says Mongillo. “Every time I got a quote for treatment options, I knew the final amount I would pay would be less. That made it easier for me to consent to treatments that might help Mango, or at least help us find out the extent of the problem. In the last six weeks, he had a whirlwind of vet appointments, two sets of X-rays, an MRI and weekly acupuncture. Insurance removed the huge burden of the financial, leaving me able to focus on what was best for Mango and not what was best for my wallet.”

    Here’s the tally for Mango’s insurance and vet expenses: Total premiums paid (2/2002–3/2010): $3,098. Total vet bills paid (3/2008–4/2010): $4,802. Total amount not covered (3/2008– 4/2010): $2,705.

    For Mongillo, it was worth every penny, and she would do it again. She recognizes that in her case the insurance gamble paid off and Mango received the level of care she wanted him to have. Had he not developed cancer, she would have paid for insurance that she never used, but insists she would have been happy to “lose” that particular bet.

    DIYing It
    There are at least two other options to consider. The first is self-insuring. Set up a savings account for your pet and deposit in it the amount equal to what you would pay as a premium, then use it only for extraordinary care. This works best if you’re disciplined and if your pet doesn’t require expensive care early in his life. Better yet, start out with a large initial deposit and add to it each month.

    The second is CareCredit. This is a line of credit specifically for use at participating veterinary clinics. Stacy Steele, DVM, of Ocean Shores, Wash. (profiled in “World Vets” in the Sept/Oct 2011 issue) recommends this to her clients, almost none of whom have pet insurance. Like a credit card, this line of credit can be used for routine care and/or extraordinary care. There are no up-front costs and you select the monthly payment option you can handle. Depending on the amount put on the card, you can take from six to 60 months to pay off the balance (check the annual percentage rate before you sign up).

    The bottom line: choose the option that will allow you to sleep well, knowing that if your beloved companion requires expensive diagnostics, treatment and care, you have the resources available to pay for them. If you choose pet insurance, read every word of the policy very carefully and understand what the terms mean before you purchase. Then, go have fun with your pup!

    News: Guest Posts
    Guide Dog Makes a Good Fitness Partner

    Without being able to drive, I’ve always thought that blind people and our guide dogs—especially those of us who live in big cities—must walk more than the average person-and-dog team does.

    A new wellness program at my workplace gave me a chance to prove it. I work part time at Easter Seals Headquarters in downtown Chicago, and in June they started a six-week “Walk For U, Go The Extra Mile” challenge. Every employee received a free pedometer to keep track of our progress for six weeks, and those of us who met the daily goal of 7,000 steps per day—a distance of 3.5 miles—throughout the entire six weeks would be entered into a drawing to win a six-month fitness club membership.

    The human resources department realized I wouldn’t be able to read the number of steps I’d taken each day on my own, so they ordered a special talking pedometer for me—it said my results out loud. And so, I was on my way to prove my theory.

    The list of requirements for people applying to train with a Seeing Eye dog says candidates need to be able to walk one or two miles a day. When you live in a city you can’t simply open a sliding glass patio door to let your guide dog out. When my Seeing Eye dog Whitney (a two-year-old Golden Retriever/Labrador Retriever cross) needs to “empty,” I take her down the street, around the corner and to her favorite tree. That’s 1,000 steps per trip, and that trip takes place at least four times a day. And for the rest of the day, well, running errands in a city is like using one big treadmill. Add the safety shortcuts Whitney and I take across busy city streets (rather than deal with traffic, we go down the subway stairs on one side of busy streets, traverse underneath,  then come up the stairs on the other side) well, every El station is a StairMaster.The first two weeks of our experiment included one week of 100-degree temperatures in Chicago. We stayed inside with our air conditioner on more than usual, but hey, a girls gotta go. Even in that hot weather Whitney and I averaged 9,871 steps a day, and our steps per day increased when temperatures cooled down the next week.

    Just when I’d started planning which new equipment Whitney and I would try out when we won the free health club membership grand prize from the Go The Extra Mile challenge, I pressed the button to hear the number of steps I’d taken so far that day, and, nothing. My talking pedometer stopped talking. I shook the thing and pressed the button. Nothing. I turned it upside-down and rightside-up again. Nothing. I stuck it in a bag of rice for a day. Nothing.

    And so, what happened with the challenge? Well, human resources offered to buy me a new talking pedometer, but I told them not to bother. I have a new theory now: blind people and our guide dogs—especially those of us who live in big cities—walk so many steps that a talking pedometer can’t keep up with us.

     

     

    Wellness: Healthy Living
    Challenges and Rewards of Living With a Deaf Dog

    There’s a brief moment in Mike Nichols’ iconic 1967 movie, The Graduate, that helps me imagine what life is like for my 15-year-old Corgi, Edgar, who has lost most of his hearing. Early in the film, Benjamin Braddock, the eponymous graduate, enters a pool party given by his parents in his honor, wearing full SCUBA gear. Wellmeaning faces from his past float up in succession, each one with advice about what he should do with his life, but, while he can see their mouths moving and read their facial expressions, all he can hear inside the diving mask is the sound of his own breathing.

    Every now and then, I look Edgar straight in the eye and say, as helpfully as I possibly can, “Plastics.” That is the advice given to Benjamin by the soonto- be-cuckolded Mr. Robinson about a possible career path. No one ever laughs at my jokes, so Edgar’s blank look is not new, but it makes me feel as though I am still communicating with him even though he cannot hear.

    It might seem petty to worry about a little deafness when Edgar is in otherwise perfect health. But I realized that his deafness was a barrier to our bond, and that I felt as estranged from him as he undoubtedly did from me. He had never come when he was called, so that was nothing new. But suddenly he looked away when I said the various trigger words — “Let’s go for a walk,” “Do you want a treat?” “Do you want to ride in the car?” — that used to cause him to cock his head from side to side in a manner that made it clear we were communicating. Suddenly, he was silent during birthday parties, when in the past, his exuberant baritone rang out above all the other voices during the Happy Birthday song.

    Dogs’ hearing mechanism is basically the same as that of humans, and they experience hearing loss for many of the same reasons: they can be congenitally deaf (deaf since birth), or they can acquire deafness due to having dirt, wax, ear mites or other foreign bodies in the ear; an infection or inflammation of the ear canal; trauma to the head; noise trauma; exposure to certain antibiotics or other drugs; or old age. I do not know when or why Edgar lost his hearing; part of it was undoubtedly just normal aging process. But he also had an ongoing skin infection that extended into his ears, which I treated with antibiotics, either of which can cause hearing loss. His hearing seemed to have deteriorated overnight, but most likely, it was a gradual process that I didn’t notice until he exhibited some of the more obvious symptoms: pacing around looking for his people, suffering obvious distress at being left alone, exhibiting a pronounced startle response at being touched while he was asleep.

    “In hearing, as in most other things, dogs are very adaptive and good at compensating,” says Colette Williams of the University of California, Davis, Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Williams has been an electro- diagnostician at UCD for 29 years. Among many other tests that she conducts, she assesses animals for hearing loss using brainstem auditory evoked response (BAER) technology. Many seeking her expertise are breeders, who use BAER to identify congenital deafness in their puppies.

    If a puppy is found to be bilaterally deaf (deaf in both ears), breeders have a difficult decision to make: euthanize that puppy or let it go as a pet. Those who favor euthanasia point out that many deaf dogs end up in shelters because of the challenges in training them. Also, deaf dogs often get hit by cars, and they can be snappy when they are startled when sleeping, which gives the breed a bad name.

    Colette Williams has tested thousands of dogs and has owned two deaf dogs of her own. One of her dogs, a bilaterally deaf-from-birth Dalmatian, learned hand signals that Williams and her son made up. “The key was consistency, and rewarding him with treats,” she says. “I had a hearing dog at the time, and he was harder to train than the deaf dog.” Hearing dogs often aid a deaf dog, Williams points out. They give social cues and can help with training. Williams trained the hearing dog to wake the deaf dog so she didn’t have to worry about the deaf dog biting her young son if he touched the dog while he was sleeping.

    Deaf dogs can be marvelously adaptable and inventive. “Dogs are good at using their other senses,” says Williams. “My deaf dog knew where every cat in the neighborhood was. When we walked, he would scan from side to side, taking in everything.”

    Like Edgar has had to do, Williams’ deaf dog accepted his condition and got on with life. “Dogs don’t have the self-pity that a lot of people have,” she says.

    Seattle-area dog trainer Diane Rich, who has worked with numerous deaf dogs over the past 25 years, points out the importance of developing other modes of communication regardless of whether your dog is deaf or has tip-top hearing. She teaches people to use a combination of body language, hand signals and auditory cues. That way, if the dog loses hearing in old age, he won’t feel quite as isolated. “People want to keep up communication with an older dog,” says Rich. “It takes a lot of patience. You have to learn how to communicate differently, not just verbally.” She also recommends teaching all puppies a “watch” command in addition to the usual commands. Hold some alluring food near the dog’s nose and slowly bring it to your eye level, maintaining eye contact with the dog. Say “Watch” or “Look.” Work on “fading the lure,” and eventually, you’ll be able to just point to your eye and have the dog’s full attention. “Dogs use an array of body language already,” says Rich. “People need to be able to use their own body language to communicate with their dog.”

    While many people teach their dogs American Sign Language, any hand signal will do, as long as you’re consistent. “There’s no ceiling to how many words or signs a dog can learn,” says Rich. “They can learn as long as they have a pulse and you have motivation and patience. If you make training fun, they’re going to love learning, and it’s going to cement your bond.” She points out that it’s not true that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks: sometimes it’s easier to train older dogs because they have longer attention spans.

    Further, she recommends taking a matter-of-fact approach to your deaf dog’s disability. “Dogs aren’t saddled with ego,” she says. “If we pity them, we can create a situation where the dog may either shut down or act out because they think they did something wrong to make us feel bad. If you act like the disability isn’t a big deal, dogs will respond like it’s not a big deal.”

    And so Edgar and I continue together into (in my case) middle age and (in his case) senescence. Taking care of him is a lot of work, but the truth is that I am no bargain either. He is very accepting of the ways in which I am not perfect, and, in turn, I am accepting of his increasing physical limitations. Every day, we practice the hand signals we learned in puppy class 15 years ago, which he still remembers: come, sit, stay, down, good boy. I smile a lot and pat him while giving the “thumbs up” sign when he does something well. I continue to tell him my jokes and he continues to give me a blank look, just like he always has. On every birthday, I bark and howl and yelp when people sing the Happy Birthday song, in honor of the joy his “singing” has given me over the years.

    Though he requires a lot of extra care for all his special needs, it is care I am happy to provide in gratitude for the happiness he has brought me. In short, even though he has lost his hearing, arthritis has slowed him down, he sleeps most of the day and cannot participate fully in all of our old antics, he is still my best friend, and encroaching old age will never change that. Because — as every creaky, long-in-the-tooth, middle-aged woman and failing, deaf, 15-year old dog know — love is blind.

    The BAER Test

    BAER (brainstem auditory evoked response) is a diagnostic test for hearing whereby a dog is fitted with a sound source in the form of earphones with foam inserts that extend into the ear. The device emits a sound and the response is detected by tiny electrodes that have been placed at specific sites on the dog’s head and shoulders. The BAER detects electrical activity in the cochlea of the ear as well as in the auditory pathways of the brain, much like an EKG detects electrical activity in the heart. The resulting waveform definitively shows the extent and degree of a dog’s hearing loss and is used to evaluate a dog’s hearing status. The procedure is painless, but occasionally dogs will object to wearing earphones and being lightly restrained; in extreme cases they are muzzled or sedated, though this is rarely necessary. Results are available on the spot.

    While curious pet owners sometimes seek confirmation of a hunch that their dog is deaf, BAER testing is used routinely by breeders, primarily those whose breeds are susceptible to congenital deafness. Coat-color-related deafness is associated with some white-coated and merle breeds, such as Dalmatians and Australian Shepherds. (To find out which breeds are most affected, see Louisiana State University’s Dr. George M. Strain’s comprehensive list.)

    Inside the ear, the organ of Corti includes a layer of cells, the stria vascularis. The job of these cells is to secrete a factor that keeps hair cells healthy within the ear. If the stria vascularis cells are not pigmented, they are defective and lead to hair cell death within a puppy’s first few weeks, resulting in deafness. Unfortunately, this takes place in the inner ear and is, therefore, not visible to the eye; often, it is not obvious that a puppy is deaf. Deaf puppies may play harder than their littermates (because they cannot hear the yelps they inflict); also they may be hard to wake, or be seen to be following cues from the other puppies. Hunches must be confirmed with BAER testing.

    Those who train working dogs also utilize BAER testing. These dogs need to be able to hear in both ears in order to localize the source of a sound. A dog can be unilaterally deaf (deaf in one ear), so that he can still hear but cannot tell where the sound is coming from. Others whose dogs experience chronic ear infections may seek BAER testing to find out how much hearing loss their dog might have experienced as a result of infection. BAER testing is also used to aid in the diagnosis of more serious medical conditions, such as vestibular (inner ear) disease or brain tumors.

    BAER testing can be done only at one of the centers that specialize in the test. (Click here for a list of BAER testing sites.) However, BAER testing is occasionally available at “health clinics” at major dog shows.

    News: Shea Cox
    Keep your Lawn Free from Urine Spots
    Dilution is the solution to pollution

     It is a common misconception that "acid" in a dog’s urine is what causes the brown spots left behind on our lawns. However, the culprit is actually the high nitrogen content of the urine. Nitrogen is “the waste” in the urine and is the result of protein breakdown through normal body processes. Because a canine diet is very high in protein, there will be high levels of nitrogen, and you’ll be battling blemishes for as long as your pet uses the lawn for its place of business. 

    A repeated vet school mantra was, "dilution is the solution to pollution," and that concept holds equally true in the case of urine scald on our lawns. Therefore, the best way to help prevent brown spots is either by dilution or by addressing the external environment. Besides training your male dogs to pee through the fence onto your neighbor’s lawn (kidding!), here are tips to keep your lawn lush and green:

    The most effective way to prevent grass scald is to the water the area immediately after your dog urinates. If you have easy access to a hose or a rain barrel, give the area a quick dousing.  I also have a tub in my sink that I use to catch excess water when I’m at the sink; instead of letting it go down the drain, I collect it and use it to water my plants. This idea could be used to water the lawn as well, while remaining mindful of the environment.

    Another intervention is the construction of a small graveled, mulched, or artificial turf area in the back or side of your yard. You can train your pet to "go to the back," and with positive reinforcement and praise, they will eventually and automatically head to that area to do their business. You can make this site visually appealing by placing potted hostas, ferns, or other greenery around the perimeter.

    The kind of grass you put in your yard also determines how well it will tolerate dog urine.  Fescue and perennial ryegrass are most resistant, and diluted amounts of urine (hosing down the spot like stated above) can actually act as a fertilizer.  What are the least hardy of grasses? Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda grass are the most sensitive to urine scald.  Another tip: if you fertilize your lawn, use a reduced nitrogen fertilizer.

    Now a word for those over-the-counter medications that are touted to be "lawn-saving supplements." I personally (and strongly) caution against their use.  Nothing you give your pet internally will safely stop urine from damaging grass, and the only appropriate interventions are those that address the environment- not the dog!  The environmental changes discussed above may be more time-consuming work, but it’s a small price to pay if you wish to have both a lush lawn and a healthy pet.

    These medications work by either changing the pH of the urine, or by adding salt to the body. And it should be reiterated: urine burn is a nitrogen problem, not a pH problem. When you use medications that alter the pH of the urine, you run the risk of causing urinary crystals or bladder stones in your pet. Certain types of crystals and stones thrive in the altered pH environment, which will create a much bigger problem than a lawn blemish.  The other “lawn-saving supplements” are actually pills that contain high amounts of salt. This in turn causes your pet to drink more, thereby diluting its urine (dilute the grass, not the dog!).  Giving your pet high amounts of unnecessary salt is not a good option, and this is especially true if your pet has underlying kidney or heart disease.

    Another recommendation I have heard is the use gypsum salts and this is another option I caution against.  Gypsum is calcium sulfate, and this material can cause eye, skin, oral, and respiratory irritation in our pets.

    Since we’ll never be free from pee, I hope these tips have helped, and I’ll see you next week!

     

     

     

     

    News: Guest Posts
    Keeping Dogs Cool

     

    Summer means all sorts of cool things: the beach, more time outside, summer reading, barbeques, vacations. But it also means hot dogs. Dogs of any variety can and will be affected by the rising temperatures and for all the joy and happiness that summer brings to dogs and their humans alike, it can also pose a dangerous health risk to our four-legged friends.

    My own dog, Carlie, just naturally slows down in the summer months, a kind of self-regulating that’s very characteristic of her and many dogs, but I’m still cautious to ensure that she stays cool enough. I’ve soaked a bandana in ice-water and tied it around her neck before we venture out. I’ve rerouted our morning walk to one that is more shaded and I’ve invested in something called a Kool Kollar that’s sort of like a gel ice-pack in the shape of a collar to cool the neck and chest.  But to be sure I’m doing everything I can and also to check that I’m not doing anything I shouldn’t be, I checked in with three dog people in my neighborhood to see what they had to say about dogs in summer.

    Mia Ziering, a veterinarian and founder of NYC House Vet (and Carlie’s vet) advises her patients to be as cautious as their pets in the heat as they would of their children.  Good rules of thumb: never leave pets in sun exposed areas, always make sure they have access to shade and water, and NEVER leave a pet in a closed car in the summer.  Also: limit physical exercise on hot days.

    Anne McCormick, the proprietor of my neighborhood pet supply store, Calling All Pets, advised that dogs should be inside as much as possible during the heat. Early morning walks and late evening once the sun is down only, and if at all possible, AC should be left on for dogs at home. In lieu of that, there are cooling mats, similar to the cooling collar I had that dogs can rest on to bring their body temps down. Anne also offered similar common sense advice to Dr. Ziering’s: do for your pet what you would do for you.

    Armed with all this good advice, I took to the street once more to check in with the dog person who might spend the most time with the most dogs out of anyone: the friendly neighborhood dog walker. It was a particularly hot late June day and I inquired of a dog walker gingerly leading a pack of ten down the shady side of my street. He spoke to me on the condition on anonymity. The verdict: these doggies gotta stay inside.

    Granted, the advice I gathered is from my neighborhood in New York City where the climate (to say nothing of the cement) can be particularly challenging for canines. But wherever you are, please be practical, be safe, be mindful of your dog’s energy level and disposition this summer. And it doesn’t hurt to plan a trip to a wooded place, or keep your eye out for a wading pool or shallow pond.

     

    News: Shea Cox
    It’s Not Always “Just A Walk in the Park”
    The most common dog-park related incidents revealed

     

    The warmer summer weather correlates to an uptick in ER visits, many of which are related to dog park dilemmas. Interestingly, there has been a 34 percent increase in dog park utilization over the past five years, and these designated areas are the fastest growing segment of all city parks in the U.S.

    With this increase in use comes the proportional increase in dog injuries. Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) recently sorted its database of more than 420,000 dogs to determine common dog park-related medical conditions in 2011. Topping off the list are sprains and soft tissue injuries, with lacerations and bite wounds following in second place. My own ER experience supports these statistics, and it wouldn’t be summer in the ER without treating at least a couple of these over the course of a weekend. The remainder of the top list 10 is rounded out as follows: kennel cough, insect bites, head trauma, heat stroke, parasites, and parvovirus.

    Each of these conditions can make a fun day at the park a costly one. The most common conditions on the list, sprains and soft tissue injury, carry the price tag of an average of $213 per pet. Insect bites, turn out to be the least expensive, and run an average of $141 per pet. The most expensive medical condition to care for is heat exhaustion or heat stroke, and the reported average cost is $584 per pet.  However, if the heat stoke is severe, cost of treatment can easily exceed thousands of dollars.

    The majority of medical conditions that occur at the dog park can be avoided by taking necessary precautions, particularly by simply keeping a close eye on your dog at all times. Dog parks have rules just like any other community, and if you follow these tips, it may help prevent an unnecessary trip to your veterinarian or local ER.

    • Obey all posted rules and regulations at the park; I cannot tell you how many times I’ve treated scuffles between dogs at a “leashed park,” where one owner obeyed the rules, and the other had their dog free roaming, leading to trouble.
    • Pay attention to your pet at all times, and just as importantly, pay attention to other pets, too. Be in tune to the body language given off of your dog as well as all interactions between your pet and its playmate of the moment.
    • Do not bring a puppy younger than 4 months of age to the park.
    • Make sure your dog is up to date on all of its vaccines and has a valid pet license; if your dog does happen to get into a fight, and your pet is not properly licensed, another level of predicaments can follow with animal control.
    • Keep an identification collar on your dog and make sure your pet’s microchip information is up to date.
    • On very warm days, avoid the park during peak temperature hours, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
    • Look for signs of overheating that include profuse and rapid panting, a bright red tongue, thick drooling and saliva, lack of coordination, collapse or disorientation. If this occurs, bring your pet into a veterinarian IMMEDIATELY while instituting cooling measures.

    Hopefully these tips will make your next visit a walk in the park!

     

     

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    Toppings
    An extra dose of delicious
    Dog Food Toppings

    A homemade vinaigrette on the salad, fresh herbs over a perfect al dente pasta — these are the flourishes that elevate our experience of eating. Everyone who has watched their dogs dig into a flavorful meal knows that they too are gastronomes to the core.

    Like us, our dogs occasionally enjoy a little something different, and it’s easy to provide those quick hits of tastiness that make a meal just that much better. This is especially true for dogs with diminished interest in eating, whether due to illness, age or simple boredom. By adding toppings, you have a real opportunity not only to brighten your dog’s day with fragrant, fresh tastes, but also to slip in some supplemental nutrition in the process.

    The good news is that you need go no further than your own pantry or the aisles of your local pet-supply or grocery store to discover simple, healthy ways to liven up an otherwise humdrum dinner for your dog.

    Some of you may be saying, Wait! We know dogs have only about one-sixth the number of taste buds we do. Why bother dishing up anything out of the ordinary? Ah-ha. You’ve forgotten another widely known fact: When it comes to smell, dogs have 125 million sensory cells to our 5 to 10 million; they can smell each and every ingredient. Imagine that! And research has shown that they are able to distinguish at least four flavor profiles: sweet, sour and salty, which they tend to like, and bitter, which they do not. (Put down that saltshaker; according to Psychology Today, because dogs’ wild ancestors ate primarily meat, they did not develop salt receptors like those of humans, so what we consider perfectly seasoned is likely to be too salty for them.)

    In this round-up, The Bark shares three different kinds of toppings: On the Go, or easy toppings that will bring a little surprise and variety to their meals. For the Home Cook, which includes ingredients and recipes that take a bit of preparation and Off the Shelf, commercial additions that often include nutritional enrichments. With a few key harmful foods excepted (see box on left), the only real limits to topping your dog’s food with delicious add-ons are her particular needs and tastes, and your imagination. Of course, each dog is different and it’s best to clear dietary changes with your veterinarian.

    On the Go
    Before the pet food industry asserted itself as the mainstay of canine dining, our dogs ate table scraps. On the one hand, this meant a bit more bone and a bit less meat than a dog might need. But it also meant that their diets, in many instances, may have been richer in variety and flavor. Much of your leftover “people food” is perfectly fine to share with your dog (our trainers chime in: but preferably not from the table!). We take the rainbow approach, adding good-for-dogs fruits and veggies in all of nature’s colors.

    Even easier? Drizzle some oil. Few supplements are as popular as salmon or fish oil for the canine mealtime — and for good reason. Fish oil is among the most beneficial additives to the canine diet: it is excellent for the treatment of canine allergies, but is now recommended for everything from arthritis to high cholesterol as well. One convention for calculating the amount of fish oil to include in your dog’s diet is to multiply your dog’s weight (in pounds) by 20. For a 60-pound dog, for example, the daily target dose is 1,200 mg. Another top product is flax seed oil, which is credited with healing, strengthening bones and maintaining dog’s energy. Flax seed and olive oil are both great sources of antioxidants, and key for maintaining canine cardiovascular health.

    For the Home Cook
    Lucy Postins, pet nutritionist and founder of The Honest Kitchen, has come up with a series of dog-jaw-dropping toppers for all occasions, including this super healthy innovation.

    Postins selected these ingredients with a dog’s health in mind. Both cherries and fennel are packed with powerful antioxidants, and fava beans tonify, or maintain the healthy function of, the spleen, liver, kidneys and pancreas. But you don’t need a PhD in animal nutrition to boost your dog’s meals. One more home cooking approach: simply buy a medley of vegetables in bulk (see low-prep list) and oven-roast as many as your dog might eat in four to five days, then store in refrigerator and add at mealtime. A healthy “fast food” your dog will love. You can even just stock up on frozen vegetables — defrost and serve!

    Springtime Topper
    Recipe by Lucy Postins/The Honest Kitchen

    Ingredients
    1/4 cup fresh fennel, finely diced, raw or steamed
    1/4 cup fava beans, lightly cooked
    1 Tbsp. cherries, pitted and diced
    1/2 cup live-culture plain yogurt
    1 cup cooked ground meat such as turkey (optional)

    Preparation
    1. Combine all the ingredients gently with a spoon in a large bowl.
    2. Add a couple of tablespoons of the mix to each of your pet’s usual meals.
    3. Refrigerate any leftovers for two to three days in a covered container.

    News: Shea Cox
    Bone Marrow Mishaps
    When a good chew turns bad to the bone
    Dog with bone stuck around lower jaw

    An uncanny reason for a visit to the ER is when a playful pup manages to get one of those circular marrow bones caught around its lower jaw and canine teeth. I still remember my first patient that found himself in this very predicament; perplexed, I thought, “How is this even possible?” While it looks like a trick that only David Copperfield should be able to pull off, it can actually happen with surprising ease.

    When it comes to marrow mishaps, I have seen the entire breadth of bone bad luck. While some are easily removed with lubrication and gentle manipulation alone, others need to be removed with a cast cutting saw (or other manly tool, depending on the thickness of the bone) while the pet is sedated.  I have also seen dogs that have suffered from fractured canine teeth as well as extensive injury to their lower jaw and tongue. Tissue injury occurs when the circulation of blood is cut off to the skin and/or tongue while it is trapped within the bone. The marrow bone literally turns into a tourniquet with the continued and inevitable swelling of the tissues. Major or minor, any of these situations can be painful, distressing, and potentially very costly, depending on the extent of trauma and demeanor of your pet. 

    Your dog absolutely loves these bones and you love to give them, so what’s a pet parent to do?  Here are a few tips to help prevent any misadventures:

  • Size really does matter. Make sure the size of the marrow bone is suitable for the size of your pet. Have your butcher “custom make” your marrow bones, trimming them into longer pieces, such as 8 inches for larger dogs. Skinnier bones can more easily work themselves around the jaw, and should be avoided.
  • Try a knuckle bone instead. These can offer a similar chewing experience, and because there’s no hole, there is no risk of it slipping around the jaw. However, as with any type of bone, these too, can come with risks. Be sure to take them away while they are still large, which is as soon as the gristle and soft parts of the “knuckle knobs” are gone. This will help to prevent accidental swallowing and choking once it is whittled down to a smaller size.
  • Sensitive stomach? Marrow bones may not be the chew of choice for those pets that get diarrhea or an upset stomach easily.  Marrow is very high in fat, and I have seen them cause these signs, as well as pancreatitis, in pets that are not used to the richness of the marrow fat.
  • Lastly, never leave your dog unattended while he or she is fancying the flavor—it is amazing how fast these accidents happen! And remember, extra aggressive chewers need extra close supervision.
  • As gratifying as these treats can be, one can still find a bone to pick with them because the serious complications happen just as often as the “simple ones.” The marrow of the story: know the risks and let your pet enjoy them only under direct supervision.

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