healthy living
Dog's Life: Home & Garden
Household Pollutants and Dogs
A few sticky points

My pal Joplin is a canine lint trap. Dust and dirt and bits of fluff leap at her from sidewalk and sofa as though her cushy black coat were exerting an irresistible gravitational pull. I don’t mind a little dirt, myself, but Joplin does. She plops herself down to apply that prehensile pink paint roller tongue to all of her coat within reach, and then she licks her little doggy wrists and squeegees her face with them. I hate to see it. All this hygiene might have made sense in pre-industrial days, but dust just ain’t what it used to be.

Environmental health experts learned in the 1980s that house dust can be a significant source of exposure to hazardous pollutants such as lead and pesticides, especially for dogs, cats and human toddlers, mouthy denizens of the indoor dust zone.Now it turns out that relatively new toxic synthetic compounds widely used in consumer products are blowing around in your dust bunnies, too—among them, flame-retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, and stain, water and grease repellants called perfluorochemicals, or PFCs.

These latter chemicals, the PFCs, are better known by their trademarked names—Teflon® and Gore-Tex®, to name two. Flame-retardant PBDEs are more anonymous but equally ubiquitous in the household. They are commonly used in foam cushions, synthetic fabrics, and in the plastic housing of electric and electronic equipment such as coffeemakers and laptops. PBDEs can make up as much as 30 percent by weight of your stereo or television’s plastic housing, according to a 2005 article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Both types of chemicals get into house dust in more or less the same ways. When the television or nonstick pan heats up, the compounds volatilize and then settle on surfaces, and as treated foam and fabrics degrade, flame-retardant and stain-repellant particles crumble into your dust. Not just into your dust but also into your dog, new research shows. Earlier this year, toxicologists at the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.– based nonprofit, collected blood samples from 20 pet dogs and 37 pet cats. The researchers pooled dog samples into one batch and cat samples into another and found high levels of PBDEs and PFCs in both.

What are the health effects of these indoor pollutants? “We’re really just starting to generate data,” says Linda Birnbaum, of the EPA’s Experimental Toxicology Division in Raleigh, N.C., and an expert in indoor exposures to PBDE. “But we know that flame-retardant PBDEs have been linked to developmental, reproductive and neurological defects in lab animals; poor immune function in marine mammals; thyroid and liver tumors in rodents; and low sperm counts and poor sperm quality in humans. One study found an association between high PBDE levels in women and undescended testicles in their sons.” For their part, stain and grease repellants—PFCs— have been shown to cause tumors at multiple sites in rats and mice and to damage their reproduction, growth and immune systems, Birnbaum says.

Only a few studies have focused specifically on the health impacts of synthetic chemicals on dogs. One shows a link between applications of the lawn herbicide 2,4-D and bladder cancer in Scotties and several associate formaldehyde emissions from carpeting with seizures and other disorders. But many environmental health and veterinary experts believe that chronic exposure to synthetic industrial pollutants in house dust may be at least partially responsible for skyrocketing cancer rates in dogs these days, and, Birnbaum believes, for the extraordinary rise in feline hyperthyroidism in the last 30 years. “The cat sits on that nice warm TV or sits on the sofa and grooms, grooms, grooms,” Birnbaum says.

Since World War II, the chemical industry has been churning out supremely useful, long-lasting, synthetic chemicals by the tens of thousands—as many as 80,000 compounds, most that could never occur naturally. Manufacturers have put billions of tons of them to use in myriad ways—preventing your mattress or sofa from bursting into flames when you fall asleep with a cigarette; keeping your coffeemaker, television, laptop and stereo from overheating and becoming fire hazards; helping your raincoat shed rain and your upholstery shrug off spills; providing lightweight, unbreakable jugs for your milk and squeezable tubes for your toothpaste; grease-proofing the liners of oily, bagged dog food, and keeping the kibble from turning rancid during the long months it may sit in that bag. The list is endless.

Only a very few of these chemicals are adequately tested for safety before being put into general use. Indeed, the free market system for judging new compounds seems to be “innocent until proven guilty.” Thirty years after they first went into use, PBDEs are finally receiving appropriate scrutiny. The European Union has phased out the use of two of the three commercial mixtures of PBDEs in new products, and limited use of the third formulation. Manufacturers in the U.S. have voluntarily stopped producing those two and use is being phased out nationwide as stocks are used up. Unfortunately, manufacture and use of a third PBDE mixture is still completely unregulated in all states except Washington and Maine. And because sofas and televisions aren’t something one replaces frequently, products containing PBDEs will be sitting around in our houses for many years to come.

The sad truth is that the typical American household is awash in synthetic industrial chemicals—as are you, and as is your dog. It’s enough to make you want to bury your head in the sand. But who knows what’s in sand these days? And pessimism won’t get us far. Better to roll up your sleeves and apply a little elbow grease to the problem.

There’s a lot you can do to reduce your household’s burden of indoor pollutants. As you replace furniture and rugs, choose new ones made of wool, hemp, cotton and other naturally more flame-resistant materials, and check manufacturers’ websites to find out whether these products have been made or treated with flame retardants and stain repellants. Frankly, this won’t always be easy, but it should become increasingly more so as the market for such products develops.

Ditto electronic equipment: Some manufacturers’ websites claim their products don’t use PBDEs; consider these when shopping for electronics.

Here are a few more tips.

•Don’t use pans with non-stick coatings. There’s still a lot of controversy about this, but old-fashioned cast iron is looking better and better.
•Grease-proof linings on dog food bags may be a significant dietary source of PFCs. Look for dog food bagged with untreated aluminum foil liners, if possible.
•Toss those plastic dog dishes, especially the water dish, and replace them with stainless steel.
•Don’t use pesticides, fungicides or herbicides, or use them only sparinglyand after all else has failed.
•Use nontoxic household cleansers and polishes.
•Look up the Maine and Washington state bills phasing out PBDEs and consider working to get similar legislation passed in your state.
•And here’s the depressing finale: vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. While you’re at it, experts recommend, dust once a week with a damp cloth. Less dust equals lower exposure for all household members, no matter how you cut it.


Because this isn’t just about our dogs and cats—it’s about all of us.


Wellness: Food & Nutrition
10 (More) Easy Pieces to Liven Up Your Dog’s Meals
Surprises from the grocery shelf

In part one of this article, we asked the rhetorical question: “If you’re going to feed your dogs ‘people’ food, shouldn’t you feed them something that’s actually good for them?” and answered it with a list of 10 healthy, easily obtainable options straight from the shelves of your local market. As promised, here are 10 more “easy pieces” for your consideration. (Part One can be found here.)
As before, we urge you to keep a few cautions in mind: None of these items by itself constitutes a “complete and balanced” meal. If your dog has health or weight issues, check with your vet before adding any of them to your dog’s food dish. And, as always, start with a small portion and introduce gradually.

1. Carrots
Great dog snack—crunchy, sweet and most dogs really like them. They are loaded with carotenoids, fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin K (needed for blood clotting) as well as potassium. They have magnesium, manganese, most of the B vitamins and phosphorus, which is required for energy production, among other things. Pup Prep: Start out slowly, as too much fiber may produce flatulence. If your pup sticks her nose up at them, try soaking lightly steamed carrots in chicken broth to increase their appeal.
2. Green Beans
A perfect addition to any doggie dinner. Some dogs love them raw, but most prefer them blanched, which makes for easier digestion. An excellent source of Vitamin K and fiber, these veggies also contain Vitamin C, carotenoids, potassium, B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, iron and manganese. Pup Prep: Blanch, don’t boil them to death and lose all those nutrients!

3. Parsley
Not your grandmother’s garnish. Parsley freshens dog breath in addition to providing phytochemicals. It also has Vitamin C, Vitamin K, carotenoids, B vitamins, iron and limonene (an oil that kills bad mouth bacteria). Italian flat leaf parsley has a stronger odor and flavor than the curly leaf variety, but a similar nutritional profile. Pup Prep: Fresh is best; chop it and mix a small amount with food (too much parsley can act as a diuretic).

4. Papaya
Readily available in most markets. This tropical fruit contains papain, an enzyme often used as a meat tenderizer. It assists in the breakdown of proteins and thus is considered a “digestive aid.” Ripe papaya is an excellent source of carotenoids and potent antioxidants, and is also high in Vitamin C, most of the B vitamins, potassium, magnesium and fiber. These nutrients benefit eye health, blood vessel integrity and joint function. Pup Prep: Scoop out a ripe papaya and serve as a snack (remove the seeds; they’re edible, but have a peppery flavor that may be too much for your dog).

5. Pumpkin
Low in calories and high in soluble fiber. Pumpkin makes a nice treat for the pooch with an upset tummy and also helps resolve bouts of diarrhea. It is low in sodium and exceptionally high in carotenoids, potassium and Vitamin C, and has some calcium and B vitamins. It can be used as a fat substitute when making dog treats. Pup Prep: Steam and mash fresh pumpkin, or take the easy way out and used canned pumpkin (organic, if possible). If using canned, read the label carefully to be sure you’re getting 100 percent pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, which has added salts and sugars.

6. Cranberries
An excellent source of Vitamin C, fiber and manganese. Cranberries also contain Vitamin K and phytochemicals thought to inhibit the ability of bad bacteria to stick to and infect the urinary tract. In addition, there may be benefits for blood vessel health and antioxidant protection. Pup Prep: Cranberries are very sour. To offset their tartness, combine them with a sweeter fruit, such as a banana or ripe papaya, for a healthful treat.

7. Sardines
A terrific protein source. Sardines contain appreciable amounts of the amino acid tryptophan as well as Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin B-12 (a hard-to-come-by B vitamin that is essential for cell function). A good source of selenium, calcium and phosphorus as well as Vitamin D, Vitamin B-3 (niacin) and Vitamin A in its preformed state, sardines are a great addition to any doggie diet. Pup Prep: Choose a low-sodium, water-packed variety and mash well, checking for and removing obvious bones, which can lodge in the esophagus or splinter and cause dangerous tears in the gut.

8. Wheat Grass
Also known as pet grass or cat grass. The young grass of the wheat plant (though it doesn’t have the same composition as wheat), it has chlorophyll, fiber, Vitamin E, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and potassium as well as some protein and carotenoids. Wheat grass is also purported to decrease constipation and help with upset stomachs. Pup Prep: Buy or grow a pot of wheat grass and make it available to your dog. Many dogs eat grass, and wheat grass is an improvement over the potentially herbicide-laden, contaminated grass growing along the curb.

9. Turnip Greens
Unfamiliar to many humans and dogs alike. Turnip greens are an excellent source of Vitamin K, Vitamin C, carotenoids, most B vitamins, fiber and manganese. They are also a good source of calcium, copper, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus, and provide a complement of antioxidants. A caveat: Turnip greens are bitter and contain appreciable amounts of oxalates that can bind minerals as well as goitrogens, which may interfere with thyroid function in susceptible individuals. Pup Prep: To minimize these effects and maximize palatability, sauté or blanch. Most recipes call for sautéing, which maintains the greens’ nutritional density and increases the odds that your dog (and you) will eat these healthful veggies.

10. Nutritional Yeast
Grown on mineral-enriched molasses and used as a food supplement. This inactive yeast is high in protein, B vitamins and chromium and several minerals as well. Protein is needed for muscle and cell growth, B vitamins are essential for energy metabolism and enzyme function, and chromium is important for insulin release and action, which allows carbohydrates and other fuels to be taken up by the cells and used or stored. Pup Prep: Don’t overdo it, as too much chromium can be detrimental. Use 1 teaspoon for a small dog, 2 tsp. for a medium dog and 1 tbsp. for a large dog. Mix it with food and introduce it slowly.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Losing Weight Improves Quality of Life
Pounds shed relates to less pain, more energy

Being overweight affects our dogs’ health and longevity, and a recent study has examined the effect it has on quality of life. In a study in Great Britain, where it is estimated that a third of all dogs are obese, researchers investigated the change in quality of life of dogs who have lost weight.

They found that dogs who lose weight had a corresponding increase in their quality of life. They showed greater vitality and experienced less pain. The more weight they lost, the greater the improvement was in these measures of quality of life. Interestingly, those dogs who did not lose weight over the course of the study had lower quality of life scores at the start of the study compared with those dogs who were able to shed some excess pounds.

If you have a dog who has successfully lost weight, what changes did you notice in your dog’s quality of life?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Growing Pet Weight Loss Industry
Companies respond to the canine obesity problem

Human weight loss is a billion dollar industry, covering everything from books to personal training. When I first heard about a local doggy daycare’s canine “fat camp,” I thought it might be taking advantage of our obsession with shedding pounds. Activities at the camp include hikes, walks on a treadmill, doga (canine yoga!), and swimming. The marketing is certainly creative, but the camp is actually reflecting a nationwide epidemic.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, more than half of dogs and cats are considered overweight or obese. It’s a problem that veterinarians are calling the single most preventable health crisis in America.

The pet industry is responding by introducing products like canine treadmills, specially designed toys to increase activity, and dog running leashes.

Last year the makers of Science Diet introduced a line of meals and treats in pre-measured packets. And when Banfield found that veterinarians were hesitant to tell people that their dogs were overweight, the national veterinary chain introduced software to give pets a Body Condition Score.

Obesity can lead to a number of health problems, including diabetes and kidney failure. And research has suggested that a lower calorie diet can lead to a longer lifespan. So why are so many pets overweight?

First, most of us lead a pretty sedentary life these days, which carries over to our pets. Second, it can be hard to feed the right amount of food. I know my dogs would eat all day if they could and it can be hard to resist their cute faces. At my house, we replaced frequent treats with pieces of carrots and other vegetables.

According to Dr. Denise Elliott, a veterinarian and nutritionist at Banfield, the feeding directions on pet food packages can be inflated by as much as 25 percent.

Also, many people don’t know what normal weight looks like for a dog. Purina has a helpful chart on their website, but it’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian.

The pet obesity epidemic is a serious one, but it’s a problem that our pups are counting on us to figure out.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sometimes Only Dogs Bring Comfort
Dogs do what people can’t

“Sometimes only the dogs can make her feel better. They do what I can’t,” a friend of mine confided in me. He was explaining that after a year of marriage, he had learned that when he wife is particularly sad, the dogs have the best hope of easing her pain. Yesterday had been one of those really bad days, and she had spent much of the evening brushing their dogs, lying down with them and crying beside them. My friend was grateful to have the German Shepherd and Malamute in the family.

It’s well known that dogs can do so much that people can’t, with the most common examples usually related to sniffing out land mines or finding lost people. We all know that therapy dogs work miracles, and most of us receive tremendous emotional benefits from our own interactions with dogs. So it should come as no surprise that dogs provide emotional support that’s not just equal to what humans give, but sometimes far better.

Yet my friend doesn’t like most people to know what he just told me—that sometimes only the dogs can make his wife feel better. He worries that people will think he’s not supportive, that their relationship is troubled, and that his wife is strange, even though none of that is true. He told me because he knew I’d understand, which of course I do.

In what situations can your dog make you feel better when nobody else can?

Wellness: Healthy Living
Keeping Your Three-Legged Dog Healthy
Three legs to stand on

A really expensive car can go from zero to 60 in less than six seconds, but that car would have nothing on Harvey, a seven-month-old Mastiff/Husky mix, who went from being an $85 dog to a $2,000 dog in less than four hours. That’s how long it took Harvey to be adopted from the Tacoma Humane Society, perform a cursory inspection of his new home on the fourth floor of an apartment building in Seattle, race out onto the outside terrace to check out the dog house and vault over the surrounding hip wall. Harvey hit an awning, landed on the sidewalk and ended up in the emergency room with a badly broken right rear leg that later had to be amputated. “The vet said they usually try to pin the leg first,” says Lindsey Votava, who had fallen in love with Harvey on Petfinder.com, “but with the extent of Harvey’s injury it would have been like trying to put together a bag of potato chips.”

Votava and her husband, Leif Dalan, were clear that having Harvey’s leg amputated would give him the best chance of recovery. Trying to save the leg would have doubled their vet bill and meant they would have had to immobilize Harvey for up to eight weeks, which would have violated several of the laws of physics. “Harvey walked up the stairs after his surgery,” recalls Votava, and never missed a beat. He maintains a wicked Frisbee schedule at the dog park and does everything a four-legged dog does, except “he can’t scratch his ear.” They give him glucosamine for his joints and try to keep him from overexercising so that he doesn’t injure his remaining limbs. “We have to think for him,” Votava says. “That jumping off the roof was how he is. He’s a totally go, go, go kind of dog.”

It’s not unusual these days for a dog to lose a leg, generally for one of two reasons: they suffer some sort of accident or trauma, like Harvey’s, or they develop bone cancer or other bone disease. The latter is what happened to Bernie, an eight-year-old Rottweiler whose left front leg was amputated in January. Bernie was recovering nicely from surgery to her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) when her guardian, Tom Tilden, noticed she was limping and not bouncing back as quickly as he had expected. An X-ray showed bone cancer. “The first vet we consulted suggested giving her painkillers until the pain got to be too bad and then having her put down,” says Tilden. “We found another doctor.”

Bernie’s situation is completely different from Harvey’s. Harvey is lean and lost a rear leg while he was still a puppy; he was able to adjust immediately. Bernie is a stockier breed and lost a front leg relatively late in her life. “The front leg accounts for approximately 70 percent of the dog’s strength and balance,” says Sheila Wells, a hydrotherapist in Seattle who works with Bernie several times per week. “That is why front-leg amputees often have a more difficult time adjusting to their new state. The rear can follow but the front has to lead.”

Keeping the Tripod Dog Healthy
Wells, who has been operating her canine hydrotherapy studio, Wellsprings, since 1995, has a special fondness for three-legged dogs. When she was a child, her uncle had a Border Collie, Trixie, whose front leg had to be amputated after she got into a jam with a poisonous jellyfish in Sooke Harbour, British Columbia. “My uncle’s veterinarian told me, ‘Swim her,’” says Wells. Wells saw the benefits of this type of therapy, and a career was born. “Trixie lived another 10 years, during which she raced around like the wind.”

Wells says that in her experience, most three-legged dogs are “very highly functioning.” Some dogs do better than others, depending on their size (smaller dogs have an easier time), age and other physical problems. “The biggest challenge a dog faces when it loses a limb,” says Wells, “is that it has to relearn proprioception, which means it needs to get a new idea of where its body is in space and how to balance; it’s like the bubble in a level.” The most important challenge for tripod-dog owners, she says, is to protect the remaining limbs; often people will let the dog overdo it, and that ends up putting undue stress on the dog’s joints, which can lead to injuries and arthritis. She recommends that owners observe the following checklist to keep the three-legged dog healthy for as long as possible:

• Protect remaining limbs
• Put a sock/pad on the “elbow” of the remaining leg (to prevent calluses and pressure sores)
• Keep the dog’s weight down
• Take care of the dog’s skin and pads
• Exercise the dog regularly (walking is good; swimming is best)
• Assist or monitor the dog on stairs
• Monitor the dog’s activity level and don’t let him or her overdo it
• Give glucosamine, fish oils and other anti-inflammatory supplements
• Maintain a good diet and good overall health
• For front leg amputations, use a car seat harness with wide chest bands
• Invest in a “wheelchair,” if necessary, to help with mobility

How Many Tripods Are There?
It would be impossible to determine how many tripod dogs there are in the United States, says Sally Wortman, hospital administrator of Pets Unlimited, a major veterinary hospital and shelter in the San Francisco Bay area, though she estimates they do two to three amputations per month. Pets Unlimited treats approximately 50,000 animals per year. “We take in animals from other shelters, animals that don’t have many other opportunities,” says Wortman.

One of those animals was Wortman’s Clover, a one-and-a-half-year-old Pointer/Border Collie mix who arrived at the shelter with a badly broken right front leg that had to be amputated. “She was up and running the day after surgery,” says Wortman. “She’s a very athletic dog. She keeps up with the Greyhounds at the park. She’s inspiring to everyone who sees her.” Wortman says that she has noticed that people’s acceptance of three-legged dogs is growing. “Before, perhaps, people would have thought it was sad that she was missing a limb. But that has changed. I was recently at the dog park and met a couple whose baby had a paralyzed right arm. They said to me, ‘I wish we could get a three-legged dog so our child could grow up to think it was okay to be missing a limb.’”

“We always try to save the limb first,” says Thomas Mason, director of veterinary services at Pets Unlimited, “though sometimes this is much more expensive and requires more rehabilitation.” An amputation typically costs $1,200, while it may cost up to $3,000 to try to salvage the limb.

Before doing an amputation, a vet must decide if the dog is a good candidate. “We assess the animal’s overall physical condition. If the dog has arthritis in the other legs, for instance, he wouldn’t be such a good candidate. Amputation causes wear and tear on the other joints.” Many times, says Mason, a vet will end up taking off a dog’s entire leg, even if the trauma or the cancer is low down on the “ankle” joint. “Because of the way dogs walk, you end up with a lot of problems if you leave some of the limb. It would just get in the way. Most of the time, amputation is more cosmetically acceptable.”

Martin Kaufmann would like to see a change to this type of practice. Kaufmann, of OrthoPets.com, makes prosthetics and orthotics for both “two-legged and four-legged animals and any variation in the middle.” His goal is “to get the animal world up to speed with what we’re doing with humans.” He began his practice with animals four years ago, after a cousin’s Schnauzer suffered a stroke and lost the function in its right front leg. Kaufmann began studying animal anatomy books and learned that the muscle and bone terminology in dogs is almost exactly what it is in humans. Now, 30 percent of his practice is making artificial limbs and braces for animals, mostly dogs. “When three-legged dogs are brought to me, when they are amputated way up at the joint, there aren’t many options,” he says. Too often he sees animals who had cancer in the “wrist” joint.

“The vets tend to think of it as a useless limb and amputate way up at the top. That makes it almost impossible to build a prosthesis. We need at least one joint in order for the animal to be able to operate” with a prosthetic limb. Kaufmann explains that since this is a new field and he is one of only a few people doing this type of prosthetic work, not many vets know of this option. But he is trying to spread the word. “For limb preservation, it’s important to salvage as much of the limb as possible, or as many joints as possible.” If the limb has already been amputated at the top, he recommends having the dog use a cart to maintain the weight distribution on the leg that’s left. “Compounding forces on the remaining leg can cause arthritis from overuse. If the animal loses the remaining leg, what does it have left?”

Whether a dog loses a leg due to trauma or disease, most often he or she will bounce back and learn to adjust. As Sheila Wells points out, dogs don’t have the same stigma that we would have about losing a limb. “Some don’t ever notice their leg is missing,” she says. “Usually a leg that has been taken off has been painful for a long time and the dog is already used to not using that leg. When they get it removed, their whole demeanor changes because they can run around without being in pain. There’s no reason a three-legged dog has to be disabled.”


Wellness: Healthy Living
The Big Fat Truth About Canine Obesity
Changing our own habits can help our dogs live longer

Obesity in dogs could be considered a perception problem—a human perception problem. While a whopping 34 percent of dogs are overweight, only around 30 to 40 percent of the folks who put the food in the bowl for them know it. Canine obesity can cause or worsen musculoskeletal problems, exercise intolerance, cardiovascular problems and glucose tolerance imbalances. It also weakens the immune system and increases the risks of anesthesia; during certain surgical procedures, it can increase heat sensitivity.


Need more? The worst thing about dogs is that they don’t live long enough. Canine lifespan has been extended by as much as two years when the dogs are kept lean, and that’s the kind of life insurance we can all buy.


Why Are Dogs Fat?

What makes dogs fat? There’s the obvious answer—too many calories, not enough exercise—but that’s an oversimplification. Canine and human lifestyle issues, as well as human psychology, carry most of the blame, although hormone imbalances (see Balancing Act below), reproductive status and genetics play minor roles.


For most overweight dogs, the real culprit is a combination of free-feeding, boredom and not enough playtime. And then there’s the psychological component. No, don’t call the doggie shrink, because it’s not the dog’s psyche; it’s the psyche of the person who’s responsible for leaving a big bowl of dog food available all day and cutting the half-hour walk down to a five-minute backyard potty break.


Furthermore, although dogs of any breed (or mix) can be overweight, research shows that dogs of certain breeds are more prone to being overweight than others, which suggests a genetic component. These breeds include Cocker Spaniels, Labrador and Golden Retrievers, Basset Hounds, Shetland Sheepdogs, and Dachshunds.


Does spaying and neutering make your dog fat? Of course not. But there is a connection between how many calories a dog requires and reproductive status. This doesn’t mean that being altered “makes” your dog fat; it means that spayed and neutered dogs, as well as older dogs, generally require fewer calories and/or more exercise to maintain a healthy weight. As your dog ages, and after altering, you need to be especially aware of weight gain, and act immediately to reduce caloric intake and increase activity levels if necessary.


Healthy Weight Loss

While healthy, permanent weight loss in humans is hard to achieve, it’s much easier with dogs. They don’t eat a container of Ben and Jerry’s after a stressful day, and they rarely hit the drive-through instead of making a healthy dinner. As long as the human in the relationship manages not to overfeed and under-exercise the dog, weight-loss programs for canines are surprisingly successful.


Before getting started, head to the vet and make sure your dog doesn’t have medical issues that might be affected by a weight-loss and exercise program. Than ask your vet to help you calculate a reasonable caloric intake for your dog. Aim for a loss of no more than 1 to 2 percent of body weight per week.


There are a number of ways to determine a starting caloric level for healthy weight loss. Your veterinarian can use formulas known as Maintenance Energy Requirement (MER) or Resting Energy Requirement (RER) to give you a basic caloric level for your dog’s diet. Other practitioners simply restrict food below current levels by a specific percentage. While different methods may result in different figures, these differences aren’t important. Trial and error is required to determine your actual dog’s metabolic requirements, but any of these methods give you a place to start. If your dog doesn’t lose weight, or loses weight too rapidly, that particular caloric level is not right for that dog and should be adjusted up or down as necessary.


Knowing how many calories a given commercial food contains in a serving can be confusing. Sometimes the calories are given per cup, and other times per gram, and sometimes both. A cup of one food might weigh more or less than a cup of another food, so buy a food scale and measure the food by weight, not by volume. Don’t just follow the feeding guidelines on a bag of food, as they are almost always too generous to support weight loss. If feeding a home-prepared diet, simply calculate the calories in the ingredients as you would for your own diet.


In addition, restricting calories too severely—especially for very obese dogs—can backfire, and can also result in nutritional deficiencies that can impair wound-healing and immune function. When it comes to healthy weight loss, patience is a virtue. Loss of more than 2 percent of body weight in a week can lead to the loss of lean muscle instead of fat. Don’t rush things; if your dog has a lot of weight to lose, decrease his or her caloric intake in stages, and realize that most dogs will lose ounces, not pounds, at a time. As long as the scale keeps moving downward, slow is better than fast.


One of the biggest culprits in canine obesity is lack of exercise, and not just because exercise cranks up the metabolism and burns calories. It’s also because our sedentary pets are bored, and eating is one of the things they do to alleviate boredom. If we leave food available to them throughout the day, as is extremely common, they will eat more than if we feed them on a schedule and then pick up any uneaten food after a fixed amount of time. So let go of the convenience of free-feeding, feed your dog two or more small meals a day at regular intervals and make your dog’s life more active and interesting with longer walks and increased playtime.


It’s Up to Us

A study at Ohio State University found that weight-loss programs for dogs were extremely successful as long as the people involved stuck with them. Being lean can add years to your dog’s life, and being obese can cause a myriad of health problems and significant joint pain. Our dogs can’t join a gym or eat better on their own; it’s up to us to make healthy choices on their behalf.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs at Work Lower Stress
New study confirms long held belief

According to a new study “Preliminary investigation of employee's dog presence on stress and organizational perceptions,” having your dog at work lowers stress levels. This may not seem like news to most of us, but this is actually the first study to quantify the effects of bringing a dog to work on stress levels.

The study took place at Replacements, Ltd. over the course of a week, and involved having 20 to 30 dogs at work each day. Throughout the study, people had dogs with them on some days, but not on others.

Researchers found no difference in stress levels at the beginning of the day between people who had their dogs with them, people who left their dogs at home, and people who do not have a dog at all. Later on in the day, however, the stress levels for those people whose dogs were with them went down, while the stress levels of the dogless went up. People’s stress went up on the days that they left their dogs at home, but did decreased on the days their dogs accompanied them to work.

If you are able to bring your dog to work, do these findings mirror your experience?

Culture: DogPatch
Treat Your Nature-Deficit Disorder with Your Dog
Inhaling Vitamin N
Walking with dog

Dogs have been our boon companions for at least 32,000 years—pretty close to forever. They were our first nonhuman pals (domesticated cats came along 23,000 years, and horses 28,000 years, after dogs), hunting partners and all-around nature guides. Joining forces with such a remarkably capable species gave us a leg up on our rivals, sped up the pace of our evolution and today, provides us with a vital connection to the natural world.

As it turns out, we sorely need such a connection. In 2010, the average American spent 28 percent of his or her waking hours involved in some form of electronics-related activity: 26 hours per week online or watching TV, and another 5.8 hours on mobile devices! These digital-age habits contribute to a new malady: nature-deficit disorder.

What is nature-deficit disorder? Richard Louv coined the term and described its characteristics in his groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods, in which he proposed that modern childhood ailments and health problems, including attention and behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, and even obesity, can be attributed to the lack of nature in children’s lives. In his newest book, The Nature Principle, he extends this analysis to adults, and prescribes a number of remedies (in addition to spending less time with our digital tools). One is to increase our dose of Vitamin N — “N” for nature, or the mind/body/nature connection.

From Bark’s point of view, the best way to get a daily dose of Vitamin N is to walk with our dogs in natural settings, where there are trees aplenty. Parks and forests are not only wonderfully calming places, they also have a restorative effect on our immune function. Scientists have discovered that phytoncides, airborne chemicals emitted by plants to protect themselves from bacteria, fungi and insects, contribute to stress reduction in others. These same researchers suggest that time spent in plant-filled environments lowers our pulse rate, blood pressure and concentration of cortisol (which is released in response to stress), among other things. Add that information to studies that have found similarly beneficial effects from the company of dogs, and dogs’ joyful inspiration to be more regular in our nature-walking habits, and we have an easy way to obtain a true V-N high.

Even better, getting out and exploring the natural world gives our co-pilots a chance to exercise their ancestral senses — a reminder of the time when we first started out on our amazing shared journey.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Tick Prevention Developed
Fungus-derived pesticide promises to safely ward off ticks

Ticks drive me crazy. I love hiking with my dogs, but I hate the ticks that come with our fun outings. Fortunately, I don't have a problem in my backyard, but I have many friends who are forced to use chemicals to keep the pesky bugs away from their pets and kids.

So I was excited to learn that scientists in Connecticut have been developing a pesticide that uses a strain of fungus deadly to ticks. Best of all, this natural treatment promises to be safe for pets and beneficial critters, like bees and earthworms.

Synthetic pesticides, which have an 85 to 100 percent success rate, are still more effective than the fungus-based pesticide, which is about 74 percent effective. However, it's great to have an organic option that works well. The product will be commercially available in 2014 under the name Tick-Ex.

Apparently tick research is severely underfunded, so it's great to see safer prevention options developed and brought to market. I really hope that one day we'll have an effective organic alternative to topical tick prevention treatments.

What strategies to you use to keep the ticks from taking over your backyard?