Nancy Kay

Nancy Kay, DVM, Dipl., American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, is a 2009 recipient of AAHA's Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award and author of Speaking for Spot.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Protecting Your Dog Against Foxtails
Dog in Foxtails

Tonight my littlest dog Nellie came in the house sneezing. Any other time of year and I would be unconcerned, but in late spring and early summer an abrupt onset of sneezing after being outdoors is a “foxtail-in-the-nose alarm bell.” I’ll be watching Nellie like a hawk for the rest of the evening. Any crinkling of her nose, ongoing sneezing or bloody nose, and she’ll be my first patient tomorrow morning.

If you are unfamiliar with foxtails, count your blessings! These pesky, bristly plant awns grow in abundance throughout California and are reported in most every state west of the Mississippi. Once the plant heads dry, they become hell-bent on finding their way into dogs’ noses, ears, eyes, mouths and just about every other orifice. They can dive deep into a dog’s nostril or ear canal (beyond sight) in the blink of an eye. And a foxtail camouflaged under a layer of hair can readily burrow through the skin (a favorite hiding place is between toes). Foxtails can wind up virtually anywhere in the body, and associated symptoms vary based on location. For example, a foxtail within the ear canal causes head shaking, under the skin a draining tract, or within the lung, labored breathing and coughing. Not only is the dog’s body incapable of degrading or decomposing foxtails, these plant awns are barbed in such a way that they can only move in a “forward” direction. Unless caught early, they, and the bacteria they carry, either become walled off to form an abscess or migrate through the body causing infection and tissue damage. Once foxtails have moved internally, they become the proverbial needle in a haystack—notoriously difficult to find and remove.

Take the example of Emma Louise, an undeniably adorable Brittany Spaniel mix whose family told me that her favorite pastime is running through fields with her nose to the ground. They described her as a “foxtail magnet,” having accumulated several in her ears and nose over the years. I was asked to help figure out the cause of Emma Louise’s hunched back and straining to urinate. With abdominal ultrasound, I discovered a gigantic abscess tucked up under Emma Louise’s spine, extending into her pelvic canal. Given this girl’s history, I just knew there had to be a foxtail in there somewhere. The question was, would we be able to find it?

As is my medical tradition before launching a foxtail search, I recited a prayer to the “god of foxtails.” I then turned Emma Louise over to one of my surgical colleagues for exploratory surgery. After two hours of nailbiting and a barrage of expletives originating in the O.R., I heard a shout of, “Got it!” The foxtail had been located and removed, and sweet little Emma Louise made a rapid and complete recovery. Not finding the foxtail would have meant a lifetime of antibiotics to treat her foxtail-induced infection.

If you suspect your dog has a foxtail-related issue, contact your veterinarian right away to find out what steps can be taken (at home or in the veterinary hospital) to rid your dog of this unwanted plant material. Whenever possible, avoidance of foxtail exposure is the best and only foolproof prevention. If your dog does have access to foxtails, carefully comb through his or her haircoat—checking ears and toes, too —a couple of times daily to remove any that are embedded and poised to wreak havoc!

News: Guest Posts
Does Hollywood Affect a Dog Breed's Popularity?

A Belgian Malinois named Jagger plays the title role in the recently released movie, Max. As the story goes, the canine character Max has served in Afghanistan, and is returned to the United States after his Marine handler/partner is killed in action. Max, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, becomes part of a coming of age story for the killed Marine’s younger brother.

Max is pegged to be a summer blockbuster, although the reviews I’ve read have been mixed. Regardless of its popularity Max will undoubtedly create an, “I must have a Belgian Malinois phenomenon.” Any time Hollywood unleashes a new dog movie, a “breed du jour” is created. This phenomenon appears to be an ingrained cultural dynamic, no different than other fads gleaned from the movies such as clothing fashions, hairstyles and even baby names.

Scientific evidence

Three researchers from the University of Bristol, the City University of New York, and Western Carolina University recently conducted a study titled, “Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study in Media Influence on Choice.” They looked at 87 movies released between 1927 and 2004, all of which featured dogs. By evaluating American Kennel Club (AKC) registration trends, the researchers confirmed that movies do indeed have a lasting impact on breed popularity, in some cases, for up to ten years.

The duration and intensity of the rise in breed popularity was shown to correlate with the movie’s success, particularly during its opening weekend. The researchers found that the top ten movies were associated with changes in AKC registration trends such that approximately 800,000 more dogs were registered in the ten years after movie release than would have been expected from pre-release trends. Lassie Come Home was associated with a 40 percent increase in Collie registrations during the two years following its release in 1943. The Shaggy Dog, released in 1959, produced a 100-fold increase in Old English Sheepdog registrations.

Concerns within the Belgian Malinois community

In response to the release of Max, Judy Hagen, President of the American Belgian Malinois Club (ABMC) stated, “We are very concerned that the public will see this movie and recognize the intelligence, athleticism and beauty of the Belgian Malinois, but not realize that the dogs currently being featured in movies and television are the result of years of intense training. Living with a Malinois requires a commitment to daily training and exercise. Without this they will find their own activities that will make your life a nightmare of dangerous and destructive behaviors.”

Another ABMC member, Melinda Wichmann stated, “Dedicated Malinois owners joke that Malinois are not just a dog, they’re a lifestyle. Unless you are ready to be a firm leader 24/7/365, Malinois will assume that you are an idiot and that they are in charge.”

The Belgian Malinois rescue community is already bracing for the predicted influx of dogs. Taylor Updike Haywood, Midwest Coordinator for American Belgian Malinois Rescue, reported, “It’s already starting here. People are calling and asking to adopt the Air Jordan of dogs.” It so happens that a movie trailer for Max uses the phrase “Air Jordan of dogs” to describe the breed.

The likely increase in the number of Malinois relinquished to rescue organizations is a valid concern. An impulse purchase of a Malinois without consideration of the breed’s temperament and all that is necessary to successfully train and care for one is bound to produce an unhappy ending. Additionally, unethical breeders taking advantage of the movie-generated demand for Malinois will produce pups without consideration paid to creating good health and temperaments. Yet one more ingredient in a recipe for disaster.

Max and me

I confess to having mixed feelings about seeing Max. I would love to watch it because three of the scenes in this movie were filmed in my very own backyard, DuPont State Recreational Forest. As tempting as this is, there will be no Max for me. I will resist for the following reasons:

  • I’m a major wimp when it comes to seeing animals or young children suffer, even when I know there will be a happy ending.
  • I get tweaked when animal-related things such as their behaviors are inaccurately portrayed in the movies. And, this seems inevitable in Hollywood productions. Don’t even get me started about how veterinarians or scenes of veterinary care are cinematically depicted.
  • Most importantly, I don’t want to contribute to the box office success of Max. The fewer tickets sold, hopefully the fewer impulse purchases of Belgian Malinois.

Impulse adoptions

Purchasing a particular breed of dog based on a reaction to a movie is ill advised. Such an impulse adoption foregoes the important research and preparation necessary to ensure that the dog breed will be a good fit. Think about it, how likely will a Belgian Malinois, the canine king of police and military work, be a suitable pet for the average family?

I encourage you to share this article with the Max moviegoers you know. Together, we can discourage as many of them as possible from thinking they need a Belgian Malinois of their very own.

Of all of the dog movies you’ve seen, which one is your favorite?

News: Guest Posts
Midwest Canine Influenza Outbreak
A New Virus Hits Canines in the United States

If you keep tabs on dog-related news, you’re probably already aware of the recent outbreak of canine influenza in the Midwest. Chicago appears to be at the epicenter of the epidemic.

The first dogs affected by this virus were observed in mid-March of this year. Since then, more than 1,000 known cases have been reported in and around Chicago, and there have even been a few deaths.

New virus within the United States

Until a week ago, the virus responsible for this canine influenza outbreak was thought to be H398, a strain of Influenza A that has been present in the United States for some time. Cornell University (thumbs up to my alma mater) recently reported that scientists there have isolated a brand new influenza virus from affected dogs in the Midwest. This virus, referred to as H3N2, is closely related to strains of influenza affecting dog populations in South Korea and China. H3N2 is now making its debut appearance within the United States. How the virus was introduced here is anyone’s guess.

Dogs living within the United States have no natural protection against H3N2 because their immune systems have never been exposed to it before. For this reason, it will remain highly contagious until canine populations develop immunity, either through natural infection or vaccination.

The contagious stage of canine influenza begins a few days before symptoms arise. In other words, the healthy-appearing pup at the dog park or doggie daycare center may be on the verge of developing viral symptoms. Spread of the disease occurs via respiratory secretions (discharge from nose, mouth, and eyes). Both dogs and cats are susceptible to the H3N2 virus. It is not transmissible to humans.


The symptoms most commonly associated with influenza virus include: high fever, loss of appetite, coughing, nasal discharge, and lethargy. In the best-case scenario, an infected dog may show only mild symptoms or none at all. Worst-case scenario, pneumonia may develop. Pneumonia was the likely cause of death in five dogs who have reportedly succumbed to this disease.


Many infectious bacterial and viral diseases are capable of producing the symptoms described above. Knowing that H3N2 is the culprit requires specialized testing performed on a mouth or nose swab. Cornell reports that the development of a blood test capable of diagnosing this disease is in the works.


Treatment of influenza ideally involves supportive and symptomatic care until the dog’s immune system wins the battle against the virus (requires approximately two weeks for most dogs). Therapy may include supplemental fluids, special diets to entice appetite, anti-inflammatory medications, and cough suppressants. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent secondary bacterial infection.

If evidence of pneumonia is present, much more intensive therapy is indicated and may include hospitalization for intravenous fluids and antibiotics, supplemental oxygen, and 24-hour monitoring by a veterinarian.


At this time, it is not known if the vaccine currently available to prevent H3N8 is also protective against the newer H3N2 strain. There may be some cross over protection, but just how much is uncertain. I suspect that updated information about the effectiveness of the current vaccine and/or development of a new vaccine will be forthcoming in the near future. For now, I recommend discussing use of the current influenza vaccine with your veterinarian.

If you live in or around Chicago, or if you learn that influenza cases are beginning to pop up in your neck of the woods, know that the very best protection involves keeping your dog away from popular, public, canine venues such as dog parks, boarding kennels, grooming parlors, pet stores, and doggie daycare facilities.

Please know that there is no cause for panic. The vast majority of dogs affected by this new strain of influenza fully recover. Talk with your veterinarian about the incidence of canine influenza in your locale to help determine the level of concern for your dogs.

Have you had any experience with canine influenza? If you live in the Midwest, are you taking specific measures to protect your dog?

News: Guest Posts
Time Magazine and Designer Dogs

My last blog post included a bit of ranting about puppy mills and the importance of purchasing puppies responsibly. While it’s unusual for me to rant two weeks in a row I simply can’t resist given what I just viewed in the September 8-15 edition ofTime magazine.

The Time cover states, “The Answers Issue: Everything You Never Knew You Needed to Know.” When I initially glanced at the centerfold’s jazzy appearing infographic titled, “Where Do Designer Dogs Come From?” I winced and my heart raced a bit. Uh oh, would this feature enhance public interest in the “designer hybrids”? Or maybe, just maybe (my hope knows no bounds), the piece would point a disapproving finger at breeders who have jumped on the designer dog bandwagon hoping to cash in on this misguided fad.

My hopes were quickly dashed. The Time piece was seemingly all about enticing the puppy-purchasing public to shell out $2,000 plus for intentionally bred mutts. There’s abundant appeal in the 45 whimsical designer names presented in the article, such as Sharmation (Shar Pei/Dalmatian mix), Schnoodle (Schnauzer/Poodle mix), and Pugalier (Pug/Cavalier King Charles Spaniel mix). A list of popular celebrities and their chosen designer dogs was included. Additionally, the infographic suggested that designer dogs sustain better health than their purebred parents. Good luck finding a veterinarian who agrees with this sentiment.

How I wish I’d been sitting around the editorial table at Time magazine when the designer dog feature was conceived. I would have encouraged running the piece, but with a whole different bent. Readers would have learned that mixed breed dogs (aka, designer dogs) do make wonderful pets, and that they are readily available for adoption from animal shelters, humane societies, and rescue organizations. Getting a puppy from these sources not only saves a life, the adopter will spend a fraction of the amount required to purchase a designer dog from from a private breeder or puppy mill proprietor.

While the exact “design” of a pup adopted from a shelter or rescue organization may not be known, the not knowing always makes for some great conversation. For those with a need to know, simple and relatively inexpensive DNA testing will shed some light on a mutt’s pedigree.

My Time piece on designer dogs would talk about the mindset of reputable/responsible breeders. They do not produce mixed breed dogs. Rather, they focus their time and energy perpetuating the best traits and eliminating the undesirable ones of the breed they love so dearly. Such breeders believe that “designer hybrids” detract from, rather than enhance the breed they fancy.

Time magazine readers would learn that Wally Conron, the original “inventor” of the designer dog, regrets the day he created his first Labradoodle back in the 1980’s. He did so with hopes of accommodating the needs of a married couple. The Lab portion of the mix was intended to assist the wife who had vision problems, while the Poodle portion would deter the husband’s allergies. Mr. Camron has since stated,

I’ve done a lot of damage. I’ve created a lot of problems. Instead of breeding out the problems, they’re breeding them in. For every perfect one, you’re going to find a lot of crazy ones. You can’t walk down the street without seeing a Poodle cross of some sort. I just heard about someone who wanted to cross a Poodle with a Rottweiler. How could anyone do that? Not in my wildest dream did I imagine all of this would happen.

In my article I would share photos of my own designer dogs (how cool would that be in Time magazine!), Nellie  might just be a Cairnrussell (Cairn Terrier/Jack Russell Terrier mix), and Quinn could be a Borderpap (Border Collie/Papillon mix). Ask me next week and I will have changed my mind about who their parents may have been!

Lastly, I would encourage Time readers to recognize the difference between purchasing an inanimate designer item such as a purse versus a living, breathing creature. The less expensive, fully functional non-designer handbag that wasn’t purchased was not in dire need of a home. Not the case for the less expensive, adorable, shelter or rescue puppy that was not adopted.

How do you feel about purposefully bred designer dogs?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

News: Guest Posts
Dogs and Lipomas
Are all fatty tumors benign?

Expanding on the topic of tumors discussed last week, this blog is devoted to lipomas, aka fatty tumors. Of all the benign growths dogs develop as they age, lipomas are one of the most common. They arise from fat (lipid) cells and their favorite sites to set up housekeeping are the subcutaneous tissue (just beneath the skin surface) of axillary regions (armpits) and alongside the chest and abdomen. Every once in awhile lipomas develop internally within the chest or abdominal cavity. Rarely does a dog develop only one lipoma. They tend to grow in multiples and I’ve examined individual dogs with more lipomas than I could count.

Should lipomas be treated in some fashion? In the vast majority of cases, the answer is a definite, “No!” This is based on their benign, slow-growing nature. The only issue most create is purely cosmetic, which the dog could care less about!

There are a few exceptions to the general recommendation to let sleeping lipomas lie. A fatty tumor is deserving of more attention in the following situations:

1. A lipoma is steadily growing in an area where it could ultimately interfere with mobility. The armpit is the classic spot where this happens. The emphasis here is on the phrase, “steadily growing.” Even in one of these critical areas there is no reason to surgically remove a lipoma that remains quiescent with no discernible growth.

2. Sudden growth and/or change in appearance of a fatty tumor (or any mass for that matter) warrant reassessment by a veterinarian to determine the best course of action.

3. Every once in a great while, a fatty tumor turns out to be an infiltrative liposarcoma rather than a lipoma. These are the malignant black sheep of the fatty tumor family. Your veterinarian will be suspicious of an infiltrative liposarcoma if the fine needle aspirate cytology reveals fat cells, yet the tumor feels fixed to underlying tissues. (Lipomas are normally freely moveable.) Liposarcomas should be aggressively surgically removed and/or treated with radiation therapy.

4. Occasionally a lipoma grows to truly mammoth proportions. If ever you’ve looked at a dog and thought, “Wow, there’s a dog attached to that tumor!” chances are you were looking at a lipoma. Such massive tumors have the potential to cause the dog discomfort. They can also outgrow their blood supply, resulting in possible infection and drainage from the mass. The key is to catch on to the mass’s rapid growth so as to surgically remove it before it becomes enormous in size and far more difficult to remove.

How can one prevent canine lipomas from occurring? No one knows. Anecdotally speaking, it is thought that overweight dogs are more predisposed to developing fatty tumors. While I’m not so sure I buy this, I’m certainly in favor of keeping your dog at a healthy body weight.

Does your dog have a lipoma, or two or three?


News: Guest Posts
Great News on the Canine Cancer Front

In honor of November’s National Pet Cancer Awareness Month I would like to share some “hot off the press” wonderfully optimistic news with you. Dr. Nicola Mason from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has been researching a new way to treat osteosarcoma, an aggressive and fatal form of bone cancer that has an affinity for growing within the leg bones of large and giant- breed dogs.

Until now, treatment of osteosarcoma has consisted primarily of amputation (removal) of the affected leg with or without chemotherapy. In spite of such aggressive treatment, inevitably tiny clusters of cancer cells eventually grow into metastatic tumors that ultimately become life-ending. Approximately 60% of dogs die within one year of the diagnosis.

A new approach

Dr. Mason’s innovative approach to treating dogs with osteosarcoma involves “cancer immunotherapy” in which the patient’s own immune system is triggered to target and kill tumor cells. In order to use a dog’s immune system to treat osteosarcoma Dr. Mason devised a vaccine consisting of bacteria that have been modified to express a protein called Her2/neu. This protein is known as a “growth factor receptor” and is found on a variety of different cancer cells, including some canine osteosarcoma cells. You may have heard of Her2/neu before because it is commonly associated with breast cancer cells in women. The concept behind the vaccine is as follows: The bacteria stimulates the dog’s “immune system soldiers” to seek out and destroy the bacteria along with cells that express Her2/neu (osteosarcoma cells).

Outcomes to date

Thus far, Dr. Mason has treated 12 dogs with osteosarcoma following amputation and chemotherapy. The dogs received the vaccine once weekly for three weeks. Side effects of the vaccine were minimal. All that was observed was a mild, brief fever following vaccine administration.

The preliminary results have been immensely encouraging. The first vaccinated dog, Sasha has a survival time of 570 days thus far. Two other dogs vaccinated at the beginning of the study are alive and cancer free more than 500 days post diagnosis. Other dogs who were vaccinated more recently are still doing well. These are truly fantastic results.

What comes next?

Some dogs with osteosarcoma are not good candidates for amputation primarily because of neurological or musculoskeletal issues in their other limbs. Treatment options for these dogs are aimed at reducing the pain associated with the tumor. Dr. Mason plans to begin including some of these nonsurgical candidates in her osteosarcoma vaccine study.

Additionally, Dr. Mason is contemplating learning if what she has developed would be an effective means for prevention of osteosarcoma. Certain breeds (Rottweilers, Irish Wolfhounds, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Doberman Pinschers, and Greyhounds, to name a few) are particularly predisposed to osteosarcoma. It will be fascinating to learn if the osteosarcoma vaccine will effectively prevent this horrific disease in high-risk individuals.

The research results gathered thus far represent a monumental success in cancer treatment and provide significant hope for a disease previously associated with a grim prognosis. Kudos to Dr. Mason for her stunning work! If your dog has osteosarcoma and you are interested in participating in Dr. Mason’s studies, contact her at 215-898-3996 or by e-mail at nmason@vet.upenn.edu.

If you would like to respond publicly, please visit Speaking for Spot. 
Best wishes,
Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog's Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog's Best Health.   There you will also find "Advocacy Aids"- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet's health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog's Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

News: Guest Posts
Veterinarians and Vaccines: A Slow Learning Curve

Am I feeling frustrated and disappointed? You bet I am after reading an article titled, “Vets Slowly Move to 3-Year Vaccine Protocols” in the most recent edition of Veterinary Practice News. According to the article, approximately 60 percent of veterinarians continue to over-vaccinate their adult canine and feline patients by administering “core” vaccinations annually. This in spite of the fact that, for a decade now, it has been public knowledge that these vaccines provide a minimum of three year’s worth of protection.

Current canine and feline guidelines recommend that adult dogs be vaccinated against distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus, and adult cats against panleukopenia virus, herpesvirus and calicivirus no more than once every three years. Bear in mind, these are not rules or regulations (although I wish they were) they are simply guidelines. With the exception of rabies (mandated by state governments) veterinarians can vaccinate as often as they please.

The risks of over-vaccinating
What’s the downside to your pets receiving three-year vaccines once every year? My concerns extend far beyond wasting your money. (Please pause for a moment while I step up on my soapbox!) Vaccinations are so much more than simple shots. They truly qualify as medical procedures because each and every inoculation is associated with potential risks and benefits. While adverse vaccine reactions are infrequent and most are mild, every once in awhile a vaccine reaction becomes life threatening. As with any medical procedure, it is only logical to administer a vaccination if the potential benefits outweigh the risks. Giving a three-year vaccine once a year defies this logic in that the patient is exposed to all the risk of the procedure with absolutely no potential benefit. How in the world does this make sense?!

Why some vets continue to over-vaccinate
According to the Veterinary Practice News article, there are two reasons why approximately half of veterinarians continue to over-vaccinate. First, they believe as I do in the importance of annual health visits for dogs and cats. They also believe that the lure of a vaccine is the only way to convince their clients of the need for a yearly exam, and for good reason. In 2011, the “Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study” documented that many people continue to believe that vaccinations are the only reason to bring their overtly healthy pet in for a veterinary visit.

The second explanation provided for over-vaccinating is that veterinarians don’t want to interrupt the revenue stream derived from annual inoculations. Despicable, in my book!

A possible third explanation is that some veterinarians remain unaware of current vaccination guidelines. If so, they must be living under a rock and begs the question, why would you want such an “outdated” individual caring for your pet’s health?

What you can do
Okay, now that I’ve ranted and raved a wee bit, I invite you to join me on my soapbox! Here are some things you can do to prevent over-vaccination.

- Stand your ground! If your vet insists on administrating core vaccinations to your adult pets every year, share a copy of current canine and feline guidelines. You may need to agree to disagree and/or find yourself a more progressive veterinarian. Remember, you are your pet’s medical advocate and you have the final say so!

- Bring your pets in for a yearly checkup, whether or not vaccinations are due. I cannot overstate the importance of an annual physical examination for pets of all ages. It’s a no brainer that the earlier diseases are detected, the better the outcome. The annual visit also provides a time to talk with your vet about nutrition, behavioral issues, parasite control, and anything else that warrants veterinary advice. Enough people bringing their pets in for annual wellness exams may convince more veterinarians to revise their vaccine protocols in accordance with current guidelines.

- Spread the word by sharing the information in this blog post with your pet loving friends and family members.

To learn more about vaccinations, I encourage you to read “The Vaccination Conundrum” in Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life.

How frequently are your adult pets receiving their core vaccinations?
If you would like to respond publicly, please visit Nancy Kay, DVM

News: Guest Posts
Ten Tips for Winterizing Your Pets

Oh, the weather outside is frightful! Winter weather is rapidly approaching and you’ve likely begun layering your clothing and weatherproofing your car. When organizing for winter, don’t forget to think about your pets. They too are deserving of special treatment this time of year. Here are ten tips for keeping your pets cozy, comfortable, and healthy this winter:

1.  Just as arthritis can be more problematic for us when the temperature drops, so too does this apply to our animals. If your best buddy appears stiff first thing in the morning or is more tentative when navigating stairs or jumping up and down off the furniture, I encourage you to contact your veterinarian. These days, there are so many beneficial treatment options for soothing arthritis discomfort. For your pet’s sake, make the effort to learn more about them.

2.  When the temperature drops, outdoor kitties like to snuggle up against car engines for extra warmth. Be sure to provide plenty of notice before you start up your engine lest a “kitty squatter” sustain serious injury as a result of moving auto parts. Vocalize and tap the hood a few times. Better yet, lift the hood to alert any slumbering guests of your intentions.

3.  Antifreeze is terribly toxic for dogs and cats. Even a few licks of the stuff can cause kidney failure and severe neurological symptoms, usually resulting in death. Unfortunately, most antifreeze products have a sweet flavor making them appealing to dogs. Cats are too discriminating to voluntarily taste the stuff, but should they step in antifreeze, they will ingest enough to be toxic during their grooming process. Please prevent your pets from having any access to antifreeze by checking under your vehicles for leaks and storing antifreeze containers in a safe place.

4.  Wintertime is definitely dress-up time for dogs, when the clothing is functional rather than just adorable. Just like us, many dogs are more comfortable outside when wearing an extra layer. Smaller dogs in particular have difficulty maintaining a normal body temperature when exposed to freezing conditions. If the love of your canine life happens to be an Arctic breed (Malamute, Husky, Samoyed), no need for canine clothing!

5.  Regardless of season, all animals need access to water round-the-clock. If your pet is reliant on an outdoor water bowl, strategize a way to prevent the water from freezing. Water bowl heaters work well. Additionally moving water is more resistant to freezing- consider creating a little “drinking fountain” for your pets.

6.  Sure the weather is cold, but your dogs still need plenty of exercise for their physical as well as their psychological well-being. Besides, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of relaxing by the fire with a content and tired dog at your side! If the weather is truly too inclement for both of you to be outdoors, look for an indoor dog park or consider doggie day care, assuming your dog enjoys such venues.

7.  I’m all for hiking with dogs off leash, but in winter be extra cautious around ponds and lakes for fear of thin ice. Not only is falling through the ice life threatening for dogs, it creates a situation that often becomes life threatening for the humans involved in the rescue operation.

8.  Salt on sidewalks and roads and even ice that adheres to all of that fuzzy hair between your dog’s toes can create irritation and sores. Inspect and rinse your dog’s tootsies as needed.

9.  I strongly encourage having dogs and cats live indoors. If your living situation absolutely prevents this, and there are no other viable alternatives, please provide your pet with an enclosed shelter that is warmed by a heating device and contains plenty of clean, dry bedding. Also, remember that your pet needs just as much attention from you in frigid temperatures as during the warmer seasons.

10.  ‘Tis the time of year when we humans tend to overindulge, eating all kinds of things we shouldn’t. Don’t allow your pets to become a victim of this holiday spirit. In addition to adding unwanted and unhealthy pounds, eating rich and fatty foods predisposes them to gastrointestinal upset and pancreatitis either of which could land your four-legged family member in the hospital for several days (not to mention create some significant rug-cleaning expenses for you).

What steps do you take to ensure your pets will be happy and healthy during the winter?



News: Guest Posts
Tips for Keeping Your Pets Safe and Sane This Halloween

Halloween is so darned fun, for us humans, that is. Think about it from the perspective of your pets. The ridiculous costumes they are forced to wear, all those scary sights and sounds, the doorbell ringing over and over again. For our dogs and cats, Halloween can be downright ghoulish! Had they a say so in the matter, most of them would opt to ignore this holiday altogether! If celebration is a must in your household, consider the following tips to keep your pets safe and sane this Halloween season.

Your Pet’s Physical Well Being
Guard the candy bowl! Given the opportunity, most dogs will gladly gorge on chocolate, wrappers and all. Chocolate contains theobromine a substance chemically related to caffeine and capable of causing the “cocoa jitters.” The richer (darker) the chocolate, the more jittery your pup will be. Symptoms of chocolate toxicity include restlessness, irritability, increased urination, muscle tremors, and sometimes even seizures. Vomiting and diarrhea are also commonplace following chocolate ingestion. If you suspect your dog(s) has raided the candy bowl, call your family veterinarian or local emergency clinic immediately. The sooner treatment is initiated, the better the chance for a good outcome. Based on the approximate weight of your candy thief and the type and amount of chocolate ingested, you will be advised whether or not your dog needs medical attention. Likely no big deal for the Great Dane who has downed some milk chocolate kisses. For the four pound Chihuahua, however, a few ounces of bittersweet chocolate could be a lethal dose.

If you welcome trick-or-treaters to your home, your front door will be opening and closing repeatedly. This translates into many opportunities for your dog or cat to escape into the dark of night when their familiar territory has become particularly spooky.

Getting lost or running out in front of a moving vehicle are potentially disastrous holiday outcomes. My advice- don’t include your pets as part of your Halloween welcoming committee. Far safer to confine them behind closed doors.

Your Pet’s Emotional Well Being
Does your kitty hide under your bed every time someone new comes to your home? Does your dog’s job description include barking and protecting whenever a stranger (trick-or-treaters included) arrives at your front door? Think about how these poor animals must feel on Halloween night when that doorbell rings dozens of times within just a few hours. Talk about emotional exhaustion! Consider the following options to preserve their sanity:

  • Confine your pets behind closed doors, ideally in a sound- proof part of your home.
  • Provide trick or treaters with a “help yourself” candy bowl on your front walkway.
  • Board your pets elsewhere on Halloween night.
  • Turn off your house lights and skip the holiday altogether. (No guarantees your house won’t be egged the following day!)

Halloween costumes for pets certainly make for some giggles and terrific photo opportunities. But how do our pets really feel about being dressed in those silly outfits? I once made the mistake of hosting a Halloween pet costume contest via my blog. Leave it to my wonderful readers to set me straight. They let me know in no uncertain terms that our pets prefer to dress in their “birthday suits” for Halloween!

There is likely nothing your dog enjoys more than accompanying you for a walk around your neighborhood. Doing so on Halloween, however, may be a downright spooky experience for your best buddy. My bottom line advice- Halloween is a holiday for humans. Let’s leave our pets out of it!

Wellness: Healthy Living
Trimming Nails
To trim or not to trim — that is the question
Dog Nails

Attentive as we may be, trimming our dog’s toenails is one of those vexing tasks that many of us studiously avoid. Should they be trimmed, and if so, how often? What if they bleed? What if the pedicure becomes a wrestling match, and the dog always wins? Here are some general guidelines and recommendations to help you tend your dog’s toenails.

Every dog wears down his or her nails differently. For example, take my two. Nellie, Quinn and I walk together daily on a variety of surfaces, from grass to cement. Nellie’s nails naturally remain at an ideal length, but Quinn needs a nail trim approximately once every two months (and he’s the one who runs two miles for every mile I walk).

One way to determine if your dog needs a pedicure is to manually extend the toes and assess the length of the nails in relation to the bottom of the foot. To do this, place your thumb on top of your dog’s foot and your other fingers on the large pad on the underside of the foot. Gently squeeze your fingers together, which will cause the toes to extend. With the toes in this position, check to see if the tips of the toenails are level with or go beyond the underside of the foot. The former can be left alone, while the latter need to be trimmed.

Some dogs have clear nails, which allows you to easily tell how far the tip of the nail extends beyond the “quick,” that pink- to red-colored, blood-filled cavity that runs down the center of the toenail. If the nail extends well beyond the quick, it’s time for a pedicure. (Be aware that dogs with chronically overgrown nails may also develop lengthy quicks.) And then there are dogs with black toenails, which makes it impossible to see the quick at all. To be certain about whether or not your dog’s nails are too long, consult with your veterinarian, vet tech or groomer.

If you have never before trimmed a dog’s toenails, my advice is this: ask a pro — veterinary technician, groomer, breeder — to teach you how. Pedicures can be tricky business! If your dog has clear nails (quicks readily visible) and happens to be an angel about having his or her feet handled, you’re good to go. Black nails or dogs who are moving targets make the job far more difficult. It’s easy to hit the quick, and that can be painful for your dog. Also, a nicked quick bleeds, not enough to be harmful to your dog, but enough to sure as heck be harmful to your carpeting! If bleeding occurs, your best bet is to drag the tip of the toenail through a soft bar of soap; the soap will sometimes form a plug that stops the bleeding. A safer bet is to have silver-nitrate sticks or powder on hand.

Some dogs — even the most wellbehaved dogs — absolutely, positively hate having their nails trimmed and will fight tooth and nail (pun intended) before allowing a pedicure. If this description fits your dog, know that you are not alone. In this case, trimming just one or two nails at a time may be the ticket. For others, the use of a Dremel tool rather than clippers restores sanity to the situation. Of course, routine handling of your dog’s feet and lots of praise can pave the way for less hectic pedicures as well.

Still, there are dogs who, no matter what, struggle so much that four people are needed to accomplish the nail trims — three to restrain the wriggling beast and one to trim the nails (and these are dogs who are often perfectly mannered in every other situation). In such cases, one has to question whether or not it’s really worth it. If that’s the case with your dog, I encourage you to talk with your vet about how to make the nail trim less stressful and more successful. She might be able to recommend a more effective restraint technique, behavior modification strategies and/or the use of Rescue Remedy or chemical sedation.

Remember: performing pedicures on black toenails and/or wiggly dogs is not for the faint of heart. Don’t hesitate to enlist the services of a seasoned veteran. It will be a relief for you and your dog!