healthy living
Culture: DogPatch
SpaGo Dog Mobile Grooming
Q&A with Miki Chan of SpaGo Dog

From a corporate office to a mobile dog-grooming van may seem like a demotion, but for Miki Chan, San Francisco Bay Area owner/operator of SpaGo Dog and former insuranceindustry underwriter, it was a huge step up. For 15+ years, Chan devoted her time to the demands of her job. Then one day, her supervisor, who previously had worked for AIG for 25 years and lost most of his net worth when it collapsed, advised her to do what she loved. Taking his advice to heart, she began to plan a way to return to her dog-grooming roots.

Chan had grown up with dogs, and when she was in college earning a degree in computer science with a minor in business, had a part-time job with a groomer, and loved it. So she went back to grooming school, got certified and worked for others to update her skills. Her financial background and marketing insights led her to believe that people would support a grooming salon that came to them. Plus, she didn’t like putting dogs in cages, as happens in most brick-andmortar operations. A mobile set-up would be quiet, personal, relaxing and clean—spa-like, you might say.

Chan finds working with dogs to be joyful, and is gratified that she’s been able to help them by sharing information with their owners on brushing, dental care, and health issues that the grooming process can reveal, such as lumps, skin tags, ear infections and so on.

Besides the sheer pleasure of working with dogs, she’s also glad that she no longer has to deal with office politics, plead for time off or spend endless hours for the benefit of corporate shareholders. We asked if she had any tips for others considering a career change, particularly self-employment, and she shared a few with us. Before jumping, Chan recommends that people be sure they can support their preferred lifestyle (whatever that might be) without their previous paycheck. She also points out that knowing your target audience is crucial, as are time-management and customer-service skills. And being knowledgeable about what you’re doing is key to building trust.

The insurance world’s loss has been the dog world’s gain, and we’d bet the planet’s happiness quotient has gone up a few points as well.

Do you find that people are comfortable with the concept of a mobile groomer?
New clients are often unsure about our service … lots of worries and lots of questions. But once we put them at ease about the process, the wall comes down and you see them relax, and they’re happy to hand over their dog.

What’s a typical grooming session like?
The dogs are usually calm and relaxed. There are no other dogs to disturb them and they are not in a cage. I can sense they feel comfortable, as they can see their home right outside our van. While I’m grooming, I usually talk to the dogs about current issues or sing some song that’s stuck in my head. Yesterday, it was Call Me Maybe.

When it comes to nail trimming, black nails can be really difficult. What do you advise?
If the nails haven’t been trimmed for a while—two months or more—the quick may have grown closer to the tip, so trim slowly and take off just a bit at a time. Look for a black dot on the underneath of the nail; that’s where the quick ends. (See hqbullies.com for an excellent diagram of a dog’s nail.) And if you’re too anxious, have your vet or a groomer do it. (Editor’s note: Miki also puts the dogs up on a table; as groomer Robyn Michaels observed in our Summer 2012 issue, tables are enormously helpful, because being even a foot off the floor shifts dogs to a different mindset.)

What kinds of things do you see most often?
I see a lot of dogs each month and it seems to me that they have more lumps and skin tags than normal. I can’t speculate what’s causing it, but most of the clients I speak to about it have put flea products on their dogs for years.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Preparing for Natural Disasters
Lessons learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
Pet Evacuation / Preparing for Natural Disasters

Hurricane sandy claimed hundreds of lives and caused billions of dollars in damage across the Caribbean and along the east coast of the United States. My family was fortunate to have weathered the storm safely, but I learned a lot of things that will help me better prepare my pets for the next storm.

Hunkering Down at Home
Keeping boredom at bay. Dealing with cabin fever was the least of my concerns, but it was practically a full-time job keeping Scuttle, my six-monthold Border Collie, entertained. We did everything from playing tug to figuring out a new Nina Ottosson puzzle toy. Scuttle even learned how to walk backwards. Being stuck in the house was a great excuse to teach new tricks, and mental exercise is just as important, if not more tiring, than physical exercise.

Dealing with anxiety. I was fortunate that none of my pets were afraid during the hurricane, but if you know that your dogs are prone to anxiety, it’s good to have a few tools on hand to help them cope, such as a Thundershirt, Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) spray or Rescue Remedy. Just remember to introduce these things before the scary storm so they don’t become part of a bad association.

Potty time. Falling trees killed many people during Hurricane Sandy, including two in New York City who were out walking their dog (the dog was injured but survived). The howling wind was so terrifying that a couple of times, I immediately ran back inside withouteven giving my pups a chance to do their business. I immediately wished I’d prepared an indoor potty area in my garage with a litter box or a tarp filled with dirt and grass. You can also put down housebreaking pads if your dogs will use them.

If you don’t want to bother with a potty area, you should at least determine the safest spots outside. During the storm, I tried to stay as far away as possible from trees and power lines, while watching out for downed wires and other debris.

Surviving blackouts. Power outages were widespread during the hurricane, forcing people to go for days without heat, and some, without running water. Most people I know bundled up and hoped for the best, while others relied on generators (which became tricky because of the gas shortage), or stayed with friends who had heat. The length of the blackouts highlighted the importance of having a backup plan, particularly if you have pets who are sensitive to extreme temperatures. I was lucky to have many friends who offered generators and places to stay, but these are the types of arrangements you want to line up before you need them.

Finding Lost Pets
Unfortunately, during every natural disaster, there are always too many stories of pets who got spooked and ran off. It goes without saying that identification tags and microchip registrations need to be up-to-date, but sitting in my house, I kept thinking that if I were to lose one of my dogs, I had no way of making posters without electricity. It would be invaluable to print out fliers with your pet’s photo ahead of time, along with a list of phone numbers for local shelters and veterinarians. When an animal is missing, every minute counts.

Preparing to Evacuate
After the hurricane ran its course, there was nothing more haunting than images of houses completely destroyed by the storm. Thanks to the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006, local and state government agencies are required to come up with an emergency plan that includes animals. Still, many people, who assumed they couldn’t bring their pets, left them behind. It’s critical to know ahead of time where your dogs will be welcomed: at an evacuation center, a hotel or a friend’s house.

Two things will also make evacuating a lot easier: creating a go bag (see the Pet Evacuation Bag Checklist) and crate-training your dogs. Evacuation centers require pets to be in kennels, and you don’t want an emergency to be the first time your dog sees a crate.

My friends and I endured several days of blackouts, road closures and gas shortages—and we were the lucky ones. Sandy was the second hurricane to hit our area in 14 months and I’m determined to be as prepared as possible for the next one. I know my pets are depending on me.

Jerked Around Again
Another jerky recall hits home

There has been another large-scale recall of pet treats, including jerky. But this time it isn’t products manufactured in China, rather it affects treats made at a Kasel Associated Industries facility in Denver, Colorado. The products may be contaminated with Salmonella, both animals and humans are at risk. The treats have been distributed widely from April 20 to September 19, 2012. We are trying to find out why it took them so long to identify this threat, although this is a voluntary recall.

A number of brands have been affected by this recall, including the new “No Junk… More Jump” BIXBI out of Boulder, Colorado. I am disappointed to learn this because I have been giving my dogs their Hip & Joint Chicken Breast Jerky (100% USA Sourced), not knowing that it was manufactured along with other brands, including treats for Petco. Luckily for my dogs, the lot/expiration date does not seem to be among those in this recall.

The recall covers the brands, Boots & Barkley, BIXBI, Nature’s Deli, Colorado Naturals, Petco, and Best Bully Stick items. Lot numbers as shown in 1 Year Best By Date Table and 2 Year Best By Date Table, which follows.

Consumers who have purchased any listed products are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact Kasel Associated Industries at 800.218.4417 Monday thru Friday from 7am to 5pm MDT.


UPDATE: We just read about another recall involving chicken jerky, this one involves Nurti-Vet's Chicken Jerky Treats distributed nationwide through online sales and in retail stores from April 2012 through February 2013 with Best By Dates ranging from April 20, 2014, through October 3, 2014.For a more complete listing, see the FDA site.


2 Year Best By Date UPC   Lot/Best By Date 085239043165 Boots&Barkley American Beef Bully Stick 12″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239403495 Boots&Barkley American Smoked Beef Femur Bone 3″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043103 Boots&Barkley American Flossie 6-8″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239403440 Boots&Barkley American Pig Ear Strips 8oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043202 Boots&Barkley American Chicken Stuffed Beef Femur Bone 6″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043110 Boots&Barkley American Braided Bully Stick 5″ 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043325 Boots&Barkley American Chicken Jerky 16oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 085239043400 Boots&Barkley American Chicken Jerky 8oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 490830400086 Boots&Barkley American Variety Pack 32oz 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899196 Boots&Barkley American Beef Ribs 2ct 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899172 Boots&Barkley American  Beef Knuckle 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899158 Boots&Barkley American Pig Ears 12ct 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899189 Boots&Barkley American Beef Bully Sticks 6ct 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 647263899165 Boots&Barkley American Pork Femur 20APR2014 DEN-03OCT2014 DEN 681131857246 Roasted Pig Ear Dog Treats 28oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092903 25 PK Natural Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092910 12 PK Natural Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092927 12 PK Smoked Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092934 7 PK Natural Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 800443092941 7 PK Smoked Pig Ears 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263800291 16oz Chicken Chips 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263900151 16oz Salmon Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263800178 4oz Chicken Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263510176 4oz Lamb Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263900175 4 oz Salmon Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263801175 4oz Beef Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263800291 16oz Chicken Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 647263700157 16oz Pork Jerky 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018021 BIXBI Skin & Coat Beef Liver Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018045 BIXBI Skin & Coat Lamb Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018007 BIXBI Skin & Coat Chicken Breast Jerky Treats 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018069 BIXBI Skin & Coat Pork Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018144 BIXBI Hip And Joint Pork Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018120 BIXBI Hip And Joint Lamb Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018083 BIXBI Hip And Joint Chicken Breast Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN 091037018106 BIXBI Hip And Joint Beef Liver Jerky 5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Buffalo Hearts Sliced 3 lbs 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Knee Caps 25 Ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Pork Jerky Strips 16oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Chicken Jerky 16oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Turkey Cubes 4.5oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Pig Snouts 25ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Bulk TDBBS, Inc Beef Lobster Tails 1ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Turkey Jerky Sticks 6ct 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Hearts of Lamb 4oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN Unknown TDBBS, Inc Lamb Jerky 4oz 04202014 DEN-10032014 DEN


1 Year Best By Date UPC   Lot/Best By Date 647263800215 Nature’s Deli Chicken Jerky 3lbs 04202013 DEN-10032013 DEN 647263800208 Nature’s Deli Chicken Jerky 2.5lbs 04202013 DEN-10032013 DEN


Wellness: Healthy Living
Essential Oils and Dogs
Sniff Test

Essential oils are aromatic, naturally occurring chemical components of plants that are usually extracted by distillation. Thorough lab testing of these chemical constituents has led to an understanding of their benefits, and in recent years, interest in therapeutically blended essential oils for canines has increased. The questions are: Do they work, are they safe and are they preferable to pharmaceuticals?

Most essential oils have been found to confer benefits of one kind or another—among them, anti-infectious (antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial), sedative, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), immunostimulant and expectorant. For example, lavender essential oil is soothing to the central nervous system, and a 2006 study showed that its use reduced dogs’ movement and vocalization during travel; the lavender species was not identified, but was probably Lavandula angustifolia. The study’s author went on to conclude: “Traditional treatments for travel-induced excitement in dogs may be time-consuming, expensive or associated with adverse effects. Aromatherapy in the form of diffused lavender odor may offer a practical alternative treatment …” (Wells 2006).

A study of a more traditional (i.e., pharmaceutical) treatment method involved 37 dogs and the use of diazepam for anxiety-related issues. Separation anxiety, for example, one of the most common canine behavior problems, is diagnosed in 20 to 40 percent of dogs (Schwartz 2003). Although 18 dog owners found diazepam “somewhat effective” in relieving their dog’s anxiety, 19 discontinued its use due to adverse effects such as agitation, increased activity, increased appetite, vomiting and/or diarrhea (Herron 2008). A number of drugs have similar laundry lists of unpleasant effects, which can make the use of essential oils—among them, lavender, petitgrain, sweet orange, marjoram and vetiver—more appealing.

It’s no wonder that some veterinarians are interested in essential oils’ possibilities and are experimenting with them. In a survey sent to members of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association, 15 respondents reported significant use in their practices, and in quite disparate ways (Keith 2010). They were diffusing lavender in waiting and exam rooms, using essential oils for odor control, doing light massage with frankincense, blending lemongrass in sweet almond oil for cruciate or joint injuries and using a sequence of seven essential oils in a Terminally Ill Energy Transition Set to help animals adjust to impending death and let go (Bell 2004).

In addition to veterinarians, aromatherapists have weighed in with their own anecdotal successes. Their uses include blends for increasing appetite; boosting the immune system; combating fatigue; and dealing with puppy teething, ear cleaning, breath, colds and congestion, separation anxiety, and many more. Application methods range from soaps and shampoos to salves and sprays.

If you’re curious about this modality and want to explore it, it is important to work with someone who understands the organic chemistry of essential oils and how to dilute them appropriately. Look for a registered aromatherapist (aromatherapycouncil.org) or a member of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (naha.org) in your area. Dosage and length of treatment are extremely important in order to avoid organ toxicity and reduce chances of sensitivity. For instance, tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) is considered a remarkable antifungal, but doses that work well on humans are sometimes too strong for animals, and there have been reports of adverse reactions in dogs, especially at higher concentrations (Villar 1994). A knowledgeable aromatherapist will undoubtedly opt for a different, softer essential oil in its place. In any case, this is all the more reason to involve the dog’s veterinarian in the decision process.

So are essential oils safe? Anecdotal evidence and the few studies available would indicate they are remarkably effective and safe when carefully blended by someone with good training in their use. Are they preferable to pharmaceuticals? That depends on the pharmaceutical, the severity of the problem being treated and the pet’s response to the drug. Ultimately, owners must decide what is best for their pets. Until more conclusive studies are available, essential oils will probably remain a complementary rather than an alternative treatment option to pharmaceuticals. Consultation with your veterinarian is recommended.

A dozen essential oils that can be used effectively on dogs:

Chamomile (both Roman and German)
Sweet Orange

Wellness: Healthy Living
Hospice Care
Hospice care eases the way

“They have been our loyal companions throughout their lives, and in hospice, they need to know that we will dance to the end of the song with them.”
—Thomas F. Wilson, PhD

When our dogs are young and healthy, it seems as though we have all the time in the world with them. But, as it always does, time catches up with us, and eventually, the “end of the song” begins to play. For many of us, our companion animals are so integral to our lives that their decline and death affect us similarly to the loss of human family members.

However, the heart-wrenching words “Nothing else can be done” do not mean that euthanasia is the only option. As they move into the closing stages of their lives, pets (we’ll focus on dogs here, but the concept is the same for other companion animals) can benefit from animal hospice, and so can their people.

Like the program for humans, animal hospice exists to provide support and care during the last phase of an incurable disease or at the natural end of life; its primary goal is to manage pain. As such, hospice care is geared toward maintaining comfort and ensuring the highest quality of life possible during a time that may be measured in months, weeks or days. It focuses on creating a safe, loving and intimate endof- life experience in a familiar setting. This approach also gives us time to plan, grieve and say good-bye to our dogs. And—perhaps most importantly —it is a way to allow our best friends to spend their final days at home rather than in a hospital setting. This interval can be invaluable, as it helps us come to grips with our dog’s condition, and to say good-bye in our own way.

Though it can be extremely rewarding, hospice care does require preparation and effort. The first step is to connect with a veterinarian who is comfortable with the concept (not all are).

He or she will guide you in how to best provide for your dog’s needs, and in setting up a care plan to carry out at home: administering medications, supplying nutritional support, recognizing pain, implementing proper nursing care and tuning into your dog’s general emotional and physical state. If you are unsure about taking on these kinds of responsibilities, you may be able to employ a vet technician to assist you as needed.

As mentioned, one of the most important aspects of hospice care is pain management. Because it is easier to prevent pain than to relieve it, a multimodal approach—in which a variety of methods, including various classes of pain medications, natural supplements, acupuncture and massage therapy, to name a few, are employed—usually results in the best control. Part of this protocol involves monitoring your dog’s behavior and physical state, since agitation and vocalization may be signs of pain. In providing hospice care, you are the eyes and ears of the veterinary team, recording changes in your dog’s weight, temperature, eating habits, mobility and other characteristics and reporting them to the vet so that interventions or adjustments to the care plan can be made in a timely manner.

When it comes to end-of-life matters, we are faced with the difficult decision of allowing for a natural death or intervening with humane euthanasia; for some, a natural death is preferable to euthanasia as long as no suffering is involved. The decision if and when to euthanize is as individual and personal as you and your dog, and it’s important to keep in mind that no one knows your dog better than you do. You have spent your dog’s lifetime learning to communicate by reading body language and developing a unique bond. Attend to what your dog may be trying to tell you and, above all, trust your heart.

Identifying the point at which your dog’s quality of life has irrevocably ebbed requires personal courage and sacrifice, and many people fear they will not be able to recognize when the time is right. Seek guidance in the decision- making process from family members and friends, as well as from your veterinarian, all of whom share a bond with your dog. You will need the support of those who truly understand.

After months (or more) of caring for a dog in declining health, it can often be difficult to decide when the end has come, which is why it is helpful to determine ahead of time at what point you feel your dog’s quality of life is no longer acceptable. This may be when he or she ceases to find joy in eating, no longer enjoys interaction and connection, can no longer stand or walk, or when pain begins to be difficult to control. It is often helpful to consider good days versus bad days; more bad days than good is another indicator that the time is near. By establishing these criteria in advance, you are better prepared to make the appropriate decision, since emotion can cloud your thinking during the difficult final days of your dog’s life.

Hospice can be a wonderful, caring option. Regardless of how you choose to navigate this stage, it is good to know that it exists. Whether we opt for a natural death or a peaceful euthanasia, hospice care not only allows our dogs to live out the remainder of their lives as fully as possible, it also allows them to embark upon their final journey with dignity while surrounded by love in the comfort of their familiar home environment. Hospice care is truly a gift, both to our dogs and to ourselves.

Wellness: Health Care
The Gift of Good-bye
Caring for dog, Hospice

What would you give to be able to spend another month, another week, or just another precious day with your best friend? Anyone who has ever loved and lost a pet has probably had such a wish.

Pets are no longer just pets; they fill the role of family, child, companion and guardian. As such, their dying process can carry a burden equal to the loss of our two-legged loved ones, and it is during this time that both pets and their people can benefit from animal hospice. Hospice allows our pet’s final journey to be experienced with dignity while surrounded by love in the familiarity of their home. It allows our pets to live out the remainder of their lives as fully as possible until the time of death, whether a “natural death” or compassionate euthanasia is elected.

As with human hospice, animal hospice exists to provide support and care for pets in the last phases of incurable disease or at the natural end of their lives. It helps facilitate the availability of resources to educate, support comfort care, manage pain and allow for a good quality of life, whether that is days, weeks or months. Hospice care also grants pet parents time to plan, grieve and say good-bye to their companions while providing a way for them to bring their pets home for their final days instead of being in the confines of a hospital setting or an unfamiliar exam room.

These are just a few reasons why I feel hospice care is so incredibly important and why it has always resonated with my heart. Prior to my veterinary career, I worked as a registered nurse, and it was during this time that I was first exposed to the concept of hospice care. Over the past several years, I have found myself drawn back to these roots, and have since started a pet hospice service within the referral hospital where I practice emergency medicine.

To highlight what a difference hospice care can make to a pet and a family, I would like to share the story of my first hospice patient, Sunny, who was one of the most loving and happy girls I have ever met. She quickly earned the nickname “Kissy Girl,” as I couldn’t be within a tongue’s length of her lest I be the receiver of her spirited attempts to lavish an endless stream of wet and cold-nosed kisses on me.

Our paths first crossed during a typical Sunday in the ER. As I was getting ready to see my next patient, who was having trouble urinating, I thought: diagnosis, UTI. But  during the physical exam, my heart sank as I realized that the source of her straining to urinate was not an infection, but rather, a tumor that was compressing her urethra. An ultrasound revealed that it was inoperable, and chest X-rays confirmed that the cancer had already spread to her lungs. Looking at that sweet and happy face, you would never guess that all that badness was living inside her.

Bad turned to worse when I found out that Sunny’s dad, Jeff, was in another state attending his own father’s funeral. Besides the devastating news of her cancer, the most difficult thing for Jeff to endure was the fact that he would not have a chance to say goodbye, nor be by her side when she passed away. He was torn: in his heart he wanted to be with her once more, while in his mind, he did not want to delay the inevitable and risk her being in discomfort. This broke my heart, and I shared his sense of helplessness.

My hospice service wasn’t set to officially begin until the following month, but I could not let Sunny pass without her dad having had the chance to see her just one more time. I offered a hospice situation for her, and helped her by placing a catheter so she could urinate despite the tumor. Jeff took a red-eye flight home that very night and reunited with her the following morning. She erupted in sheer joy the moment she saw her dad, and Jeff easily learned how to manage her urinary bag.

Hospice care allowed Sunny to have another amazing week at home—one that included heaps of love, trips to the park and her favorite beaches, and a  doggy party where filet and ice cream were served. It also allowed Jeff time to return home, spend more quality days with her and begin the process of saying good-bye to his best friend.

At the end of the week, I spent an incredible afternoon with Sunny’s family, celebrating and toasting her life, as well as getting more of those famous kisses. I helped her cross the Rainbow Bridge from her favorite sunshine-filled spot in the back yard, surrounded by those who loved her. You see, Sunny was not just “any dog”: she was also the rock who helped Jeff through the death of his first wife due to cancer.

As I reflect on my life’s path, it seems strangely paradoxical: I spent the first eleven years of my veterinary career doing everything possible to save lives in an ER setting, and now I am working just as fervently to end them as beautifully and as peacefully as I possibly can.

I am often asked, “Aren’t you always sad? Isn’t this just so difficult to do?” The short answer to this multi-layered question is “yes,” and in fact, I still cry during every euthanasia. Although it can be a heart-wrenching journey to take with another, it is through these experiences that my life becomes more blessed and made richer. For what people often don’t realize is that my tears well from being in the midst of great love, from experiencing the tremendous bond between family and pet, and from being able to give another the precious gift of good-bye.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Fighting Fleas on Pets...Safely

Scratch, scratch, scratch....

The sound of Cricket's toenails digging into his belly woke me last night at 3:00 AM. How annoying. The little guy has a flea, and that means today's bath day. Our dogs recognize the bath day ritual pretty quickly. When their beds get stripped and everything goes into the washing machine, they both get that worried look. Then when I put on the red running shorts, they know the time has come. In the past, Cricket - the little scamp - would try to flee and we'd have to chase him down, corner him, scoop up his 30 pounds of indignation, and carry him into the shower. Kanga had a more Gandhi-esque approach to the whole thing. She would curl up on the couch and refuse to move. Since she weighs a full 60 pounds, we'd sometimes practically need a crowbar to get her up and prod her toward the bathroom. Now they seem to recognize the inevitability, so both dogs come - heads hanging low - and submit to the indignity. Afterwards they cavort in gleeful joy for having survived yet again. That night Cricket asks to hop up on the bed, and sometimes we let him because he's so clean, fresh and fluffy...not to mention cute.

Lots of people ask me how to control fleas on pets, and as a pet owner I can relate. I hate fleas. But a trip to the pet store can be a bewildering experience, with all kinds of pesticide products on the shelves marketed to protect our best friends from vermin. Over the past year or so, my team of researchers at NRDC has been looking at these products and we've learned a few things that made me go with my current shower plan.

First of all, just because a pesticide is legally on the shelves doesn't mean it's safe. Many of these products contain potent chemicals that can have adverse effects on pets and kids. I'm especially concerned about flea collars because many of them contain really toxic chemicals - such as tetrachlorvinphos and propoxur - that should probably not be on the market anymore. The collars are designed as a 'slow release' device for the pesticide, and spread a pesticide residue across the animal's fur for weeks. That's fine unless you ever touch your pet. The problem is that the residue gets on your hands (or worse still children's hands) and then can be absorbed through the skin or accidentally ingested.

Even some of the "natural" flea control products can be a problem, since some of these chemicals can cause allergic reactions such as dermatitis and even asthma in sensitive people. There are lots of products out there, but we found relatively few that we can really recommend as safe. For information about specific flea control products that you use, check out the product guide on the "Green Paws" website.

In medical school, I took a course on the history of medicine. I learned the disgusting fact that in the past people were routinely infested with vermin such as lice and fleas. All kinds of chemicals, including DDT, were used for de-lousing humans even within the past 50 years. Fortunately, vermin on people isn't generally a problem in the United States today. That's because most of us bathe and wash our clothes on a regular basis. So why not apply this same rule to our pets? In my house, every two weeks, the dogs get a bath and all of their bedding gets cleaned. Every week the carpets get vacuumed well to remove any possible flea eggs. Guess what - it works! Every so often one of them picks up a flea at the dog park, but as soon as we see the scratching, out comes the flea comb, and that little blood sucker is soon drowned in a cup of soapy water. It's really easy once the whole family has the routine down. And it's great to have dogs that smell and feel clean.  Better still, it's great to have dogs that aren't covered with a toxic residue.

This article originally appeared on Gina Solomon's Blog on Switchboard, from the NRDC website, in Oct 2008.

News: Guest Posts
Pet Oxygen Masks Help Firefighters Save Lives

Recent news reports about house fires with dogs trapped inside are a keen reminder how valuable a pet oxygen mask can be to firefighting crews. Check if your local fire department has these tools, and if not, consider donating one to them. They're not expensive.

In Lima, Ohio, a house fire broke out the morning of January 3, 2013. An adult occupant escaped from an upstairs room, but the family dog Cola hid in the basement. Nearly fifteen minutes after firefighters started attacking the fire in the freezing cold, they discover the dog-apparently lifeless-and bring her upstairs and out onto the snow. Luckily, the Lima Fire Department had been the recipient of a gift: pet oxygen masks, made to fit the long snouts of dogs and other pets. Firefighters worked on Cola for nearly five minutes, giving her oxygen, until she started breathing again. Her emotional owner, anxiously watching nearby, cried tears of relief and gratitude.

The house fire was caught on video; toward the end, near the 16:00 minute mark, you can see the firefighters bringing Cola out of the house and laying her on the snow to start resuscitation efforts. Unfortunately the video does not extend to her successful recovery.

Nearby Delphos Animal Hospital had donated the pet oxygen masks to the Lima Fire Department just a week earlier. According to news reports, they plan to donate two more, soon.

Also on January 3rd, firefighters responding to a house fire in Forth Worth discovered two dogs inside. One was alright, but the other was unresponsive. Using an oxygen mask, the firefighters were able to revive the dog.

The fire department's spokesperson noted that firefighters attempt animal rescues several times a year, and that some of their trucks are outfitted with animal oxygen masks. Otherwise, they use those made for humans.

Wouldn't it be nice if all fire trucks and other first responders were equipped with animal oxygen masks?
A quick online search brings up at least two vendors of the SurgiVet Pet Oxygen Mask, with prices ranging from $27.50 each (small, medium or large), or all three plus a carrying case for $68.75 (Yuckos) or $95 (Pets America). Pets America provides pet emergency preparedness and educational programs, so the extra cost clearly helps their primary mission.


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
Toy Alert
Study finds Hormone-disrupting Chemicals Leach from Some Plastic Toys

The toy aisle is meant to be all about fun, but recalls, toxic imports and a dearth of regulations have left dog owners facing tough choices. Many toys are made of plastic and may contain chemicals that interfere with hormones.

A new study by researchers at the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University shows that BPA and phthalates, chemicals that disrupt hormones, “readily leach” from plastic or vinyl bumper toys used to train retrievers.

Philip Smith, a toxicologist and co-author of the as-yet unpublished study, uses plastic bumpers to train his Labrador Retrievers, Bindi, age 11, and Huck, age 5. He wondered if the bumpers might expose them to hazardous chemicals.

In fact, the compounds are hard to avoid. BPA, the building block of polycarbonate plastic, is found in most food and drink cans; phthalates are common in food packaging, personal care items and vinyl plastics.

“BPA and phthalates come from many, many sources” besides pet toys, Smith says. So a dog’s “cumulative exposure may be significant.”

The study, conducted by graduate student, Kim Wooten, is one of the first to examine these chemicals in pet toys. In children’s toys, some phthalates have been banned in the U.S. and the European Union. In July 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned BPA in baby bottles and children’s drinking cups.

Although their health effects in dogs are unknown, the hormones they interfere with regulate many biological functions.

Studies done mostly with rodents have linked BPA and phthalates to impaired development of reproductive organs, decreased fertility, diabetes and obesity, cancers, and behavioral and attention problems.

No, dogs are not mice. There are “species sensitivity differences” in regard to toxics, Smith says. For example, dogs are at greater risk than humans from eating chocolate. But while their sensitivity to synthetic chemicals may also differ, “we are unaware of specific reasons why they might respond in a significantly different manner.”

Available data suggests that the most vulnerable pets may be pregnant females “and perhaps young animals like puppies.”

According to a 2012 pet health report by Banfield Pet Hospital, some cancers and other diseases in dogs are increasing. “The rate of overweight and obese pets has reached epidemic levels in the U.S., affecting approximately one in five dogs and cats.”

The causes are unknown, but Smith says it’s possible that endocrine-disrupting chemicals, including phthalates and BPA, play a role.

Certain aspects of canine cancer suggest that dogs are sensitive to them, he says. For instance, exposure to estrogens raises the risk for mammary cancers. For metabolic disorders such as obesity and diabetes, researchers are finding that some hormone-disrupting chemicals appear to “affect metabolic endpoints, in addition to reproduction and behavior.”

For the toy study, the researchers tested orange and white bumpers from two unidentified makers, using artificial saliva to simulate a dog chewing a bumper. The amount of toxics released in a dog’s mouth couldn’t be determined due to the use of simulated saliva,

But what is a high exposure in dogs?

“We are not aware of any exposure guidelines pertaining to these particular chemicals and dogs,” Smith says.

They suspect the levels released from the bumpers would be very high, though, compared with children’s toys.

The study also examined BPA and phthalates from ordinary plastic pet toys sold in stores. The bumpers leached more, but the results suggest that the other toys might have released other hormonally-active chemicals.

Smith highlights the uncertainty that shoppers face, saying the bumpers might have been made from different materials, or perhaps the packaging limited the release of some chemicals before the experiment.

Or, the less affected toys may have involved “materials that are also used in the manufacture of children’s toys.”

“We’re not really sure, but intend to pursue the question further.”

Good thing for pet owners.

“Given the extent of plastics in the human-canine environment,” Smith says, avoiding the chemicals entirely may not be possible.

But not all plastics are the same. When it comes to leaching of chemicals “each type is very different.”

“That is why studies on individual products are important.” Pet owners need the information “to make thoughtful decisions.”

Some pet toy makers say they use BPA-free plastics.

But owners may wonder why it’s even a question. Why should they have to worry about chemicals in toys or migrating from cans, even into “organic” food, to add to their dog’s exposure?

At least—at last—it is being studied.

Smith’s team plans to continue studying the exposure of pets to chemicals. “We think there is a great deal to be learned about potential pet and human health impacts from chemicals in the environment,” he says.

And as they learn, Smith says they hope to yield the data needed “to inform decisions about how we manufacture pet products, which ones we buy, and what we allow our pets to chew.”