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Wellness: Recipes
Bread Baking Delights
Hooked on No-Knead
1. Dough after rising 12 hours. 2. Dough after the second rise. 3. Loaf flipped

This past year I have discovered the joys of “fermentation” in the guise of yogurt-making and bread-baking. At the start of the year, I dusted off a yogurt maker that had been long forgotten at the back of the cupboard, and have been keeping all of us (including the dogs, who love it) supplied with this probiotic-loaded, highly nutritious food, you can find the directions to make your own here. I put a spoonful of it to top off the dogs’ meals, or let them lick it right off the spoon.

And, despite living in one of the country’s artisan-bakery hubs, it’s now been over a year since I’ve bought bread. And I must admit I always was a die-heart bread fanatic. So when I heard about the ease of baking your own bread that came via Jim Lahey from the Sullivan Street Bakery (NYC) and his able acolyte, Mark Bittman of the New York Times, I was intrigued.

With my very first loaf turning out great, I was hooked and have been busy baking our own whole wheat, country-style bread using his “no-knead” method, a trend (ahem) rising in kitchens everywhere.

For as long as I can recall, when it came to bread making, the need to knead was my downfall, so the idea of “no-knead” was an enticing come-on. I couldn’t be more thankful for what this simple recipe has given us. Not only does it fill the house with the nothing-better-than aroma of freshly baked bread, it also provides the crunchy delight of olive-oil-laced crouton snacks for our pups and abundant, tasty breadcrumbs for their turkey meatloaf.

Lahey’s basic white bread recipe, which started this craze, can be found here. But whole wheat bread is not only better for you, but one that I especially am fond of, so I was pleased to see that he also has a great cookbook, aptly titled, My Bread, that goes into detail about “pane integrale” whole wheat, rye and many other varieties. This recipe is so simple, not only is there no kneading, but you don’t have to “test’ the yeast, or punch down the rising loaf.

So I suggest that you view the video to learn about the basic technique, but recommend you try the whole wheat version first. The basic difference with the recipe for the white bread version (featured in the video) and the whole wheat (or rye) one is that instead of using 3 cups of bread flour, you use 2 cups of bread flour (be sure to use bread flour and not all-purpose) and 1 cup of whole wheat or rye. I’ve adapted the recipe slightly, so I combine 3 different flours—about 2/3 c of whole wheat, a couple of tablespoons of rye and topping it off with spelt flour (all 3 different types together equal one cup). I also add another tablespoon or so of water, to the 1 1/3 cups of water.

Whole Wheat bread recipe:
(Adapted from Jim Lahey)

2 c bread flour

1 c whole wheat (or a mix of whole wheat, spelt, rye) flour

1 ¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp instant or active dry yeast

1 ⅓ c (plus a scant tbsp.) cool water

Directions:

Put all dry ingredients into a medium sized mixing bowl, and using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix all the dry ingredients, making sure that the flours are well integrated. Then pour all the water into the bowl, not in one place but over the top of the flours to cover as much as you can. Then mix that it all with a spoon or your hands. That should take only 30 seconds or a minute or so. Cover the bowl with plastic and let rise for 12 to 18 hours at room temperature.  It should double in size. (The warmer the room the less rising time, but 12 hours is always the minimum amount of time for the bread to ferment slowly—an important aspect of this recipe.)

After the dough has gone through that first rise, generously flour a surface (like a cutting board or counter top, use white flour for this) and your hands, and remove all the dough from the bowl. It might stick to the bowl, but be sure you get it all out in one piece. You can also use a plastic bowl scraper, but you want to remove all the dough in one piece. With your well-floured hands (to keep them from sticking to the dough), shape the dough by folding and refolding (a few times) and then forming it into a round form (it will be around 6 inches in diameter in a nice round ball form). Gently move the dough unto a well-floured tea towel (do NOT use terry cloth, and you can use cornmeal, or bran instead of flour), cover with either another tea towel or the edges of the towel. Let the dough rest for 1 to 2 hours in a draft free spot. The dough is ready for baking when, after a gentle poke with your finger, it leaves a slight impression. It if doesn’t, wait another 15 minutes and test it again.

Here’s the important part of what makes the magic of this simple baking method work—Lahey’s “oven within an oven” discovery. You will be baking the bread in either a heavy covered 4 ½ quart to 5 ½ quart pot, like an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, or a 5-quart Lodge cast-iron pot. I like the clay ware La Cloche cooking bell best because I find it easier to place the dough loaf onto it, instead of “flinging” the loaf into a higher sided pot. It is very important that whatever pot you use, that pot stays covered during the preheating and the first part of the baking process. This is the "oven within the oven" trick created by Lahey and, as he describes it, “It accomplishes what classic domed brick ovens do: it completely seals in the baking process so the steam escaping from the bread can do its work to ensure a good crust and a most crumb.”

Half way through this second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees. To accommodate a large pot or a La Cloche you will probably need to remove all the racks from the over, except for one on the lower third portion that you’ll be using. I start the preheating ½ hour after the loaf was shaped, so even if it does take 2 hours for the dough to be ready, at least the oven and the pot are nice and hot.

When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven, making sure not to place the pot on a cool surface (especially if using a La Cloche), remove the cover, then working quickly, gently flip the loaf over into the pot, so the “bottom” of the dough becomes the top of the loaf. You might have to flour your hands to do this, to avoid the dough sticking to your hands. Don't worry if the “bread,” at this point, looks flat and blob-like. Cover the pot, and again, working quickly, place it on the middle of the oven rack.

Bake for 30 mins., at 475 degrees, the first blast of heat causes the fermenting dough to become “bread” in what is called “over spring.” After 30 mins. remove the lid from the pot and bake the bread for another 10 to 20 minutes. At this point it will definitely look like a loaf of bread. The time depends on how hot your oven is, and how dark you like your crust. By this time your kitchen will be drenched in that lovely, fresh bread aroma, savor it as your loaf cooks.

Remove the loaf from the pot and cool on a rack—while it should be easy to remove it from the hot pot, you might need to use a spatula to gently pry it up from the bottom. I know it is irresistible, but do not cut into the loaf until it is fully cooled, it is still “finishing” the baking process even out of the oven. The bread is said to “sing” at this cooling period, but the “singing” is evidence of the last phase of cooking.

Storing Bread:

A couple of things to note about storing bread, never ever store it in plastic, it is best just to place the loaf, once you slice it, on the cut side down on an enamel plate. You can store it in a paper bag but do NOT seal it. Or you can use wax paper too.

Recommended Ingredients:

Yeast: It is more affordable to buy it in bulk instead of in those little packets, so I’ve been buying the 16 oz instant yeast, “Saf Red instant”  from King Arthur Flour—it is only $5.95 and that makes a lot of bread. This yeast is the one most recommended by bakers and it has never failed me.

I just bought my second one-pound purchase, the first one lasted almost a year. Make sure to store yeast in the refrigerator. I place a smaller amount into a little glass jar and then store the rest of the yeast in a larger container.

Flours:

Bread flour: I use King Arthur’s but there are many other good ones—you must use bread flour, all-purpose does not have the protein content for bread.

Whole wheat flour: There are a few great brands, some of them from local millers. The hard red winter wheat flour (In California) from Community Grains is great, so too is the organic whole wheat high protein flour (made from Northern spring wheat) from Giusto’s Vita Grain. King Arthur Flour  also has a good whole wheat flour but I urge you to see what your local milling companies have to offer. It really is quite the discovery to learn about how vibrant that sector has become.

Rye and Spelt flours: Arrowhead Mills, Bob’s Red Mill, Hodgson Mill also have good ones.

Other Sources:

Even though “no-knead” was invented by Jim Lahey there are many others who have interpreted this method very successfully.  I have also used the recipes from Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois’ Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day—I especially like their brioche. There are oh so many videos showing methods and recipes, including Breadtopia.com.

Just go to YouTube and search for “no knead bread,” you’ll be amazed at how many others have been baking bread, so hopefully this will inspire you to start baking your own. Send us photos when you do, would love to see your “loaves.”

Uses for leftover bread:

For croutons, I use whatever is left over as I bake the next loaf (I bake about 3 times a week), slice the bread into small cubes (or whatever size you prefer), place in a bowl and add olive oil mixing the oil well on all the cubes, then place on a cookie sheet and cook at around 350 for 15 to 30 mins.—the baking time depends on how crunchy you like them. I give them to the dogs for extra special treats, sometimes spreading a little homemade peanut butter on them. (I also just started to make peanut butter, another extremely simple thing to whip up.) For the bread crumbs, I heat up some day old (or older) bread, cut it into larger cubes, place in a blender or food processor, and pulse a few times until is the consistency you desire. Some people then bake the crumbs in the oven for a few minutes, but if you heat the bread first you don’t need to do that. You can freeze the bread crumbs if you aren’t going to use them soon.

Bread knife:

If you don’t have a good bread knife you will soon be wanting to get one, I found that the Victorinox model 47547 works really great. You should be able to find one for less than $40 (considering that I was looking at knives arranging from $200 to $300, this great find, recommended by Chow, was a bargain).

 

 

Wellness: Healthy Living
Making Pet Meds More Affordable
Greater choice made available to pet owners
More Affordable Pet Meds

As politicians and voters squared off this fall, a little bill sat in committee on Capitol Hill, awaiting action that in all likelihood won’t happen. If it expires, it will probably be reintroduced at the next Congressional go-around in 2013. But even if it dies on the vine, the bill has opened debate on an issue that affects virtually every pet owner — the cost and availability of veterinary medications — and promises to keep the discussion going for years to come.

If passed, the legislation (officially known as HR 1406: Fairness to Pet Owners Act of 2011-IH) will require vets to give clients a written copy of all prescriptions. It also will require them to notify clients, in writing, of the client’s option to have the prescription filled elsewhere, and to confirm (via fax or other means) any prescriptions sent to outside pharmacies. This is not a novel concept; a majority of veterinarians already do this for those who request it. The act would, however, make it mandatory for vets to provide the prescriptions without being asked.

The bill is modeled on the Fairness to Contact Lens Consumers Act of 2003, which required eye doctors to give their patients a copy of their prescriptions, thus breaking the medical monopoly on those lucrative little bits of polymer. This “prescription portability” was credited with changing the entire contact-lens market, giving consumers freedom to comparison shop (making prices more competitive) and also improving the quality and safety of the products themselves by streamlining the supply chain and distribution system. In the world of veterinary medicine, prescription portability would, at least in theory, reassure bargainhunting consumers that they’re shopping around in a truly open (and safe) marketplace.

HR 1406 was introduced April 2011 under the sponsorship of Representatives Jim Matheson (D-UT) and Lee Terry (R-NE) and was immediately sent to the Health subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which must approve the bill before it can be voted upon by Congress. But because 2012 is an election year — one that most certainly hasn’t been dominated by debates over pet prescriptions — few observers predict any action. The legislative monitoring service GovTrack gives the bill a 1 percent chance of passing before the end of the 2012 session; not great odds, obviously, but not particularly bad, either, given that only about 4 percent of the bills introduced in 2009–2010 were enacted.

“Most often, bills like this take five to seven years to get passed,” says Andrew Binovi, federal legislative manager of government relations for the ASPCA, which is supporting the bill. Alyson Heyrend, communications director for Rep. Jim Matheson, adds, “There is no action expected on the bill before the end of the session — it’s an election year. But we’ll most likely be reintroducing the bill next time. It’s a good bill, good for pet owners, good for consumers. In this economy, every little bit helps, and lots of people aren’t even aware that they have options when it comes to pet medications.”

A Pocketbook Issue
The subject of pet medications has been getting attention in other parts of the government as well. The Federal Trade Commission held a public workshop on the topic in October, and is expected to issue a report on its findings sometime in 2013. In its official statement, the FTC calls the price of pet meds “an important pocketbook issue for many consumers,” noting that the 62 percent of American households with pets spend roughly $7 billion annually for prescription and over-the-counter drugs for their companion animals.

Like everything else in Washington, the Pet Owners Act has both fans and foes. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, eight organizations are registered to lobby on HR 1406, including Walmart and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. “This bill allows consumers a choice when it comes to prescription medications for their pets, and Walmart supports efforts that give our customers a say where they purchase medicines and enable them to save money,” says Molly Philhours, a media relations rep. This support is hardly surprising, as the act would be a boon for Walmart and other big retailers, drug and grocery stores, says David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, a market research firm. “What we’re seeing is a natural progression, as the pet-health market moves toward greater parallelism with human healthcare.”

However, the number of pets covered by health insurance is miniscule, arguably making the out-of-pocket cost of a pet’s prescription drugs an even bigger concern for consumers than their own meds. “Less than 1 percent of the cats and dogs in America are insured, so this is a huge issue for owners,” says Laura Bennett, CEO of Embrace Pet Insurance. “Even if this bill doesn’t go through, it’s already had a big impact.”

Bones of Contention
The bill’s biggest opponent is the American Veterinary Medicine Association, which has registered to lobby on it and is urging its members to voice their opposition. “We’re not opposed to our clients having their pets’ prescriptions, or filling them at accredited pharmacies, but we’re against the legislation because it’s redundant,” explains Ashley S. Morgan, DVM, AVMA’s assistant director of governmental relations. “We don’t need a federal law to mandate something that most vets have been doing on their own for some time.” She notes that 26 states already have laws that require essentially the same thing as the new bill stipulates, and that most consumers are well aware of the wide availability of pet prescription fulfillment options.

The proposed legislation has another downside for vets: loss of revenue. While the impact will vary among individual practices, Morgan says, most veterinarians today make between 14 and 28 percent of their income from in-house drug sales. In addition, vets typically charge fairly high mark-ups, an average of 129 percent over wholesale, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. Many also charge a “dispensing fee,” typically an average of $9 per script. Morgan adds that the proposed law would drown vets in paperwork, and require clinic staff to spend an inordinate amount of time communicating with outside pharmacies. Most veterinarians will be forced to pass those extra expenses on to their clients.

Until fairly recently, veterinarians were the sole source for prescription pet medications. But with the advent of online pet pharmacies, such as Drs. Foster and Smith (which began selling medications and other pet care products through its catalog in 1983 and online in 1998), price-conscious owners started taking their drug business elsewhere. And in 1994, with the passage of the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act (AMDUCA), veterinarians could prescribe certain approved human drugs for animals. In many cases, this gave veterinary clients an option to choose between the animal and the human drug, and to buy those drugs from outside pharmacies.

But this just means that vets are behind the times when it comes to setting their prices, says Bennett. She notes that many veterinarians deliberately undercharge for some services to keep clients happy; like restaurateurs who exponentially mark up the wine they sell to make up for value-priced entrees, these vets count on the sale of medications to make the balance sheet work. “If you’ve been relying on drug sales all this time, this is a wake-up call,” she says.

Competition — and Choices
According to Bruce Rosenbloom, chief financial officer of PetMed Express Inc., parent company of the online retailer 1800-PetMeds, pet owners today spend about $3.8 billion annually on prescription drugs for their companion animals, and vets make about 67 percent of those sales. (Packaged Facts’ estimate of vets’ share of drug sales is roughly the same.) PetMed Express’s research shows that big retailers like Target, Walmart and Walgreens sell about 22 percent of pet medications through their retail and online stores, while web and mailorder retailers like 1800-PetMeds and Amazon account for the remaining 11 percent.

All of these outlets offer incentives to pet owners. Kroger, for example, sells a long list of generic pet drugs, including some of the most-prescribed for dogs — pain-relievers like tramadol and meloxicam and antibiotics like amoxicillin and cephalexin — at $4 per 30-day supply. Target’s PetRx program, available in more than 1,200 of its instore pharmacies, can fill veterinary prescriptions for animal-specific medications, and all Target pharmacies will fill pet scripts for human drugs (they offer many $4 generics, as well). At Walgreens, you can add your dog to your $35-a-year family membership in the discount pharmacy program. With that, you get reduced prices on pet prescriptions and access to over 400 generic medications priced at $12 for a 90-day supply. Stop ‘n Shop and Winn-Dixie stores fill human-equivalent scripts, and have arrangements with online pet pharmacies to get your dog’s meds to you in one to two days.

For those who’d rather shop online, there are currently 18 web-based pet pharmacies accredited with the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy through its Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (Vet-VIPPS) program, each of which has its own offers and incentives. (There are also countless websites that aren’t accredited — or properly licensed — which the Food and Drug Administration and other groups strongly suggest you avoid.)

All this competition is good news for consumers, says ASPCA’s Binovi, because it guarantees that pet owners will be able to fill prescriptions as cheaply as possible. “There are big benefits here for both pets and their guardians,” he says. “It’s not that the veterinarians were a problem, just that this bill would harmonize all the different state laws to guarantee that everyone has better access to these medications.”

Keeping the cost of pet ownership down is especially important in this economy, he adds. “We know that economics weighs into the decision to adopt an animal and even, in some cases, to surrender an animal to a shelter.” There are no statistics on the number of owners citing the high cost of prescription drugs — or any other expense associated with keeping a pet — as the reason for surrender, but it’s not a great leap to suggest that someone who’s facing serious financial problems might see the family dog as an expense that could be eliminated. And even for an owner who’s not in dire straights, every little bit helps. “It’s always good to have more choices and better access, no matter what you’re buying,” he says.

You can verify an online vendor’s Vet-VIPPS standing on the NABP website: nabp.net.

Wellness: Recipes
From Scratch: Yogurt Making
Probiotic for you and your dog

Making yogurt is easy, economical and it helps both you and your dog to stay up on your probiotic regimes. With only two ingredients and a few tools, it couldn't be simpler. (While a commercial yogurt maker is convenient, it is not necessary.)

Tools:

Heavy pot
Kitchen thermometer (with a clip to hold unto to the pot)
Whisk
Glass jars or yogurt maker or warming pad or insulated cooler.

Ingredients:

1 qt. milk (low fat or non-fat; cow’s or goat’s milk)

2 or 3 tbsp. of fresh plain yogurt (from the previous batch or store-bought—but be sure it contains a live-culture!)

Step One: Heat the milk

Pour milk into a pot, heat slowly until the temperature reaches 185 degrees, stirring frequently (this can take up to 20 minutes). The longer you maintain this temperature, the thicker the final product. Be sure not to scald or burn the milk.

Step Two: Cool the milk

Pour the hot milk into a bowl or keep it in the pot—it will need to cool down to 110 degrees. You can place the bowl/pot into a larger bowl (or in the sink) with cold water or ice cubes around it to help the cooling. This takes around 15 minutes. It is important that it cools down before adding the culture. High temperatures can destroy the culture.

Step Three: Add the culture

Pour about a cup of the cooled milk into a small bowl or into a two-cup measurer and add 2 to 3 tbsp of yogurt. Whisk. Add it back to the rest of the milk, whisking again to make sure the milk and culture is thoroughly mixed.

Step Four: Incubate

Pour this mixture into yogurt-maker jars or into 2 large glass jars. If using glass jars, cover them and wrap in towels. Place them on a heating pad (set on medium, or a setting that assures 110 degrees) for 8 to 12 hours or until thickened. Or wrap the jars in towels, and place them with other jars filled with hot water into a cooler, close the cooler and let set for 8 to 12 hours. (There are many other methods to provide this low-warmth level, but the key is to hold the mixture undisturbed for 8 hours or more at 110 to 115 degrees.) After the yogurt has set, put in the refrigerator where it will set more. It can keep up to 1 week chilled. 

Remember to make your next batch, use 2 tbsp. from the present batch.

There is also an easy crockpot method you might like to check out, we have heard that it works well.

Extras for Dogs:

Frozen Yogurt Treats:

Your pups will love e a frozen yogurt treat. Pour into silicone ice cube trays, with a few blueberries or other fruit or juice. Dogs eagerly lick up these tasty, healthy treats! Or share your smoothies with them.

Extras for You:

Eat yogurt plain (a French meal favorite) or add honey or an easy-to-make fruit compote like this blueberry one adapted from Anson Mills.

For the blueberry compote:
1 pint fresh (or frozen) blueberries
Pinch salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ small cinnamon stick
Juice of one lemon

Place berries into pot with the sugar, salt, lemon juice, and cinnamon stick, and set over medium-low heat. Stir frequently as the berries begin to sizzle softly and melt. They will quickly begin to release their juices and cease sticking. Bring them to a simmer until soft and saucy, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl, remove cinnamon, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.  Stir into a portion into individual yogurt servings.

Additional uses:

To use yogurt as a sour cream substitute, thicken it by straining through a coffee filter. Or to make yogurt cheese (dog’s favorite), wrap the yogurt in fine, unbleached cheesecloth and hang it up for a day, for a quick cheese.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Setting the Table
Healthy Eating

Whether you’re feeding your dog kibble, canned food, a raw diet or home-cooked meals, how you feed him can also make a difference. In his new cookbook/nutrition guide Feed Your Best Friend Better, Rick Woodford has some basic tips for setting the table at floor level that can be applied to all dogs.

  • Let your dog know that patience is a virtue. “We ask our to dogs sit and stay in place while we’re dishing up their food. This helps prevent accidents as well as dogs getting into one another’s food bowl.” If the dog moves while you’re filling his bowl, let him know it’s time to sit back down by freezing in place and waiting for him to go back into position. With practice, your dog will catch on, and mealtime will be just a little calmer.
  • A bowl licked clean is not a clean bowl. Dog bowls should be washed after every meal to prevent a build-up of bacteria, dust or pet hair. “We have a collection of bowls that we rotate through the dishwasher, so every dog gets a clean bowl at each meal. You can add to your dog-bowl collection by keeping an eye out at thrift stores or garage sales,” suggests Woodford. Make sure they’re ceramic, glass or stainless steel, all of which are preferred over plastic, which can leach toxins.
  • When serving, always put down two bowls: one with water and one with food. Your pet may not empty the water bowl, but throughout the day, it accumulates bacteria, dust and even pollen that can aggravate environmental allergies. There’s nothing like a fresh bowl of water to wash down a meal.
  • A scoop is not a very well defined measurement. A month of feeding your dog just 10 percent more than he needs can easily pack a pound or two on him. Measure the appropriate amount of food for your dog into a glass container and mark with a permanent marker to create a more precise measuring tool.
  • Feed twice a day, which will help keep your dog from being either frantically hungry or overfull. Smaller meals also put less pressure on dogs’ digestive systems.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Trimming Nails
To trim or not to trim — that is the question
Tips on Trimming Dog's Nails by Nancy Kay DVM

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ingredients

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    News: Guest Posts
    Guide Dog Makes a Good Fitness Partner

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The BAER Test

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

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

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

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

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

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