Beating the heat with your pooch during the dog days of summer

 

The summer is finally here and with it comes the warmer weather that we’ve longed for during the icy winter months.  We may be perfectly content with hot sunny days and balmy evenings, but do our four-legged companions share that view?  Dogs typically do not enjoy the heat, so what can we do to make this time comfortable for them too?  We’ve put together 9 tips to help your pooch not only survive but to enjoy the dog days of summer.

Hydration is vital

Make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water regularly throughout the day. This is something that you will do for your dog anyway, but make sure there is an even more plentiful supply of water available than usual.

Dog drinking water.jpg

Exercise your dog during the coolest part of the day

The coolest times tend to be either early morning or later at night.  Make sure that your dog still gets exercise, but you may have to reduce the length and speed of the walks if the temperatures are too high.  Take extra care if walking on sidewalks, as the temperature of the asphalt can burn a dog’s paws and the heat radiating off the asphalt or cement can be unbearable.  Where possible stick to walking on grass, which will be much cooler for your dog and for you too.

Man walking dog at dusk.jpg

Keep your house cool

If your dog is home alone while you are at work, don’t forget to set the air conditioner to run periodically throughout the day.  For homes without an air conditioner, keep blinds and drapes closed and set ceiling fans to run counter-clockwise at a slightly higher speed than normal. Tiled floors can provide some cool relief so your dog may prefer to lie down on tile rather than in his usual favorite area in the house. If you don’t have tile, using a wet towel that he can lie on can give a similar effect.

Dog lying on tile floor.jpg

Don’t leave your dog in the car

Temperatures inside a vehicle can soar in a matter of minutes.  According to the SPCA, on a day when it is 85 degrees Fahrenheit outside, a car’s temperature can reach 102 degrees Fahrenheit in just 10 minutes and by 30 minutes can be at a sweltering 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Never leave a dog in a car!

Don’t leave your dog outside for extended periods in the heat

When your dog goes out to the backyard, ensure there are shaded areas and that there is access to plenty of water.  Dog houses can become very hot areas during warmer weather, so providing some umbrellas for shade is a better option to protect from sunburn and from heat. If you have the double whammy of high temperatures and high humidity, keep your dog inside as the humidity will stop the dog from being able to cool himself off sufficiently when he pants.

Provide dog-appropriate popsicles

Your dog can enjoy some cooling ice treats too.  Chicken broth frozen into ice cubes goes down really well with some dogs. Even if you just add ice cubes made from water to the drinking bowl, your dog will appreciate it.

Keep your dog well groomed

For double-coated dogs, the top layer of hair can protect from heat and sunburn, while the hair underneath can act as the dog’s cooling system.  Make sure to brush regularly as matted dog hair will interfere with this cooling process.  Talk to a groomer about whether trimming your dog’s fur can help make your dog more comfortable – it doesn’t work for all breeds but may be appropriate for your dog’s breed.

Provide a splash zone

Not all dogs like to get wet, but if yours does, providing a little puppy wading pool in the backyard when you are there to supervise can be a fun way for him to cool off.

Dog in wading pool.jpg

Pay closer attention to your dog during warmer weather and especially if your dog is very old or very young.   If he is panting excessively and drooling more than usual, or if you notice that he is urinating less frequently or not at all, has a red tongue and red gums, and is vomiting blood or has black, tarry stools, these may be signs of heat stroke. Try to gradually reduce the dog’s temperature using cool (but not cold) water and contact your veterinarian immediately for further advice.

Do you have any tips on what helps your dog stay cool during hot weather?  We’d love to hear about them.

Dog sleep in the hammock

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12 symptoms that could indicate heartworm in dogs

 

The weather’s starting to get warmer, you’re able to spend more time outside with your dog and all is good with the world.  You’re in the backyard ready to enjoy an evening kicking back and then you hear that all-too-familiar high-pitched buzzing sound. Yes, they’re back – mosquitoes!  For some people, mosquitoes are merely an irritation with bites leaving itchy welts on the skin, but many others fear the health issues that these tiny insects can bring in the form of malaria or the zika virus. Although many of us think about the effects of mosquitoes on humans, we sometimes overlook the harm they can do to pets in the form of heartworm.

 

A close-up of a mosquito on a white background
Mosquito

 

Heartworm causes serious disease in dogs affecting the heart, the lungs, and the blood vessels of the dog and ultimately it results in death. Heartworm is a parasitic roundworm that is spread to a dog if he is bitten by a mosquito.  It is the only way that dogs can get heartworm – it cannot be caught from another infected dog.  When a dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, the larvae migrate from the bite site to the heart, lungs, and blood vessels and this takes approximately 6-7 months. During this 6-7 months, the larvae develop into adult heartworms.  These adults then make their homes in these organs and blood vessels and start to reproduce. Adult heartworms can grow up to 12 inches long and can live for 7 years.  A dog can have as many as 250 worms in his system. If a dog has been bitten by an infected mosquito, it is likely that there will no symptoms for 7 months.

 

 

Heartworm lifecycle
Heartworm cycle. Image courtesy of Tampa Bay Animal Hospitals

 

 

Symptoms that your dog may have heartworm include the following:

Soft dry cough

This is from the heartworm multiplying in the lungs. The dog may cough more after exercise and may even faint.  Exercise does not need to be strenuous for this to occur.

Your dog becomes very lethargic

If your once active dog is suddenly not wanting to be active and preferring to sleep or rest rather going for a walk.  This may be a sign of heartworms.

Weight loss

Because your dog is so lethargic, even activities like eating can be too much effort.  As a result, the dog may choose to rest in preference to eating.  If a dog doesn’t eat normally, weight loss will likely result.

Rapid breathing

If your dog is experiencing difficulties in breathing, it may be due to heartworm.  If the lungs have heartworms living there, it can make breathing difficult and fluid can build up in the lungs and surrounding blood vessels.

Protruding ribs and bulging chest

The dog may look this way because of weight loss and because of fluid on the lungs.

Allergic reaction

Your dog may appear to be asthmatic or even allergic.  This is because of the build up of fluid and heartworm inhabiting the lungs.

Collapse

When there are large numbers of heartworm it can cause a blockage in the heart resulting in the collapse and ultimately the death of the dog.

Excessive sleeping

Nosebleeds

Seizures

Blindness

Lameness

The last four symptoms occur when heartworms end up in other parts of the body other than the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

dog examination by veterinary doctor with stethoscope in clinic

Diagnosis

As with many illnesses, the above symptoms can indicate other health issues, so vets have other ways of detecting heartworms.  Blood tests are a good way to determine whether there are heartworms by checking the presence of certain proteins (antigens) in the blood produced by heartworms.  The earliest this can be detected is at around 5 months after the dog has been bitten by the mosquito. X-rays, ECG, and echocardiography can also help to determine what is going on in the heart and lungs of the dog.

Treatment

Treatment is achieved by initially stabilizing the dog’s condition prior to the actual treatment beginning.  The veterinarian may start by giving the dog antibiotics (to eliminate the bacteria that the heartworm give out when they die), preventative treatments (to stop heartworm reaching adulthood by eliminating the larvae), and steroids (to stop inflammation).  The actual treatment can then begin and may be in the form of a series of injections to eliminate adult heartworm from the dog.  Your dog will need to be hospitalized for this process. Pre-treatment stabilization and treatment can take several months to achieve. Following this, the younger heartworm and larvae are eliminated.  In certain situations, surgical removal may be required.

Recovery

Following treatment, the dog will need to rest far more than usual.  Physical exercise increases the rate at which the heartworm will cause damage to a dog’s heart or lungs. A very active dog with only a few heartworms can be more at risk than a very inactive dog with lots of heartworms. Your veterinarian will advise when exercise can be resumed and this will need to be introduced slowly and gradually.   Six months after the treatment you will need to have your dog tested for heartworms again.  This is because the veterinarian needs to check that all heartworms were eliminated during the treatment process. The longer the time that heartworms are present, the more damage they can do.

Curious Puppy

The best approach to managing heartworms is to prevent them in the first place.  There are many products on the market that are designed to prevent a whole variety of problems ranging from heartworm to fleas in one single application.  These can be provided in the form of a pill or spot treatments applied to the skin.  These monthly treatments do not prevent heartworms but eliminate any larvae that have been acquired by the dog during that month.

It is always advisable to discuss heartworm concerns with your veterinarian. He or she can advise you on the best preventative measures to protect your dog from this parasite.

 

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The 20 worst foods for your dog to consume

 

As with much dietary advice, there is often confusion and sometimes conflicting advice about what is and what isn’t good for us to consume.  Food for dogs also falls into this zone as people are often unsure what foods are suitable for dogs and what foods aren’t.

Veterinarians advise that it is better to give dogs only food and treats designed for dogs.  In real life, many dog owners give their pets scraps from the table or use human food as a treat. So how can we be sure that what we are giving our dogs is not doing more harm than good?  In an attempt to make things a little clearer for dog owners, the following is our guide showing what NOT to feed your dog and the reasons why.

Avocado

avocado

A superfood for humans, but not for our canine friends.  Avocados contain a substance called persin, which causes vomiting and diarrhea in dogs.

Alcohol

Not just restricted to beverages, this also includes food that contains alcohol.  Never give alcohol to a dog as this can cause vomiting, diarrhea, decreased coordination, central nervous system depression, difficulty breathing, tremors, abnormal blood acidity, coma, and even death.

Hops

This is an ingredient used in beermaking and just like the alcohol itself, is toxic for dogs, causing panting, an increased heart rate, fever, seizures, and can result in death.

Happy Farmer

Onions and garlic

Not only do these vegetables cause gastrointestinal upset, they can also damage red blood cells in dogs. This can be fatal.  It should be noted that garlic in very small doses could be OK for dogs, but larger quantities are dangerous. Because of this, it is recommended to steer clear of garlic.

Coffee, tea, caffeine, and chocolate

All of the above items contain methylxanthines, specifically caffeine in coffee and theobromine in chocolate.  These cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, arrhythmia, seizures, and can also result in death.  Even though these products have different levels of methylxanthines, it is best to avoid any kind of chocolate and caffeine entirely.

dog-eyeing-chocolate-cake

Grapes and raisins

Grapes and raisins cause kidney failure.  Experts do not entirely understand why this is the case, but it is simply advised that dogs do not consume these fruits because of that potential outcome.

grapes

Milk and dairy products

Dogs do not produce large quantities of the lactase enzyme, so are unable to break down the lactose in dairy products.  Although small amounts of dairy products can be tolerated, larger quantities are likely to result in gastrointestinal upset.

Nuts

Macadamia nuts are particularly problematic. Although excellent for humans, these nuts cause weakness, tremors, vomiting, and hyperthermia. Not all nuts are bad for dogs, but the high fat content can cause vomiting and diarrhea in dogs and can ultimately lead to pancreatitis.

macademia-nuts

Bones

Although this may sound like a good idea, stick to raw bones. Never ever give chicken bones, as these are too fragile for your dog. Cooked bones can splinter and cause a choking hazard for dogs.

Fat trimmings

Feeding your dog with these can result in pancreatitis in dogs, so should be avoided.

Liver

Liver contains a lot of vitamin A, which although good for humans can adversely affect a dog’s muscles and bones.

Citrus

Although it is ok to eat small amounts of the actual fruit, other parts are toxic to animals.  Keep peel, leaves, and stems away from dogs as the oils can affect the central nervous system.

orange-peel

Corn on the cob

Although dogs can tolerate some vegetables, corn on the cob is not well digested in a dog’s stomach. If your dog eats a large amount of the cob itself, look for signs of gastrointestinal upset or constipation as there may be an intestinal blockage.

Persimmons, peaches, and plums

The seeds of all these fruits can lead to gastrointestinal obstruction. The pit of a peach is particularly dangerous to a dog’s health as it degrades to hydrogen cyanide when metabolized.

peach

Coconut and coconut oil

Small amounts of the flesh may be eaten, but this can sometimes result in vomiting and diarrhea. Never give your dog coconut with the shell still on, as this can result in choking or even abdominal obstruction.

Raw meat and fish

Consuming raw fish on a regular basis can actually lead to a vitamin B deficiency in dogs. This may shows as a loss of appetite initially, followed by seizures, and possibly death.

Salt

Just as with humans, consuming large amounts of salt leads to excessive thirst in dogs.  It can also result in sodium ion poisoning, so salty snacks should be avoided.

Yeast dough

Raw dough can continue to rise inside the dog, causing bloating and intestinal discomfort.  It can sometimes result in a twisted stomach, which is a life-threatening condition.

dog-looking-at-raw-dough

Mushrooms

If they are store bought mushrooms, chances are that your dog will not have an allergic reaction.  Do not attempt to give your dog wild mushrooms as there is a higher potential that these may be toxic.

Xylitol

Used as a sweetener in many different applications including gum and candy, xylitol can cause insulin release, which leads to liver failure. The increase in insulin leads to hypoglycemia. Initial signs of toxicosis include vomiting, lethargy, and loss of coordination. These symptoms can progress to seizures. Elevated liver enzymes and liver failure can be seen within a few days. Avoid this product entirely.

gum

What to do if your dog consumes these items

If your dog consumes any of the above foods, but currently shows no symptoms, call your local poison control center straight away for advice. The ASPCA poison control number is (888) 426-4435 and there may be a fee applied for a consultation. For all other cases take your pet immediately to an animal emergency hospital or your local veterinarian.

As always, if in doubt about what is best for your dog’s health and welfare, consult with your veterinarian.

 

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Taking the plunge with dogs and kids: Part 2

Part 2: Dogs

dog-diving-into-ocean

People often automatically assume that just because many dogs love water and love swimming that all dogs love it and can swim instinctively.  This is not necessarily the case and when it comes to dogs and swimming, there are actually three distinct groups.

Group 1: Those that inherently know how to swim

Examples in this category are Labrador retrievers, who typically love water and once they are in it’s often pretty difficult to get them back out.

swimming-dog-2

Group 2: Those that can be taught

If your dog is a breed that could swim and could enjoy swimming you can encourage him by beginning in shallow, calm water.  If he responds well to that and likes to chase tennis balls or floating toys, you could try tempting him with the toys.

Group 3: Those that need to stay away from pools or other bodies of water at all costs

Dogs that fall into this category are typically those with large heavy chests relative to their hindquarters, short legs, and short muzzles. Examples of this are English bulldogs, pugs, French bulldogs, corgis and basset hounds.  Some of these breeds have very low body fat too, making them far more susceptible to hypothermia in colder waters. If you own a dog with these physical characteristics it would definitely be advisable to keep him or her away from bodies of water or be equipped with a life vest if you cannot avoid this.

swimming-dog

Teaching your dog to swim

Start off slowly by introducing your dog to shallow water.  It is often advisable to put a life vest on the dog and/or a leash.  If your dog responds well to this, gradually move to deeper water so that he needs to do some paddling. Support your dog underneath the belly area to encourage him to use all 4 legs to swim.  Just as with teaching children to swim, it is advisable to keep swim sessions with your dog fairly short, but done regularly.

dog-in-the-water-on-a-leash

It is important to keep in mind that many dogs just simply don’t enjoy swimming. Even breeds that were bred for swimming (such as Labrador retrievers) don’t always enjoy it.  Some may be able to swim but are actually scared of the water.  Fear can increase fatigue, so always monitor whether your dog is showing signs of being fearful.

Never let your dog swim in areas where the water is too cold or where there are currents.  Don’t let your dog get overly tired while swimming. This is particularly important if you have a puppy or a senior dog. Do bear in mind that dogs can get disoriented when swimming, so keep a close eye on your dog’s location in the water.

There are lots of different options available for life vests.  These should be used when your dog goes on a boat, or if he is included in activities such as river floats or paddle boarding.

dog-wearing-life-jacket-2

After all the fun of the water, do remember to give your dog a shower or bath to rinse any residual chlorine or salts from his coat. Cleanse ears with an appropriate product and ensure that they are gently but thoroughly dried to prevent ear infections. Provide fresh water for drinking after swimming.

Is your dog a natural swimmer or afraid of the water?  What tips worked best for you?

 

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Taking the plunge with dogs and kids: Part 1

Many families like to vacation near beaches, rivers or lakes and all of these have one thing in common – water!  When there are large bodies of water present, we should always think of the safety of our children and our dogs.  This two-part series looks at how to keep dogs and kids safe so that everyone can have a fun and safe time on vacation or on weekend trips.

family-in-pool-on-vacation

Part 1: Kids

Ideally, swimming is an activity that should be introduced when children are still infants.  Many pools and community programs offer instructor-led “Mommy and Me” swim sessions that allow the babies to get used to being in the water and are great for Moms and babies to bond further.

mom-with-baby-swimming-2

It is preferable to then progress to swimming lessons with a trained swimming instructor who can show your child the correct techniques from the beginning – it is a lot more difficult to unlearn bad habits and techniques.  This type of swimming instruction is usually available on a group or an individual basis.  Group sessions tend to be less expensive, but as there are more children involved there tends to be less actual swimming time.  If your budget won’t stretch to professional lessons, you may want to consider teaching them to swim yourself. This does not always work, as learning to swim can be a frustrating process and sometimes kids will take instruction better from a swimming instructor than from a parent. It is also problematic if you have multiple children. If you are keen to give it a go and will be working with just one child, here are some ideas to make parent-child swimming instruction successful.

Make it a regular date

In order for parent-child swimming instruction to work, kids need to swim regularly and preferably once a week.  Make a point of assigning this time in your calendar once a week and sticking to it, except when your child is sick.

child-learning-to-swim

Keep it short and keep it varied

Swimming is a very tiring activity and as much as we want our kids to sleep well at night, having prolonged swimming sessions when they are learning to swim can be counterproductive.  It’s far better to keep it short (15 – 20 minutes for very young and new swimmers) and to keep lesson activities varied.

Make it fun

Making the swimming lessons fun with games and other activities is crucial to keeping children engaged and in building their confidence in the water.  For very young kids, use games involving nursery rhymes and plastic toys.  As they get older, continue to use those techniques, but also introduce games such as “red light, green light,” (where children kick like crazy on green, slow down on amber, and stop on red) to help improve specific swimming techniques. As they get slightly older, drop the nursery rhymes and include the use of more games, varying the games from session to session.

Kids of all ages will learn better if there is variety in the lesson.  If they get to use kickboards, pool noodles, and other flotation devices once in a while this will be beneficial.  Using these items helps to improve stroke technique, keeps them interested, and will leave them wanting to come back for more.  Not all community pools will allow their use, so check on that before taking yours along.

boy-swimming-with-kick-board

 

Make swimming enjoyable

Building up confidence in the water is vital so that kids are not afraid of the water and want to swim. As your little swimmer progresses in ability and confidence, you may want to think about enrolling in swimming clubs where a range of swimming and social opportunities will be offered.

Set rules

Make sure that your children know how to stay safe near a swimming pool.  They must always ask for permission to go in a pool and must have adult supervision during this time.  Rules such as not running by a pool are really important to follow. Use life vests or floaties for young kids when they are not actually practicing their swimming strokes, but do not rely on the floaties for safety. For young kids and those who are not strong swimmers, life vests should be worn for activities such as river floating or when in lake water.  If swimming in the ocean, be conscious of the tide and possible currents.  Where possible try to swim in a lifeguard supervised zone.

river-float-with-kid

 

Even when your child has become a good swimmer, it is possible to get into difficulties in the water.  Always ensure that children are supervised to minimize risk and ensure that you are all able to enjoy a fun and safe vacation.

Learning to swim is not a luxury, it is a necessity! Being able to swim is such an important skill to have.  Swimming provides fantastic exercise for able-bodied children and those with physical challenges and is an activity that can be continued throughout their lives.

Some of my happiest and most memorable times have taken place around water with my children. What experiences have you had? We’d love to hear about them.

 

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Why we Want US Healthcare to go to the Dogs

Have you ever had to spend any time in the hospital as a patient?  If you have, it is likely that you may have experienced periods of feeling low, anxious, stressed, and frustrated as a result of your illness or injury and because of being away from family, friends, and your home. If any of this sounds like your hospital experience, you were not alone, as it is not uncommon for hospitalized patients to experience a downturn in mental wellbeing, sometimes with physiological changes too.

In order to counteract some of these multi-factor stressors that hospitalized patients experience, many hospitals have introduced a variety of therapeutic programs.  One program that you are increasingly likely to see on that list is animal-assisted therapy sometimes simply called pet therapy.

Why is animal-assisted therapy being used?

The idea of animal-assisted therapy is not new.  For many years, it was considered to be a “nice” thing for hospital patients to experience, but thanks to increasing amounts of research into the topic by clinicians, there has been proven to be a wider range of benefits.

boy-with-pet-therapy-dog

What are the benefits of animal-assisted therapy to patients?

An article by Cole, Gawlinski, Steers, and Kotlerman1 in the American Journal of Critical Care showed that when patients had only a 12-minute visit from a pet, there was an improvement in heart and lung function and a significant lowering of blood pressure, a reduction in the release of harmful hormones, and a decrease in anxiety.  The study was conducted with hospitalized heart failure patients. It indicated that there was far more benefit shown in those patients that received a visit from a pet than in those patients who were only visited by a human volunteer or those who were left alone.

Specifically, the benefits to patients of animal-assisted therapy include:

Mental health benefits

  • Reduced depression
  • Reduced problem behaviors for patients with dementia (less agitation, less verbal aggression, and more social behavior)
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Reduced tension
  • Reduced confusion
  • Improved self-esteem and self-acceptance
  • Increased socialization
  • Reduced boredom

Physical health benefits

  • Lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure when exposed to stress
  • Reduced serum epinephrine concentrations
  • Lower pain perception
  • Endorphins (oxytocin) released giving a calming effect
  • Reduced need for medication

man-petting-dog-in-hospital

What are the dangers for patients?

If patients are allergic to pets, animal-assisted therapy cannot be used. Guidelines from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) indicate that only dogs should be used, not cats. Cats cannot be trained in the same way as dogs, with more likelihood of scratches and bites from cats.  Additionally, people are more likely to be allergic to cats than to dogs.

There has been a lot of research done on the benefit of having dogs in the hospital, but not much research on the spread of bacteria from having dogs in the hospital rooms. The SHEA developed new guidelines for how hospitals can approach having pets visiting with patients at the hospital. Dogs used for pet therapy purposes and their handlers need to undergo specific training and be evaluated prior to having hospital access and ideally should be certified by a pet training organization. The American Kennel Club (AKC) lists the organizations through which it accepts dogs to have received their certification and to be given the official title of AKC Therapy Dog.

A study done in a Canadian hospital tested dogs’ paws and fur prior to hospital entry and then again after visiting patients.  Of the 26 dogs studied, one picked up C Difficile on his paws during the visit and one had MRSA on his fur and on the handler’s hands following the visit.2 This highlights that although sanitizing pets is difficult, there is a definite need for thorough handwashing by anyone visiting patients prior to visiting and following the visit. When visiting with multiple patients, handwashing between visits is essential.

Hospitals have very distinct protocols in place to ensure that the transmission of infection is kept at a minimum. The animals have to be clean, vaccinated, trained, and have a good temperament before being allowed into the hospital in the first place.  In some cases, such as patients in isolation units or patients in the intensive care unit, pet therapy can only take place with extra measures in place, but in certain situations it is unsuitable.

lady-receiving-pet-therapy

Examples of successful animal-assisted therapy?

There are two types of patient-pet interactions: animal-assisted therapy and animal-assisted activity. Animal-assisted therapy is specifically directed toward patients with cancer, heart disease, or mental health concerns and needs to have a credentialed staff member involved in the process.  Animal-assisted activities have a wider scope and are typically used to provide comfort and enjoyment focusing on mental health benefits rather than trying to achieve specific physiological outcomes such as reduced blood pressure, etc. This latter form of activity is typically staffed by volunteer handlers.

Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York City is an example of a hospital where canines have successfully been introduced in the Caring Canines program.

 

memorial-sloane-kettering-caring-canines
President of Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center with Caring Canines employees

 

There are many programs of a similar type being introduced across the nation as the full benefits are increasingly being understood.  Dogs are not only being used in surgical and treatment settings but are being used for physical therapy and rehabilitation. Tasks such as brushing a dog can make for more interesting arm strengthening exercises for patients than just doing weight training.3  Dogs can also be used to encourage walking and other rehabilitative exercises.

More and more research is being done on the subject of pet therapy to ascertain the relative merits.  Here at Pet Barrier, we think the answer is simple.  If having a therapy or activity session with a dog can at the bare minimum brighten a patient’s day during difficult times, pet therapy is absolutely worth it. It has been clinically proven that animal-assisted therapy achieves far more than that, with benefits to patients’ mental and physical health being achieved across all age groups, from children through to seniors.  Animal-assisted therapy and activity should be available at all healthcare facilities across the nation. Is US healthcare going to the dogs? We welcome it!

We’d love to hear about your experiences with pet therapy – please share if you are able.

References

1.       Gole, Gawlinski, Steers, Kotlerman. Animal-Assisted Therapy in Patients Hospitalized With Heart Failure. Am J Crit Care. November 2007 vol. 16 no. 6 575-585

2. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/therapy-dogs-and-hospital-infections/?_r=0 Tara Parker-Pope May 11, 2009

3. Haggard, A. (1985). A patient’s best friend. American Journal of Nursing. 85(12), 1374-1376

 

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Chaos in the Cubicles, or a Calm Company: Does a pets-at-work Policy Work?

Of the many holidays scheduled throughout the year, one of the newest to hit the calendar is National Take Your Pet to Work Day.  In the US this is scheduled for June 23rd in 2017.  If your company is considering getting involved in this or implementing a full pets-at-work policy, now might be the prime time to start preparing to make it work for your business and its employees.

Increasingly businesses across the US are becoming more dog friendly.  According to the US pet food company, Purina, although around 72% of companies do not allow employees to bring their pets to work, it is anticipated that this could change in coming years as some employers are seeing specific advantages from introducing this additional employee benefit.  Admittedly there are many working situations where it simply is not practical to have a dog in tow, but in certain office environments, it can be a feasible option.

Why become dog friendly?

A happy, relaxed employee is more likely to be motivated at work and more likely to stay with a company for longer. High employee turnover is never a good sign in any organization and smart employers know that losing good people costs them both in time and money.  A recent article by Julie Kantorindicated that employee turnover costs a company conservatively between $15,000 and $25,000 every time an employee on a low salary leaves to go elsewhere and this amount ratchets up quickly with higher salaried employees.  It stands to reason that employers who show employees that they are valued are likely to get more respect and a better work ethic in return. Ideas for businesses to keep staff content and engaged are varied and can include the following:

  • flexible working hours
  • benefits such as good healthcare coverage
  • telecommuting opportunities
  • on-site child care
  • access to exercise facilities at lunch time or after work
  • a pets-at-work policy

Any benefits that offer employees a better work-life balance tend to be well received. Amazon, Etsy, Google, Bissell, Clif Bar and Petco are just a few of the US companies that are keen to get pets involved. They believe that millennials especially (currently aged between 18 and 34 years old) are influenced in a positive way if there are dogs in the office. One company (the BrewDog brewery in Columbus, Ohio) has even introduced a paid parental leave plan for employees who are welcoming a new puppy into their homes. Following the parental leave, they are then permitted to bring the pup to work.

It doesn’t work for all, but for some companies, allowing staff this flexibility of having a pet at work can reap rewards.

 

dog-under-a-desk

 

What are the advantages of having dogs at work?

Benefits of having dogs at work can include some of the following:

A happier and healthier workforce. Employees with pets at the desk are less likely to suffer from depression as petting a dog releases endorphins, reducing anxiety in the owner. Having a dog around also encourages more physical activity.  With a dog at your feet, you have to get active during the day, by taking regular comfort breaks and walking before work, at lunchtime, and after work. These benefits are really only true for the dog owners among the staff and not necessarily applicable to those without pets.

Dogs get to spend more time with their owners and vice versa.  When you add your commute time to your working day, chances are you are away from your home for a lot longer than you may realize.  Many pet owners who work full time will hire dog walkers to take the dog out for a walk during the day, but even with that special attention it is usually only for a short amount of time during the day, so your dog is likely to be lonely and miss your presence.  If your dog is with you, he may be less stressed and you can also relax knowing that he is in your care.

Increased social interaction.  Having a pet around can break the ice between co-workers and can also help to improve communication between staff at different levels. If there are other dogs in the office, your dog may get the opportunity to socialize more with other dogs.

 

Young woman petting dog at office desk

How can employers get this policy started?

If you are thinking about implementing a pets-at-work policy there are several things to consider from the outset.

  • It’s not always easy to get commercial real estate that allows pets to be on the premises, so be sure there isn’t a “no-pets” policy in your building.
  • If you are thinking about adopting a pets-at-work policy at your workplace, a good way to start could be with a “Bring Your Pet to Work Day.”  This allows you to see how having animals around affects your work environment without having to commit to a full pet-friendly policy from the outset.
  • Talk to other organizations that have a pets-at-work policy and find out from them what works, what hasn’t worked, and why.
  • If you decide to invite pets into your workplace, be prepared to make revisions to the policy as you experience different situations during a working week or month.

How can employees make it work?

man-with-dog-on-lap

If the company gives the idea of dogs at work the go-ahead, employees who want to bring dogs should think about the best approach to ensure that they and the company can capture all the positive benefits.

Will it be OK with all coworkers in the office?  Some people are allergic to dogs, whereas others are downright fearful, so it’s important to be respectful of all employees needs.

What to do when dogs don’t get along. Chances are there will be plenty of other dogs at the office too.  If there are, introduce them slowly.  Not all will get on with one another, so be prepared for that and have a plan on what to do should that be the case.

Consider dog temperaments and how they differ with breed and training. Some dogs are too stressed in new settings to cope with going into a work environment, whereas others are fairly laid back and could fit in anywhere.  Think realistically and objectively about where your dog sits on this scale in terms of temperament and level of training.

Think about grooming. In the same way that you take a shower and dress appropriately for work, you should take a similar approach with your dog.  Make sure he is groomed as well as he can be – a muddy pooch may not be a good fit in a well-presented office environment.

Health and safety for dogs.  Ensure that the office environment is as hazard-free as possible. Make sure that any choking hazards are out of the way of the pets, and there is no chance of them chewing on cables, plants or anything else that could be dangerous. Ensure all pet vaccinations are up to date.  This is vital, to ensure that pets stay healthy when coming into contact with other dogs. Do not take a sick dog to work. You don’t know how that is going to play out, and this can be made worse when introducing him into a more stressful environment.

Don’t let him wander.  Although your dog wouldn’t be on a leash at home, this is not the same kind of environment.  You need to know where your dog is at every point during the day and the best way of doing that is keeping him tethered.

Pay attention to physical needs. Your dog will require regular attention during your time at work.  Make sure you have dishes for water and food with you and some (preferably non-squeaky) toys for distraction.  Take your dog for frequent excursions outside, so that he can relieve himself and so he doesn’t get overly restless being cooped up in an office environment all day.  Again, this is a time to consider whether your dog’s breed can tolerate being inside an office for a long period of time.

Don’t leave your dog unattended for large periods of time.  This can be difficult if you are likely to be attending lengthy meetings, so take that into consideration before bringing your dog to work.

 

Dog in glasses sitting in an office chair, on with box folder with documents

Do you think having your pet at work would make you more productive?  If you work somewhere that already welcomes pets in the workplace, we’d love to hear about your experiences.

Reference

  1. Kantor J. Want to Keep Your Millenials – Mentor Them.  Huff Post. December 18, 2016

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