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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Five dog-specific apps to Help you Live Better

Today, there are mobile apps for almost every conceivable topic or need and because so many people now own smartphones and tablets, mobile app usage has seen huge growth worldwide.  It is estimated that by 2020, mobile apps will generate a staggering $189 billion worldwide.1 

There are some really interesting apps that have been developed specifically for dog owners.  We’ve taken a look at five free apps (all available for Android and iOS), which could potentially assist dog owners with many aspects of dog care.

Dog Vacay

Despite the boom in dog-friendly hotel options across the nation, there are times when you need to travel but just can’t take your favorite companion with you.  Although there are excellent kennels available in the US, some people prefer their dogs to have a more personalized pet-sitting service and this led to the development of the DogVacay app.

Dog Vacay allows you to connect with dog sitters in your area who offer services ranging from dog walking, to taking your dog to vet appointments, or caring for your dog in your home or theirs when you are out of town.

With a 24/7 customer support service and daily photo or video updates, you can travel or use the daycare option knowing that your dog is in good hands.

dog-vacay
Pet First Aid

Just like people, pets get sick and have accidents too.  Although many of us are familiar with the correct first aid procedures when dealing with people, we’re not necessarily as confident when required to be first responders in pet emergencies. The Pet First Aid app developed by the American Red Cross remedies that situation, allowing you to check symptoms and watch videos on how best to respond to common emergency situations.

You can learn about early warning signs, learn first aid steps, and take quizzes on pet health and safety. For more serious conditions, the app will also tell you the location of the nearest emergency animal hospital or veterinarian’s office.

A great app to use in emergencies and a great resource to help you provide emergency care for your pet until you can get to a veterinarian.

pet-first-aid

BarkCam

If you’re a dog owner, you will know that no matter how adorable your dog’s appearance, trying to capture “that look” in a photo can be extremely difficult.  This is where BarkCam comes in.  Using a variety of different sounds to get your dog’s attention, the sounds are linked to the camera’s shutter button, so you trigger sound and take the photo at the same time.

When you’ve got your favorite picture, you can edit to your heart’s content using filters, stickers or even text.  You can share pictures on the platform itself or share it on either Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

bark-cam

Whistle

This app requires a phone for you and a Whistle GPS collar for your dog, which then allows you to track not only your dog’s location but also his heart rate.  Designed to help avoid dog’s getting lost, it also allows you to create custom activity goals for your dog, based on breed, size, and age and can be modified depending on which family member is walking the dog at that particular time.

It is important to keep in mind that because this app has nationwide GPS coverage in the US, there is potential to run down your phone battery much faster on longer walks.

Although this app is free, the required collar costs around $50*.

 

whistle-device
Whistle GPS dog collar

 

 

MapMyDogWalk

There are plenty of apps on the market for runners and walkers and this app is quite similar, but designed specifically for those who walk dogs. The app gives you information on the best dog walking routes in your area and if you use one of these or add one of your own, the app allows you to track progress made and allows you to save this data to compare against future walks. Information on dog parks, waste-bag dispensers, dog-friendly areas and water fountains are all given in this dog-friendly app.
Once again, it is important to note that continually using GPS, does dramatically drain battery power.

map-my-dog-walk

 

We have only taken a look at 5 free apps, but there are far more on the market for dog owners to use. Why not look for one that would make your lifestyle easier?  As businesses are increasingly being encouraged to develop apps, it is possible that in the not too distant future we will see an even greater number of dog-friendly apps, which will likely become more interactive and more personalized to meet user need.

Do you currently use any apps on your cell phone or tablet that make your dog care duties more manageable or is there an app that you would love to see available for dog owners? Let us know which apps make your life with your dog better.

*Price correct at time of article posting.

References

  1. https://www.statista.com/topics/1002/mobile-app-usage/

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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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Why Mom was Right About Spring Cleaning: Part 3, Lifestyle

 

Part 3: Your lifestyle

 

When you are a busy adult, whether because of work commitments, child care, caring for senior family members, pet care,  or perhaps all of the aforementioned, it is often easy to make the mistake of putting yourself last.  Admittedly in this 3-part series, I am posting this last, which shows I’m as guilty of thinking along these lines as anybody.  Whenever I’ve put my needs first, I’ve always felt a little bit guilty, but recent events at my veterinarian’s office made me rethink what I had previously thought of as selfish actions on my part.

motherjuggling

I was attending an appointment with my dog when another dog’s owner experienced a heart attack in the waiting room. Fortunately, the outcome of a long and convoluted story was that the dog’s owner recovered well and the dog received care during the recuperation period.  It left me with the realization that in order to ensure someone else’s welfare, we need to ensure our own welfare. Ultimately, if we don’t take proper care of ourselves, we become unable to care for others. Isn’t it, therefore, a wise investment to make time for yourself this spring by reviewing your lifestyle and maybe giving it an overhaul if it is falling short?

 

 

Rethink your workout habits

You work out to stay fit and healthy, but if your routine hasn’t really changed in many years, maybe it could do with a refresh to keep you interested and challenged.  If you enjoy working out with your dog, activities like canine parcours or doga could be of interest to you.  If you love walking with your dog, but are thinking about progressing to running, maybe alternating jogging with walking with your pup may be a good way to ease both of you into the sport.

yoga

Improve your diet

We’re not talking about dangerous diets or detox programs, but simply evaluating what you eat and seeing how you can boost your nutritional intake can be beneficial.  An easy way to start is with a food diary, in which you write down what and how much you have eaten for every meal for a couple of weeks (or longer if you prefer).  You will probably be surprised by the results.  If you find your diet is particularly low in vegetables, that is an easy fix.  Additionally, if you notice that there is a lot of repetition in your meals, you can add more variety to give a broader range of nutrients and more interest for your palate. In the last couple years particularly, many  TV chefs, TV doctors, and celebrity fitness trainers have been focusing on increasing nutritional value in meals to try to help people reduce weight, prevent disease, and ultimately add years to their lives. Their suggested recipes are often simple to fix, absolutely delicious, and many are available free online – it’s worth googling.

superfood-salad

Take more time for yourself

No matter what hobbies you have and how you prefer to take time for yourself, make certain that you build some of this time into your week. Make a list of the things that you really want to do for yourself and the things that help you relax. Then look at what you actually do on a daily basis and determine what tasks can be eliminated or even outsourced.  If you spend all your spare time catching up on household duties, maybe some of those tasks can be shared with a spouse, leaving you some time to attend a language lesson, catch up on a good book, or whatever you want to do that’s just for you.

Nurture your friendships

Friends getting together

Friendships are vital, whether we have busy lives or not. Try to stay in touch with friends on a weekly basis, even if just by phone, and try to get together as often as possible. Friendships help us to feel connected, boost happiness levels, reduce stress, and may even help in preventing early onset dementia.

best-friends

 

Your Mom was right,  spring cleaning is an important addition to every person’s calendar, but not just for keeping your house spiffy. Take time for yourself, it’s not selfish, it’s essential!

 

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Why Mom was Right About Spring Cleaning: Part 1, Grooming

 

Do the words “Spring Cleaning” make you roll your eyes and think of  The Stepford Wives, bleach, and enormous rubber gloves?  If the answer to this is yes, you’re not alone. Although it is common and often necessary to look at giving our homes an extra deep clean at this time of year, other aspects of our lives could potentially benefit from a good spring clean too. This 3-part series looks at a few facets of our lives where a little extra TLC could be worthwhile.

Part 1: Grooming Dogs

During the wetter and colder months, dogs tend to get more dirty, more frequently.  If your pocketbook is still feeling a little light after the holiday season, making extra visits to the groomer may not be a practical option.  To keep your dog healthy and smelling fresh, a more intensive session of at-home grooming may be the answer.

dog-in-bath

Don’t Give Brushing the Brush Off

Although a relatively simple task, the benefits of brushing shouldn’t be ignored. Brushing is excellent for your dog’s coat as it removes any dead hair and avoids mats.  It also helps to distribute the natural oils within the coat, which keeps the coat healthy and looking good too. Most dogs are quite happy to be brushed, but the frequency and duration will depend on the dog’s breed – some will require extensive brushing as part of the daily routine while others will not need brushing as frequently or for as long.  Check what is required for your breed, but also bear in mind that brushing is a fantastic way to bond with your dog, so you may want to brush him more frequently than the bare minimum requirement.

brushing-a-dogs-coat

Splish, Splash

Unlike people, dogs do not need a daily bath.  Experts recommend once a month (unless there is a medical condition), as more frequent bathing strips the coat of the natural oils necessary to keep it shiny and healthy.  Never use shampoo or conditioners designed for humans.  There are plenty of dog shampoos on the market that have been specifically formulated to avoid irritating your pet’s skin, to remove dirt but not the important oils from their coats, and to be easily rinsed from the fur.

After removing your dog’s collar, clean your dog’s ears with an ear cleanser before placing her in the bath, and then gently place cotton balls in her ears to keep them dry during the bathing process.  Use warm water, checking the temperature on your own skin first and then thoroughly saturate the coat. Shampoo the dirtier areas first, working up to the head last, using your hands to massage the skin through the coat.  Use a washcloth to remove dirt from the face. Rinse your dog’s head first and then work down the body, keeping water and shampoo away from the eyes and face where possible. When you rinse the shampoo from the coat, ensure that you rinse all of it out thoroughly to prevent itchy skin. Following up with a leave-in conditioner can be helpful so the coat is more manageable and so it doesn’t get dirty again too quickly. Comb out your dog’s fur while it is wet to prevent tangles – you may find that a detangling spray will help with that also.

dog-in-bath

Drying your dog after a bath can be a challenge, as some dogs (mine included) may enjoy the bathing process, but hate the feeling of being wet after a bath.  One way is to take the natural drying approach, allowing the dog to shake the water from his coat and then letting the coat air dry.  Impressively dogs can shake about 70% of the water from their fur in this way. If you don’t want that amount of water sprayed around your bathroom, towelling your dog dry is probably the way to go.  For those that cannot even tolerate the towel-dry wet feeling, following up with a hair dryer is helpful.  Not all dogs enjoy having a hair dryer blown at them, so if it is a new experience for your dog, introduce her gradually being sure to keep heat and air moving over the entire dog and not concentrated in one area as that could be uncomfortable or even burn skin. If your dog resists the hair dryer or is visibly fearful, just stick to the towel method.

dog-shaking-water-out-of-coat

Keeping Those  Pearly Whites Clean

Ideally, brushing your dog’s teeth should be part of your daily routine.  Use toothpaste specifically formulated for dogs – do not use human toothpaste as the fluoride is toxic to dogs.  In the real world however, no matter how much we love our pets and want the best for their health, incorporating daily brushing of their teeth into our hectic schedules often doesn’t happen.  There are other ways to keep your dog’s teeth clean and breath fresher. One way is to give your dog raw bones, which are excellent for a dog’s teeth, but never give chicken bones or other fragile bones that can splinter easily.  Dental treats can be used as an alternative to regular treats.  Be careful of weight gain in your pet if using these, as some are quite high in calories.

If your dog’s breath smells bad, there is plaque still building up around the gums, your dog has lumps or bumps in the mouth or bleeding gums, or you have other concerns with your dog’s oral health, you should turn to a veterinarian for assistance.

brushing-dogs-teeth

A mani-pedi

For some dogs, walking daily on a sidewalk is sufficient to keep nails at a decent length until a visit to the groomers is possible. For others, this just isn’t sufficient, but many dog owners are fearful of trimming their dog’s nails in case they do it incorrectly.  If your dog has regularly had his nails clipped from a young age, he is probably quite comfortable with the procedure.  Talk to your vet about the best way to trim the nails so that they remain at a manageable length in between groomer visits. Don’t forget the dewclaw, if your dog’s breed has them.

nail-trim-guide

A buzz cut or bangs?

This is another area of dog care that many owners prefer to leave to the professionals, especially if your dog’s breed requires hand stripping.  Again, depending on your dog’s breed, you may be able to tackle some trimming at home, so talk to your vet about how frequently your dog needs its fur trimmed and by how much. If you are feeling brave and decide to have a go, make sure clippers and scissors are sharp, choose a location without distractions and remember that many dogs will get restless quickly, so make it brief.

under-the-dryer

 

Lots of self-service dog wash stores have opened up across the United States over the last few years. These are more expensive than washing your dog in your own home, but are considerably cheaper than taking your dog to a groomer.  Self-service dog washes give you the convenience and ease of using professional-grade grooming equipment to groom your pooch effectively – you can often grab a latte there too!

Wherever you choose to do it, grooming your pet is not only good for the dog’s health and hygiene but provides a great bonding process between owner and dog.  Regular grooming enables the owner to be aware (more quickly) of any health changes that their pet is experiencing. So, Mom was right about spring cleaning, to not only keep your dog fresher and healthier, but hopefully by your side for that bit longer.

Why don’t you share any tips you have for making grooming a fun experience for you and your pooch?

 

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To pet or not to pet: That is the Question

 

When asked to consider animals who assist people, most of us immediately think of dogs that aid blind or partially sighted individuals. This is thanks to organizations such as Guide Dogs of America and The Seeing Eye who work hard to ensure that those with vision challenges receive assistance. Over the last couple of decades, different types of animals are increasingly used to help people dealing with a broader range of physical and behavioral conditions.  The benefits of using these animals are numerous, with the result that they are being employed more widely and with greater frequency. Today, chances are that you are more likely to meet service animals in your daily routine than in the past. As they are actually “at work” and are not pets, what are the best approaches to take when encountering these animals?

Categories of assistance animals

Assistance animals fall into differing categories depending on the type of assistance required.

Service animals

Service animals are specifically trained to perform tasks relating to the handler’s needs. Not just for the visually impaired, hearing dogs for the deaf, and mobility dogs have become available allowing people with differing needs to be able to go about daily tasks with a greater level of autonomy and liberty than in previous generations.  People dealing with issues such as seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, anxiety, and diabetes also benefit from using service dogs.

Working dogs

Police or military dogs are in the working dog category. Sadly, with terror threats being a more common occurrence over the last 15 years, we tend to see more of these dogs on duty.  This is particularly true at airports where they are now an intrinsic part of the security process, rather than just used to detect contraband at customs.

airport-security-dog

Therapy animals

In recent years there has been a rise in the number of therapy dogs used in various settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and even in courtrooms. These dogs differ from service dogs in that they are used to provide affection and comfort to people, helping to reduce anxiety, stress and sometimes acting as an intermediary between the care recipient and professional staff.

dog-with-person-in-hospital

Emotional support animals

Typically used by people with specific behavioral health conditions requiring extra support and comfort, these animals may accompany an owner or may be employed by a business to help improve customer experience.

Only dogs allowed?

According to an article in the Huffington Post,¹  the cost of a service dog in 2016 was around $20,000. At that time, one Web site that places 75-100 service dogs a year, had a wait list of 1,600 people. This equates to a potential wait time of 16-22 years, which for people requiring assistance is simply too long.

Fortunately, given the level of need, dogs are not the only animals being used in this capacity. Other animals are also suitable to assist with different medical conditions. Ferrets alert owners of seizures. Boa constrictors (yes, you read it correctly!) are used for seizure alerts, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic disorder. Parrots have a calming influence on those with bipolar disorder. Miniature horses help the visually impaired. The Guide Horse Foundation believes that miniature horses are a great option for people who love horses, for those allergic to dogs, and for people wanting longevity from their service animal.

CUDDLES 11

Capuchin monkeys are great for people with dexterity issues who struggle to pick up or hold items. Pigs can help visually or physically impaired individuals or can act as therapy animals. For example, San Francisco airport employs Lilou a Juliana breed pig to comfort anxious travelers in the terminal.

Dos and Don’ts of interacting with working animals

Dos

Do interact with the owner or handler

Interact with the owner but not with the animal.  The owner and animal are a team and the owner’s life could depend on his team member staying focused on the job.  It is better (and not considered rude) to ignore the service animal altogether. Let the owner know if his dog approaches you, and allow him to correct the situation. Therapy and emotional support animals are slightly different.  For example, if the animal is employed by an airport to help calm passengers, then do ask the handler if it is OK to interact with the animal.

Do be respectful

Be respectful of the owner. Just as a police officer will not be prepared to discuss details of why she is on duty with her dog, other service dog owners will not want to discuss their personal details with a stranger.  If you cannot figure out why the owner needs a service animal, don’t ask them. Equally, if your offers of help are refused, don’t be offended, just accept that this can interfere with the work of the service dog and can confuse commands previously given by the owner.

Do keep your own dog on a tight leash

Keep your own dog away from the service dog completely as other pets can be distracting for the working animal.

Do allow service animals into your business

If you are a business owner in an establishment that normally does not allow pets, make sure you do allow service dogs and their owners to enter. This is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law applies to any service animal that gives assistance when there is a disability.

Do educate children about service animals

Explain to children that service animals and working animals are not like regular household pets and that they have a special job to do to help the owner.  Keep children at a distance from a service dog and do not allow them to pet the dog.

Don’ts

Don’t pet the animal

You may be the biggest dog lover in the nation, but don’t be tempted to pet a service dog unless you have the owner’s permission. Petting the dog distracts him and may prevent him from following out a complete command.  An example of this is with dogs trained to detect seizures, who need to give a 10-minute warning so that the owner can get to a safe place or get help.  If you distract the dog by petting him, he may not be able to warn the owner in time, which could be catastrophic.

dont-pet-me-im-working

Don’t give treats

You may love giving treats to dogs, but please don’t give treats to dogs that are on duty. Not only can it distract the dog, making for a dangerous situation, but many service dogs are on specific diets and should not be given anything that does not meet the diet criteria.

Don’t make assumptions

  • Don’t assume that if a service dog is asleep he is off duty. If he is out with his owner, he is working.
  • Don’t assume that these dogs have a worse life than other dogs.  They have fantastic bonds with their owners and when off duty they get to relax like any other dog.
  • Don’t assume that the owner has a certificate proving the dog is a service dog.  Not all states require such certification and, in the states that do, owners are not always required to carry the paperwork.
  • Don’t assume that only dogs and only certain breeds of dog can be service animals. Many breeds of dog and different types of animal are trained to work.
  • Don’t assume that service dogs are only for adults.  Many children with many different needs benefit from service dogs.  Interestingly, one county in Colorado now uses dogs in the courtroom to help comfort children when giving testimony.

autism-service-dog

Don’t fake it

Don’t pretend to have your own service dog.  You may be tempted to put a special coat on your pet and take him to places where pets aren’t ordinarily permitted, but please don’t. Not only does it confuse the distinction between pets and service animals, it is actually a federal crime.  Allow people with genuine needs to be helped by genuine service dogs.

The best approach

For a moment, put yourself in the shoes of an individual living with physical or mental conditions, which in some cases are life threatening.  If an animal gave you the opportunity to live the fullest, most independent life possible, how would you react to someone interfering with and compromising the hard work of that service animal?

The following YouTube clip shows Windsor, a remarkable service dog, assisting his handler in running errands.

To pet or not to pet: that is the question. The answer?  If you are not the individual receiving therapy or service, do not pet. Encountering a working service animal is perhaps one of the most appropriate situations in life to adopt a don’t-touch approach. Following this guideline and the others mentioned above, we can allow these incredible animals to carry out their invaluable work. You can’t help but be in awe of them – I know I am.

Reference

  1. Lillibridge L. What’s the Harm in Faking a Service Dog? Huffington Post. August 13, 2016

5 Amazing (but true) Things About Dogparents

Encouraging kids to grow up to be well-rounded individuals is something that every parent or caregiver tries to achieve.  We already know that having a pet in the home makes for a memorable childhood, but we perhaps fail to appreciate the more profound effects that pet ownership has upon child development. It is typical to ask friends to become godparents and be involved in our children’s lives, but what about the role of dogparents that our pets perform, sometimes without us even realizing. Aspects such as physical and social development, to name just a couple, are enhanced if a child helps to nurture a pet at home.

Benefits of pet ownership for children

Physical development

Dog walking is a great form of exercise and an easy way to burn calories. In a world where our kids live more sedentary lives and are more prone to obesity than previous generations, going for a daily walk or run with the dog is a great habit to form. Fantastic for the child’s physical and mental health, it is a habit that can be continued into adulthood.

boy-running-with-dog

Social development

Encouraging a child to be respectful and caring of a pet, also transitions into his or her treatment of other people. There are obviously exceptions, but for the most part, children who have been shown how to behave with pets and have looked after a pet have a tendency to become more caring, more compassionate and more responsible adults. Emotional intelligence, interpersonal interaction, and impulse control are vital attributes to have. Acquiring and further developing these strengths can be facilitated by pet ownership. It is very important to note that simply having a pet in the home is not sufficient for these skills to be acquired. It is vital that kids are shown the best ways in which to interact with and treat other living creatures and they often learn these skills from examples set by parents or caregivers. Kids with dogs have plenty of opportunities to learn patience, kindness, sharing, and generosity; all character traits that can help them to develop closer human friendships. In providing care for an animal they also start to develop some basic parenting skills useful for later in life.

Cognitive development

Cognitive development is the way in which information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory all develop through childhood into adulthood. As we know, not all learning takes place in a classroom. Having a pet in the family can help with all aspects of cognitive development.  Encouraging a child to read about his own dog’s breed, to be involved in puppy care and the training of the dog, and to be involved in learning how to care for the dog are all valuable ways of learning. Reading skills and confidence improve when a child reads to a pet, and some school districts are introducing READ (Reading Education Assistance Dogs) programs with these benefits in mind.

child-reading-to-a-dog

Emotional development

Caring for a dog allows a child to interact with a live being without being judged. This enables self-esteem to build and can help a shy kid overcome timidity.  Dogs also make superb service helpers for children living with physical or behavioral health conditions.

Interacting with dogs also releases endorphins in a child’s body, making the child happier, more relaxed, and less anxious. Additionally, as dogs have a relatively short life cycle, children learn about life and death and how to work through the bereavement and grief process.

girl-whispering-to-dog

Immune system development

In a 2015 study published in JAMA Pediatrics1, Swedish scientists analyzed the relationship between dog ownership in the first year of a child’s life and the incidence of asthma in children up to the age of six. They found that children in Sweden who have grown up with dogs in the house since birth had a 15% decreased risk of asthma by the time they attended school compared with children whose families did not have a dog. The researchers believe the findings would also be applicable to other developed countries such as the US.

How do you increase kid-dog interaction?

Get the kids involved! There are lots of little tasks involved in pet care and if your children are involved in some of them it can make them feel important and responsible.  For young children, setting up a chart with small rewards for tasks completed can be a good way to start – there are even apps for that these days! Carrying out simple age-appropriate duties like filling the dog bowl with fresh water or measuring out kibble can make children feel more grown up, trusted and helpful.

girl-feeding-dog

Give your dog extra praise and attention, for being a terrific dogparent, helping you in your quest to raise your kid to be a balanced, content adult.

Why not share how having a pet has enhanced your child’s development?

Reference

  1. Fall T, Lundholm C, Örtqvist AK, et al. Early exposure to dogs and farm animals and the risk of childhood asthma. JAMA Pediatr. 2015;169:e153219. doi:1001/jamapediatrics. 2015.3219. Epub 2015 Nov.