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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Take a hike! (But safely!)

Hiking is a great way to take a breather with your dogs.

Hiking is a great way to take a breather with your dogs.

We have had some beautiful days this summer (and some miserable ones), and we are fortunate to live in an area with a lot of great places to hike. Hiking with your dog can be a wonderfully rewarding (and tiring! A tired dog is a good dog.) way to get some exercise and get a mental break from the endless hubbub of modern life. Unfortunately, hiking without being prepared can result in some scary situations. Fortunately, some sensible and easy steps and planning can help you make the most of your outdoor experience with your pup.

Here are some ways to avoid trouble in the outdoors:

1. Consider your dog’s fitness level. Before tackling a long hike, make sure your dog is physically capable of it. Is he overweight? Is he a smush-nosed (brachycephalic) breed? Does he have arthritis? Maybe it is best not to take him along, but instead stick to shorter walks that are more manageable for him until he’s in better shape and the weather is cooler. Dogs with short snouts are especially sensitive to the heat, and can overheat quickly even on days that don’t seem like they’re that hot.

If you’re thinking about having your dog carry a backpack, make sure it fits him well. Get him used to carrying weight gradually– don’t load him up if he’s not used to it- it’s a lot more work to hike while carrying a pack! A dog should never carry more than 10% of his weight in a pack, and you should be careful to balance it from side to side so as not to put unequal stress on his body.

2. Make sure your dog is vaccinated. Rabies is the most important, of course, because it’s deadly and can be transmitted to humans. Rabies is alive and well in Pennsylvania, and a chance encounter with a sick raccoon could end in disaster. It is simply not worth the risk to your pet or to your family. (It is also state law that all dogs be regularly vaccinated against rabies, both for their own good and for the safety of the public.)

Other vaccines may also be appropriate, depending on where you’re hiking. We see a lot of Lyme disease in this area (especially Mt. Gretna and Cornwall). Fortunately, there is a fairly effective vaccine that protects against it. Leptospirosis is another disease for which we can vaccinate. Lepto is uncommon around here, but it is out there and it can be passed from dog to human.

3. In line with the Lyme vaccine, please use a flea and tick preventative! Whether you choose a topical product such as Frontline Plus or an oral flea and tick preventative such as Nexgard, it is always going to be your dog’s first defense against Lyme and other tick-borne nasties. Be sure to reapply monthly so that your dog gets the best protection possible.

Baby Bean's first hike.

Baby Bean’s first hike.

4. Be sure to carry plenty of water and a bowl for your dog! There are plenty of options out there for lightweight and collapsible bowls that are easy to pack (or even clip on to a backpack). Make sure you have enough water (more than you think you’ll need) for both the humans and the canines. Dehydration can be very dangerous, especially with some of the horribly sticky days we’ve been having. Yes it’s heavy to carry, but it is the most important thing to take with you.

5. Tag that dog! An easily visible and up-to-date id tag (or embroidered collar) is the best way to get your dog home in the case that he gets lost in the woods. Make sure the phone number is current. Microchips make for an awesome backup to an id tag. They cannot be lost or removed, but they do require someone with a scanner in order to get your dog back to you, whereas with an id tag, you eliminate that “middle man”.

6. Carry a first aid kit! This is always a good idea whether you take your dog with you or not. There are a wide assortment of first aid kits available, whether dog or human-specific. You can also make your own. There’s a wonderful post about how to make a tiny first aid kit on the Team Unruly website. I like to make sure I’m carrying Vetwrap (a flexible bandaging material that sticks to itself), a rubber glove, disinfecting wipes, and some kind of non-stick sterile pads. I also carry a bandana with me, which can be useful for everything from bandaging up a wound to muzzling an injured dog who is scared and trying to bite. It can also be soaked in cold water and used to help cool off a hot dog (or human).

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2014 in Dogs, Health, Safety

 

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5 Tips to Help Slim Down Your Tubby Kitty

Obesity is a growing problem across our pet population, but indoor cats seem to be at the highest risk. While a fat cat may be cute, all that extra weight puts these cats at a higher risk offatchloe
health problems such as arthritis and diabetes, and those things are not fun to deal with for anybody. The average housecat (Domestic Shorthair) should weigh about ten pounds. There are kitties with smaller frames and those with bigger frames, so one cat may be chubby at 10 pounds while another is underweight. If your cat is a healthy weight, you will be able to feel his ribs but not see them. He’ll have a waist when you look at him from above, and his belly should tuck up– not hang down– when viewed from the side.

So… what do you do when your cat is overweight? Here are some tips to help your kitty’s weight head in the right direction:

1. Feed a higher protein diet. Digesting protein requires more energy than digesting carbs, which means your kitty will burn off more of the calories she is taking in, rather than storing them in fat. As an added bonus, it will keep her feeling full longer. Higher protein foods are more expensive than foods based on carbohydrates, but the payoff is worth it.

2. Stop free feeding. Many people allow their cats free access to as much food as they want at all times. This combined with boredom can quickly turn into a cat who eats for something to do, consuming way more calories than he is burning off, resulting in weight gain. Measuring your kitty’s food will give you control over the number of calories being consumed. The average indoor cat only requires about 200 calories a day. Many dry cat foods contain 400 or more calories per cup!

Canned food is delicious!

Canned food is delicious!

3. Feed canned food. Canned food is usually higher in protein and lower in carbs (see #1), plus it has the added benefit of providing more moisture. Since many cats are not good drinkers, any way you can add more moisture to their diet is helpful in decreasing bladder and kidney troubles. (Kitty waterfountains work great for encouraging drinking as well.)

4. Go easy on the treats. Treats are fine, but be mindful of the extra calories that they add. Choose treats that are low in calories and only feed a few of them per day. No more than 10% of your cat’s calories for the day should come from treats (and tablefood! if your cats are like mine).

5. Encourage exercise! Weight gain is a simple equation of calories being taken in being higher than the calories being burned. The more active you can encourage your cat to be, the healthier (both mentally and physically) he will be, and the easier it will be to keep him at a healthy weight. Consider feeding meals out of a food-dispensing toy such as the Slimcat Interactive Feeder. Make your kitty work for his meals!

Lots of cats also enjoy a good laser-pointer chase session, or a feather toy on a string. Whatever gets them moving!

I hope these tips make the idea of putting your kitty on a diet more manageable and less overwhelming. It is always easier to keep a cat at an ideal weight than it is to get weight off of him, but weight loss is certainly possible! Do not despair! Your kitty’s body will thank you for it, especially as he gets older.

And if all else fails, there is always the underwater treadmill!

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2014 in Cats, Health

 

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Scary thunderstorms and how to help your phobic dog.

It’s that time of year– hot sticky days that end in frequent thunderstorms rolling through the area. As much as I enjoy thunderstorms, my dog is terrified by them. He hides, he shakes, he wants to cling to me, he drools. It’s really not a great time for either of us. And unfortunately, my dog is not alone. There are many many dogs of all shapes and sizes who are stressed to varying degrees by thunderstorms (or fireworks or gunshots).

I’m lucky in that my dog reacts by hiding and clinging. Other dogs react by being destructive or, worse, by trying to escape the house. It is not unheard of for a dog to jump out an upper floor window to escape something scary and injure himself in doing so. We need to be proactive about these fears and phobias before they get worse and potentially endanger the lives of our dogs.

Thunderstorm phobia is not always a sound-based phobia. Dogs are extremely sensitive to the environment. They can react to pressure changes in the absence of thunder. They may be reacting to the change of the scent in the air. It has also been questioned whether the static charge in the air during a storm bothers them. Some dogs are upset by the flashing of lightning. Regardless, it is not simply a matter of hearing. (Deaf dogs can react to thunderstorms as well).

Storms are scary.

Storms are scary.

It is also important to note that you are not going to reinforce your dog’s fear/phobia by offering him moral support, by talking to him quietly and soothingly, or by feeding him treats. If you’re terrified of snakes and you end up trapped in a room full of snakes, and a friend comes in and puts her arm around you and starts telling you that it’s ok, calm down, we’ll find a way to get through this safely, is it going to make you more afraid of snakes?

Reknowned behaviorist Patricia McConnell has some wonderful blog posts on this subject: You Can’t Reinforce Fear; Dogs and Thunderstorms, and Reinforcing Fear II and Thunderphobia III. Both are excellent reads.

Many dogs, especially when they are puppies, will benefit from some preventative maintenance when it comes to storms. It is important to do your best if you are nervous about storms to remain calm and not pass that anxiety along to your dog. Turn thunderstorm time into a party! Pop some popcorn and toss some in your pup’s direction with each rumble of thunder. Does your pooch have a favorite toy or game? Break that out and have a good time together. Anything you can do to build a positive association toward storms will work in your favor.

If your dog will not accept his normal treats or show interest in his regular toys, this means he’s stressed. You can try upping the ante– offering really delicious treats like cheese or hotdogs (or a bullystick to chew on).

Some dogs, no matter what you do to storm-proof them, are going to end up scared, unfortunately. Breed does appear to play some sort of a role– Border Collies, for example, are especially prone to storm phobia and other sound sensitivities. However, it can happen to any dog of any breed or mix, and it can appear at any time in life– sometimes not until old age.

Fortunately, there are many different options out there to try to help your dog be more comfortable. A lot of dogs prefer to be able to hide during storms. They may be more comfortable in a closet or a basement, for example. Many dogs are attracted to bathrooms during storms. If it’s going to storm and you’re not going to be home, making sure your dog has access to his hiding spots is important. Playing music or leaving the television on can help drown out some of the noise, and closing curtains can block the flashing lightning.

Steve makes his Thundershirt look good.

Steve makes his Thundershirt look good.

There are also many commercially available products which may be of some help. A lot of these products seem to be hit-or-miss. They work amazingly for some dogs, and not at all for others, so you have to experiment a bit. The Thundershirt is one of the most popular available items. It is an adjustable, snugly fitting shirt that provides comforting pressure that may help relieve anxiety (think swaddling an infant). The manufacturer does offer a money-back guarantee if the shirt does not help and you return it within 45 days.

Another interesting product available is the Storm Defender Cape. This cape-type blanket is lined with a special material that cuts down on the static that can build up during a thunderstorm, and prevent the reaction and anxiety that it can produce in some dogs.

Dog Appeasing Pheromones, also known as DAP, can comfort a dog who is stressed. DAP is available in a spray, a collar, or a plug-in diffuser. This is a product that is userful for a dog who is generally anxious, but the spray especially can be helpful for an especially stressful event like a storm.

If all else fails and your dog continues to be terrified of thunderstorms, there are also medications available to help. The downside of medication is that it works best when given an hour or so before a storm hits, so the timing can be tricky (plus you have to be there). However, if you think that is the best option for your dog to get through this summer that has so-far been heavy with storms, give us a call. It’s no fun to be terrified, and if we can help alleviate that terror, we want to do so.

 
 

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