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Category Archives: Safety

Tick Talk

15449166187_902e37d345_zWe have been spoiled with some absolutely gorgeous weather this fall, and I know a lot of people have taken advantage of it to get outside, often with their dogs, and enjoy it. I know I have. Unfortunately, tick season is still in full swing. Even though it’s gotten a bit colder, those little guys are still out and active. And remember– ticks are hardy little bloodsucking parasites. Even when there is snow on the ground, if there is a warm day, they will be out looking for warm bodies to attach to. I know I’ve found plenty of ticks on my dogs after a hike on a mild January day. It’s like it never ends!

Ticks love bushes and overgrowth, long grasses, weeds. They hang out there and wait for a tempting target, then hop on and enjoy the ride. This is gross enough, especially when they bite and attach themselves to your dog (or you), but ticks can carry some nasty diseases such as Lyme and Anaplasmosis. These diseases seem to be especially prevalent in the Mt. Gretna and Cornwall areas, so if you live or hike there, be especially aware. Be sure to check yourself and your pets thoroughly after being outside. And remember, ticks can be absolutely tiny.

What if you find a tick?

There are lots of old-school recommendations on how to remove a tick that include burning it with a match or smothering it in Vaseline. Please do not do either of these things! You risk stressing the bug and causing it to regurgitate all the nasties in its stomach into you or your dog. This is how disease is transmitted, so you want to avoid this when at all possible. Instead, invest in one of the inexpensive tick-removing gadgets such as a tick twister (which we sell here), or a tick spoon. You can also use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick and gently pull straight out to remove it. Do not panic if the head gets left behind. It is not ideal, but the body will push it out in time. Just keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get infected or yucky. Sometimes skin tags and moles can look an awful lot like ticks, but only ticks have legs!

After the straight-forward tick-check method of prevention, your next line of defense is the tick-preventative spot-on or oral treatment. For years this has been the role of Frontline Plus, a topical flea and tick medication that kills ticks when the pesticide penetrates their thick shells. In recent years there have been a whole host of other products introduced, but as most of them are toxic to cats, we have stuck with our tried and true Frontline.

lorihikingdogsThis Spring, however, we introduced something completely different– an oral flea AND tick medication that comes in a flavored chewable tablet and lasts for a month. This product is called Nexgard, and we love it. It should not be used in dogs with a history of seizures, and the key difference is that it does require the bug to bite the animal and feed on it in order to be killed, but you are not left with that disgusting greasy spot on your dog’s back, frequent bathing or swimming has no effect on it, and it seems to be very effective at killing off bugs.

Last but not least, we do offer the Lyme vaccine for dogs who are in areas with a large amount of Lyme (again, Mt. Gretna and Cornwall– we’re looking at you). The Lyme vaccine should never ever replace regular tick-checks or a tick-preventative medication, but since we know that no product is perfect, that the tiny deer ticks that pass Lyme to your dog can be very hard to find on a fluffy pooch, and that sometimes maybe we don’t reapply on exactly a monthly schedule, this is something we encourage for dogs in high risk areas.

The problem with the Lyme vaccine is that it can give a little bit of a false sense of security. Lyme disease is so well-known these days, but ticks in this area can carry a host of other diseases, which are not prevented by the Lyme vaccine. Anaplasmosis is the most common, and it can lead to a pretty sick dog, just as Lyme can. So you always always want to use the vaccine as a backup plan, not as a primary method of defense.headhalter

Hopefully this post clears up some of the confusion that might be out there about ticks in this area, how to keep them off your dog, and what diseases they carry. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, whether general or specifically about your pet, give us a call during regular office hours at 665-2338 and someone will be happy to help you figure out the best option for your own pets.

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Posted by on November 3, 2014 in Dogs, Health, parasites, Puppies, Safety

 

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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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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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What to do when your pet is lost.

A bunch of clearly tagged dogs.

A bunch of clearly tagged dogs.

It’s a terrible feeling– you look out into the backyard where you left your dog just a few minutes ago, and he is not there. Or your kitty escapes while you’re bringing in the groceries and completely disappears. You’ve walked around your neighborhood multiple times calling and calling and still your pet does not appear. What next?

Ideally, before your pet ever goes missing, you’ll have taken some steps to help him get home. A microchip is a great start, but even better is a collar with tags that include your phone number. A rabies tag or a license can get your pet home as well, but there is an extra step involved (contacting the veterinarian or the treasurer’s office which is in charge of dog licensing). If your pet is clearly tagged with your phone number, the people who find him only need to make one call.

The most important thing you can do is get the word out that your pet is missing. Talk to your neighbors. Take a photo with you! Ask them if they’ve seen your pet.

Contact the police, especially if it is a dog who is lost. The first point of contact in many places for a found or loose dog report is the local police department. Let them know when and where your pet went missing, so that if a call comes in, they’ll know someone is looking.

Call the local veterinary hospitals. Many times a person who finds a pet will call their veterinarian to ask what to do next, or if anybody has reported a pet missing. They might also take that pet in to be scanned for a microchip. If we know your pet is missing, we can help connect you up with the people who have found him!

Call the animal shelters in your area, and go there to look in person. Animal shelters can be busy places, and the people who answer the phone might not have accurate information. Many a dog has been found at the shelter when the receptionist told the owner there was no dog there matching that description.

If your pet is microchipped, notify the microchip company (and there are many– Home Again, Avid, AKC ReUnite to name a few) and confirm that your contact information with them is correct. There is nothing more frustrating than finding a pet with a microchip that leads to a disconnected phone number.

Social media has become a tremendously useful tool in reuniting lost pets with their owners. If you have a Facebook account, post a picture and your contact information (make sure it is a public post, not friends only!) and ask your friends to share it. The reach that Facebook can have in just a short time is astonishing. There are also Facebook communities such as Find Toby in PA that are specifically geared toward connecting lost pets and their owners. Let us know and we will post it on our Facebook. Get your pet’s photo and information out there to as wide an audience as possible!

Hang fliers around your neighborhood. Keep in mind that most people will see these posters as they are driving by, so you want to include only the most important information and make it is big as possible. A large LOST DOG/CAT heading, a photo of your pet, and your contact information are the most important things. Offering a reward may entice people to be more attentive to their environment, or might encourage a person who found your pet and is considering keeping him to return him instead.

And last but not least, don’t give up hope. There are many stories of pets being reunited with their families after weeks or even years! It is possible.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Safety

 

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Dog Bite Prevention Week Part 2: Bite-proofing your child

A dog can be a boy's best friend.

A dog can be a boy’s best friend.

Every year, 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs. 50% of these bites are to children 12 and under, with the highest rate among children between the ages of five and nine years old. Fortunately, of all dog bites treated in emergency rooms, 96% are treated and released (source).

While few of these bites are serious, dog bites to children are a serious and scary problem. Thankfully, there are many steps a parent and a child can take to lower his risk.

The first, and I think the most important, is for parents to closely supervise their childrens’ interactions with dogs. This is especially important with new or strange dogs, but it is also important with the family dog. Dogs are animals. Sometimes they lose their patience. Sometimes their warnings go unheeded and they end up warning more strongly than tender human flesh can tolerate. Sometimes they’re in pain.

The best way to counteract this unpredictability is to learn to read and understand the dog’s body language and comfort level. While some dogs will tolerate a child climbing all over them, but for most dogs it is very stressful. So even though the dog is putting up with it, he might be trying very hard to communicate how uncomfortable he is with the situation.

We have fallen into the habit of “Disney-fying” dogs. Yes, dogs can be man’s best friend, but they are still living, breathing, feeling animals who don’t always respond in the ways we want or expect.

Here is an excellent guide to understanding how to read stress signals from your dog. Often the easiest to see are yawning, tucked tail, pinned-back ears, nose-licking, and trying to avoid the situation. All of these need to be cues to parents that it is time to intervene now because the risk of something bad happening is steadily increasing.

Children, especially older ones, can be taught to recognize friendly vs stressed vs go away messages from dogs. Doggone Safe’s Learn to be a Dog Detective is a terrific child-oriented webpage for helping kids understand what a dog is feeling at any given time and what the best response is.

Teach your child that if he is approached by a strange, loose dog, do not run but instead Be a Tree. Running or screaming makes a child more interesting and a more appealing target. Being still and quiet is boring, and less interesting to a dog.

It is also vitally important to teach children not to approach strange dogs without the owner present. Statistically, dogs who are chained, kenneled, or contained in a backyard are a high bite risk. They are often poorly socialized with people and protective of their space. This can be a recipe for disaster if a child approaches. Between 1976 and 2001, at least 98 people were killed by chained dogs. 92 were children.

If an owner is present, the child must know to ask first before trying to pet the dog. Not all dogs are comfortable with children, and some dogs, such as service dogs, should not be interrupted from their work. If the owner says it is ok, the child should be taught to extend a fist for the dog to sniff and to let the dog come to him. If the dog wants to say hi, he will!

Let sleeping dogs lie! Teach your child that if the dog is sleeping, chewing a bone, or otherwise occupied by himself, it is best to leave him alone.

Give your dog a safe place to go when he wants to be left alone, and teach your child to respect that. I cringe when I see pictures of kids in crates with dogs. If things were to go bad, they could go very bad very quickly with neither dog nor child able to quickly escape.

Teach your child to never try to take something from a dog that the dog will not willingly give up. A hard stare, a stiff body, crouching over the item, and growling are all signs that your child needs to back off and go to an adult if the dog has something that he shouldn’t. Also, a wagging tail is not necessarily a sign of a happy dog! A loose, full-body wave is a sign of happiness. A stiff or slow wag is not.

Dogs should be fun, not scary.

Dogs should be fun, not scary.

Some older children can be taught to “trade”. Trading is taking something that the dog values highly (food, a favorite toy), and offering it to the dog in exchange for whatever he is guarding. If the dog shows desire for the trade object, toss it several feet away so that you are able to retrieve the item while the dog is occupied away from it.

Resource guarding can become very dangerous, so getting in contact with a trainer or behaviorist as soon as possible is highly recommended.

Last but not least, please do not ever leave an infant alone with a dog, even if the baby is in a crib. Babies smell funny, they sound funny, and they move funny. All of this has the potential to trigger prey drive in a dog who would never hurt someone he recognized as a human.

With all of these things in mind, it is possible to minimize the risk of your child being bitten either by a strange dog or the family dog. Kids and dogs can make a great combination, but keeping safety in mind is a must!

Other resources:
Doggone Safe!
Be a Tree!
And for all things dog-bite-statistics, The National Canine Research Council

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Dogs, Safety

 

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Dog Bite Prevention Week Part 1: Bite-proofing your dog

My dogs are family.

My dogs are family.

This week is considered Dog Bite Prevention Week, a week in which professionals who work with animals strive to put out good and useful information about dog bites and about how to prevent them. In a country where more homes contain dogs than don’t, it’s an important topic. Dogs bite humans every single day. The good news is that according to the National Canine Research Council, greater than 80% of reported bites require no medical treatment at all. 19.4% of reported bites require minor medical attention, and the last 0.01% of bites are the ugly ones requiring major medical attention.

This is probably not the impression you get from the media. So frequently there are dramatic news stories about children attacked by vicious pit bulls, or police having to shoot attacking dogs. The truth is, a lot of this is media and attention-driven. In 2010, there were 33 dog attacks that resulted in fatality. In contrast, there were 33,041 unintentional poisioning fatalities, and 3,782 unintentional drowning deaths. (Source: NCRC).
According to Janice Bradley’s book Dogs Bite But Balloons and Slippers are More Dangerous, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning twice than you are to be killed by a dog. There are more cow-related human deaths every year than dog-related ones.

So why this great fear of dog bites?

I think it is just something primal in us. As a society, we have in many ways taken the “animal” out of dogs. We’ve tried to turn them into Disney characters– always affable, never dangerous. They are “man’s best friend” and they are supposed to fit neatly into our cultural expectations. But the truth is, dogs are living, breathing, thinking, emotional animals. They are the sum of their genetics and their environments, and when they get into serious trouble, it is almost always the result of human error in one way or another.

The next question: How do you bite-proof your dog?

First off, choose a breed or dog that is appropriate to your lifestyle and experience. If you’ve never owned a dog before, it’s probably not the best idea to go out and get a dog who is going to react to everything he sees in his environment by wanting to bite it. If you have kids, you are going to be better off looking for a dog who likes kids and is pretty go-with-the-flow, not a dog who is scared of his own shadow. If you plan to use a dog-park to exercise a dog, do not choose one whose entire breed is built around fighting with other dogs. Do your research! There are lots of breed-selectors available online that can point you in the right direction. Here’s one from Animal Planet that’s pretty nice. Iams has an interesting breed selector as well.

If you bring home a puppy, it is so very important that you socialize him so that he learns to roll with the punches and tolerate having to deal with new things. Helping him to have plenty of good experiences in all kinds of locations with all kinds of people will set him up to be more tolerant later on, and tolerance is always something we prize in a pet dog.

Buy your dog either from a responsible breeder who is breeding dogs who have been proven to have good temperaments or rescue one from an organization that temperament tests its dogs, and ideally keeps them in foster homes. Meet the dogs. If from a breeder, meet the dogs’ relatives. Make sure you are seeing dogs who are steady and engaged, not dogs who are shrinking back from the world, and not dogs who are aggressively approaching every person they meet. You don’t want to see hard eyes, raised hackles, stiff bodies. Look for fluid motion and appropriate interaction.

Please please do NOT buy your puppy from a petstore, online vendor, or a puppy mill or farm where the pups have lived their whole lives in cages or a pen, rarely handled, and not at all socialized to the world. Socialization in puppies is HUGE and if your pup is not exposed to a variety of people and sounds and experiences and textures under his feet at a young age, life is going to be that much harder for him, and he’s going to be that much more of a bite risk.

Whether your new dog is a baby or an adult, attending a postive-reinforcement-based obedience class dramatically decreases your dog’s future bite risk.

All dogs should go to school.

All dogs should go to school.

One of the biggest factors in serious dog attacks and fatalities is that they frequently involve dogs who are not considered members of the family. These dogs are referred to as “resident dogs”, and while they live on the property, usually chained or penned or relegated to the backyard, they miss out on the bond with humans, they miss out on the opportunity to learn appropriate behavior, and they miss out on the constant mental and physical stimulation of life shared with people.

The dogs with the highest risk of getting into trouble are those who are recently acquired, kept as “resident animals” instead of pets, are chained and rarely if ever let off the chain to lead a normal doggy life, who are not spayed or neutered, not trained, and have had little socialization.

So basically, to bite-proof your dog…. Do the opposite! Include your dog in your family, train him, teach him the ways of the world, let him have good experiences, protect him, and learn to read his body language and what he is telling you. Dogs are pack animals. You are his pack.

Family dogs who bite very frequently give you plenty of notice (unless this notice has been punished out of them) but you have to know what you’re looking for and you have to respect it. A dog is growling at you over a toy is communicating important information. And this should be a red flag that you need to contact a trainer ASAP so that you can learn how to change your pup’s reaction to your approaching his toys. A lot of bites could be avoided by learning to recognize stress signs in your dog and by seeking help as soon as you notice the beginnings of the problem, not after somebody gets bitten.

Hopefully this post gave you a basic overview of why dog bites happen and ways to “bite-proof” your dog. But what about bite-proofing your child? Stay tuned. We’ll look at that later in the week.

 

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