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The end of the road: contemplating euthanasia.

I’ve been watching my young dog grow old for a while now, and I hate it. Luce was the first young dog I ever owned as an adult. I picked her out of the shelter based on her ridiculous ears and her serious expression. We took her into the “Getting to Know You” room and she dove snorting into my lap and then covered my face with kisses. I did not need to look further– I had found my dog.

She was never an easy dog. She was reactive, dog-aggressive, and incredibly energetic and athletic. If you turned her loose in a fenced yard, the first thing she’d do was check the fence for any sign of weakness, any loose boards. She was extremely smart and she used that power for naughtiness.

Escape artist

Escape artist

She was the first dog I ever trained, and she taught me so much. She taught me to think outside the box. She taught me that rewarding is more powerful than punishing. She taught me that even a crazy dog like her could learn to behave in public, even around other dogs.

She was the first dog I ever competed with, starting in Rally Obedience where she was on leash the entire time (and I very clearly remember telling my obedience instructor at the time that they could have my leash when they could pry it from my cold, dead hand). We quickly progressed to off-leash levels, and she kicked butt. She finished her career with a laundry list of titles after her name and a very proud mama.

That was years ago.

Now she’s twelve, arthritic, and senile.

Both of her knees are crunchy with arthritis and it’s hard for her to go up and down the stairs. She needs a boost to get into the car or onto my bed. But arthritis is something we can deal with, you know? There are plenty of medication options. There are joint supplements. And if those aren’t enough, there are things like cold laser therapy and acupuncture that might help. We have so many options for treating pain in dogs, so when our first medication choice didn’t do enough, we were able to switch to a second one that might work better.

But the senile part, that’s what I feel so helpless about. She barks and barks at me and I can’t figure out what she wants. She gets up and pees on the floor with no warning instead of asking to go out (and she doesn’t have an infection). She barks about everything. She never used to bark at all, even when the doorbell rang.

She goes off by herself when she used to be my shadow. She lays on the couch and doesn’t move all day.

I have no idea why I'm barking but I'm barking!

I have no idea why I’m barking but I’m barking!

And I question myself about whether she’s happy, about whether this is a good quality of life for her.

I think she is happy, or at least content. She’s old and snoring the day away on a comfortable couch isn’t a bad deal. She loves her food and is happy to spend her time licking canned dog food out of a Kong. She can’t hear, but she can still snag a french fry out of the air without hesitation. She can’t handle hiking anymore, but she loves to go for car rides. She sits up all proud of herself in the front seat and knows that she’s important.

But I see the decline and it worries me whether or not I’ll be able to let go when it’s time, whatever that means. She’s my best friend and more than anything, I don’t want her to suffer. But nor can I imagine life without her. She has slept next to me in bed for 11 years. She has been my constant.

There are lots of suggestions on the internet about how to determine whether it is time to put your dog to sleep. Pick three things that your dog loves, and when she can’t do those things anymore, it’s time. But the things that Luce used to love to do have simply been replaced by things that she loves to do now. So how does that work? Some suggest that when your dog has more bad days than good days, it’s time. But what’s good and what’s bad and where do they equal out?

It’s so hard. I don’t want to be selfish. I don’t want her to suffer. But I don’t want to let her go before she’s ready.

Dr. Ron always says “decision of least regret”. And I believe that too early is better than too late. But why does it have to be so complicated?

Why does love have to be this hard?

The word “euthanasia” literally means “good death” and I am so grateful that we are able to give our pets this one last kindness. I am grateful that we can end suffering.

Comfortable old dog.

Comfortable old dog.

If you’re struggling with this with your own pet, please feel free to give us a call. Any of the staff would be happy to talk to you, and if you need more advice than what we can provide over the phone, we can always schedule your pet for a doctor visit. Sometimes a simple physical can lead to a clearer picture– if you’re thinking about putting your old dog to sleep because she is having trouble getting up, maybe pain medication will improve her quality of life. If your old cat is skinny and vomiting all over the place, perhaps he has a medical condition that we can treat. Or maybe it really is just time.

Every path is unique. Everybody’s answer is going to be different.

But we’re all doing it because we love them.

I know I’m not the only one out there who struggles with this– what has been helpful to you in making this hard decision? What are your tips?

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Cats, Dogs, Health

 

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How to get your kitty to drink more (and why it’s important)

Staying well hydrated is important to the health of all creatures (humans are no exception). It is essential to kidney and bladder health. Unfortunately, because cats were originally desert creatures who gleaned most of their fluids from their food, not from drinking water, which was scarce, they did not develop the same “thirst drive” that humans and dogs did. When they are not getting enough fluids, their bodies do not trigger them to go drink some water. Instead, many cats live their lives in a state of chronic mild dehydration.

Potato chips do not contribute to good hydration.

Potato chips do not contribute to good hydration.

This, unfortunately, can contribute to two common health issues in cats– chronic kidney failure and urinary tract problems (bladder stones, urinary blockages). When a cat isn’t drinking enough, it puts stress on his kidneys. Over time, this stress causes damage. It also causes his urine to become more concentrated than it should be. This can contribute to the formation of crystals, which can in turn become stones (sometimes impressively large!) in the bladder, or which can cause a blockage in the urethra, making the cat unable to urinate. This is a life-threatening (and expensive) emergency situation which we all just want to avoid.

So how do we get our finicky friends to drink more? There are lots of ways. Try several and see which ones work best for you and your cat.

Because cats have historically gotten most of their fluid intake from their food, switching from dry food to a canned diet is the very best way to keep your kitty hydrated. We recommend feeding at least some canned food, even if you do not want to feed it exclusively. To add even more fluids, you can mix some water in with the canned food to form a “soup”. Most cats love this.

Because cats have different preferences, try leaving multiple water bowls out in different places throughout your house. Some cats prefer a wide shallow bowl (that their whiskers won’t touch the sides of), so consider using a pie plate or something similar. Offer water in glass or stainless steel bowls instead of plastic, which can sometimes cause water to have a bad taste.

Be sure to clean and refill water bowls daily. Remember, cats can be so finicky! Also, consider offering filtered or distilled water– chlorinated or hard water can have a flavor that cats don’t like.

You can consider adding a few drops of tuna “juice” (the water that canned tuna is packed in) or clam juice to a bowl of water. Make sure to provide plain water as well.

Many cats are attracted to moving water, so kitty fountains are a popular choice to encourage drinking. You can also try a dripping faucet if you don’t mind your kitties on the counters.

Hopefully this post will give you some ideas to help get your kitty drinking more and staying better hydrated. Your kitty’s bladder and kidneys will thank you!

For more tips: Tips to Increase Your Cat’s Water Intake

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Cats, Food, Health, kittens

 

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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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Why we recommend heartworm preventative for all dogs.

You might notice that we are starting to get more vocal about our recommendation that all dogs either be on monthly heartworm preventative year-round or tested for the disease annually. In the past, we’ve encouraged it, but we’ve kind of slipped a bit recently. It’s easy to get neglectful about preventative when you live in Pennsylvania– it’s not like we’re in The South where they have hundreds upon hundreds of afflicted animals. Heartworm has never been a huge risk in Pennsylvania, and it’s still not.

But.

It is a growing risk.

Heartworm disease is quite literally worms living and growing in the heart. heartwormThe larvae are passed from infected mosquitos biting and transmitting them into a dog’s bloodstream. From there, they spread throughout the bloodstream, and as they mature and grow they migrate to the heart and lungs, where they take up residence. Left unchecked, a heartworm infection can lead to severe heart disease, failure, and death. It is not a nice disease. It can be treated, but the treatment is expensive and somewhat risky depending on the severity of the infection. Often, the damage to the heart is permanent.

Check out this nifty interactive map on the Pets and Parasites website. Click on Heartworm and follow the prompts to check out the PA map. This map shows the number of reported tests and positives. There is not a lot of heartworm… but there is not no heartworm, either. We don’t know how many positive tests were not reported, and we also don’t know how many infected dogs are going undetected. This is the scary part, because these dogs form a reservoir from which heartworms can be spread. If a mosquito bites an infected dog and then later bites your dog, your dog can become infected. It happens as quickly and easily as that.

Our world is changing, and with it, the incidence and distribution of parasites and diseases such as Lyme disease and heartworm disease also changes. It used to be that heartworm disease was not a big concern because we get cold cold winters that killed off all the mosquitos. This past winter was cold, but unusually so. We have seen a trend toward milder weather, and mosquitos like mild.

Another big change is with the animal rescue community. We are seeing more and more small rescues which are rescuing dogs from poor Southern animal shelters and bringing them up here. These dogs frequently carry heartworm disease, and while they might be treated once they get here, they still bring that disease to the area. In addition, many of these rescue groups use a slow-kill method of treatment, which we are now discovering is leading to heartworms which are immune to all of the heartworm preventative drugs we have. Fortunately, this has so far been contained to the area around the Mississippi River, but it’s a scary scary thought.

katrinadogs

Dogs left in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Photo by Tom Fox.

All of these factors contribute to our goal of testing and protecting all dogs against heartworm disease. A monthly tablet (Sentinel) or chew (Heartgard Plus) can stop heartworm infections before they develop by killing any of the larvae your dog might have picked up in the last month. If you kill them off monthly, the worms never have a chance to grow and cause harm. In addition, our heartworm preventative medications help control many of the intestinal parasites which are more common to our area– things like roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms.

If your dog is not currently on heartworm medication, or if you’re not very consistent about giving it and you would like to schedule an appointment to have your dog tested, please give us a call at 717-665-2338. Our staff can give you the information you need and point you toward the test that would best fit your dogs’ lifestyle. We can also get your pup started on preventative to make sure he does not develop this horrible disease.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Dogs, Health, parasites, Puppies

 

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New weapons in the war on bugs!

Flea season last year was horrible. We saw so many clients with flea infestations who had never ever had flea problems in the past. It was frustrating and expensive for clients, and frustrating for us because they were so hard to treat. While we have an excellent step-by-step treatment guide for dealing with fleas, it seemed that no matter what people were doing, it just wasn’t working.

Recently, a few new products have come onto the market. One is just for fleas, the other is for fleas and ticks. White Oaks Veterinary Hospital is carrying both of them in order to give our clients more options when it comes to fighting the dreaded bugs that our pets can harbor.

The first one is for fleas only and is available for both cats and dogs. It is called Activyl, and we’ve been getting great reviews from clients.

Nobody wants fleas.

Nobody wants fleas.

We are only carrying the flea-only version of the product (the one that also kills ticks is toxic to cats), and it is currently only available for purchase as a pack of six, but at this point it does appear to be a powerful weapon against those dreaded blood-sucking, home-infesting fleas. If you have a kitten and you’re just looking for a general flea preventative, we would still recommend Advantage because it is a bit more gentle. If you’ve been using Frontline or Advantage and it’s working for you– fantastic! No reason to fix something that’s not broken. But we want to make you aware that we do have a potentially more potent option for the really tough flea problems.

Our other new product is something we’re pretty excited about– the first once-a-month ORAL flea and tick preventative called Nexgard.

nexgard

There have been other oral flea preventatives out there for awhile, but this is the first one that works against ticks as well. It is made by Merial, the makers of Frontline, and it has had extremely good reviews. It is slightly more expensive than Frontline, but it’s a terrific option for dogs who swim a lot, are bathed a lot, or have owners who dislike the oily patch that topical preventatives leave.

As with many oral medications, the most frequent side effect is vomiting, but otherwise this product seems to work very well. A number of staff members have tried it and liked it (I love it for my smooth-coated dogs– no mess!) and we are excited to see how it performs this flea season.

As always with tick prevention, checking your pet over after being out and avoiding high-risk tick areas is advised no matter what kind of preventative you are using (and even if you are having your dog vaccinated against Lyme disease because ticks do carry other nasties), but in the area that we live in, ticks are going to be lurking and for many people and their pets, unavoidable.

Nexgard is not available for cats. It is a dog-only product.

If either of these products sounds like something that you might be interested in for your own pet, or if you have any questions about what the right flea and tick preventative for your pets is, please do not hesitate to give us a call at 717-665-2338. We would be happy to help you figure out the best option for your pet.

 

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The Scoop on Poop: Or, why we ask you to bring a stool sample.

Poop is gross. Make no mistake– we get that. But examining a stool sample for parasites on an annual basis is a great way to make sure that both your pet and your family stay as healthy as possible. Intestinal parasites can not only make pets sick, but they are easily spread from one pet to another, within the family or, if your dog goes places like the dog park, to dogs outside the family.

What is even more distressing is that some intestinal worms are also transmissable to humans. This is a bigger concern in families where there are children who might play outside a lot and maybe not always remember to wash their hands. It is also a concern in families that include people with compromised immune systems. It is such an easy risk to mitigate simply by bringing a stool sample along to your pet’s annual visit.

Stink bugs are fun to play with. And crunchy.

Stink bugs are fun to play with. And crunchy.

But, you ask, what if my pet is an indoor pet? Clearly, animals who are kept primarily outdoors are at a higher risk of contracting intestinal parasites because their exposure is higher. Cats especially are frequent hunters, and their prey can carry and pass along parasites. But even indoor pets are at risk. Does your dog not ever leave the house even to relieve himself? There are many cats who truly do not ever leave the house. While their risk of infection is significantly lower, it is not zero. Rodents can get into your house and pass along parasites. Certain bugs are guilty as well– cockroaches, some types of flies, and even stink bugs (and who doesn’t get stink bugs?) It is also entirely possible for any person coming into the house to bring the shed eggs in on their shoes. Indoor pets do not live in a vacuum; parasites are everywhere.

What about dogs who are on monthly Heartworm Preventative? Both Sentinel and Heartgard work as monthly dewormers for intestinal parasites, but they are labeled to “control” (but not necessarily eliminate) the worm population and keep the pet from becoming sick from them. This monthly deworming is one of the reasons why we encourage people to give Heartworm preventative even through the winter months when mosquitos are dormant and the risk of contracting heartworms is very low. Unfortunately, no Heartworm preventative is going to offer complete protection against all intestinal parasites, and they completely miss coccidia, a common single-celled organism that can cause terrible diarrhea.

So what are the most common intestinal parasites?

Roundworms are especially common, especially in puppies and kittens. They are frequently passed from mother to babies, whether before they are born or while they are nursing. The tricky thing about roundworms is that when they infect a dog, some of the larva will migrate into the body’s tissue and lie dormant. They then can be reactivated by the hormones produced during pregnancy, so even if the mother of the litter had a clear stool sample checked before pregnancy, she can still transmit worms to her pups. Roundworms are most dangerous in very young animals who simply do not have the strength and immune system to fight them. In healthy adult pets, infections are generally not serious.

But. Roundworms can be transmitted to people. Young children may become infected by ingesting dirt contaminated with animal feces. Sandboxes are frequent favorite bathrooms for stray and outdoor cats, and children may be exposed there. Hand-washing is extremely important. Adults who work outside, in the garden for example, are also at risk of being exposed, as well as people cleaning litterboxes. Bottom line? Wash your hands!

Hookworms are another frequent offender. Hookworms can be a bit uglier than their roundworm companions. They are transmitted either by ingestion of the eggs, or by larva penetrating the feet and migrating through the body. Hook worms do more damage than roundworms, as they tear out tiny pieces of the intestinal wall for nourishment, resulting in blood loss in the pet. Dark stools, bloody diarrhea, and weight loss are the most common signs of a hookworm infestation.

And like the roundworm, hookworms can infect people. They can penetrate the bare skin of humans in the same way that they can our pets. The best prevention is a clean yard, shoes, and regular stool checks to make sure your pet is not contaminating his environment.

Whipworms seem to be becoming more common in this area recently, or at least we have been finding more of them on stool checks. The most common symptoms are poor condition, weight loss, and in severe infections, chronic bloody diarrhea. Whipworms can be very difficult to get rid of in the environment. Under favorable conditions, eggs can remain infective for up to five years in the environment. Keeping a clean yard and checking stool samples regularly are the best way to prevent environmental contamination.

A stool sample test in progress.

A stool sample test in progress.

Tapeworms are a little bit different. In order to acquire tape worms, your pet needs to ingest a flea, whether through grooming or hunting. Tape worms do not show up very well on stool samples– the easiest way to diagnose them is through the observation of worm segments on your pet or one of his common sleepng areas. Tape segments look like grains of white rice. If you see these, you should give us a call. Tape worms require the intermediary host of the flea. They cannot be passed pet to pet or pet to human. They are, however, a warning sign of flea infestation, so that is something you also want to stay on top of.

And last but not least is coccidia, which is not a worm, but a single-celled organism called a protozoa. Again, this is most commonly spread from ingestion of the parasite. The most common sign is, once again, diarrhea.

All of these different parasites require different types of dewormers. While there are deworming medications for pets available in some pet stores and in feed stores, they often are not very effective, and are usually only effective against one type of parasite. This isn’t helpful if that’s not what your pet has. We at White Oaks Veterinary Hospital recommend annual stool samples so that we can properly diagnose and treat any parasites that your pet has picked up. And any time your pet is being seen for diarrhea, you should definitely bring a stool sample along, as parasites are a frequent cause of intestinal issues.

We wamt to do our best to keep your pets and your family as healthy as possible, and regular stool checks are a very useful tool that we can use. Please try to remember to bring one to your pet’s next visit!

 
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Posted by on February 6, 2014 in Cats, Dogs, Health, parasites

 

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10 things every spoiled rotten dog should have.

Last month we looked at some of the best ways to care for and enrich your cat’s environment, so this month we are looking at some of the best ways to spoil our dogs rotten.

But we start out this post at the same place, with

1. Care Credit. Care Credit is a credit card specifically geared toward healthcare (yours and your pet’s- I’ve used mine at my dentist’s office). It is easier to get than a regular credit card and allows you six months interest free to pay off a balance of over $200. Make sure that you read the fine print- if you miss a payment or do not pay off the balance within the allotted time, you will be responsible for all that interest. But this can be a great tool in an emergency to buy you some time to get funds together and not have to take the entire hit at once. And goodness knows, with all the goofy things that dogs do (and eat!) having an extra payment option available can never hurt.

2. A well-fitted, sturdy collar with readable tags. This is your dog’s first line of defense from getting lost forever. A well-fitted collar that the dog cannot pull out of, kept in good repair, and hung with a legible tag with your contact information on it is the best chance of getting your dog home. Rabies tags and dog licenses are also tools to identify and get a dog returned to his family, but they require an extra step and the availability of extra people- either animal control or your local veterinarian’s office. A good nametag with your phone number clearly printed on it is your dog’s best bet to get home quickly.

3. A microchip. If your dog’s first line of identification– his collar and tags– fails, a microchip can still get your dog back to you. Shelters, veterinarians, and many police officers have scanners, and as long as your pet’s microchip is REGISTERED and has ACCURATE INFORMATION attached to it, he has a good chance of getting back to you. When we microchip pets at White Oaks, we automatically go ahead and register them for you with the information you provide, so that there are no worries that it is done. A microchip will also allow you to get a lifetime license for your dog- you pay one time and don’t have to worry about it ever again.

Bully sticks make for good chewing and are fully digestible.

4. Things to Chew. Most dogs love to chew. It keeps them occupied, it helps them to destress, and appropriate chew toys can be a great way for them to clean their teeth. Dog chews are available in everything from plastic Nylabones in a variety of shapes, textures, and even flavors (I get a kick out of the dinosaur ones); to dried meat and smoked hooves; to real marrow bones from the butcher; to antlers. You want to pick a size and hardness appropriate to your dog. A small dog will usually require a smaller, maybe even softer chew toy, whereas a small chew toy is dangerous for a big dog who could swallow it whole and risk having it lodge in his throat, stomach, or intestines, requiring emergency medical attention.

Rawhides can be a good choice or a bad choice, depending on your dog. For dogs who are thorough chewers, they can be a good choice. For dogs who inhale treats whole, they are a bad choice because, again, they can get stuck. If you do feed rawhides, make sure the ones you buy are made in America, not just packaged in America. Chinese-made rawhides have shown up with some pretty scary chemicals on them.

Cooked bones, on the other hand, are never a good choice. Cooked (including smoked) bones have a high tendency to splinter, and those spinters can wreak havoc in your dog’s mouth and in his gut. This means no cooked bones from your kitchen, no turkey carcass, no hambones, no steak bones. It’s just not worth the risk.

Frisbee!

Frisbee!

5. Toys to chase. Fetch is a great game to play with your dog. Many of them love it, and it is terrific exercise. Whether it is a frisbee, a ball, or any of the wide variety of toys available for fetch games, time spent playing with your dog is good for him and good for you as well. Dogs who do not naturally fetch can be taught to do so. Some dogs love to retrieve in water, and that is even better exercise for them if you have a safe swimming hole available.

But chasing can come in other forms, too. Many dogs like a toy referred to as a flirt pole. This pretty much amounts to a giant cat toy for dogs. A rope run through a long piece of PCV pipe that acts as a handle with a fun chase-able toy on the end. It’s like a giant fishing rod, basically, and a lot of dogs go crazy for it (especially terriers and herding breeds). It allows you to exercise a dog in a relatively small space without having to exert yourself very much. This game should not be played with dogs who have joint issues or who do not know how to release a toy that they’ve grabbed onto, but it is also a terrific way to teach self-control (wait to chase the toy until told, lie down and stay to make the game start). So. Much. Fun.

6. A cozy bed. There is a huge variety of dog beds available for purchase, ranging from cheap to ridiculously expensive. They come in soft and cushy, firm, orthopedic, even heated. Or, you know. The couch and your bed work too, depending on your preferences. But older dogs especially tend to enjoy a soft place to park their bones, and it is easier on their bodies to have something cushioned and soft.

Stuffed Kongs make dogs happy.

Stuffed Kongs make dogs happy.

7. Food-dispensing toys. Food-dispensing toys are a great way to occupy your dog’s mind, as well as to slow down his eating. There are two basic types of food-dispensing toys available- toys that dogs have to work to unstuff (Kong), and toys that dogs have to push, shove, bat around, or otherwise manipulate to cause the food to come out (Kong Wobbler, Buster Cube, Tricky Treat Ball, Tug-a-Jug).

The right toy to choose is the one your dog likes. Kongs are great because they can be pre-stuffed with tasty snacks and frozen for a time when you need your dog to take a break and do something quiet. And they can be stuffed with all kinds of different foods! Think outside the box! Yogurt works great, small amounts of peanut butter, canned food, fruits and veggies, kibble soaked in broth- anything that is soft and will freeze well. You can also stuff large, hard-to-remove treats like biscuits into Kongs that the dog will have to work and manipulate to get out, but some dogs are easily frustrated by this and give up quickly.

Dogs need to eat, and most dogs love to eat. Using that most basic drive as a way to exercise your dog’s brain is a simple way to enrich his life.

8. A warm jacket when it’s cold outside. Many dogs don’t mind the cold, but some breeds and some individual dogs are, well, delicate flowers and appreciate protection from the cold. Dogs with smooth, sleek coats like Dobermans, Whippets, and even Boxers and pit bulls tend to be more bothered by low temperatures. Smaller dogs are also more likely to mind the cold, in part because they have a smaller body mass, but also because their bodies are closer to the snow on the ground.

Like with beds, there are an endless array available. Simple tshirts and sweaters, fleece jackets such as Fido Fleece, and more expensive outwear such as Hurtta, Foggy Mountain, and Ruffwear. And if you are handy with a tape-measure and a sewing machine, there are so many adorable fleece prints available to make your own snuggly jackets.

Puppy class is so much fun!

Puppy class is so much fun!

9. Training Classes. Training classes are a great way to bond with your dog and learn how to teach him what you want from him. Puppy class is especially important and FUN! but it is never too late to join a class. And there are more than just obedience sit, down, stay, come, walk on a leash classes out there. Dog sports are exploding, and there is something out there for every dog. Does your dog love to play ball? Maybe check out flyball classes. Enjoy running and jumping and climbing? Agility might be a good match for you. Does your dog love to sniff? Nosework classes are a lot of fun for dogs. There are classes for teaching tricks, there are classes for teaching manners, there are classes for learning to dance with your dog. Heck, I’ve even seen classes that combine yoga with dogs (dubbed “Doga”). There are a number of training schools around- take a look to see if there is something out there that sounds like fun to you.

10. Daily Exercise and Enrichment. As the saying goes, a tired dog is a good dog. Our dogs, even older ones, need daily exercise and enrichment in their lives to keep them happy, healthy, and fit. A walk around town to let your pup sniff all the smells, a hike in the woods, a good game of fetch or hide and seek, or ten minutes training a new trick are all options that help give your dog what he needs. Continued mental stimulation is important in young dogs to help tire out their brains so they are less likely to make up their own fun games that you won’t like so much, and it is important into the golden years to help your dog maintain her capabilities. Use your imagination, think outside the box, and above all- have fun with your furry friend. After all, that’s why we have them!

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Behavior, Dogs, Just for Fun

 

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