Category: Pet health

Buckle Up – Canine Car Safety

You may or may not have heard my lecture on always securing your dog in the car. Yes, I know your dog wants to ride shotgun but it’s not safe! No, not even around the block! I was recently in a car accident with my hounds in the car (trust me they fared better than I did) and can now back that spiel up with some personal experience.

Whether with a seat belt harness, a crate or a special barrier that keeps your dog securely in the “hatch” of your car, it is vital that you restrain your pooch when joyriding. Not only could a sudden impact launch your dog causing him injury but dogs are understandably shaken up in these circumstances and most will try to escape the car by any means possible (think an open window). Securing your dog also ensures authorities will be able to help you if you are injured; your dog may become protective of you in a scary situation.

If you and your dog are in an accident here are some helpful tips my vet shared on what to watch for:

  • Obvious signs of injury such as limping, bleeding etc
  • Excessive panting. Panting can indicate pain but is also a sign of anxiety which is a normal reaction to a stressful situation. If your dog’s panting does not subside see your vet.
  • Bruising – especially on the belly which can indicate internal bleeding
  • Temperature –  feel the ears to ensure one is not excessively hot or cold
  • Inability to focus eyes – try having your dog follow a treat to test this
  • Pupil dilation. Again, this can indicate fear as well but should subside quickly in that case. Prolonged pupil dilation calls for a vet visit immediately.

After an accident your dog may be fearful about car rides. Remedy this with short trips around the block and provide your pup with a chew or Kong to work on while you are on the road. This will help rebuild positive associations with car rides.

Safe travels to you and your dog!

Kick Fleas to the Curb – Naturally!

Not only is flea season in full swing but the pests are getting harder to ward off as well, with fleas developing immunity to many traditional flea preventatives. Our bigger is better society has swiftly created new products that are extra strength and defend against a wider range of pests, but stronger (ie more chemicals) is not always the best choice for your dog’s health!

Traditional flea preventatives can cause a variety of side effects including vomiting, skin reaction, seizures and in extreme cases, death.

The good news is there is a better way to fend off the little buggers without putting your dog at risk.

  • Give your dog vitamin B-50 twice daily. The smell is not detectable to us but fleas and other bugs (flies, mosquitos, etc) detect and detest it! Vitamin B shots have long been a treatment for humans who always seem to attract bugs!
  • Treat your yard with beneficial nematodes. These microscopic critters are easily applied to your yard using a hose attachment and do not harm pets, soil or any beneficial bugs living in your yard, but will target fleas and destroy them by injecting toxins into them. Nematodes can be found at your local garden nursery. I apply these to my yard 1-2 times per year starting in the spring.
  • Use a natural flea control product, such as Evolv spray, to kill and prevent fleas on your dog without the nasty side effects. The spray kills fleas on contact.

Even if you aren’t ready to kick traditional flea control to the curb completely these natural alternatives can drastically reduce the number of applications you use per year, resulting in a healthier, happier pup!

Give Your Dog a Bone – Top Chew Choices

All dogs young and old benefit from appropriate chew bones. Not only does chewing help with the furniture-ruining puppy teeth but bones also provide mental stimulation and help keep teeth and gums healthy. Ditch the rawhide and check out these safe and natural choices.

  • Bully sticks
  • Texas Toothpicks
  • Canine Caviar’s buffalo line including Flossies and Rib Bones
  • Trachea
  • Raw marrow bones (freeze them for longer lasting fun)
  • Antlers – long-lasting and green (antlers are collected after being naturally shed from deer)
  • Water Buffalo Horns (a great choice for dogs with allergies)
  • Be sure to look for chews that are sourced in the USA (New Zealand is another good source).

Providing appropriate chews doesn’t have to break the bank either. I recommend to my clients for great prices and a wide selection of products including odor free bully sticks and novel protein source chews for pups with allergies.

So go on, give your dog a bone!

A Safe and Effective Alternative for Pain Management

Tabasco has been through a lot in his (almost) 10 years. In addition to beating cancer three times and surgery to repair torn ACL’s on both knees and a luxating patella he recently had major back surgery to repair a few ruptured disks that were causing him a good deal of pain and threatened his control of both bladder and bowels.

He came through the surgery better than expected (except for the Houdini breakout escapes out of the kitchen to be near his sister) and had returned back to normal activity – nightly walks, romps on the beach and even some hikes. Not bad for a basset.

Then winter came. Now, I know those of you in other parts of the country are scoffing at our So Cal idea of winter but the chilly temperatures and damp conditions took a toll on Tabasco. He started showing signs of stiffness and reluctance to go on his beloved nightly walks. When we did convince him to go he was slower than normal and clearly uncomfortable. Throughout his life we had made the decision to perform the surgeries in order to keep him feeling good without resorting to lifelong medication. I didn’t want to start now. After talking with our vet and weighing the options we decided to put him on Metacam (a traditional but typically safer non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) for one week to see taking away the pain changed his behavior. We wanted to confirm that he was actually in pain and not just chilly or bored with our nightly route.

Within two days it was pretty clear. Tabasco started asking for his walks again and held head and tail high while he led the pack around the neighborhood.  Knowing lifelong Metacam was not what we wanted for him because of the potential side effects (vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and liver and kidney damage) we decided to give a natural pain med a try.

Our holistic vet highly recommends Dog Gone Pain, a natural supplement made up of ingredients known for their pain relief and anti-inflammatory properties such as Marine Collagen extract, Boswellia, Tumeric, Wheatgrass and Fever Few. In addition to be incredibly safe the DGP costs about $30 per month for a dog Tabasco’s size. Quite the steal compared to the $190 bottle of Metacam that he would need to last a few months.

We ordered a bottle and gave it to him daily, waiting the week it usually requires to take effect before making a call. The results surprised us. He showed no signs of pain or discomfort and continued to enjoy his walks. I expected it to have an effect but wasn’t planning on it being just as effective as the Metacam. Even weeks after the Metacam was stopped (it usually leaves the body in a few days tops) there was no change in his behavior despite the cold, rainy weather.

Health concerned pet owners now have a safe and effective alternative for older pooches starting to show signs of difficulty getting up, using the stairs or just slowing down.

The results are in…

Dharma’s allergy testing results that is. They’ve actually been in for some time but things have been a bit busy around our household!

The results were pretty much what I feared and somewhat expected based on her history. In addition to a moderate wheat allergy she is also mildly allergic to every food tested (beef, corn, milk and soy) except eggs! This has made it somewhat more challenging to find safe alternatives but we’ve managed to add in some safe diet options such as goat and rabbit.

We have noticed an improvement in her overall level of itchiness by cutting out these food offenders and just having a definite answer to some of our questions has been well worth doing the testing. We’ll be doing another round shortly when the extended panel, including chicken and other common foods, comes out!

Holiday Pet Safety Tips

The holidays can be a celebration for people and pets alike but sometimes present unrealized risks. Check out a few holiday safety tips to keep your four-legged friends safe through all the presents and cheer!

  • Be selective when sharing holiday treats. Choose fresh vegetables and lean cuts of meat (hold the rich gravy and spices). 
  • Put potentially dangerous gifts safely out of Fido’s reach. Chocolate and (Macadamia) nuts are abundant this time of year and toxic to pets. Always ask friends and family which gifts may contain harmful foods before putting them under the tree. 
  • Holly, misletoe, ivy, poinsettia and many varieties of lilies are highly toxic to pets. Either trade them for pet friendly options or make sure they are safely out of reach. 
  • Be mindful of ornament placement if you have a nosy pet. Keep glass and hooks out of your pets reach and replace tinsel and garland (which can be harmful if eaten) with bows and ribbon. 
  • Secure your tree to prevent it from being knocked over and hide cords to avoid chewing. 
  • Take your pet for a long walk or play session before leaving for holiday gatherings or having guests over. If you are having a large party be sure to provide your pet a safe, quiet room to go to if they are feeling overwhelmed. Even the most social of animals sometimes need a break. 
  • Be sure your pet has ID tags securely placed on his collar and be mindful that doors and gates are closed behind your guests. 
  • Supervise your pet if he is partaking in the unwrapping of gifts Christmas morning. Ribbons, plastic, batteries and parts of toys are all dangerous if ingested. 

Wishing you and your furry family members safe and happy holiday season!

Drum Roll Please… Introducing Reliable Food Allergy Testing

“You know, there is an accurate way to test for food allergies now.”

Those were the words my vet said as I sat across from him talking about our newest struggles with Dharma’s allergies.

Wait. What? Did I just imagine that? Is it really Christmas already?

I had waited for this day for a long time. I know, I know, who gets excited about breakthroughs in diagnostic testing?

Me. And probably anyone else who has suffered alongside their itchy, scratchy, miserable best friends or spent their time reading the ingredient list on every package of treats in the store searching for those with no wheat, corn, grains, soy, beef, chicken or dairy.

We know Dharma has environmental allergies ranging from fleas, multiple trees and an assortment of plants and grasses. She is under the constant care and monitoring of us and our holistic vet as we try to keep her feeling good with supplements and natural treatments while not resorting to traditional medications used to alleviate allergy symptoms such as steroids.

We have done the testing for the environmental allergies and the results have been a huge help in the process of living with Dharma’s allergies. Some things that are used in natural allergy relief, such as tea tree oil, will send Dharma into a scratching rage complete with open wounds and hair loss. Because we have done the testing we can screen out all known allergens. We have suspected, as has our vet, that based on her history of Irritable Bowel Disease and allergies that Dharma probably has a range of food allergies as well. I have searched high and low, calling every specialist around to see if there is a test for food allergies. There is; however, it is not regarded as reliable.

Previous testing is done using a blood sample and tests for the antibodies to certain foods in the dogs blood. The problem is that the test has a high sensitivity but low specificity producing many false positives as well as false negatives. Not exactly helpful. Until now the only way to test your dog for food allergies was through a method called the elimination diet. It works like this. You put the dog on a strict diet of one protein and one carbohydrate for up to 8 weeks. No other foods are allowed during that time. Period. That includes treats, bones etc. If you see improvement over the 8 weeks you introduce different foods one at a time until you have gone through your list and have determined which foods trigger an allergic response.

If it sounds easy it isn’t. We test every new food, supplement, shampoo, ear wash etc that Dharma is given. Some days I think the list of things we have left to try may take us the rest of our lives. Many times we get a positive response (itchiness) within a few days of giving her the new food or item. But because she has so many environmental allergies and we can’t control the amount of maple trees or yellow dock in the area we never know for sure with one trial if it is really the food causing her to scratch or a coincidence. That means if it produces a reaction once we must take her off the offending item, wait a week or two for her to calm down while it leaves her system and then try it again. If the same item makes her itchy twice we cross if off the list. Now do you see why I’m excited?

Nutriscan canine food sensitivity testing is performed by a lab called Hemopet. Dr. Jean Dodds runs Hemopet and is extremely well-known for her work on advanced thyroid testing and the Rabies Challenge Fund. Dr. Dodds personally evaluates each and every test run through her facility ranging from titer testing to thyroid tests and now, Nutriscan testing.

Nutriscan testing evaluates saliva samples to identify antibodies to foods to alert owners to which foods should be avoided for their pet. Antibodies appear in the saliva before the animal is even diagnosed with IBD or food allergies. The test currently evaluates the top 6 food allergens; corn, wheat, soy, milk, eggs and beef. Hemopet plans to release an extended panel of 14 additional test items including chicken and turkey by the start of 2012.

The day I found out about this new testing I went home, called Hemopet and ordered my diagnostic kit. The sample gathering process is non invasive and can be done at home. I put the piece of rope is put into Dharma’s mouth and ignored her looks of dismay, then inserted it into the sample tube and mailed it back to the lab. Dharma and I are anxiously awaiting the results.

Jerky Fit for a Dog

Jerky treats are a favorite of my basset hounds, Tabasco and Dharma, and finding the snacks made in the USA with all natural ingredients and in a variety that won’t interfere with Dharma’s chicken allergy for less than $28 per pound can be a challenge. After reading about dogs suffering from kidney failure from eating chicken jerky treats from China I decided it was time to try my hand at making these favorites at home.

I purchased a food dehydrator along with a jerky gun and a range of ground jerky ingredients (pork, turkey, beef and lamb) and set out to make my first batch. I mixed each pound of meat with a 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and a healthy sprinkle of parsley. Although large amounts of garlic can be problematic for dogs moderate servings (about 1 clove per day for a 50 lb dog) have many health benefits such as repelling fleas and acting as a natural antibiotic.


After each batch was mixed  it was simple to create strips and logs using the jerky gun. I then placed them on the dehydrator and dried.


They were an instant hit!

With a successful first batch of jerky under my belt I decided to create some other snacks for the dogs to enjoy – sweet potatoes and a range of fruit – which were devoured almost as quickly as the jerky.


Adopt an active approach to your dog’s well-being

As a society we have learned to become passive spectators in many ways, looking to others for answers and guidance instead of doing research and asking the right questions ourselves. In order to truly do the best we can by our pets we have to develop a new way of thinking. It’s important to take a more involved, active approach to ensure your dog is as healthy and happy as they can be.

This applies to all aspects of your pet’s care from the medical attention they receive to the food they eat and the training methods you use to teach them. The next time you take your dog in to the vet ask yourself if your dog really needs a Lyme vaccine when he is never in an area with ticks or if another steroid shot is really the best solution for her itching. Talk with the doctor about your concerns and ask about the risks and benefits for treatments and preventatives before agreeing to them. If your dog has a chronic issue or illness that is always treated the same just to come back in a week or month ask yourself (and your vet) what you can do to address the underlying issue instead of just putting a band aid on the symptoms.You should respect the fact that your vet went through extensive medical schooling but also value your role as your pet’s guardian and decision maker. If your vet doesn’t like you asking questions or raising concerns it might be time to find one who is willing to be a partner in your pet’s care rather than a dictator.

This applies to other aspects of your pet’s well-being too. If you find yourself wondering if the trainer insisting on choke chains and alpha rolls (read: call Bark to Basics) really has your dog’s best interest in mind make your concerns heard or find another trainer. When the person at the gym tells you any “people food” is terrible for your dog pick up a book on canine nutrition and find out for yourself.

Our dogs rely on us to make the best decisions we can when it comes to their health and happiness. We are their advocates and with that comes responsibility and many times, questioning the status quo. Ask the questions your dog’s would ask if they could talk. Do I really need another vaccine? Why is “people” food bad for me? While you’re at it, you should start applying this approach to your own health and wellness too!