8 Myths About Spaying and Neutering Your Pet

Pet owners who think they have a legitimate reason for not spaying or neutering their pet will vehemently debate this topic.  But it’s an important part of every pet’s health care.

Spaying is the surgical removal of the ovaries and uterus in a female.  Neutering is removal of the testicles in a male.

And neutering is also the general term used for the procedures in both males and females.

There is no legitimate reason to not neuter your pet.  Unless you are a responsible professional breeder of purebred dogs or cats breeding to maintain the characteristics of the breed, you should spay or neuter your pet.

Both procedures have lifelong health and behavioral benefits.

Spaying helps prevent uterine infections, and cancer of the breast, ovaries and uterus.  These are all usually fatal in dogs and cats.

In fact, when I was a child one of my dogs died suddenly from a uterine infection.  For some reason unknown to me, my parents didn’t spay her.  I would never repeat that mistake with my own dogs.  It was devastating!

In males, neutering prevents testicular cancer.  And those intact males will roam.  They’ll do anything to find a female.  That includes digging under fences and finding escape routes out of your home.  An animal on the loose can be hit by a car or injured in a fight with another male.

People who choose not to neuter their pet have some misconception about what it means to do so.

If one of these 9 myths is stopping you from spaying or neutering your pet, please rethink your position.

Myth 1:  My pet is a purebred and they’re too beautiful not to breed.

1 out of every 4 pets brought to shelters are purebred.  You are adding to the problem of overpopulated shelters if you breed your pet.  Even if you can find homes for the babies in your litter that means fewer homes for the purebreds in the shelter.

Myth 2: My pet will get fat and lazy.

The only reason pets get fat and lazy is because their owners feed them too much and don’t give them enough exercise.

Myth 3: My pet has such a great personality; I must breed them to get a whole litter of puppies or kittens just like my pet.

There’s no guarantee of that.  The best breeders in the world can’t guarantee the personalities of the puppies or kittens in a litter.

Myth 4:  Spaying/neutering is expensive.

This is not true.  Many states and counties have low-cost spay/neuter programs.  Here’s a link to the low-cost spay/neuter finder at the Humane Society of the United States.

The cost of not fixing your pet is likely to be substantially higher.  A litter requires expensive veterinary care and vaccines.

When your intact male gets out of your house and sustains injuries in a fight or run in with a car, the vet bills will be a lot more expensive than the cost of neutering him.

And another added expense is licensing.  Counties charge higher fees to license an intact dog than a dog that’s spayed/neutered.

Myth 5: I want my children to experience the miracle of birth.

This is not a good reason to add to the pet overpopulation problem.  YouTube is a video treasure trove of dogs and cats giving birth.  If you want your kids to experience birth, have at it.

Myth 6: I don’t want my dog to lose his protective personality.

If your dog has a protective personality, he has that trait because of genetics and environment not sex hormones.  He will be just as protective after he’s neutered.

Myth 7:  I don’t want my male dog or cat to feel less male.

This is your worry… not his.  Pets don’t “feel” male.  He will have no emotional reaction to being neutered and it will not change his personality.

Myth 8:  I’ll find good homes for all the puppies or kittens my pet has.

No, it’s likely you won’t.  Even if you do find them homes, you can’t be sure they’re all good homes.  And you have no control over what happens to those animals once they leave your care.  For all you know, they may end up in a shelter.  Or their puppies or kittens might.

There are many more benefits than drawbacks to neutering your pet.  Besides their health and reducing the pet overpopulation problem, your pet will behave better.

Dogs will bark less, mount less and be less dominant.  You can often avoid aggression problems by neutering early.

Cats will mark less, yowl less, and urinate less often if they’re fixed.

But most importantly your beloved pet is likely to live longer.  A 2013 article in USA Today revealed the results of a study that showed neutered male dogs live 18% longer than unneutered males. Spayed females live 23% longer than unspayed females.

And who doesn’t want to give their pet every opportunity to live a longer healthier life?

When you decide to spay or neuter your pet, speak to your vet about the timing.  The common recommendation is between 5 and 9 months. But studies show benefits to waiting until after puberty.

What are your thoughts about neutering your pet?  Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

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The Silent Dog Killer You’ve Never Heard Of

I read a heartbreaking story a few days ago.  A seemingly healthy Doberman died suddenly from a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).  A condition its owner was unaware he suffered from.

How devastating to lose a beloved pet to an illness you were unaware they had!

This horrible ailment can be a silent killer.  But it’s my hope that if you know what to look for, you may catch some early warning signs.  Early diagnosis and treatment can increase life expectancy and quality of life.

But unfortunately DCM is fatal.

What is dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM)?

DCM is a disease of the heart muscle that affects its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body.  From the picture below you can see that the disease causes the heart to enlarge and the walls of the heart to thin.

DCM in Dogs 2

Usually DCM affects one side of the heart more than the other.  In this illustration, the left side is enlarged.

An enlarged heart becomes overloaded, has weakened contractions, and can’t pump blood properly to the rest of the body.  Over time, this leads to congestive heart failure and death.

DCM occurs in dogs between the ages of 4 and 10 years old and more often in males than females.

It is most common in large and giant breeds like Dobermans, Boxers, Scottish Deerhounds, Irish Wolfhounds, Great Danes and Newfoundlands.  But this condition also affects Cocker Spaniels.

Despite the prevalence in large breeds, DCM can happen to any breed but it’s not often found in small dogs… except for the Cocker.

Because some breeds are predisposed, there’s clearly a genetic component.  But no one is certain what brings this malady on.

A deficiency in taurine or carnitine has contributed to DCM in Dobermans, Boxers and Cockers.

Other underlying conditions like low thyroid levels, inflammation of the heart muscle, prolonged rapid heart rate, and poor blood flow to the heart muscle can also cause DCM.

What are the signs of dilated cardiomyopathy?

A dog with DCM could die unexpectedly, never having exhibited any symptoms of this deadly condition… like that Doberman I read about.  An irregular heart rhythm brought on by DCM is all it takes sometimes.

At first, the symptoms may be subtle and go undetected without a thorough exam.  Breathing that has a muffled or crackling sound due to fluid buildup in the lungs isn’t something you would notice. Missing pulse waves (which cause an irregular heart rhythm) and slow capillary refill time (the time it takes for the color to return after pressing on the gums) are signs of DCM that you would find only if you were looking for them.

More obvious symptoms like lethargy, loss of appetite, rapid or excessive breathing, coughing (especially during activity), excessive panting, and reduced interest in exercise are all signs that something serious is wrong.  The sooner you see your vet and they diagnose DCM, the faster you can begin treatment.

If your dog’s DCM has progressed to congestive heart failure, you’ll know by:

A swollen belly from fluid buildup

Fainting due to lack of oxygen flowing to the brain

A bluish gray tongue or gum color from poor oxygen flow

Weight loss due to inability to store healthy fat

Once the condition has progressed to heart failure life expectancy is 6 to 24 months depending on the breed and the progression of the disease.  Dobermans are so severely affected by this disease they rarely live more than 6 months. Cockers will survive longer.

What is so sad about DCM is the signs seem to develop over night.  But for months—maybe even years—the heart muscle abnormality is progressing silently.

If your vet suspects your dog is suffering from DCM, they will do a thorough examination. But they’ll want to run tests too.  A chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, and an echocardiogram will help to determine how the disease is progressing.

How about treatments for DCM?

The treatments that exist will improve heart function and treat the symptoms. There is no cure.  In fact in humans, a heart transplant would be indicated for this condition.

Your vet will prescribe drugs to improve heart contraction and slow rapid beating.  Diuretics will control fluid buildup in the lungs.

Vasodilators are drugs that induce dilation of the blood vessels and vets often prescribe them for DCM.

If your dog has a taurine or carnitine deficiency, their treatment may include supplements or a food like Husse’s Ocean Care or Optimal Limited that have these nutrients.  A thyroid problem will need thyroid treatment.

Your vet will decide the best course of action based on your dog’s needs.  But the treatment will only improve your dog’s quality of life for their remaining time with you, which the treatment may lengthen somewhat.

This is one of those conditions we as pet parents can’t control.  But we can educate ourselves so we may lessen our beloved pets’ suffering.

Has dilated cardiomyopathy affected your dog?  Share your experience in the comment section above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Safely Store Your Pet Food

I’ve said often that researching and writing this blog have made me a more informed and smarter pet owner.   Years of pet ownership can lull you into thinking you know all there is to know… or most everything anyhow.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

It’s always good to keep up to date and educated about issues that keep your pets happy and healthy.  And hopefully this blog helps you do that.

Food storage, which seems straight forward, is one thing I thought I had all the answers to.  But some things I’ve learned in the last few days are causing me to question that.  You may find, after reading this, you need to rethink your pet food storage too.

If you read this blog, you’re probably already putting a lot of effort into choosing the best quality food you can afford for your pets.  But do you know the right way to store it so it maintains maximum nutritional value and freshness?

Whether you feed dry, canned or raw there are right and wrong ways to store your pet’s food.

First, always check the “Best by” or “Best before” date.  All pet food has one on the packaging.  Once the food is past the date, it’s time to throw it out.

When you buy your food, choose a “Best by” date that’s far enough out you’ll be able to finish it before it’s spoiled.

Food can go bad even before the “Best by” date if the packaging is compromised.  So check before you buy to be sure bags aren’t torn or open, and cans aren’t bulging or leaking.

If the food doesn’t smell or look right when you open the bag, or if your pet won’t eat it, notify the manufacturer immediately.  If they’re reputable, they’ll refund your money or replace the food.  But more importantly, they need to know if there’s a problem in their manufacturing or packaging process.

Storing dry food

If you feed your pet kibble—which I do—air, light, hot temperatures and humidity can degrade your pet’s food.  Exposure to any of these environmental factors at the least puts your pet at risk of not getting the nutritional benefits from their food.  At worst, they can get very sick from mold, bacteria or rancidity.

High temperatures and moisture inside the bag of food can increase the risk of salmonella and other bacteria as well as mold growth.  This contamination can make your pet sick.  In fact, it can kill them.

I read a story on social media the other day about a family that lost two dogs who consumed moldy food.  After the dogs died, the owners inspected the bag of food and found the food at the bottom was covered in mold.  Somehow, moisture got in allowing the mold to grow.

This leads to another important storage consideration.  Many food manufacturers recommend keeping your pet’s food in the bag it comes in instead of transferring it to a food bin.  The bags are made to absorb any excess fat that accumulates and might turn rancid.

The bags also keep light out.  And moisture, if you are careful about where you store the food… off the floor and in a dry location.  You must also close the bag correctly by rolling the top down and securing it with a clip.

But if you leave the food in the bag, you won’t see all the food before your pet eats it.  You won’t see if there’s mold in the bottom until you get to the bottom. That’s a huge risk.  One I hadn’t considered before I heard of these poor dogs, and one I’m not willing to take.

But I was already using a food bin for reasons I’ll tell you in a minute.

My suggestion for you is to follow the manufacturers recommendation with regard to storing in the bag. You could empty the food, inspect it, and then put it back in the bag.

If you’re worried about fat turning rancid, this is a bigger problem for lower quality foods. They tend to spray the necessary fat in the recipe on the outside of the kibble.  Premium foods, like Husse, use a vacuum process so the fat penetrates the kibble.

If you feed a premium food, the risk of mold is a bigger concern than rancid fat.  So the argument for keeping the food in the fat-absorbing bag may not outweigh the risks of moisture getting in and mold growing.

This is especially the case if the manufacturer uses a micro perforated bag.  These bags have miniscule holes to keep air from building up and inflating the bags in the warehouse.  This can lead to puncture when the bags are stacked.  The holes are small enough to keep pests out but moisture can still get in.

If you opt for the food storage bin, metal or glass are better than plastic.  Plastic can leach chemicals and possibly retain residual fat.

But if you’re already using plastic like I am, that’s okay.  Just be sure to thoroughly clean the container between each bag of food. This assures that you’ve gotten rid of any left over crumbs which will go bad, or fats that have adhered to the container and can turn.

And don’t mix old kibble with new kibble.  Finish the old first.  If it has been over 6 weeks since you opened the bag… throw it out, wash the bin, and fill with fresh food.

Regardless of the container you use to store the food, never store it in the garage.  Summer temps can top 100 in there. And vitamins degrade at 104 degrees.  Garages can be humid too, increasing the moisture risk.

Find a cool, dry location in your house.  Possibly the pantry or another closet.  But storing in the pantry can contaminate other food products if the pet food bag has meal moths.

And that’s why I store my dogs’ food in a food bin.  Since my experience with these annoying critters—read Worms In Your Pet Food… Disgusting But Not Uncommon to hear more about that—I’ve emptied my dog food out of the bag to check for meal worms/moths.  And after reading about that deadly mold, I will continue to do so.

I store my food bins in the coat closet.  That moth infestation was not easy to get out of my pantry and I’d rather not go through it again.

Store the bin off the floor to avoid pests and moisture getting in.

If you empty the food from the bag, save the UPC code, lot number, brand, manufacturer, and “Best by” date in case you have a problem with the food or it’s recalled.

Storing canned food

If you feed your pet food from a can, those cans can stay fresh for years if unopened and stored in a cool, dry location.  Again, below 100 degrees.

But don’t buy more than you’ll use before the “Best by” date.

Once the can is open, it can last for 4 hours at room temperature.  Then you should throw it out.

Refrigerate any unused food for up to a week.  Cover the can with a plastic pet food lid or plastic wrap to prevent moisture loss and odor transfer.

If you don’t think you’ll get through the can in a week, then you can freeze single serve portions.  But freezing can change the texture and taste.

Storing refrigerated pet food

These types of foods have a short shelf life.  Check the “Best by” dates. Once they’re open for 5 days, you need to throw them out.  You may be able to freeze these foods, however.  But check the packaging to be sure.

Commercially produced raw food diets have storage instructions on the package.  If you make your own raw food diet for your pet, you may not be sure of the best way to store it.

Some meats spoils faster than others.  And raw meat contains high levels of bacteria, making proper storage even more critical.

You can refrigerate ground meats—whether beef, poultry or fish—for up to 2 days.  If you won’t get through it in that time, freeze it.

Large cuts of meat can be refrigerated for 3 to 5 days.  You can freeze meat if it’s wrapped well for 4 to 6 months.

Whatever food you feed your pets, be sure you are storing it so they can get the most nutritional benefit, and you can avoid a serious and potentially fatal illness.

How do you store your pet food?  Share your thoughts in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Insect Stings… What You Need To Know

The summer’s warm weather brings us out of hibernation.  We spend more time outside this time of year and so do our dogs.

But we’re not the only ones who come out of hiding when the weather’s nice.  The bees, wasps, hornets, spiders and scorpions are all active in warm weather too.

What does this mean for your dog?  What would you do if your dog were stung by one of these critters?

If your dogs are like mine, their noses are always where they shouldn’t be when they are exploring the yard.

They sniff in holes, bury their heads in flowering shrubs, and paw at anything moving in the grass.  They don’t care how many bees are buzzing around their heads.

This can be dangerous behavior.   Complete oblivion can mean trouble if your dog sticks its nose where these insects are nesting.

Dogs are most likely to be stung by insects on their noses, in their mouths or on their paws because those are the body parts they use to investigate their surroundings.

If your pet is stung, you may hear them yelp or see them paw at their face.  Should you be concerned?

Well, that depends.  Let’s talk about which stings are harmless, which ones can be serious, and what you should do if this happens to your dog.

Bees, wasps, hornets

If your dog gets stung by one of these guys, and it’s only one sting not multiple stings, they will most likely be fine after the initial discomfort.

Remove the stinger right away… if you can find it.   The stinger will continue to release venom as long as it’s still in the skin.

Do not use a tweezer or squeeze the stinger with your fingernails. This can pop the venom sac, releasing more venom into your dog.  Instead, use a credit card or piece of cardboard to scrape it off.

Clean the area with cool water and soap.  You can apply a cold compress or an ice pack to reduce any swelling.  Use the ice for 5 minutes on/5 minutes off for the first hour.  Wrap the ice in a washcloth to avoid damaging the skin with direct contact.

You can also use apple cider vinegar on a cotton ball to neutralize the venom.  Do this a few times until the swelling subsides.

No cider vinegar on hand?  Try a baking soda paste.  Mix 3 parts baking soda with one part water and apply it to the sting once every two hours for the first day until the swelling goes down.

Aloe vera gel is also effective but be sure it’s pure aloe.  No aloe lotions.

When using any of these remedies always avoid the eyes.

A bee sting is painful for your dog, just like it would be for you.  But after the initial redness and localized swelling, a healthy dog shouldn’t experience any serious symptoms.

Your pet can have an allergic reaction making the sting more than just uncomfortable for your pet.  If there’s swelling around the face, not just at the spot of the sting, call the vet.  You can give your dog Benadryl but you must ask your vet for the recommended dose first.

The alarming symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, disorientation, weakness, and difficulty breathing within a few minutes of being stung.  These are the signs of an anaphylactic reaction.  This is serious.  Get to the vetimmediately.

Additionally, shock can set in.  If their gums are pale, your dog is going into shock.  Get to the ER.  Shock can be fatal.

The good news is one sting rarely results in these serious reactions.  A dog is more likely to have a serious allergic response if they have been stung before or if they experience multiple stings at one time.

Consecutive stings can also result in a dangerous reaction.  To avoid another sting, don’t allow your dog outside by themselves until they recover.

Black widow and brown recluse spiders

The two spiders most likely to cause a problem for your dog are the black widow and the brown recluse.

The black widow lives all over the U.S. but primarily in the Southwest.  It has a distinctive red or orange hourglass on its abdomen.

The brown recluse lives in the Midwest and is active at night.  If this spider bites your dog, it’susually because they disturbed the spider when it was resting.

The bite of these two spiders can be a nonevent or very serious.

If a spider bites your dog, try to catch it in a jar so your vet can see it.  If a black widow is the culprit, watch for muscle cramps, entire body pain, shaking and panting.  The risk with this kind of bite is elevated blood pressure and heart rate.

Any of these symptoms means a trip to the vet.

The brown recluse destroys the skin surrounding the bite because of necrosis.  The skin cells die.  If the bite is on a limb, it can result in amputation.

I knew a dog that lost his tail from a spider bite.  The owners weren’t even aware he was bitten until he developed this terrible ulcer on his tail.

The ulceration can take a long time to heal and can become infected.  If gangrene sets in or the venom enters the blood stream and travels to the organs, the brown recluse bite can be fatal.

Signs of this spider’s bite can be nothing at all or some local pain followed by itching.

The signs of a more serious reaction are bloody urine, fever, chills, rash and weakness.

The skin surrounding the bite can be red with a white lesion and a dark central scab.

Because the dying skin tissue can lead to the loss of a limb, the faster the vet can diagnose a brown recluse bite the better.  And the more likely you’ll prevent complications.

Scorpions

If you live in the Southwest, scorpions are what nightmares are made of.  There are hundreds of species of these little devils.  Many of them are non-venomous and, although painful, their stings are not life threatening.

But, the bark scorpion—one of the more common species—is extremely venomous.  If one of these gets your dog, it can be fatal.

If a scorpion stings your dog, restrict their movement to keep the venom from flowing from the sting to other parts of the body.

Call your vet to get the right Benadryl dose and to tell them you’re on the way.  It’s advisable to see your vet if a scorpion stings your dog.

You don’t want to wait for the drooling, watery eyes, dilated pupils, trembling or breathing difficulties to set in.

Or course, how your pet responds to any of these stings or bites is dependent on their age, weight, and general health.  But an allergic reaction can happen to any dog.  Be prepared and know what to look out for so you can act quickly if necessary.

Has your dog ever been stung by one of these creatures?  Share your experience in the comment section above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fleas and Ticks 101

The summer’s winding down. In some parts of the country, the kids are getting ready to go back to school. If you’ve gotten this far without fleas and ticks feasting on your pets this summer, don’t get too comfortable yet.

The end of summer and early fall is still active for fleas and ticks, and the worst time of year in many parts of the country. If you live in a place that doesn’t get colder than 30 degrees for long periods, you can never get lax about these nasty parasites. Flea and tick season never ends for you.

If you’ve experienced fleas or ticks on your pets, you know it’s no fun. And it can be downright dangerous. These parasites carry disease and discomfort with them.

If you have been fortunate enough to be a pet owner who hasn’t experienced these annoying pests, you may not know the implications of an infestation… or even how to deal with it if it happens to your pet.

Now’s a good time to brush up on your flea and tick knowledge.

How do pets get fleas and ticks?

These little creatures are external parasites. They feast on the blood of your fur baby by biting them.

Fleas come from other animals that enter your pet’s environment. That might mean your yard, but it can also mean the woods where you hike. The park where you hang out with other dogs. Or a kennel where you’ve boarded your pet.

The animal that carries these pests could be a cat or dog. But it can also be a raccoon, rat, or other wild animal.

The female flea lays eggs on the host animal. Those eggs then fall off in your yard or where you’re dog plays. The eggs develop into adults and the fleas jump onto your pet looking for a place to get a good blood meal.

Once the adult fleas have found a home on your pet, they rarely jump to other pets. They’re happy to have a meal and will stay where they are. But the adult females will lay eggs on your pet. And those eggs could fall off in your home, turn into adults, and leap onto your other pets.

Ticks live 18 to 24 inches off the ground in tall grass or low shrubs. When your dog is walking by and brushes against the foliage, they dislodge the ticks that then climb onto your pet.

Can these parasites make your pet sick?

These bugs are not only annoying to your pet, they also carry disease.

The most common reaction to fleas is flea allergy dermatitis. The salivary protein in the fleabite causes an allergic response. Your pet will bite, scratch and even lose their fur.

It only takes a few bites to cause a reaction. And all the scratching can result in a secondary bacterial or fungal infection.

If your pet is infested with fleas, they can become anemic from all the blood loss. An old, ill or very young animal can become weak and even die.

Fleas can also transmit tapeworm to your pet… little rice-like worms found around the rectum, in poop, or on your pet’s bed.

Ticks can transmit more than a dozen very serious diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These can kill your pet.

Tick-borne diseases vary from one area of the country to another. So talk to your vet about which diseases are prevalent where you live.

Are fleas and ticks more common in some parts of the U.S. than others?

Ticks and fleas are worse in some parts of the country. And they’re worse at certain times of the year.

Fleas like warm humid conditions. So they’re not common in dry places like the Southwest. But the Gulf Coast and Southeast U.S. are flea infested.

Fleas are worse during mid to late summer and early fall. Ticks are most prevalent early spring and late fall. But these critters are around any time of year.

Ticks are almost everywhere but are particularly problematic in the Upper Midwest and Northeast where Lyme-carrying ticks are the worst.

How do you know if your pet has fleas or ticks?

There are many species of ticks and fleas. The large ticks are easy to see or feel on your pet. Especially when they are engorged after enjoying a blood meal.

Deer ticks are very tiny… the size of a pinhead. They’re not so easy to find. It’s a good idea to do a careful inspection of your pet if they’ve spent time in an area that’s known to have ticks.

If you live in a tick prone area, do a check once a day.

If your pet has fleas, they’ll scratch incessantly. In cats, you may notice excessive grooming.

Run a flea comb through your pet’s fur. Dump the hair onto a white paper towel. Dampen it with water. Red stains mean fleas. The red is flea dirt—basically poop.  It’s digested blood. Yuck!

How do you get rid of ticks and fleas?

If your pet has ticks and you’ve never removed a tick before, get the help of your vet. You must grasp the tick with a pair of tweezers as close to the mouthparts as you can get. Then apply steady pressure until the tick lets go. You don’t want to pull the tick out and leave the mouth in your pet.

Never use anything to remove a tick that could hurt your pet, like lighter fluid or a match.

Fleas are a nightmare to get rid of. I know this firsthand.

Talk to your vet about treatment. You will likely have to treat several times. Not only must you treat your pet, you need to treat your home, any environment your pet spends time in, and all other pets in your home.

You can have an exterminator fog your house if the infestation is bad.   If it isn’t horrible, you can vacuum the rugs. Throw out old bedding. And launder all other items in hot water.

Can you prevent ticks and fleas?

There are many prevention products on the market. Talk to your vet about the best one for your pet.

Often, one product can prevent both ticks and fleas. They are usually topical treatments. You apply the fluid directly to the skin between the shoulder blades or on the back of the neck.

These products need a prescription from your vet and are generally safe if you follow the directions. But of course, a pet can react to anything applied to their skin.

Over-the-counter flea and tick preventatives are not effective.  Fleas are often resistant to the synthetic pyrethrins in these products. People over apply them because they don’t work. That’s dangerous for your pet, you and the environment.

Remember too, prevention products meant for dogs should never be used on a cat and vice versa.

Talk to your vet about whether you should treat your pet year-round. That will depend on where you live, where you travel with your pet, and what activities your pet partakes in.

There are natural prevention options on the market too. Some work better than others. If you use a natural product, you must also flea-proof your pet’s living environment.

Minimize brush and tall grass in your yard to prevent fleas and ticks from taking up residence. Remove leaf litter.

These bugs don’t like sunlight so don’t give them shady hangouts. Ticks will also hide under shrubs or porches. Try to prevent your pets from laying in those areas.

Keep your pets out of tick habitats like heavily wooded areas and tall grass.

If you live in an area with a lot of ticks, you may need to treat your property with a pesticide.

Fleas and ticks can cause serious illness and make your pet miserable. It’s important to check your pet regularly. And use the prevention methods I’ve mentioned to stay ahead of a serious assault.

Have you ever had a flea infestation? Have you had to remove a tick from your pet? Tell us about it in the comment section above.

Water Dangers For Dogs

Summer is a favorite time of year for many of us.  And it’s such a wonderful time to enjoy our dogs in active pursuits like hiking, picnicking and swimming.

But as responsible pet owners, we need to know the risks we’re exposing our fur kids to when we embark on these activities.

I’ve written in the last few weeks about keeping our doggies’ paws and skin safe from the hazards of summer.

This week I’ll talk about the water.

I most definitely do not want to deter anyone from swimming with their pooch.  It’s great exercise for your dog… and you.  But it’s important to understand how to keep your dog safe around water.

I’m always amazed how much I learn when I research my blog posts.  And I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable pet owner.

This tells me we probably could all use to educate ourselves more to keep our pets happy and healthy.

Whether you swim with your dog in a pool, the ocean or a lake, there are real dangers out there… some you may never have heard of.

What do you know about water intoxication? 

This is a new one for me… and my pups are water dogs!

Water intoxication, or hyponatremia, is a rare but often fatal condition.  It happens when the dog drinks so much water that their sodium levels get excessively low.

When dogs ingest large amounts of water by lapping or biting at the water while swimming for long periods, they’re in danger of suffering from this condition.

If your dog likes to stay in the lake or pool all day, they’re at risk.  Does your dog dive for a ball or toy at the bottom of a pool over and over again?  They too are consuming large amounts of water.

My dog loves when I throw her ball into the pool over and over again.  And every time she grabs it and swims to the steps with the ball in her mouth, she takes in a ton of water.  She usually comes out choking.  If your dog does too, be aware of how much water they’re consuming.

And how about garden hoses and sprinklers?  Does your dog enjoy catching the water that comes out of them?  This can be dangerous. Because the water is pressurized, your dog is swallowing more water than you think.

No one’s saying you shouldn’t do these things with your dog.  Just be sure not to over due it.

Take frequent short breaks from fetching a toy in the water.  Minimize chasing water from a hose.  Don’t let your dog dive to the bottom of the pool over and over.

And give your dog regular breaks from swimming.

Also watch how much water your dog drinks after exercise.  If they drain a whole bowl, wait a while before filling the bowl again.  Over hydrating can lead to water intoxication as well.

Most dog owners think a lot about dehydration but rarely give thought to the dangers of over hydration.  Now you see how both can be problematic.

Learn the signs of water intoxication and act quicklyto get help.  If your dog has been swimming, playing in the water or drinking large amounts of water, the following signs mean trouble:

Vomiting

Lethargy

Bloating

Glazed eyes

Excessive salivation

Loss of coordination

Difficulty breathing

Seizures

Get to the emergency vet clinic immediately.  This is a condition that progresses very quickly and can reach the point of no return fast.

Any breed or size dog can become a victim of water intoxication.  But small dogs will show signs much faster.

Did you know swimming in the ocean could cause salt poisoning?

This is the opposite of water intoxication.

Hypernatremia is the buildup of too much sodium in the blood stream from drinking salt water.  This causes similar symptoms as hyponatremia and is also life threatening.

Swimming in the ocean is not the only thing to bring this on.  Retrieving—over and over again—an ocean water–soaked tennis ball is another way dogs swallow lots of salt water.

When you’re at the beach, be sure you give your dog lots of breaks from water play.  And offer a lot of fresh water so your dog isn’t tempted to drink the ocean water.

If you’re dog isn’t willing to drink from the water bowl every 15 minutes or so, use a squirt cap and squirt it into their mouth.

How about those jellyfish sunning themselves on the shoreline?

If you like strolling on the beach with your dog, be sure they avoid these guys.  Whether the jellyfish are in the water or on the sand, they’re a potential danger to your dog.

Their tentacles contain a stinging toxin that can cause a reaction anywhere from mild to anaphylactic.  Make sure your dog not only avoids stepping on it, but they don’t eat it.

Even the dried tentacles baking in the sand for hours or days can cause a reaction.

The most toxic of the jellyfish to both humans and dogs is the Portuguese Man O’war.  These suckers can be as big as 12 inches long and 5 inches wide… with tentacles as long as 165 feet!

They are purplish blue and aren’t even considered jellyfish.  But they are jellylike.  Avoid them at all costs.

If a jellyfish stings your dog, remove the tentacle without touching it directly and see your vet immediately.

Beware the blue-green algae!

If you prefer to give your dog the pleasure of a pond instead of the ocean, risks lurk there too.

Blue-green algae can be very harmful.  If your dog swims in it, they may get a rash.  If they drink it, the toxins in the algae can cause damage to their organs.

You should always wash your dog after swimming but particularly if they were swimming in algae-laden water.

These algae live in standing bodies of fresh water or the slightly salty water found in a pond near the ocean.

The smell of the algae will often attract your dog so keep them away if the water has a bluish green tint.

If after a romp in a pond you notice the following, see the vet ASAP:

Vomiting

Diarrhea

Weakness

Difficulty walking

Bloody urine

Giardia, crypto, lepto… oh my!

The standing fresh water in small lakes, ponds and puddles are a breeding ground for all kinds of parasites and bacteria.

Giardia and crypto sporidium are the most common.  They cause gastrointestinal distress.  But most dogs, fortunately, will recover quickly from these parasites.

But leptospirosis, which I wrote about recently, can be deadly if not caught early.

What about swimming in a pool?

My dogs have always loved the pool.  And who could blame them?  When you walk out the door and it’s 115 degrees, the pool is very refreshing.

But I find the chlorine dries out my dog’s skin.  Just as it does mine.  Hose your dog thoroughly after they swim in the pool to get the chlorine off.

The chlorine in pool water isn’t particularly dangerous because it’s highly diluted.  But you wouldn’t want your dog drinking a lot of it.

On the other hand if they get a hold of a chlorine tablet or the liquid form you pour in the pool… that’s trouble.  Luckily, the odor is so unpleasant, it usually keeps them away.

If you’re going to introduce your dog to the pool, be sure they know how to get out.  The biggest pool danger for dogs is drowning.

If they can’t find the exit, or haven’t learned how to negotiate the steps or ladder, they may panic or scramble trying to get out.  This can cause them to tire and drown without help.  Just because paddling is instinctive doesn’t mean a dog won’t panic or get tired.

The body composition of some breeds like bulldogs and greyhounds doesn’t lend itself to swimming.  They will drown.  So know your breed!

If you have a pool but you’re not sure how to acclimate your dog to it, hire a trainer to help you.

For dogs that don’t swim but are interested in the pool, buy a life vest to keep them safe.  But always supervise your dog in the pool—just as you would a child—even if they’re wearing a life vest.  That’s the only way you’ll see if they get into trouble and if they’re consuming too much water.

Floppy-eared dogs run the risk of ear infections.  Be sure to dry the ears after your dog swims to avoid infections.  This can become a chronic problem if your  dog’s a regular swimmer and their ears stay wet.

Maybe you don’t want your dog in the pool.  Or your dog can’t swim.  Consider fencing the pool to keep your pet safe.

But whatever you do… go out and enjoy the weather and the water with your dog.  Just keep a cautious eye on them to be sure they’re not going overboard.

Is your dog a swimmer?  Do you take them to the lake, the beach or the pool?  Share your water experiences in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

The Benefits of Doggy Sun Protection

I have owned dogs my whole life.  With each one, I try to be a better pet parent. I try to learn more and do more with each dog that comes into my life.

This week, I have to confess I have been remiss about protecting my dogs from the harmful effects of the sun.

Frankly, I hadn’t thought the sun was much of a problem for a dog.  After all, our dogs don’t have to worry about wrinkles.  And I thought they’re pretty well protected from sunburn by their fur.

It turns out I couldn’t be more wrong.

Wrinkles may not be a dog problem but skin cancer is.  In fact, skin tumors are the most common tumors in dogs.  And some breeds are more susceptible than others.

The three most common skin cancers in dogs are malignant melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and mast cell tumors.

Malignant melanoma

Most malignant melanomas occur on the mucous membranes like the mouth.   But dogs can get them on body parts covered with hair about 10% of the time.

If untreated, they are fatal because they grow quickly and will spread to other organs.

Melanomas in dogs are caused by genetic factors.   There are breeds at greater risk for this form of cancer.  Schnauzers, Scottish terriers and other black dogs are prone to melanomas on their toes or on the toenail bed.

There seems to be a connection between a trauma or incessant licking and melanoma.  This causes the cells to multiply and in some cases mutate into cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma

This is the one form of skin cancer in dogs linked to sun exposure.  It’s aggressive and can destroy a lot of the tissue surrounding the tumor.

It’s commonly found in dogs that spend time in the sun and dogs that live at high altitudes.  They’re closer to the sun.

You’re likely to find this cancer on your dog’s nose, ears, or belly… areas where there’s no fur for protection from the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma appears between 6 and 10 years old and generally affects dogs with short coats, especially if they have light skin and/or light fur.

Large breed black dogs are prone to squamous cell on their toes.

Keeshonds, Basset Hounds, Standard Schnauzers, Collies, Dalmations, Bull Terriers and Beagles are prone to this cancer.

Mast cell tumors

Another fatal cancer, mast cell tumors are the most common skin tumor in dogs.  And no one knows for sure what causes them.  There is a link to inflammation or irritants on the skin.  Hormones may also affect mast cell tumor growth.

Sadly, I lost a dog to this.  Her diagnosis occurred when she was 8 which seems to be the mean age for this cancer.  Our vet surgically removed the tumors which gave her a few good years.  But the cancer ultimately spread to her lungs.

These tumors affect the mast cells, which play a role in the allergic response.  The cells cause the itching, swelling and redness on your pet’s skin that results from contact with an allergen.

But you need not worry that your dog is more susceptible to this form of cancer if they suffer from allergies.  There’s no connection.

Once again, though, genetics play a role.

Certain breeds are prone to mast cell tumors.  Boxers, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Schnauzers and Golden Retrievers are more likely to get these tumors.  My girl was a yellow Lab.

So if you notice sores that don’t heal or keep coming back, or masses on your dog’s body, see your vet immediately.

Not all masses and sores are cancer.  One of my dogs is covered in fatty tumors.  But the vet has biopsied all of them and none are malignant… thank goodness.  Get them checked.  Early diagnosis is key to successful treatment.

Skin cancer prevention

Mast cell tumors and malignant melanomas have a genetic component.  There is no way to prevent them.  Early intervention is your best option.

But sun exposure is a risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma.  Limit your dog’s time in the sun, especially between 10 am and 2 pm.

Apply sunscreen to your pup’s ears, nose and other lightly furred/lightly colored areas of the body.

Be careful which sunscreen you choose for your dog.  Avoid zinc oxide, which is toxic to dogs if they swallow it.  Stay away from sunscreens that contain para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and fragrance.  Both can cause adverse reactions.

Look for a waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays—broad-spectrum coverage.

There are many dog specific sunscreens on the market.  But the FDA doesn’t test sunscreens for dogs.  So there will be no claims on the label.  As a result, you won’t know how effective it is at protecting your dog.

Ask your vet for a recommendation.  They may just recommend a sunscreen made for kids.

I probably don’t need to say this but you should never use tanning lotion or tanning oil on your dog.  This isn’t sun protection.

Try a little sunscreen on a small area first to be sure your dog doesn’t react.

When you’re certain your dog isn’t allergic to the sunscreen and they’re not licking it, rub it on all body parts that aren’t well covered with fur.  And don’t forget the tummy between the hind legs.  Rub it in so it gets through the fur and into the skin.

Allow it to soak in for a few minutes before going outside.

Avoid contact with the eyes.  And just like you do, reapply your dog’s sunscreen after swimming.

What if your dog has a sensitivity to sunscreen or licks it off?

There are alternatives to sunscreen.  You can try sun-friendly apparel.  There are rash guards and sun shirts with built in sun protection factors of 50.  Doggy goggles and visors are an option for tolerant dogs.

If you have a dog that spends a lot of time outside, you can keep them out of the sun by using an exercise pen with a sunscreen cover… almost like a beach umbrella.

How do you know if your sun protection is working?

You’ll know when your dog is sunburned if their skin is red and tender to the touch.  Or if there’s hair loss, itchiness, dry or cracked skin.  These are all signs of too much sun.

See your vet if any of these symptoms persist.

This is the time of year to enjoy the outdoors with your dog.  Whether it’s a day at the beach or a romp in the backyard, be sure both you and your best buddy are wearing protection from the harmful effects of the sun.

Do you use sunscreen on your dog? Tell us which one you like in the comment section at the top of the page.