8 Things You Never Knew About Your Dog’s Paws

When you are a dog lover, it’s easy to find the cuteness in everything about them.  From their head to their toes, they’re adorable. But have you given much thought to your pooch’s toes?  Or their entire paw for that matter?

Your dog’s paws are more than a mode of transportation.  They say a lot about a breed’s purpose.  Even if you own a mixed breed dog, their paws can tell you a lot.

And they’re important to your dog’s overall well being.

Since it’s getting hot in some parts of the country, especially in Arizona, it’s important to gather some paw knowledge so you can take care of them in the heat.

And it’s always fun to learn a few new facts about your best friend.  Here are 8 things you might not know about your dog’s paws.

1)   Dogs’ paws come in 2 basic shapes, cat and hare.

Cat-shaped paws are compact, small and round.  They can bear a lot of weight because the shape allows for stability and endurance.  Most large working dog breeds like Newfoundlands, Doberman Pinschers and Akitas have cat-shaped feet.

Hare-shaped paws resemble the paws of a rabbit or hare.  They have two elongated central toes that are longer than the outer toes.  This allows for speed and the ability to get a quick start from a resting position.  Not surprisingly Greyhounds, Whippets and Borzois all have hare-shaped paws.

Paws can also be webbed whether cat- or hare- shaped.  Breeds that are swimmers like Labrador Retrievers and Newfoundlands have cat-shaped webbed paws.

And dogs like the Dachshund that hunt small animals that burrow also have webbed feet.  This allows them to move more dirt when they dig.

Cold climate breeds will have very wide paws for traction on snow and ice. The Newfoundland has the king of all paws… huge webbed feet with long toes that help them negotiate the icy terrain and frigid waters of Newfoundland.

2)  Dogs are digitigrades.

Digitigrades walk on their toes not their heels.  This enables them to move more quickly and quietly than an animal that carries their weight in their heels.

3)   Each paw has digital pads, a metacarpal pad and a carpal pad.

The 4 digital pads and 1 metacarpal pad act as shock absorbers for the bones and joints in the foot.

The carpal pad helps with balance, slowing down and stopping.

Dog Paw

Photo Credit: Eric Isselee/Shutterstock

Dogs that spend a lot of time outside and are active will have rougher thicker pads than the couch potato that spends most of their days inside.

The pads help your dog distinguish between types of terrain.  As your dog ages, the pads become more sensitive and adaptable to different surfaces.

If you try booties to protect the pads, your dog may resist because they rely on their pads to identify the surface they’re walking on.

The pads insulate the inner tissue of the paws from extreme temperatures. This is why their feet don’t get cold when walking in the snow.  The fatty tissue that makes up the pads doesn’t freeze like normal skin would.

They can, however, burn very quickly on hot pavement.  This time of year be sure to test the pavement with the palm of your hand before letting your dog walk on it.  If you can hold your hand on the street for at least 10 seconds without it being too hot, it’s probably safe for your dog.

Pads can get irritated not only from a hot surface but also from walking on rock salt and other chemicals on the ground.  Not to mention the danger of your dog ingesting those chemicals if they lick their paws.

Booties are good protection, especially if you live in a place like Arizona where summer temps reach 115.  But as I said your dog may fight them, or be tentative when walking with them.

4)   That corn chip smell is bacteria.

If you’ve ever thought that Frito scent was just another cute thing about your baby, you’ll be surprised to learn it’s a build up of bacteria over time.  That’s why you won’t notice it on a puppy.

It’s normal though and rarely causes any problems.

5)   There are sweat glands in your dog’s paws.

Dogs only produce sweat on parts of their bodies not covered with fur, like the nose and the pads of their feet.  Their primary means of cooling the body is by panting.  But the sweat glands in the paws help with the cooling process.

When a dog is nervous or stressed, their paw pads may be moist—like sweaty palms in humans.

6)   Dewclaws are the remnants of thumbs.

You’ll find dewclaws on the front paws of most dogs.  Sometimes they’re on the back paws too.  And some breeds like the Beauceron, Great Pyrenees, and Briard have double dewclaws on the back paws.

Front dews contain bone and muscle and are good for gripping a chew toy.

But there’s no muscle or bone in the back dews, making them pretty useless.

But breeds with double dews use them for gripping when walking on steep slopes.  Or if they’re herding dogs, they’ll use them when they’re on the backs of the sheep to hold on.

7)   Claws grow out of the bone unlike human fingernails.

As a result, they share the blood supply with the bone.  The blood supply is visible in the nail.  It’s called the quick.  The quick also has nerves.  If you clip it while trimming the nails, it’s painful and bleeds a lot.

It’s easy to see the quick on a dog with white claws.  If the claws are black or opaque, it’s more difficult. Clip only the pointed end or let a pro do it if you’re not sure where the quick ends.

Claws are tougher and thicker than fingernails but they grow just as fast. It’s important to maintain them so they don’t grow so long they hinder your dog’s ability to walk.

Active dogs can keep the length under control just from wearing them down on the ground.  If your dog isn’t very active, you’ll need to trim them or ask your vet to do it.

8)   You can’t predict the size of your adult dog by the size of its puppy feet.

Contrary to popular belief, a puppy’s paws are not always a good indicator of their adult size.

Bulldog puppy paws are enormous but they don’t grow to be big dogs.  Some times a puppy with big paws will be big.  But the best indicator of a puppy’s ultimate size is its breed, or combination of breeds, and the size of its parents.

A puppy will not usually be bigger than its biggest parent.  And most pups will reach 75% of their adult height by the time they’re 6 months old.

Little paws are one more perfect thing about a puppy.  They’re just adorable in every way.

So be sure to get your puppy used to having their paws handled from the time they’re young.  Massage them regularly.

And continue massaging them when they’re adults.  Paw massages are good for your dog’s feet. They’re a good way to find things that shouldn’t be there.  And they’re a great way to bond with your pet.

What do you think about doggy paws?  Tell us in the comment section at the top of the page.

12 Tips to Calm Your Pet This New Year’s Eve

In a few short days, 2016 will come to a close. If it’s been a year you’re happy to see end, you’ll likely be celebrating.   As will your friends and neighbors who are happy to turn the page on the calendar.

With all that celebrating there’ll surely be noisemakers, fireworks, loud music and maybe some hootin’ and hollerin’ in your home or your neighborhood.

Although the carousing may be a release for us, our pets don’t feel quite the same way. For them, loud noises can be terrifying and anxiety provoking, making New Year’s Eve less than enjoyable for our furry family members.

If you have a seriously anxious pet, they may tremble, hide, pace or pant. With moderate anxiety your pet may lick their lips and yawn a lot.

Knowing you have an anxious pet enables you to be proactive and prepare.   Here are 12 things you can do to minimize your pet’s stress.

1) Confine your pet to a safe place. If your pet is crate trained, they’ll probably be comfortable there. But if your pet isn’t crate trained, now’s not the time to try it. Instead, put them in a safe room where they can’t get themselves into trouble.

2) Play relaxing classical music or the television at a volume that’s loud enough to drown out the frightening noises, but not too loud to cause more anxiety.

3) Spray lavender oil on your pet’s bed or favorite blanket. Or just let them smell it.

4) Try canine or feline pheromones that help your pet feel safe. These come as plug-in room diffusers or sprays.

5) Talk to your vet about ProQuiet, a chewable tryptophan tablet that works for cats and dogs. Sileo is a prescription medication for dogs that reduces anxiety without sedation. Ask your vet if it’s right for your dog.

6) Take your dog out for as much exercise as possible before the festivities begin. And keep your cat moving with toys and laser pointers before the evening gets going. They’ll be too tired to be stressed.

7) Try desensitizing earlier in the day or a few days before by making loud noises, blowing the noisemakers, and clanking the pots and pans. This may not work for extremely anxious pets.

8) Try a pressure point coat like ThunderShirt. These jackets put constant gentle pressure on a dog’s pressure points and promote a sense of calm by creating the sensation of being held.

9) Distract your pet with food puzzles or some new toys. Spritz a new toy with catnip to keep your cat engaged. And I never met a dog that didn’t love a Kong stuffed with peanut butter.

10) Allow your pet to follow you around if that helps them stay calm. If that’s not possible or you’re going out, hire a pet sitter. This is particularly advisable if your pet is extremely anxious.

11) Some say you shouldn’t comfort or coddle a frightened pet. It will reinforce their negative behavior. But some say it’s okay to show calm affection. I’m personally in that camp. If you were scared, wouldn’t someone speaking soothingly calm you down? When your pet is calm, reinforce that behavior with treats. And always stay calm yourself so your pet sees that everything’s okay.

12) Leave the neighborhood for a quieter place if possible.

One or two of these alone may not work. You may have to try several of them to have any effect on your pet.

In spite of your best efforts, you may come home to damage if you leave your pet alone on New Year’s Eve and there’s a ruckus in your neighborhood.

Whatever you do, don’t scold them! Your pet needed an outlet to express their anxiety. Or they may have been trying to escape from it.

What if your typically calm pet unexpectedly becomes anxious on New Year’s Eve? This can happen as pets age. Especially if they suffer from health problems or the dementia I wrote about in my last article.

Awareness can go a long way in minimizing your pet’s stress. It allows you to plan if you know you have an anxious pet.

But there are also things on the list you can do if your normally relaxed pet starts to unravel. Look out for the signs your pet is melting down and confine them to a safe place. Play calming music. Give them a stuffed Kong toy.  And sit with them for a while.

In some pets, the anxiety is so severe they hurt themselves. They may bloody their paws trying to escape out a closed door or possibly even jump from a window. And never tie up your anxious dog outside. They can injure themselves trying to escape the tether and runaway.

Always be sure your pet has a collar on with identifying tags and that they are micro-chipped, in case they get loose.

It’s unfair to let a pet suffer. Talk to your vet if you know you have an anxious pet.

For humans, the holiday season is a time for joyful celebration. But we rarely consider what our pets think of all the hoopla.  We can make the festivities enjoyable for all our family members with a little planning.

A happy and healthy 2017 to you and your pets!

How do you keep your pet calm when they’re frightened of noises? Share in the comment section at the top of the page.

Meat, poultry, byproduct, meal… 9 common ingredients in your pet’s food explained

In my last few posts, I’ve talked about food… Decoding the Dog Food Label and Digestibility and Dog Food.

But what’s really in those ingredients on the label? The terms are either vague or incomprehensible.

Well, this week I will give you the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ (AAFCO) guidelines for what’s allowed to be included in each of the ingredients on your pet’s food label.

I have to warn you that the permissible ingredients will horrify you. It’s another argument for feeding your pet the highest quality food you can afford.

Premium pet foods have ingredients you can understand.

Here’s how AAFCO defines 9 of the most common ingredients found in your pet’s food.

Meat is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that part which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Just like the meat we eat, the term meat on the label means mostly muscle tissue. It can also include fat and gristle just like when you buy meat for yourself.

But meat in pet food can also include some very unappealing things like heart muscle or the muscle that separates the heart and lungs from the other organs.

It doesn’t include bone. And because the muscle is mechanically separated from the bone, it has the consistency of paste.

The manufacturer can also name the species the meat comes from in the ingredient list like beef or pork. But if they use the term meat, it must come from cattle, pigs, sheep or goats. Any other mammal must be identified by name.

Poultry and fish wouldn’t fall in this category either. They have to be identified separately on the label.

Meat By-Products are the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal feed. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Rendering is the process of extracting proteins and minerals from the animal carcass using heat and pressure to remove water and fat. By-products are not rendered.

These parts have to come from cattle, pigs, sheep and goats just like meat.

By-products are scary. You want to avoid them in your pet’s food because they’re a very poor quality source of protein. They’re almost everything except the muscle tissue… including organs and bones.

Some of those organs may be organs we would eat, but many are not fit for human consumption. Like udders for instance. The USDA considers these parts to be safe for animals though. But does that mean you want to feed it to your beloved pet?

And remember too that lower quality ingredients may mean lower digestibility. So your pet’s body isn’t able to use the nutrients in those ingredients.

Poultry is the clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto. If the bone has been removed, the process may be so designated by use of the appropriate feed term.”

It’s basically the parts of the bird you’d find at the grocery store if you bought a chicken or turkey. Often it’s the parts that most people don’t want like backs and necks.

Poultry can also include bone, unlike meat which cannot include bone. If the processor removed the bone, it would say “deboned poultry”.

Pet food makers will often be more specific and list the poultry ingredient as chicken or turkey.

Poultry By-Products must consist of non-rendered clean parts of carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, viscera, free from fecal content and foreign matter except in such trace amounts as might occur unavoidably in good factory practice. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Similar to meat by-products, you don’t want your pet’s protein source to come from poultry by-products.

The next 5 ingredients are rendered ingredients.  Rendered ingredients are cooked to destroy harmful bacteria. They’re made up of the extracted proteins and minerals from animals and are called meals because they’re ground to a uniform sized particle.

Meat Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition… {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}… If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin it must correspond thereto.”

If the manufacturer doesn’t specify what mammal the meal came from, like beef meal for instance, it can come from any mammal. The maker is not required to specify the mammal. And it doesn’t have to come from cattle, pigs, sheep, or goats.

Meat and Bone Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition… {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}… If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin it must correspond thereto.”

This is similar to meat meal but it includes added bone, not just the amount of bone normally found on the whole carcass of the animal.

Animal By-Product Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. This ingredient definition is intended to cover those individual rendered animal tissues that cannot meet the criteria as set forth elsewhere in this section. This ingredient is not intended to be used to label a mixture of animal tissue products.”

Who the heck knows what this means. Seems like anything and everything that can’t be specifically identified. Yuck!

AAFCO says it can be the whole carcass, but it includes more by-products than you’d find in meat meal or meat and bone meal. Hmmm…

Poultry By-Product Meal consists of the ground, rendered clean parts of the carcasses of slaughtered poultry such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers except in such amounts as might occur unavoidably in good processing practices… {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}… If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

This is the same as “poultry by-products,” but it’s rendered. Most of the water and fat has been removed to make a concentrated protein/mineral ingredient.

Poultry Meal is the dry rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of poultry or a combination thereof, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. It shall be suitable for use in animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”

Again, poultry meal is like “poultry” but in rendered form to make a concentrated protein/mineral ingredient.

Beyond these 9 ingredients, there are lots of other things found in pet food. For instance,

animal and vegetable fats and oils for energy and added flavor;

plant ingredients such as corn, barley and peas for energy and to bind the kibble;

dried beet pulp, dried chicory root and powdered cellulose for fiber;

vitamins and minerals like cobalt, copper, iodine and selenium to name a few;

DL-Methionine, L-Lysine, and L-Threonine are amino acids;

and you’ll find preservatives, conditioning agents, thickeners and emulsifiers

If you’re interested in the details of these other ingredients, the AAFCO website is a great resource.

Next time you’re in the pet store, take a look at pet food labels and compare them to a Husse label. Now that you understand the specifics behind the vague ingredient names, you’ll see that Husse ingredients are exactly what you think they are.

Husse premium pet food is made with only the highest quality non-GMO human grade ingredients.

Are you surprised what’s allowed in pet food? Share in the comment section at the top of the page.



Decoding the dog food label

After reading about digestibility last week, you’re probably realizing that not all dog food is created equal. And the ambiguity of the labels on the bags and cans doesn’t make it easy to decipher the differences.

But digestibility isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing a high quality food for your best friend. The food label provides lots of information about the quality of the food inside. But you need to know how to decode it.

This week I will help you understand that label. From Guaranteed Analysis to Ingredients, from the AAFCO pledge to Dry Matter Basis, understanding these terms will make you an educated dog food consumer.

And a better pet parent.

Reading and understanding the food label is really the only way to know what you’re feeding your dog. Here’s what to look for.

Dry Matter Basis

Dog food, whether canned or kibble, has water in it. Dry food less so than wet, obviously. Canned food can be up to 80% water and dry food can be as low as 6% water. This is a huge disparity so keep that in mind if you are ever comparing a dry food to a wet food.

To figure out just how much protein, fat and fiber your dog is getting, you need to calculate the percentages of these nutrients on a dry matter basis. Basically, take the water out of the food when doing your analysis.

When calculating dry matter basis, start with the percentages of protein and fat. You’ll find this info on the Guaranteed Analysis part of the label.

We’ll use Husse Optimal as an example. Optimal has a 12% moisture content and 23% crude protein. The protein number is on an “as fed” basis meaning as it’s fed from the bag with the water content. We need to convert to a dry matter basis to see how much protein your dog is really getting.

If the dry food is 12% moisture, then 88% is dry matter. If that dry food has 23% crude protein, we divide 23% by 88% to find out how much protein it has on a dry matter basis. It’s 26% protein on a dry matter basis.

Let’s analyze an actual canned food that shall remain nameless. This food is 79% moisture—so it’s 21% dry matter—and has 8% crude protein. We divide 8% protein by 21% dry matter and we get the protein on a dry matter basis—38%.

If we were comparing these two foods and hadn’t converted to a dry matter basis, we would have assumed that the canned food had much less protein than the kibble. When in fact, canned food is typically higher in protein and lower in fiber than dry food.

Guaranteed Analysis

This section of the label is equivalent to the Nutrition Facts on people food. It tells us the nutrient content of the food.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requires pet food manufacturers to disclose the minimum amount of protein and fat, and the maximum amount of fiber and moisture in the food.

Any other nutrient guarantees in the Guaranteed Analysis are voluntary unless the manufacturer makes a claim on the label like “high in vitamin E” or “high in calcium”. Then they must support their claims by including those nutrients in the Guaranteed Analysis.

Husse Optimal’s Guaranteed Analysis includes calcium, phosphorus, zinc, selenium and omega 3 and 6, in addition to protein, fat, fiber and moisture.

The percentages in the Guaranteed Analysis are minimums and maximums but not exact amounts. AAFCO expects that there will be batch-to-batch variations.

But manufacturers must be careful to account for those fluctuations by being conservative in their estimates. If state authorities test the food, they expect those percentages to be accurate or there will be penalties.

Protein and fat are listed as crude sources, not as digestible sources. This is where digestibility percentages come in. The body will only use some of those nutrients. The digestibility of the food will affect how much the body absorbs and uses.

Ingredient List

Just like people food, dog food must be labeled with a list of the ingredients in the food in order of weight.

High quality foods will have a protein source as their first ingredient, not corn, wheat or rice. That protein source might be chicken, beef, salmon, or a chicken, beef or salmon meal. Whatever it is… be sure it’s protein.

Be careful here! This is where manufacturers can be deceitful.

If the maker breaks the ingredients down into smaller components, each one will weigh less and can be added towards the end of the list. But when grouped together, these ingredients could weigh more than the protein source.

For instance, ground corn, corn gluten and corn bran can be listed separately. If they were listed together on the ingredient list as corn, which is what they are, they would be higher on the list… possibly before the protein source.

If a manufacturer uses a protein meal, it may be further down the ingredient list if it’s considered in its dehydrated form (without moisture).

For this reason, you must read through the whole list—right to the end— to understand what’s in the food. Also, if they’ve used preservatives and artificial colorings, they’ll be listed at the end.

Nutritional Adequacy Statement

AAFCO establishes standards for the production, labeling and sale of animal foods. There are two different adequacy statements that can be used on the label.

The first one which is on the Husse Optimal label, says “Optimal is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for Maintenance.”

On a puppy food label, the statement might read “This food is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles for Growth.”

This means the food maker tested the food in the lab and it had the recommended levels of protein, fat, etc. But… it doesn’t say what those proteins and fats are. And they could be anything.

I’ve read that manufacturers have submitted mock products to AAFCO for guaranteed analysis testing that consisted of shoe leather, motor oil and coal. They met the 10% protein, 6.5% fat, and 2.4% fiber on the guaranteed analysis but certainly weren’t nutritious… or safe.

The other permissible statement reads, “Animal-feeding tests using AAFCO’s procedures substantiate that this product provides complete and balanced nutrition for…”

To carry this label, the manufacturer must have tested the food on animals and the food provided proper nutrition. That would avoid the shoe leather and motor oil concerns, but this statement has its own problems.

With this label, a manufacturer allowed to use it on one food—a food that’s been tested on animals—can use it on any of their foods with equal or greater nutritional value, even if that food was never tested on dogs.

Neither certification gives any guarantees of nutritional quality. But at least the food has met some standards.

Feeding Instructions

The last part of the label to pay attention to is the section that tells you how much to feed your dog. These recommendations are only a starting point. Every dog is different.

Read my article How do I know how much to feed my dog? If you aren’t sure what’s right for your dog.

Or, if you’d prefer to just use the guidelines on the label, start with the middle of the suggested range and see if your dog is gaining or losing weight. Or, if they’re hungry all the time.

If in doubt, always talk with your vet. They’ll tell you how much to feed your dog… and they can help you pick a high quality food too.

Deciphering pet food labels, that are often misleading, can seem daunting. But a little knowledge can go a long way in choosing the food that will keep your dog happy and healthy.

What confuses you most about dog food labels? You’re probably not alone. Share in the comment section at the top.









Boarding your pet… what you need to know

Summer is the time we like to travel. Maybe a vacation, a family reunion, or a college-scouting trip is the impetus.

Whether it’s a quick weekend getaway or a summer excursion across or out of the country, it may not be possible to take our four-legged family members with us.

But leaving our pets behind can cause us great angst. Unless you have someone you trust to take care of your pet, finding the right boarding situation can leave you anxious, worried and guilt-ridden.

Our pets are our family and we want them to be safe and happy when we’re away. So how can we be sure they’re enjoying their time when we’re away?

Pet sitter or kennel?

First, consider your pet’s health. Are they well enough to leave home to be boarded or would it be best to hire a pet sitter come to you?

Older and infirm pets often have a hard time with change. A loud boarding facility without the comforts of home may be hard on them.

If your pet has special needs or suffers from separation anxiety, keeping them in their home environment may be a better idea than a kennel.

A pet sitter has its downsides too though. It’s often a more expensive choice than boarding.

And a pet sitter may leave your pet for long periods. If your pet is used to having someone at home most of the day, this can cause distress.

I’ve used a pet sitter many times. It was a person I genuinely trusted. They were great with my dogs but I realized they were leaving the dogs alone for long stretches. The dogs did damage. One time they chewed a rug—and they’re never destructive.

You can’t be sure the sitter is at your home with your pet the hours they say they are. But you’ll see the signs of anxiety when you get home if they’re not.

If your pet is well-adjusted and likes interaction with other animals, there are many great boarding options. A kennel can be a fun and stimulating vacation for your pet if you do your homework and find the right one.

Finding a quality kennel

If you want to board your pet at a kennel, you need to do a little homework and preparation long before your trip.

Gather names of reputable kennels.  Ask your vet for a recommendation. They’ll know the reputation of local boarding facilities.

Once you’ve compiled a list of names, stop in to visit them. Any quality kennel will be happy to give you a tour of the premises. If the staff isn’t interested in showing you around, leave.

Things to look for

In some states you need a permit to operate a kennel and inspections may also be required. But many states have no requirements. If inspections are required where you live, be sure the kennel displays the certificate showing they meet the mandated standards.

While you’re touring the facility, ask to see all the places your pet will be. Here’s what to take note of:

Clean environment, clean smell – free of waste and urine

Good ventilation and light

Comfortable temperature – cool in the summer, warm in the winter

Knowledgeable and caring staff

Sizable individual runs – indoor only, or indoor/outdoor

Outdoor exercise areas protected from the elements

Dog beds that allow for rest off the concrete

Separate housing areas for cats and dogs

Enough space for cats to move around

Ample space between litter box and food dish

Fencing is safe – no broken fencing, jagged edges or bent wires

Boarded pets should not be wearing collars – strangulation danger

Animals should have water

Animals should appear content, not stressed

Things to ask

You will want to be sure you understand everything about the care your pet will receive when you’re away.  That includes information regarding your pet’s diet, interaction with people and other pets, exercise, and emergency medical treatment during their stay at the kennel. Get the answers you need.

And what about how many animals each staff person is responsible for?  The staff to animal ratio is important too. More than 10 animals per staff member means your pet may not get the attention you’re hoping for. Ask what the ratio is.

Most kennels aren’t staffed 24 hours. So ask if someone checks in on the animals at night. And find out their drop off and pick up hours.

Here are other things you’ll want to know:

What vaccines are required?

How often are pets fed?

Can you bring your pet’s food?

How often are pets exercised?

Are pets walked or let out in an exercise area?

Do dogs play together or are they separated by age, size, etc.?

Does the daily rate include playtime and how much playtime?

Do they provide toys or can you bring your own?

If your dog requires daily walks, can they accommodate that?

If your pet takes meds, is there an extra charge to administer those?

How are emergencies handled?

Is there a vet on call?

The answers to these questions and your gut instinct will tell you if the place is right for your pet. Does the place appear overcrowded? How about the staff? Are they friendly and attentive to the animals’ needs? Are they genuinely interested in your pet’s welfare?

Answers to these questions will either sit well with you or they won’t.  If you sense this is a safe and happy place for your pet, then it probably is.

Sometimes people feel guilty for boarding their pets. But the right kennel can mean a great vacation for them too.

And it’s better than leaving your pet alone all day and having someone come in just to feed and walk them. At a kennel, people who are trained to detect health problems are supervising and monitoring your pet. And they’ll be socializing with pets and people.

Preparing to board your pet

Before you leave your pet at a boarding facility, here are some things you should do. Be sure your pet is socialized. If your pet isn’t good with strange people or animals, they won’t do well in a kennel.

Your pet should be current on all vaccines. Check with the kennel where you’ll be boarding because they will likely require other vaccines such as Bordetella (kennel cough).

Be sure to pack up enough medication and food for the number of days you’ll be gone, plus a few extra days. You could be delayed getting home. Things happen…

When you bring your pet to the facility for boarding, be sure to give them your vet’s phone number, your number, and a phone number for a local emergency contact. And remind the staff of any behavior (fear of thunder etc.) or medical problems.

Hand your pet to the staff, say goodbye and leave. No big farewells. You don’t want to agitate your pet in any way. They’ll sense your distress if you make a big deal.

If your anxiety persists…

Keep in mind you can always have your pet do a short staycation for a night or two before you board or have a sitter stay with them for a longer period. This gives them and you a dry run. You’ll see how your pet does and if there were any problems you’d want to avoid during a longer time away.

Many boarding facilities have webcams that allow you to see your fur baby and what they’re up to while you’re gone. If you are particularly stressed about leaving your pet at a kennel, choosing one with this capability may be helpful to you.

Many pet sitters will send videos and photos as well. And you can certainly ask them to text you with updates letting you know how your beloved pet is doing.

If any concerns still linger, check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if anyone has filed a complaint against the facility you’re considering and how the kennel addressed those complaints.

If you take the time to research the kennel and do the necessary preparation ahead of your pet’s stay, you can feel confident they’ll be well cared for when you’re away.

What has your experience been with boarding your pet? Do you use a pet sitter or a boarding facility? Share at the top.





7 summer pet hazards

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer.  So this week seemed like a good time to write about keeping our pets safe this time of year.

Summer is a great time to enjoy activities with our pets we can’t take advantage of when the weather is bad. Things like hiking, swimming, and trips to the park for family cookouts.

We also have friends and family to our homes at this time of the year for BBQs and holiday celebrations.

Although these occasions are fun for humans and our pets, they expose our pets to health risks we need to protect against.

Here are 7 hazards to look out for:

1) High-Rise Syndrome

This is one you might not have considered. People with pets living in high-rise apartment buildings are more apt to leave their windows open this time of year. That can lead to cats and small dogs falling and getting hurt… maybe even dying.

A strong prey drive can lead any pet to chase a squirrel, rabbit or other small animal they see outside. With no sense of the danger of jumping out the window, this can be deadly.

2) Heat

Heat is dangerous for our pets. It can cause dehydration, overheating, and burns to delicate paws.

Ideally, pets should be inside when it’s 90 degrees or higher. But if that’s not possible and you have an outdoor cat or dog, you must be sure they always have access to shade and fresh water.

Dark-colored pets, old pets, sick pets, overweight pets and thick-coated pets are more prone to heat stress. As are short-nosed dogs like bulldogs and pugs. They have difficulty breathing in optimal weather. The heat makes it worse.

If you exercise with your dog, be sure to do it early in the morning or in the evening. If your dog isn’t used to exercise, don’t start them on a regimen when it’s hot out.

The heat can overcome even active dogs. Long periods of physical exertion when it’s hot out are harder on your dog than they are on you and can lead to heat stroke.

Why is that? Dogs are closer to the ground and the ground is hotter than the air. And their ability to cool their bodies is not as efficient as yours.

Know the signs your dog is in trouble. A weak, lethargic, off-balance dog is a dog that’s suffering the onset of heat stroke.

If possible, wet them down with cool, not cold, water. Be sure to wet the skin and call the vet immediately.

And never, ever leave your pet in a parked car when it’s more than 65 degrees outside. The temperature can jump 40 degrees in a half hour and kill your pet.

If you have one of those pets that just has to be outside with you in the hot weather, cool them down with a hose or sprinkler. Or fill a kiddie pool with cool water and encourage them to lounge in it.

Understand it’s not just heat stroke that’s a danger though. Dehydration is a serious concern in the summer months too.

If your dog is out in the heat, be sure they are drinking frequently. Carry a portable water bowl on walks and long car rides.

Dehydration is a topic I wrote about in Dehydration in dogs and cats… not just a summer problem, back in September. It’s an even bigger problem this time of year and so important to understand. It can’t be overstated. Read that post so you know the signs.

And another concern in the summer, especially if you have a dog you walk daily, is their paws.

Concrete, asphalt, and sand can all burn those delicate tootsies. Test outdoor surfaces with the palm of your hand.  Your palm is as sensitive as your dog’s pads. If you can hold your hand on the ground for more than 10 seconds with little discomfort, it’s not likely to burn your dog’s paws.

If the ground is too hot for you to walk barefoot, it’s definitely too hot for your dog.

3) Water

When it’s hot out, a nice swim can cool you and your pet down but not all pets love the water. And contrary to popular belief, not all dogs can instinctively swim.

It takes practice for most dogs.

If you have a pool, be sure you go in the pool initially with your dog.  Show them how to get out. Practice exiting the pool several times until you are sure your dog knows how to get out on its own.

If you are taking your dog to a lake or ocean, go in the water with the dog at first to show them how to exit.

On a boat, be sure your dog has its own life jacket.  Even strong swimmers can get hurt jumping from a boat. Also if the dog tires, there’s no exit and they can panic. Attach a rope to the life jacket if your dog doesn’t respond when called so you can pull them back to you.

Rinse your dog off with clean water after swimming in a pool, lake or ocean. The chlorine and bacteria can cause skin and other health problems.

4) Poisons

The nice weather encourages time spent in our yards. Inevitably that means some gardening to spruce things up. Fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides can all be dangerous to your pets.

Be sure to keep your pets away from these chemicals until they’ve been watered into the ground.

If you do some planting in your yard, be sure any plants you choose are safe if ingested. Many common garden plants are toxic to animals.  Click here for the ASPCA’s guide to toxic plants.

And summertime is pool time! Never leave pool chemicals where your pet can get to them.

If rodents are a problem where you live, traps can be dangerous. Keep your pets away from the bait or poison in those traps. They are toxic.

If you think your pet has ingested a toxic substance, call the Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. They will consult with you for a fee 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

5) Pests

The warm weather certainly has a way of bringing out lots of nasty critters like snakes, scorpions, bees, wasps, spiders, fleas, ticks and mosquitoes… to name a few.

Fleas, ticks and mosquitoes are not only a nuisance, they carry serious diseases.  There are lots of flea and tick preventatives on the market to protect your pet. And mosquitoes should always be kept in check because they’re a health risk to humans too.

But lots of other creatures can hurt your dog or cat.

Snakes, bee’s nests and scorpions often hide in dark areas. Dogs have a way of sticking their noses where they shouldn’t… like under foliage and inside holes in the ground.

On your property, be aware of any new holes or potential areas where bees can nest. In unfamiliar areas, keep your dog on a leash so you can control where they stick their nose.

If a snake bites your pet, call your vet immediately. Bee, wasp and scorpion stings may swell, but your pet will usually be fine. If there’s a lot of swelling or you see they’re developing a “hot spot” from scratching, call your vet.

6) BBQ Cookouts

Summer is the time to enjoy cookouts with friends and family. Whether it’s a graduation party, July 4th or a family reunion, summer is the best time to fire up the barbie. Unless you live in Arizona where the temps are north of 105 every day. Then it’s not so much fun to stand over a hot grill.

But no matter how you cook your food, it’s likely you’ll be having a few gatherings during the warmer months.

The biggest BBQ hazards for our pets are food with bones, like ribs and chicken, and corn on the cob. Those bones can perforate the intestinal tract. And the cob is not only hard to digest, it’s also a choking hazard.

For good health, table food should always be kept to a minimum but particularly fatty foods that can cause pancreatitis in dogs.

If your pet has food allergies, cookouts and party guests who indulge your pet can be a big problem. So keep a watchful eye.

7) Sun

In most parts of the country, summer is sunny… more so in some states than others. And just like humans, pets can get sunburn on areas of their body that are exposed to the sun for long periods.

Your dog’s nose and belly are susceptible to sunburn because they’re not well-protected by fur.

You can try a sunscreen made for pets, but it’s likely they’ll just lick it off. You might also put a light t-shirt on if they’ll tolerate it.  But minimizing exposure to the sun is your best course of action.

How will you protect your pet from these summer hazards? Tell us in the comment section at the top.

Biofilm… the health risk lurking in your pet’s food and water bowl

A well-balanced diet and readily available water are critical to the health and well-being of our pets. They are the sustenance that keeps them happy and healthy. As pet owners, we work hard to be sure our pets not only survive, but that they thrive.

But could it be we are overlooking a potential danger in their food and water bowls? Something that could make them and us sick?

If you aren’t thoroughly cleaning those bowls, the answer is yes.

You know that slime you feel when you rinse out the bowl? That’s called biofilm, and it has a lot of bacteria that can cause illness if you’re not careful.

What is biofilm?

Biofilm is defined as a thin, slimy film of bacteria that adheres to a surface in a wet environment. It can form on almost any surface exposed to bacteria and water, like a food or water bowl.

Those microbes excrete a glue-like substance that helps them to thrive. It keeps them attached to the surface which helps the bacteria to survive and reproduce.

Biofilms can be found all around us. We come in contact with these colonies of bacteria every day.

Where are biofilms found?

Not only is your pet’s bowl a breeding ground, but your bathroom is too. You know the slime at the bottom of the shower curtain? That’s a biofilm.

The slime in your sink drain… yup, biofilm.

Your own mouth is fertile ground for biofilm. In fact, dental plaque is nothing more than a biofilm that builds up on teeth. It too contains disease-causing bacteria, bacteria that can lead to cavities and gum disease.

What are the risks?

Our pets don’t have clean mouths. Dogs eat all kinds of things they’re not supposed to. They lick the bottoms of their paws. That’s like licking the bottom of your shoe. And the germs they pick up are harbored in their mouths.

Cats, even if they’re not outside, put their mouths where they shouldn’t. They lick their paws too… and other body parts.

It’s inevitable when our pets eat and drink, the bacteria in their mouths end up in their bowls. This is how that gooey biofilm forms. The bowl is wet from their tongues giving the microbes a nice place to call home.

The biofilm can contain many species of bacteria including Salmonella, Listeria, E. coli, and Legionella.

These four can make you and your family very sick. And if allowed to excessively build up in those bowls, can pollute your dog’s food and water and make them sick too.

But there are also some good bacteria in the biofilm that can be beneficial to your pet’s immune system and digestion.

But because we don’t have the immune systems our pets do, we must take precautions. Particularly if our kids feed and water our pets.

If you have elderly relatives living with you, the same concerns exist. Older people don’t have the resilient immune systems that younger adults do.

And you certainly don’t want your pet to get sick because their water and food bowls are laden with bacteria.

Minimizing the biofilm risk

There are things you can do to keep everyone healthy and minimize the biofilm risk. First, avoid plastic bowls. They scratch making it more difficult to get them clean. Most importantly, clean those bowls well.

Here are 4 tips to be sure no one gets sick.

1) Clean bowls regularly – Your pet’s food bowl should be washed after every meal and the water bowl, twice a day.

2) Don’t wash the bowls in the kitchen sink – Germs can be transferred to your dishes and utensils. The bathtub’s not a good idea either because you don’t want to be soaking in these bacteria. Use a bathroom or utility sink.

3) Scrub with an abrasive first – The biofilm needs to be broken up before you disinfect. You can use something as simple as salt on a sponge (but not the sponge you use on your dishes), or the scruffy side of a two-sided sponge.

4) Disinfect – Mix one-tablespoon household bleach to one gallon of very hot water. Fill the pet bowl with the solution and wipe around the outside of the bowl with it too. Let it soak for 2 minutes. Wash out well to remove all bleach residue. If you would rather not use bleach, use the sanitize cycle on your dishwasher. If you’re using the sanitize cycle you can wash the bowls with your dishes.

Also, it’s important to clean the floor where your pet eats, and any stand or mat under your pet’s bowls.  Bacteria can grow in these areas too.

And always be sure to use designated sponges and dish towels for your pet’s bowls, never the ones you use on your dishes and utensils.

Some might say don’t sanitize the bowls daily because the good bacteria can be beneficial to a healthy dog. But the downside of all the bad bacteria may outweigh any benefits from the good bacteria… something to discuss with your vet.

How often do you wash your pet’s bowls? What sanitizing method do you use? Tell us in the comment section at the top.