Does my pet need insurance?

Q&A: Does my pet need insurance?

Is pet insurance a scam?  Or is it worth every penny?  How can a pet owner decide if insurance is worth the cost for their cat or dog?

 

I was going to write a blog post answering this question, and then someone else beat me to it.  And to be honest, she does a fabulous job of addressing this controversial topic – better than I could have!

 

So, if you are questioning the idea of pet insurance, I wholeheartedly recommend this article.

 

I used to think pet insurance was a ripoff.

 

Go check it out, and then let me know if you have any questions about pet insurance!

Q&A: Does my dog need to wear sunscreen?

In Colorado, we live close to the sun.  We never leave the house without sun protection in the form of sunscreen, hat, or sleeves.  But what about our dogs?

 

Dog Hiking in the Summer

 

If your dog has light-colored or thin fur, then it’s a great idea to provide their skin with protection from the sun!  Here’s what you need to know:

Don’t use any old sunscreen lotion.

The sunscreen that you use for yourself MIGHT be okay for Fido, but only if you use one that doesn’t contain zinc oxide.  And most of them do.  Zinc oxide, the same ingredient that helps with diaper rash, is toxic to your dog.  If ingested, it will cause their red blood cells to explode, resulting in anemia.  Major summer buzz kill.

You also need to make sure that you are protecting your dog’s skin from both UVA and UVB rays (to prevent both sunburn and skin cancer), so look for a sunscreen that is labeled as “broad spectrum”.

Here’s an option that I recommend and is safe for your dog:

 

Bull Frog Sunscreen

(P.S.  Don’t put this sunscreen on your cat.  It contains salicylates, which are toxic to cats.)

There are some “pet-friendly” sunscreens you can purchase at pet stores, just read the labels first.

And if you really want your pet to be protected from the sun, there are places that you can get dog sunglasses, visors, and sun shirts!

Now get out there and have some [protected] summer fun!

Dr. D’s Tips For Hiking With Your Dog in Colorado

Oh, how I love the summer in Colorado!  Every year I can’t wait to strap on my hiking shoes, grab my pack, and hit one of the many amazing trails along the Front Range.  And more often than not, I took along my best hiking buddy – my dog.

Because hiking with your dog is one of the greatest pleasures of living along the Front Range of Colorado (there are so many great dog-friendly trails!), I put together a list of tips for you so that you and your pooch can have the best experience.

(And so can all the other trail users…)

 

Backpacking with Dogs

 

1.  Make sure your dog is in good health.  Consider getting your dog an exam to make sure they are fit for some serious exercise.  If they are elderly, definitely have them examined by your veterinarian for any joint or limb pain before you start hiking with them.

2.  Don’t be a weekend warrior.  If you and your dog aren’t getting any exercise during the week, it’s not a good idea to jump into a 4-hour hike on Saturday.  You’ll both regret it.  Start building up your dog’s endurance with walks, runs, or fetch sessions during the week.  Increase the time and intensity gradually.  You should also gradually increase the intensity of your hikes over time.

3.  Strengthen your dog’s recall response.  Many trails in Boulder County allow your dog to be off leash if they wear a Voice and Sight tag.  If you participate in the program, make sure your dog has practiced and can recall immediately when you signal them.

4.  Bring plenty of water and snacks.  Not just for you.  Hiking burns a ton of calories, and it’s easy to get dehydrated quickly.  Make sure you have some good, energy-replenishing snacks for your pup.

(4a.  Do you know the signs of heat exhaustion?  I had a park ranger in Boulder tell me once that they see tons of dogs with heat stroke, and they wished more people knew how to spot the signs.  Learn all about it in this article!)

5.  Know your dog’s abilities.  Don’t take him on a hike that’s too strenuous for his level of endurance.  He’ll end up with an injury that will put him on bed rest.  If it’s a hot day, pick an easier hike (like one that ends at a pond), or just let them stay home.  Remember, a dog’s paws are more sensitive to hot sand and rocky trails, and they can easily end up with burns.  That would certainly put a damper on your summertime adventures.

 

Dog Hiking on Trail

 

6.  You and your pooch are ambassadors for ALL hikers with dogs.  Be the best at hiker/dog etiquette:

  • Pack it out!  You know what I mean.
  • Obey posted signs regarding leash laws.
  • Yield the trail to other hikers and trail users.  When someone is passing, leash up your dog and hold them next to your side.  Say a friendly hello to the people passing so that your dog knows they are not a threat.
  • Don’t assume that everyone you see is a dog lover.  Some folks might find your exuberant, friendly pooch rather intimidating.  Recall your dog, and keep them by your side.
  • If you see another dog approaching, leash your dog.  It is easier to control the situation if at least your dog is on a leash.  Be familiar with dog body language so that you can avoid an undesirable situation with another dog.  And don’t be afraid to ask the other dog’s owner to leash their dog if necessary.
  • Don’t let your dog chase or approach wildlife.  The trail is their home, after all.

7.  After the hike, inspect your dog.  Check all four paws for injury or soreness.  Check their coat and skin for any ticks, thorns, or burrs.  Make sure they are hydrated and not over-heated.  And if they are sore the next day, give them a rest and don’t let them push so hard the next time.

8.  Above all, have fun!  Take your time, stop and smell the smells, listen to the sounds of nature, and enjoy being in the great outdoors with your best friend!

 

GrayTorrey 2011 summit

 

Need to schedule a pre-hiking exam for your pooch?  Give Dr. D a call!

Q&A: Is it ever OK to leave my dog in the car?

In the last two weeks, the rain finally stopped falling and the sun started to shine again in Broomfield, Colorado.  It’s been gloriously warm and beautiful!  But also in the past two weeks, I have heard and seen several dogs locked in cars in parking lots.

 

 

You’re asking me if it’s ever okay to leave your dog in the car.  Here’s what I hear people say:

I’ll only be a few minutes!

It’s not that hot today – only 75 degrees!

I parked in the shade; he’ll be fine.

Oh, I always crack the windows so she can get some fresh air.

I’d like to address these statements with you right now.

 

When it is 70 degrees outside, the inside temperature of a car can rise to 90-100 degrees in 10 minutes.  TEN MINUTES.  The temperature inside the car can rise up to 160 degrees on a really hot day.

 

It DOES NOT MATTER if you crack the windows.  Cracking the windows has little to no effect on the temperature inside the car.

 

It DOES NOT MATTER if you park in the shade.  The temperature inside the car will still rise rapidly.  It may not get to 160 degrees, but it will still reach over 100 degrees in no time flat.

 

It only takes a few minutes for your dog to start showing signs of heat stroke, and death can occur in less than 10 minutes under extreme conditions.

 

doginhotcar

 

It sounds obvious and I know you would never treat your dog this way, but every summer hundreds of dogs suffer and/or die from heat stroke in Colorado.  Don’t let your pet be one of them.

 

You might think I’m being extreme.  You may be one of those people who have left your dog in the car without any problems.  I am so glad that nothing bad happened to your dog.  But, just humor me for a minute.  Put yourself in your dog’s position, and then tell me how you feel in 10 minutes.  Or just watch this video:

 

 

 

Now, I know none of my wonderful clients would leave their dogs in the car, but so many of you wouldn’t hesitate to save a dog if you found one in a hot car!  So here’s a lovely info-graphic that explains what to do if you come across one.  Share with your friends!

 

IF YOU SEE A DOG IN A HOT CAR_

 

Let’s all treat our dogs the way we would like to be treated.

 

Things You Should Know: Easter Hazards For Pets

It’s that wonderful time of year again – pet hazard time!  It only rolls around once a …. I mean 4 or 5 times a year…  Oh, holidays.

 

Easter-Dog

 

Yes, holidays are the most common times of the year for your pets to be exposed to poisons and hazardous items in your home.   Veterinarians like to use these magical times of year to remind you of all the ways your pet could potentially die.  So morbid.  Ah, well, you DO need to know!

 

Here are the most common hazards for your pets during EASTER:

 

Flowers of the Lily family

 

1.  Lilies, and any flower in the Lily family.  Also daffodils.

If you’ve been around me for very long, you know that I remind you often about the dangers of lilies for cats.  They are extremely toxic.  Only one or two leaves or petals can send your cat into kidney failure.  If you have cats, it’s better to not buy any lilies at Easter.  Seriously.  Don’t buy any.

 

EasterGrass

 

2.  Easter Grass

It’s that pastel colored stringy stuff that lines the bottom of your Easter basket.  And it’s irresistible to your pets.  If they ingest it, it can cause severe problems in the intestines and may require surgery to remove it.  Not a happy ending.

 

Chocolate-Easter-bunnies

 

3.  Chocolate.  Duh.

You all know this one, right?  Chocolate is toxic to your pets.  The darker it is, the worse off your pet will be.  I suggest putting any Easter candy, baked goods, or other treats under lock and key, far away from your curious pets.

 

xylitol

 

4.  Xylitol

Xylitol is that artificial sweetener that’s used in candy, gum, and even mouth wash.  It’s extremely toxic to your pets.  Ingesting as little as 1 or 2 pieces of gum containing xylitol can put your doggie in the hospital for days.

 

Now that you know the hazards, take the time to keep your pet safe!  And have a Happy Easter!!

 

If your pet ingests any of these hazardous substances, get thee to an emergency clinic!

 

5 Myths You Might Believe About Your Dog

 

 

There is a lot of misinformation out there.  Some of the things you might hear about dogs are steeped in old-wives-tales type tradition, some of it has been refuted only recently by scientific research.

Here are five commonly believed myths about dogs:

 

1. A wagging tail means I’m happy.

funny-dog-tail-happy

While a dog wagging its tail certainly can indicate happiness, you’ll need to examine the rest of the dog’s body language to know for sure.  The height of the tail, speed of wagging, and whether the tail is stiff or relaxed can also be indicators of the dog’s mood.

Here are some examples:

ydfarousal

An example of a dog in an “aroused” state.

 

In this example, the dog’s tail is wagging high and stiff.  Look at the rest of the dog’s posture:  he is stiff-legged, ears perked, staring hard.  This dog is in a state of arousal, meaning he is on alert, waiting to see if he should attack or relax.  This is not necessarily a happy dog.

 

An example of a dog in a relaxed/neutral position.

An example of a dog in a relaxed/neutral position.

 

Now look at this example.  Just looking at the tail, which is low and wagging slowly, you could easily think he is not happy.  But when you  look at the rest of the dog’s body language, you see a relaxed, slightly open mouth and relaxed posture.  This is a dog in a “neutral” state who is more likely to allow you to interact with him.

 
2. Dogs look guilty when they know they’ve done something wrong.

guiltydog

Oh, this is one of my favorite myths, because it is rampant all over the internet!  Just do a quick search for “guilty dogs” and you’ll get more examples than you could imagine!  Too bad it’s a myth.

Here’s the truth:  Dogs put on the guilty look when they know you are angry or upset.  This “look” and other behaviors such as grinning or lifting a paw are what are known as appeasement behaviors.  They are exhibited as a pacifying behavior when they see your facial expressions, body language, or hear your tone of voice.  What they are really trying to say is “You look scary, please don’t yell at me!”

For those that will insist their dogs know when they’ve done something wrong because “they look guilty before I’ve even found out what they’ve done”, those dogs have simply made an association that the change in the environment (ex. cotton stuffing on the floor) equals a person yelling.

 
3. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The truth is, old dogs can learn new tricks, but often their humans have stopped trying to teach them new things!  Old dogs actually benefit from learning new games and commands.  Stimulating their brain in this way actually helps keep them mentally healthy, which is even more important as their physical abilities start to decrease.  Just be sure to use gentle positive reinforcement, and don’t force your old dog to participate if they don’t seem to be enjoying the activity.

 
4. Playing tug-of-war makes dogs aggressive.

dogtug

You may have heard this one, along with the idea that you also have to “win” the game every time to establish dominance in your “pack”.  Sorry, not true!  Recent behavioral research has not shown any evidence to back up these statements.

However, you do want to be sure that your dog learns good impulse control so that the game remains fun for everyone!  Teach your dog a “release” command and give positive reinforcement.  Also, behaviorists don’t recommend rough play with puppies and young dogs, as this could encourage the wrong kind of play as they grow into adults.

 
5. Comforting and petting a frightened dog will reinforce the fear.

scareddog

I’ll admit, this is one that I believed until not too long ago!  However, recent behavioral studies have also refuted this myth.  All dogs have different needs, and some benefit from a little affection when they are afraid or nervous.  So go ahead and give your scared pooch some gentle petting without a lot of fuss.

 

Which of these myths have you believed?  Are there any other doggie myths you’d like me to address?  Let me know in the comments!

Q&A: How can I help my senior pet adapt to old age?

It’s inevitable.  Your pet will get old.  These days our pets are living even longer because we have learned how to take better care of them throughout their lives.

 

The downside of our pets living longer, however, is that most pet owners just aren’t aware of how to best care for their senior pets.  The good news is that with just a little bit of effort you can easily help your pets adapt to old age, and continue to provide them with a good quality of life.

Here are ten easy tips that you can easily implement to help your pet adapt to old age:

1.  Give them a runway.

Elderly pets often have mobility problems, and may not be very steady on their feet anymore.  Giving them a walkway with good traction over tile or wood floors will help increase their confidence while moving around the home.  Choose a material that is non-slip and easy to clean, such as a runner rug, bath mat, or yoga mats.

2. Move their food and water bowls to a better position.

For cats, put their dishes on the floor in a quiet area, rather than on a raised surface.  For dogs, consider elevating the dishes so they don’t have to reach so low to eat or drink.

Also, put multiple water dishes around the home so your pet doesn’t have to walk as far to get a drink of water.  Dehydration can be a major concern for senior pets.

3.  Make potty time easier for your pet to minimize accidents.

Senior cats may need a litter box that’s easier to get in and out of.  Get one with lower sides so they don’t have to jump to get in, and keep the level of litter lower as well so they don’t “sink” as much.

Senior dogs may have difficulty holding their urine for long periods of time and may need more frequent trips outside.  You could also consider an indoor “potty” area, using puppy pads or artificial turf in case of emergencies.  Don’t scold your dog if they have an accident indoors at this age; they will be just as upset about it as you are.

4.  Resist the urge to redecorate.

If your elderly pet has vision impairments, either partial or complete blindness, this one is important.  Your pet has likely memorized where everything is, so try to keep furniture, pet beds, and food/water dishes in the same places they’ve always been.

5.  Change their food.

Yes, I said change their food!  Senior pets have different nutritional needs than adult pets.  Seniors don’t need as many calories or as much fat as younger pets, but do need more fiber.  Most older pets will benefit if you switch them over to a “Senior” diet formula.  Senior pets who have diagnosed medical issues may benefit from specialized diets, which your veterinarian will recommend.

6.  Give them more spa days.

Elderly pets aren’t as good at grooming and keeping clean as they might have been when they were younger.  Brushing your pet’s fur will not only give you some important quality time with your pet (which they will love!), but will keep their coat and skin healthy.  Also pay attention to trimming the hair around the anal area to help with hygiene.  Some elderly pets will benefit from fatty acid supplements which help support healthy skin and fur.

7.  Stimulate their brain with fun activities.

Just because your pet is a senior doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy some fun!  It may look different now than it did when they were younger, but enrichment activities are very important to keep your senior pet young at heart.  Here are a few ideas for easy ways to stimulate your pet’s mind:

  1. Short, low-impact walks or swims during nice weather.
  2. Food puzzles, which are readily available at pet supply stores or can be made at home.
  3. Indoor games, such as hide-and-seek, rolling a ball, or find the treat (make it easy and encourage them when they get close to the treat)
  4. Hang a bird feeder outside your cat’s favorite window.
  5. Play a tamer version of catch the laser or string with your cat.

8.  Make their comfort a priority.

Most people immediately think of getting a comfy bed or blanket for their senior pet, which is great!  Also keep in mind that your senior pet can’t regulate their temperature as well anymore, so keep your pet warm, dry, and indoors when they’re not out getting exercise.  In the hot months, be sure to keep them from overheating.

9.  Don’t avoid your veterinarian.

Yes, I know, senior pets generally have more medical issues, and it is hard for some people to allot finances for an elderly pet.  But continuing to see your vet regularly (I recommend every 6 months at a minimum) will help you provide the best quality of life for your pet. Your vet will not only be checking up on their physical and mental health, but will also be able to provide you with  valuable advice and support as your pet grows older.

Please don’t automatically assume that a visit with the vet will mean spending thousands of dollars; discuss your financial concerns with your vet, and be honest about what you are willing and able to do for your pet.  I guarantee you that your veterinarian has your elderly pet’s quality of life and best interest at heart, more than anything else.

10.  All they really want is love.

Having an elderly pet can be tough.  Caring for their needs and seeing them get older before your eyes is a challenging part of your life together.  But remember this:  your aging pet only desires your continued love.  And they may not be able to come to you to get it.  So take some time every day to love on that senior pet.  It will mean the world to them.

 

 

Do you have other concerns about your elderly pet?  Dr. D specializes in in-home veterinary care, including geriatric pets.  Contact her by going HERE.

Things You Should Know: The Signs of Anxiety and Stress in Your Dog

Do you know how to tell if your dog is under stress or feeling anxious?

 

When I ask this question, most pet owners will tell me that they see their dog:

Cower or hide under a chair

Pee or poop on the floor

Growl when afraid, but he would never bite!

These are certainly signs of fear, make no mistake.  However, the signs that the typical pet owner notices are usually the last in a series of attempts by your dog to avoid whatever is causing them fear or anxiety.  The signs leading up to these are much more subtle, but once you know what to look for, they will become apparent.

If you can recognize the early signs of anxiety and stress in your dog, not only can you help your pet relax before they go to the “dark side”, but you might just avoid a dangerous situation.  Dogs who are allowed to progress to the fear stages listed above are the ones who will either be permanently mentally damaged by that situation (leading to behavior problems), or they will bite. 

Allow me to tell you a story:

Once upon a time there was a cute little puppy who had never been to the big doggie park.  Her loving owners decided, when she was about 4 months old, to take her there so she could play and have fun!  When she arrived, there were so many smells and so much noise!  She stopped and sat down on the sidewalk, but her loving owners tugged on her leash and encouraged her to keep walking toward the park.

When they arrived at the gate, it made a really loud squeaking sound that hurt her ears! Her eyes widened, and she laid her ears back; she tried to avoid the big gate, but her loving owner picked her up and carried her through.  When they set her down in the grass, she was suddenly surrounded by big dogs!  They were sniffing her and running around in circles, panting and barking.  The puppy tried to find shelter between her loving owner’s feet, but her loving owner walked a few steps away.

The little puppy didn’t like the big doggie park after all.  And so she growled and snapped at the big doggies who wanted to meet her.  Her loving owner scooped her up – she was safe!  But then her loving owner scolded her, telling her she was a bad dog.  The little puppy was confused and scared, and from that day forward she hated the big doggie park.

Did you recognize the signs of anxiety and stress in the story?  The puppy in the story is a real dog, now an adult; she continues to have problems greeting other dogs, and she NEVER goes to the dog park.  Had her loving owner recognized her initial signs of stress, these permanent behavior problems might have been avoided.

Here are the signs of anxiety that you NEED to recognize in your dog:

  1.  Ears laid back
  2.  Wide eyes (“fish eyes”)
  3.  Brows furrowed
  4.  Panting (without being hot or thirsty)
  5.  Licking lips
  6.  Acting sleepy or yawning
  7.  Moving in slow motion
  8.  Hypervigilant (looking in many directions)
  9.  Moving away
  10.  Pacing
  11.  Suddenly won’t eat, even if they were hungry earlier

Start watching your dog for these signs.  I guarantee that you will begin to see them, and maybe even in situations that you didn’t know were causing your pet stress.  Once you become attuned to your pet’s body language, you can intervene early to help your pet relax!  If your pet experiences the signs of fear listed at the top, the damage is already done.  It’s up to you to be your pet’s advocate!

And here’s a handy-dandy handout for you:

Thank you to Dr. Sophia Yin for all her work in this field!

Thank you to Dr. Sophia Yin for all her work in this field!

 

If you need help understanding your pet’s body language, or realize that your pet already has some fear issues, give Dr. D a call!