Category Archives: Pet Healthcare

The Do’s & Don’t of Ticks

Summertime and the living is…downright buggy. We’re playing outdoors, taking hikes and just generally being outside more frequently which increases our chance of a tick encounter. Blech! I HATE those nasty things. Here’s some info I recently found in Dogs Naturally Magazine that might keep your fur-iend just a wag safer.

According to experts, ticks…those creepy crawly bugs that transmit diseases, are expected to be particularly bad this year and may be expanding their range to epidemic numbers in some areas. The good news is (if you can consider anything associated with ticks as being ‘good’), most tick-borne diseases aren’t usually transmitted immediately so if they are removed within 36 hours, changes are good your pet is not likely to be infected. Whew!

Ticks in Dogs

[All images shown here are courtesy of Dogs Naturally Magazine]

Finally, American canine hepatozoonosis (ACH) (Hepatozoon canis, Hepatozoon americanum is an emerging but rare disease but one worth mentioning since it isn’t transmitted by a bite but by ingesting when the dog removes ticks off his own body, or if he eats prey that had ticks. Highly debilitating, it’s particularly essential to remove these ticks before your pup does. This one is found in the south central and southeastern US.

Geographic Areas

The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) provides interactive maps for the US and Canada on their website (Note: CAPC’s sponsors are big Pharma/chemical companies that provide tick products and therefore have a vested interest in promoting convenience with an added dose of old-fashioned fear). 

Tick Removal

Removing ticks is the name of the game here, especially if you aren’t a big Pharma/chemical company fan. But there are do’s and don’ts associated with tick removal of which you should be aware.

Time is of the essence. Removing ticks quickly is in your best interest. If you’ve been hiking in tall grasses or walking in the woods, check your pet over as soon as you can. If your pup is chewing on a spot, pay special attention. It’s a clue there may be something or someone there. Check all over. While ticks favor ears, toes, joints, they are dastardly buggers and will attach to tails or nether regions, given half the opportunity. Long-haired or double coated dogs can be gone over with a low-heat setting on a hair-dryer to make viewing easier.

Here’s one of the little bastards right there. Get it!!

Using tweezers close to the skin, pull up gently. Clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Dispose of the offender in alcohol or flush it down the toilet. Or you can use a one of these nifty tick removal tools.

Buh, bye…rotten bug.

I’ve never seen one of these before but naturally YouTube has a brilliant video on how to use. They sure would have come in handy during the camping days of my youth. ‘Roughing it’ now requires at least a motel. No more sleeping on the ground in a tent for this sports-fan. No siree.

Now properly equipped in your tick-removal of Do’s, you should know there are plenty of Don’ts that you should likewise be aware of, though I confess, I’ve broken some of these rules over the years out of ignorance.  Don’t remove ticks with your fingers so as to avoid contamination from pathogens. Remember, above all, these are disease spreading insects. Don’t use vaseline or other substances in an effort to suffocate it. Don’t squish a tick-it can increase the risk of infection for you or your pup. Don’t burn the tick with a hot match and don’t dispose of it in a trash can. These are crawling little bastards and they’ll seek sanctuary until the next sucker host comes along.

The best way to avoid ticks is keeping them off your dog. Sure you can go the chemical route, but you can also try some natural solutions (easier said than done when you live in a heavily wooded area with heavy humidity and up to your eyeballs in them).

Effective dietary preventives can be useful. Garlic (I know, some of you are freaking out now, but it appears 1/3 tsp of fresh garlic per 10 lbs. of weight is safe). Check with your vet to be sure it’s appropriate for your pup. Apple cider vinegar added to food or water bowl makes blood less tasty to ticks and fleas. One half teaspoon per 25 lbs. of weight should work nicely.

Herbal flea and tick powders are excellent options (for homemade recipe see here). You can add a couple drops of rose geranium essential oil to 2 TBS of almond oil and spray directly on a collar, bandana or the neck. While I’m not familiar with this one, Palo Santo essential oil added to your favorite lavender shampoo makes a good tick shampoo (see this link for info). A citrus repellant in a spray bottle misted on your pet (avoiding eyes and nose) is also effective. Ticks are not fans of peppermint essential oil either. Food grade diatomaceous earth powder (DE) can be lightly sprinkled on your pet but may be drying to his skin and of course, again avoid eyes, nose and mouth. DE can be sprinkled around the garden and contains good minerals that don’t hurt plants or earthworms. Nematodes feed on tick larvae so if you live in a wooded area, this is a solution for your yard.

Now after all that nasty boogie man stuff about ticks and all the problems they can cause, you also have some natural solutions for staying safe. Remember avoidance is the best treatment but in the summertime that’s not always possible. Have fun, enjoy the outdoors and eliminate the bastards.

Do you have trouble with ticks? How do you deal with them?

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

Can Grass Hurt Your Dog?

How many of us have dogs who think they’re goats? [raises hand] But now that we’ve had some scorching summer temps, some grasses can seriously harm your fur-kid. How is that possible? Grass awns.

Wait…what? Did you just make a typo. Nope. Grass awns are those sharp seed heads that often are barbed and can potentially burrow into our dogs skin, nasal passages and even enter their chest wall. The Mile High City has not received much in the way of rain so walking in yesterday’s early cool morn, I began to see a lot more of this along sidewalks. Way too early in the season.

While summertime is full of outdoor fun, it also heralds the arrival of two notable things that pose serious consequences for dogs. Dogs left in cars [don’t get me started on THAT one here-it deserves a separate post] and grass awns…aka fox tails. While researching the topic of grass awns, I found this website created by Cathy Lewis to “provide a source of information around this issue and to facilitate gathering of case history data so that we can attempt to formulate an action plan to reduce the numbers of affected dogs and save others the worry and heartache that I’ve been through with my own dogs and those of my friends.” While many of the entries mostly relate to hunting breeds, I know only too well that fox tails are very much alive and well in urban settings and can easily attach themselves to a leg or paw while walking. The result can lead to infection and extensive (read expensive) vet treatment. You can read a previous post from a couple of years ago about fox tails here.

Be careful out there-it’s a real jungle. While I’d love nothing more than to let Sam and Elsa enjoy running through swaying grass and sniffing out all the smells of summer, but with those nasty grass awns lurking-just waiting to attach their barbs to my fur-kids, I’ll be keeping an even shorter leash on them as summer progresses. Stay safe, sports fans!

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

That age old question…

What defines old age? Who’s to say, since we’ve all probably witnessed uprights in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who act like they’re ancient, moaning about aches and pains. We have also seen folks in their 60’s, 70’s, even 80’s who enjoy life to its fullest and seem years younger than their chronological number suggests. So what gives?

I’m not sure what exactly defines old age, goodness knows there are days when I think I’m still in my 30’s and then other days when I instead realize I’m egad! middle-aged but have been accused of not acting my age and suspect it’s a lot like pornography-you just know it when you see it.

How old is old?

But I think we all agree we’d love for our fur-babies to be aging with us much longer than they do. But what constitutes old age in dogs? According to this chart from the AKC, it’s not that old 1 to 7 ratio we heard growing up. In other words…it depends.

When Sam turned 11 last year, I started to wonder when I’d  begin to notice signs of him reaching the infamous ‘senior years.’ He was barely beginning to walk slower, somewhat of a sign but his penchant for jumping up on furniture and the pogo-sticking leaps when greeting me hadn’t seen much diminishing. Enter the Ninja. I’m not sure if Elsa’s presence has lifted the little man’s spirits but on a regular and daily basis I see HIM engage her after months of avoiding her play invites. He seems genuinely younger at heart and now initiates the roughhousing just long enough for me to try to reach for the camera to document but then of course, they stop. I’m sure he just doesn’t want any photographic proof since he rather seems keen on feigning self-righteous indignation at the mere thought of his engaging with his sister.

So what are some of the obvious signs of a dog reaching the senior years? Well, for starters, the eyes provide clues (as do a number of other indicators).

  • Cloudy eyes. Sam’s eyes are ‘mostly’ clear, although one is a teensy-weensey bit cloudy. As dogs age, the lens hardens and may appear cloudy or blueish. Vision is not generally compromised but a vet should check for an accurate diagnosis.
  • Cataracts. On the other hand, this condition can pose vision issues for your pup. Characterized by a whitish appearance and cataracts prevent light from passing through the lens. It should be noted that cataracts are not limited to older dogs and can be discovered in younger pups.
  • Glaucoma. The eye’s liquid doesn’t drain properly causing pressure to build up, damaging the internal structure of the eye. Eventual blindness may result and needs treatment by your vet.
  • Ears. Losing one’s hearing as one gets older is not news (dang that loud music I listened to in my youth). Part of the natural aging process is hearing loss. If your pup doesn’t response to commands, he could be losing his sense of hearing or, he could just be stubborn like a certain Poodle I know. My Old English Sheepdog, Eliot was deaf his last few years but managed to motor around fine. In his case, it was almost a bonus since he stopped barking at every one who walked past the house. The downside was extreme startling so care had to be taken to avoid ‘freak-out’ mode.
  • Teeth. Dental care is critical for good health throughout their lives. One clear sign of periodontal disease is bad breath and without treatment, can lead to pain and bone loss. Left untreated periodontal disease may contribute to heart, kidney, and liver disease, just like with us peeps. Bottom line, brush and floss, kids. For both the 2 and 4-legged.
  • Joints. I can certainly attest to this one. The older I get, the more creaky my own joints get. With all the pogo-sticking Sam has done over the years, it’s a wonder he hasn’t displayed any obvious pain. Dogs tend to mask pain so it’s critical to watch for signs like a gimpy gait. More naps and less movement are a clue that moving around might be somewhat painful. Check with your vet for medication that might reduce any joint inflammation.
  • Urinary incontinence. This is more often associated with spayed females and Sam seems to write plenty of pee-mails though no more so than usual. He is a consummate marker.
  • Digestion. Next to sexual encounters, digestion uses the most energy in any organism’s life. Any change in bowel movements, excessive gas or vomiting must be adequately addressed. Sam has long been prone to bouts of colitis over the years so a high quality diet along with pumpkin with his morning meal helps keep the digestion well balanced.
  • Weakened immunity. As dogs and their uprights age, the immune system may begin to lag. Mental and physical stimulation helps keep the immunity strong. Vaccines or titer tests are even more impawtant with senior dogs.
  • Cancer and/or heart diseases. Obviously any unexplained weight loss, decreased appetite, obvious pain, lumps, bumps etc. should all be carefully monitored in the senior dog. Unexplained coughing, blueish gums, edema, weight gain, restlessness are clues that should be followed up with your vet.
  • Behavioral changes. Circulatory or neurological changes can be valuable indicators. My Eliot, mentioned earlier, lived to the rip old age of at least 13 (he was a rescue so hard to quantify with certainty). He suffered from dog dementia in the end which was heartbreaking, but his last years were filled with good vet care, loads of love and special attention to accommodate his age-related infirmities and I tried to make those last 3 years as comfortable as possible.

Two of the best influencers to abate the aging process are exercise and weight-control which is why I think Sam is so youthful looking and acting. Those twice daily walks provide exercise for both the mind and the waistline to keep him in top shape to do what he does best, make everyone he encounters smile. Regular semi-annual wellness trips will likewise keep Sam in tip-top shape.

Who you calling old?

Generally speaking you can pretty much figure a dog reaching 9 or 10 is a senior. But that label occupies a lot of nebulous territory. It doesn’t mean their lives are over, it just means we take extra care of their various ailments and rub those sweet white muzzles tenderly (or in Sam’s case, soul patch), smiling at their sweet faces. Speaking of sweet, the ‘kids’ are roughhousing, so I’m gonna try to see if I can capture their fun. Wish me luck, with those two, I’m gonna need it.

What age do you think constitutes ‘old?’

Live, love, bark! ❤︎

Dog DIY Care

We all know owning a dog can be expensive but did you know the cost of owning a dog averages approximately $3100 for the first year? Broken down by size the cost for smaller dogs runs around $2675; for medium dogs it averages about $2890; larger dogs average around $3230 and giant breeds have an annual price tag of about $3535. The average first year cost for all sizes comes to $3085 (all figures were rounded off). So what does that cover, you ask?

According to the American Kennel Club’s website, “supplies were estimated at $432 per year, Food was $435 per year, and Preventative Medications were estimated at $389 per year. Veterinary costs were $650 per year and included all lab work plus are for one serious illness per year was added into the figures.” Training costs are not included.

Often proactive veterinary care is the last thing people think of beyond vaccinations especially when we can pretty much do the same kind of treatments for our furry friends that we can for the two-legged members of our families.

“Dogtor” Sam

All of these expenses can make routine veterinary care one of the first things that gets postponed. Many people think, if it ain’t broken, it probably doesn’t need to be fixed. But there are some do-it-yourself tips that require no money, have the potential to build trust, can increase the bond between you and your canine as well as alert you to conditions that require professional help. The first reason for Dog DIY is the more familiar you are with your pup, the better you’ll know when something isn’t right and when to seek professional care. Getting your dog familiar with these health exams at home will make trips to the ‘dogtor’ a more pleasant experience. In order to know when things are off, you need to know what’s normal for your dog. The following checkup list can aid in evaluating your dog’s day-to-day health.

  • Temperature. This critical health indicator should be between 100 and 102.5 degrees F for dogs (whenever Elsa has a seizure, her temperature goes up, by a lot. I cover her with ice packs to minimize potential damage during a seizure and to minimize dehydration. That alone could make all the difference between a costly vet trip or a simple at-home administering of Valium and in our case, has the potential to save a couple Ben Franklin’s). It’s easy to take a dog’s temperature. Lubricate the end (coconut oil works great) and gently insert about 1 inch into the anus of a small dog, 2 inches for a larger dog. Don’t force it. Results take about 60 seconds.
  • Pulse. For the most reliable indicator, locate the femoral artery on the inside of the thigh. Gently feeling for the ‘artery roll,’ you can feel the pulse. As with us uprights, count the beats over 15 seconds and multiply by 4 for a per minute result. Normal heart rates for dogs are between 80-120 beats per minute. Larger, working or athletic dogs will have slower pulses than puppies or smaller dogs. You can also get a pulse by placing your hands low on your dog’s chest near the elbow joint, and feel the heart beats.
  • Check the nose. It should be smooth and soft to touch. It doesn’t necessarily have to be cool or moist, healthy dogs can have dry, warm noses.
  • Eyes. They should be clear, bright, moist with little or no discharge. Pupils should be uniform in size, the whites actually white with just a few visible blood vessels.
  • Ears should be clean, dry and odorless.
  • Gums on a healthy dog are pink and moist without lesions or swelling, and the mouth free of bad breath. Teeth should be without tartar (remember Canine Dental Awareness last month so hopefully you scheduled that teeth cleaning then). Tongue should be clear with no debris in the roof of the mouth.
  • Watch your dog breathe. The chest should move in and out effortlessly and be rhythmic. Unless your dog is panting or is a flat-faced breed, the breath should be inaudible. Normal resting rate is 15-30 breaths per minute. If excited or anxious, it will be toward the upper end while the sleeping rate will be closer to 15. At rest, small dogs breathe faster than larger breeds.
  • Skin. Should be soft, smooth with no lesions. No redness or rough spots and little odor. The coat should be soft, shiny and smooth unless your dog is a wire-haired breed.
  • Hydration. Healthy dogs are well hydrated and that’s easy to check. Lift the skin of the neck or back and ‘tent’ it, then release. It should spring back quickly. If not, more water or moisture in diet is needed. For us, this is a critical component when treating Elsa’s seizures.
  • Move your hands all over the dog’s body to check for lumps or masses. If you notice a bump or wart that doesn’t need immediate attention, take notes, draw a sketch and keep an eye on it. If it changes over the course of a couple of days, it’s time to call the vet for further evaluation and treatment.
  • Assess muscle tone and weight. Does your dog have a ‘waistline’ and can you feel ribs easily? If not, remember the same holds true for dogs as it does for their owners, eat less, move more.
  • Check the range of motion on joints. They should move freely without resistance or difficulty. Note any signs of pain, they can indicate an injury that may need professional care.
  • Toes, nails, pads. Make sure they are free of sores or cuts, keep the nails at a comfortable length trimming just the tip ends to avoid cutting the nail quick. Keep debris out of between toes. Keep hair trimmed as necessary. Some breeds require regular trimming (having owned poodles and OESs I’m all too familiar with the importance of keeping pad hair trimmed up).

Performing these easy to DIY checkups can provide you with a valuable record of your dog’s health, can alert you to potential issues before they become critical and will make you a partner with your vet as you care for your pup. Are you ready to perform a few exams to be a partner with your vet in evaluating your dog’s health?

Live, love, bark!

Clean Your Paws

While we haven’t had an over-abundance of snow yet, other locales across the country have been inundated. What does this mean when you have a dog? Well in our case, it means when we go outside for daily walks, we run of the risk of harming fragile paws from neighbors who over-enthusiastically spread snow melt on sidewalks and driveways. Great for humans, not so great for the ‘paw set.’

img_1261Sure, putting on boots for extended walks protects them but installation on 8 paws isn’t possible all the time or particularly appreciated by the fur-gallery around the Ranch. Sam reluctantly allows boots, but Elsa on the other hand starts pirouetting around like Mikhail Baryshnikov. I haven’t been able to convince her yet that snow boots are not some torturous form of Chinese foot binding. So we often end up walking in the gutter area of the street when there is a lot of salt spread on walks and I have to keep her from licking her paws when it builds up. Conversely, avoiding salted walks by walking on snow-covered streets sometimes results in ice balls building up in their pads so we have to stop and remove them since they probably feel a little like a small stone in your shoe. I know I can’t walk like that and don’t expect my fur-kids to do so either.

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We had hospital duty over the weekend and maintenance always over salts the walkways from the parking lot to the entrance even though the snow from our last storm was over two weeks ago as well as probably 95% melted. Luckily I carry individual wipes with me whenever we go to the hospital during the winter.  And with all sorts of potential germs in a hospital setting, I don’t want Sam licking his paws when we get home. It also inspired me to look for a recipe I could easily make that would help comfort and protect paws, especially in winter.

And voila! Just look at this one with minimal ingredients. Should be easy to protect the fur-kids’ paws when we don’t wear snow boots. Calendula is super healing, avocado and coconut will be extra moisturizing and beeswax will help coat and protect the surface of their paws.

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How do you protect your pups’ paws in winter?

Live, love, bark!

Best Laid Plans Gone Awry. Again.

The best-laid plans of mice and men (and all too often dog moms) often go awry. Such was the case last week. I had a terrific post touting the progress Elsa was making both emotionally as well as with her epilepsy on the 3-month anniversary of her being seizure free (and coincidently her 4-month anniversary being at the Ranch). Then BAM! A seizure episode on the exact anniversary date. Phooey.

Not only is that seizure episode troubling in and of itself, it is complicated by the fact that Elsa’s brain gets completely reset in terms of her emotional progress toward learning how to be a dog. Gone, as in wiped out, back to square one. Think of a computer that has been rebooted without being backed-up. A dog that was adjusting and actually learning steps in how to be a dog…erased. She lost all cognition of the fact she was housebroken. Sudden movements made her skittish. She was fearful, reverting to her puppy mill behavior and the connection between her brain and her limbs wasn’t functioning all that well. She was reluctant to take treats from my hand again, clearly preferring them to be laid in her bowl or on the floor. I’d been through this before so I knew what to expect. What I hadn’t counted on it was it being worse than earlier recoveries because of other complications. Nor did I expect this to take such a toll on me which explains why there were no substantive posts last week.

While Elsa’s seizures were not nearly as severe this time, they still were cluster seizures which can be fatal if not treated. Only 2-3% of all dogs have epilepsy, so Elsa apparently is one of those extra special pups. We did all the right things when the ictal stage began, including application of ice packs so as to keep her temperature from rising, which can have dangerous consequences. Dehydration often occurs during this time upon overheating so when it appeared the seizures were not going to end soon without medical intervention, I gathered her up and took off for our vet’s office. When a dog is in full seizure mode, walking into their office where many dogs are waiting for their Monday morning appointment runs the risk of all sorts of complications. The other dogs sense something is amiss, which puts Elsa at risk. Trying to weigh her so as to determine the appropriate dosage of medication to stop the seizures is yet another challenge. Not to mention carrying a 51 lb. dog kicking erratically, with partial loss of consciousness and other dog seizure symptoms makes for an interesting entry. Add to that a wet slippery snowstorm that arrived at the same time and trying to get from a full parking lot at the bottom of a slight slope into a full waiting room without falling down added to my anxiety. img_4043The vet ran a full blood panel once the Grand Mal seizures were abated to be sure there was no major organ damage. A titer test covering her Phenobarb levels was also taken and showed they were well in the appropriate range so we won’t be increasing her dosage, at least for now. As it turned out though, she apparently came down with a secondary infection resulting in bloody diarrhea so an antibiotic was prescribed later along with a probiotic for the next couple of weeks and together with those two strategies plus a bland diet seem to have cleared that hiccup for the most part, though that’s always day to day.

While waiting for Elsa to move toward recovery, I lost a boatload of sleep, staying up until all hours of the night monitoring for seizures and bathroom breaks. The house is for basically hardwood and tile surfaces but there are numerous area rugs for comfort. Each of which have been shampooed multiple times. I think we’re back on the ‘I’m a good girl’ now road but I’ve noticed I’m also hyper-alert to any idle paws wandering around.

Ataxia is one of the biggest side effects we’ve encountered when going through each  reset process, and Elsa’s mobility has been a little wonky while she recovers. She’s better now although the vet did a thorough exam of her hips which seem to have some issues. We’ll be monitoring them as we move forward. The biggest symptom in the post seizure reset period is the brain fogginess that seems to beseige my little Ninja. She often stares out into space and it takes a gentle prodding sometimes to gain her attention. But she’s doing better and that’s the bottom line.

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Sleep well and rest, sweet Elsa. You have a brother who’s waiting to be annoyed.

Live, love, bark!

Holiday Foods and Our Pets

It’s clear I can no longer deny Christmas is around the corner what with all the decorations so lovingly hung and tasty looking foodables in magazines and on blogs everywhere. And because I will begin the annual destruction of the kitchen baking and preparation of treats this week while imaging sugarplum fairies, it prompted me to think about all the sweet treats in particular that will be consumed by the bucket load this month and which ingredients are good and which are not so good for our pups.

But like most things, nothing is totally black and white and some ingredients are grey with controversy. Take for example, garlic. In the past, some vets recommended small amounts for flea control however many others consider it toxic. Like onions, chives and leeks, garlic contains a toxin that could damage a dog’s red blood cells. Cow’s milk can be problematic for the same reason it causes issues for us humans-that being lactose intolerant and could lead to intestinal upset, gas, diarrhea and vomiting. Whether I’m making treats for Sam and Elsa or for the new 4-legged neighbors, all my handmade dog treat recipes are scrutinized for potential naughty and nice ingredients and any of those that fall in the “when in doubt, leave it out” category are removed from my recipe book or suitably modified to remove iffy ingredients.

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We all know chocolate and Xylitol (the artificial sweetener in chewing gum and candy)  are at the top of any list unsuitable for dogs and cats. This graphic shows a number of others that we might not realize as we over indulge in seasonal menus. Those on the “no” list  should never be included in your pet’s diet as they are toxic. Note however, this is just a small list that we need to make sure our fur-kids don’t get their paws on but if you have any questions, consult the Pet Poison Helpline for information. For a small fee, they can provide pet owners and veterinary professionals with assistance in treating a potentially poisoned pet and an extensive searchable list of potential poisons. The Pet Poison Helpline is a 24-hour animal poison control service available throughout the US, Canada, and the Caribbean and is not limited to dogs and cats, providing assistance with birds, small mammals and exotic species as well.

So, are you planning on making treats for your 4-legged buddies for Christmas? You might want to keep an eye out for nosey pets scamming for easy pickings around the tree this holiday and keep a copy of this handy graphic along with the poison center phone number (just in case) close by. After all, we want to be able to safely enjoy the holidays, right? Now pass me that tin full of Grandma’s Mac Nut Old Fashioned Fudge, will ya? Oh and if you’re like me, you’ll bury the scales in the back of the closet until after the New Year. No need torturing yourself if your tastebuds are enjoying the seasonal fare.

Live, love, bark! ❤