Our vet offers common-sense things you can do to keep your dogs healthy and safe.
As Jan. 1 approaches each year, I am asked what sort of new year's resolutions I recommend for dog owners. In fact, not long ago the Dogster editorial staff posed the question to me. I'm not one to let down my editors if I can avoid it, so this article is dedicated to new year's resolutions for dog owners.
I have heard that some motivation experts advise making only one new year's resolution, but this article would be a bit light if I offered only one, so there will be several. However, if you resolve to do only one new thing for your dog in 2013, here is what I recommend:
Resolve to brush your dog's teeth. Please don't laugh. I have been recommending tooth brushing for my entire career, and I put my money where my mouth is: My pal Buster's teeth get brushed every night. For years I suffered ridicule and derision (often from some of my friends who are veterinarians) for this activity. However, I'm getting the last laugh now -- Buster's teeth are nearly perfect, and many of the people who have made fun of me have dogs who need dental work.
Dental disease is the No. 1 -- by a mile -- medical problem of dogs. It occurs in more than 80 percent of adult dogs. It causes pain, bad breath, and lethargy. It might be linked to heart disease, bodily inflammatoy conditions, diabetes, and cancer. Advanced dental disease requires treatment with general anesthesia for root planing, supra- and subgingival scaling, and (often) extractions or other advanced periodontal procedures. It's expensive, and it's no fun.
Dental disease is almost totally preventable with tooth brushing.
I recommend using a human soft-bristled toothbrush. Do not, however, use human toothpaste. Human toothpaste contains fluoride and is not safe to swallow. There are a variety of veterinary toothpastes widely available in pet stores. Gently brush the outside all of the teeth, focusing on the gum line in a circular fashion. It is not necessary to open your dog's mouth in order to brush teeth -- the toothbrush can be slipped between the lips. Remember that dogs have relatively massive mouths, and that there are teeth all the way in the back. The current recommendation is to brush teeth at least once every 24 hours.
Clean teeth can lead to a cleaner bill of overall health. The overwhelming majority of dogs will tolerate tooth brushing. However, sometimes it is necessary to wade into the process gradually by first habituating your dog to having his mouth handled, then using a toothbrush without paste, and finally graduating to full brushing with paste.
Some hardcore adherents to certain diets believe that their diets will prevent dental disease in dogs. My experience? No diet can accurately make this claim. Even if you believe that your dog's diet is good for the teeth, no harm will come to your dog from brushing the teeth as well. There is no reason -- other than the nuisance of it -- not to brush your dog's teeth. Period.
A few weeks ago I was walking Buster when I saw an off-leash Yorkshire Terrier trot across a street and approach us. His owner showed up a few minutes later, busily engaged in sending a text message to someone. Although I'm sure he won't, I would love for that dog's owner to resolve to use a leash and pay attention. Leashed dogs are almost never hit by cars (although I have treated a few who were struck by vehicles that drove onto sidewalks). Fights between two leashed dogs are vanishingly uncommon. The Yorkshire Terrier in question could have been creamed by a car as he crossed the street ahead of his owner. And, if Buster were less friendly, the Yorkie could have been mauled or killed.
Leashes make for happy, healthy, safe dogs.
I also recommend that dog owners resolve to take time to properly socialize their dogs. Well-mannered dogs are joys to be around. They don't bark at strangers, knock over old ladies, lunge at other dogs, or chase joggers. Most important, they don't give ammunition to people who fear or dislike dogs -- you know, the people who would like to see dogs banned from parks, other public areas, and special events.
Speaking of dog haters, they get especially mad when they step in dog poop. So, for that matter, do dog lovers. Please, resolve to be a decent member of society and pick up your dog's poop.
Finally, if your dog hasn't had a checkup in a while, I recommend that you resolve to take him in for a physical. However, if your dog has been getting shots every year, I recommend that you rethink your dog's vaccine schedule. I am surprised by how many adult dogs get every vaccine every year despite the mounting evidence that this is probably not the best thing. Talk to your vet about which (if any) vaccines are appropriate based upon your dog's lifestyle and age. And while you're there, talk about starting a broad spectrum heartworm and roundworm preventative. These help keep your dog free of potentially dangerous parasites, some of which can spread to humans.
Best wishes for a happy new year to all!
A dog should always be a considered choice and NEVER an impulse buy. Please help us spread the word about this during this high gift-giving season.
This Holiday Season, Remember: A Puppy Is NOT a Present.
We all have them. The in-law who unapologetically keeps an "outside dog." Or the friend who thought it was cool to let the family retriever shack up with the dog down the street so her kids could witness the "miracle of life." Or the coworker who surprised his fiancee on her birthday with a Yorkie puppy from the pet store.
And let's be honest: They make us feel like complete failures as responsible pet people. Yes, our own dogs went to puppy socials, play with lead-free toys, and were "fixed" at an appropriate age. But maybe we didn't share that article on where pet store puppies come from enough on Facebook, or made our stance on the benefits of spay/neuter loud enough for those in our immediate networks to hear.
As the holidays approach, so does an opportunity to educate the people around us on a timely issue: that of puppies being given as holiday presents without too much though or planning beforehand. I don't know about you, but I cringe inwardly when I see stock photos of dogs with bows strapped to their heads displayed in wrapped boxes beneath Christmas trees. It's an image that's readily accepted all over the world. But that doesn't make it right.
Because a puppy should never be:
1. A novelty item. One that was a smash hit on Christmas morning, but an undesirable chore in the post-holiday world. A dog is at the very least a 10-year commitment, and if your intended recipients are not up to the task, you have no business gifting them with one.
2. A stuffed toy. Some dogs might resemble one (I'm looking at you, Boo!) but again, the responsibilities associated with toy vs. dog aren't remotely in the same region. And if your daughter is obsessed with Pomeranians because of Boo, there's a stuffed animal replica you can buy her.
3. An imposition. Just because you thought a puppy would make a great gift doesn't mean the recipient does. When your big "surprise" goes south, are you prepared to care for the pup for the rest of its days? We hope your backup plan doesn't involve dumping him at the already-overcrowded local shelter.
4. An impulse buy. If your family isn't up to the commitment, you can't just return that puppy to the pet store. It's not unusual for puppies returned to pet shops to be put down in horrendous ways, either. Please, please, please do your homework if you're adding a dog to the family. Research dog breeds to find the best fit. Find a breed-specific rescue group or a reputable hobby breeder if you must have a purebred. Or go to the shelter as a family and make an informed decision together.
To be clear: We are not opposed to you adding a dog to the family during the holiday season if the addition is one planned far in advance. We only ask that you make an informed decision and not a knee-jerk one that is bad for everyone down the line. This time of year is notorious for last-minute impulse buys, so I hope you understand the concern.
If you're a regular Dogster reader, you probably already know these things. But it's highly possible there are people you know who don't. You can help us reach those people by sharing this article, or using the graphics below on your Facebook and/or Twitter feeds. We hope they'll be a great conversation starter for your friends and family.
A photo isn't just worth a thousand words -- it might just save your dog's life. Here are some you should have on hand at all times.
Your smartphone's photo album can be much more than a brag book filled with snapshots of your favorite four-footed friends. It can actually be a life-saver -- especially if, say, you're traveling and you forgot not only your dog's medication, but its name and dosage -- or your dog sitter runs out of said med and needs your help refilling it.
If you're like us, you already use your notes app to keep track of everyday reminders. But a photo is worth a thousand characters, and images are so much more effective as mnemonic devices!
Dogster EIC Janine Kahn keeps many sharp photos of her Italian Greyhound, Moxie, on her iPhone.
Here are eight items that can easily be recalled -- not to mention texted or emailed to the appropriate person -- with a snap of your camera's shutter button. Please take these pictures without delay, and use the comments section to tell us what we've left out!
8 Important Dog-Related Photos to Have on Hand: 1. Pictures of your dog's current medications; make sure the RX name and dosage are clearly visible in the photos.
2. Pictures of your dog, in case (heaven forbid) he or she goes missing and you have to create a Lost Dog flyer on the double.
A snapshot of Moxie's tag collar and license.
3. Closeup shots of your dog's license and vaccination tags -- make sure they're in focus so all letters and numbers are legible.
4. A picture of your dog's microchip ID info, and a Web site screen shot of Home Again (or whichever company's chip is implanted in your dog).
Some vaccines Moxie received as a puppy.
5. A picture of your dog's food -- the package it comes in -- to make it easier for your dog sitter to restock in case the supply runs out in your absence.
6. A picture of the business card of the pet-supply store where you buy your dog's food, especially if it's a prescription diet.
Moxie's microchip number.
7. A picture of your veterinarian's business card, clearly showing the phone number, email, and physical location address (or a screen shot of the hospital's Web site).
A screen grab of the emergency hospital that's nearest Janine and Moxie.
8. A picture of the business card of the nearest 24-hour emergency vet hospital (or screen shot of the hospital's Web site).
Dogster readers, what would you add to this very important list?
BY Julia Szabo
A popular misconception is that dogs age 7 years for each calendar year. In fact, canine aging is much more rapid during the first 2 years of a dog's life. After the first 2 years the ratio settles down to 5 to 1 for small and medium breeds. For large breeds the rate is 6 to 1, and for giant breeds the rate is 7 to 1. Thus, at 10 years of age a Great Dane would be 80 years old while a pug would only be 64.
How to Tell a Dog's Age If you've taken in a dog whose age is unknown, there are some ways to determine his age. Here are some things vets check to get a general sense of how old a dog is:
The Teeth: Dogs usually have a set of permanent teeth by their seventh month, so if you've come across a dog with clean pearly whites, he is likely a year old or thereabouts. Yellowing on a dog's back teeth may put the dog between one and two years of age, while tartar build-up at a minimal level could mean you have a dog between 3 and 5. Missing teeth or severe wear usually means the dog is a senior and could use some special dental care.
Muscle Tone: Younger dogs are more likely to have some muscle definition from their higher activity level. Older dogs are usually either a tad bonier or a little fatter from decreased activity.
The Coat: A younger dog usually has a soft, fine coat, whereas an older dog tends to have thicker, coarser (and sometimes oilier) fur. A senior dog may display grays or patches of white, particularly around the snout.
The Eyes: Bright, clear eyes without tearing or discharge are common in younger dogs. Cloudy or opaque eyes may mean an older dog.
Use this chart to calculate your dog's age:
Old Age in Dogs
The age at which a dog can be considered elderly varies widely among models. In general, the larger the dog, the more quickly it declines. For instance, a Great Dane could be considered "senior" at age 5, while a smaller toy poodle would still be spry at twice that age. Remember, however, that just because a dog is chronologically old doesn't mean that an endless series of malfunctions is in store. In many cases an elderly dog can enjoy many healthy, active, pain-free years.
One of the best ways to prolong the life and improve the functions of an elderly dog is to carefully regulate its fuel intake. Older dogs exercise less and thus need fewer calories. And since age reduces their ability to digest and absorb nutrients, high-quality food specifically formulated for their needs is a necessity. Excessive amounts of protein, phosphorus, and sodium can aggravate kidney and heart problems, so most such foods contain smaller amounts of higher-quality protein, along with reduced quantities of other elements. Levels of vitamins, zinc, fatty acids, and fiber, however, are increased.
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