The Dos and Don'ts of 'Dog Biking'

So, most dog lovers and owners have at one point in their lives and the lives of their canine friends tried to walk them while riding a bike. Somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that’s okay, somehow acceptable or cool or novel or something. But really, mostly, it’s a bad idea.

Among the primary hazards with ‘dog biking’ is how dangerous it is for both you and your pet. There are several things that can go wrong while dog biking, but the most problematic ones are pretty easy to imagine:

Tangled Leash

Getting a leash wrapped up in either the pedal mechanism or the wheel can quickly bring in all of the slack you’ve given your dog and create a dangerous choking hazard.  It can also pull your dog in close to the tires on your bike and, and depending on the size of your pet, cause a crash or worse. Creating a chance for running over your dog and crashing your bike is about the worst thing you can do to yourself and your dog. And this doesn’t even count the other potentially problematic issue linked to your dog running on asphalt, like injuring their paw pads and hips.

Problems Steering

If you are walking your dog while riding your bike, you probably have only one hand on your handle bars and may have trouble steering your bike. Plus, if your off hand is on the leash, then a sudden pull on the leash might cause you to lose control of you bike and cause an accident. And changing your leash hand while biking will never work and you'll end up having to stop and reset.

Unpredictable Behavior

Even if you think your dog is well trained, well behaved and generally immune to the many distractions that will occur on your ride, you never know what might set your off. A loud noise or a car horn could spook your dog and cause them to behave erratically and cause and accident leading to potential injury

Dos and Don'ts

Finally, you still insist that biking with your dog is still a good idea, you probably are prone to other dangerous hobbies and habits like biking and texting, biking and texting and drinking. If you are still going to do it then you should do it right. First, use a good retractable leash that can stay off the ground. Your dog is safer this way. Second, use a bike with easy one-handed brakes since you’ll have one hand on the handle bars and one hand on the leash handle. Third, only do it if you have a smart, well trained dog that can sense if you are losing control for whatever reason and adjust. Fourth, no steep hills where you could lose control and cartwheel yourself over the handle bars and completely clobber yourself and your dog. This would really bad. Finally, wear decent shoes in case you need to do a controlled wipe out.

So to summarize, Do use caution, understand what a terrible decision you are making and bad stuff will happen, use a good bike and leash strategy. Don’t impair yourself so that you can’t react to the inevitable.

The Main Causes of Doggy Depression, and What to Do About It

While depression is not recognized as a medical condition in dogs, that doesn’t mean that your dog cannot have depressive symptoms. In fact, symptoms of dog depression may indicate a larger medical condition, and therefore should be monitored carefully.

The main things that usually alerts owners to their dog being unhappy are changes in behavior. Dr. Leslie Sinn, DVM, CPDT-KA and member of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association, explains: “This could mean that the dog is not interacting the way she usually does, or not engaging the way she normally does. It might include not wanting to go for walks, or not eating meals.”

If these behaviors last more than a day or two, they can indicate a medical problem, and you should bring your dog to the veterinarian to run tests.

Many older dogs can exhibit symptoms that seem like depression but turn out to be something else. “A big concern is untreated pain, which can mirror depressive symptoms,” says Dr. Sinn.  “In our older dogs, for example, we worry a lot about untreated pain, such as arthritis. These symptoms could mirror ‘depressive’ symptoms, but actually point to a much greater and more dangerous condition.”

More information about depressive symptoms can be found here.

One symptom in particular that is often mistaken for a depressive symptom is an increase in lethargy. Before bringing your dog to the veterinarian, try to engage him in activities that he previously enjoyed, like fetch. Sometimes, one-on-one time with you might be all your pup needs to cheer up. If this doesn’t work, consult your vet to rule out medial problems.

It’s also important to monitor your dog’s appetite. “If the animal is feeling very poorly and refuses to eat for an extended period of time, that would put their decline ahead of schedule and is considered very harmful,” warns Dr. Sinn. “If a pet is refusing to eat for an extended period of time, this could be a serious problem.”

New stressors in a dog’s environment can bring on anxiety as well. “There are a number of things the owner can do to help lower stress, including keeping the dog away from crowded situations, decreasing chaos and unscheduled activities in the home, providing the pup with toys, walks and an increase in one-on-one interaction,” recommends Dr. Sinn. If these changes do not work on your dog, there are medications that your vet can give your dog to help with the anxiety.

The keys to stopping depressive symptoms in your dog, if there are no real medical problems, are very similar to what you would do for a person who is sad. Increasing positive interactions and decreasing chaos and stress will have your dog playing and running around in no time. 

How to tell if your dog is healthy

Since your dog hasn’t mastered speaking in words yet, you may wonder how you can tell if your dog is feeling okay. It turns out, many of the clues can come from just looking at your dog and reading his body language.

Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, shares some of the signs to be on the lookout for when it comes to your furry friend’s health:

  • Good appetite

  • High energy level

  • Healthy-appearing coat

  • Interactive behavior

  • No vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, sneezing, increased thirst or unexplained weight loss

The above signs are just the beginning of being able to tell if your dog is healthy, though. Different parts of your dog’s body hold the key to determining if she is truly healthy.

The Mouth
If you notice that your dog has bad breath, it can be an indication of the need for a dental check up, or even something more. “ Some odors may be indicative of fairly serious chronic problems,” said Dr. Murray. “Liver or intestinal diseases may cause foul breath, whereas a sweet, fruity smells may be indicative of diabetes. If your dog’s breath smells like ammonia or urine, kidney disease is a possibility. Any time you notice your pet has bad breath accompanied by other signs of ill health, schedule a visit to the veterinarian.”

Another unlikely place to look to tell if your dog is healthy are his gums. “Once a week, with your dog facing you, lift his lips and examine his gums and teeth,” says Dr. Murray. “The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. His teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar.”

 Not only can irregularities mean a problem with your dog’s mouth, but it can also be a sign of gastrointestinal issues.

The Eyes
Your dog’s eyes are also indicators of his overall health and wellbeing.  In fact, many vets recommend that you give your dog regular home eye exams to keep you aware of any potential health problems. Dr. Murray explains how easy it is to do this: “Face your dog in a brightly lit area, and look into his eyes. They should be clear and bright, and the area around the eyeball should be white. His pupils should be equal in size, and there shouldn’t be tearing, discharge or any crust in the corners of his eyes. With your thumb, gently roll down your dog’s lower eyelid and look at the lining. It should be pink, not red or white.”

If you do notice a problem, call your veterinarian. They can prescribe medicine to heal any eye disorders that can be impairing your pooch’s vision.

The Skin
Be mindful of your dog’s skin, as well. “Your dog’s skin is an indication of her overall health,” says Dr. Murray. “When a skin problem occurs, your dog may respond with excessive scratching, chewing and/or licking. A wide range of causes -- including external parasites, infections, allergies, metabolic problems and stress, or a combination of these -- may be affecting your dog’s skin.”

 Skin problems can also affect your dog’s fur, which can result in excessive shedding.

Here are some other ways to tell if your dog may be ill.

Other more common signs of an ill or injured dog include pale gums, rapid breathing, weak or rapid pulse, change in body temperature, and difficulty standing. And of course, if you’re ever really in doubt as to whether or not your pup is sick, making a trip to the vet can help, if only to alleviate your worry.

The Myth of the Hypoallergenic Dog

Over the past few years there has been a lot of talk about specific dog breeds that are “hypoallergenic” and perfect for families with members who have pet allergies. Most of the time these dogs tend to be hairless, or they have hair instead of fur, which leads many people to believe that the dogs do not spread allergens into the home. 

Unfortunately this is a mostly a myth, as no dog is entirely hypoallergenic. We spoke to Dr. Jules Benson, VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance, to find out more.

What Causes Pet Allergies?

According to Dr. Benson, “there is no true hypoallergenic dog, because [the thing that] causes the allergic reaction is common to all dogs. All dogs shed skin cells -- or dander -- even if they don’t shed fur.” The allergens are also present in these skin cells, as well as in saliva and urine. People with pet allergies react when these allergens are inhaled. “Dog dander is extremely small, like a micron of dust, and it can linger in the air so people can breathe it in without knowing it,” Dr. Benson explains. “Pet urine and saliva particles can adhere to a pet’s fur after they lick themselves, as well, so petting a dog could also lead to a reaction.”

Do Allergy-free Dogs Really Exist?

So that’s the bad news. But don’t worry, there’s good news as well. While there are no dogs that are 100% allergy free, there are some breeds that are better for people with allergies than others.  “Dogs that have hair, not fur, actually don’t shed as much and tend to produce less sneeze-provoking dander,” said Dr. Benson. 

The list for these types of dogs includes Poodles, Shih Tzus and Yorkshire Terriers, mostly hairless dogs like the Chinese Crested, and larger breeds like Portuguese Water Dogs and Schnauzers.

Unfortunately there is no way to totally cure pet allergies. “Allergic reactions occur because the body’s immune system is treating the allergen -- in this case, pet dander -- as an enemy, so repeated or prolonged exposure could simply lead to a more extreme reaction -- which could be very dangerous,” says Dr. Benson.

It is possible that some people, mostly children, may outgrow an allergy completely, but this has nothing to do with repeated exposure to a dog.  If you do bring home a so-called hypoallergenic dog, don’t be surprised if those allergies do rear their ugly heads. However, if you or a family member only has minor pet allergies, one of the dogs listed above could be the right fit for your home.  

Reduce the Allergens in Your Home

There are also ways to reduce the pet allergens in your home so as to limit the spread of dander. Specific areas of your home collect more allergens than others. This includes carpets, furniture, mattresses and window treatments. The key is diligent housekeeping. When purchasing a vacuum cleaner, make sure to get one with a HEPA filter. These are designed to remove even the smallest particles of pet dander. Hardwood floors are a great option, too, as hair is visible and easier to remove.

Frequent baths and grooming of your pet will also help. “Just be sure to use a moisturizing shampoo so your pet’s skin doesn’t dry out from so many baths,” warns Dr. Benson. You can also restrict your dog to specific parts of your home, and keep him out of the bedrooms of the family members who are allergic. Special air filters are also available to help remove dander that could be floating in the air.

At the end of the day, if you believe you are allergic to dogs, be sure to get tested by an allergist who can determine if your allergies are due to pet dander or other allergens. Then you can determine if you’re perhaps able to live with a dog that produces less dander.

Winter Abode Check for Dogs

Everyone’s heard of spring cleaning, changing the fire alarm batteries and getting ready for a new season. However, the winter months pose special indoor dangers for dogs too. For example, did you know fleas can live indoors all winter long?

Here are a few things all dog parents should do to keep their canines safe and sound in the colder months.

Heat Check
As the temperatures drop, the thermostat rises indoors. The usage of an electric heater or fireplace should be done with caution. Tails, fur and paws that come too close to flames, hot surfaces or the coils of an electric heater can be damaged, and an unattended heater could be knocked over by a curious pet. To make sure your pooch is warm indoors, and that fire hazards are diminished, never leave a heater on without someone in attendance.

Flea Check
Contrary to widely held belief, fleas can and do live indoors all winter long. Keep fleas away with proper prevention, and check with your dog’s veterinarian for how often and what to use on your dog.

Wires and Hazards
Some dogs love to chew on electrical wires. As the holidays have passed, now is a good time to assess any exposed wires and cords that are risky or any other access that dogs may have to electrical shock. Cover cords with plastic sleeves, unplug cords when not in use where applicable and take a check around the house for any balls or toys that might be close (or stuck) to electrical sources.

Bedding Position
A dog’s bed, kennel or “comfy spot” should be kept away from any drafty areas. Though dogs have a fur coat, cold can and does affect them. If you feel a draft or cold, then chances are your dog is feeling that same cold air. Keep dog beds off of heating vents, but in a spot that keeps them warm and secure.

Paw Alert
What dogs walk on outside is oftentimes brought inside with them. With winter sidewalks being laden with rock salt, chemicals and other debris, it’s important to protect a dog’s paws outside, and then keep them clean inside. Ice can burn and cause damage to a dog’s sensitive paws, so using dog booties or a food-grade pet-safe wax can help prevent problems. Wash dog paws (and tummies) with warm clean water prior to coming in the house after a winter walk.

Antifreeze Alert
If dogs have access to the family garage, take a check for any antifreeze containers. Clean up any spills, do not allow pets to have access to any containers that are poisonous, and do not allow pets to lick or step in any puddles near cars while out on walks.

Puppy Protection
If a new puppy has graced your life, a whole extra set of puppy-proofing precautions apply to new dog parents. Everything from cabinets that need to be locked and toilets that need lids down to plants need to be kept from prying paws.

Carbon Monoxide Dangers
Just like people, pets can be overcome with carbon monoxide. Have a furnace check—both odorless and invisible, carbon monoxide poisoning is always a danger year round.

Indoor Plumbing
Last but not least, some dogs are opposed to doing their duties outside when there is cold weather and/or snow on the ground. Shovel a nice little path for dogs to do their outdoor business and never punish a dog for relieving himself inside.

Use this list and both you and your pup will appreciate the extra precaution and safety this season.