Dogs Can Improve the Mental and Physical Health of Kids

Just by owning a dog, you are improving your chances of living a longer life. Consider the statistics. Your chances of having a heart attack are reduced by 4 percent, likely due to more regular exercise. A survey of 1,000 Medicare patients found that 40 percent of all respondents with pets went to the doctor far less often than those without a canine friend around. Nursing homes that have companion animal programs are able to reduce their usage of prescription drugs. The good news about dogs just goes on and on.

Now, several compelling studies indicate that dog ownership is particularly beneficial to children, with positive health impacts likely extending into adulthood.

Dogs Protect Against Respiratory Infection Linked to Asthma
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, recently conducted a study that found that the house dust from a home with a cat or dog is distinct from the house dust in homes without pets. That in itself is common sense. But when they further investigated the differences, the scientists discovered that microbial agents in the pet-contributed dust contained microbes, which appear to protect against infection. The illness in question is a common respiratory virus associated with the development of asthma in kids.

Kei Fujimura, a researcher on the study, speculates “that microbes within dog-associated house dust may colonize the gastrointestinal tract, modulate immune responses, and protect the host.” A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics supports the overall determination.

Eija Bergroth of Kuopio University Hospital in Finland studied 397 children from their birth onward. A diary was kept for each child, mentioning the frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections, together with info about dog and cat contacts during the first year of life. Kids that were in contact with dogs and cats had fewer instances of infection and, as a result, required fewer antibiotic treatments.

Bergroth and team suspect that “animal contacts could help to mature the immunologic system.” It’s therefore possible that early exposure to pets stimulates growing human bodies to jumpstart the immune system, which can then better kick into action to ward off illnesses with a health boost that could extend into adulthood. Some individuals are allergic to pet dander; for these people, the problems probably would outweigh the benefits, but the majority of people are not allergic to dogs.

Dogs May Help Prevent Cancer
Marion Vittecoq and Frederic Thomas of the Tour du Valat research center, who have investigated the possible connections between human health and pets, mention a National Institutes of Health Study by G.J. Tranah and team. It found that dog and cat owners have a reduced risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The longer the duration of pet ownership, the lower the risk that the individual will suffer from this type of cancer.

Could dogs help prevent other types of cancer? Hopefully future studies can help answer that intriguing question.

Dogs Promote Good Mental Health
So far, we’ve been addressing how dogs can benefit our physical health. Studies also show that canines are good for our mental health too. For example, psychologists at Miami University in Ohio and Saint Louis University conducted multiple experiments to see how pet ownership affects people. Almost to 400 individuals -- with pets and without -- participated.

“We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions,” said lead researcher Allen R. McConnell of Miami University in Ohio. “Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

With a dog, we have the added bonus of gaining a new best friend. You probably even consider your dog to be a treasured family member, and for good reason. “Dogs are among our closest social companions because we have bred them for tameness and,

over generations of selection, they have become even more socially compatible with humans,” says Jon Day, a former researcher at Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition. “Such social relationships may be characterized by generally harmonious collaboration under

conditions of balanced interests where social partners provide support for each other.”

Day therefore touches on the other positive aspects of pet ownership, such as comfort, companionship and a pleasant, vibrant life force to share one’s days with. The fact that canines may also improve our mental and physical health only adds to the reasons why you should pet your pup frequently with joy and gratitude … and maybe even consider adopting another dog.

Credit: Kasana88    

Doggy 911

Knowing what to do if your dog has a medical emergency can mean the difference between your pal’s life or death. In fact, one out of every four dogs may be saved if a pet first-aid technique is used before the injured animal arrives at a clinic, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. Less than 1 percent of pet owners, however, have a pet first-aid kit or have been trained in first aid, estimates Thom Somes, owner of Pet Tech, a company that trains instructors and teaches pet first-aid classes across the country.

How are your own first-aid skills? Aside from calling your local pet emergency hospital or contacting your veterinarian, would you know what to do if your dog faced a sudden medical emergency? If you think your first-aid know-how could use some brushing up, you’re not alone.

Classes Available
Increasingly, dog owners are taking classes to educate themselves about medical first aid for their treasured pals. The American Red Cross, for example, offers dog first-aid classes at a number of its chapters across the country. At many chapters, you’ll find dog first-aid kits and a pooch first-aid book for purchase.

Dogs are so cherished in Carmel, Calif., that the local Red Cross there keeps a stash of dog biscuits in the cookie jar on the front counter. The chapter’s dog first-aid classes are wildly popular, says Sharon Crino, executive director. “We live in an area where pets are like family,” says Crino. “It has been quite a success.”

The American Red Cross provides a directory for such classes on its Web site, as does Pet Tech. Classes include management of emergencies involving bleeding, choking, poisoning and more. Students even practice mouth-to-snout resuscitation on dog mannequins.

Practical Advice
While experts caution that it’s best to receive training in a class, there are basic first-aid practices you can put to use until you complete the training:

  1. Assemble or purchase a first-aid kit You’ll find inexpensive dog first-aid kits online or in pet stores, but Somes recommends assembling your own so that you’ll be familiar with its contents. (The Humane Society of the United States Web site offers a list of items.) Keep a kit at home and in your car. Make sure your kit includes some way to stably transport your dog, such as a blanket you can use as a stretcher. Include vital information in the kit. You’ll want to have your veterinarian’s phone number, poison control numbers and the number and address for an emergency veterinary service in your area. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals maintains a poison control hot line at 888-426-4435. (The ASPCA may charge you a $60 consultation fee if you receive assistance through the hot line.)
  1. Assess the situation Too often, dog owners react without thinking. “Make sure you have ‘scene safety’,” advises Somes, who calls himself “The Pet Safety Guy.” Don’t rush into the street to check on a dog that has been hit by a car, even if it is your own. Somes tells the story of a dog owner who was almost hit by a car herself as she raced to help her furry friend. “If it’s dangerous or appears dangerous to you, you don’t want to become a victim as well,” says Kevin Cole, who teaches the pet first-aid classes for the Carmel American Red Cross chapter.
  1. Anticipate your dog’s behavioral changes If your dog is sick or injured, it may snap at you. Read its body language first and approach cautiously. Look for ears laid flat, hair standing up on the haunches or even a glare. Don’t place your face close to your dog’s face to give comfort. Dog first-aid classes teach muzzling techniques using soft fabric, such as a tie or a length of gauze.
  1. Secure your dog Restraint accompanies muzzling, says Somes. “The dog can actually make the situation worse by moving,” he says. “A dog will run with a broken limb.” It may take two adults to gently restrain a dog using a towel or blanket.
  1. Stay calm Dogs note when your heart rate and breathing accelerate or if your voice escalates in pitch, Somes says. If you can’t be calm, have another adult step in.
  1. Don’t call 911 It’s often our first reaction in an emergency, but it won’t help with your dog. Unless an animal is endangering people, you’ll get no response.

The best way to prepare for an emergency is to know your healthy dog, says Cole. “Recognize what’s normal in your animal. Then, know how to respond when things aren’t normal.” Finally, understand that first aid doesn’t substitute for veterinary care. First aid is only meant to stabilize your pal or to alleviate a life-threatening situation before your dog can receive expert medical attention.

How to Manage Your Dog’s Health Care

Has the recession affected your spending habits? A new survey reveals that the economic doldrums have impacted many dog owners. “Dogs and cats are feeling the bite of the recession as pet owners put a leash on pet care expenses,” says Susan Spaulding, executive vice president and principal at The Pert Group, which conducted the survey with Brakke Consulting. “The recession has not only decreased what consumers spend on their own health, but also what they spend at the veterinarian.”

Dogs haven’t been hurt as much as cats, but there is still cause for concern. John Volk, a senior consultant at Brakke, shares the reasons why -- as well as promising news for dogs and their owners.

Fewer Dogs Are Going to the Veterinarian
On the downside, the Pet Owner Channel Use Study found that dogs are visiting their veterinarian 20 percent less than they did five years ago. Since the overall population of both dogs and humans has increased over that same period of time, the drop-off is significant.

Volk believes additional research is needed to fully understand why people are going to the vet less often, but he thinks the economy is a key reason. “Factor in the recession and the cost of veterinary care and you can see why owners could be postponing trips to the veterinarian,” says Volk.

Longtime dog owners realize that preventative care can help stave off health issues, ultimately saving pet owners money. All dogs should at least have an annual exam. Older pets should see the vet semiannually. The visits will include the basics, such as a full physical, a dental evaluation and a parasite check. Routine blood work and a stool analysis should also be included, especially for older dogs.

Boarding and Dog Day Care Spending Is Decreasing
With boarding and dog day care spending decreasing over the past five years, owners may be taking on more of this work themselves. They could also be recruiting friends and relatives to help watch their dogs. With new facilities offering high-tech and novel services, however, even cash-strapped dog owners might find them to be irresistible in the not-too-distant future.

Pet Insurance Spending Is Increasing
One very good outcome from the study is the finding that dog owners are now spending more on pet insurance. Insurance is another tool for combating the recession, allowing for regular veterinary visits and safeguarding against the cost for required special care, such as hospital stays and treatment for serious illnesses.

Volk says there is growing interest in health insurance for pets, so expect this business sector to continue to grow in the years to come.

Food Spending Remains the Same
Compared to a similar study conducted in 2007, the findings of this latest pet owner study show that dog food expenditures are basically the same. “There are more purchases of cat food, but actual expenses are higher for dog owners just because dogs are often bigger than cats and eat more,” says Volk.

The Way We Buy Pet Health Care Products Is Changing
The study found that more dog owners are turning to the Internet for their shopping needs. The reasons? Variety, sometimes-lower costs and convenience. Still, the trend is worrisome to Volk, who supports one-on-one interaction and expertise rather than online ads and in-store displays.

He and his colleagues are also concerned about the Fairness to Pet Owners Act. This legislation was introduced last year and referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. Among other things, it would require veterinarians to write a prescription, whether or not they will dispense the product. The majority of survey respondents have already indicated that they would fill those prescriptions outside of their veterinary office, at least some of the time. How veterinarians would react to the change remains unknown.

Signs of Improvement
In the few months since the new Pet Owner Channel Use Study was conducted, there are “anecdotal reports that veterinarians are seeing increased volume,” says Volk. He quickly adds, however, that it is too soon to tell whether or not the recession and other problems of recent years are finally on the way out.

Nevertheless, at least one major pet health insurance company has “reported a good uptick in revenue for the first quarter of 2012.” That, food sales and other indicators provide hope that dog owners have learned to cope with financial challenges and are looking ahead to an even brighter future for themselves and their pets.

Spring 2012 Flea and Tick Care for Dogs

Chances are your dog has had fleas and ticks, which have been bothering animals -- including humans -- since time immemorial. They are out in force this spring, which exterminator Alan Pendarvis of Texas credits to weather changes that are speeding up the parasites’ life cycles.

However, your dog doesn’t have to suffer this spring and summer. New products and a better understanding of how to combat flea and tick infestations can help your dog to steer clear of them.

Why Fleas and Ticks Are Bad News
Aside from the yuck factor, both fleas and ticks can spread diseases from dog to dog, and from dogs to humans. Nancy Hinkle, a University of Georgia entomologist, notes that fleas can transmit tapeworms. “An infected flea can pass on tapeworm if a dog happens to swallow a flea while using its teeth to scratch, but the tapeworm is not transmitted if the flea only bites the dog,” says Hinkle. “Some animals are also highly sensitive to flea saliva, which can lead to secondary infections and dermatitis from incessant itching.”

Ticks are equally awful, burying their heads into the skin of your dog and then sucking blood for survival. This too can spread infectious diseases.

Plan of Action: Flea and Tick Avoidance and Removal
New pest control products abound this spring, with many major manufacturers introducing new and improved versions of their already popular lines. Thanks to a clever plastic gizmo, topical liquids for some lines are easier to apply, helping to keep owners’ hands away from the skin-penetrating product.

A number of natural and/or organic alternatives are also on the market now. In addition to shampoos, you can find electric flea traps that attract fleas with heat and light and then zap them. Food-grade diatomaceous earth, a chalk-like powder that clings to the bodies of insects, works by cutting into their waxy coating and then gradually desiccating them. A drawback is that it can be a bit dusty and messy to use.

Buying Over-the-counter Meds Doesn’t Mean You Should Forget Your Vet
With so many products on the market, why did a recent pet health survey conducted by Banfield Pet Hospital find that flea infestation is one of the top 10 reasons owners bring their dogs to the vet? “I think this might result partly from pet owners buying preventive medications at retail outlets and not talking with their veterinarian about which product is best for their pet, how to apply it and how to avoid environmental contamination from fleas and flea eggs,” says Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, veterinarian, senior vice president and chief medical officer for Banfield.

He and other veterinarians can provide fast-acting medications that may provide quick relief. Nitenpyram, usually administered in pill form, starts working in 30 minutes and can eliminate fleas within three to four hours. Spinosad, a chewable tablet, works in about the same amount of time and prevents infestation for a whole month. These are just a few of the possible remedies.

No product is free from potential side effects, however, so follow user guidelines carefully. Kimberly Chambers of VetDepot offers this additional advice:

  • Consult your vet first. Even if you plan to purchase an over-the-counter remedy, talk to your vet beforehand.
  • Pay attention to age and weight guidelines. Failing to allow for these “could result in a dangerous overdose.”
  • Do not use a cat product on your dog, and vice versa.
  • Avoid getting topical flea-control products in your dog’s eyes and mouth.

“Flea protection is an important part of pet ownership,” says Chambers. “It not only saves pets from suffering from an itchy and uncomfortable infestation, but also protects pets from the dangers associated with fleas, including anemia.”

Finally, keep your home clean. Be sure to wash your pet’s bedding regularly and vacuum affected areas, including curtains, furniture and mattresses.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/magdasmith

What Snoring Says About Your Dog’s Health

Does your dog’s snoring keep you up at night? “We seem to put up with dog snoring more than spouse snoring,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a Laguna Hills, Calif., veterinarian and nationally recognized expert in companion animal health.

Your dog’s snoring, however, is more than an annoyance; it may be an indication of a wide range of health problems. “Any time a dog develops a new sign, such as snoring, it is a good idea to at least check in with your veterinarian,” notes Dr. Lauren Boyd, a veterinarian and an internal medicine specialist with Michigan Veterinary Specialists in Auburn Hills, Mich. “Any change could indicate a new problem. If it’s not a new problem but is progressing, your dog should also see a veterinarian.”

Why Dogs Snore
Any level of snoring indicates something is at last partially obstructing your dog’s airways. Veterinarians say common causes include:

  • Rhinitis Your dog might have a temporary inflammation in its nose. Dogs can catch upper respiratory infections or even suffer from allergies.
  • Fungal disease Aspergillosis is a type of fungal disease caused by a mold found in hay, grass clippings and similar environments. Left untreated, this fungal disease can cause discomfort, loss of appetite and serious health problems.
  • Foreign bodies or tumors Your dog could have inhaled something that is blocking its breathing. Snoring could also indicate a tumor, says Boyd.
  • Dental problems Bad teeth can cause your dog to snore, says Cruz. A bad tooth can lead to an abscess that penetrates the nasal sinus passages. Left untreated, dental problems can become a source of infection for the whole body, advises Cruz, which could lead to kidney failure down the road.
  • Obesity Like humans, our dogs are getting plumper. And just as obesity can lead to snoring in humans, it may cause breathing difficulties in dogs. “As your dog breathes in and out, obesity makes the trachea rings slam shut,” explains Cruz.
  • Breed-related anatomy Brachycephalic breeds -- the breeds with very short noses, such as English/French bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs -- have a natural tendency to snore. But it’s a good idea to check with your veterinarian to make sure the snoring is normal and not an indication of a health issue, says Cruz. For instance, a pug or Boston terrier might be born with nostrils that are squeezed almost shut. After surgical correction, “the dogs have so much energy. They’re running around and finally breathing,” says Cruz.

How to Help Your Dog
Because snoring can be related to so many different causes, Boyd and Cruz emphasize the importance of having your snoring dog evaluated. You can help your veterinarian by being an observant dog owner. Keep a pet diary to note changes in your dog’s behavior and health so a veterinarian can look for patterns. For example, if your dog was snoring and sneezing last May and again this May, it might have an allergy tied to spring blooms.

Use your smartphone to videotape your snoring dog instead of trying to describe the snores. The volume or pattern of snoring isn’t the only information that will help your veterinarian, says Boyd. “It is often helpful to know if the snoring is accompanied by sneezing, nasal discharge or nasal bleeding,” she says. “It is also helpful to know if the discharge or bleeding affects both sides of the nose or just one.” If the nasal discharge is watery, your dog is likely suffering from an allergy or something similar, says Cruz. A mucous-laden or bloody discharge is an indication that your dog needs to see a veterinarian immediately.

Don’t simply tolerate your dog’s snoring. “It can really decrease your dog’s quantity of life and your dog’s quality of life,” says Cruz. “If you’ve ever had that really bad cold and can’t breathe and can’t eat, then you know how hard it is to live with a breathing problem.”

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/tshortell