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.

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.

Dogs and Airplane Travel: A Deadly Mix?

Did you know pugs are at an increased risk when flying, compared with other dogs? Veterinarians have long been concerned about this fact, and now there’s more evidence thanks to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). For five years, starting in May of 2005, DOT recorded all pet deaths during air travel. There were 122 dog deaths in that time period, and approximately half of them were “short-faced” breeds, like pugs and bulldogs.

Breed-specific Problems
Brachycephalic is the word used for these kinds of dogs, which also include boxers, bullmastiffs, Pekingese and others. The defining characteristic is a skull that’s broad and short. “These brachycephalic dogs tend to have abnormalities that cause them to have a constellation of respiratory issues,” says Dr. Trisha Joyce, an emergency veterinarian at New York City Veterinary Specialists. “Many of them also tend to be excited, nervous dogs. So, anxiety-producing situations would cause them to pant more and become more anxious. This can drive temperatures up and cause them to hyperventilate.”

Joyce thinks the real trouble is due to being away from their owners in the cargo hold. She advises against air travel if you have a pug or bulldog that would need to travel in the cargo hold. Many airlines will also no longer fly bulldogs under any circumstances.

Safe Air Travel for Dogs

While 122 deaths may seem like a lot, the DOT calls it an “extremely small percentage” of the total number of dogs that traveled by air in that five-year span, but the DOT does not record the number of dogs that fly successfully. In fact, there are many brachycephalic dogs that did not make the list at all, such as chow chows, shih tzus and Boston terriers.

“This number is hard to assemble because the airlines are not required to report it,” says Susan Smith, president of “We have heard that it is somewhere around 2 to 3 million.” Pet Travel is a repository of mostly free information that helps people travel with their pets. You can get lists of dog-friendly hotels, animal policies for different airlines, and even pet immigration information. “We started in the late 1990s with less than 2,000 pet-friendly hotels nationwide,” says Smith. “Now we have over 36,000 pet-friendly hotels and services in our database.”

Other companies, like and, are animal-only airlines. All animals fly in the cabin, and there are trained flight attendants on board. Prices might be a little steeper and only select major cities are serviced.

Tips for Flying With Your Dog
Very small dogs will be allowed to fly in the cabin with you, and Joyce recommends going that route if you can. Otherwise, she and Smith offer some tips to assure your dog has a safe flight:

  • Get a doctor’s clearance. A health certificate is required for your dog to fly. A compromised immune system or respiratory problems could lead to dangerous complications.

  • Don’t skimp on the crate. Get a crate that’s big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in. It should also have adequate ventilation and spring-locked doors.

  • Practice. If your dog is not accustomed to being in a crate, take your dog on car trips while inside the crate, preferably to a place your dog likes.

  • Choose a direct flight. It’s stressful enough for dogs to fly, but being transferred to a different plane’s cargo hold can just add to it. If you must, make it a transfer where you can be with your dog in between. Hydrate your dog when you do.

  • Be proactive. Ask questions and make sure the airline staff knows your dog is onboard. Ask to receive confirmation that your dog was safely loaded, and make sure the captain is informed since he or she monitors the cargo hold’s temperature and pressure.

The vast majority of dogs who fly do so with no problems, so there’s don’t let the fear of a rare event ruin your plans.

Top 10 Human Medications That Are Poisonous to Dogs

Leaving a pill bottle opened on a low countertop, packing your medication in a plastic baggie or accidentally dropping a pill on the floor could harm your dog more than you realize. Dr. Justine Lee, associate director of veterinary services at the Pet Poison Hotline, says 50 percent of the approximately 150,000 annual calls the hotline gets are about pets swallowing human medications. Recently, the hotline came out with a review of the call data, which revealed the top 10 offenders.

10. Cholesterol Drugs
Called “statins,” these popular drugs treat a problem that dogs typically don’t have. The good news is that serious effects in dogs only occur from chronic ingestion.

9. Thyroid Drugs
Hypothyroidism can be common in dogs, and the dose required tends to be 10 times stronger than for a person, says Lee. For this reason, accidental ingestions are usually not a problem, unless a dog eats an extremely large amount.

8. Beta-blockers
Used to treat high blood pressure in people, beta-blockers can have serious effects in dogs, lowering their blood pressure and heart rate to dangerous levels. “It has a very narrow margin of safety,” says Dr. Ahna Brutlag of the Pet Poison Hotline. “It may not take very many to cause lethal side effects.”

7. ACE Inhibitors
Another group of blood pressure medications, ACE inhibitors can cause problems similar to beta-blockers, but with less severe effects. Still, heart medications should never be within a dog’s reach, says Lee.

6. Birth Control Pills
“The containers are colorful, plastic and may make a rattling noise,” says Lee. “Dogs seem to find them irresistible.” Thankfully, most canines aren’t affected by accidental ingestions, but non-spayed female dogs are at risk of side effects. High doses can also lead to serious bone marrow problems.

5. Benzodiazepines and Sleep Aids
They’re designed to reduce anxiety or improve sleep, but many dogs instead become agitated rather than sedated. Lee says such medications are commonly left on a bedside table. “Putting them there helps people remember to take them,” says Lee. “But curious animals often get to them first.”

4. ADHD Medication
Even minimal ingestion of these drugs can be deadly to dogs. Tremors, seizures, elevated body temperatures and heart problems can result. Brutlag says it’s important to educate children taking these pills: “Make sure your children know how dangerous the pills are for the pets.”

3. Antidepressants
It’s true that antidepressants are prescribed to pets, but Lee says the veterinary versions have a different makeup. The human version can actually lead to agitation in dogs.

2. Acetaminophen
This over-the-counter pain medication can be devastating to pets. And ingestion often isn’t accidental. “Pet owners think because it’s over the counter that it’s safe,” Lee says. Acetaminophen ingestion by dogs, however, can lead to liver failure or, in large doses, red blood cell damage.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are another pain medication. Just one or two pills can lead to serious stomach or kidney ulcers, or kidney failure. “The only pain pill we ever recommend is aspirin,” says Lee. “People think aspirin is the same as Tylenol or Advil, but it’s not.”

Lee and Brutlag offer tips to help prevent accidental ingestions, based on the most common stories they get from hotline callers:

  • Keep human and dog drugs in different locations. It’s easy to grab the wrong bottle if they’re next to each other on the shelf.
  • If you carry drugs in your bag or purse, place it someplace high when you’re home.
  • If you use a seven-day pill container, store it out of reach. Dogs often think it’s a toy.
  • Don’t assume children’s medicine is safe. Species’ differences are significant enough that medications safe for children can still harm dogs.
  • When you travel, be vigilant about safely packing your pills.

Are Tick and Flea Control Products Safe?

Dr. Katy Nelson, a Virginia-based emergency veterinarian, has rarely seen an adverse reaction to flea and tick repellents in her career. “Maybe I’ve seen three or four dogs have reactions -- allergic, itchy or swollen faces. You give medication or a bath and they’re fine,” she says.

Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Agency has recently become more concerned about the harmful effects of anti-flea and tick chemicals. After an increase in reports of incidents associated with these medications in 2008, the EPA has made product-labeling rules more stringent and has also increased safety review standards. Below, Nelson weighs in on the pros and cons of using chemicals -- and more natural alternatives -- to keep your furry friend flea-free.

Safety Standards

Flea and tick products contain small amounts of chemicals. The companies that produce the products have tested them in much higher doses than are prescribed and recommended. When used correctly, flea and tick repellents for pets have been found to be overwhelmingly safe.

“Research has shown us that these products are extremely safe for animals and the people who come into contact with them,” says Nelson. “I’d rather my clients risk a little chemical exposure than have a dog who goes into kidney failure because of Lyme disease.”

The Risks of Traditional Products

The EPA’s new rules reflect the fact that incorrect usage has caused the bulk of the problems. Most such products now require more explicit labeling and detailed instructions. If you’re not sure about the instructions, make a quick call to your vet.

Side effects in dogs have included skin irritation, vomiting and diarrhea, and in rare cases, seizures. It is unclear, however, whether the pet owners who reported these problems used the products correctly. It is always a good idea to monitor your dog’s reaction to flea and tick products, especially the first time you use them.

The Benefits of Traditional Products

Flea and tick products keep fleas and ticks at bay, protecting your dog not only from disease-carrying bites but also from ingesting fleas -- often carriers of tapeworms. Dogs are good groomers. If a flea is biting them, they’re likely to eat it long before you see it.

Ticks transmit disease by drinking the blood of an infected animal, harboring the infective organisms, then feeding on their next victim. The risk of tick-borne illness is even greater than that from fleas, if only because ticks carry more deadly diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Many traditional repellents also contain protection against flies and mosquitoes. “A dog who spends the day outside is likely to be bitten by mosquitoes 500 times,” says Nelson. Mosquitoes transmit heartworm larvae, so keeping your dog from being bitten is also crucial to its heart health.

Natural Pest Prevention

Natural flea and tick repellents abound. Some are ingestible, containing ingredients like garlic, while others are “spot-on” and contain active ingredients like peppermint and cinnamon oils.

“Natural products can potentially help some. But they don’t have the guarantees and the backing of veterinarians and the pharmaceutical companies, who will pay in full for disease treatment if your dog gets, say, heartworm while using their products,” says Nelson.

Even with their stepped-up standards, the EPA continues to recommend use of products containing chemical pesticides. “Most people use the products with no harm to their pets,” the EPA has noted. “They can be appropriate treatments for protecting the public health -- both animals and humans.”

“Since the preventatives have been available, the incidence of heartworm, intestinal parasites and tick-born diseases has (OK?) gone down dramatically. The risk of these diseases is much worse than the risk of using a preventative that contains chemicals,” says Nelson.