Prepare Your Dog for Holiday Boarding

When Lisa Cook, a lecturer at the University of Central Florida, heads home to New Jersey for the holidays, she leaves behind a beloved family member: Stella, Cook’s Australian cattle dog, boards at an Orlando veterinary hospital.

“They insist that Stella be vaccinated for bordatella [an infectious bacterial illness] and rabies,” says Cook. “I also take her food along so she doesn’t get an upset stomach due to new food.”

If you too will be boarding your dog during the holidays, now is the time to plan for your pet’s healthy, happy stay. Create a dog-boarding checklist, to avoid last-minute hassles and worries about your pet’s health.

The Before-boarding Checklist
Take these precautions before you board your pup:

  • Update vaccinations “Make sure all vaccinations are current at least a week to 10 days before boarding your dog,” says Sherry Boyer, owner of the Dog House Inn in Gilroy, Calif. Dogs occasionally show symptoms of canine cough or bordatella from the vaccine, and a boarding facility won’t be able to tell the difference between shot-related symptoms and the real illness, explains Boyer.
  • Check requirements Call the boarding facility to inquire what its vaccination requirements are. Bring proof of the vaccinations with you when you arrive at the facility. Some places also require a clean fecal report as proof that your dog doesn’t have worms.
  • Visit your veterinarian Even if a facility doesn’t require a veterinarian’s clearance, it’s a good idea to schedule a checkup for your dog within 30 days of its stay, especially if your dog has chronic ailments or is elderly, says CeCe Campbell, camp ranger at Camp Bow Wow Northglenn in Northglenn, Colo.
  • Double-check medication supplies Ensure medication supplies are adequate for the stay and bring the prescription in its original container. “It’s extremely important that if for any reason your dog has a reaction, or another dog ingests the medication, the staff knows exactly what the prescription is as well as the dosage amount,” says Campbell.
  • Keep up with flea prevention Almost every facility will require you to treat your dog with a monthly flea preventive. Schedule a treatment just before your dog checks in to the kennel, recommends Greg Martinez, DVM.

Questions to Ask
Steer clear of boarding facilities that don’t offer direct, fully explained answers to all your questions. Here’s what to know:

  • Can your dog eat its usual food? Dogs may have touchy digestive systems, says Dr. Martinez. Your dog will likely fare better if it can follow its usual diet, so when possible, carefully label its food before boarding.
  • What treats are given? A facility might serve your dog its usual food but offer unfamiliar treats. Often, treats contain more gluten and byproducts than commercial foods, and some dogs have trouble digesting the goodies, notes Dr. Martinez.
  • How will the facility handle health issues? Ask if the kennel has a relationship with a veterinarian or if veterinary technicians are on staff.

Share the Right Information
Your dog is more likely to enjoy a safe, healthy stay if you also keep the boarding facility well informed. Let the kennel know the following:

  • Special needs If your dog is prone to anxiety, aggression or other issues, let the kennel know well in advance. Booking early can ensure that your dog receives the right boarding space, says Campbell.
  • Your contact info Share your emergency contact number, along with a local number for someone not traveling with you. Provide contact information for your pet’s veterinarian.
  • Any allergies Provide a list of your dog’s potential allergens along with its other known health information.
  • Your dog If your dog hasn’t boarded in a while, Boyer and Campbell recommend a half day or so of doggie day care in the facility. Reintroducing your pup to the facility will ease stresses during the actual boarding stay.
As you’re shopping, packing and otherwise planning for your own holiday trip, following this checklist may seem like a daunting task. But keep in mind why you’re taking these steps: “It’s about the safety and health of your dog,” says Boyer.

Go Green for Your Dog's Health

They’ll go for a walk. They’ll go fetch. They'll go down and roll over. But how do you get your dog to go green?

Millions of people are realizing that it's better for our health to drink filtered water, recycle, and stay away from chemicals and plastics. They're also starting to realize that a green lifestyle holds some of the same benefits for their dogs.

"A lot of the things you can do are not that hard, don't require a great deal of effort, and are simple steps you can take to make life more green for your dog," says Lisa Peterson, communications director with the American Kennel Club.

Toxins in the Home
Your home and yard are likely the places where you and your pet spend most of your time. But while you eat off ceramic plates and drink bottled water, Rover is eating and drinking out of plastic bowls. While you walk around in shoes and sleep in a bed, your dog is walking barefoot on the floor and rolling around on the carpet. Here's how to handle potential dangers:

  • Replace plastic bowls With all the recent hysteria about the potential health impacts of Bisphenol A (BPA), a compound used to make many plastic water bottles and baby bottles, it may be time to look at your doggie’s dishes. Replace water and food bowls made of plastic and use stainless steel instead. Studies show BPA may be an endocrine disrupter, meaning it can alter the body’s hormonal system.
  • Change your floor cleaners "Think about what you use on your kitchen floor. You may want to go with something more natural," suggests Peterson. Although the floor may look clean to you, keep in mind that some dogs lick the floor when you drop food, and these cleaners may be harmful to your dog. "The bottom line here," adds veterinarian Michael Fox, Ph.D., B. author of over 40 books and the syndicated newspaper column Animal Doctor, "is to go back to basics for cleaners, such as white vinegar and baking soda."
  • Rid your home of deodorizers Room fresheners, plug-in deodorizers and cleaning supplies with fragrances can be harmful -- especially to pets that may accidentally eat or lick such things. Air fresheners can contain varying amounts of phthalates – compounds that the Centers for Disease Control found may cause cancer, hormone abnormalities and other health problems. Natural ways to freshen the air include using baking soda to absorb odors, taking the trash out every day, and boiling a sliced lemon.
  • Use filtered water Your family may prefer drinking filtered or bottled water rather than plain tap water. Fox suggests that you may want to take the same precautions for your pet. Using a water filter will get rid of any chlorine or fluoride in the water.
  • Avoid harmful lawn products Landscapists may use pesticides, deer repellents, fertilizers and plant foods that are chemical-based and can be hazardous to your dog's health. Some of these chemicals are known carcinogens. She suggests working with landscapers or garden store staff to find more natural solutions to common yard problems.

Dangerous Medications
Fox recommends seeking out a holistic veterinarian if you want to help your pet to "go green.” There is a searchable list on the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association Web site.

Watch out for flea and tick medicines. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is intensifying its review of these products, particularly topical products applied to the skin, after recent upturns in complaints about adverse reactions from pets. These reactions range from skin irritation to seizures, and in some rare cases, death of the pet. Fox recommends natural anti-flea and tick remedies, including:

  • Combing your dog regularly with a fine-toothed flea comb to remove ticks and fleas
  • Vacuuming daily to remove eggs and larvae
  • Putting brewer's yeast and vitamin B complex supplements in pet foods as a natural repellent
  • Using natural topical repellents, such as lemon and eucalyptus

Common household products, from rug cleaners to chew toys, can also be harmful for your dog. It's important to look for adverse reactions. "If your dog all of a sudden starts itching, scratching or biting its paws, you can play doggie detective," Peterson says. "Ask yourself, 'Did I just use a new rug cleaner or sprinkle something on the rug?’ The product itself may be safe, but individual dogs may have a reaction to it."

How Dog Germs Spread

If you share food with your beloved dog, make room in your bed for the happy tail wagger or allow a face lick or two, you’re not alone.

Many dog owners share in this close-proximity manner with their beloved pups. But are you placing your health at risk when you do so? A study by a Kansas State University assistant professor offers insight into how germs are spread between dogs and their owners.

Good News and Bad
Kate Stenske, DVM, Ph.D., found that owners who bond in such ways with their dogs are no more likely to share the same strains of E. coli bacteria with their pets than dog owners who are more reserved in their interactions. Just 10 percent of the dog-human pairs shared the same E. coli strains, says Dr. Stenske, whose findings have been accepted for publication in the American Journal of Veterinary Research.

However, Dr. Stenske and other experts point out that this study focused on just one type of bacteria. Dogs can transmit other diseases, such as ringworm, hookworms, roundworms and campylobacteriosis, an infectious bacterial disease. Aside from keeping your dog in prime condition with regular veterinary visits, a good diet and exercise, there is one thing that you can do by yourself to safeguard against both dog- and human-spread diseases: wash your hands. Dr. Stenske documented an association between antibiotic-resistant E. coli and owners who didn’t wash their hands after petting their dogs or before cooking.

Proper hand washing tops these best health practices recommended by experts:

  1. Wash your hands Hand washing is the most important thing we can do to minimize the spread of any bacterial infection. It seems pretty basic, right? However, it’s a matter of remembering to do so at the right times and in the right manner. Wash your hands after petting sessions with your pup, as well as before and after handling your dog’s food. Too many of us tend to give a quick wash of the palms. “My favorite is good ol’ soap and water and a good 10-second scrub,” Dr. Stenske says. Don’t forget to wash the tops of your hands and your nails, then dry very well.

  2. Avoid face licking Experts still advise against that exuberant, sandpaper-rough face licking dogs occasionally deliver. “I don’t encourage it in my dog, and I always try to wash my face afterward,” says Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine. Young people, the elderly or the immunocompromised can be more at risk for obtaining an illness from a face-licking pup.

    Young puppies and sick dogs are more likely to acquire germs from you in this manner as well. For instance, human noses can carry the germs for certain bacterial infections and may pass them along to our dogs. The young are at risk because their immune systems aren’t fully developed. The elderly and the ill might have weakened immune systems.

  3. Maintain your dog’s hygiene Give your dog regular baths to help minimize the spread of germs. Keeping your dog free of ticks and fleas further plays a role in ensuring your pal’s health and your own.

  1. Maintain your dog’s good health Regular veterinarian visits, updated shots, and deworming when necessary, are all very important.

  2. Feed smartly Avoid sharing food with your pup and don’t allow it to hunt; feed on garbage; or eat raw or undercooked meat, milk or eggs. In addition, feed your dog inside. Food fed outdoors can attract wildlife, increasing your dog’s risk for rabies or other diseases that can be spread by wild critters.

  3. Scoop the poop safely Cleaning up is one part of dog ownership no one relishes, but being fastidious about how you clean up your dog’s waste is critical, say the experts. After all, E. coli is spread through contact with contaminated feces, or by contact with something the contaminated waste has touched. Use a scooper and gloves, making sure to wash your hands afterward. Be sure to also clean your dog’s fur if your pal happens to mess his coat a bit.

We don’t live in a sterile world, and you want a loving relationship with your dog. Numerous other studies report that owning a dog has positive health effects for us, humans, so this one area of cleanliness concern represents a rare, yet important, exception to the general rule. “We should not be afraid of our dogs,” says Dr. Stenske. “I’m very close with my dog. You use common sense. We should be clean ourselves, and we should keep our pets clean, too.”

Treat Training in Seven Steps

At a recent dog training class in Northern California, the canine excitement was hard to contain. Tails wagged while eager barks filled the air. All dog eyes were directed toward the friendly trainers. Specifically, the dogs' attention was riveted to what was on the waist of each trainer: a belt holding a pouch full of dog biscuits and treats.

The canines' interest was understandable: Many biscuits and treats on the market today are made with high-quality, nutritious ingredients that your dog craves, such as cooked chicken and savory lamb. During training sessions, rewarding your dog with such a biscuit or treat shouldn't be viewed as a bribe, but rather as a non-threatening incentive your dog will understand. Food works wonders in breaking the language barrier between you and your pet. It's like the universal “thank you” of the animal world.

PetSmart pet care manager Kenny Geisler of Daly City, Calif., is an expert on how to best use dog biscuits and treats during training sessions. Here's how you can follow his lead, too:

Allow your dog to sample the treat “Your dog needs to understand that a reward is coming,” says Geisler. To do this, break off a small piece of a biscuit and give it to your pet. Place the rest of the biscuit in your treat pouch or pocket, making sure that your dog sees you doing this. Don't repeat this initial sampling phase too many times, or else your dog will figure out that it can get something for nothing. “The point is to just allow your dog to taste the reward so he or she will wonder, ‘How do I get some more of that?' But don't overdo it,” adds Geisler.

Use small treats or biscuits A recent scientific study tested whether dogs prefer a big hunk of meat to several smaller pieces. Quantity won. Similar tests have been conducted with birds, which also gravitate toward multiple food items, even if the edibles matched up evenly in terms of overall calories and nutrition. Break larger treats into pieces, advises Geisler, or simply purchase smaller-sized biscuits and treats for your regular training sessions.

Vary the flavors Canines are smart, curious animals, so they like to spice up their lives with variety from time to time. The same holds true for people. “Giving your dog the same biscuit or treat every day is comparable to a spouse taking a husband or wife out to dinner each night, but they always go to the same place, and there is only one thing on the menu,” says the PetSmart dog lover. After a while, the reward loses its value. If you change the flavor every so often, you will pique your dog's curiosity and stand a better chance of holding its interest.

Be timely with food rewards Geisler recommends that all treats are given within one to two seconds of your dog following the command. “Any later and your dog may not link the food to the desired action,” he explains. Also, take care not to reward too quickly, such as before your dog has finished doing whatever is asked of it. If your dog is about to lie down and is rewarded midway, it may think you want it to crouch! That's happened before to perplexed PetSmart training session participants.

Alternate food rewards with petting and verbal praise If you always offer food when your pal is behaving, it could become spoiled and will forever expect such treatment. This can be particularly awkward when you don't happen to have any biscuits or treats, such as when you are out on the town with your pet. “Change up your reward system,” says Geisler. “Give affection and verbal praise one day, food treats the next.”

Don't vary treat quality Professional dog trainers often learn about negative versus positive contrasts. You never want to follow a positive with a negative. “For example, you shouldn't give your dog grilled steak for five days and then wonder why he doesn't behave when you reward him with a stale dog biscuit,” the pet care manager says. Given the variety and quality of commercial pet foods, it's actually better to stick with fresh biscuits and treats instead of thinking you'll motivate your dog more with expensive human food. That may work in the short run, but you could regret the decision later.

Reward your dog with a “jackpot” when deserved “Jackpotting,” explains Geisler, “means to give your dog a huge reward when she does something over-the-top amazing.” For such special moments, you needn't worry about breaking larger biscuits into pieces or holding back. “Dogs definitely understand big versus small incentives.” Just be careful not to exceed the recommended feeding amount listed on the biscuit or treat package. For regular-sized biscuits, usually that means no more than three to four daily.

An added bonus to treat training is that many treats on the market now target health issues, such as weight gain and tooth problems. Some treats even help to promote a clean, healthy mouth and fresh doggy breath. You will appreciate this when the training session is over, and your grateful dog rewards you with a big lick on your face.

Dogs that Overdo It

If your dog is a sled dog racing over icy terrain, a weekend warrior chasing balls, or any other kind of canine athlete, there’s a chance that your pal will overdo it. Since now more than ever we include our dogs in our sports activities and exercise routines, there is a higher risk of physical injury. Experts say that strained muscles and tender paw pads are common minor injuries, while more significant hurt can include shoulder instability, back problems and a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (similar to the knee injury that plagues human athletes).

So how can you tell if your dog’s sports-related injury is treatable at home with some TLC, or if it needs immediate veterinary care? Minor injuries for homecare include:

  • Tender pads Rest is likely in order. Try to keep your dog off rough, irritating surfaces for a while so that its pads will get a chance to heal.
  • Soreness or stiffness If your dog simply seems a bit sore or stiff, rest again might be the ticket. Ice can offer some relief, if you’re patient enough to sit with your dog for about 15 minutes. Dampen the area you’re icing and apply a thin, damp towel warmed with slightly heated water, instructs Paulekas. Then apply the cold pack. Wrap it with an insulating towel for compression. Pet and reassure your dog, offering the occasional treat. Allow your dog to rest easy for the next few days so that it may recover.

Pay special attention (and keep your veterinarian’s phone number handy) if you notice your dog:

  • Refusing to bear weight If your dog can’t hold weight on a leg or is continually lifting up a paw, it’s best to see your veterinarian, as this could indicate a ligament tear or other damage to a leg.
  • Continuing to limp or cry Dr. Becky Paulekas, a Garden City, Idaho, veterinarian with canine rehabilitation expertise suggests visiting your veterinarian if, after several hours, your dog is still noticeably lame or cries when you touch an injured part of its anatomy. Continued lameness could mean damage to a joint or another serious problem, rather than just a bruise or muscle soreness.
  • Bobbing head Shoulder injuries can be subtle. If you notice your dog bobbing its head or moving its shoulder excessively, visit your veterinarian. Affected dogs might also not lift their paws up much when they walk.

Knowing your pet well and being observant about its health and personality are the best defense against sports injuries, says Paulekas. For example, your dog might be so eager to earn your favor that it will keep fetching a stick over and over, ignoring a muscle strain or exhaustion. “The dog wants to please you,” Paulekas says. “The dog has no concept of being sore the next day.”

It can help to research what sorts of activities your dog’s breed was originally intended to perform, says Seth Chodosh, founder of Running Paws, a Manhattan-based dog-jogging service and canine athletic club. After all, a tiny Pomeranian isn’t likely to make a good jogging partner, and an energetic Border collie probably won’t enjoy sedate, leisurely walks around the block.

Without a doubt, exercise and physical activity are enjoyable, important components of your dog’s life. But it’s up to you to understand your furry friend’s limits and to recognize when your dog has overdone it. Dogs are generally more durable than people, says Chodosh. He adds, “The most important part to remember is an injury can happen to any dog, from a Chihuahua to a Great Dane.’’

It’s best to avoid these injuries in the first place, since they can affect your pup for life. Here are some factors that could place your dog at risk for a sports-related injury:

  • Your dog’s weight “One of the biggest risk factors I see is obesity,” says Jennifer Hill, canine physical therapist in Helena, Mont. “That extra poundage just puts so much more stress and strain on joints.” Activities that involve sharp turns and jumping could especially add to that strain.
  • Your dog’s age Activities involving jumping or running might place too much strain on a dog suffering from arthritis, which can develop as your dog gets older.
  • Your dog’s confirmation Your dog’s build can predispose it to certain types of injuries. Dogs with large frames and slender legs, such as English bulldogs and pit bull mixes, are at risk for ligament tears and other leg injuries, says Chodosh. Dogs with long backs, such as Corgis and Dachshunds, have a predisposition to spinal injuries. For these dogs, simply jumping up onto a couch might cause a back injury, adds Hill.
  • Your dog’s conditioning You can’t turn your couch potato puppy into a distance runner overnight, although your dog likely can build endurance faster than you would, says Chodosh. If your dog isn’t in the best of shape, it’s not a good idea to suddenly start intense exercise. The same holds true for us humans. For example, do you remember your aching muscles after a weekend of softball, tennis or golf that you weren’t quite in shape for? It works the same for your dog. Hill says weekend exercise often poses problems because “the dog puts his heart into it, goes and goes and goes and ends up paying for it that evening.”