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.

Hydrotherapy Helps Dogs Get in Shape for Adoption

Emma, a golden retriever, clearly loves her hydrotherapy sessions at Doggie Paddle in Portland, Oregon. The two and a half-year-old swims for 45 minutes with the water jets blasted on high. And then there’s two-year-old Labrador retriever Seamus. “He won’t get out of the pool unless he’s retrieved four rubber chickens. Not two or three, but always four,” says Julie Thomas, who owns the canine therapeutic swimming and exercise business.

While the sessions might seem like fun and games to Emma and Seamus, hydrotherapy provides important physical therapy to dogs, especially those who have difficulty engaging in regular outdoor activities. “It can be comparable to human physical therapy, only for dogs,” Thomas says.

What Is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy usually involves either a small pool with a treadmill or, in the case of Doggie Paddle, a larger pool with adjustable swim jets that provide resistance. With the latter on high, just a five minute swim can be equivalent to a five mile run. Most facilities keep the temperature comfortable and warm. Chlorine can irritate the skin, coat and eyes of dogs, so look for a pool that offers some other, gentler form of filtration and sanitizing.

Dogs either walk right in or, if they need a bit of help, are carried into the pool. “I had a Great Dane once who just lay in my arms and did not move a muscle,” shares Thomas. “I simply got behind him and moved his legs as though he were riding a bicycle.” This got his circulation going, helping to relax his muscles and improve his joint function.

Which Dogs Benefit Most From Hydrotherapy?

Thomas says that at least seven types of get the most out of hydrotherapy, including:

·         Dogs recovering from surgery. This includes canines that have undergone everything from amputations to hip surgery.

·         Overweight dogs. For pooches with packed-on pounds, swimming provides “a safe, low-impact way to burn calories.”

·         Older dogs. When arthritis kicks in and energy levels slow down, hydrotherapy can still provide your pet with regular exercise.

·         Overactive dogs. Some healthy dogs just have incredible energy to burn. They can work it off safely in the pool without driving your family nuts.

·         Sporting dogs. Dogs that compete in sports, such as agility, gain conditioning from pool time.

·         Dogs -- both literally and figuratively -- on their last legs. Thomas often sees dogs right before they are euthanized, allowing the dogs to naturally relax and providing owners with one final meaningful, shared moment with their beloved pet.

·         Dogs up for adoption. Doggie Paddle is located very near the Oregon Humane Society’s Westside adoption center.

 

How Hydrotherapy Helps Homeless Hounds

Go into any animal shelter, and you’re bound to see dogs looking less than fabulous. They are often stressed, older, out of shape and perhaps feeling unloved. That’s where Thomas’ work comes into play. For the past two years, she’s been donating swim sessions to homeless dogs and improving their chances for adoption.

“They not only get in shape physically, but they also become more socialized and used to handling,” she explains. Karl Willard, an animal care technician at the OHS, believes the shelter is the first in the country to offer this form of enrichment.

Splashy Fun for Owners Too

At some pools, such as the one at Doggie Paddle, owners can go in along with the dog(s). This can lead to a great workout for all, and what amounts to a mini-refreshing pool party.

“Sometimes friends will do this together,” Thomas says. “I have a few clients who bring all six of their bearded collies.” She has yet another client who brings her four dogs -- along with her 5-year-old son.

The Human-Dog Connection

Before starting her hydrotherapy business, Thomas earned a doctorate in adult education and gerontology. She is also certified to do hydrotherapy and massage for dogs. All have come in handy. “In terms of gerontology, the basic concepts concerning many physical issues, emotional concerns, and more carry over to dogs,” she says.

As for massage, many dogs enjoy a soothing rubdown as they enter or exit the Doggie Paddle pool via ramp. “Dogs frequently bark like crazy in their owner’s cars because they can’t wait to get here,” she says. After hydrotherapy, they display another mood, she concludes. “One dog is so relaxed that he drifts into blissful slumber after each session.”

When Is a Dog Considered a Senior?

According to guidelines published by Tufts University, "The point at which a dog qualifies as 'aged' varies. Veterinarians generally consider small dogs to be senior citizens at about 12 years of age, while large dogs reach the senior stage at 6 to 8 years of age. This roughly corresponds to the 55-plus category in people."

Beyond actual age, however, there are signs and behaviors that can, as you say, clue owners into the aging process of dogs. The Senior Dogs Project says that one of the first signs of aging in dogs is slowing down. Basic movements like getting up and climbing stairs may take a while longer, which may be evidence of possible internal changes, such as arthritis.

While we cannot prevent such physical changes from occurring, we can help to slow their rate. Robin Downing, DVM, of the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colo., shared a story with HealthyPet Magazine about a dog named Molly: “Molly wasn’t leaping on and off the beds anymore, and she didn’t want to go for long walks. Her family was worried that this dog had just suddenly succumbed to old age, but when I did a geriatric workup on her, we discovered Molly had a thyroid condition and arthritic back pain. A maintenance prescription of thyroid replacement hormone, pain and anti-inflammatory medication for the osteo-arthritis in her back, and Molly was back in business.”

Downing described a particular medical course of action for Molly, but there are some more general things you can do to stave off aging and related diseases. According to the Senior Dogs Project, these steps include:

  • Keeping your dog’s weight down (through good nutrition and regular exercise)
  • Keeping its teeth clean
  • Taking it to the vet for regular checkups
  • Being observant about symptoms that might indicate a health problem and getting prompt and appropriate veterinary attention

The good news is that dogs are now living longer, higher-quality lives. With good genes, good care and some good luck, there’s an excellent chance that your senior dog still has many more years left to enjoy with you.

Healthy Nutrition for Your Senior Dog

Are you feeding your dog age-appropriate food? As a general rule, dogs are considered to be mature when they reach 7 years of age, and true seniors at around age 11. Large breeds skew a little earlier, and small breeds skew later. While 7 might seem like a young age to change the food of a dog that’s still active and playful, experts say looks can be deceiving. “Aging brings with it physiological changes. Some are obvious, others are not,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, an Ohio-based veterinarian and technical services veterinarian for Iams who specializes in diet and nutrition. “Skin and hair coat changes may be obvious, while lean muscle mass loss and digestive or immune system failing may be less evident or hidden. Changes also include joint/mobility/flexibility concerns and oral health.”

Dog Food for Mature Dogs

Some dog foods tailored to seniors may offer lower calorie levels, which are appropriate for an assumed decrease in activity. But Dicke says food for active older dogs needs to provide enough calories and address the physiological changes happening inside. Ingredients to look for include: antioxidants, such as vitamin E, to help support waning immune system function; glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health; sodium hexametaphosphate (SHMP) for dental health; and prebiotics, like fructooligosaccharide (FOS), to support the digestive system. “A prebiotic fiber selectively feeds beneficial bacteria in the gut and starves the bad bacteria,” says Dicke. “This can create an optimal environment in the gut that can promote better digestion and actually have an influence on the immune system, as 70 percent of the immune system is located in the digestive tract.”

The right protein is another important factor at this age, according to Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian based in Alexandria, Va. “High protein in elderly dogs adds pressure on the aging kidneys. Low protein, conversely, doesn’t supply them with an adequate amount to preserve normal bodily functions, muscle mass or skin and coat. Therefore, moderate levels are ideal,” says Nelson.

How to Switch Foods
Both experts advise using the guidelines above as a starting point for discussions with your veterinarian, who should be involved in the decision to switch foods. From there, they suggest implementing the change slowly and gradually. Decide on a time period between seven and 10 days, and then give your dog a different mixture every few days. “The first two days, 25 percent of the current food volume should be replaced by the new food and gradually increase until your dog is eating 100 percent of the new product,” says Dicke.

As your dog gets even older and goes from the mature stage to the true senior stage, you may want to switch again to a food that suits a more sedentary lifestyle. That decision should be made with the close supervision of your veterinarian. If many of the early age-related changes may be hidden, the ones that follow into the senior years can be unpredictable. “Dogs, like people, age differently depending on their lifestyle and health condition,” says Nelson. Luckily, there’s likely to be a specialized food out there to help any dog age gracefully.

Senior Black Homeless Dogs in Crisis

For all dogs in shelters, the statistics are dismal. According to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), 6 to 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters each year, with 3 to 4 million of those euthanized. Although some puppies are killed, younger animals most often steal the show at adoption events as adult dogs quietly sit alone. “Older animals, animals with special medical or behavioral needs, and the more plain and nondescript animals are more difficult to adopt than puppies and kittens,” says Inga Fricke, director of Sheltering and Pet Care Issues for the HSUS.

She further says that larger animals also tend to be more difficult to adopt than smaller dogs in part because of the “cuteness” factor, but also because many Americans tend to live in urban areas and perceive smaller dogs to be a better fit.

San Francisco SPCA spokeswoman Jennifer Lu says that her organization also has trouble finding homes for special-needs dogs, even if those needs are minimal. “Any factor adding a layer of responsibility may change the commitment level, with people concerned about the financial commitment,” explains Lu.

Black, Senior Dogs Are Often Overlooked
Stephen Musso, executive vice president of the ASPCA, says many shelters report that large, black dogs are often not adopted. Some shelters even have a name for the problem: “Big black dog syndrome.” Even if a black adult dog is in perfect health and has a sweet nature, it may still remain in a shelter.

One reason is simply that black dogs are more common, perhaps because this color is just genetically more dominant among canines. Old stereotypes may also be to blame, with “Beware of Dog” signs often showing big, menacing black dogs. Books and movies, such as The Hound of the Baskervilles and the Harry Potter series, tend to present such dogs in a menacing light. The biggest reason may simply have to do with how well the dogs photograph. In this social media age, people often surf the Net before visiting shelters. Professional photographers aren’t always available to snap the most flattering shots of scared homeless canines, so some dogs disappear into dark backgrounds and poor lighting.

Turning the Tide
Groups across the country are trying to increase the rate of adoptions for all dogs, especially those that need the extra boost. Fricke shares that the HSUS has joined together with Maddie’s Fund and the Ad Council to create the first-ever public advertising campaign to promote adoption: The Shelter Pet Project. Wyoming-based Black Dog Animal Rescue and other organizations are also building awareness while finding dogs homes.

There’s good reason to pay attention. As Fricke says, such frequently overlooked dogs often make better pets. “Older animals, for example, are beyond the annoying chewing stage, are typically fully trained and are much more ‘What you see is what you get’ than younger animals who have not fully developed their personalities yet,” says Fricke.

Christina Alvarez, executive director of Hopalong & Second Chance Animal Rescue in Oakland, Calif., adds that such dogs also tend to be:

  • Potty-trained
  • Reserved and well-behaved
  • Adapted to home life
  • Appreciative of love and care
  • Eager to bond with supportive owners

Lu, who has adopted three adult dogs, advises that anyone who desires a new pet “should go in with an open heart and open eyes. Rather than sticking to predetermined characteristics, make a love connection.”

Fricke agrees: “We would love for people to bear in mind that most pets wind up in shelters through no fault of their own -- not because they have problems, but simply because their owners had personal problems, such as they needed to move, had a new baby, etc. They are wonderful, family-ready pets who only need to be given an opportunity to show how wonderful they are.”