Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Digital dogs: finding reliable, accurate and useful information online

Your dog will be healthier and happier if you learn more about dogs.
Hugo, Wombat, Lisa, Abbey and Willie run and play.

The internet is an awesome resource for dog owners – between web sites, Facebook, Twitter and blogs, you can find anything and everything dog-ish. That's the good part. However, because anyone can post their stuff, the difficult part is separating good advice from bad. Here are my favourite go-to sources.

If you're starting with a fresh slate – thinking about getting a new puppy, check out Dr. Ian Dunbar's two free e-books. They're THE BEST! To set your new dog up for success, read both Before you get your puppy
and After you get your puppy.

Once you've done your homework and are ready to choose your new puppy, check out the
Regina Humane Society, Bright Eyes Dog Rescue and Petfinder. You'll find dogs of all shapes, sizes, ages and breeds – guaranteed there's one out there matching your needs.

If you're having “trouble” with your dog, this one is for you. Sue Ailsby is a local trainer who is known internationally for her effective positive training methods. Her new book is just coming out. A lot of her content is available at her web site. The section I particularly like is an intervention for a “bad dog”. I say it that way because I don't believe there are bad dogs – only dogs who don't yet know what their humans expect of them.

Got a canine medical question, check out the Merck Veterinary Manual. If you're interested in some animal medical world controversy, PetMD is a unique blogging site with posts written by veterinarians. And when you see anything by Dr. Sophie Yin it's going to be good.

Twitter is awesome. I follow some really neat people and stay on top of the breaking canine trends. It's just a little tougher to separate out the good from the bad.

Do you have a favourite online resource? Let us know about it. It might become one of our new favourites too.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My dog never gets out – right! Help your pets find their way home.

Three days. That's the amount of time your lost dog has before he or she is legally someone else's property. Bet you didn't know that. The provincial Animal Protection Act and City of Regina by-laws are very clear about ownership. While it seems a little harsh, it makes sure that animals are cared for rather than homeless.

Time and time again animal shelters hear the same story, “I didn't get a license because my dog or cat never gets out.” All it takes is once, and you've got a problem. That's why identification is so important – it's your pets best chance of finding their way back home. In Regina it also increases the number of days that your pet is your property from three to 10. There are lots of identification options with lots of pros and cons, so it's best for your pets to wear a bunch:

  • Tattoos - anyone can see that they're dealing with an owned dog. However, over time, they become difficult to read. And, if you've got a “used” dog who has already been tattooed, contact the veterinary clinic who did the original tattoo so they can update their files with your contact information.
  • Microchips are very permanent. However, they must be read using a scanner so they're not accessible for Joe Public to easily check. As well, some times the chip travels from the insertion point to other parts of the body, so they can be missed even by those who regularly use the scanners.
  • City licenses – typically connect your dog with the their most current owner contact information. However, they can fall off, so it's important to make sure they're tightly hooked to the collar. As a side benefit, they often they include a “get out of jail free card” saving you lots of money if your pet gets out and turns up a shelter.
  • Store-bought ID tags that contain name and contact numbers are great for people who live in areas without licensing bylaws like me. They're easy to read by anyone.
  • ID collars – because your dog's name and your phone number are embroidered onto the collar, they're easy to read. (Using a sharpie marker on a plain collar works too.) However, the collars themselves can fall off especially if your dog looses weight, or if it's loose.
  • Rabies tags – because this vaccine is highly controlled, this extra tag can lead your dog back home.
You can be proactive by keeping a file on each pet that contains all of their information - identification markings, health records, photographs, etc. A more high-tech option is to register your pets in advance on PetLynx. They connect lost and found dogs to owners, animal shelters, municipal animal services, and others. By creating a profile for each of your pets in advance, should they ever become lost, you won't waste time searching for their vital information and photos, you can simply change their status to lost and be connected to matching found dogs. They offer a free seven day trial, and have different upgrade packages.

If you lose your pet, be proactive – quickly! Because animals roam, it's important to contact your local and surrounding area humane societies and municipalities. By having your pets wear lots of identification, checking in with municipalities, and doing your own lost dog posting, you're more likely to help your pet come back home.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The $1,600 Dieffenbachia plant: helping your pet avoid poisonous plants

Blossom is a very, very lucky girl. One day while home alone, she decided to graze on some leafy greens. Unfortunately, her choice was the toxic Diefenbachia plant. After work, her mom noticed a drooling, wheezing, non-responsive dog with blue hazing over her eyes (she said she looked like a fish does before it dies!), so she rushed Blossom off to her veterinarian. $1,600 later, Blossom was fine, and plant simply had a good pruning.

The toxic Diefenbachia plant before Blossom ate it

When dogs eat this type of plant, their esophagus swells and they suffocate to death. Unfortunately, the German shepherd and black lab, who were at the same clinic earlier ate only two leaves from similar plants. Both died.

When you live with pets and plants, toxicity should be top of mind because lots of house and garden plants are toxic to pets. I love dogs, and plants. As a University of Saskatchewan Prairie Horticulture Certificate program graduate, my tip for you is that when you live with pets and bring plants into your life, be cautious.

Here's what being cautious looks like. I live on an acreage and can always use more plants. Last summer, a friend offered me some perennial Solomon's seal plants. Right away, I accepted. My next move was to figure out this plant. I Googled it to find out its Latin name, which is Polygonatum, and quickly discovered that it's toxic to dogs, which made my planting location really easy – I would bring it in, but keep in a dog-free area of my yard.

Because many plants are location-specific - eg. what we grow in Saskatchewan is different than what is grown in California - there's no one “go-to” source for information about plant/pet toxicity. Most plants have at least two names, and more than likely many names. For example, Saskatchewanians are very proud of our saskatoon berry, which is just one of its “common names”. However, the “Latin name” for this plant is Amelanchier alifolia, and other common names for exactly the same plant are serviceberry, sarvice berry, Juneberry and shadebush. After doing the research, I wouldn't let my dogs eat Saskatoons or chew on the bush. According to the Government of Canada “The shrub has an hydrogen cyanide (HCN) potential high enough to kill cattle and mule deer. Mule deer that ingested 1 kg of fresh weight per day were poisoned and died within 24 h of the appearance of clinical signs”.

Know and research the common and Latin names of plants your dog has access to - this goes for both indoor house plants and outdoor petscaping. When it doubt, err on the side of caution.Here are some additional resources to help you out:

Government of Canada

Pet Poison Helpline

ASPCA Poison Control Centre

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Doggie dental hygiene: their teeth are in your hands

Eli is 10 years old and has only one tooth. This little guy was recently adopted by a Regina family, and he obviously had bad teeth. Periodontal (gum disease) is one of the most common dog diseases, and is often preventable.

Tartar and plaque build up, then the gums recede, and infection starts. It’s nasty. Serious dental issues seem to be more common in small dogs than large. It’s often diet related – created by a soft food diet . . . think Cesar supplemented with lots of soft treats. Although they like the taste, the dog’s teeth get coated with food without ever getting a good scrubbing. Soft food is ok, but dogs need crunchy stuff too. (I know they get this stuff because their people love them, but loving them through food can hurt them.)

Unfortunately we see a lot of dogs with dental issues.

What you’ll notice with gum disease is nasty mouth odour when things get infected, and the cost of dental cleanings and extractions. A lot of people pay hundreds and thousands of dollars to fix the problem. However, some people chose not to fix it – that’s mean. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had dental infections, and they hurt – a lot. I can’t imagine the pain that some of these dogs live with. (Dr. Paddy Khuly, a veterinarian blogger, suggests that people who chose not to fix their dog’s mouth infections otherwise known as medical neglect should be charged with animal cruelty. Think about that.) Unfortunately, if the problem isn’t treated early, older dogs may have to suffer in pain for the reminder of their lives because using anesthetic on older dogs can be deadly.

Unless it’s genetic or caused by accident, so many dental problems are preventable. While tooth brushing is an option, I don’t know of many who make the effort to do it. Good on you if you do. Providing your dog with crunchy stuff is a good alternative. The Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) awards a registered seal of approval for products that are clinically proven to control plaque and tartar. Frankly, everyone trying to sell you something claims their product helps, but products on this list are tested and scored using established protocols – so they're scientifically proven, not just a marketing claim. There is one caution here – VOHC tests for plaque and tarter control, they don’t test products to determine if they're otherwise healthy or safe.

For many dogs, chewing raw (never cooked) bones or elk antlers works well too. Keep in mind that anything designed to be chewed may break and cause intestinal problems or injury. Most dogs enjoy chewing, and typically spend a few minutes chewing rather than bolting it down whole or in large pieces. However, you know your dog – if they don’t chew thoroughly, don’t give it to them. And, if you notice sharp edges or small pieces, take it away.

Talk with your veterinarian about what’s best for your dog. And, check your dog’s mouth regularly for signs of tartar or plaque build-up or infection. When it comes to your dog’s dental health, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dog rescue is good for the soul

Edmonton volunteer Allyson with Chewie, and Regina's Sheri with Leia.
Both dogs now live with their new family and two other boxers in BC.

A lot of people are attracted to specific breeds because of certain looks, temperament, or even familiarity. For example, someone’s childhood dog was a beagle, so they’re forever in love with beagles.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that you don’t need to go through a breeder to get a purebred dog. They’re constantly available through shelters and rescue groups. They’re perfectly good pets who are given up for a lot of reasons – some times it’s because their people didn’t realize the commitment it takes to have a dog, some times it’s because life has thrown the family a curve ball in the way of divorce, illness, or job loss.

The Bourries family has been lovingly fostering and adopting boxers for eight years. I asked them to share their inspiring story.

Lovely Libby was Sheri’s first rescue boxer.

1. What attracts you to the breed?

Boxers are the clowns of the dog world, they have great personalities and love to play. They are very social animals and are great with kids. Boxers are loyal family dogs and are very good protectors of home and family. They are athletic and strong, making them great running partners or agility dogs. We also like their short coats and easy care.

Sheri's family fostered the mange puppies Truman (next photo)
and Maggie last summer. Truman is living happily ever after in Winnipeg.
Maggie now lives in Regina.

2. Which rescue group are you involved with?

We volunteer for Without Borders Boxer Rescue, which is located in British Columbia. WBBR affiliates with Boxer Rescue LA, and we place dogs in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

3. When did you get involved?

We have been involved with boxer rescue since 2002. We had purchased a puppy from a breeder and fell in love with the boxer breed. When we were looking for a second dog we discovered rescue and were amazed at the sheer number of beautiful boxers who were available for adoption. We were surprised at the number of purebred boxers who were looking for homes through no fault of their own. This problem has only gotten worse with the downturn of the economy, especially in California. We adopted our first boxer in September 2002 and just adopted our second in September 2010.

Rigby and Truman share a snugly moment.

4. Why do you take adult and senior dogs instead of puppies?

We prefer older dogs as we do not have the time or energy for puppies. Training and socializing a puppy and young dog takes a lot of time and effort. With an older dog you know what size they are going to be, their temperament is much easier to determine, and they have gone through the puppy stage of chewing and being into everything!

We have always adopted senior dogs as most people prefer young adults or puppies, and the seniors can spend years waiting for home. Senior dogs have many years of life in them, and they are more settled than younger dogs. Senior dogs are so grateful for a home, and they are much more adaptable to your routine rather than you adapting to the dog's needs.

The Bourries just adopted Kady, their new lady.

5. What is most rewarding for you about being involved with a rescue group?

This is a tough question as there are so many rewarding aspects to rescue. I love placing a dog with a family and seeing how happy the dog and the family are. Education is another big part of the rescue group. Some people are not sure what they are looking for and after spending time with them we can help them decide. If a boxer is not the right dog for a family I will always refer them to another rescue - there are breed-specific rescues for every breed of dog.

We stay in touch with our adopters for as long as they have our dogs, the follow up visits and emails are always wonderful, and it is great to experience the ripple effect of rescue when people refer their friends to us. The biggest reward is to see a dog who was previously homeless, maybe neglected or abused now living with a loving family and enjoying life.

We are huge advocates of rescue, there are far too many people who will buy a puppy on impulse without spending the time to research the breed or even if their lifestyle is conducive to a dog. I encourage anyone who is considering getting a dog to get in touch with a rescue group to see if rescue is for them.

If you’re planning to bring a new dog into your home, instead of going to a breeder, consider getting a gently loved older dog. Check out your local shelter,, or a local or breed-specific rescue group. If you’re interested in boxers, visit the the Without Borders Boxer Rescue Web site or send Sheri an e-mail ( She loves living with and chatting about boxers.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Pooches and pumpkin: pup-ular ideas for decorating and eating

With Halloween just around the corner, and the supermarket full of pumpkins, here are some ideas to make the most of your pumpkins.

I found these neat dog themed stencils online last year. Although it looked easy, it was really tough cutting, and took a lot longer than I thought. Use the stencils, but instead of cutting, use a Sharpie marker to draw on your pumpkin. That way after Halloween, you can recycle and reuse your whole pumpkin.

In addition to being a super-food loaded with potassium, pumpkin is a wonderful natural remedy for your dog’s constipation or diarrhea. Just put a dollop of cooked pumpkin onto their regular food - or put it into a Kong toy as a treat – when there’s an occasional bout, or every day to keep them regular. Make sure it’s “just” pumpkin, not pumpkin pie filling, which is loaded with sugar. However, if diarrhea or constipation lasts for more than a day or two, it may be serious and need a trip to your vet.

To process your fresh pumpkin:
  • cut the top off as though you’re making a jack-o-lantern
  • scoop out the seeds and “guts”
  • place it on a cookie sheet, pop it into the oven, and roast it; or pop it in your microwave on a vegetable setting, until it comes out soft so you can easily scoop out the flesh
  • to freeze it, put the cooked pumpkin into zip lock bags, or for single servings, in greased ice cube trays

You can even roast the seeds and eat them yourself or feed them to Fido.

  • rinse the seeds and pick out the pulp and strings
  • spread them out on a baking sheet (greased or lined with a silicone sheet) – if you’re eating them, you may want to add spices or salt. For Fido, that’s not necessary.
  • bake at 325’ F for about 25 minutes, stirring half way through

Anything left is perfect for the compost heap.

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Puparazzi: Taking action photographs of your dog

Even an expressive, jet black dog like Wilson takes a great photo
with the right lighting and camera angle.

I’m pretty excited - I bought a new camera last week – the main reason – to take doggie photos. I love taking pictures of happy dogs – and people tend to like my photos too, so here are a few of my learn-as-I-go tips. I’m a point-and-shoot kind of gal, so this is about what you're shooting, not how to use your camera. Don’t expect anything that’ll help you set your aperture and IS0 – you’re on your own for the technical stuff.

Most photos need three basic ingredients – a happy dog, a pretty location and sunshine – with you being on the right spot to focus the shot. These tips work really well for black dogs, who are sometimes more difficult to photograph.

Start with one happy dog. You are their everything – they watch you, they come to you for treats, hugs and to know that their world is safe. Know what your dog loves – treats, running, balls, toys, belly rubs – and work with it. If they like to play chase, play chase. And on the flip side, watch for hackles up or calming signals that tell you your dog isn’t happy – ears back, lip licking without you luring with a treat, yawning, etc. If you see any of that, first focus on calming your dog to make them happy, then try the photo thing much later. Use every moment – even photo taking – to reinforce training by rewarding good behaviours such as coming and sitting, and by completely ignoring and walking away from any undesirable behaviours such as jumping and barking.

Pick your location and set up your background. Look at your environment and pick a background for your photo. In our kennel yard, I like “framing” the dogs with grass, trees and fields in the background, rather than the building and parking lot. By doing that, the dog is the main topic in the photo. Watch for distractions too. In my yard, if I take the photo from the wrong angle, it looks like a tree is growing out of the dog’s head – like antlers.

It could have been a great photo of Bailey,
but there's a horrible tree growing out of her head!

Use sunshine as your helper.
For best results, the sun should be to your back or side. Because it creates dark shadows on their face, never face the sun when taking your dog’s photo. I find that early or late in the day creates the nicest facial shadows. Photographs taken at mid-day or just before dusk can have some odd lighting and cast some unflattering shadows. Watch how your own shadow enters the photograph. I’ve got countless images where my own shadow looks like a looming zombie attacking the poor dog! Taking photos on cloudy days is OK, but never as good as on a sunny one.

Be on your dog’s level. My best action photos are where I’m with the dog on their level – where I squat, sit or even lay down on the ground. After their initial energy burst, most dogs tend to come looking for you– they want to be with you. When you’re on their level, you catch the best facial expressions. For your own safety, it's best to always pay full attention to your dog when they're enjoying any off-leash freedom. Adolescent dogs in particular can get carried away and plow into you - especially if you're down at their level - so it's best that you always know where they are and keep an agile, ready-to-go-in-any-direction stance (and duck and hide your head).

My two typical photos are running dog and sitting pretty.

For running dog photos, simply photograph them enjoying their run. Another way to get interesting expressions is to walk with your dog, and when they’re not paying attention run in the opposite direction (towards the sun), turn around quickly, then snap another photo of them running towards you.

Lacey is my little darling who always comes running to me.

For sitting pretty photographs, you need treats or something they love - like a ball. Once the dog has had a bunch of fun, reward them for sitting with a couple of treats, then hold a treat by the camera lens. Voila – you’ve got them posing for their picture.

Buddy sits pretty for a tasty duck jerky treat.

Focus the shot.
Famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky skated to where the puck was going (rather than to where it was) … photographing dogs is a lot like that. Watch your dog’s movement, then aim and focus your camera where you think they’ll run – rather than to where they are. When your dog runs through that spot, click, you’ve got them. Trying to catch up to your dog to focus while your dog is running usually results in a blur.

Getting a great shot of Ashley is all about
anticipating where the dog is going, not where she is.

Finally, don’t get fixated. Have some fun, take a few photos, then put the camera away and have more fun. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get that perfect shot – after all, it’s about being with and enjoying your dog – and tomorrow is another day.

If you’ve got any other helpful tips, please share – I’d love to hear about them.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Feeding raw food: Dogs are what they eat

Nelson is fully powered by raw. He really loves bison, beef and chicken – all served up pink and bloody. Many “dog people” are really familiar with the raw diet, but for some pet people, this is a totally new concept.

Deciding what to feed your pet is a lot like deciding what to feed yourself - you can live on cheeseburgers and fries, pre-packaged frozen foods, vitamin enriched home-made granola, something in-between or combinations. For all of these options, you are making choices between nutrition, convenience and cost. And - you feel different depending on the diet you choose – so does your dog!

Why people choose raw

Packaged pet food came out in the mid 1900’s to get rid of food processing plant by-products. Since then, pet food manufacturers have done a great job telling you you can’t feed your dog “people food”. Other than a few food items that are toxic to dogs, there’s no difference between healthy people food and healthy dog food, other than some commercial dogs foods are made with sub-standard ingredients and additives of questionable health value put together in non-human grade processing plants.

You may have heard about a BARF diet. That phrase, coined by veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst, stands for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food, or Bones And Raw Food.
With a raw diet, your dog eats natural, human-grade foods with zero additives, preservatives, and unhealthy fillers. With raw, dogs are typically very enthusiastic about meal-time. You should notice improved overall health and vitality, better stools (less of them, and they’re not stinky), a shiny coat, and healthy white teeth. After switching to raw, many dogs with chronic skin rashes, hot spots and ear infections, see noticeable improvements.

However, not all veterinarians agree that the raw diet is healthy or safe. Some love it, some hate it – so depending on your vet, you’ll get different recommendations. Some people worry about getting sick from handling raw food – the key there is to handle your dog’s food in the same way that you handle raw meat you prepare for yourself.

Choices include ingredients, grain or grain-free, and fresh or processed

  • Ingredients

A typical raw food diet includes muscle meat or fish (chicken, beef, turkey, bison, etc. - the same stuff you eat), organ meat (liver, kidney, heart, gizzards, and such), bones, eggs, and fruit and vegetables (or green tripe). Their diet may also include supplements such as plain yogurt and/or digestive enzymes, and various oils like fish or canola. The key to a raw diet is that to retain all of its health benefits, meat and bones are not cooked or processed. Vegetables are only slightly cooked.

  • Grain-free diet

Purist BARFers don’t feed grains – anything made with corn, wheat, rice, etc. Many believe that our cute little biological wolves can’t process grains, believing they're the cause of so many of our dogs' serious modern-day health issues.

  • Fresh or processed

Regardless of if you choose raw and/or grain-free, you can also either buy pre-mixed foods or make your own. For convenience sake, you can purchase pre-formed raw patties or bulk meat blocks already mixed with fruits and vegetables. Conversely, you can assemble your own ingredients. By buying inexpensive human-grade chicken necks and backs and beef liver from your grocery store, asking for dog bones at your local butcher shop, and serving left-over and over-ripe fruits and vegetables, you can create a raw buffet your dog will love. Remember that your dog is an omnivore, not a carnivore, so it’s important to feed more than meat - fruits and veggies too.

If you want to improve the quality of your dog’s diet and you’re a bit squeamish about the whole raw thing, pop these natural ingredients into a slow cooker (except the bones – never serve cooked bones) and voila – holistic canine stew – freeze it in individual packages and Fido is set for the week.

This yummy doggie supper includes a raw beef patty, an egg including shell, and fruit and vegetable mush of bananas, mixed berries, brussel sprouts and broccoli, with two salmon oil capsules.

Tips to go raw:

  • The easiest way to start is buy quick-and-easy pre-packaged raw in either patties or bulk. Three very knowledgeable and very reputable local pet food retailers that sell pre-packaged raw pet foods are: Fido and Felix Foods, Metro Pet Market and Pawsitively Purrfect.
  • Provide a variety of meat sources. Buy chicken necks and backs, and serve them to your dog whole. Check what’s on sale at your supermarket, then buy it in bulk. Know of any friends who hunt? – offer to take their left-over parts.
  • Serve in-season fruits and vegetables. For example, in the spring provide steamed spinach with over-ripe bananas, and in the fall, zucchini with ripe tomatoes. Make it easy by saving your family’s left-over fruits and veges for Fido.
  • Serve organ meat such as beef liver or heart at least once per week. (My own dogs hate pork liver. They won't eat it.)
  • Ask your favourite butcher to cut up a beef knuckle bone into separate servings. Replace a couple of meals each week with bone (it’s not in addition to supper, it’s in place of supper).
  • Serve Fido your family’s left-overs, just make sure to exclude toxic foods like onions and grapes.
  • Toss a whole raw egg in every couple of days.
  • Add a dollop of plain, unsweetened yogurt and splash of canola oil to each meal.

The goal for your dog’s diet is to provide energy and increase their health and vitality. Do what works for your dog, and don’t stick to one approach if it’s obviously not working. If your dog shows any signs of not being well, talk with your vet – some issues can be diet related.

PS Hey Booberdog, hopefully this post helps Nelson not be jealous `,:3

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Doggie Vaccination 101: understanding what’s right for your dog

My nine-year old goldens, Daisy and Buddy recently went for their annual veterinarian health check-up. After a thorough going over, Buddy got his rabies booster vaccination, and both dogs had blood drawn for their annual titer tests.

This post is for general information. Please consult with your veterinarian about your dog’s health care and vaccination needs.

If you want to start a debate between dog people, bring up the topic of food or vaccinations. Even the vets don’t agree - I don’t point this out as a bad thing –they all have different training and practical experience. There are so many opinions, and everyone is firmly entrenched in their beliefs. You’d think that something that claims to be science-based would be easy, but it’s not.

At our kennel we see many people – especially first time dog guardians – who aren’t sure what to do even after talking with their vet; for example, they get one vaccination and think they’re done, when in fact they need additional boosters and their rabies shot. If you’re new to doggie parenting, here’s vaccination 101 to help you sift through it all.

Puppies and unvaccinated or improperly vaccinated dogs are at the highest risk of infection (if I had a new puppy, I would be extremely careful around areas where dogs congregate. I would carry it into the vet’s office so it wouldn’t be exposed to anything nasty that could be lurking in the parking lot or clinic itself). Dogs who socialize with other dogs at parks, grooming shops, dog training facilities, dog shows, doggie day cares and boarding kennels are at a greater risk of disease exposure. Dogs who interact with wildlife have a greater risk of rabies exposure. Vaccination is proven to minimize risk.

There are several different canine vaccinations your vet can choose from. In our part of Saskatchewan, veterinarians typically recommend a series of three to four shots for some combination of these diseases:
By vaccinating against distemper, parainfluenza, and adenovirus, dogs are protected against the respiratory disease Infectious Tracheobronchitis. Veterinarians may or may not recommend vaccination against Bordetalla or other vaccines depending on their philosophies towards vaccination and your dog’s risk factors. Risk factors are based on your pet’s lifestyle and geographic area where specific diseases may be prevalent. For example, a dog that lives in a city apartment is at much less of risk of contracting Leptospirosis than a rural dog who is exposed to raccoons.

After the puppy vaccines, your veterinarian will create a schedule of revaccination that includes the core vaccines – distemper, parvovirus (parvo) and rabies boosters, along with other non-core vaccines. If you check your dog’s vaccination certificate you’ll see a expiry dates for either disease names or some combination D, H and P's. (This is not to be confused with the vaccination expiry date – otherwise known as the best before date on the vaccine itself.)

Depending on where you live, there are laws that govern rabies vaccination. If you’re traveling with your pet for pleasure or to move, make sure you understand the vaccination requirements for different countries, provinces and states. Likewise, there are no common standards for boarding kennel vaccination protocols, so based on their experience and judgement, everyone does things a little bit different. If you’re boarding your dog, understand the specific vaccination policies for each of the kennels you plan on using.

Bordetella is the interesting vaccination. Some veterinarians encourage this vaccination – and some discourage it saying that it’s not overly effective. Some kennels insist on it, others don’t. Our perspective is that we admit dogs who are vaccinated according to their veterinarian’s wishes. In the best interest of the dog’s health, we won’t contradict a veterinarian’s recommendation. They’re the professionals in this matter, not us. The Bordatella vaccine is typically given as a nasal spray or injected vaccination with a booster. We like to think about it as being very similar to the flu shot for people. Some people get it, some don’t. Most often if a dog gets kennel cough, it’s like a person getting a common cold – uncomfortable, but for healthy dogs not life-threatening.

Other vaccinations and preventative treatments are more location-based. For example, ten years ago my dog would get the heartworm pill. However, given that there has only been one confirmed Saskatchewan originating case of Heartworm (and that dog was imported from the southern states), today my veterinarian doesn’t recommend heartworm treatment for my dogs.

The Controversy

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Vaccination manufacturers needed to prove that the vaccines are effective for one year, which they did. What no one has proven though is how long those vaccinations are effective for – one, three, five years – or possibly a lifetime. As well, what also hasn’t been proven is the negative impact of over-vaccination. There is growing evidence that chronic illness increases with vaccination repetition and, although rare, reactions and complications occur.

Changing Protocols

Most veterinarians used to revaccinate annually. Because of new information, many, but not all clinics, are changing to a more customized approach based on each individual dog. Many dogs are now on a three-year protocol, get vaccinations postponed if ill, and stop vaccinating after the dog is geriatric – typically around ten years of age. Some veterinarians give all three vaccines at once, and others give parvo one year, distemper the next, and rabies during the third year. That way the dog still gets their very important annual health check-up, but doesn’t get vaccinated for things they don’t need. Not all clinics have adopted these new approaches.

Some veterinarians now offer alternatives to “regular” vaccinations. By drawing blood to do a titer test otherwise known as a serologic titer, they measure antibody response to a specific disease. Some diseases have been studied enough to know what level of antibody protects against that disease. This level is called a "protective titer." In Saskatchewan, they typically titer test for distemper and parvo. To get a rabies titer, your dog’s blood sample needs to be shipped all the way to Kansas, so it’s rarely done here.

To save money, some people choose to vaccinate their own dogs. I’m not at all keen on that. Vaccines must be handled in very specific ways (refrigerated), and be administered correctly to healthy animals. By self-administering, there is a greater risk to your dog because of product deterioration due to poor handling by the shipper, wholesaler, retailer or you, and ineffectiveness due to improper injection. As well, veterinarians are trained to ask the right questions about your dog’s health – and keep abreast of changing standards and protocols.

Some people choose not to vaccinate. That is a choice you can make. However, before making that decision, talk with a shelter worker who has experienced a distemper outbreak, or who has watched a “parvo puppy” suffer and die. As well, by making the choice to not vaccinate without your veterinarian’s blessing, you’re also making the choice to not board, groom or train your dog at a professional facility.

Daisy’s titer counts came back within range, and Buddy’s parvo is ok and distemper is lower than last year. We’ve got an appointment with our veterinarian to talk about whether he needs a distemper booster this year, or if it can wait another year. Because the kennel we take them to while we go away on vacation insists on Bordatella, both dogs will get the nasal vaccination in October. My veterinarian doesn’t recommend Bordatella for my two, so if that kennel didn’t insist, they wouldn’t get it.

My recommendation is that you know your dog, their environment and their lifestyle and travel risk factors – consult with your veterinarian to create a vaccination system that reduces risk and improves your dog’s quality of life, then, watch for and let your vet know of any post-vaccination symptoms.

If you’re interested in this topic, here are some additional useful resources: