Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reducing your dog’s environmental paw print

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

- Gandhi

Lots of people are getting onto the environmental bandwagon by reducing, reusing, recycling and recovering, but often don’t think about making environmentally friendly choices for their pets. There are lots of little things that you can do to make a big difference.

When getting a new pet, start the reuse cycle by adopting a shelter or rescue dog.

Buy quality, bulk, minimally packaged food and treats – or make your own using fresh, locally sourced ingredients. In addition to being healthier overall, quality food creates less poo. Recycle pet food cans and plastic packaging.

Speaking of poo, clean up after your dog, using biodegradable bags, and rather than sending your poo to the landfill, set up a backyard compost station.

Support local vendors who produce earth-friendly food and toys. But don’t get green-washed - ask questions to find out how many kilometres their product travels to reach you to move between manufacturer, warehouse, retailer and you. Often there’s a lot of back-tracking, so the product is far less environmentally friendly than you may have thought it to be.

Select long-lasting toys. My dog Daisy goes through stuffed toys way too quickly – but a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or frozen kibble lasts.

Use earth-friendly shampoos and grooming products.

Use natural and safe parasite treatments instead of toxic chemicals. Natural isn’t always safe, so make sure that you understand what you’re putting on your dog. Before you treat with anything, if you don’t understand it, ask your vet about it.

Choose collars, leashes and clothing made with environmentally friendly fabrics like hemp.

Use towels and blankets as bedding from second-hand stores. Get creative by transforming those towels and blankets into artistic, original, hand-made dog beds.

Take long walks. It’s a great way to bond with your dog, while avoiding more environmentally un-friendly entertainment choices. While you’re out, bring a filled and lidded-water bowl so you don’t need to purchase environmentally unfriendly, bottled water.

When packing your dog’s bags when going on vacation, rather than using plastic baggies for their toys, treats and food, use reusable, washable packaging.

When you buy and do anything, rethink it to discover more earth-friendly options.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bond with your dog using positive training methods

Our first Golden Retriever Gryphon came to live with us in the eighties. We were young. We didn’t know what to do for him. We enrolled him in puppy kindergarten and thoroughly loved the experience. In addition to great early socialization Gryphon learned the basics of sit, stay, come and heel. We liked it so much that we signed up for the next class. What an eye-opener. The instructor told us to stick a dumbbell into his mouth, then pinch his ear until he held the weight. We couldn’t do it. We left and never went back. We couldn’t believe that good dog training included pain.

Years later with Daisy and Buddy we discovered agility. We had fun learning clicker training, playing games and exercising their minds. Then the new instructor yelled at Daisy until she cowered and hid in her crate. Agility was supposed to be a fun, bonding experience, and Daisy obviously wasn’t having fun. We left.

Today, I attended an incredibly wonderful workshop with Sue Ailsby. Working with dogs and llamas, Sue has experience with just about every competition possible. She’s wonderful. She believes that balanced dogs do things because they want to please you – and when you’re pleased, their world is full of good things. Her fundamentals are teach them to learn, reward their good behaviour, and ignore everything else. Within five minutes and without a word being spoken or negative correction applied, we watched Stitches (Sue’s companion show, sport, and service dog) figure out how to weave under a chair, then sit proudly on it.

Training can be a positive bonding experience for you and your dog. To learn about Sue’s BOOK of TRAINING LEVELS, visit her web site at When you research your local training options, look for instructors who use positive methods such as clickers, treats and affection, and avoid those who use corrections, choke chains and aggression to dominate their dogs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs: Small doses for small animals

Book Review

In this book, author Don Hamilton, DVM, discusses his transformation from conventional to homeopathic veterinarian. Early in his 20-year practice, he grew increasingly frustrated when dealing with chronic disease, such as ear and skin infections, that would not respond to conventional treatment.

Dr. Hamilton provides his thoughts around the “limitation of conventional medicine”, the theory of health and disease, specific condition treatments, an in-depth discussion about vaccination, and finally, individual medicines (remedies). The forward is written by renowned homeopathic veterinarian Dr. Richard Pitcairn whose endorsement lends credibility.

Reading this book is not a substitute for veterinary care. It should be used to help inform so you can better communicate with your veterinarian. While some people claim to practice homeopathy on animals, it’s important to choose a licensed/regulated veterinarian who understands animal physiology and medicine. To locate a homeopathic veterinarian, visit the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy web site at

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Feeding dogs bones: the great debate

Williston runs on bones. This little beagle regularly chows down on bones and is pretty happy about life. Now if you want to start a great debate, ask a room full of dog people, including veterinarians, about feeding bones. Controversy ensues, and no one agrees.

Proponents of feeding bones talk about the benefits:

  • Healthy teeth – chewing bones scrapes plaque from teeth, keeping gums healthy, which keeps breath fresh and eliminates unhealthy and expensive dental cleanings. (Unhealthy because dogs need to be sedated for most dental procedures.)
  • Exercise – eating bones is a full body experience for a dog – they get right into it, holding the bone down with their paws and tugging at it through their back and shoulders with their jaws
  • An outlet for chewing – particularly for young dogs who are teething, most will chose to nosh down on a raw bone instead of your favourite piece of furniture
  • Nutritious – provides calcium and other nutrients
  • Entertainment value– chewing bones is an endurance activity where dogs spend hours at it making their days happily pass by

Opponents talk about the risks of feeding bones:

  • Serious health problems – choking or gastrointestinal obstruction (GI) occur when bone splinters or chunks break off and lodge in the dog’s throat restricting breathing, or somewhere in the dog’s intestines causing life-threatening circulatory problems
  • Bacteria – ingesting bones brings salmonella and parasites into your home that can infect your dog and family
  • Cracked or broken teeth – vigorous bone chewing can break pieces of teeth causing pain and expense
  • Digestive problems – dogs vomit or get diarrhoea from eating bones
  • Obesity – dogs eat too much, then get fat
  • Aggression – by eating raw bones, dogs become aggressive

I'd love to find some science-based information on this heavily debated topic.

In my opinion RAW bones – never cooked or smoked - are good for some, but not all dogs for the reasons stated above. Cooked bones are much more likely to splinter and cause harm and should never be served.

Most dog toys and treats are not government regulated, so many of the negatives that can happen with bones, can happen with other pet-store supplied goods. Really, how healthy is that pig’s ear you just fed your dog?

Bones can cause serious health problems, and so can lots of other things. We know of dogs that have eaten rocks, bath towels, Power Rangers and baby soothers that have gotten lodged in their intestines. All of these needed veterinary care and in some cases painful and expensive and surgery – and in one case, death. There are risks, and those risks are present every day when you live with a dog.

If your dog gets digestive problems, cut back on the amount of bone you’re serving – it’s likely the rich marrow that’s causing the problem.

Obese dogs are given too many calories. Those calories can come from food, treats or bones. It’s up to humans to provide suitable serving sizes.

Aggression and food aggression in particular is not caused by bones. All dogs should be trained to give items, including food and bones, to their people.

If you want to serve bones as part of your dog’s diet:

  • Buy raw bones with meat attached. If you’re unsure, go to a specialty pet store and they can guide you in the right direction. Keep the marrow, and remove large chunks of fat. The serving size should be appropriate to your dog’s size.
  • To minimize bacteria issues, feed bones, and all meals for that matter, in a place away from people– eg. outside or on a washable mat. In the book Not Fit for a Dog, Veterinarian Michael Fox recommends scalding raw bones to reduce the risk.
  • When giving bones or other foods or toys, supervise your dog so you know they’re ingesting properly and not choking.

Do your own research and make choices that are right for you and your dog. If you love heated, controversial debates, next time you’re out with dog people, bring the topic up.

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