Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Flea Treatment Alternatives

 A number of year ago myself and my family decided we wanted to start eating better quality food and basically just living a less chemically infested lifestyle. In this endeavor we included our pets. The first step we took was switching dog food. Next we began thinking about flea treatment alternatives. I started researching the ingredients in my pets flea treatment and was frightened by what I learned. Below I've listed a few of the most common ingredients in commercial flea treatment, what they are, and some of the known or suspected side effects.

  • Imidacloprid: is a systemic insecticide which acts as an insect neurotoxin. May adversely affect human health, especially the developing brain
  • Permethrin: an insecticide, acaricide, and insect repellent.  Not known to rapidly harm most mammals dangerously toxic to cats and fish.
  • Fipronil: spectrum insecticide that disrupts the insect central nervous system. Fipronil also has been reported for causing nervous system damage and reproductive damage.
    Read more:

As I read the side effects of these ingredients I started having flashbacks to Mocha and his reaction every time we put his flea treatment on. If he saw the bottle he would run away (which wasn't unusual, he'd run away when it came time for a bath too). When I eventually caught him he would start shaking and after applying it he would roll frantically on his back as if he were trying to get it off. For years I figured he was just being dramatic and overacting; some clever ploy for attention. It wasn't until after he had passed on that I realized his reactions were most likely an allergic reaction to the chemicals.

My point here is not to bash the commercial flea treatments. Many pets can use them for years without any reaction. KoKo never seemed to have any issues with them. My goal here is to stress the importance of knowing what you are using on your pet and to use those products with caution. Pay attention to how your dog or cat reacts to these things.

A year later I have not used a chemical flea treatment on any of our dogs and we've had no flea infestation.
The most important item in our new arsenal is Brewer's Yeast. We put it in the dogs food twice a day, every day. The exact amount needed depends on the size of your dog and most bottles will break it down for you. Brewer's Yeast can be purchased at your local pet store or online. They have formulas specifically for dogs or you can use the human grade Brewer's Yeast as well. Just always be certain to check with your vet before introducing anything new to your dogs diet.
Brewers Yeast for dogs

In addition to this we treat the yard with DE (diatomaceous earth) and use a mix of witch hazel and peppermint on the dogs before they go outside.

In order for these alternatives to be successful they require consistency. If you are unable or unwilling to make sure your dog eats their Brewer's Yeast everyday or to treat your yard then this probably isn't the flea solution for you. Natural alternatives require a bit more work and diligence but you'll be able to keep your pet from being exposed to harsh chemicals on a monthly basis. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Good News Everyone!

     I've been away for a while. Almost a year if the time stamp of my last blog post is to be believed.
In that time I've been dealing with a lot of personal things, which I won't go into here. On top of that I lost KoKo late last year and I haven't yet forced myself to deal with what that means to me. I'm also not going to go into that at this moment, but there will be a post in the near future about my baby girl KoKo. But not today.

     Today we're going to talk about a happy topic. We have a new addition to our dog family. Her name is Tonks. (Yes, as in Nymphadora Tonks from Harry Potter) She's a one year old Great Pyrenees that we rescued through the Great Pyrenees Club of Florida.

Tonks' first day at home
At the meet and greet we were a little disappointed when we saw her. She was dingy white, super skinny, and her fur was short. When my father knelt down and called to her (her name was Daisey at that time) she came right over to him and put her head in his lap. At that point she was ours. She and Remus sniffed each other then ignored each other. Perfect. Put her in the car and let's go home.

     She's come a long way in a short time.

     She's still too skinny but has put on some weight. Her fur, while still short, is now a bright white and is starting to grow back. She no longer cowers when we scold her and she doesn't duck her head when we reach to pet it. She's a much more confident and relaxed dog.

She loves couches
     Remus and Tonks love to play. I've never seen him play this hard before. He's never been able to play with a dog his own size. We've taken to calling them the Titans when they play. You can feel the ground vibrate as they jump on and around each other.
     My father now wants to take her to become a therapy dog. Unlike Remus who has become a Diva, not allowing strangers to pet him, Tonks goes right up to them to be pet. Having spent the first year of her life tied up outside she's more than happy to have anyone pet her.
     She's just another great example of why adopting a dog is a great way to go. It seems to me that a dog that has been abused or neglected all their life is extra loving and grateful when they finally land in a good home.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Frequently Asked Remus Questions

A couple of weeks ago I brought Remus to “Pints and Paws” in Sanford, Florida. It was a charity fundraiser event for local pet rescue organizations.
I knew that by deciding to take him I was giving up any chance at having a peaceful evening. He draws extra attention wherever I take him and this was going to be a crowded event.

I must admit, however, that I was not entirely prepared for what followed. I felt like I was the spokesperson for a movie star. If we stopped moving for too long we were soon surrounded by curious people hurling questions at us at an alarming rate: What is he? Does he shed a lot? Isn't he hot here in Florida? etc..

Allow me to take a moment to answer a few of the most frequently asked Remus questions.

What is he?: A Great Pyrenees

Does he shed a lot? Yes and no. I brush him nearly everyday, so most of that fur that would otherwise end up as giant white fur balls racing across the floor is gathered up in a brush and put safely in the trash.

How much does he weight? 130 pounds give or take.

Is he hot in Florida? Aren't you? Yes, it's hot in Florida. No, I don't shave him. Why, you ask? Because his fur works like an insulator (rather like the stuff in the walls of your house) and helps to keep him cool and warm as well as to keep his pink skin from getting a sunburn. Also, Remus has in and out rights. He can be outside for as long as he likes and he comes inside when it's too hot for him.

Despite being overwhelmed by the constant flow of repetitive questions, it was a good night. Remus brought smiles to a lot of faces and he enjoyed the attention from both the people and other dogs. One of the servers at the Willow Tree Cafe fell in love with him, bringing him is own water bowl and showing him off to the other employees and patrons. We also met one other Great Pyrenees and I was glad to hear them being asked the same questions.

I've no doubt that his picture is now plastered all over the social media pages of hundreds of complete strangers. Guess that's doggie fame for you.

P.S. A Belated St. Patty's Day picture. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Importance of Training

I cannot emphasis enough the importance of training your dog.

Without fail, whenever Remus meets new people someone will comment on how he is so well behaved. I tell them that it's because I took him to training and that this behavior doesn't just happen. Many people think "Why do I need to pay for a trainer? I can do this myself." Many people can train their dogs themselves. Many more cannot. If nothing else going to classes that you've paid for will force you to do the training. Because lets face it. Most of us are procrastinators. If I wasn't this blog would get updated far more often. But when you've paid out $100+ in training lessons, you're more likely to actually DO the training instead of saying, "I'll do it this weekend". Three years later your dog still jumps up on guest, never comes when you call him and steals food off the counter.

In addition to the wonders of a well behaved dog there is a strong and unique bond that is created between dog and owner while training. Tonight, I came home much later than usual. I went into my bedroom to put my bag away and Remus followed me. When I sat on the bed to take my shoes off he jumped up and plopped himself on my lap (or as much of him as could fit in my lap). He promptly put his head down and fell asleep while I scratched his legs. (He loves foot rubs.) As much as Remus loves everyone else in the house, he shows a definite preference for my company. Naturally, this does wonders for my ego, but it also shows the effects of the time I've spent training him. He spends more time with my mother than he does with me and she is often the one who feeds him. Yet it is me he runs to first. It's me he listens to when he decides to ignore everyone else in the house. He acts up if I go away for the weekend, most often taking his frustration out on my Star Wars collection.  

Thankfully this tendency to eat my things when I'm gone has diminished, but I still put away shoes and collectibles when I leave for a trip.

I started writing this post with pen and paper while sitting on my bed. Remus slept next to me the entire time snoring happily and loudly. He doesn't do this with anyone else. My neighbors are jealous when they learn that he cuddles in the bed with me, especially during one of Florida's rare cold snaps.

Training is important regardless of the size of your dog. There seems to be a popular opinion that small dogs don't need training with some owners even skipping over house training. Here's the thing. That's not true. Every dog is a dog, no matter how large or small, and needs to be treated as such. The only dogs I have ever bitten me were small dogs, toy poodles and chihuahua's being the biggest culprits. (In all fairness this is likely due in part to the popularity of these breeds in groom shops) The trouble is that that type of aggressive behavior is not typical of the breed any more than it is typical of other breeds like the Staffordshire Terrier. It's a behavior developed from irresponsible handling and training of the dog and is not acceptable in any dog of any size. You may think that your tiny Pomeranian can't possibly do that much damage, but a dog bite from even a small dog can do serious damage to a human hand. Additionally, if your small dog runs up to a larger dog in an aggressive manner that larger (and more powerful) dog is likely to respond in kind and will do serious harm to your dear pet.

My point? Train your dog. Treat it like a dog. A well loved, cared for, and cherished dog, but a dog never the less. Your dog needs you to be in charge. Show your dog you love them by being their leader. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Holidays and Your Pets

I saw this article about toxic foods to pets on Facebook and thought it was worth passing on. 

Most of it seemed pretty straight forward and common sense, but there were a few I'd not heard about. Specifically the bit about persimmons, peaches, and plums. Not only was I not aware that the pits contained cyanide, but didn't realize how dangerous they could be to pets. Not that I'd ever considered giving my dogs any of these items, but it's good to know.

That article made me decide to search for other tips for keeping your pets safe during the holiday season. This time of year our homes become chaotic maelstroms with holiday decorations, extra guest in the house, and lots and lots of food and sweets within reach of curious pet noses it seems a good idea to give some time and thought to how this could affect your furry family members. So here are a few more articles on holiday pet safety I discovered.

Holiday Safety Tips from the ASPCA

More Safety Tips from Drs. Foster and Smith

Helping your pet cope with visitors. Important if you have an antisocial dog like KoKo. 

Until next time, have a safe Christmas!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Remus' first therapy job

Last weekend Remus did his first unofficial therapy dog visit. 

Two of my co-workers, Carrie and Deana, had invited him over to their apartment for dinner and a movie. That morning their rat, Irwinian Smithsonian Vandercoupe II, passed away. I asked them if they wanted to cancel dinner, but they still wanted him to visit. 

So visit we did. I figured at the very least he may be able to help cheer them up a little bit. I think he did a pretty good job as this video will show:
Deana completely fell in love with Remus. Going so far as to invite his drooly presence onto her bed so she could cuddle him more. 
And yes, that is Lord of the Rings playing on the TV. 

 He also tried to play with their surviving rat Barker, who seemed only mildly interested in Remus. He even earned a new nickname while there: Remus Falkorian Shadowfax. 

Remus meet Barker

Making himself right at home

Enjoying the second story balcony view

Deana invited him onto the bed even though he drooled all over the comforter.

He loved it out on the balcony.

Overall, it was an enjoyable experience for everyone. And despite his drool, jumping on/off the couch and his constant need to go out on the balcony and back inside every five minutes he has been invited back. Probably because he manages to make people so happy despite anything else by just looking at them with his big brown puppy eyes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Potty Training

I have a friend who has a 7 month old puppy and recently beseeched Facebook for any advice on housebreaking him. They had done everything we are all told to do: use a kennel, take the dog outside prior to leaving the house, give them plenty of exercise, etc.

This made me think back to housebreaking my dogs and what did and did not work and what I learned along the way.

1) Good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that a puppy can hold its bladder for approximately 1 hour for every month of age.
     I've read this in many places and have found it to be more or less an accurate means of judging how long you can leave your dog before he is inevitably going to pee in the house/kennel. My experience has shown that it is a bit less than an hour, but naturally this will vary from one puppy to another.

2) Choosing the right kennel (if indeed you decide to use a kennel for housebreaking) is very important. The dog should be able to turn around and lie down comfortably but not so big that he can pick one spot to use as a bathroom while lying comfortably poop free at the other end.

Probably should mention that some dogs have no problem lying in their own feces and some even make it a point to step in/roll in it whenever they get the opportunity. Some dogs are just gross that way.

If you have a puppy that is going to get really big really fast it is cheaper to get a cage that he can grow into and just section off the kennel to an appropriate size. Many pet stores sell kennels that are already set up to be sectioned off to grow with your soon be giant dog, but you could also MacGyver a partition if you're handy. Just keep in mind that dogs chew, so don't use something that will be chewed off by the time you get home.

*note on kennel training
In my experience kennel or crate training does not work for all dogs. A kennel can be a safe place to keep your dog while they learn to not eat the house, but for some dogs an enclosed kennel is a stressful place.
Remus hated enclosed kennels. By enclosed I mean both the solid airline kennels and the more airy wire kennels. I found he was calmest when he was in his "playpen". Yes, I bought the dog his own playpen. They sell them in pet stores. 
I was having such a hard time getting him to relax in his kennel that we thought it was worth a try. It worked. It kept him safely contained and calm. He enjoyed his playpen so much he went in it voluntarily to sleep every night. 
Remus sleeping in his play pen with his penguin.
So don't be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to kennel training. Just always use common sense and try to see the world through your dogs eyes. If there is anything he can get a hold of that looks like he may want to chew on it, assume he will and keep him away from it. 

3) If you've tried all of that and still have trouble getting him to not pee inside, look for other causes.
Since my friend had already had success at house breaking her puppy she found it frustrating that he suddenly seemed to forget that peeing in the kennel and around the house was not okay. 
One possible problem could be an infection. Bring the dog to the vet and make sure there isn't anything physically wrong with him. 
My dog KoKo has been housebroken for over a decade now, but just last month she peed in the house. This baffled me. Turns out she had an infection and when coupled with her Prednisone she was just unable to hold it throughout the night. 

If there is no medical explanation for your dogs "accidents", then take a good hard (brutally honest) look at your training methods. 
*Are you (and everyone else in the house) being consistent? Same routine, same rules, every time, every day. Dogs thrive on routine.
*Is your dog getting enough exercise? Walking your dog is good for you and the dog. So do it.
*Is your dog stressed out by the kennel? Try something with better airflow. Long haired, double coated dogs often get too hot in enclosed or airline style kennels.
*Does he stress out by being left alone? Separation anxiety a subject too complicated to touch on here, but if you suspect this is the problem, don't be too proud to hire a trainer.

Random Remus picture.
Always remember to be patient. Dogs don't understand English and yelling a command they don't understand doesn't help. You have to SHOW your dog what you want them to do.