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The Ruff Report: Dog Safety

Danger for dogs is highest in winter

Dog parents are being warned to take measures to protect their companions against the cold and snow of winter by the world’s largest dog training company.

"While it’s easy to think that dogs are immune to cold because of their fur, the fact is that more dogs perish in the winter than at any other time of the year," Liam Crowe, CEO of Bark Busters USA, states in a media release. "Frostbite, hypothermia and antifreeze poisoning present the biggest winter threats to dogs."

Many dogs spend less time outside because of bitter cold and snow, so owners should plan to do more inside activities to help their companions from getting lethargic or hyper, the Englewood, Colorado-based company recommends. The best way to keep a dog active or to use his excess energy is to make him think. Providing 10 to 15 minutes of training once or twice daily on basics such as sit, stay, come and walking on leash will energize a lethargic dog and cause the hyper dog to be more tired.

Bark Busters offers these winter safety tips:

  • Keep dogs inside when the temperature falls below 20 degrees; puppies, smaller dogs and older dogs should not be left outdoors when the temperature falls below 40 degrees.
  • Put a sweater on a short-haired dog when he goes outside, because he can become immediately chilled after leaving a warm house.
  • Older, arthritic dogs inside should not be left outside under any circumstances. Use a leash to escort older dogs outside for toileting to avoid falls and injuries.
  • Wipe your dog’s feet after a walk in the snow to remove ice and salt deposits from the road. Salt irritates a dog’s paws and can be toxic if ingested. Use only pet-safe ice melt.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite and injury, especially on susceptible areas like ears, paws and tails. Initially, frostbitten tissue may appear pale or gray, and the area will be cold and hard to the touch. As the area thaws, it may become red and within days the tissue will start to appear black. If you suspect frostbite, bring your dog into a warm location and soak the affected area in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes and contact a veterinarian.
  • Watch for sign of hypothermia, which include shivering, lethargy, low heart rate and unresponsiveness. If you suspect hypothermia, bring the dog into a warm area, place a light blanket over him and call a veterinarian.
  • Make certain that all antifreeze containers are locked away and out of reach of dogs, and thoroughly clean any spills immediately. Dogs like the sweet taste of antifreeze, which can cause sickness or death if ingested.
  • Make certain that your companion's doghouse meets certain minimum criteria if he stays outside. A doghouse needs to be raised a couple of inches off the frozen ground or concrete; needs to have a floor blanket, cedar shavings or straw, which should be changed frequently to keep a dog warm and dry; and needs a flap on the door.
  • Use a plastic water bowl so a dog’s tongue does not get stuck to cold metal.
  • Alter the amount of food your dog gets depending on activity level. An active dog will burn more calories in the cold and needs about 10 percent more food. A less active, indoor dog needs less food. (December 13, 2008)

Holidays pose special hazards for pets

Some simple precautions - like being careful with decorations and skipping table scraps - can help keep pets safe during the holiday season.

Pet Sitters International of King, North Carolina, which represents more than 8,000 independent professional pet-sitting businesses, says the most common emergencies during the holidays involve pets eating the wrong people food and ingesting human pharmaceuticals.

"Even in small doses, human medications can be potentially lethal to pets," Dr. Steve Hansen, a board-certified veterinary toxicologist and senior vice president of The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, states in a media release.

Many people keep their medications in daily pill reminders, in their luggage or even leave it out when staying with family or friends, making them easy targets for pets, Dr. Hansen states. "All prescription and non-prescription drugs should be safely stored."

Food is the second most common holiday pet emergency, according to Dr. Leon Robbins, a veterinarian at Grandview Animal Hospital near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. "If there is food left over, don't give it to your pet as a holiday treat," he states. "Instead give baby carrots, green beans or broccoli as treats."

Be especially careful with chocolate, which can be fatal if ingested in high amounts; macadamia nuts, which can cause temporary weakness in back legs, and any food containing Xylitol, a sugar substitute that can make a dog's blood sugar drop quickly and cause liver damage.

Dr. Robbins advises owners to give pets their normal diet to avoid digestive problems.

Holiday trees and decorations also can pose dangers for pets, Dr. Robbins explained, because they are attracted to bright lights, shining ornaments and dangling tinsel. "Try to use big, pet-friendly ornaments and keep the ornaments, as well as the lights, out of a pet's reach," he said. (December 13, 2008)

A reminder about using safety belts

Thanksgiving weekend is the busiest four-day travel period of the year, and dog parents are being reminded about the importance of using specially made car safety belts or harnesses on their companions.

Wags to Riches Animal Rescue and Sanctuary of Union Gap, Washington, and of Amherst, New Hampshire, have issued a media release in which they warn about the risks of traveling in a vehicle with an unrestrained pet.

Wags to Riches recently responded to an accident involving an a 10-year-old dog that was thrown from a car and had to paw its way up a mountain to be rescued, five days after it had been thrown from the vehicle. When the dog parent was asked what he would do differently, he said: "Have a seat belt for my dog."

Wags to Riches and advise dog parents to:

  • Put a dog in a safety belt on all trips, even short ones.
  • Use restraints that offer mobility and freedom of movement. The dog should be able to move around a little and turn in the seat.
  • Put the dog in the back seat. The safest place is the middle of the back seat and airbags in the front seat can be dangerous for dogs.
  • Not put a dog in a crate or cage because a crate or cage can go airborne during an accident. Even if the crate is secure, a dog can be slammed against its walls. (November 22, 2008)

Holiday foods pose hazards for pets

Many holiday foods - like turkey bones, onions and chocolate - can be harmful, and even fatal, for pets.

The American Humane Society advises pet parents to be aware of the potentially deadly consequences of feeding "people" food to companion animals and suggests avoiding giving him table scraps.

Some foods that pose danger to pets include:
  • Rich, fatty foods like turkey skins or gravy, which can cause stomach upset, diarrhea or even pancreatitis, which can lead to hospitalization.
  • Bones, which can tear or obstruct a pet's intestinal tract. Poultry bones can be especially dangerous or even fatal to animals.
  • Strings used to tie the turkey during roasting, which can tie up your pet's insides, too, if he should swallow it.
  • Onions, which are are toxic and can destroy a dog's red blood cells, leading to anemia. Foods containing high amounts of onion powder should also be avoided.
  • Grapes and raisins, which contain toxins that can cause kidney failure.
  • Chocolate, especially baking chocolate, which can kill a dog. It affects the nervous system and causes urinary system and heart muscle damage.
  • Coffee, which is dangerous, so watch out for grounds and whole beans.
  • Nicotine, which is a stimulant that can increase the heart rate leading to collapse and death.
The American Humane Society advises feeding a pet before guests arrive, so it will be less likely to beg and steal food. Guests should be told not to feed the pet table scraps and not to smoke inside the home. (November 8, 2008)

Tips to keep pets safe during Halloween

Pet parents are being warned about the potential dangers that the Halloween season can pose to pets.

"Many of our favorite Halloween traditions could pose a potential threat to our companion animals," Steven Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist and official at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, stated in a press release. "So as you start to make plans for trick-or-treating or Halloween costumes, pet parents should be aware of Halloween-related products and activities that can be potentially dangerous to pets."

According to the ASPCA, some Halloween hazards include:
  • Sweets. Several treats are toxic to pets. Candy containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can be poisonous to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol sweetener can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar, which leads to depression, lack of coordination and seizures. Chocolate, especially baker’s and dark chocolate, can be potentially poisonous to animals, especially dogs. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity and increased thirst, urination and heart rate and even seizures.
  • Wrappers. Cats especially love to play with candy wrappers, but ingesting aluminum foil or cellophane can cause intestinal blockage and induce vomiting.
  • Trick-or-treating. During trick-or-treating hours, keep pets in a room away from your front door to avoid having them run out. Pets should wear a collar with tags and be microchipped.
  • Costumes. If you dress up your pet for Halloween, make sure the costume does not limit its movement, hearing, sight or ability to breathe or bark. Also check the costume for choking hazards. A simple, festive Halloween bandanna is a smart alternative to dressing your pet from head to paw.
  • Decorations. Avoid putting candles in jack-o-lanterns. Pets can knock over them over and start a fire. Also, make sure pets have no access to wires and cords from holiday decorations. If chewed, a wire can damage a pet’s mouth from shards of glass or plastic, or deliver an electrical shock. (October 25, 2008)

Survey finds rescue efforts must include dogs

Fifty-five of the dog owners in the United States would refuse rescue assistance if it meant leaving their homes without their canine pals.

The 2007 survey by the American Humane Association also found that 72 percent agreed that formal evacuation plans should be made for pets.

The survey results show the importance of pet evacuation planning efforts such as those deployed before Hurricane Gustav, according to the American Humane Association, and reaffirms the strength of the human-animal bond.

"These findings really demonstrate the incredible power of the human-animal bond and make it clear that people believe animals should be considered in rescue efforts," said Marie Belew Wheatley, president and CEO of American Humane Society. "Now, we need to continue using this information to construct safe, fair and feasible plans for rescue situations." (September 13, 2008)

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