HOT TOPIC: Pets in Cars

Over the past 10+ years pet owners have been spending more time traveling with their pets, especially those with dogs.  There are numerous explanations for this, with the primary reasons being that 1) pets are becoming more a part of the family and 2) communities are becoming more pet friendly (to accommodate for reason 1).  Many restaurants now allow leashed, well-behaved canines in their outdoor areas (as allowable by law).  More and more hotels are becoming pet friendly which makes it easier to travel long distances with pet companions.  Many neighborhoods have Dogipot Stations available to make clean up easy and convenient (though I personally do not find carrying around a small thing of doggie doo doo bags to be cumbersome).  It’s easier than ever to let Fido jump in the backseat of the car for a ride-along!

We must always remember to be mindful of our surroundings at all times when we have our pets with us.  Are there other animals in the area that might not be friendly, or that my pet might like to chase?  Is there something dangerous along our walking path (broken glass, chemicals, delicious trash)?  Is the temperature suitable for my pet?  There are several things to take into consideration, just as there are when you travel with your children.  For this post we are going to focus on the temperature factor.

It’s that time of year when the sun rises high in the sky and sets well into the late evening hours. With increased sunlight hours comes increased outdoor temperatures. We have all kinds of options for keeping cool such dressing loosely, turning on a fan, going for a swim, or relaxing in the air conditioning.  More daylight hours also tends to lead to increased activity outdoors.

I don’t know about all of you, but when the weather’s nice I enjoy outdoor activities with my dog.  We enjoy running, frisbee fetching, spending time at the beach or the neighbor’s pool, visiting with friends, boating, kayaking, or just hanging out and relaxing at the park.  Sometimes when we are traveling with our pets we need to make a pit-stop.  The gas tank might be getting low, you realized you forgot to pack water for the adventure that lies ahead, we need ice to fill up the coolers, or we just need to run into the grocery store and grab a bag of chips to go with the sandwiches that we packed for the picnic.

In the event that you need to leave your pet in the car for a short period of time, be aware that the temperature within your vehicle will increase over time.  The following is a chart that shows how the temperature of the interior of an enclosed vehicle in the sun changes over time.

How the interior temperature of an enclosed vehicle increases in the sun over time

Once again, this is the temperature increase of an enclosed vehicle in the sun.  If you must leave your pet in the car to run into the store, please keep the following safety tips in mind:

  • Park in a well shaded area.
  • Keep the windows down at a level that is safe for your pet.  If you have a dog that is likely to jump out of an open window, don’t leave the window down all the way!  If you have a cat that can squeeze through a cracked window, just crack it to a point at which your cat can’t escape.
  • Keep your vehicle running with the air conditioning on.
  • If your pet is in a carrier, or if you have a pet that is well-behaved on a leash, you can likely get by with taking your pet with you into the store.
  • Keep your pit-stops brief.
  • If you have a tendency to get side-tracked, have diarrhea of the mouth when you meet people in the store that you know (or are just meeting), or if your quest for 2 or 3 items often turns into a cart-full, I recommend you never make a pit-stop while your pet is with you.

It is safe for you to travel with your pet, even in the summer months.  Just be mindful and keep any time away from your pet to an absolute minimum.  After all, you wanted to spend time with your pet, didn’t you?  Then do just that!

A message to everyone; pet owners, pet lovers, PETA, HSUS, Animal Welfare Institutions, Animal Rescue Organizations, Animal Control Officers, etc.  I understand that there is a concern for pets that are left alone in vehicles, especially in the extreme temperature months.  Should they be left in vehicles unattended?  Probably not.  Can they be left unattended in vehicles safely?  Absolutely.

If you happen upon an unattended animal in a vehicle, look at the time on your watch/smartphone/car clock.  If the animal appears to be in distress, contact the local animal authorities ASAP!  NEVER take it upon yourself to break a car window or break into a vehicle with an animal in it.  For one, you don’t know that the animal inside isn’t dangerous toward strangers!  Also, you may have just pulled up beside the vehicle as the owner was just entering the store.  A barking, whining or panting dog does NOT indicate distress (at least in terms of temperature).  Perhaps that dog suffers from separation anxiety and it acts out whenever the owner is out of sight (hence why the owner takes it with her regularly).

Be aware of your pet’s comfort level.  If you have a bracheocephalic breed (bulldog, pug, boxer, shih tzu) or an obese pet that struggles to breathe in 70 degree temps at 60% humidity, don’t travel with it if you have to leave it alone in a car for even 5 minutes.  If you have a puppy under 4 months of age or a senior pet over 10 years of age, don’t travel with it if you have to leave it alone in a vehicle for more than 10 minutes.  If you have a dog with severe separation anxiety, talk to your veterinarian about what you can do to manage the behavior.

Once again, this is a topic open for discussion.  Please leave your constructive criticism or comments below.  It’s impossible to hit upon every possible scenario when it comes to pets in vehicles, so lets discuss it!

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Seriously…I Mean it…Retractable Leashes should be BANNED

WARNING:  This is a RANT post!  Proceed with caution!  But do not hesitate to comment for constructive conversation/debate.

I cannot stress just how much I abhor the retractable leash. To recap, here’s my original post.

All too often I see countless dog owners walking with their dog or showing up to the vet office with their dog on a retractable leash.  The dog is 99.99999% of the time tugging at the leash (because a retractable leash teaches them to do so).  This is not a habit you want your dog to think is OK.  Especially if you have a very large, muscular breed dog.  All dogs should be taught proper leash manners.

Not only do these leashes teach a dog poor leash manners, the mechanisms in these types of leashes are NOT foolproof!  They fail more often than not.  Of all of the clients I deal with that come in to the animal hospital with a dog on a retractable leash, more than 50% of the time the locking mechanism of the leash is not working.  That potentially puts 1) the dog on that leash, 2) the other animals in the area, 3) the pet owners in the area and 4) the staff of the animal hospital at risk of injury.  It doesn’t matter how friendly or social your dog is, retractable leashes that are failing or unmonitored are tripping hazards!  Also, your dog might love cats, but that cat waiting in the lobby isn’t necessarily fond of your dog.

If you think that you are exempt because you never let your dog wander, your dog is well-behaved on the retractable leash, and you always make sure your leash is in good working order…my recommendation is…then why not just get a real, reliable, SAFE-for-everyone leash?!!

Is Beneful REALLY Killing Our Dogs? Here’s an honest answer…

Is Beneful Killing Dogs? Probably not. But there is always that slim possibility that some batch was contaminated. I don’t know. What I do know is that Purina is a good pet food company and it will do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of what this lawsuit is claiming. Just as is with human foods, during processing there is always the possibility for something to go wrong.

This is, in my opinion, one of the biggest problems with the internet and the media in general. They like to use the shock-factor because it grabs people’s attention. But then those people either 1) don’t read the entire article or 2) jump to their own unsubstantiated conclusions. Then rumors start, and anybody that has ever fed Beneful to their dog(s) blames the food for whatever problems their dog has had, is having or will have. “The food caused Fluffy to lose her mind and run out in the road where she got hit by a bus!” You think that sounds ridiculous? I’ve heard this and similar claims in person. And I’ve seen multiple blog posts and facebook posts making claims that are equally ridiculous about all kinds of pet products (Trifexis comes to mind).

I am not saying that it is silly for anyone to be concerned about these headlines. Good for you for paying attention! And for looking out for your pets and their well-being. But let’s not jump to conclusions and think that we need to take our asymptomatic dog to the vet for bloodwork because she was eating Beneful. My goodness, there are dogs that have eaten worse things (rat bait, chocolate, knives…) and survived with little to no incident.Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 8.09.48 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 8.09.59 PM

My opinions about pet food are expansive, but they are just my opinions from personal experience. What is the best food for your dog? Whatever fits in your budget that provides sustenance and well-being for your dog.

If you have the time, the resources and have done the appropriate research to ensure you are feeding a well-balanced diet, my personal recommendation is a whole raw food diet. Note that when I say “appropriate research” I do not mean googling the topic and reading one or two blogs or a Dogster article about someone’s experience with the raw diet. I mean that you have read publications by veterinary nutritionists, you have consulted with your personal veterinarian, and have read and understand any research that has been conducted by a qualified organization. A breeder’s webpage is NOT the appropriate place to research pet nutrition (or vaccination protocol for another example – another topic for another day). A raw diet isn’t for everyone. There’s a lot of work that goes into preparing your own raw diet, and the cost of premade raw diets isn’t cheap.

The next best choice, in my opinion, is a home cooked diet. Once again, before deciding to take on the task of preparing your dog’s diet yourself, please make sure you are doing it healthfully. Dogs can’t live on cooked chicken livers. They need a well-balanced diet, and by doing the appropriate research you can find out what is meant by “well-balanced.” Like raw feeding, this takes a lot more work than feeding a kibble diet.

If you are not comfortable preparing your dog’s diet, or if you don’t have the time or the resources to do so, there’s nothing wrong with feeding a commercial diet in the form of kibble or canned food. However, not all commercial pet foods are created equal. My rules of thumb for choosing a commercial diet are (again, this is my opinion):

  1. Consult with your veterinarian about what he/she recommends.
  2. Read the ingredients label, not the front of the bag! And don’t take the flashy commercial with biased claims at face value. Here’s the FDA’s guidelines for pet food nutrition labeling, and here is a nice “how to” for decoding those labels.
  3. Don’t fall for the hype. If your dog hasn’t been diagnosed with a food allergy, your dog probably doesn’t have a food allergy. Food allergies are not as common as some pet food companies and other opinionators would like you to believe. If your dog is not sensitive to grains, there’s no good reason to completely avoid them; they do have health benefits!
  4. The more colorful the food, the less nutritious it most likely is. Do you think Fido really cares what color his kibbles are or that they are shaped to look like carrots and peas, hearts or bacon? No, he doesn’t. That’s just the food manufacturer’s cunning attempt to trick your human brain into thinking the food is healthy because it “looks like something real.”
  5. Avoid store-brand diets. Stick with a brand or manufacturer that is well-known and trusted, and/or one that sticks to the production of pet food only with on-staff veterinary nutritionists.

Other things to note when it comes to feeding your dog:

  1. If your dog doesn’t like or doesn’t appear to be thriving while on any particular diet, find one that suits your dog. You may find that you have to switch up the diet every now and again for some picky eaters. This isn’t a problem in my opinion. If you are changing diets, do it gradually. Mix the old and new diets for about a week before totally changing over to a new diet (start with 75% old diet mixed with 25% new diet and gradually decrease the amount of the old diet and increase the amount of the new diet over the course of several days).
  2. If your dog becomes ill after starting a new diet, DISCONTINUE feeding it and contact your veterinarian ASAP! Save the food packaging so that the lot number can be reported to the manufacturer if the food is a suspect.

Dog food

Purina makes some pretty decent diets (ProPlan and ONE are two of them), but they also manufacture some questionable ones. Beneful is one of those questionable ones. It’s not a very nutritious dog food (once again, my opinion). It looks pretty and has some nice packaging, but that’s about all it has that is any good. Do I think it’s killing your dog? Again, probably not. There may be an issue with a contaminated batch that we’ll learn about; or, because it is such a popular diet (nice work to the Purina marketing department) it might be nothing more than a coincidence that the dogs that became ill or died were being fed Beneful. If you feed Beneful, I’d recommend you change to something a bit more nutritious for your dog anyway. If you ask me what brand you should feed your dog, I’m going to tell you to discuss that with your veterinarian. I feed what I feed because it works for me and my dogs are doing well with it. What will work for you and your dog is a question that I cannot answer for you.