Dog Health

Springtime: Sunshine, Flowers, BBQs and.. Bugs?

Before reading the below, please bear in mind that I am not a licensed veterinarian, dog trainer, or doctor. I am in no way affiliated with any products or vaccinations noted below. All opinions are my own, and all facts and ideas mentioned in the following are due to my own personal research and conversations with professionals. As always, be sure to consult your own veterinarian and/or pet doctor before utilizing any new products on/with/for your pet. ALWAYS do your own research. It’s important to know your pets and to keep a close eye on how they react to certain lifestyle changes, medications, food choices, etc. Since they can’t speak to us, it’s our job to make sure we do right by them.


You know those Disney princess movies where the girl is in the garden twirling around, or getting dressed by woodland animals and birds and is just singing a happy, upbeat tune? That’s how I feel when winter starts turning into spring. When the days start getting longer, the air stays warm well after the sun goes down, and the sunrise creeps up just a little bit earlier every day. I love it! I love spring and I love the warm weather. It puts me in such a good mood!

My dogs love the heat, too. Every weekday afternoon I come home for lunch to make a salad and to let the pups out to stretch their legs. When the weather starts getting nice, I’ll leave the slider open while I prepare my lunch, and the pups will just be basking out on the lawn, soaking in the glorious spring sunshine. There is something about that molten ball of fire that just makes the soul feel GOOD.

The one downfall about spring, though, is that it means bugs. Yuck! Unfortunately with the promise of heat also comes the onslaught of bees, flies, fleas, ticks and – the worst – mosquitos! Insects that we humans can at least wear clothing and repellent to keep away. Our dogs, though.. They don’t have such a luxury.

If it were up to me, I would vaccinate my dogs one time as pups and then never again. But, unfortunately, I do not trust other dog owners, and I board my dogs, so they must be regularly vaccinated in order to protect against diseases that other untreated dogs may possibly carry. Among these preventative measures are the canine versions of bug repellent [aka flea and tick ointment and heart worm prevention]. Unfortunately, these tiny pests bother our pets just as much as they bother people! And, just as they do for humans, they carry nasty diseases that can infect your precious fur baby.

As the majorly forward thinking and research obsessed dog mom that I am, I always want to give my dogs the least dangerous medications as possible. I’ve mentioned before how thankful I am for my vet, and this is yet another reason why I just adore her. She is avidly against giving your pets any unnecessary medications – in her opinion, this includes flea and tick and heart worm preventative. As a professional veterinarian, a breeder, and a woman who shows her dogs, she believes that anything unnatural can be harmful to your pet, which is why she does not administer anything to her dogs outside of regular vaccinations [bordatella (kennel cough), rabies and distemper/parvo]. While I agree with the good doctor, I know her show dogs are not out hiking on the weekends and running around off trail in muddy swamp water and unkempt fields. Places where mosquitos, fleas and ticks love to hang out and breed. Places where my dogs also love to frolic because, as one time wild animals, those sorts of activities speak to their goofy canine souls.

I’ve never used bottom-of-the-barrel flea and tick preventatives. I’ve always used Frontline or K9-Advantix (I or II), in addition to a heart worm preventative available only by prescription from my veterinarian. Recently, during Otis’ last trip to the vet [just for a routine, puppy bordatella vaccine, thank goodness], my veterinarian was educating me on doggy bug repellent. She advised me to stop using Frontline and Advantix, as the fleas are starting to become immune to them and they are toxic to dogs. As I mentioned before, she recommended I use nothing, but I told her I couldn’t due to the activities my dogs are involved in, and that I didn’t feel comfortable exposing them to the elements without some sort of protection. She recommended we stick to Revolution, which is not only a flea and tick preventative, but a heart worm preventative as well. A three-in-one! And not horrible for your pets, either. She gave me a few months worth for each of my dogs and sent me on my way.

If your dogs are active like mine, I highly recommend consulting with your vet about getting your pups on the proper preventatives for the upcoming spring, summer and warmer fall months. The bugs and the diseases they carry are only getting worse, and preventative care is always cheaper than treatment. ALWAYS. Also, always remember to check your dogs for ticks after you take them in a field somewhere. EVERY TIME! Even if you have your pup on a preventative medicine, ticks can still find their way onto your pet [they just won’t last very long if your dog’s been treated]. Especially if your dogs have longer hair, the ticks can get nestled up in all kinds of places – before they’ve broken skin and taken their fill, they are very small and hard to find [be sure to check yourself, too! especially if you’re a male – if you’ve got long hair, ticks can and will grab onto it, just as they do to dogs.. gross, I know!].

All-in-all, as always, treat your pets like equal members of your family. You’ve taken on the responsibility to care for them, therefore you should be okay with the financial backing it takes to keep them healthy [again, preventative care is cheaper than treatment]. If your pets are healthy, annual trips to the vet are all you’ll need! And with the internet, social media, and email, it’s so easy to be in touch with your vet at a moment’s notice if you feel like something isn’t right.

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Ten Best Practices For Having A Happy, Healthy Dog

You guys know I’m that #crazydogmom bumper sticker to a “T.” My parents and my fiancé think it’s ludicrous the amount of time and money I spend on my dogs. I’m big on research, trying new products, and overall providing the best possible quality of life for my fur babies. #noshame

I’m definitely not an expert, but I consider myself to be pretty in-the-know when it comes to dogs and what I’ve found to be most successful for mine. And for that reason, I’ve compiled a little list of ten things I believe will not only make you a great pet owner and doggy parent, but will fulfill your dog’s needs as well.

No matter what breed of dog you have, exercise daily is an absolute must. It doesn’t matter how big your house and/or yard is, in your dog’s mind, it’s just a giant cage. They need to get out of the house and get a walk, run or hike in every day. And I know for some people this isn’t plausible. Some of us work crazy hours, others of us live in places where the temps drop to unreasonable levels, but do what you can to make it work. Even if it’s just for ten to twenty minutes [45-60 is ideal, BUT, life happens], your dog will thank you. And it’s healthy for us humans to get out of the house as well. Having a dog is a great excuse to see outside of the four [ish] walls we live in.

Keep your dog’s food and water bowls CLEAN. I may be borderline OCD about this, but I scrub Bella and Otis’ water bowl with hot, soapy water 2-3 times a day. Yes, a day. They both drink a lot of water, so I’m already emptying it out and filling it up regardless, and still water that sits in a basin like that develops a gross pink bacteria which is definitely not healthy for your dogs to be consuming. I see people with those automatic water dispensers in their homes and it just makes me cringe. Your dog needs FRESH, CLEAN water every single day. And if your dog eats raw, you should be doing the same thing to the food bowl after every meal. With kibble, I’m not as diligent, but I do wash the bowl about once to twice a week.

Take out an insurance policy on your pet. You’ll be able to tell from a very young age if your dog will need one early on or not. I truthfully did not know that pets could even have insurance until recently, which is why I didn’t get Bella a policy until she was five-and-a-half. Although, truth be told, she really didn’t need one before the age of five. Otis, however, I knew right away that he would need a policy. He has no fear – from day one he was jumping off couches and chairs, trying to wrestle with the big dogs, and was getting into and eating every possible thing he could find. I’ve had puppies before, but none who had zero boundaries like this guy. The cost per month for insurance is way cheaper than any vet bills you’ll have to pay in the long run. [You can read more about it here on a previous post].

Be sure your dog is eating a high quality food. If you can’t afford to feed raw [most people can’t, it’s stupidly expensive in America], then research your little heart out until you find a kibble that’s somewhat comparable. And be economical about it – only purchase the smallest bags of food while you’re testing brands out on your dog. Petco and PetSmart have gotten much better about offering higher quality foods, but I personally still stay away from them when it comes to kibble. I really love the company FROMM – they make amazing quality kibble and they have a ton of different varietals to choose from for your pet [you can find places that sell it on their site]. Otis is on some weird brand that the breeder was feeding him, but once we run out I’ll be switching him to FROMM. I can’t afford to have two dogs on raw right now.

Get your dog microchipped! I cannot stress this one enough. It doesn’t cost much, and if your dog ever gets loose it is extremely easy to track down the owner. Fortunately my dogs have not put theirs to use, but I know people whose dogs have and it was a life saver for both the dog and owner.

Take ten to fifteen minutes out of your day, every day, to work with your dog. In only one morning session of about 15 minutes, I was able to get Otis from running circles around me, whining, and jumping up and down like a pogo stick during mealtime, to sitting pretty calmly next to Bella and waiting for his turn to eat [I say “pretty” because he’s an extremely food-motivated puppy who lives for mealtime]. Some dogs are smarter and more receptive to training than others, but diligence and repetition is all it takes. Plus, it’s amazing how setting rules and boundaries will trickle into other aspects of their lives. I’m not sure if it’s because of our hierarchy in the house or because he’s just a natural, but Otis does really well on a leash already.

Make your dog’s hygiene a priority! This means oral and physical. If your dog eats raw, then the raw, meaty bones are a great, natural teeth cleaner. No brushing necessary Bella has never had her teeth brushed and her teeth are extremely clean. Dental hygiene is also important because dogs, like humans, can get plaque in their bodies if their teeth get buildup. This is detrimental to their mouths [obviously], hearts, bloodstream, other organs and their reproductive areas. If your dog doesn’t eat raw, I highly recommend adding a RMB or two a day to mealtime, especially if your dog doesn’t like having its teeth brushed or you’re not diligent enough to do so. [Raw feeding tip: purchasing just the bones is much cheaper than converting your dog’s entire diet]. Because of Bella’s allergies to chicken and turkey, she gets duck necks or rabbit bones. You may be able to find these at a butcher, or you can order them online from a raw food supplier [read more about raw feeding here]. Cleaning your dog’s coat is important, too. Be sure to find a product that’s moisturizing and easy to rinse off [ie: doesn’t linger on their coat and cause product build-up and irritation]. My veterinarian recommended a brand to me called Pure Paws. In the dog show business, it’s what a lot of owners use on their canines. I have the shampoo, conditioner, and the moisturizing spray. She also recommended that my dogs be bathed once a week, but with Bella’s sensitive coat, too much washing dries her out, regardless of how moisturizing the shampoo. Unless she gets really dirty, she’s on a once-a-month bathing schedule, with wipe downs in between with doggy-safe wipes [I use Burt’s Bee’s].

Get your dog comfortable with your hands on it from as early on as possible. If you adopt a dog who’s older in age, this will be a little more difficult because often times you don’t know their backstory. They could have been abused, in which case hands-on will be a challenge [but doable!]. All it takes is some trust building. If you get a puppy, it’s important to handle its feet, ears, legs, body and tail from the moment it becomes yours. Also, cradling the pup on its back either in your arms or your lap helps to build a level of trust and submissiveness between you and your dog. It’s important for your dog to be comfortable being handled by humans – between the vet visits and people petting your dog willy-nilly, the last thing you want is a nervous or reactive dog that shies away or bites at the show of a hand.

From the moment you adopt a dog, whether puppy or mature, find a vet you absolutely love and stick to that one. There will be occasions where you have to see another vet whether it be on a Sunday for an emergency [my life lately with my two pups], or a specialization that your generic vet doesn’t practice, but overall you want a vet that knows your dog and its health history. And if you end up having to see other vets, be sure to have all records transferred to your primary so that they have all of your dog’s info on file. I am extremely fortunate to have an amazing vet here in Sacramento that I absolutely love; I will be so sad if/when she ever retires. To read more about her and the dogs’ acupuncturist [yes, they have one], click here.

My final tip to you is to be attentive, read and do research. Pay attention to your pup and find out what makes it tick. Dogs are pretty easy to read if we take the time to break it down. If there’s a lot of itching and dandruff happening, your dog is probably allergic to either its food or something in the environment. If it’s panting a lot and can’t settle down, it probably needs exercise or some sort of stimulation. Getting to know your dog and its breed [if it’s not a mutt in which case you wouldn’t really know] will help you out so much when you’re raising your dog. The internet can have some bogus information and a lot of websites can’t be trusted, but I’ve found that joining breed-specific or diet-specific groups on Facebook have been extremely informative and helpful in raising Bella and working with her in her transition to raw feeding.

The bottom line is, if you’re going to take on the responsibility of a dog, then you also need to own the fact that you’re taking on everything that comes with it. Exercise, rules, feeding, cleaning up after, training.. All of these things are important components in raising a healthy, happy dog. I understand we all have lives and stuff gets in the way that keeps us from being the best pet parents in the world every single day [I am guilty of not walking my pups every single day]. But it’s important that we at least try. Don’t be lazy! And dogs are amazing communicators – if they’re unhappy, they’ll definitely let you know by being annoying or destructive. If they’re happy and fulfilled, you’ll know!

If you guys have any other tips on things you’ve learned about your pets that have helped you be a better pet parent, I would love to hear them! I am totally open to expanding my knowledge of my dogs and how I can be a better owner for them.

Health Insurance For Fido. It’s A Thing!

In January of this year, my fiancé and I celebrated our eleven month anniversary [and a much needed date night out]. As an early one year anniversary gift, he surprised me with the fact that he was ready to bring another dog into our home.

If you know me at all, you know the big soft spot in my heart for dogs. For nearly a year I had been joking with him about just showing up at home with a puppy one day, and becoming an old, retired married couple with hundreds of dogs. For a year he pretended [or maybe it was real haha] to be afraid of having any more dogs. Bella was more than enough, he said. So I was completely shocked and so excited when he announced that he was ready for one more. And as much as we were both looking forward to finding our perfect pup, we knew it wouldn’t be right to start the puppy process before our big Europe trip in September.

Fast forward to four weeks ago. Mitch and I were lying in bed on a Saturday morning, looking at puppies online. After seeing the movie, I Love You, Man, we both had our hearts set on a Puggle. For months we had been searching for a breeder on the west coast, but, me being the crazy dog lady that I am, I refused to go with a breeder that seemed to be breeding for money instead of passion. We finally found one in Iowa who had the cutest black coated male, and we were sold. We emailed the breeder, put down a deposit, and five days later I picked our little guy up from the airport [sidenote: we both did a ton of research on flying a puppy – I did not want to pay money for a dog that would arrive traumatized for life].

Enter: Otis. Spunky, vocal, and the bravest little dude the world has ever seen. Hence why I decided that we needed doggy insurance. Actually, it was about 6 months ago that I began researching the different pet insurance companies, after I took Bella in for a bit of holistic healthcare [look for a post about this to come].

You guys know I will pay any amount of money to keep my pets healthy and happy. But having a 6 year old Doberman who eats raw is costly enough without the added vet bills, not to mention a new puppy who needs regular vaccinations and really likes to live life on the edge. Working in the health insurance industry myself, I knew it would be more beneficial for me in the long run if I purchased insurance for my pups.

I am so thankful I did.

Five days before we left for Europe, I took Bella on a hike with my friend and her German Shepherd pup. They ran around like crazy, and later that afternoon I noticed Bella limping. Knowing I would be boarding her for two weeks, I took her to the emergency vet near my home to have her examined. Between the x-ray the vet took that day, the fee to actually see a vet at an emergency clinic, and the laser treatments and blood tests after Europe because she wasn’t healed.. Well, let’s just say the numbers added up quickly. Luckily, because I signed Bella up for insurance, I will get reimbursed for all of it!

One of the other benefits of pet insurance is that you can easily customize the plan you wish to sign your pet up for. There are different deductible options, and tons of riders [add-ons] available to cater to your pet’s specific needs. And, compared to the cost of x-rays, acupuncture, blood tests, vet visits, etc., the insurance is pretty freakin’ cheap.

I definitely don’t think it’s necessary for everyone. The only reason I even looked into it in the first place was because Bella is starting to enter her “older” dog years and I want to be able to cover as much of her healthcare expenses as I possibly can. And the only reason I added Otis to it was because he’s a daredevil and if either of them is going to get seriously injured it will be him [fingers crossed that doesn’t happen, though LOL].

I only compared two different pet insurance companies when I looked, and I ended up going with Trupanion [I felt like they had a good variety for a bit cheaper cost]. There are tons of options out there, though, and some employers offer discount programs that include pet insurance [worth checking into!].

Unfortunately I won’t be much help in referring anybody to any companies, as I’m super new to pet insurance myself, and I don’t personally know any other pet owners that have it. But if you have questions on plans and what they cover, I can help you with that, and I’m happy to! Please feel free to ask.

Balance for Bella

I am not yet blessed with a human baby. And while, because of this, I know absolutely nothing about raising a child, I do know that all moms want the same thing for their children – and that is their health.

It is no different for me and my own fur child.

And since I have resolved to make this a better, healthier, and happier year for myself, it only makes sense that I would include Bella as well.

When it comes to taking care of my dog, I have the same state of mind that homeless people have with their dogs – if I’m down to my lest penny with not a speck of food in the fridge, I will starve myself for a week before I let my dog die of hunger. Some may call that crazy – I call it love. Fur baby first.

When researching the proper diet for Bella, I started with the basics: her breed. Dobermans in general are an extremely active breed of dogs. They are high energy and therefore high metabolism. And so of course everything I found suggests foods high in protein to feed their active lifestyles. This is the perfect diet for my other Doberman, Roca, who fits the mold of Dobermans to a “T.” For Bella, however, the high protein diet just doesn’t work.

The reason I decided I wanted to look into a more proper food choice for Bella is because she is not like other Dobermans. She is extremely food motivated, to the point where if she didn’t have caramel brown socks and a cropped tail, she would no doubt be mistaken for a Chocolate Labrador. She is also lazy. My alarm goes off at 5:30 every morning and I literally have to drag her out of bed at that hour. A high protein diet for a dog that doesn’t meet the physical activity requirement is an obesity problem waiting to happen. Before I became Bella’s mom full-time (when I was still with my ex), I could never have her on the diet I wanted because she was shared. She ate the same food as Roca (who was also a puppy at the time), so she was on an extremely high fat and high protein diet (puppy foods, as a whole, are all designed this way to provide these babies with the proper nutrition for their rapidly growing bodies). My ex also liked having a “bulky” dog that looked mean and intimidating. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, if the dog is healthy. Bella wasn’t healthy, though. At anywhere from 90-95 pounds, she was carrying at least ten extra pounds of weight on her, which on a human is generally not the hugest deal, but on a dog whose frame is not built for that – you’re basically setting them up for major arthritis problems as well as doggy Diabetes, thyroid problems, etc. etc. The list goes on.

So while Bella may not be your a-typical Doberman, she still exhibits some of the standard skin issues. As a red color, she is not the “au naturale” black tone, which, if you know anything about dog breeding, the nonstandard varietals of breeds tend to have more health issues. Because Bella is red, she is more prone to allergies, whether they be caused by food, pollen, or even environment. For this very reason (and after many a trial-and-error with different kibble brands), I have kept Bella on a salmon formula. The omega-3’s in the fish-based food help keep her coat looking beautiful and the grain-free quality keeps her from getting horrible dandruff. Unfortunately, the salmon formula also happens to be high in proteins and has very little food variation, which I am finding is not the best diet for my girl.

Obviously, every single dog is different and they are all going to require a different diet. I have tried the raw diet, and if I could afford to keep Bella on that, I would. No questions asked. It is hands down the best remedy I have found for any and all health problems. However, since I am on a budget, I will have to find a suitable kibble substitute.

After realizing that the standard Doberman diet is not going to be the best choice for Bella, I moved on to my next phase of research: finding a food that contains all the food groups (aside from grains) necessary for a healthy diet. While I love the salmon formula because it keeps her coat healthy, it does not escape my notice that it has absolutely no other nutritional value. Bella eats grass like it’s burning up in flames before her very eyes.

If you’ve done any research on why dogs eat grass, every article you find will tell you – nobody has any idea why. And then they’ll give you a list of possible reasons: boredom, gastric and bowel inflammation, stomach relief (vomiting), supplementing, needing fiber – whatever the case is, the bottom line is we don’t actually know why.

When it comes to finding the right food for your dog, it really just comes down to trial-and-error. Because Bella is my only “child,” I am very in tune to her activities and what she is doing. We spend a lot of time with my parents and their Yellow Lab, who is on a very similar diet and who also happens to eat a lot of grass. Even though all of my research on grass-eating has gotten me nowhere, I’d have to be an idiot not to follow my instincts as to why Bella and Riley (my parents’ Lab) have such an affinity for such a tasteless and nutrition-less green. In their case, they are clearly supplementing for something that is missing in their diet. Hence why I am on the hunt for a well-balanced kibble.

As with my own health, I don’t want to jump into anything unless I’m absolutely sure that this is going to be the right next step for my dog. I am still researching and narrowing down brands that I feel will be suitable to Bella. If you’re having any hesitancies about your own dog’s diet, be sure you do your research and pay close attention to their activity level and whether or not they have food allergies. I also recommend breed-specific forum – people have lots of suggestions and there is a lot more personal research to go off of. It is definitely worth taking the time to make sure your dog is happy and healthy.