New Year, New Resolutions.

By:  Dr. Hilary Slaven

Happy New Year’s Eve!

Get out your disco ball, your party hats and your bubbly drinks.  It’s time for you and your furry friend to welcome the New Year in style.

lab party

But hold on now; it’s not all party, party.  The New Year calls for some reflection too on habits and attitude and becoming the best-version-of-yourself.

(Your furry friend loves you no matter what, don’t you worry.) 

But we can all improve our characters in some way, and this is a great time of year to think about these deep philosophical things.  Right, Buddy?

labrador party

(Buddy likes to think with his eyes closed.)

Today we all tend to spend some time reflecting on the past year, perhaps remembering events that have happened or relationships that have evolved, successes that we have had or even situations that we wish had gone differently.  Often we think about our own characters and what we’d like to improve.  Setting goals for the future is important as we move through life; if everyone took time to reflect upon their weaknesses and developed plans to overcome them our world would be a better place.

Hang with me.  We are getting to how this affects you and your relationship with your furry friend.  Stop and get a sip of bubbly, and come back.

Choosing to change attitudes and behaviors can positively impact your human friends and your furry ones, too.  Here are a few things that you can do to improve your pet’s health and your relationship with him as well.  I challenge you to pick one or two and tackle those full-force.  Make new habits that last all year long, and perhaps beyond.

1.  Spend time with your pet every day.  Even 15 minutes of undivided attention from you playing a favorite game or getting a rub-down can really enhance your pet’s life and yours, too.  Every successful relationship requires time spent together, including yours and Fido’s.

2.  Take time to exercise your pet.  Many pets that we see are overweight, which puts them at risk for some serious health problems.  Set aside time every day for a walk, run or to play fetch.  Even cats love to chase a laser light or wadded up pieces of paper or plastic milk jug rings.  30 minutes a day is ideal, but varies between species and age/health of the pet.  Talk with your veterinary professional to help develop a plan that works for you and your family to keep your pet fit.  (This might end up being part of your own personal fitness as well!)

3.  Plan a yearly check-up with your veterinarian.  Fido and Fifi can’t tell us when they feel uncomfortable or off-balance or painful.  At home, we can monitor our furry friends and spend time with them so that we can pick up on unusual behaviors or changes in food and water consumption.  Another important key is to have a veterinarian examine him or her once or twice a year to assess weight, general health, and changes to the body.  Expert recommendations about diet, lifestyle and care come from these visits, along with vaccinations and a thorough physical examination.   Prevention and early detection is the best medicine.

4.  Keep your dog and cat on monthly heartworm disease prevention.  Much of the USA is in an endemic area for this deadly parasite that is spread by mosquitoes.  Every veterinarian has seen a dog die a painful death due to this nasty worm.  Thankfully, we now have several drugs available to us that have an excellent success rate in stopping the worm before it grows and settles in the lungs and heart to cause permanent damage.  These medications, when used monthly, prevent illness in thousands of dogs and cats each year.  Most of the products also deworm for internal parasites and may even treat fleas too.

5.  Flea control.  Anyone who has dealt with a flea infestation in their home will tell you what a trial it is; it is truly a nightmare to live with these tiny bloodsuckers and also a nightmare to get rid of them.  (see our blog “The Fight Against Fleas“)  In the last 15 years, there have been significant advances in the treatment options out there for fleas, most markedly in monthly chewable pills and topical skin products that kill fleas and prevent problems in the home.  If you can religiously give a veterinary-approved flea product once monthly, you can protect your furry friend and your home from these disease-carrying pests.  Ask your veterinarian what product would be best for your friend and family.

6.  Feed your pet a healthy, well-balanced diet with limited snacks.  Like us, pets feel better and live longer when they eat right.  For most furry friends, this means a good quality dry kibble with very occasional treats.  We tell folks to buy the best food that they can afford and discourage table scraps as a significant part of the diet.  This may take significant self-control on our part, much like when we decide to change our own diets for the better.  Stick with it, it’s worth it in the end!  See your veterinarian for recommendations for diet changes.

Good luck with your New Year’s resolutions!  We at WCVS toast you and yours and hope that we can help and you your furry friend ‘fetch’ your goals this year.

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Running’s for the Dogs. (And their Humans too.)

By:  Dr. Hilary Slaven

I am a runner.  I was never an athlete until I hit my 30’s and some serious personal stress in my life put me up against a wall.  I needed an outlet.  Literally out of pure frustration and necessity, I started pounding the pavement.  It felt wonderful.  Every step felt like leaving a piece of hurt behind, like I was launching myself forward into better times.  And, like so many folks out there, I became addicted.

After a year of running just to blow off steam, I met a colleague that knew not just how to run, but how to train for organized events.  Thanks to her encouragement, I ran a couple of 5Ks and worked up to running half marathons.  Three years in, I am so happy that regular exercise has become a part of my weekly routine.  It keeps me healthy and happy and has given me a sense of accomplishment.

Now meet another part of my life that keeps me happy.

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Cutest puppy EVAH. 8 weeks old.

Look at my sweet iddle biddy puppy.

Our family adopted Hank last winter.  He was a fat, laid-back little thing and I just knew that he was right for me and my three young children.

“What a great way for the kids to learn responsibility,”  I said.

The kids and the dog will play and tucker each other out every day,”  I said.

I’m a vet; I know all about training puppies.  I talk about it all day long.  I’ve trained puppies in the past.  No problem,”  I said.

Go ahead, you can laugh, it’s okay.  Because you’re already guessing the next part of this “Marley and Me” story.  And you are right.

When Hank was a small pup, he played hard for an hour, then slept for two.  We would laugh at his puppy snoring and how he would chase crumpled up paper balls that we threw in the air.  We laughed at his attempts to get up on the couch, which involved flinging himself in the general direction of our knees and ending up as a pile of puppy on the floor.  We loved watching him ‘smile’, tongue lolling behind him, and run after the kids in the backyard.  The children quickly learned to pick up their toys lest they wanted Hank to use it as a chew bone.  We threw away a few and salvaged some that bear the scars of battle with a puppy mouth.

Those days lasted a very, very, VERY short time. Soon Hank began to grow.  And grow.  And grow.

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Soon, Hank could jump on the couch (translation:  directly into our laps).  He could reach his lips over the dining room table and help himself.  He could dig his nose into the trash can.  In other words, it’s ten months later and we have a 90-lb. retriever that looks like an adult but not occasionally acts like that same 8 week old pup.  Except bigger.  And stronger.  And more determined.  And sooooooo sneaky.

For (literally) hours he will do this:

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And then I step out of the room for (literally) 5 minutes.  Coming back, I find this:

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WHAAAA-AAH!

So, it turns out that Hank, too, needs an outlet for his all of his pent-up energy.  Without regular exercise, he turns into the incredible Hulk and tears apart everything in our house that we hold dear.

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Retrievers love to fetch.  Fetch is wonderful.  The tennis ball is our friend, for sure.  Especially if you can get one of those plastic ball launchers and have access to a large space to throw down.  But you definitely need a large open space to get the job done.

Which I do not have.

But I am happy to say that I have found a solution, a way to marry two of my loves:

You guessed it!  (Several paragraphs back, probably).  Running with my dog.

It was surprisingly easy to teach him to run with me (thanks to his Gentle Leader!  it’s amazing!).  After several months, we’ve worked up to 3.5 miles and still counting.  We get to spend time together, he’s much happier, and I’m much happier.  I’m motivated to keep running because I have my buddy that needs it as much as I do.  Hank is happy because he was born to be an active dog.  Everyone wins.

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I recommend running with your dog to anyone who is considering a big dog with a small yard.  Maybe you can keep in shape together and build a both a lifestyle and a friendship that will last a lifetime.

I didn’t get into the “How” of getting you and your dog into training together.  As with all sports, you should check with your physician (and veterinarian!) before getting started on any new workout routine with your furry friend.  I can tell you that, like us, dogs need to work into a routine and build endurance.  Start with a short run and slowly (over several weeks to months) work up to your goal.  Always consider the weather and don’t run in extreme temperatures.  Be sure to hydrate both you and your dog appropriately.  And have a great time!!!

Here are three great articles I’ve found for those wanting to explore this hobby:

http://www.active.com/running/Articles/What-Are-the-Best-Dogs-for-Running

http://www.runnersworld.com/running-with-dogs/see-spot-run

http://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/running-with-your-dog-how-to-train-fido-to-run-at-your-side