Can All Dogs Swim? And Other Dog Swimming Tips Worth Knowing

Does your dog love the water? Many dogs will do anything they can to go for a swim, while many others will do everything in their power to stay dry. There’s no consensus among dogs about whether they like the water. Here’s a big question, however: can all dogs swim?

Understanding different breeds and their abilities to swim

There are a handful of dog breeds that have been selectively bred to be experts in the water. For instance, retrievers have been trained for generations to go into the water to grab birds for hunters, while dogs such as Irish Water Spaniels have developed waterproof coats so they can work in the fields. 

These breeds are generally believed to know how to swim the second they lay eyes on a body of water, and will usually be happy to do so since their physical structure is perfect for swimming. Other breeds often prefer not to swim, or simply don’t see the point. 

Some of the dogs that most love the water are:

  • Labrador retrievers
  • Toller retrievers
  • Portugese water dogs
  • Irish water spaniels
  • Poodles
  • Newfoundlands
  • Irish setters

Regardless of whether your dog likes to swim or not, you should know that with a little preparation and training, all dogs are capable of swimming. This is especially good to know in the summertime, when dogs are at a higher risk of overheating and dehydration. If you can safely get your dog accustomed to being in the water, they’ll have a good option to keep cool in the warmer months. Swimming is also great exercise for dogs, and is a fun time for everyone involved. 

So for those of us with dogs who aren’t natural swimmers, how can we safely introduce them to swimming and get them more comfortable in the water?

How to teach your dog to swim

It can be a little difficult getting your dog into the water especially if they’re not accustomed to swimming, but once you do, you’ll both be experiencing the benefits in no time. So where to begin?

There are a number of avenues you can take when teaching your dog to swim, and choosing which one to use depends mainly on your dog’s breed. While some dogs, like the ones mentioned before, are natural-born swimmers, others are just not able to excel in the water due to their biology. Bulldogs and Dachshunds, for instance, often don’t have the physical build to keep themselves afloat, and will likely need extra help with a floatation device. 

Even if your dog is meant to be a capable swimmer, each pup is a little different, and yours may not be as keen on swimming as they’re ‘supposed’ to be. Whatever the case, it’s important that you understand your dog’s lineage and capabilities, set your expectations accordingly, and don’t be disappointed if your dog still prefers dry land over water.

Invest in a life jacket for your dog

When introducing a dog to the water for the first time, it’s vital that the dog finds swimming fun and not scary. You want to do everything you can to get your dog feeling confident in the water, and one great way to do that is to ensure they can’t sink. Life jackets for dogs come in all shapes and sizes for a variety of breeds and weights. Assuming their life jacket fits well, your dog will be able to focus on the mechanics of swimming, rather than struggling to stay afloat. 

Even if your dog is a capable swimmer, a life jacket is never a bad idea. Even the strongest swimmers can get tired, and if you’ve ever thrown a ball for certain breeds, you know that many dogs will over-exert themselves to the point of danger if they’re allowed to. A life jacket allows them to not work as hard while still staying afloat, which will keep them safe as well as feeling confident.

When choosing a life jacket, ensure it’s the right size, and that it can be adjusted to fit your dog perfectly. Bright or reflective material is also a plus, since they’ll help you spot your dog in the water more easily. You should also look for a life jacket with a sturdy handle on the back. This will allow you to pull your dog out of the water if they’re struggling, guide them as they learn to swim, or even simply keep hold of them on the beach. 

Make a plan for swimming lessons

Once you have all the equipment, it’s time to figure out your method for teaching your dog to swim. Every dog is different, so you’ll know better than anyone what you need to do to keep them feeling comfortable. With that said, a good idea for all dogs is to ensure that they’re the ones to enter the water. This can be achieved by throwing a floating toy into the water, or getting in yourself and encouraging them to come out to you. When a dog enters the water on their own terms, they’ll be less likely to become afraid. Start in the shallows, and don’t try to make your dog move deeper until they seem comfortable. 

Every time your dog comes out of the water while they’re learning, you should reward them with a treat, a toy, or affection. This will help them form a positive association with swimming, and encourage them to get in the water next time.

Give your dog a demonstration

If you know anyone with a dog who’s already a confident swimmer, consider arranging a time for your dog to watch them swim. With your dog in a life jacket, they’ll be able to follow the other dog around, observing their technique and having a great time while doing it. After a few playdates in the water, your dog may feel more confident about swimming on their own.

Keep water safety in mind

Beyond the risk of drowning, there are a handful of other potential hazards for your dog in the water. 

  • Cold water. Too much exposure could lead to hypothermia, which is dangerous. 
  • Swallowing too much water. This is possible while your dog swims and grabs toys. If your dog is regularly vomiting after swimming, they’re swallowing too much. To counteract this, try to keep swimming sessions to about ten minutes, and choose a water-toy that they can easily pick up without ingesting too much water in the process, such as a flat, floating disc.

Don’t push your dog too far

Despite our best efforts, some dogs never really take to swimming. Even with all the floatation devices, training, and safety measures, some dogs simply don’t like the water. If you’ve been trying to get them interested in swimming for some time and aren’t making any progress, it may be that your dog just doesn’t like to swim. If that’s the case, don’t feel the need to continuously push them. There are still ways you can help your dog enjoy the water and keep them cool in summer.

Hopefully these tips will help you and your dog to enjoy the water in the warmer months. With some time, care, and preparation, most dogs will gradually come to love swimming. If you have more questions about how to safely teach your dog to swim, or anything else pet-related, feel free to contact us today.

Dog Body Language: Signs Everything is Great vs. Trouble

If you’re anything like us, when you see a dog, you immediately want to say hello! However, despite their happy nature, dogs aren’t always ready for a pet. Beyond the basics, such as the wagging tail and the beloved head tilt, our canine friends have a whole vocabulary of body language to let you know how they’re feeling.

When it comes to dog body language and whether it’s a good idea to touch a dog, we’d like to split it up like you would a traffic light: green, or ‘go ahead,’ yellow, or ‘use caution,’ and red, or ‘stop!’ Here are some tips on dog body language that indicate all is well versus trouble.

Green Light Dog Body Language

The best time to pet a dog is when it’s feeling calm and relaxed. It’s not feeling stressed out by its surroundings, or confused by what’s going on. When your dog is in a calm, neutral state while standing, it will have a relaxed, centered posture. Its tail will be relaxed or gently wagging, and its eyes may be partly closed, almost as if it’s squinting. When lying down, a relaxed dog will simply look relaxed. Its head will rest on the floor or on its front paws, and it’ll look like it could doze off at any time. 

Another positive state for dogs is when they’re feeling playful. This is one of the most commonly understood bits of dog body language. It will bounce into the downward dog position, with its chest to the floor and its rump in the air. This position is referred to as a play bow, and is used by dogs to let you know that any roughness is just play, and not actual aggression. Typically, a dog will only be in the play bow position for a moment, before pouncing or running in a direction. It’s usually safe to pet a dog in this state, but make sure you don’t surprise it, in case it gets frightened.

If you’ve ever walked by your dog with a plate of bacon, this last positive dog body language state is one you’re familiar with. An excited dog is characterized by a quickly wagging tail, forward ears, and an energetic posture that’s ready to pounce. They also may jump up to get the attention of whatever’s got them excited. In some cases, dogs will get overly excited. This can be a concern, especially with larger dogs and smaller children. Overly excited dogs may jump up at people, accidentally scratch you, or even nip at you. This is not aggressive behaviour per se, but it should not be encouraged with your dog.

Yellow Light Dog Body Language

If you’ve ever seen a guard dog, you’re familiar with the alert body language. A dog on alert will have a forward-leaning posture, trying to get closer to whatever’s going on. Its ears will be forward in order to pick up more directional sound, and its mouth may be closed. An alert dog is not always indicative of an intruder or threat. It may simply be interested in what’s going on! If you’re familiar with the dog, make sure to let them know you’re there before giving a reassuring pat.

You’ll most often see dogs assuming a dominant stance around other dogs, although it might take this position around other threats as well. This position is characterized by the dog trying to make itself as big and tall as possible—ears high, tall posture, and usually a raised tail. This dog is asserting itself as dominant around potential threats, and probably does not want to be pet. 

An aggressive dog has moved beyond the alert and dominant stances, and is now addressing what it considers to be a direct threat. You’ll know an aggressive dog by its stiff posture, and a steadily waving tail, sometimes described as waving like a flag. Before trying to pet this dog, give it time to assess the threat and enter a more relaxed state.

Red Light Dog Body Language

You’ll know an anxious dog by its posture. When a dog is feeling anxiety, they’ll try to take up as little space as possible. They’ll lean their body back, tuck their ears back on their head, and keep their tail low. If you see a dog behaving this way, it’s likely that it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t know what’s going on. If it’s your dog, help to reassure it that everything is alright with its favourite toys or blankets. If it’s someone else’s, it’s best to leave the dog alone for the time being.

A frightened dog is another behaviour state that many people are familiar with. They’ll have flattened ears and a tucked tail, as well as a crouching posture. This, again, is to make the dog feel as small as possible, allowing it to hide from threats. If your dog is afraid, it may also make whining noises or growls. A frightened dog may also bite in self-defense, so it’s not a good idea to pet it until it becomes more relaxed.

If a dog has faced a threat and decided they can’t win, they may enter a submissive state. This is the dog’s way of saying “I give up, don’t hurt me!” You can tell a dog is in their submissive state if they’re lying on their back, with their paws and tail tucked in close to their body. They will also usually tilt their head back to expose their throat, as well as to avoid eye contact. Some people may think this is the dog asking for a belly rub, but touching a dog in the submissive state could frighten it even more, or possibly cause it to bite in self-defense. 

Other Dog Body Language Signs Worth Noting

There are a few other body language clues to let you know a dog is feeling uncertain or nervous. Hackles, contrary to popular belief, are not always a sign of aggression. Similar to goosebumps in humans, they’re an involuntary response triggered by any kind of emotional arousal. Every dog is different, and it’s a good idea to observe your dog and notice when it raises its hackles, perhaps when it meets new dogs or unfamiliar people.

Another sometimes misunderstood behaviour in dogs is yawning. Unlike humans, dogs don’t usually yawn when they’re tired, but rather when they’re in stressful situations. Yawning helps to calm the dog, and it may also yawn to calm others, such as its owner. Take note of when your dog yawns, and you may notice a pattern, helping you to understand what situations your dog finds stressful.

The final behaviour worth noting is what’s referred to as ‘whale eye’ by dog trainers. Whale eye is when a dog averts their head slightly, but keeps their eye fixed on a point, allowing you to see the whites of their eyes. This behaviour lets us know that a dog is feeling uncomfortable or anxious, and that it doesn’t want to be pet. If you see a dog doing the whale eye, hold off on petting it until it becomes more relaxed.

Keeping Your Dog Comfortable

If you’re a dog owner, it’s important to pay attention to your dog and learn what it’s trying to say through its body language and other physical cues. Learn their habits, their comforts and stressors, as well as what their neutral body posture looks like. While this general guide on behaviour states is a great starting point for learning about dog body language, it’s no replacement for getting to know your dog and all its quirks. The more you’re able to interpret your furry best friend’s body language, the happier they’ll be, and the more comfortable they’ll be with you.

When deciding whether to say hello to someone else’s dog, the above information is a great start to understanding how it’s feeling. However, only their owner will really know what kind of mood they’re in, and whether it’s a good idea to interact with the dog. That’s why it’s so important to always ask before petting a stranger’s animal. Doing so not only keeps you physically safe, but also ensures the comfort and happiness of the animal.

If you have any more questions about dog behaviour, or anything pet-related, don’t hesitate to give us a shout at Hastings Veterinary Hospital!

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Senior Dog Care Part 3: Blood Testing & X-Rays

Looking after a senior dog comes with its fair share of challenges. From specialized diets, to lifestyle changes for dogs and humans alike, to dealing with various illnesses, caring for a senior dog isn’t always easy. However, we have a responsibility to our furry friends: looking after them and sticking by their side, through thick and thin. In this third part of our series on caring for senior dogs, we look at one important way to take proper care of your senior dog: staying up to date with routine testing with your veterinarian, namely, blood testing and x-rays.

What is Blood Testing?

A blood test for a senior dog allows your veterinarian to look for problems with your dog’s blood cells and enzyme levels of major organs to evaluate their function and health. Normally, blood testing for senior dogs consists of complete blood count, otherwise known as a CBC, which provides levels of various blood cells, and a blood serum test, which analyzes the presence and levels of certain chemicals in your dog’s blood. 

Reasons to Get Your Senior Dog’s Blood Tested

  • Dogs are good at masking illnesses. A blood test can help you identify health problems before they become more serious. 
  • The process of a CBC can provide a count of the different kinds of blood cells (white cells, red cells, and platelets) in your dog’s body. Since white blood cells and platelets help your dog to heal from illness and injury, it’s important to know whether there’s enough of them to protect your dog or if there are any changes. 
  • Blood tests for senior dogs can also ensure a healthy level of nutrients of all kinds in their bodies. These include:
    • Proteins
    • Glucose/sugars
    • Electrolytes
    • Cholesterol
    • Hormone levels
    • Digestive enzymes

In general, blood tests are a great tool to tell your veterinarian if your dog is in need of special attention. A change in the level of a certain protein indicates that something may be wrong with a certain organ or process, which is valuable information for their health.

Benefits of X-rays

Radiographs (x-rays) are a valuable tool for your veterinarian to keep up to date on the health of your dog. Although radiographs are a good tool for detecting when something’s wrong, that’s not the only time an x-ray is useful for a senior dog. Having a regular radiograph, even when nothing is wrong, provides valuable information for your veterinarian. These images can be used as reference for later imaging.

Reasons for Senior Dogs to Receive X-rays

  • A radiograph can (sometimes) help your veterinarian detect any obstructions in your dog’s digestive system, whether for foreign objects or some other type of blockage.
  • Radiographs can detect bladder stones even before they become serious problems.
  • X-rays can detect tumours.
  • Radiography can help detect heart or lung disease in your senior dog.
  • Like in humans, x-rays can detect fractures, dislocation, bone deformation, dysplasia, and other orthopedic issues in your senior dog. This can provide your veterinarian with insight on any bone or joint degeneration that comes along with a dog’s age.

X-rays and blood testing are two very important parts of looking after your dog. There are a multitude of problems and conditions that can be detected early on by these two methods of testing. It’s always best to catch health issues as early as possible, and this is particularly true for senior dogs.

Ultimately, you should be striving to do everything you can to make your dog’s later years as safe and comfortable as possible. Of course, this includes routine tests such as blood testing and radiography, but it also extends to monitoring their diet and exercise, making accommodations around the house, and simply spending time with them like you normally do. The more care you take in helping your dog, the more comfortable their senior years will be.

If you still have questions about routine testing and imaging for your senior dog, whether it’s blood testing, x-rays, or anything else, we’re happy to help with any answers you’re seeking. 

Did you miss parts 1 and 2? Click below to read them.

Part 1: General Care Tips

Part 2: Dental Care Tips

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Senior Dog Care Part 2: Dental Care Tips

When it comes to taking care of a senior dog, there are countless new considerations you need to make. On top of the regular responsibilities of owning a dog, looking after one that’s reaching its golden years can mean a whole new list of obstacles. 

One of the most important things to consider when taking on this new challenge is your dog’s dental health. Although it might seem trivial when compared to diabetes, arthritis, organ issues, or any of the other countless health trials your dog may face, dental care is a crucial part of senior dog care and it can actually relate to lots of other common health issues. With proper care and consideration for your dog’s oral health, you’ll not only keep their teeth and mouth in the best possible health, but it can actually extend their life, and make things more comfortable for them overall.  

Common Signs of Dental Issues in Senior Dogs

Before we look at the best practices for taking care of your dog’s dental health, let’s go over some of the biggest warning signs that your dog’s teeth and mouth need attention:

  • Bad breath. Although a dog having bad breath is sometimes considered normal, it’s actually an indicator of poor oral health. Excessively bad breath on a regular basis is a sign of bacteria that is present in your dog’s mouth, which is commonly caused by infrequent brushing and oral cleaning.
  • Plaque and tartar. Plaque, the sticky, bacteria-based substance that can build up on poorly-cleaned teeth, eventually hardens to become tartar, otherwise known as calculus. 
    • Plaque can be removed fairly easily with brushing, but once it becomes tartar, it’s much harder to remove. 
    • Neglecting to clean your dog’s teeth can lead to excess build-up of tartar, which can be observed as inflammation in the gums and teeth discoloration.
    • Oftentimes, the full extent of tartar build-up and periodontal disease can’t be seen with just your eyes, and may only be visible via a dental x-ray.
  • Changes in the way your dog eats. Another sign that your dog is experiencing dental issues could be changes in how they eat. 
    • A dog with sore teeth or other dental issues may eat more slowly than usual, or favor one side of their mouth when chewing their food. 
    • Dogs with sore mouths may just eat less overall, which is a clear sign of a major health issue in need of your attention. 
  • Recent lack of energy. Another more serious indicator of poor dental health in your senior dog could be a recent lack of general energy.

Now that you know what to be on the lookout for when it comes to your dog’s dental health, you should brush up on the best practices for actually keeping their teeth and mouth in the best possible shape. 

Regular home brushing

Step number one for any dog owner is taking care of your dog’s teeth at home. This is not something to only take up after noticing a problem in your dog, much like how we don’t start to brush our teeth only when we discover we have a cavity. Ideally, your dog’s teeth should be brushed or wiped daily, or at the very least, two to three times a week. 

Brushing is an important preemptive way to care for your dog’s teeth, and is a step you should be taking from day one of caring for your dog. However, it’s possibly even more important to be diligent about brushing for your senior dog.

Dental check-ups and cleanings

Beyond home dental care, it’s crucial to get your dog’s oral health examined routinely by your veterinary team. Frequency of comprehensive oral health treatment will depend on your pet’s individual oral environment. Annual oral examination along with a health check is imperative in order to keep an eye on any potential problems before they become more serious.

Bloodwork, X-rays, and other tests

When taking your senior dog in for dental cleanings and check-ups, there are other tests and measures to take that are a very important part of monitoring your dog’s oral health. Even if a dog’s teeth and gums look healthy to the naked eye, a dental x-ray, for instance, can reveal a myriad of other issues that otherwise wouldn’t be visible. Likewise, a blood analysis can be an invaluable tool to learn about your dog’s health, revealing elevated bacteria levels or other signs of infection. 

Your veterinarian will be able to make the best recommendations to monitor your dog’s health, so always follow their advice when having your senior dog consulted.

Supplements to food and water

Another great way to care for your dog’s teeth at home is through special products specifically for dental health. There are lots of specially-formulated treats and chews that help reduce the build-up of plaque and tartar. These can be great for any dog, but especially for dogs that are resistant to brushing.  

When looking for dental products for your pet – look for the VOHC seal on the product. This ensures that the veterinary oral health council has approved this product & that it does in fact help with plaque and tartar build up.

As you can see, dental health is a crucial but sometimes overlooked aspect of caring for a senior dog. However, with diligent home care such as brushing and dental treats, as well as regularly checking in with your dog’s veterinarian, you can keep a good handle on their dental care and ensure they’re as healthy and comfortable as possible in their golden years.

Did you miss part 1? Click here to read Senior Dog Care Part 1: General Care Tips

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Senior Dog Care Part 1: General Care Tips

Dogs are often characterized by their endless energy, happy nature, and easy disposition. And while this is normally true, things can become a little more complicated when a dog reaches their senior years. As a dog ages, it can be more of a challenge to make sure they’re taken care of, thanks to more complex health needs. But it goes without saying that even the oldest dogs deserve our utmost love, care, and respect. With that in mind, here’s the first of our multi-part series covering our senior dog care tips for your aging pooch.

What happens when a dog gets older?

Just like people, our canine friends can experience the full spectrum of new challenges and difficulties as they age. One thing to keep in mind is that the age at which a dog is considered a ‘senior’ varies depending on the breed. Small breeds, like Malteses, Shih Tzus, and Dachshunds are typically not considered senior dogs until they’re ten years or older. Medium breeds such as Retrievers are considered senior a few years earlier, around six to eight years. Giant breeds like Great Danes and Mastiffs are considered senior at only five to six years of age. Keep in mind that these estimates are just guidelines and can vary even more depending on genetics, as well as the lifestyle of your dog.

Whatever breed of dog you have, the signs of aging are fairly consistent across all of them. Common changes include: 

  • Decreased energy
  • Sight problems (eg. cataracts)
  • Hearing loss
  • Organ difficulties (eg. kidneys, liver)
  • Weight gain

If your dog is starting to reach their golden years, it’s time to start adjusting their (routine and yours) in order to make them as comfortable as possible.

Ensure your dog’s comfort in their environment

Like people, senior dogs tend to be more sensitive to extreme temperatures. This is because they’re less able to thermoregulate as they get older. To combat this, ensure they’re kept at a comfortable temperature as often as possible. If it’s cold in the house, consider getting them a sweater or other garment to keep them warm. In colder winter months, limit their time spent outside and keep a close eye on your dog to ensure they’re comfortable. 

In the warmer months, it’s equally important to make sure your dog is kept cool. Avoid leaving them outside for long stretches of time in the heat. Not doing so can lead to dehydration and all kinds of further problems.

Choose an age-appropriate diet

As your dog changes in old age, their diet should as well. Often, a lower-fat, lower-calorie dog food is preferred for older dogs. Your veterinarian will be able to provide you with specific recommendations for food in order to meet your dog’s unique health needs. In general, don’t make any changes to your dog’s diet without your vet’s go-ahead, as changes can lead to unexpected issues later on.

Also, you should be cautious about dog food that’s marked as being specifically made for older dogs. While there is some regulation on what goes into these formulas, similar to food that’s especially made for puppies, there’s not enough oversight to act as a guarantee. When in doubt, always talk to your veterinarian when choosing food for your senior dog.

Carefully regulate exercise

Exercise is very important at all stages of a dog’s life. Not only does keeping them at a healthy weight reduce their risk of organ failure, diabetes, heart disease, and more, but also the added strain of excess weight can put stress on their joints, causing pain and perhaps more serious issues such as arthritis. 

At the same time, you should take care not to overwork your senior dog. They are no longer puppies after all, so just make sure you don’t push them too far. Be patient with your dog, and work your way up to more strenuous activities, depending on how they’re doing with your current routine.

Check in with your vet regularly

One of the best things you can do for your senior dog is to regularly book them to see your veterinarian. As a dog gets older, their immune system will weaken, leaving them more prone to illnesses and diseases that they’d otherwise be able to fight off. By getting them seen regularly by your vet, you can stay on top of their health and address any issues right away before they become more serious. A good rule of thumb is to take your senior dog into your family vet office at least once a year, unless otherwise specified by your vet.

Keep up with grooming and dental care

Senior dogs can develop irritated skin more frequently as they age, which can lead to a lot of discomfort for your pooch and not to mention dull the luster of their shiny coat. Brush them regularly to prevent matting and tangling, and use natural shampoos to nourish their hair and skin. 

Similarly, ensure you keep up with your dog’s oral care. Older dogs who have had insufficient dental care throughout their life can start to lose teeth, which can make eating more difficult and even potentially lead to infections. Regular annual exams will help assess dental health for your dog.

Accommodate your dog wherever possible

Depending on your dog and any special health conditions they may develop as they age, it may be necessary to adapt your home to make it as accommodating, comfortable, and accessible for them as possible. Dogs with sight problems might have a hard time finding their bed, so keep it in an easy spot and don’t move it around on them. Similarly, ensure their bed is soft and comfortable and that it provides the support they need to avoid any joint pain. 

Dogs with joint problems might have trouble getting up and down stairs, so keep their food, water, and bed at the same level so they’re always able to get what they need. If stairs are unavoidable in your home, you could consider buying or putting together a ramp in order to make them a little easier for your pooch. Dogs also have an easier time walking on carpet than on hardwood or tile, so consider adding some rugs to ensure they’ve got good footing.

Cherish your time together

There’s no getting around it—watching your dog age can be really, really hard. After years of delighting in their playful energy and boundless excitement, it can be a real challenge to adjust to life with a senior dog with less energy. Nevertheless, one of the best things you can do to make a senior dog feel comfortable is to spend as much time with them as you can.

Older dogs, particularly ones that are losing mental clarity, can easily get anxious when their owner isn’t by their side for long periods of time. If you can’t always be with your pet, try and ensure your dog always has a trusted family member or friend nearby, and cherish the time you two can spend together. In short, treat them like the beloved best friend that they are.

Aging can come with all kinds of additional complications for you and your dog. You may need to make adaptations to your routine that you never considered before. With all that in mind, it’s a great idea to ensure you’re well supported to take the best possible care of your furry friend. One of the best ways to do this is to keep in regular contact with your veterinarian. They can provide guidance, reassurance, and make recommendations as necessary to ensure your dog’s senior years are as comfortable as possible.

Stay tuned for the next part of our senior dog care series on our blog.

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Preventive Medicine for Pets: Why We Do What We Do

At Hastings Veterinary Hospital, we are all about providing pet owners with preventive medicine. So here’s what you need to know.

What is Preventive Medicine for Pets Exactly?

There are several different forms of preventive medicine that goes into our regular veterinary care services. Examples include vaccinations, blood testing, and flea and parasite control.

Basically you’re not bringing your pet in to see the veterinarian the minute they’re sick; you’re bringing them in to the vet office before such a stressful event can take place and cause you and your pet greater anxiety.

Why Do You Practice Preventive Veterinary Medicine?

Simple: we do what we do because we care about your pets. We all have pets at Hastings Veterinary Hospital, and we treat them like family—with love and respect. So, we always treat our pet patients and their families like they’re a part of our own family too.

We don’t want our pets to get sick, or be scared, or feel anxious—we know you don’t want that either. To avoid such stress in our lives, we make sure to follow up on scheduled appointment times and pay extra attention to the details of each pet’s case during an examination. In the event a specialist is needed, we’ll make the referral for you so your pet gets the best possible care they need.

Other benefits of preventive medicine for pets include, but are certainly not limited to, the following:

  • It’s less expensive. While there are surgical procedures that do fall under the category of preventive medicine, such as spaying and neutering, these procedures are far less costly than it would be if you only take care of your pet when they are sick and need more urgent care.
  • It’s less stressful. Going back to our previous point about reducing anxiety, by practicing preventive medicine through our routine check-ups and exams, we will be able to detect underlying conditions or address future concerns before they become an even bigger problem. For example, a bump on your pet’s skin could be a flea bite, or it can mean something else; either way, by bringing your pet in for an exam, you’re also bringing your family veterinarian’s attention to their case now as opposed to later when it may be too late to prevent secondary conditions from developing. Finding out that there is a problem now and addressing it sooner than later reduces future anxieties on you and your pet going forward!
  • It’s more considerate. From your pet’s perspective, they can only do so much to communicate to you whether they are happy and healthy or sick and in need of help. It’s tougher in some cases, especially for cats, since their natural reaction to pain is to hide it from potential predators. By practicing preventive solutions in your daily pet care routine, you are in turn contributing to the reduction of their fear and anxiety surrounding veterinary services. The less stressed out you feel about going to see the vet, the less stressed out your pet will be too.
  • It’s more beneficial to you and your pet’s well-being. Stress is the number one factor in causing harm to the body in both humans and animals. Once your pet is receiving preventive medicine and care, you will see a difference in their well-being tenfold. The alternative would be having to treat conditions left undiagnosed and untreated for too long…and that’s definitely not something we recommend you doing.

How Does It Work?

All you have to do to make preventive medicine for pets work is bring your pet in for their annual checkups and routine vaccinations and deworming. It’s that easy!

Ask any and all questions you have for your vet during checkups to ensure that your pet is getting the help they need. The more educated you become on how to best care for your pet, the greater the preventive solutions will be and the happier your pet will be for it. If you’d like to continue to learn more about pet care, our blog is a good start.

If you still have any questions regarding preventive medicine as a veterinary service, we are here for you. Contact us to learn more about our practice or if you’d like to book an appointment.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Hastings Veterinary Hospital and a clickable link back to this page.

Creative Ideas to Keep Pets Out of Christmas Decorations

If you’ve ever raised a cat or dog, you probably know that the holidays tend to bring new levels of challenge when it comes to keeping your furry friend safe. With all the exciting decorations, delicious food, and new people coming and going, the holidays can be an overwhelming time for pets.

One of the most common causes for pet injuries around this time of the year involves some kind of holiday decoration, whether it’s a Christmas tree or a strand of lights. Avoid unplanned visits to the veterinarian this winter with these creative ideas to keep pets out of your Christmas decorations.

How to Pet-proof Your Decorations

There are a number of decorations in the home that can be hazards for your pets. Of course, every animal is different, and what might be completely safe for one could be a serious danger to another. However, here are a few common Christmas decorations to keep a watchful eye over:

  • Christmas trees are a cherished and classic holiday decoration. However, because of their height, and the fact that they’re normally loaded with enticing, dangling decorations, they’re also one of the most common causes for holiday pet accidents.
  • Christmas lights are beautiful, but pose a couple of safety risks to many pets. The light bulbs, being so colourful and exciting, might be a temptation for a bite-happy dog. Likewise, playful pets might bite right through the cord, risking electric shock or even a fire. Finally, animals of all kinds have been known to get tangled up in the strands of lights, which could lead to injury.
  • Garlands are often seen in the home around the holidays. Whether they’re artificial or real, these decorations can be hazardous to keep around mischievous pets. Your cat or dog might get tangled up in the garland, possibly injuring themselves in the process. Also, the needles on some garland’s might shed, especially if you’re using the same decoration year after year. If your pet ends up getting these needles in their mouth, they could be a choking hazard.
  • Candles are a great way to set the holiday mood. Unfortunately, many animals find them alluring for the same reasons as humans, and could end up burning themselves or even knocking the candle over and starting a fire. 
  • Wrapping paper can be a hazard as well. If your pet is prone to eating little bits of whatever they can find, be sure to properly dispose of even the smallest scraps of wrapping paper after the gifts have been opened.

These are just some of the more common holiday hazards that could wind up causing trouble for your pet. Keep your cherished decorations in good shape, and keep your pet safe by taking a few simple precautions.

Choose Decorations Wisely

There are a huge variety of decorations available for trees, and taking the time to choose the right ones will go a long way in ensuring a safe holiday for everyone.

  • Fragile hanging baubles and glass decorations can be risky temptations, particularly for dogs who like to try eating whatever they can get their paws on. 
  • Since these decorations are liable to shatter, we advise keeping them off the tree, or at the very least, ensuring they’re higher up so your dog can’t reach them. 
  • The same goes for cats, since many are enticed by dangling objects. If you have a particularly mischievous cat, we’d recommend avoiding any tempting decorations entirely, since they’re likely to try and climb the tree to get at whatever catches their eye.
  • We also advise against any food-based decorations, such as strings of popcorn. These are just another temptation to most animals, and could be the thing to send them after your Christmas tree.

Consider the Pros and Cons of Real Trees

A real Christmas tree is a beautiful and nostalgic piece of holiday decoration, but you should consider carefully if it’s the right choice for your pet. Needles from a real pine or spruce tree can be a hassle and a hazard. Not only will your pet likely track them all through the house, but also they could be choking hazards for smaller animals, or possibly even be mildly poisonous depending on the type of tree and any chemicals present on the needles. In general, an artificial Christmas tree is likely to be the safest option for your pet.

Make a Barrier Around the Tree to Protect it from Nosy Pets

If you can’t seem to shake your pet’s interest in your Christmas tree, consider blocking access to it in some way. You could use a baby gate or a moveable play-pen to enclose it, or even block the way with larger gifts if your pet is small enough. The more you do to keep your pet away from the tree in general, the less likely they are to run into trouble.

Use Sprays to Deter Pets from the Tree

Pet deterrent sprays are available at most pet supply stores, but if those don’t work, or you’d prefer to make something at home, you can try spraying it with a concoction of water and turmeric. We recommend consulting with our veterinarian first to find out the safest way to deter your pet without bringing risk to them or your family.

Keep Electrical Cords Safe and Secure

Electrical cords pose a major hazard to pets, particularly to dogs with a knack for biting on things they shouldn’t. If possible, route Christmas light cables and extension cords high up so your pet doesn’t have the chance to chew on them. If this isn’t possible, you could always securely tape the cords to the floor. Just make sure to keep an eye on your pet to ensure they don’t try to pull the tape off in order to get at the cable.

Ensure the Tree is Well Secured

If you’re going to put a Christmas tree in your home with your pet, you should ensure it’s as securely placed as possible. Even small animals can climb up the tree, push it, or get tangled up in the branches, causing it to topple over. Not only can this injure your pet, but also it could hurt a family member, or at the very least wreck the tree, the decorations, and other objects in the room. 

Avoid this by ensuring the tree is well-secured to its base. It’s even better to have an additional point of contact, ideally at the top of the tree that’s fastened to a wall, ceiling, or curtain rod, to ensure the tree can’t be knocked over—no matter what.

Secure Your Decorations to the Tree

Another great way to ensure your decorations stay on the tree is to securely fasten them when you place them. You can use twist ties, clips, string, or stiff wire to do this. It’s best (and easiest) to do this for every ornament as you’re hanging them, and it’ll go a long way in keeping your decorations out of the mouth of any curious pets.

In General, Choose Safe Decorations Around the House

We all have our favourite seasonal decorations, but it’s important to keep your pets in mind when choosing them. There are a few decorations that can be major hazards to your pets, and should either be placed with extreme care or avoided entirely. 

Candles are a common choice for holiday decor, but are quite risky to keep around pets. The flickering flame is likely to catch the interest of your pets, particularly if you have an especially curious cat in the house. No matter what kind of pet you have, be very careful with candles, as they may try and play with it, potentially burning themselves or even knocking the flame over and starting a fire. If you want to achieve the same look, consider battery-powered candles with no heat or open flame. 

As you can see, decorating a house for the holidays with a pet in the equation comes with a few extra considerations. However, with a little extra thought and preparation, you can keep your home looking festive and beautiful, just the way you like it, while ensuring your pet has a safe and comfortable holiday as well. 

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Hastings Veterinary Hospital and a clickable link back to this page.

The Healing Power of Service Dogs for Our Veterans

For tens of thousands of years, humans and dogs have had a long-standing symbiotic relationship. They’ve helped us find food, protected us from predators, and provided much-needed companionship. So it’s clear that humans and dogs have an intertwined relationship. It can be difficult to discuss the history of one without discussing the other. This long history between us and our dogs carries on today, but not only when it comes to choosing a pet.

These days, fewer of us need to hunt to survive, or be protected as we spend the night in the wilderness. However, dogs are still helping us in an extremely important way: therapy and emotional support. Although any dog owner will tell you how helpful a dog is when they’re feeling down, there’s one group in particular that benefits from the inherent kindness and loyalty of a dog: our Canadian veterans.

A Brief History of Service Dogs

To understand the amazing impact service dogs can have on today’s veterans, we should take a look at the history of dogs helping humans out. Although we’ve co-existed with domesticated dogs for thousands of years, there’s evidence that they’ve been working in a service role for almost as long.

For instance, a piece of art discovered in Pompeii was discovered depicting a dog guiding a blind man. This depiction dates all the way back to 74 CE, during the rule of the Roman Empire. This is the first known example of a dog guiding a blind person. Other examples have been found from across the world, illustrating hundreds of years of dogs helping humans navigate their disability.

In 1780, the Paris hospital Les Quinze-Vingts began training dogs to guide blind people for the first time, formalizing the service role for the first time. From here, more and more dogs were specifically trained for this task until they became indispensable.

During the first World War, dogs played a crucial part in supporting troops on both the British and German sides. Whether it was delivering supplies or messages, leading medics to wounded troops, or keeping an eye out for enemy spies, dogs proved that they could support humans in more ways than previously thought. After the war ended, humans still made use of service dogs. Germany was the first nation to assign guide dogs to their veterans after World War I, pairing up around 4000 blind veterans with a faithful companion by 1927. 

That same year, an American dog trainer named Dorothy Harrison Eustis wrote an article about the German guide dogs in The Saturday Evening Post, an American magazine. By this point, Eustis had been working for a few years in Switzerland, training dogs for the police and military. After the article was published, she received a letter from one Morris Frank, a blind man in America who couldn’t believe what he’d heard about Germany’s guide dogs. He asked her to train him a dog, and to teach him how to train them himself, so that he could help the thousands of other blind Americans become self-sufficient. Eustis agreed, and trained a dog for Morris, who spent the rest of his life in the company of guide dogs (all of which were named Buddy). Eustis would go on to open an academy for training guide dogs in the United States, which inspired a movement across North America and Europe to do the same.

By this point, it was clear that dogs had a lot to offer when it came to helping people with disabilities. However, it’s only in the past fifty years that the modern training process has become the norm, allowing people from across the world to gain the advantage of working with a guide dog. What’s also changed in the past fifty years is our understanding of what a service dog can help with, particularly in regards to our veterans.

Of all the wounds that soldiers sustain when serving in active combat, few have been as poorly understood as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Because research on this mental illness is still in its infancy, we don’t know everything about helping veterans battle PTSD. However, research over the past few decades has suggested that service dogs have a crucial part to play in treating this mental illness. 

How Service Dogs Can Help Treat PTSD

In a study conducted by the US Department of Veteran Affairs, it was found that around 10% of veterans studied experienced depression, and another 10% struggled with anxiety. PTSD affects 11-20% of soldiers who saw combat, depending on which conflict they served in, and still more struggle with MST, or military sexual trauma. These mental illnesses can be extremely difficult to handle on one’s own, and are commonly linked to suicidal impulses, self-destructive behaviour, and difficulty with social adjustment.

Today, there are many organizations that train service dogs and connect them with veterans. Although these are also concerned with helping veterans after physical injuries, the growing knowledge of PTSD means mental health is becoming more of a priority for these organizations. Knowledge of other mental illnesses is growing in tandem with research on PTSD, allowing us to gain a better understanding of how to help people who have experienced trauma.

The National Institute of Health found in a study that interacting directly with an animal can monumentally improve a person’s socialization, as well as help stabilize a person’s mood. Furthermore, studies in the field of psychology have researched the effects of animals on people suffering from PTSD, and found that it can reduce symptoms by 80% simply through basic interactions. This is amazing news, but why does it happen?

Studies have shown that when we interact with an animal, our brains release oxytocin into our systems. This chemical is sometimes called the “love hormone,” or the “cuddle hormone,” as it’s often produced when we do either of those two things, helping us to bond and build trust. When our brain releases oxytocin, we feel happier, calmer, and more at ease. It helps to mentally ground us, and can soothe the symptoms of mental illness. The most amazing thing is that these results are easily replicable – as increased levels of dopamine and oxytocin can be seen after just twenty minutes of interacting with a service dog. 

For veterans struggling with high heart rates due to stress disorders, having a trusted and trained animal can actually be the difference between life and death, allowing the veteran to calm down and return to a more mentally grounded state. Similarly, studies have suggested that supplying veterans with a service animal can help them feel less alone, potentially reducing the disproportionately high rate of veteran suicide. 

All types of animals have been successfully used to treat patients struggling with previous trauma. From dogs and cats, to horses, and even iguanas, animals of all kinds have been shown to positively impact veterans dealing with trauma after returning home. Although the science is still in its early stages, initial results are so promising that the Department of Defense has invested $300 000 in research for animal-assisted veteran therapy. 

Guiding Our Veterans into the Future

It’s true that science can’t definitively say that there’s a link between service animals and recovery from PTSD or MST. However, subjectively, there’s a strong body of evidence to show that it can make all the difference for veterans trying to readjust to civilian life. As an example, The Wounded Warriors Project has been matching veterans with service dogs for almost twenty years, helping them in their battle against mental illness. 

If you ask us, having a service animal is invaluable when it comes to navigating life after trauma. As we approach Remembrance Day in Canada, we’re reminded of the countless men and women who have made unbelievable sacrifices in the course of their duties. And while remembering these sacrifices is incredibly important, it’s equally important to provide support wherever possible. Whether a veteran is returning home with an observable physical injury, or an invisible mental illness, or both, service dogs can be instrumental in helping them overcome their challenges, and guiding them into a brighter future.

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Hastings Veterinary Hospital and a clickable link back to this page.

What to Do If Your Dog Gets Stung

Warmer weather brings lots of new critters out and about. And while we love spending time in the sun with our furry friends, there’s still something to be on the lookout for: bees, wasps, and hornets. As you know, there’s little a dog loves more than chasing around after smaller creatures and sticking their nose where it might not belong. Sometimes this behaviour can wind up getting your dog in trouble, especially in the peak of the summer, when wasps, bees, and hornets are out in force.

Although a sting is one of the less serious injuries you and your dog need to worry about, there’s no doubt that they hurt, and lots of stings in the wrong place could even present a more serious injury. Knowing about the different types of stinging insects, as well as the best ways to treat those stings, can save your dog (and you) a lot of agony down the line.

Stinging insects to watch out for

There are a few insects that carry stingers and toxins – and there may be others specific to your area. However, in most places, you’re likely to run into the same three types of flying, stinging insects:

Bees

Bees are characterized by their fuzzy coat and larger abdomen. When a bee uses its stinger, it can be quite painful, but it will also kill the bee. Bee stingers are barbed, which means it becomes lodged in the skin, and can continue to channel toxins into the bloodstream until it’s removed. 

Although a bee sting is quite painful, it’s relatively rare to see a bee use its stinger. Since they can only use it once, bees will usually only sting if they feel threatened. If your dog sticks their nose into a flower patch that a bee happens to be pollinating, for instance, it may be intimidating enough for a bee to sting.

Wasps

Wasps are typically slimmer and sleeker than a bumble or honey bee, and fly through the air much quicker than their lumbering bee cousins. They have a smooth, hairless, almost shiny coat that is usually black and yellow (these wasps in particular are commonly known as yellowjackets). There are dozens of varieties of wasps all throughout the world, but their general description and behaviour is consistent across almost all of them.

Wasps are predators, and so tend to be more aggressive than bees, sometimes chasing after even the largest prey. If your dog winds up aggravating a wasp, or worse, disturbs a nest, there’s a good chance that the wasp will chase after the dog and go for a sting. This is because, unlike bees, a wasp is not killed by using their stinger, and can actually use it multiple times in a row. The upside of this is that wasp stingers normally do not lodge in the skin, as they’re not barbed.

Hornets

Hornets share a lot in common with wasps, with the major differences being in size and colour. Hornets are much larger, and can be identified by their hanging bodies as they fly around, and are usually marked with black and white rings, rather than black and yellow. Like a wasp, their stinger isn’t barbed, which means a hornet can deploy multiple painful stings in a row. Since hornets are even stronger predators than wasps thanks to their size, you may find them acting more aggressively, even towards a big dog.

Prevention tips for stings

The best way to get your dog relief from a sting is to prevent it completely. Of course, there’s no guarantee, especially when out in nature, but there are a few things you can keep in mind to improve your odds of a pain-free walk. For example, be aware of the types of locations your dog is likely to find stinging insects. In the daytime, flower patches or blooming bushes are likely to be full of pollinating bees, so try to keep your dog’s nose out of these areas.

Similarly, it’s a good idea to have an idea of where nests may be. While many bees, wasps, and hornets build hives in trees or other high areas, some wasps and yellowjackets actually build hives in the ground, usually with a small hole to access it. If you see your dog sniffing around a small hole in the dirt, proceed with caution, as they may be disturbing a hive.

Overall, the best method of preventing a sting on your dog is good training, and good on-leash control. It’s only natural for a dog to want to poke around and explore, but, sad as it may be, there are some spots that are best left un-sniffed. 

Treatment for a sting

If your dog does wind up getting stung, it’s important to understand the severity of the sting in order to make the best decision. Like we said, stings usually occur after a dog pokes their nose somewhere it might not belong, which means that the majority of stings seen on dogs are on their face. Obviously, this is a painful area for anyone to be stung, so learn about treatment now to save your dog some suffering down the line.

If your dog has only suffered one sting, you should be alright with minimal treatment. Remove the barb if needed, using your nails or a piece of rigid paper. Avoid using tweezers or pliers, as these can actually force more of the toxin into the skin. When the barb is out, it’s probably a good idea to head home. Once back, you can prepare one of a few simple home remedies to give your dog some relief. There are two treatments that are most effective when your dog has been stung by a wasp:

  • A weak solution of baking soda and water can be applied to the sting. The baking soda will help neutralize the toxin, and soothe the pain somewhat.
  • For swelling, you can place an ice pack or cold compress around the area, which will reduce the inflammation more quickly

It is also important to monitor for any immediate swelling of the face, eyes, ears, neck, lips, and excessive itchiness following the sting. This may indicate an anaphylactic reaction that needs urgent veterinary care.

All the while, you should be keeping a watchful eye on your dog. Like humans, some dogs are allergic to the toxin from stinging insects. This allergy can result in swelling and increased pain, but in more serious cases, it could actually be fatal. After a sting, keep an eye out for the following signs of allergic reaction:

  • Weakness or decreased energy
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excessive swelling (that lasts more than 1-2 hours), especially if it’s not near the area of the sting

While a single sting is usually little more than an irritation, multiple stings can be very serious. If your dog has been stung more than once, especially on the face, tongue, or inside of the mouth, you should take your dog to a veterinarian right away. Even without an allergy, the concentration of toxins in a small area can lead to excessive inflammation, not to mention a lot of pain.

Treating your dog at Hastings Veterinary Hospital

Whether it’s a bee sting or a pulled muscle, a hornet’s attack or an upset stomach, Hastings Vet has the team, techniques, and experience to take expert care of your four-legged companion. We love animals, and this passion carries through every day at our clinic. If you have more questions about treating your dog’s wasp sting, prevention of stings, or anything else to do with your pet and their health, contact us today!

Creative Commons Attribution: Permission is granted to repost this article in its entirety with credit to Hastings Veterinary Hospital and a clickable link back to this page.

Safety Tips to Go Camping With Your Dog

Getting into the great outdoors and spending a few nights there is a great way to get out of the house, disconnect from the stresses of day-to-day life, and appreciate the beauty of nature. When it comes to relaxing outside, there’s no better authority than our dogs. Bringing your dog on a camping trip can be a great experience, and can lead to powerful bonding moments between humans and their animals. However, there’s some preparation needed in order to keep you, your dog, and your fellow campers safe, comfortable, and happy. Read on for our top tips on safely going camping with your dog!

Phase 1: Preparation

If you’ve been on a camping trip before, you’re familiar with the sheer amount of preparation necessary for a successful adventure. There are so many little things that won’t seem so little if you get out there and realize you’ve forgotten it, so getting organized and prepared is a must. This is even more true when it comes to going camping with your dog. Before even looking at campsites, there are some steps you should check off your to-do list, such as:

Ensuring your dog’s shots are up to date

With massive tracts of wild land to explore, and countless things to smell, it’s quite likely your dog will wind up poking its nose where it doesn’t belong. That’s why ensuring they’re up to date at the vet is crucial. It’s very possible your dog will run into other dogs while camping, so it’s important that they’ve had the DHPP (Distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, parvovirus) vaccinations. These diseases are quite contagious, and can be harmful or even fatal to pets. Your dog should also be up to date on immunizations for other illnesses, such as rabies, bordetella, and leptospirosis. This will not only keep your dog safe, but eliminate the chance of other dogs being infected.

It’s also a good idea to get your dog on a preventative treatment for parasites, such as fleas, mosquitos that can transmit heartworm, and ticks. We recommend having your pet on this treatment year-round, but it’s especially important when taking an extended camping trip. Like humans, dogs can contract Lyme disease from a tick-bite, not to mention potentially bringing a few unwelcome pests home with them, so it’s a good idea to take all the preventative measures possible, for everyone’s comfort and safety.

Training

Ensuring your dog is well trained is an extremely important part of preparing for a camping trip with your canine companion. Even if your dog is fairly well-behaved at home, there’s no telling what will get into them once you’re out there. The unfamiliar environment, and wealth of strange new sights, sounds, and smells, can be downright overwhelming for even the most well-adjusted dogs. That’s why going over the doggy training basics can make such a huge difference in everyone’s enjoyment of your next trip.

A good place to start is making sure your dog is comfortable hanging out in an enclosed area, such as a playpen or a crate. Most campsites require all dogs to be on-leash, and this isn’t exactly easy when you need both hands to set up camp, make dinner, or roll a sleeping bag. You can also tether them with a long lead, but remember that this is no substitute for supervision, and that there’s still lots of trouble for them to get into.

If your dog is a big barker, consider whether bringing them camping is a good call or not. People get outside to enjoy the soothing sounds of nature, not to hear someone else’s dog barking at squirrels at all hours of the day. If you aren’t able to keep your dog’s voice down, they may be best left with a sitter for your trip.

A few other commands that your dog should have down pat before your trip include: Sit, stay, come, quiet, and drop it. Your pup needs to have a strong handle on these commands, or there’s no telling what kind of mischief they’ll get up to. With other campers, who may have dogs or children, not to mention the potentially sensitive flora and fauna in your area, it’s crucial that you can keep your dog under control at all times. 

Keeping track of your dog

With so much room to run and play, there’s always the possibility of a dog tearing off into the woods, and you spending the rest of your trip searching for them. Since they’ll have no idea how to get home, it’ll be up to you to track them down. Should this horrible experience of losing your dog happen to you, you’ll be glad you took the time to ensure your dog was properly identified on its collar, and that it has its microchip, so it can be identified if it turns up later. Although this might not help you track them down in the moment, (that’s what all that training was for!) it greatly improves the chances of the two of you being reunited.

Getting your dog used to roughing it

While we may be able to prepare ourselves, mentally and physically, for sleeping on the ground in a tent, our dogs may not yet be up to the task. It’s a good idea to get your dog used to sleeping outdoors, even if that means the two of you spending the night in a tent in the backyard. Even if you can’t make time to spend the night in a tent together beforehand, bringing your dog’s favourite treats, toys, blankets, and other objects will help your pup be more comfortable in the tent, and get excited about roughing it.

Do your research!

Depending on your destination, there are lots of things to be on the lookout for when camping with your dog. It’s important to read up on the area you’re planning to camp, and find out what kinds of plants and animals may cause problems for you and your dog. Parasites, as discussed before, are nearly everywhere, but can be much worse in some areas than others (think a marshland full of mosquitos). On top of that, predators like bears, cougars, coyotes, or snakes can pose a major threat. It’s not overly likely to run into these creatures, but it’s important to be aware of them, and plan accordingly. Additionally, look up if there are any dangerous plants your dog might run into, such as stinging nettles or poison ivy, or perhaps something more exotic. 

Other things that will be important to research are the campsite’s dog policy. Are well-behaved dogs allowed to roam off-leash, or must they remain tethered at all times? Most campsites will have information online about their dog policy, or have specific sites that are dog-friendly. If you can’t find the information you need, you can always give the site a call, or try a third party site such as Bring Fido, which can help you find a suitable destination.

The bottom line here, though, is to do extensive research, and learn everything you can about the area before visiting. 

What to bring

In a previous post, we discussed the best ways to prepare your dog for a hike, complete with a packing list. Many of the same principles apply to a camping trip, with a few added items that are a good idea to bring along. Here’s our list of essential supplies for camping with your dog:

  • Water and a collapsible bowl
    • No matter when or where you go camping, you can count on your dog getting thirsty. It’s important to bring enough water, or ideally, more than enough. Exactly how much depends on the size and breed of your dog, the temperature of the area, and the expected level of intensity of getting to the campsite, as well as any day trips or other activities you have planned. One thing is for certain, you don’t want to run out of water while camping with your dog, for your sake and theirs. As well, do your best to stop your dog from drinking from streams, ponds, and puddles, as this water may pass parasites or pathogens to your pup.
  • Food and treats
    • For day-to-day sustenance, or for when your dog needs a little pick-me-up (or a convincing bribe).
  • Poop bags! (And/or a spade)
    • Always make sure to clean up after your dog, either bagging it and properly disposing of it, or, if it’s not possible to pack it out, burying it at least a foot deep, a hundred feet or more from water access points, roadways, or civilization in general. 
  • Doggy first aid kit
    • On top of your normal first aid gear, we recommend adding some dog-safe antihistamines and antiseptics, as well as liquid bandages for paw pads. 
  • A cozy dog bed
    • While your dog might be attached to their cozy bed at home, it’s a good idea to get a second bed that’s designed for camping. These usually are thicker, and provide better insulation for your dog to keep them comfortable through the night. The more comfortable your dog is in the tent, the less likely you are to be woken up by a restless pup in the middle of the night.
  • A long leash
    • For campsites that only allow tethered dogs, look for a sturdy leash with a good length. You should be able to wrap it around a tree when needed, while still giving your dog a decent amount of room to roam. At the same time, it should be short enough to allow you to keep control of your dog at all times.
  • Doggy-dedicated towel
    • This will allow you to dry and clean them off before letting them into your tent, keeping whatever dirt, water, or unwelcome critters out of your sleeping area. We recommend bringing a towel that is just for your dog, because, well, who would want to share?
  • Dog-friendly sunscreen and bug spray
    • These specialty products may prove a little hard to find, but they’re essential for keeping your dog healthy and happy on your camping trip. Sunscreen made for dogs will protect them from harmful UV rays, while special bug spray will protect them from mosquitos, and therefore from heartworm. IMPORTANT: Never use DEET on your dog!
  • Your dog’s favourite toy(s)
    • A little something to remind them of home, and keep them out of trouble while you brew that first pot of coffee.
  • A reflective or illuminated collar
    • While not essential, having an LED light or reflective surface on your dog’s collar or jacket can be a big help in tracking them down should they leave your sight.

Phase 2: Arriving to the campsite

Although it’s tempting to get to work straight away on setting up camp, remember that this all might be a bit of a scary or overwhelming experience for your four-legged friend. Keep them calm by giving them a (leashed) tour of the place, and allow them to check everything out under your supervision. This will help put the dog at ease for the rest of the trip, as well as hopefully satisfy their curiosity, and stop them from running off at the first chance they get. You can also help make your pet more comfortable by setting up a relaxing, safe spot for them to hang out while you’re in the campsite. Someplace that’s shady and free of pests or hazards, and allows them to get a good lay of the land.

Phase 3: Enjoying the trip!

You’ve done your due diligence, prepared and planned accordingly, and you and your dog have finally arrived. What to do now? Well, the world is your oyster, but here are a few suggestions on activities to do while camping with your dog:

1. Fetch!

This one might seem a little obvious, but truthfully, camping is one of the best times to play fetch with your dog. Think about how excited your pet will be to be running wildly in a huge open area, not having to worry about other dogs or people. It’s the little things that make life worthwhile, and we certainly count a round of fetch in the grout outdoors among them.

2. Go for a hike

If your dog is up to the task, we recommend taking a hike while you’re camping! Lots of campsites have great day trips or even overnight hikes in the area, so have a look around in your research phase to see if any trails catch your eye. It can be a good challenge for your dog, and lots of fun for the both of you. 

3. Take a dip

If it’s mid-summer, and there’s a beautiful, undisturbed body of water nearby, we probably don’t even have to make this recommendation. And your dog certainly won’t need to be told twice! You may just find yourself wading out there after them.

4. Just take it all in!

Life as a dog is simple, but that simplicity is what we find so wonderful. Even just taking your pal on a little walk around the area, especially if your dog is a breed not predisposed to more challenging hikes, can be a great way to get them excited. After all, it’s only natural that your dog will want to smell, eat, or pee on just about everything, so you may as well join them on the trip, and make sure they don’t get into too much trouble.

Going camping with your dog can be an incredibly fun, exciting, and rewarding experience. There’s nothing quite like experiencing the great outdoors with your best friend, and more often than not, taking a trip with them will lead to powerful bonding moments that neither of you will soon forget. With proper preparation, training, and understanding of how to look after your pet in the wild, anyone can experience the joys of camping with their dog.

For questions about getting your dog camp or hike-ready, or anything else around your animals and their needs, don’t hesitate to contact Hastings Veterinary Hospital today!

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