PAWS FOR THOUGHTS ON PET HEALTH: Part 1 Canine Exercise, Part 2 Cleaning Your Pet’s Stuff
By Coach Kat, June 14, 2020, copyright Bronwyn Katdaré 2020
PART I Canine Exercise
Since many people have been at home with their pets for the last few months or adopted new pets while in quarantine, you may have started noticing some new things about your pet’s behaviors or have become curious about the health and safety of your pet. This month, I’ve compiled some tips (in two parts) to keep your pets safe, happy, and healthy. (If you wonder about my credentials in so doing, I am a Certified Pet and Working K9 Trainer and Handler Instructor, an Explosives Detection Dog handler, a Certified Canine Athlete Specialist, and I have owned my own dog training business, Katdaré K9 Coaching, for over a decade).
With the official start of summer on June 20th, you may have started or extended your pet’s exercise routine to go along with the longer days or more hours that you’ve been at home or working from home. A little FYI, dog parents get an average of 8 hours of physical activity per week, while non-dog owners get only 4.5 hours. Kudos to the pups for getting you moving! Before starting or extending any dog exercise routine (especially during the summer months), you’ll want to talk with your vet, especially if your dog is older, has any type of health and/or mobility issues, is less than 18 months old, or is a breed that is prone to breathing problems or heatstroke (those with short snouts, etc.). Remember, dogs do not sweat and must pant in order to cool off. Dogs with short snouts or smushed faces cannot get air in as effectively as dogs with longer snouts and, therefore, have a very difficult time cooling down. These dogs may need very early morning walks when the air is cooler and not so thick as well as walks that are shorter in duration with longer breaks.
Always keep an eye on the temperature! Always check the heat index (what temperature it feels like) and avoid outings from 10am-5pm when the sun is at its highest. Early morning and evenings are the best times for outdoor physical activity with your dog. As a general rule-of-thumb, add 20 degrees to the temperature to account for the fur coat your dog is wearing (yes, even if you have your dog shaved for the summer!). Even having your dog outdoors during this time is a no-no, especially if there is little shade or if your dog lounges in the sunshine instead of getting into the shade. If your dog starts barking or gets excited while in warmer weather or sunshine, your dog can easily have heat exhaustion, heatstroke, or a seizure.
In the same vein, place the back of your hand on the road for 5 seconds. If it is too hot for your hand, it is too hot for your dog’s paws. Choose another time to go for a romp or forego outdoor activities that day.
Also, avoid taking your dog in the car with you even on a “not-so-warm” day. Temperatures inside your vehicle easily and quickly ramp up to over 120 degrees even with the windows cracked open. How many of you are distracted by thoughts or talking on your phone when you get out of the car? It is easy to forget that your dog is in the car with you, especially if they have fallen asleep or are in the backseat, cargo area, or a crate. This can be disastrous, as it was for a friend of mine whose dog died due to heatstroke from being forgotten in the car.
What types of activities are you doing with your dog? Whatever you choose, start slowly. “Weekend warrior” dogs are just as prone to injury as are humans who only exercise intermittently or who exercise too intensely. If your dog is sedentary now, start low and slow – go for a 5 minute walk 3 times/day for a few weeks. After that you can add on a little bit more every week. If your dog is already used to walking for 40+ minutes per day, you may add in a bit of jogging (preferably on a grassy trail to prevent shoulder, hip, and knee strain). Only do this if your dog is over 18 months old so that the growth plates have fully closed and only if your dog is not a senior dog. You weren’t born a runner and neither was your dog. Start at a slow jog at approximately the distance between telephone poles and then walk for a few minutes; then do that slow jog again and then walk for a few minutes. No matter what, PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR DOG! Notice if he is panting a lot – slow to a walk, get in some shade, and provide some water. Notice if he is limping or slowing down. If your dog is lagging behind or sitting down, he is done. Call it a day. Also take note if your dog seems to be sore, having a hard time getting up or lying down, or is limping and scale back the type and/or duration of exercise. Give your dog time off to rest and recover if you notice soreness. Incorporate a day or 2 of rest into your exercise routine with your dog.
You may decide to integrate other types of exercise for your dog into your day like balance exercises, stretching and massage, running, stepping onto special equipment like dog peanuts or KLIMB equipment, low jumps, or strength training (doggie planks, anyone?). These are all real “things” and all things I have been trained to teach as a canine athlete specialist.
When you are out-and-about, please do not use a retractable leash. These leashes make it difficult to control your dog, can easily be wrapped around your legs or tangle another person or dog, and make it too easy for your dog to get out in front of you and into traffic. Also, be cautious about going off-leash. Only dogs with a PROVEN and CONSISTENT ability to Come should ever be allowed off-leash. Additionally, your dog might be friendly and could make friends with anyone but other people’s dog might not. With a leash, you have the ability to control all situations.
I shouldn’t have to say this but what I see left behind on the trails and roads leads me to say, “Please pick up after your pet!” I have biodegradable poop bags tied to the leash and carry a small pouch across my body (I call it a “poop pouch”) so I can put used poop bags in it while keeping my hands free. Folks, just because you put the poop in a bag does not mean you can leave the bag behind in a parking lot.
PART II Cleaning Your Pet's Stuff
OK, since we are talking about cleaning up after your pet, let’s shift into cleaning your pets “stuff.” According to a public health and safety study, pet bowls and toys ranked among the 5 germiest items in the home. They are a breeding ground for yeast, mold, and a variety of bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. This study only looked at dishes and toys but you can bet your bottom dollar that bedding, collars, harnesses, leashes, brushes, and crates are yucky, too!
So, how do you disinfect your pet’s stuff (not just dogs but cats and others, too)? Let’s start with pet bowls. Wash your pet’s food and water dishes DAILY with hot, soapy water. Do you feel the slime? Yes? That’s called “biofilm” and it’s a colony of bacteria. A good scrubbing with dish soap will get rid of it (you might have to let it soak) but even better is loading the dishes into the dishwasher a few times/week.
Please, get rid of the plastic dishes. When plastic gets scratched, bacteria fill in the scratches. Also, plastic is not good for anyone’s health. Plastic leaches chemicals that are endocrine disruptors (hormone disruptors), and are linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems. Choose stainless steel over plastic. Ceramic is also a good choice.
Sidebar: how do you store your pet’s food? Do you keep it in the bag? Where is that bag – is it damp or very warm where you keep it? Do you use a food storage container? Is it plastic? Again, do not use plastic as these chemicals will leach into your pet’s food. Bags that the food comes in may potentially be coated with chemicals that break down into the food. Store food in a cool, dry place, away from vents in a stainless steel container. Can’t find a stainless container? A metal garbage can works (just be sure to tightly seal the lid so the food is not exposed to air).
Does your pet have a favorite toy? Does it look like it’s seen better days? Do you cringe when your pet brings this toy to you because you just don’t want to touch it? Well, if you don’t want to touch it with your hands, should your pet be putting it in his mouth? Scour all visible dirt from hard toys with a brush and dish soap and soak them weekly for at least 10 minutes. Wash plush toys according to manufacturer’s directions, but be warned, squeakers may not survive. If the toy is just too disgusting, toss it.
Finally, beds with removable covers should go through the warm-hot water setting on your washing machine weekly. You can toss collars, harnesses, and leashes in there, too. Add ½ cup white or apple cider vinegar to the wash to get out the stink. You may also want to add any product with the words “Oxi” or “enzyme” on the label to break down tough odors. If your pet’s bed does not have a removable cover, soak it in the bathtub with mild detergent and ½ cup of vinegar. Place it in the sunshine to dry and kill more bacteria.
Crates can be a pain in the butt to break down and wash but during the summer, it’s a breeze to take them outside, break down the pieces and scrub them with warm soapy water, a brush, and the hose. During the winter, I clean them by ringing out a soapy rag and rinsing with a rag of water. I then disinfect them using paper towels soaked in vinegar-water solution. You might find biofilm in crates, too, especially if your dog eats, drinks, or has toys in there.
I could go on for days when talking about pet health. This will not be the last of my blogs dedicated to the health of your pet so keep an eye out for the next one!
If you are interested in any of the products mentioned, check out my Chewy.com affiliate link! I am proud to partner with Chewy to help give your pets the best life! Click here for the link.
Also, if you are interested in giving your pet the best life, check out my dog training programs! I have introduced FULLY ONLINE private dog training programs for you and your dog. There is no need to come in contact with another person during this pandemic and if you live far away from me, you still have access to my training (my dog teaches these classes along with me!). Click here for information on my programs.
(Bronwyn Katdaré is a certified Nutrition, Lifestyle, and Functional Medicine Health Coach. She is also a Certified Pet and Working K9 Trainer and Handler Instructor, an Explosives Detection Dog Handler, a Certified Canine Athlete Specialist, and has owned her own dog training business, Katdaré K9 Coaching, for over a decade).