Author Archives: citizenpet

Use caution when exercising your dog in summer

Young labrador retriever playing with water from sprinklersExercise is one of the best ways to keep your pets slim and trim and help prevent serious diseases  like cancer. With summer just around the corner, people and their pets will be spending a lot more time outdoors. But remember, exercising your pets in hot weather comes with some health risks. Here are some great tips on exercising safely when the mercury rises:

• Some dogs including those with thick coats, the elderly, very young, overweight and flat-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds such as English bulldogs, pugs, Boxers, Pekingese and Shih Tzus, are at an increased risk of heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke and dehydration and should be kept indoors when it’s hot outside. If you don’t have air conditioning in your home then keep a fan going to keep things comfortable.

• On hot days, it’s better to exercise in the early morning or late evening when it’s cooler. If you are out in the heat during the day, take shorter walks and try to stay in shaded areas. Water-related activities are a great way to keep your dog cool. Head to the lake (if you’re so fortunate), or fill up the kiddie pool in the back yard or turn on the sprinkler for your dog to run through. Remember: if your dog is out in the yard on a hot day, make sure he has access to a well-ventilated shady area to cool off.

• Make sure your dogs always have access to water, both indoors and out. Change the water frequently so it stays fresh and cold, especially if you have multiple dogs. If you go for a longer walk or hike away from home, make sure you bring along lots of water for both you and your dog. Bring along a collapsable bowl as it’s difficult to give your dog a drink directly from a bottle.

• Get to know the signs of dehydration and heatstroke as these two conditions can be deadly. In hot weather, your dog can quickly become dehydrated. Make sure your dog drinks plenty of water and watch for signs of dehydration: lack of skin elasticity; sunken eyes; dry or sticky gums; lethargy; and changes in urination.

• When your dog’s temperature rises to a level where they can no longer cool themselves, heatstroke occurs and you should seek immediate medical attention. Common signs of heatstroke include: heavy panting; drooling; staring or glazed eyes; fever; excessive thirst; difficulty breathing; vomiting; deep red or purple tongue or gums; and in severe cases seizures and unconsciousness.

• Dogs with short, light-coloured coats such as Dalmations, Pitbulls, white Boxers and American Bulldogs as well as cats with white coats are more susceptible to sunburns, which is linked to skin cancer, so be particularly careful with these animals when you’re outside. Apply sunscreen to unprotected areas of skin such as the ears and nose and re-apply sunscreen regularly as directed.

For dogs with heavier coats that spend a lot of time outdoors, daily grooming and a light trim instead of shaving is recommended so their skin is not left unprotected from the sun.

• Walking on hot asphalt or sand can burn your dog’s paw pads. Protect your dog’s paws by applying a protective wax before heading out, put summer booties on or walk your dog in shady or grassy areas.

Although not related directly to exercise, a serious safety concern that comes up every summer is leaving pets alone in parked vehicles. NEVER leave your dog alone in a parked car when it’s hot outside! It only takes a few minutes for the temperature inside your vehicle to reach dangerous levels. Cracking the windows will NOT help. Please don’t risk your dogs’ life by leaving them alone in a parked vehicle.

Do pulses belong in pet food?

By Christina Weese

A three-year study at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) may find a new use for some of the province’s most popular pulse crops — peas, faba beans and lentils.

The study plans to look at the digestibility and glycemic index of different pulse starches for cats and dogs. Researchers are hoping to demonstrate that by replacing corn (a common pet food ingredient) with pulses, they can achieve lower blood sugar levels in cats and dogs.

“Our overall goal is to find diets that provide a low glycemic index and all the health benefits that come with it,” says WCVM research associate Kayla Zatti. She and graduate student Jennifer Briens are working with Dr. Lynn Weber, an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences. The project team also includes Drs. Murray Drew and Tom Scott from the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources.

“When an animal (or human) eats starch, some of that starch is metabolized as sugar in the bloodstream,” Zatti explains. “This rise in blood sugar levels is measured by the glycemic index (GI). In humans, diets that provide a low GI are linked to a lower incidence of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, among other health benefits.”

The wide-ranging study will compare the effect of four different starches (peas, faba beans, lentils and corn) in omnivores and carnivores across three different species — cats, dogs and two varieties of fish. Corn is included as a control starch.

One of the study’s goals is to develop GI indexes for these starches in cats and dogs. That will help to determine which pulse starch can provide the highest digestibility and the lowest GI.

“Omnivores (dogs) and carnivores (cats) digest and use carbohydrates differently. Carnivores in nature eat a strict protein diet. The problem with pet food is that it’s very high in carbohydrates, which carnivores have a hard time digesting. We’re looking for the best mix of carbs and protein,” says Zatti.

If researchers can provide pets with a more compatible diet, health effects from diseases such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease may be mitigated.

“This is especially true for carnivores such as cats,” says Zatti. “Cats don’t have as high an activity of the enzymes that break down carbohydrates, so they’re more vulnerable to high blood sugars (and resulting insulin spikes) which contribute to Type II diabetes.”

“We know it’s true for humans,” Briens adds. “When you compare pulses to rice and corn — two common pet food ingredients — pulses are definitely providing a lower glycemic index. But there’s little actual research done on GI on cats.”

The study will also include two fish species: Nile tilapia (omnivores) and rainbow trout (carnivores). The WCVM researchers hope to be able to make recommendations on the use of pulses in commercial fish food for aquaculture operations.

The study starts with the eight cats that have already arrived at the university. The research team will eventually repeat the study in a group of beagles.

In the first part of the study, researchers will feed a whole-food diet containing one of the test starches for a total of eight weeks. They’ll then test feces collected from the animals and fish to see how much undigested starch travels through the species’ digestive tract.

“For the digestibility trial, we acclimate them for a week on the diet,” explains Zatti. An indigestible “marker” is included in the feed at a ratio of 30 per cent starch to one per cent marker. Researchers will weigh and measure the ratio of starch to marker in the feces to determine how much of the starch was digested.

In the second part of the study, the animals will be fed small amounts of pure starch in both extruded and non-extruded forms. “Extruding changes the digestibility of the starch, much like cooking changes the digestibility of food—so we want to test both kinds of pure starches,” says Briens.

For this part of the study, the cats will only participate one or two days per week. Researchers will feed each cat a small amount of a specific starch and then perform a few simple tests such as a blood pressure test and a cardiac ultrasound examination. Researchers will also take a number of blood samples over several hours to determine a GI curve index for corn and for the pulses.

“The cats have to sit for these tests without any sedatives,” says Zatti, “so we have to make sure the research room is a happy place with lots of treats and play time.”

Zatti and Briens also take pains to ensure the cats are happy and well socialized. The animals are kept in group housing and are in constant contact with people and with each other. After the three-year study is complete, they’ll be adopted out to homes in the community through a selective adoption process.

Any animals that are withdrawn from the study for handling reasons or health concerns are adopted out right away.

Collected data will help to flesh out other parts of this wide-ranging study. For example, blood samples will be studied for biomarkers of inflammation, oxidative damage and stress. Another graduate student, Marina Subramaniam, is also using the project’s results to study a genetic component of nutrition.

With funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, Alliance Grain Trades and Horizon Pet Foods, this study is a great example of collaboration between U of S researchers and partners in industry.

—Reprinted with permission from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Companion Animal Health Fund (

Is a raw food diet right for your pet?

Labrador retriever puppyCommercial pet food has only been around for about 100 years but animals have hunted prey or scavenged for millions of years. Unfortunately, many commercial pet foods contain lots of carbohydrates in the form of corn, wheat, rice or potato, which our dogs and cats find difficult or impossible to digest.

Over the years, an increase in the number of health problems in our pets such as itchy skin, allergies, dental problems and sore ears to name a few, were thought to be related to what our pets were eating.

In 1993, Australian veterinarian, Dr. Ian Billinghurst, published his groundbreaking book, Give Your Dog a Bone, which is said to have started the raw food diet movement. Now, with some science under our belt and much anecdotal evidence, feeding raw seems to be gaining momentum with both veterinarians and pet guardians.

What is a raw food diet?

A raw food diet usually contains bones, muscle and organ meats, vegetables, fruit and other whole foods. The theory behind feeding raw food is that our pets’ ancestors ate raw meat and bones, and represents a more natural diet for our dogs and cats.

These days there are several different types of raw food diets including frozen raw and freeze-dried. As with all pet foods, some are better quality than others, so make sure you do your homework to ensure you make the right choice for your pet.

What are the benefits of feeding a raw food diet?

Just some of the benefits of feeding a raw food diet include:

  • Cleaner teeth and fresher breath
  • Low stool volume
  • Healthy skin
  • Shiny coat
  • Fewer arthritic symptoms
  • Higher energy levels
  • Improved circulation

What health issues are known to respond well to raw diets?

Raw diets, with additional Vitamin A may help prevent cancer. Cancer cells feed on carbohydrates, which are not present in a raw diet. Organ meats, which are part of a raw diet, are an excellent source of Vitamin A, which is also thought to prevent the growth of cancer cells.

Most kibble-fed dogs have a tendency to develop tartar and plaque that can lead to periodontal disease. Dogs do not produce the enzyme amylase, normally present in human saliva, which helps break down carbohydrates and prevent tartar and plaque build up. A raw diet contains few, if any, carbohydrates, minimizing the risk of tartar and plaque build up and dental disease. Other health issues that may respond well to a raw diet include diabetes, obesity, epilepsy, allergies and gastrointestinal problems.

How much raw food should I feed my dog?

The amount to feed will vary from one dog to another depending upon age, activity level and size. Generally you will feed adult dogs 2 per cent to 2.5 per cent of their body weight, active dogs 3 per cent and puppies 5 per cent per day. Overweight or senior dogs need 1.5 to 2 per cent of their body weight per day. Let your dog’s activity levels, appetite and body condition be your guide!

Is raw food safe?

Preparing raw pet food is no different than preparing raw meat for your human family. Raw pet food from a reputable manufacturer that takes safe food handling seriously combined with safe food handling at home poses no bacterial threat to your pet or your human family.

What about salmonella?

Salmonella is found in about 40 per cent of healthy dogs and about 20 per cent of healthy cats regardless of whether they are fed a raw diet or not. Salmonella is a normal part of a pet’s gastrointestinal system and they naturally shed salmonella bacteria in their feces and saliva.

There is no risk to humans of being infected with salmonella from pets who are fed a raw diet. The risk of getting salmonella poisoning lies in how raw pet food is handled. As when preparing meals for people or pets, you need to wash your hands before and after handling any raw meat or other foods. Make sure to disinfect counters, bowls, cutting surfaces and utensils that came in contact with raw pet food. Also, wash your pet bowls often.

Can I feed my cat a raw diet too?

Cats are true carnivores and need a meat-based diet. Cats derive the same benefits as dogs from a raw diet. In fact, raw meat is one of the best sources of essential amino acids pets need to grow healthy and strong.

Hunting cats will eat the contents of their prey’s stomach and small intestine. This provides them with a source of dietary fibre and nutrients like Vitamin E that are available primarily from plant sources. In order to mimic this, you can give your cat access to some natural greens like cat grass and supplement their diet occasionally with Vitamin E.

How much should I feed my cat?

Adult cats should eat about 5 per cent to 8 per cent of their body weight per day, depending on their activity level. Also, it’s best if cats are fed two or three times a day — do not leave raw food out for cats to graze on. Kittens require about 8 per cent to 10 per cent of their body weight per day (Weigh your kitten each week and adjust the amount fed accordingly). This amount should be split into three to four small meals daily. As kittens reach their full adult weight around 10 to 12 months, you can gradually reduce the amount and times per day you feed to adult levels. These percentages are meant to act as a guide only — every cat is different. Adjust the amounts to keep your cat at a healthy weight.

The obesity epidemic

Fat ginger catObesity is not just a problem for people, our pets are packing on the pounds too. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, it’s estimated that over 45 per cent of all the pets in North America are overweight or obese. The major cause of this epidemic is overfeeding. Overfeeding our pets can lead to a number of significant health concerns. Not only can obesity shorten our pets’ lives, the health risks can include Type II diabetes, respiratory disorders and many forms of cancer.

It’s important to periodically check your pet’s weight throughout all life stages. Putting your pets on a scale is not the best way to evaluate their weight because within each breed there are varying sizes and weights. Instead, look at the appearance of your pet. This means you should be able to feel the ribs easily without pressing, but you should not be able to see the ribs through the coat. The torso should also resemble an hourglass when viewed from above.

You can conduct these quick checks on your own but since it can be hard for pet guardians to be objective, it’s best to seek a second opinion. If you’re pet is overweight, make sure there is no medical reason for the extra pounds before putting them on a diet.

Portion control is the number one way to combat obesity. Feeding recommendations or instructions on your pet’s food are sometimes inflated. The portion size on the packaging is for the average pet. Lifestyle, activity level and age also affect how much food a pet should receive. If your pet is overweight, feed less from the recommended amount and adjust from there.

Measuring out your pets’ food may not be as convenient as filling a bowl and letting them “graze” for the day, but the benefits far outweigh the extra time it takes to measure. And, feeding your pets two to three times a day will keep you in control of how much they eat and should keep any hunger pangs at bay.

If your pet is on a weight-loss program, it may be difficult to resist the temptation to give them more food when they look at you with their begging eyes or paw at their dish. The solution is to give them some extra attention. Most pets will substitute a walk, some TLC or chasing their favourite ball for that extra portion of food. Besides, most pets could probably use a little extra exercise.

Regular vet checkups make sense

puppy playingThe most important reason to develop a good relationship with your veterinarian and visit him regularly is to catch any serious illness, especially cancer, early. The sooner treatment is started for any serious illness the better your chances of a positive outcome.

Dogs, in particular, age much faster than we do so health issues can creep up very quickly. An annual checkup is recommended and more frequently for senior dogs as 50 per cent of dogs over the age of 10 will develop cancer.

Veterinarians know that they can better care for your pet if you take an active role in ensuring the health and wellness of your companion. It’s up to you to take your pet to the vet regularly and follow any prescribed care at home. Also, understanding what you can expect from a routine vet exam will help you better communicate any changes or issues you notice with your pet’s overall physical and emotional well-being.

Here is what you can expect your vet to look for during a routine annual checkup:

  • Up to date vaccinations.
  • Intestinal parasites, fleas and ticks; ears and eyes for any discharge, redness or itching; legs and paws for any signs of weakness or limping; and skin and coat for signs of excessive shedding, pigment changes, lumps and bumps and itchy spots.
  • Look at teeth and gums for any signs of dental disease.
  • If your pet is getting adequate nutrition. Tell your vet what you feed your pet, which nutritional supplements, if any, you give to your pet and if you notice any changes in their appetite and water consumption.
  • If your pet is getting enough exercise. Tell your vet how much exercise your pet gets and if you notice any changes in your pet’s activity level or ability to exercise.
  • Tell your vet if your pet has been having any gastrointestinal trouble such as vomiting, diarrhea,  or abnormal stools.
  • How is your pet’s breathing: coughing, shortness of breath or sneezing often.
  • Does your pet have any behavioural problems such as destructive chewing, aggression or separation anxiety.
  • Blood work may be required if any health concerns are suspected.
  • Your vet may address special concerns with seniors or puppies.

—Source: Annual veterinary exams and preventive health care for dogs by Drs. Foster and Smith, Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department.

Help prevent cancer with a healthy home

Junges Mädchen spielt mit Hund im GartenIn addition to nutritious food and plenty of outdoor exercise, a healthy living environment is a great way to help prevent serious illnesses such as cancer.

Pets are very much like infants and young children — they have small bodies, are closer to the ground, tend to put things in their mouths and are usually more sensitive to toxins in the environment than adults.

Household cleaners are a major source of toxicity in your home. Most household cleaners you purchase at the grocery store contain harmful chemicals such as parabens, a preservative used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Many of these chemicals can act as endocrine disruptors, interfering with the body’s endocrine system and producing adverse developmental, neurological, reproductive and immune effects in both humans and pets.

All you need to give your home a good cleaning are basically three products that are safe for both people and pets — cider vinegar, baking soda and castile soap. They are non-toxic, inexpensive and readily available.

Just one example is using a mixture of cider vinegar and water for glass surfaces. Pets love to lick windows, so if they happen to lick a window cleaned with cider vinegar and water rather than a commercial cleaning product, you can be certain they’re not ingesting any toxic substances.

In addition to cleaning products, pet guardians need to be careful when choosing bedding, food dishes and toys for their pets. With respect to pet beds, some contain stuffing that’s been sprayed with flame retardant, a known carcinogen.

When it comes to toys, pet guardians need to think about what their pets’ toys are made of because they spend a lot of time in your pets’ mouth. Many toys are made of plastic, a petroleum-based product that breaks down into microscopic pieces, which can get into your pet’s body as well as in the air, surfaces in the home and in the soil outdoors.

And if you are still using plastic dishes for your pet’s food, please consider switching to healthier  alternatives like glass, ceramic or stainless steel.

Sadly, the manufacturing of pet products is not a regulated industry so pet guardians need to do their homework when it comes to choosing safe and healthy products for their pets. One way is to look for certified organic products, which are produced without the use of toxic chemicals.

Building materials in the home are another source of concern for people and pets. Flooring, carpet, paint, wood finishes and furniture, to name a few, all have the potential to off gas — the release of chemicals into the air through evaporation —  toxins such as formaldehyde, phthalates and BPA (Bisphenol-A). These can cause serious health problems for the whole family, especially pets and small children.

As with our indoor environment, the use of harsh chemicals outdoors is not healthy for you or your pets. Research conducted by organizations like the Cancer Society, Lung Association and environmental groups show the harmful effects of pesticides and fertilizers on our health and the health of insects, animals and the environment.

Consider taking care of your yard without the use of harsh chemicals. Keeping your soil healthy is the best way to discourage weeds, such as dandelions, from growing. One way is to use a mulching lawn mower rather than bagging and disposing of lawn clippings.

To help you “go green” are a number of guides, workshops and a help desk, offered through Green Calgary. For more information visit

What to do when you find a lump

96af5dbf-e38a-4216-a84c-2ece3517fc20By Dr. Sue Ettinger, DVM, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology)

When people find lumps on dogs and cats, they often panic. It’s easy to assume the worst. And then we often avoid finding out more. But really — what should you do?

Get lumps on dogs checked by a veterinarian, ASAP. Most of the time the lumps are benign. But when they’re not, the longer you wait to get them checked out, the worse the situation becomes.

Watch and wait approach

What should you do if your veterinarian wants to “watch and wait” or flat out refuses to test those lumps for cancer?

Best case scenario: the lumps really are nothing to worry about and your dog is fine, just a little lumpy.

Worst case scenario: your dog or cat has cancer and misses a window of opportunity to get early surgery. Early surgeries are smaller (so less expensive) and, depending upon the location and cancer type, can often cure cancer.

This “watch and wait” attitude is something I am hoping to turn around because it’s not good for dogs and it’s not good for dog lovers. Not even the most experienced veterinarian or cancer specialist, like me, can look at or feel a mass and know if it is cancer or not.

We must sample lumps and evaluate the cells under a microscope to determine what they are. There is no other way to know whether a lump is benign or malignant. Your veterinarian must perform a fine-needle aspirate and/or a biopsy to make an accurate diagnosis. If your vet is unwilling to do an aspirate, I suggest you find a vet who will.

Although cancer may be the No. 1 killer of dogs, there are so many things we can do these days for dogs with cancer. That’s why Dr. Dressler and I wrote The Dog Cancer Survival Guide, which is full of practical advice from all over the spectrum including not only my specialty — chemotherapy — but also surgery, radiation, diet, supplements and even mind-body strategies.

Fine needle aspirates for lumps on dogs

Aspirates are important and can help identify many types of tumours. They’re also quick, just a tiny needle inserted in the lump, and they aren’t expensive and don’t require anesthesia.

I know, it’s scary to think that the lump can be cancer. But the sooner we determine whether a mass is cancerous and should be removed, the better for your pet. Most skin and subcutaneous (just under the skin) tumours can be cured when diagnosed early, when masses are small.

Many dogs and cats have lumps and bumps, and not all of these masses are malignant (cancerous) tumours. In fact, most tumours are benign (not cancer).

So if you find a lump while petting your pet, or your veterinarian finds one during a physical exam, don’t just monitor it. If you “See Something, Do Something.”

See Something, Do Something. Why Wait? Aspirate.

“See Something Do Something” is a set of guidelines I have developed with the input of my colleagues to help owners and veterinarians figure out what to do when they find lumps on the skin or just under the skin (subcutaneous).

See Something: When a skin lump is the size of pea or larger or has been present for one month

Do Something: Aspirate or biopsy.

A pea is about one centimeter, or about half the diameter of a penny. When masses are removed early, the prognosis can be excellent, with no additional treatment needed after surgery. Most skin and subcutaneous tumours can be removed with a simple surgery if we find them early when they are small.

But to limit the number of surgeries, we must get a diagnosis with cytology or biopsy early and before removing a tumour. This will lead to an improved outcome for your pet. A single surgical procedure can cure your pet for the majority of tumours. This is especially true for benign tumours, and some malignant cancers that are only locally invasive into the surrounding tissues (those that don’t spread or metastasize to other parts of the body).

Benign tumours

Benign tumours may not need to be removed immediately. The location of the mass on your pet’s body should be considered. Will an increase in growth in this location prevent successful surgery? Is the mass causing pain, irritation, secondary bleeding or infection? Unless the answers to these questions are yes, you may not need to do surgery at all. Your veterinarian will be able to help you figure this out for each benign tumour.

Malignant tumours

If the mass is malignant, the first surgery is your pet’s best chance for a cure. Therefore your veterinarian needs to know what the tumour is before it is removed.

What is the danger of waiting too long? Larger masses are more difficult to remove! This is especially true for masses on the legs, head and neck area and for smaller pets.

If tumors are not removed, they will increase in size, making surgery to remove them more difficult and/or they may spread to internal organs. A larger mass is also more likely to need additional therapy after surgery, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy, to prevent recurrence. With this program, the goal is to make the first surgery the ONLY surgery your pet needs.

Stay vigilant about lumps on dogs and cats

Just because your pet may have had multiple benign lumps in the past, don’t get too relaxed. Stay vigilant and have those lumps and bumps aspirated. It’s not a big deal for the pet, and it is worth knowing what you’re facing.

I made this mistake with my veterinary nurse’s dog Smokey. This amazing Pit Bull had many benign lipomas over the years. Amanda found another one, but we got complacent about doing the aspirate, because all the other ones were benign.

This tenth mass was a malignant connective tissue tumour (called a soft tissue sarcoma) and was the size of an orange (7 cm). It required a CT scan before surgery and a more complicated procedure in order to get the necessary large margins to prevent recurrence. Smokey is my inspiration for See Something, Do Something! Why Wait? Aspirate.

Remember, no one — not a vet, not an cancer specialist, and not you — can tell what a lump is just by its appearance or feel. And “watching and waiting” is not a good idea. Get the masses aspirated. Don’t assume it’s benign. The earlier we find tumours, the better.

With early diagnosis, less treatment will likely be required, and a smaller surgery may be curative. This means cost savings, a better prognosis, happier pets and owners too! See Something, Do Something! Why Wait? Aspirate.

—Reprinted with permission of Dr. Sue Ettinger. Dr. Ettinger, Dip. ACVIM (Oncology), is a boarded veterinary medical cancer specialist. Dr. Ettinger is currently the head of the Oncology Department at the Animal Specialty & Emergency Center in the Hudson Valley in NY.  Also known as Dr Sue Cancer Vet, she is a book author (The Dog Cancer Survival Guide), radio co-host, and certified veterinary journalist. Dr. Sue developed See Something, Do Something! Why wait? Aspirate to promote early cancer detection and diagnosis. She can be found on social media at and @DrSueCancerVet on Twitter.

A vet’s perspective on human and animal health care

0915bookreviewcoverBy Susan Crawford, M.Sc.

Dr. Sarah Boston takes a provocative look at cancer treatment from the human side and from the animal side in her book, Lucky Dog: How Being a Veterinarian Saved My Life. What makes this book unique is the fact that Boston herself is a cancer survivor and a veterinary surgical oncologist.

Back in 2011, Boston discovered a worrisome lump in her neck, only to hear from her doctor that the lump was “probably fine.”  The Calgary native suspected otherwise, from its increasing size, and from the way it pushed against her neck. Upon hearing it would take two weeks for an ultrasound, she had her husband (also a veterinarian) bring home a portable ultrasound machine so that she could view the lump herself. To Boston’s educated eye, it looked like a carcinoma, so she pushed to have it surgically removed almost three months later.

Boston takes her readers on a thought-provoking journey through the human healthcare system.  She weaves funny, yet poignant stories of dogs she has operated on, and draws parallels between her own care and the care she provides animal patients. Boston’s hope for speedy treatment is unimportant — she has to wait her turn. Canine thyroid cancer patients, on the other hand, can have their diagnostic tests completed in 24 hours and be operated on the next day. Their human thyroid cancer counterparts often wait weeks or months, with mounting anxiety.

Boston tells about her patient Sasha, the miniature poodle with a bone tumour. Like Sasha’s surgery, Boston’s is successful, but unlike Sasha (who got top care and went home the day after her operation), Boston has vastly different experiences in the two hospitals where she has each operation. Her doctors give her the anti-nausea drug and specific pain medication she requests for her first operation, but for her second operation (at another hospital), she receives cheaper medications instead, with harsher side effects. Despite being a health professional, Boston was often treated as hysterical, and was often dismissed. She mentions meeting other patients, fighting just as hard to be heard and treated. As a cancer survivor myself, I can attest to the challenges patients face. The picture she paints of Canadian healthcare is not flattering.

Perhaps her negative experiences are more related to incompetence, but readers gradually see that the major difference underlying the animals’ care and the speed/quality of the treatment Boston receives is the private versus public nature of veterinary care versus human medical care. Sasha’s treatment involves a $2,500 MRI and $4,200 worth of surgery/aftercare. Fortunately, her owners could afford it. Not everyone, human or canine, is so fortunate.

Lucky Dog provides its readers with a much-needed look at the way our socialized system works. You should eventually get the medical care you need, if you’re intelligent, know people, and have the advocacy skills to fight for yourself. The importance of taking personal responsibility for your own health and your pet’s health is central to Boston’s book.

 If you want a thought-provoking, stimulating book, Lucky Dog fits the bill. Four paws up!!

Addressing change through energy work

Big dog sniffing little kitten in female handsBy Rebecca Stares

I can’t think of a change in my life where my pets haven’t been transitioning with me, be it directly or indirectly. We’ve moved — including across the continent, twice — formed new relationships, ended relationships, welcomed new family members, lost beloved family members, travelled, navigated illness and injury — mine and theirs — and well, lived. Rarely is there a life that’s static! Change, both planned and unexpected is inevitable.

What I’ve learned through all of these experiences is that each animal has his own capacity for change, and that my ability to help each pet through it, to ease the process and speed up the integration, is paramount. I’ve also learned that while I plan and prepare for things like moving to a new home or introducing a new family member, these changes are likely going to take my animals by surprise. This means that I have to factor their well-being into my plans too. I never want to see my animals distressed and it’s important to me that the support provided is effective; I want to see immediate results!

Fortunately, there are many tools we can use to make these transitions more seamless for our pets and help reduce any stress along the way. These may include the use of aromatherapy and essential oils, all forms of body work including T-Touch and massage, even acupuncture and acupressure.

My absolute favourite though is energy work — any therapy that manipulates the bioenergy of the animal with the intention of removing blockages and restoring harmony. Energy works helps to reduce stress and anxiety, minimize or eliminate the physical and behavioural manifestations that can accompany change, facilitate relationship building, ease grief and loss and promote curiosity, which is a key component in creating new habits.

With energy work, it doesn’t matter if the transitions are planned or not. When I moved across the continent, with three cats as company, I used energy work on all three of them so they were calm before the trip and so they would settle in the car (seriously, not a single meow the entire time). We had to make three different pit stops too, which were added stressors because it meant the cats were exposed to multiple new environments in rapid succession. But, thanks to the energy work, I had cats who snuggled and purred each night and who didn’t hide or resist when I pulled out the carrier to load them back up.

I used energy work on my cats when I brought my new puppy home, to help them feel safe and secure and happy with a new addition in the house. I used energy work on the puppy to help her with the grief of losing her litter-mates and to feel at ease in her new environment.  Energy work is a phenomenal tool for personal transitions too; births, deaths, change in mobility and ability, adjusting to illness/injury, all of it. This last winter I had to put my cat down so I utilized energy work to help everyone with their grief and to help him as he transitioned to the other side. It eased his pain, minimized his discomfort and added to his quality of life in his final days.

Seeing instantaneous results with energy work is another reason why it’s one of my favourite transitioning tools. Jack for instance, is the definition of a “fraidy cat.” He’s a rescue kitty and he does not like any interruption in his routine. He needs a lot of support for even the smallest change. What’s great about him is that I can see immediately that the energy work is effective because he settles right into sleep, and none of his typical stress behaviours — licking, pacing, meowing, missing the litter box, destroying the furniture, etc. — which happened before I started using energy work. Energy work keeps him in perfect health and balance throughout any of the changes life has demanded of him.

The absolute best part of energy work is that it is easy to learn and anyone can use it to support their pet(s) through any transition. Energy work is an easy to employ tool, can be applied in any situation where we are asking our pets to adjust to changes and it works with all animals of all ages, all species and breeds.

—Rebecca Stares owns Spirited Connections Counselling, which offers energy healing services for both animals and their people. She is also a clinical social worker specializing in animal assisted therapy and equine assisted therapy. Visit for more info.

Tips for choosing a dog-friendly vehicle

0915dogincarIf you have pets, finding the right vehicle for your family requires a little more thought. How many dogs you have along with their size, age and temperament should be considered when deciding which vehicle to purchase. The following list of dog-friendly vehicle features should help make that decision a little easier:

  • A compact or full-size minivan, SUV or crossover are usually better choices than a car simply because they offer more room and more dog-friendly features.
  • A vehicle with a low-to-the-ground profile will make it easier for dogs of all sizes and ages to get in or out of the vehicle.
  • A rear hatch or barn doors that allow you to fully open up the back will make it easier for your dog to jump in and out. It also makes it way easier for you to load or unload the vehicle.
  • Choosing a vehicle with a large, boxy cargo area rather than one with sloped walls, wheel wells or spare tires, will better accommodate your dog and supplies.
  • Rear cargo attachment devices will help keep a harnessed dog or dog carriers/crates from sliding around in the cargo area.
  • Some vehicles come with a pet barrier (cargo divider) or you can buy one after market. The barrier prevents your dog from jumping into the front seat, which can be unsafe.
  • Seats that fold down or are removable make lots of room for your dog and keep your seats clean for your human passengers.
  • A vehicle with non-carpeted walls and floors will keep dog fur from accumulating and make clean up easy.
  • A removable cargo liner, either built in or purchased after market, can be hosed off, making clean up a breeze.
  • In floor storage bins are a great way to keep your dogs away from anything you’re transporting, especially food.
  • Rear air conditioning is a must to keep everyone comfortable on hot days.
  • Childproof windows and door locks help prevent your dog from accidentally opening or closing the windows or doors.
  • A sunroof will provide maximum ventilation without worrying about your dog falling out of the vehicle.
  • Some other items to consider purchasing after market if they don’t come with the vehicle include waterproof seat covers and a fold out ramp to make it easy for your dog to get in and out of the vehicle.

—Source: The Fun Times Guide, a network of websites that cover a variety of niche topics. Visit for more info.