Pet Projects

Weekly Pet Project: Paws up!

Cao conveniently and compactly stacks her paws for examination.

Cao conveniently and compactly stacks her paws for examination.

If I lived in a major city, I would probably be one of those people who wiped their pet’s paws at the door. You see, I have this thing about bringing feces into the house. It’s pretty specific to human and canine feces, although I’m impartial to raccoon as well. Herbivore manure? No problem. When I worked as a wrangler, I relished watching the faces of children register that everything they were walking on was probably poo.

Pardon me for the tangent – the reason I brought up paw wiping is because one of the best things about paw wiping would be that I would routinely get a good look at my pet’s paws. Most pet owners that I know (other than my dear friend Jessica, who routinely smells her pet’s feet) rarely get a good look.

This week, I’d like you to pick up the foot and get down. Take each of your animal’s feet/hooves and examine them. Look for cracking, uneven wear, signs of compulsive licking/stomping. For dogs and cats, look between the pads. Examine each claw. Horse owners should explore all around the frog and coronet band with their hands (no tools!). The hoof wall should be smooth and regular. Feel the different textures of the hoof/paw, and take note of any areas to watch. Don’t attempt to clip/trim anything – just look.

Flat works well when examining dogs.

Flat works well when examining dogs.

Acclimating your pet to extensive foot examination  sets them up for successful trips to the vet, as well as increases your ease of handling were there an issue that needed to be treated. Routine foot handling means that when it becomes necessary to trim claws/hooves, you’re only asking them to let you perform one unfamiliar task. This time of year in Montana, we see abscesses when awns or cactus needles become wedged between the pads. Examining your pet’s paws after a stroll through the grass/field of prickly pear could prevent one!

If you’re able, start handling your animals’ feet in a variety of settings from the time their young. This is one area where equestrians have proven themselves ahead of the curve, probably because the stakes are a little higher when picking up the leg of a 1000 pound animal. If they can do it, you can too!

Got a great paw/hoof photo? Share below!

Pet Projects

Monthly Pet Project

February was National Pet Dental Health Month. I can totally see why. How many of you have spent a lonely Valentine’s Day with only your beloved Haustier by your side, sobbing, allowing them to lick the tears from your cheeks, only to discover that they have HORRID breath? Oh, no one? I’d love to know the reasoning behind choosing the month of February, or really even designating an arbitrary month for dental health (what is March? Mold? December? Poison awareness?)

Regardless of the fact that it is no longer February, I’ve got a monthly pet project for you for the month of June:

Look inside your pet’s mouth. Wait, what? He wont let you because you’ve never tried? Or maybe he lets you and you see stalactites? Either way, now is a good time to get your pet used to having it’s mouth examined. Oral issues often go unnoticed for too long due to our unwillingness to push past our pet’s initial displeasure at having their mouths pried open. It’s always a good idea to start when your pet is fully enriched – maybe a half an hour after a nice, long walk and meal, while they’re resting. The first time, don’t explore too much, just make sure you take a look at their incisors, canines, and carnassial teeth.

Here’s a photo of Cao’s mouth. I’ve identified two of the main problem teeth: the canine and the carnassial. As you can see, Cao has some greying on the back side of her canine – this is common, especially in older dogs. Her carnassial tooth is mostly clean (from chewing the random deer femur she scavenges). If you want to see the other end of the spectrum, search “canine (or feline) dental disease”. There should be no yellow buildup, and no inflamed pink area around the gum border.

Once you’ve taken a look, there’s a follow up to this month’s Pet Project: Take care of your pets’ teeth. However you can/will do it. Almost all veterinarians recommend brushing, but it’s hard to find people who comply enough to make a difference. Below are some ideas for alternatives. I have seen some horrifying dental disease that has been incredibly expensive to correct, but also, many gastrointestinal problems that we see are partially caused by dental disease. We’ve also seen a rash of oral cancers caused by chronic gingivitis and irritation from plaque build up.

For dogs we recommend chewing lots of raw marrow bones. You have to introduce them slowly to minimize risk of GI upset, but once your dog is acclimated, they should probably be chewing 1-2 new raw bones per week. Yes, you will spend money on bones, but sedated dentistries in our area (Montana – relatively cheap) start in the several hundreds. Make sure that you supervise your dog while chewing, and remove the bones when they begin to break into shards. Stay tuned for a forthcoming master class in bones.

You can also do facial dental massage from the outside on both your cat and dog. Just rub your pet’s cheeks firmly against their teeth, especially their molars. Most pets seem to enjoy this, it can help you pair bond with your pet, and it gets them acclimated to having their face handled intensively. Make sure you start when they are already relaxed, and you’ll have a willing recipient.

If you do end up going for professional dental care, look for a veterinarian who is willing to at least attempt to clean the teeth without sedation. You can make cleaning without sedation a more likely option by examining your pet’s mouth often and in many locations, e.g. the car, out on a walk. Just doing it at home won’t work. Also, make sure that when you take your pet in, you give your vet a fighting chance. That means a 1-2 hour walk before the appointment for most dogs, and at home acclimation to the carrier for a cat as well as a calming massage.

If your pet can have it’s teeth cleaned without sedation, have it done every time you visit the vet. If you are comfortable, you can also get a scaler and do it at home when your animal is fully relaxed. I recommend a massage beforehand.

Feel free to share pictures of your pet’s teeth in the comments below if you’re able to get one – that’s advanced level pet mouth handling!

Pet Projects

Weekend Pet Project

Montanan dogs are lucky. Of all the places I’ve lived, the Bozeman area has got to have some of the most involved, thoughtful dog-owners. Ease of access to the outdoors is one of the many reasons that this area has received such an influx in the last 15 years, and everyone seems to want a dog to share it with. Trailheads in the area are full of well-mannered canines navigating the woods off-leash. People not only walk their dogs, they GET OUT with them.

Watching Cao’s rapt enjoyment of the outdoors magnifies the beauty and keeps me walking long after I would have otherwise turned for home. The dog that is usually warming one end of the couch is steeplechasing deadfall, frenetically digging for voles, and buzzing my legs as she rushes from one new smell to the next.

It’s not always convenient to make time in your schedule for a dedicated outing, but that’s the assignment for this week: Take your dog somewhere new and let your dog dictate the length of the walk. Walk as fast or as slow as you want to, but turn off your phone (better yet, leave it at home), bring warm gear, and look around. Watch your dog. Is he panting after only a few minutes? How’s her recall? Is he checking in? When has she had enough? How can you tell?

What can this walk tell you about your dog’s level of enrichment? We all make the effort to give our dogs what they need, but how often do we (willingly) let them dictate the duration of an activity?

When you’ve completed your project, post a picture of where it took you and let us know about your observations.