Dog Ownership Basics – 5 Cold Weather Pet Safety Tips

I've been thinking...Having a dog in your life is, in my opinion, one of the most rewarding relationships you can get into. Whether you are having a great day or a horrible one, your little furry buddy is there wagging his tail as soon as you glance in his direction and he asks for very little in return for his unconditional love and affection. I strongly believe that the decision to bring home a pet should not be taken lightly. It will require a lot of your time, money and attention; specially in the first several months. There will be obligatory vet visits, house breaking, obedience training as well as deciding on the type of diet to feed him, time for walks, time for burning energy, grooming and so much more. The best advice I can give you is to lay it all out on paper before you actually bring a dog home and then, once you feel confident in your plan, go for it; you will not regret it. One thing you should definitely consider in that plan is how you will take care of your pal during the harsh winter months. Dogs, just like human are very sensitive to extreme temperatures. Some are a little more adapted then others but that does not mean they should be left to fend for themselves in freezing or scorching conditions. Taking on the responsibility of owning a pet of any kind should mean you will provide them with the best possible food, water, shelter, care and attention but unfortunately, that is not always true and many animals pay the price for our negligence. Provided I have not totally scared you off yet, I'm here to offer a little help when it comes to owning a pet if you live in an area where it seems like half of the year is covered in snow. Here is my list of 5 Cold Weather Pet Safety Tips.

Tip number one is to know your pet's limits. Just like us, dog's love to play in the snow. Some breeds are better adapted to it than others and depending on the coat, fat stores, size and activity level of your dog, you should be able to determine when it is time for him to come back inside. Now, I know some of you think dog's do not belong in the house and you are entitled to your opinion but I believe it is my responsibility as a pet owner to provide him with the best possible shelter and that means he gets the same treatment I do...Inside the house. So look for the signs you would recognize in yourself; shivering, tucking paws, change in demeanor and do not leave him out in the cold any longer than you have to.

Tip number two Is to check their paws. One of the most exposed areas on your dog is his paws. In extreme cold weather or if you live in an area that uses road salt and other deicers it is imperative that you protect their paws and check them often for cracks or injuries. There are several options available to protect their paws and we find the best to be a good paw wax. It can be used as prevention as well as treatment and is very easy to make at home using some very simple ingredients.  A simple google search will give you hundreds of recipes.  As an alternative, you might prefer to use commercial dog boots but be careful, most of the low-cost options will only frustrate you as your canine friend kicks them off within the first two minutes.  Look for ones that have zippered fronts and velcro strap up top, they tend to have less stretch and are usually a lot harder to catapult into the abyss...

Tip number three is to dress him up. Ok, probably not the most popular one in the list, especially for us guys but if you want to extend the length of time your pooch can stay out in the cold; dress him up. Long haired or thick coated dogs such as malamutes don't necessarily need it but if your dog has really short hair like our boxer mix does, you need to dress him up to go outside. There as so many commercial options available now it's almost as bad as shopping for kids but that is not the point. Anything you can use to keep your dog's body heat from escaping too quickly would work. You could use old sweat shirts or, if you are handy with a sewing machine, design and create your own; there is no limit to make sure your buddy stays warm.

Tip number four is to wipe down. If you live in an area that uses road salt and other deicers, your dog's feet, legs and belly will pick up some of these chemicals that can potentially be harmful and even toxic to him. When you come back from a walk or an activity where he may have come in contact with these chemicals make sure to thoroughly wipe down these areas using a damp cloth. You will be avoiding expensive vet bills as well as keeping your sanity by eliminating all kinds of dirt and sand from your floors.

Finally, tip number five is to avoid ice. One of the most common pet injuries during winter times is broken nails or bones due to bad slips on ice. As I said before, dogs love to play in the snow and sometimes that means running over a patch of ice. If you can prevent them from doing that by carefully selecting the area where they can let loose and play then you will be one step closer to having a successful outing with your buddy.

Overall, pet safety comes down to one thing; caring. If you care for your animal you will do everything in your power to make sure he is safe and comfortable. I hope these 5 Cold Weather Safety Tips help you on your journey to pet ownership and invite you to leave a comment if you have any questions.

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Safe and Fun DIY Dog Toys for the Frugal Pet Owner

Get your dog engaged

I've been thinking...One of the joys of having a pet is spending countless hours in playtime.  It is very important for your dog's mental health and behaviour to have at his disposal a great arsenal of safe, fun and challenging toys.  The problem, however, is that you can easily end up in a situation where you are spending more on play time than on meal time.  DIY Dog Toys are a homemade solution that will often hit two or even three birds with one stone.

dangerous dog toyThe first advantage of making your own dog toys is that you know exactly what your dog is chewing on and can have complete peace of mind that he won't hurt himself.  A lot of  manufacturers make sensory appealing dog toys that, if you are not careful, could end up severely injuring your pup.  The lack of regulation and an increasing level of consumerism allows these companies to get away with what I am starting to find out is a blatant disregard for our animal's health and well-being.  We were recently gifted a commercial dog toy for Kai.  Being a true toy lover, Kai immediately started tearing into it and within half an hour had the thing torn apart.  We are very careful about leaving Kai with commercial toys so we caught this one in the nick of time but if we weren't paying attention, he could have easily swallowed a three-inch piece of wire that I am sure would have seen us rush to the vet clinic.

Second, DIY Dog Toys are usually a great way to clean out your closet.  How? Easy, simply by using up homemade t-shirt braidsome old, unwanted clothes.  All you need to do is go through your closet or chest drawers, find some clothes that you don't particularly like anymore and cut them up into various size strands of material.  Different materials will give you  a multitude of options as to what type toy you can make.  I love making t-shirt braids that Kai can chew on and play tug-o-war with.  They are super easy to make and usually require one or two shirts per toy.  You can also make some great toys by putting an empty water bottle into an old sock.  The options are endless.  There are a ton of ideas online but we have found a great resource on Amazon that you can buy by clicking here.

Finally, because you are now making your own toys, you are not only saving money but you are also getting to know what kind of toy engages your pet more as his personality comes through in play time.  Any time where you can strengthen the bond you have with your pup is a good time and I truly feel that DIY Dog Toys enhance that experience.  You have a better connection with your animal because you took the time and effort to make his toy and you get to discover it together.  As usual, if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to send us a comment.  It will be our pleasure to guide you as you make your first dog toy.

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Dog Food…What are my options?

I’ve been thinkin’... It seems to me that the dog food aisle has been getting bigger and prettier over the last few years but the more I look, the more I see packages of the same old ingredients sporting a fresh new look. Marketing firms spend tons of money to make sure they have the right combination of colours and buzz words to get our attention. I know, I know. They have guidelines they have to adhere to; lest the Industry Canada police give them a slap on the wrist, but I feel as though there is something wrong with the system. Join me as I go through our thought process, what we found out and what we feel are the best dog food options for our pup. This is by no means a scientific study paper but I do hope that you find enough information here to guide you in whatever direction you may choose.As most people in this beautiful country, we fed our first dog with commercial dry dog food. Who can blame us really, we didn’t know any better and had been sold on the premise that dogs eat dog food. Over a span of fourteen years, Shrek, our golden retriever/black lab mix struggled with food allergies, stomach issues, indigestion issues, you name it. We tried the inexpensive food, the expensive food, the special diet and even the vet diet but there was always something awry. Shrek finally passed away in 2014 from what the emergency vet called a splenic tumor. His spleen had gotten very enlarged and could have ruptured at any moment. He was in a lot of pain and my wife and I had to make a very difficult decision. We never found out if it was cancerous because at that moment, we didn’t really see the point. However, in doing research before getting another dog we found some really interesting things. There are some recent studies that link cancer in dogs with the consumption of aflatoxins found in some improperly stored commercial dog foods. Aflatoxin is generated from mold contaminated grains such as corn, rice and wheat and from nuts and legumes. These ingredients, which often make up a majority of dry dog food develop mold from poor growing conditions and/or from being put in less than ideal storage for very long periods of time. This piece of information scared the hell out of us. Thoughts started running in our minds that we had inadvertently killed Shrek with the food we were feeding him. Now, I am aware that he was fourteen when he passed and that is a considerable age for a large dog but you have to understand that there was no other age related issues with him. He was still a very energetic, present minded dog. Nonetheless, it prompted our search for a better alternative.

Between my wife and I, we must have read hundreds of blog articles, government websites, books and magazine articles; all of which have different approaches and perspectives. What we did see however, is that there is mainly three lines of thought and all agree on one thing; dogs need a few things to thrive. They need water, protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. How much of each depends on breed, size, life stage and activity level. That being said, the first and most popular line of thought is obviously the commercial dog food. Whether it comes dry in a bag or wet in a can this is the food that is kind of regulated by Industry Canada and by the Pet Food Association of Canada (PFAC). This type of food does have some advantages, it is convenient, easily accessible and depending on the brand relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, it also has a few disadvantages which include very confusing labels, a never-ending assortment of brands and, depending on the brand, very expensive. If you decide to go with this option, I recommend you do some research. There are a ton of articles out there but one website I have found particularly helpful in understanding exactly what is in these commercial dog foods is, they have an article that was written by Veterinary Drs. Foster and Smith called Dog Food Labels: How to Read Them that is very clear and easy to understand.

The second and probably most controversial is the BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) diet. This basically entails feeding your dog raw meat and bones, eggs, fruits and veggies as well as some dairy such as yogurt. The premise is that before dogs were domesticated, they would have fed on theses types of foods and that is probably accurate. The potential problem with it however is that if you are not very careful with how and what you feed your pet, you could endanger his/her life as well as yours simply from bacteria in the raw meat. The fact is, your dog could probably thrive on a barf diet but you have to make sure the meat you buy is specifically sourced for that purpose. The meat you find at your local grocery store was meant to be cooked and could carry the type of bacteria that would hurt you and your pet. Something else to consider when you make your own dog food is nutritional balance. If all you give your dog is meaty bones, he will eventually have some very dangerous vitamin and mineral deficiencies so if you do decide to go this route, do your research. Find a breed appropriate diet or even better find a veterinary nutritionist to help you create a well-balanced, breed and life stage appropriate diet for your four-legged friend.

Finally, the third option and the one we chose to adopt for boxer/heeler mix Kai is home cooked dog food. To us, this option made most sense. It is relatively inexpensive, we know exactly what Kai is eating and he loves it! Again, as with the BARF diet, it is vitally important that we be mindful of nutritional balance so we have created a diet that includes all the daily recommended nutrients, vitamins and minerals. All of the meat is cooked so we don't have to worry about any bacteria and we also make it in batches that never last longer than a week. I have to admit, it does take some time and planning especially if you are planning on having your pal boarded but once you have a system in place it fits in nicely with you weekly meal prep. If this is the option that interests you, I believe you will be very pleased with the results. Kai is very happy, healthy energetic and has been growing normally. Our vet has been made aware of our choice when Kai was still a puppy of eight weeks and she has been following him closely to make sure he is in good health. When we tell people that we make our own dog food, the immediate reaction is usually, “Oh! You give him human food, he must be begging at your table all the time?” and honestly it was one of our concerns before we started as well. What we have found out though, is that because the food he eats is so nutritious, once he is done eating his meal he is done. Word to the wise here; because the home cooked food is very moist and not dried up and compacted, you will notice your pooch needs a lot more food. Kai is now nine months old, weighs about fifty-five pounds and he needs to eat roughly eight cups of food per day.  You may also notice that your dog doesn't need as much water, this is totally normal as he/she is now getting a lot of it from the food he/she eats.  Kai's diet includes meats such as chicken hearts and livers, chicken breast and thighs, stewing beef and extra lean ground beef. It also includes fruits and veggies, as well as dairy in the form of plain low-fat yogurt. We also throw in some cooked eggs, fish and powdered egg shells. If you do a bit of research, you will find tons of breed specific diets, my only advice is, find one or two recipes that you feel comfortable making and stick with them. If you try a new one every week, you run the risk of unbalancing his diet plus you will probably get discouraged very quickly. It doesn’t have to be complicated, the simpler the better you just have to keep at it and your dog will thank you for it.

Before I finish up, there is something I should mention. Dogs are omnivores which means they can eat pretty much anything right? Well, turns out there are a few things they cannot eat. Here is a list of things you should never feed your dog:

Alcoholic Beverages
Chocolate, Coffee, tea, other caffeine
Grapes and raisins
Macadamia Nuts
Onions and Garlic
Raw Eggs

For a more complete list visit and read the article titled Foods to avoid feeding your dog.

I truly hope that I was able to shed some light on this conundrum. People have domesticated dogs for thousands of years yet we have only seen commercial pet foods for the last hundred years or so. I truly believe that my dog is happier and healthier because of what he eats. If you are having any sort of digestive issues with your pet, I would recommend you try an alternative to commercial foods. There is something to be said for knowing exactly what your pets eat and being able to adjust one ingredient at a time if he develops any intolerance or allergies.

If you have had any similar experiences or are just embarking on the path of dog ownership, leave a comment or ask a question. We read them all and try to answer as quickly as possible.