Dog Parks – The Good, The Bad, & The Furry

Dog Parks – The Good, The Bad, & The Furry

Over the past several years, dog parks have sprung up in communities as a place for your canine companion to get some exercise and depending on rules, meet other dogs.  Dog parks can be wonderful places, but they aren’t meant for everybody.  Let’s look at why this is and also review some etiquette.

The Good

Photo: Herne Bay Coastal Park

Photo: Herne Bay Coastal Park

Everyone loves their own dog.  Many people love other dogs.  Visiting the dog park is a great place to get your dog socialized to other people and dogs to help acclimate them and hopefully avoid some unwanted behaviors.  Dogs evolved as pack animals and the social aspect can be good for their mental stimulation.  You also will get to meet new people, maybe even your future spouse or a new close friend.  Rover will also get that much needed exercise to help fight off obesity by staying active.

The Bad



Remember what I said about dogs being pack animals?  Well, that can work against them as dogs meet each other for the first time, the potential for dominance aggression behavior is always possible.  Yes, dogs like children might fight on the playground.  Fights should try to be broken up by calling your dog or making some noise to distract them which might make it easier to pull them apart.  Another downside to these public places is that they can be a breeding ground for disease.  Infectious viruses, bacterial infections, or parasites can all be picked up at the park.  Also, dogs will be dogs…and if your dog is not spayed or neutered, then somebody could be expecting puppies in around 2 months.

The Furry (the Etiquette)pickupafteryourpet1

  • Make sure your pet is vaccinated and is free of fleas.  Not only are you protecting your dog, but also everyone else and the public.

  • Spay or neuter your pet!  This will help prevent unwanted behaviors which can lead to fights or unwanted puppies.  If spay/neuter is not an option, please keep your in heat dogs away for at least 2 weeks after the visible signs have stopped.

  • Teach your dog simple commands – sit, stay, and come are three basic commands to ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable time.

  • Before letting your dog off leash, it can be a good idea to let them meet the other dogs to see how their personalities and initial reactions are.  If there are obvious signs of aggression, you still have control while they are on leash and can pick another time to come back.

  • If you know your dog is anxious or does not play well with others, go at times that are less busy.  This category might also include a new dog to the family that has not had time to get trained yet.  Another recommendation is to tie a yellow ribbon onto their leash or collar as a sign to others that your dog needs space.  For more info, check out the Yellow Dog Project.

  • Avoid bringing toys or other personal possessions of your dog which may cause conflict with others.  If you bring something, perhaps a new toy is in order so your dog does not feel possessive.

  • Limit your time at the park to no more than 60 minutes.  Not only does this let other dogs & families have a turn but it also is a good way to make sure your dog does not get over heated.

  • And lastly, pick up after your pooch!

A trip to the dog park can be a great bonding experience for you & your canine companion.  Just be sure to be safe and courteous so that everyone has an enjoyable time!

 Disclaimer:  Blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and do not reflect that of any current or former employers.

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Live Life Like Your Dog Would

Live Life Like Your Dog Would

And in his final words, I found an ace that I could keep.” — Kenny Rogers, The Gambler

It’s been a week since we said goodbye to Charlie.  Most dogs have many things to tell us as long as we are willing to listen.  No, this is not meant to be a eulogy.  It’s the last lesson he taught us before saying goodbye.  Something we all should strive to do with our lives is to live with the attitude that our dogs do.  Just imagine how much life better could be if we adopted this philosophy.

Charlie was raised in not so good circumstances.  Prior to our meeting at vet school, Charlie had lived at a Charlie 2007kennel facility in Arkansas.  Many unsavory things happened there that are chronicled in the documentary “Dealing Dogs.”  Charlie and a few other dogs were lucky to get out when they were acquired by the vet school but for Charlie he did not get a new home unscathed.  A few years after I graduated, I found out that Charlie had been shot and he carried those pellets until the day he died.  Despite that incident, he was a happy soul, never minded being the student “practice dog” as we learned physical exam skills, and was happy to be around people even if they were always palpating his abdomen.  No matter where you came from, you can always strive for a better life and rise above.  Sometimes it takes a little luck.  It also takes courage, trust, and forgiveness.  Be brave.  Be forgiving.  Be open to love.

Many people don’t realize that animals can also donate blood to fellow members of their species.  Charlie was blessed with being a universal blood donor and he gave regularly during his time at the University of Illinois; in fact it was his main job.  He even gave once more in an emergency 5 years after he retired and helped save another life.  Give of yourself to help others without expecting anything in return.

Adoption day 2005

Adoption day 2005

When Charlie was adopted 10 years ago, he got to live with my mom while I finished vet school for the last 6 months.  She promptly spoiled him rotten with cheese and dog treats so much that he gained 10 pounds which we later worked off.  He also picked up the new chore of helping to clean out the cat litterbox which he did even until his last year.  No, I still don’t know why dogs eat poop.  Treat your grandparents well and they’ll make it extra worthwhile.  Also, try new foods to eat – life is an adventure.  Don’t regret the goodies in life even if you have to make a few sacrifices later.

The pic that started a relationship

Charlie was always the friendly type of dog.  He was very fond of trying to meet the local squirrels.  But deep down, he was a tender hearted ladies’ man.  When people came over to visit, if the guest was a woman, Charlie was right there, trying to be a lap dog.  With guys, he would offer a tail wagging hello then wander off to take a nap.  I’ll never forget the day I got an email from my then future wife.  She had seen a picture of Charlie & I, got in touch and, after many conversations, we decided to meet.  Charlie could now add “matchmaker” to his resume.  The rest is history.  Get out and mingle.  Make new friends even if they might be different from you.  When you meet that person who might be “the one,” trust your instincts.

Almost 10 years later, our last day together

Almost 10 years later, our last day together

We moved to Canada in 2009 and settled on a small farm.  Charlie & I had experienced snow before but I was not fan being a native Floridian.  I had always kept Charlie on the leash in school and while we lived in Florida but now I decided to try him off leash.  I’ve never seen such a happy dog prancing through the snow.  Jennifer was often worried that he would run off but I trusted Charlie and we had built a bond that the thought of him taking off never crossed my mind.  He never wandered far and he always came back when I called, though with his black fur he did become harder to find at night.  He also picked up the habit of backing into the bushes on the edge of the property to do his business…so much that sometimes only his face would show.  Take some time to act like a kid again, play in that snow or on that beach.  Set aside a little private time for yourself daily.  It can help clear the mind and let you relax.  Modesty and humbleness are good qualities to have.

Charlie snow

Last year, we faced the most difficult time with Charlie’s splenectomy and the uncertainty that he would survive.  We were fortunate, both in that it was caught before it was too late and we had luck on our side.  Each day after that was a gift that we would never take for granted.  It was always our wish for Charlie to enjoy another summer and it came true.  A little over a year later, we received the cancer & kidney failure diagnosis that would ultimately signal the end.  The last few months have been filled with ups and downs.  But through it all, we were grateful for every day and Charlie wagged his tail and always rallied when we thought the end was coming.  Live each day in the moment.  Never give up.  You have a purpose and you are loved.

Of course I miss my buddy and someday, I’ll adopt another dog to give them a life they’ve been dreaming of, fullFarley-Foundation of love and a family.  Until then, I will continue to help other people and their pets as best as I am able; it’s what Charlie would have wanted.  October is Farley Month for the Farley Foundation.  Their mission is to help elderly or disabled pet owners who have difficulty affording treatment for their companion animals.  From now until the end of October, for every read & share of this post, I will donate 50 cents to the Farley Foundation in memory of Charlie (up to $500 and in addition to my own separate donation).  Thank you for all the condolences this past week and all the good wishes during Charlie’s journey with us over the past 18 months.  Now take a dog’s advice and go live your life like they would.

Charlie last portrait

Xylitol & Dogs Don’t Mix

Xylitol & Dogs Don’t Mix

There has been lots of talk in the news lately about xylitol, a dangerous (for dogs) ingredient in some common household items, namely peanut butter which you might share with your dog.  Other items lying around the house may include gum, mints, and oral care products such as dry mouth treatments and toothpaste – essentially items that are considered “sugar free.”  In browsing the aisles at my local store, I fortunately only found the gum and dry mouth treatments available containing xylitol.  So fear not!  Eleven different brands of peanut butter and not a single one contained xylitol so your pooch won’t have to go without a treat or help in giving pills.

Xylitol (from Wikipedia)

Xylitol (from Wikipedia)

But what really is the big deal?  Why is this so alarming?  A friend of a friend recently lost a dog to xylitol poisoning so I’m going to take this time to explain it simply and help your keep your pet out of trouble.

The two main problems noted from exposure are low blood sugar and possible liver failure.  Xylitol causes a surge of insulin release thereby dropping the body’s blood sugar levels and the result is a seizure.  The mechanism of how it happens is not known fully but the liver can enter into a state of necrosis (tissue death) or failure.  This leads to a cascade of possible events including hemorrhage and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) – which in itself causes multiple organ failure.

Xylitol containing gum

Xylitol containing gum

So how much is too much?  Using gum as an example, 1-2 pieces could cause problems with a small breed dog (<5kg).  For larger dogs, you be looking at closer to 6-7 pieces for a labarador sized dog (~35kg).  This is assuming a piece of gum has 1-2 grams per piece (info from ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center).  Unfortunately, companies are very protective about this information so it’s difficult to say how much peanut butter or toothpaste a dog would have to ingest to show clinical signs.

Xylitol is unfortunately a fast acting toxin for dogs and they can begin to show signs within hours, or in the worst cases, die within a couple of days.  If you suspect your dog has ingested products with xylitol, it’s imperative to get them seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.  A Pembroke Welsh Corgi I once saw had ingested an entire pack of chewing gum (10 pieces) and despite making him vomit within a few hours of eating it, he still had an increase in his liver values and low glucose levels so he required hospitalization and eventually recovered fine.  Delays in treatment could be costly, both health-wise and financially.

Here’s some suggestions to help prevent accidental exposures.  First, read the label of anything you might give your pet; yes even peanut butter!  This goes along with the idea that things good for people aren’t always good for pets so you should never give any medication over the counter without consulting your vet.  Secondly, keep those packs of gum (or toothpaste) out of reach!  Animals sense of smell is remarkably better than a humans so they will find it.  In general, think of your dog in the same sense as if you were child-proofing a house.

As xylitol may become used more widely and until the dangers are more well known, be sure to be extra cautious with anything your dog might eat.  As of this time, there is not enough information to know how xylitol affects cats.  Here are a few resources and final notes:

  • Peanut butters including xylitol: Nutty by Nature from Krush Nutrition, P28, Hanks Protein Plus Peanut Butter, Go Nuts Go, and Nuts ‘N More (found on multiple sites including DVM360 and

  • a list of other products containing xylitol

  • Petitions to help encourage companies to disclose more info about xylitol in their products

  • the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center with searchable database on pet toxicties

Disclaimer:  Blog posts may contain opinions which are my own and do not reflect that of any current or former employers.

Please help get the word out about the dangers of xylitol and share this post.  Check back often for more great posts or subscribe on the right to get new posts directly in your mailbox.  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest for more!

3 Out of 4 Ain’t Bad (or 3-Legged Pets)

3 Out of 4 Ain’t Bad (or 3-Legged Pets)
Image from Cassie's Three Legged Dog Club

Image from Cassie’s Three Legged Dog Club

Animals are amazing, most of us know that I think.  Whether it be the unconditional love they give, the ability to brighten up any day, or making awesome videos to entertain us on the internet, the world is a better place with animals but especially our pets.  You know what else is incredible about them?  Their ability to adapt to life’s changes (unfortunately not 100% of the time); specifically I want to talk about amputees – or more affectionately known as tripods.

Severe distal humerus fracture

Severe distal humerus fracture

Pets may only have 3 legs (or even 2!) for just a few reasons; some are even born that way.  Whether it be cancer, irreparable injury, or congenital (from birth) as the cause, they have a remarkable capacity to adapt to their new lives.  Sadly, many animals are euthanized rather than undergo a limb-sparing surgery.  For many people, the thought of a pet losing a leg or being “disabled” is more than they can bear.  Certainly, not every patient is a candidate to undergo such a procedure but for those that are, the emotional aspect should not dismiss the idea.  Let’s look at both sides of the coin.

To finish on a good note, we’ll look at the cons first.  The immediate post-op period does take some adjustment and there is a difference between front legs and back legs in terms of recovery and ultimate mobility.  In my opinion, losing a front leg may be easier especially in terms of using the bathroom (much harder to balance without a second back leg!) but in time, most animals will learn how to move around wonderfully.  Additionally, missing a leg will put added stress on the opposite side which can potentially lead to some joint problems or make arthritis seem worse – hence, it is important to keep these patients at a healthy weight.  Your pet may also experience a phenomenon known as phantom pain, which will make them feel as though the limb is still part of the body.  Lastly, things may seem cosmetically unattractive to you….let me assure you, Rover won’t care what his surgery site looks like.  He’ll just be happy for treats, belly rubs, your assistance in learning to walk again, and being alive.broken leg puppy

So why should you adopt a tripod or consider having an amputation surgery done on your pet if one is recommended?  One main reason: the procedure is done as a way to eliminate pain (after the recovery period) from conditions such as nerve damage, non-reparable fractures, or bone tumors.  A pain free life is a good life!  That’s really THE reason to elect for that surgery.  Sometimes cost for a fracture repair may be too much or the prognosis for recovery will be poor and amputation will be brought up.  Aside from relieving pain, this may be done to preserve the bond you have with your pet; rather than euthanizing them, you can still let them live out their natural lives by your side.  There’s so many intangible benefits as well!!  They won’t hold a grudge against you for making this decision because you’re removing the pain.  If they are 3-legged and awaiting adoption in a shelter, they will love you just as much as any pet with four legs.  And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can help them set up their own social media accounts to share their story & to help advocate for other tripods!

my own tripod Louie

my own tripod Louie

Three legged pets often have an interesting story and are natural survivors.  Losing a leg is not a death sentence; it’s a second chance at a renewed life.  I’ve seen this with my own cat.  Louie is a laid back, happy, fluffy speed demon who outruns our other cats and adores my wife who actually performed the amputation.  He’s also an excellent mouser.  So if your veterinarian brings up amputation as an option in treating your pet, don’t rush to a decision without considering all angles.  For more information, including a broad support network, visit

Disclaimer:  Blog posts my contain opinions which are my own and do not reflect those of my current or any former employers.  I was not compensated by for this post but I do enjoy their community!

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Animal Actors – Not Always Real Life Pets

Miss Edie the Pug is back with me today to help discuss an important topic very important to her.  She’s got a list of questions and I’ve got answers.  Be sure to check out her blog or find her on Facebook or Twitter to see how else she advocates for animals and helps entertain & educate the people who love animals.

Animal Actors – Not Always Real Life Pets

With the recent release of the movie “Max” in theaters about a retired war dog, it brings up some interesting questions.  Do television programs and movies effect the popularity of dog breeds?  And it so, what effect does it have on that breed?  Is it positive – showing the dog in a different light, or highlighting the skills that these dogs/breeds are capable of?

Is it negative – this dog breed is now so popular that everyone wants/needs to have one, even if that dog is not the right fit for you or your family?  Do people understand that what they are seeing these dogs do on screen is because of training – professional training – training that did not happen overnight?

What happens when this “cool dog” doesn’t meet your expectations?

I asked Dr. Ryan Llera his take on this.  Has he seen any repercussions in his field of veterinary medicine of a breed becoming popular due to a tv show, movie, or because of a celebrity owning a particular breed?

Dr. Ryan Llera’s view:

You’re right Edie.  Our canine friends on the screen are great actors just like Tom Hanks and Jennifer Lawrence.  They’ve been trained and practicing for a set role and just because they can do a certain trick or act a certain way does not mean that all other dogs of that breed will.  More importantly, we need to look at the health and behavior aspects of these breeds.yorkie

While there are few studies that show an increase in a breed popularity after a movie release, one study in particular did confirm this behavior amongst people particularly in a 10 year period after the movie.  While this was more commonly seen in years past, this trend can still happen in this era especially in today’s times of celebrities, tabloids, and social media.

Oftentimes, when one of these movies comes out or a celebrity parades their pooch around, people are hooked on the breed but unfortunately don’t do the research before rushing out to get one.  When choosing a breed, it’s important to consider factors such as living space, time commitment, energy level, and family members, specifically, children.  A lot of the factors can lead to behavior problems for the dog, whether real or perceived by the owner, and unfortunately this leads to many dogs being dumped at the shelter or worse, euthanized.

Dalmatian Photo by:

Dalmatian Photo by:

Though I haven’t personally seen 101 dalmatians coming through the doors of the clinics I’ve worked at, after the animated movie in the 1960s (and probably again with the live action version in 1996) there was a noted trend in people having dalmatians as pets. While many people know about the dalmatians genetics that may make them deaf, they can also have a significant problem with their livers that can lead to bladder stones if not properly managed. When these problems arise, they don’t always get taken care of and dogs may suffer, being ditched, or euthanized. With some breeds being popularized, I have personally seen more of a particular breed or two become an idea for people to get rich quick by breeding them hence leading to more pyometras and C-sections.IMG_2378

While the trend of movie promoted dog breeds has waned, social media & celebrities have replaced it.  Veterinarians and shelters, especially in the UK, have recently seen and noted a rise in the abandonment of “purse dogs” or toy breeds – think Chihuahuas, teacup pomeranians, Yorkies.  This is being noted over the past 5 years after the influences of celebrities and movies such as Beverly Hills Chihuahua or Legally Blonde.  While many of these small dogs have wonderful personalities, some may have anxiety issues to go along with the myriad of health problems….dental disease, luxating (dislocating) kneecaps, collapsing tracheas, and liver shunts to name a few.

In a personal communication with Blue Cross, a UK based group focused on animal health & welfare including rehoming unwanted pets, they have noted a significant change in some breed representations.  In a five year span (2009-2014), they saw increases in some breeds needing to be rehomed after being abandoned including:

  • Yorkshire Terriers – 65 (2009) to 92 (2014)
  • Chihuahuas – 0 (2009) to 53 (2014)
  • Pugs – 0 (2009) to 16 (2014)
  • Huskies 10 (2008) to 86 (2014)
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniels – 14 (2009) to 36 (2014)

We’re not saying that these particular breeds are not choices for dogs, but they may not be for everyone.  It’s important to not act on impulse before you go out and get a particular dog breed.  Better yet, try contacting a breed rescue group and consider fostering a dog before making a commitment for the next 10-15 years.

Every breed can be found on the Canadian Kennel Club or the American Kennel Club website to be researched and you can try their breed selector quiz to see a few dogs which might fit your lifestyle.  And lastly, don’t rule out the great option of adopting a dog from the shelter even if they aren’t a purebred!

Disclaimer: (IloveMyDogMoreThanMyKids) Views and opinions are my own.

Disclaimer: (Dr.Ryan Llera): Blog posts may include opinions which do not reflect on those of my current or any former employers.

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