Been to the pet supply store lately? If not, you might be surprised at the sheer number of goodies available for our furry friends, from the usual bones and squeaky toys to rawhides that double as dental treatments to designer foods featuring venison, bison, rabbit and wild boar. There are even upscale dog boutiques, like Pupcakes on Harden Street, that offer chic leashes, sweaters, beds and even doggie birthday cakes.
Veterinarian Nori Warren, who owns Four Paws Animal Clinic in Forest Acres with vet Tracy Wales, has no trouble with people spoiling their pets — she admits to spoiling hers rotten — but she would prefer them to do it with exercise, attention or even outfits instead of food. “Of course your dog will get excited when you hand her a big beautiful Milk Bone, but bear in mind that it’s the equivalent of handing her a Snickers bar,” she says. “She’d love a walk or a belly rub just as much.” Exercise is also one of the best ways to find the calm, sweet lapdog that’s hiding inside your whirling, chewing, jumping dervish. “A tired dog is a happy dog,” says local trainer Tina Heckman, who also manages the Columbia Dog Park on Shop Road. “People bring their dogs to the park a few times and can’t believe the difference.”
Anna Viviano, whose dogs Carl and Maggie visit the dog park several times a week, agrees that exercise is key to keeping dogs calm, but she has another tip as well: “We buy used stuffed animals by the bag at Goodwill and let the dogs destroy them,” she laughs. “Just be sure to keep an eye on the dogs to make sure they don’t eat the stuffing or other parts.” Anna has also found that having a second dog is good for both pets. “Maggie, the puppy, keeps Carl company; Carl passed all his good habits on to Maggie,” she notes. “Jealousy was never an issue.”
Tracy and Nori also recommend giving your pet a good once-over every week or so as a first line of defense against problems that, when caught early, are easily treatable. “Get down on the floor with your dog and while you’re giving her a good scratch, use the time to make sure her ears aren’t red or smelly and her eyes are clear. While you’re at it, get a look inside her mouth. If you see a lot of plaque buildup or get a whiff of something funkier than dog breath, it may be time for a professional cleaning,” says Nori. And while it might seem extravagant to have your dog’s teeth cleaned, gum inflammation can allow bacteria to enter the bloodstream where it can infect her heart, kidneys and joints. The good news is that once those pearly whites are sparkling, there are lots of products on the market designed to keep mouth problems at bay without brushing.
And speaking of preventive maintenance, veterinarian Neal Atkinson, who founded Shandon-Wood Animal Clinic almost 33 years ago, can’t stress enough the importance of a yearly exam for a dog — and twice a year if she’s more than seven years old. “The physical part of the exam can uncover small issues like bladder stones, cysts, spleen tumors and heart murmurs that, left unchecked, could seriously threaten your dog’s life,” he says. Neal also recommends regular blood tests to uncover kidney and thyroid issues well before they have a permanent effect on your dog’s health. “Remember that dogs are reluctant to show pain, so it’s up to us, as dog owners, to be vigilant about checkups.”