Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Before bringing a plant into your home, be sure it’s safe for your pets. Some plants are so toxic they should never be kept in homes where animals live (the most hazardous are sago palms and, for cats, lilies). But many plants pose little danger to animals and are good choices for households with pets.
If you need to find out if a plant is safe, the list of toxic and nontoxic plants on the ASPCA Animal Poison Control website is an excellent resource: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants.
You can search the list for specific plants, and you can also generate lists of plants that are toxic or not toxic for dogs, cats, or horses. Some toxic and nontoxic plants have very similar common names, so always check a plant’s scientific name.
“Toxic” is a relative term when it comes to plants. Plants listed as toxic might cause anything from mild mouth irritation to death. Even plants listed as nontoxic can cause nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea if they’re eaten. Plants listed as nontoxic should not cause life-threatening illness in animals.
These are a few of the houseplants that are not toxic to dogs and cats, according to ASPCA Animal Poison Control. Scientific names are from the ASPCA and the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox (https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/).
African violet (Streptocarpus ionanthus)
American or baby rubber plant (Peperomia obtusifolia)
Always check the scientific names of plants called “rubber.” Baby rubber plants aren’t toxic to dogs and cats. Jade plants, sometimes called dwarf rubber or Chinese rubber plants (Crassula ovata), are toxic. Indian rubber plants (Ficus benjamina) are also toxic to dogs and cats.
Boston fern (Nephrolepis exalta)
Some ferns are safe and some aren’t. Boston fern isn’t toxic to dogs and cats, but asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus [Sprengeri group]) and some of the ferns that grow outdoors are. Fern palm is another name for sago palm (Cycas and Zamia species), one of the most dangerous plants to have anywhere near an animal.
Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)
Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera species)
Christmas cactus isn’t toxic, but pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) irritates the mouth and stomach and can cause vomiting.
Gerbera daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
Gerbera daisies are safe for dogs and cats. Some other daisy-like plants are listed as toxic; these include seaside daisy (Erigeron speciosus), chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum species), chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), and, not surprisingly, poison daisy/mayweed (Eclipta prostrata).
Hens and chicks (Sempervivum species)
The small succulent called hens and chicks isn’t toxic. Some other succulents, like jade plants (Crassula species), can be toxic to dogs and cats.
Majesty palm (Ravenea rivularis), parlor palm (Chamaedorea elegans)
Always look up palm species to be sure they’re safe. Majesty, parlor, and several other types of palm are safe for dogs and cats, but sago palm (Cycas and Zamia species) can be deadly.
Phalaenopsis or moth orchid (Phalaenopsis species)
Spider or ribbon plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
Zebra haworthia (Haworthiopsis species)
The zebra plant looks similar to aloe (Aloe vera) but is safer for dogs and cats. Aloe can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
Public domain photo of Phalaenopsis or moth orchids by Bob Burch on Flickr
Any dog might need to wear a muzzle at some point. Muzzle training makes wearing a muzzle stress-free and even fun for the dog. Resources for training a dog to love a muzzle are linked at the end of this article.
Why Dogs Wear Muzzles
Muzzles can be incredibly useful. Wearing a muzzle doesn’t necessarily mean that a dog is aggressive. A muzzle is just another tool to help keep dogs and people safe. These are some of the many reasons a dog might use a muzzle:
Choosing a Muzzle
The type of muzzle to look for is a basket muzzle. Correctly fitted basket muzzles don’t hold a dog’s mouth shut, so a dog wearing a basket muzzle can pant, drink water, and take treats.
Don’t buy a cloth muzzle like the ones sometimes used for dog grooming and veterinary procedures. Cloth muzzles keep the dog’s mouth closed, so these muzzles are not safe for dogs to wear for more than a few minutes and can also be stressful for dogs.
Basket muzzles come in various styles, materials, and colors. Some are made of flexible rubber; muzzles made of wire offer more bite protection. Muzzles for specific breeds (like greyhounds) and custom-made muzzles for dogs with hard-to-fit faces are also available.
The fit of the muzzle is crucial, so you’ll need to measure your dog’s face according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (Estimate the measurement if your dog might bite when his face is touched.) A basket muzzle should be long enough to avoid rubbing the tip of the nose but not so long that it hits the dog’s eyes, and it should be deep enough to let the dog open his mouth wide to pant. A basket muzzle deep enough to allow for full panting will probably look huge when the dog’s mouth is closed, but this is the correct fit.
The muzzle should have lots of openings for air flow. Some basket muzzles have large holes for treats; others have smaller gaps in front of the nose to keep dogs from eating things they shouldn’t.
Muzzle Training Basics
Dogs accept muzzles most readily if the training involves yummy treats and is done gradually over weeks. Dogs who are already afraid of muzzles need extra training steps and more time; don’t hesitate to seek help from a positive-reinforcement trainer.
Watch your dog’s body language throughout training to be sure she’s happy and relaxed. If at any point your dog avoids the muzzle, you’re moving too fast. Back up a couple of steps and proceed more slowly.
1. Arhant C, Schmied-Wagner C, Aigner U, Affenzeller N. Owner reports on use of muzzles and their effects on dogs; an online survey. J Vet Behav. 2021;41:73-81. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2020.07.006
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
About two-thirds of cats respond to catnip. Catnip toys and catnip plants are safe for cats and can provide sensory stimulation and environmental enrichment for indoor cats.
Environmental enrichment means adding things to or changing an animal’s environment in ways that enhance the animal’s mental and physical well-being. An enriched environment lets animals express behaviors that are normal for their species and helps them cope with stress.
Environmental enrichment is used to improve the welfare of animals in zoos and shelters, and it can also help indoor cats be happier and healthier. Sensory enrichment is part of environmental enrichment, and catnip provides olfactory stimulation for cats that are attracted to it.
What is catnip?
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a perennial herb in the mint family. It can be grown in pots or planted in the garden, though like other mints it tends to be invasive if it’s not confined to a container.
The compound in catnip that appeals to cats is nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is a volatile substance, meaning that it forms a vapor. Cats that respond to catnip are attracted to its scent, not necessarily to its taste.
Some other plants contain nepetalactone and similar compounds. In a study published in 2017, most cats that didn’t respond to catnip were attracted to silver vine (Actinidia polygama). About half of the cats in the study responded to Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) or valerian root (Valeriana officinalis).
How does catnip affect cats?
Cats’ reactions to catnip include sniffing and licking it, rubbing their faces in it, rolling in it, kicking it with the back feet, and drooling. The response lasts for about 5 to 15 minutes, after which the cat doesn’t respond to the plant for an hour or two.
Cats do not become addicted to catnip.[2,3] Nepetalactone works through the body’s opioid response system, likely providing a feel-good reward to cats that interact with catnip. Nepetalactone stimulates the opioid response system by increasing the release of natural endorphins, which probably explains why nepetalactone isn’t addicting like externally administered opiates (such as morphine) can be.
Why are cats attracted to catnip?
The catnip response is inherited. Some big cats, like leopards and jaguars (but not tigers), are also attracted to catnip. Breed, sex, and neutering status do not affect cats’ sensitivity to catnip, although the catnip response seems to increase as cats grow to adulthood. We don’t know why some cats but not others have catnip-sensitive genes or why other species don’t respond to catnip in the same way.
So why are cats sensitive to catnip at all? It would be very unusual for animals to have an innate (as opposed to learned) behavioral response that serves no biological purpose.
A study published in 2021 suggested that the catnip response could have evolved as a means of pest defense. This study showed that nepetalactol (a compound in silver vine similar to nepetalactone) repels mosquitoes when it’s applied to cats’ heads. The researchers observed cats’ interactions with nepetalactol samples and found that the cats showed rolling and face-rubbing behaviors only when the samples were within reach, not when the cats could smell the samples but not come in contact with them. After more tests, they concluded that the point of the catnip response is to transfer nepetalactol to the face and body to ward off mosquitoes.
Feel free to offer catnip to your cats if they enjoy it. Don’t rely on catnip for mosquito control, though! Mosquitoes transmit heartworms and other diseases, and catnip isn’t effective enough as a mosquito repellant to keep your cats safe.
1. Ellis SL. Environmental enrichment: practical strategies for improving feline welfare. J Feline Med Surg. 2009;11(11):901-912. doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2009.09.011
2. Bol S, Caspers J, Buckingham L, et al. Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria). BMC Vet Res. 2017;13(1):70. doi:10.1186/s12917-017-0987-6
3. Uenoyama R, Miyazaki T, Hurst JL, et al. The characteristic response of domestic cats to plant iridoids allows them to gain chemical defense against mosquitoes. Sci Adv. 2021;7(4):eabd9135. doi:10.1126/sciadv.abd9135
4. Ellis SL, Wells DL. The influence of olfactory stimulation on the behaviour of cats housed in a rescue shelter. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2010;123:56-62. doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2009.12.011
Photo by Madalyn Cox on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Dog bites are physically and emotionally traumatic and can also have serious consequences for the dog. National Dog Bite Prevention Week, the second full week of April, is a good time to learn more about dog bites.
Why do dogs bite?
Dogs bite as an instinctive response to provocation. Even friendly, tolerant dogs can bite under the wrong circumstances. A dog might bite a person in situations like these:
Which dog breeds are likely to bite?
Trick question! Any dog can bite if provoked.
Assuming that a dog is aggressive because of its breed is unfair to responsible dog owners and (in the case of breed bans) potentially unsafe for the dog. It’s even more dangerous to assume that a dog won’t bite because it looks like a breed people think of as “friendly.” It’s almost impossible to tell the breed heritage of a mixed-breed dog just by appearance anyway.
A dog’s body language and facial expressions are better indicators of bite risk than its (apparent) breed is. These cues can be subtle, but learning to tell if dogs are feeling anxious, afraid, or aggressive can help keep you safe.
Who’s at risk of being bitten?
At least half of the people bitten by dogs in the United States each year are children, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Older adults are also at higher risk. Most people with dog bites are bitten by their own dog or another dog they’re familiar with.
How can I keep myself and my kids from being bitten?
These measures can reduce the risk:
What can dog owners do?
Socialize puppies and newly adopted dogs so they’ll be comfortable with different people and new situations. Dogs who are well socialized are less likely to feel nervous or threatened when they encounter new people and unfamiliar environments. Obedience training using positive reinforcement also builds trust between dogs and their owners.
Be sure your dog’s rabies vaccination is up to date. Monitor your dog’s health; pain and illness reduce a dog’s tolerance for being touched and handled.
Don’t let your dog run free outdoors, and follow your local leash laws. If your dog is nervous around unfamiliar people, be sure he has a place to get away from visitors to your home.
Photo by Ralu Gal
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Socialization helps dogs become comfortable with new people, animals, and situations. It’s especially crucial for puppies and newly adopted dogs. Socializing dogs requires a little creativity during a pandemic, but you can still make sure they have the experiences they need to be well-adjusted pets.
The best age to socialize puppies is up to about 3 months. Very young pups consider everything they encounter to be a normal part of life, so they’re not likely to be afraid of these things later on. After 3 to 4 months of age, their brains are less receptive to new experiences and their fear responses increase. Puppies that don’t receive adequate early socialization sometimes grow into adult dogs with fearful, anxious, or aggressive behaviors that could land them in a shelter.
Adult dogs also benefit from socialization and training. Newly adopted dogs need consistency and routine to help them settle into their new homes. Carefully exposing dogs to things that worry them, with plenty of positive reinforcement and professional help if necessary, can help them manage their fears. As always, contact your veterinarian if your dog is especially fearful or has had changes in behavior.
Here are some things you can do to enrich your dog's environment during times of physical distancing.
Give your dog toys that engage all of the senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch. Rotate the toys so your dog doesn’t get bored. Let your dog explore different areas of the house under supervision.
Let young puppies interact safely with everyday objects, especially ones that move or make noise: brooms, umbrellas, pots and pans, blenders, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, bicycles, and so forth. Play music. Let your puppy play on different surfaces, like wood, carpet, pillows on the floor, slick surfaces, gravel, concrete, and grass.
Wear hats, sunglasses, and your pandemic face covering—not necessarily all at the same time—in front of your puppy. Move the furniture around to help your pup get used to changes in the environment.
Give dogs and puppies practice spending time alone to help prevent separation anxiety when you have to leave. Use positive reinforcement to teach your new dog or puppy that their crate is a safe space.
Sit outside with your dog or puppy and watch people go by. Is the neighbor using a leaf blower? Fabulous—this is a great opportunity to teach a young pup that loud sounds are OK. (If your dog is afraid of the sound, don’t push this! The point is to get puppies used to noises before they develop noise anxiety, not to force a fearful dog to sit through something scary.)
Take your dog on walks. The more people, other dogs, and noisy vehicles a puppy encounters before 3 months of age, the better. Adult dogs also need the sensory stimulation they get from walks. Maintain physical distance from other people during the pandemic; the CDC recommends keeping dogs at least 6 feet away from people who aren’t in their own household.
Go for car rides, gradually increasing your dog’s time in the car. If your pet has motion sickness or car anxiety, contact your veterinarian.
Dogs that are used to being handled are less stressed than others at the veterinary clinic. Prepare your puppy for future veterinary visits by using positive reinforcement while touching his paws, ears, tail, and belly. On behalf of clinic staff everywhere, I beg you to get your puppy comfortable with foot handling while he’s young. Contact your veterinary clinic for advice if your dog has trouble with nail trims at home.
Socializing Dogs During COVID-19 (American Veterinary Medical Association): https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/animal-health-and-welfare/covid-19/socializing-dogs-during-covid-19
Socializing Your Puppy During the COVID-19 Pandemic (University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center): https://www.vmc.umn.edu/sites/vmc.umn.edu/files/puppy_socializing_during_covid19.pdf
1. American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. AVSAB position statement on puppy socialization. 2008. Accessed September 4, 2020. https://avsab.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Puppy_Socialization_Position_Statement_Download_-_10-3-14.pdf
2. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): if you have pets. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated June 28, 2020. Accessed September 4, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/pets.html
Photo by Alvan Nee
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Giving medication to cats is not always as simple as giving it to dogs. Unfortunately, this means that cats might not receive all of their medication, and some might not get any medication at all. If you have trouble giving your cat pills, tell your veterinarian. Together you can find a way for your cat to get the treatment she needs.
Try It in Food
If the medication can be given with food (check with your veterinarian), try hiding the first dose in something tasty to see if your cat is willing to take it this way. Use a small amount of food that your cat loves or a soft cat treat. Offer the bite of food containing the medication when your cat is hungry; don’t just leave a pill in the middle of a bowl of food.
Using food to administer medication can cause food aversion and reduced food intake in some cats, says the American Association of Feline Practitioners. If your cat doesn’t readily eat the first dose in food, don’t keep trying this method. Never force food into your cat’s mouth. Some medications are bitter and most cats won’t eat pills on their own, so be prepared to try something else.
Give It by Hand
For many cats, manual administration is the quickest and surest way to give pills. This technique is easier to show than to describe. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine has an excellent video series demonstrating how to give a pill to a cat with your fingers or with a pill gun. (A pill gun is a tube with a soft tip and a plunger that lets you place pills onto your cat’s tongue without putting your fingers in the mouth.) The videos are at this link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzf8tGKj10zzg6Unhw4QZrqcvJZ1amkax
Here are some tips:
Try a Different Form of Medication
It can be very difficult to give a tablet to a cat who doesn’t want it. Some medications come in liquid form. Here is the Cornell video series showing how to give liquid medication to a cat: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLzf8tGKj10zxJYert-yKU0B3cUpkH5Y0Z
Compounding pharmacies can make some medications into flavored liquids, chewable soft treats, and other forms that cats might accept more easily. A few medications can be made into ointments that are applied to the skin (usually inside the ear), although this delivery method doesn’t work for all medications. Talk to your veterinarian if you’d like to pursue these other options.
You can find more ideas in these articles:
Giving your cat medication. American Association of Feline Practitioners. Accessed August 21, 2020. https://catfriendly.com/cat-care-at-home/giving-cat-medication/
Giving your cat oral medications. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Accessed August 21, 2020. https://www.vet.cornell.edu/hospitals/pharmacy/consumer-clinical-care-guidelines-animals/giving-your-cat-oral-medications
Medicating your cat. University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Accessed August 21, 2020. https://www.vet.upenn.edu/docs/default-source/ryan/ryan-behavior-medicine/medicating-your-cat-(pdf).pdf
Photo by Paul Hanaoka
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
If you’ve been sheltering at home during the pandemic, your pets have gotten used to having you around all the time. Puppies and kittens adopted during lockdown might have never been home without people. Take these steps to prevent separation anxiety in your pets when you start spending more time away.
Gradually Change the Schedule
Dogs and cats feel most secure when their environment is predictable. If meal and walk times will be changing, start the new schedule in advance to give them time to adjust. You might also need to gradually alter the timing, frequency, and duration of play times (but make sure they still get plenty of exercise).
Make Departures No Big Deal
A standard recommendation for pets with separation anxiety is to stay calm when you leave and when you return. It’s fine to say hi when you walk in the door, but excited greetings and prolonged goodbyes can be counterproductive. You don’t want to focus too much of their attention on the fact that you are going or coming.
Start With Short Departures
Have everyone leave the house for a few minutes to see how your dog reacts. Some signs of separation anxiety are barking, whining, scratching at the door, urinating or defecating in the house, and chewing the door frame or other objects. A video camera (if you have one) can pick up signs like pacing, panting, and lip licking. If all goes well, gradually increase the length of time you’re gone.
If your dog seems anxious, progress very slowly and use positive reinforcement like treats when you leave. Simply picking up the keys or touching the doorknob is enough to trigger anxiety in some dogs. Dogs that already have separation anxiety might need a veterinary consult.
Use Toys and Treats
Giving your pets toys or treats when you leave can serve 2 purposes: distraction and counterconditioning. A time-consuming toy like a food puzzle gives them something to think about other than the fact that you’re gone. Never leave your pets with toys they can swallow whole, chew apart, shred, mangle, break, or choke on, though.
Counterconditioning means giving an animal a positive stimulus, like a yummy treat, at the same time as an unwanted event, like you leaving. Counterconditioning can help animals form positive associations with things they don’t like but have to put up with.
Confine Pets Safely
If your dogs can’t safely have the run of the house while you’re away, accustom them to a crate or an appropriate room in advance. Make the space a familiar, comfortable environment for them, using positive reinforcement as needed.
Destruction and house soiling aren’t signs that your dog resents you or wants your attention. These could be signs of anxiety, boredom, lack of exercise, or (with house soiling) just needing to be taken out more often. Punishing animals after the fact increases their anxiety and does nothing to keep the behavior from happening again. Look for the cause of the problem instead.
Doggie Daycare? It Depends
Dog daycares and kennels might or might not be open in your area. Follow your local public health precautions. Dogs and cats don’t seem able to transmit COVID-19 to humans, and the risk of them becoming infected appears to be low. To be safe, however, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends limiting contact between pets and people who are not part of the household. If any people or animals in your home are sick, don’t send your dog to daycare. And don’t put face coverings over pets’ noses or wipe them down with household disinfectants.
For More Information
COVID-19: 7 steps to help your pet prepare for your return to work. American Veterinary Medical Association. Published June 12, 2020. Accessed July 3, 2020. https://www.avma.org/news/press-releases/covid-19-7-steps-help-your-pet-prepare-your-return-work
McConnell P. Preventing separation anxiety in the time of COVID. The Other End of the Leash. Published April 27, 2020. Accessed July 3, 2020. https://www.patriciamcconnell.com/theotherendoftheleash/preventing-separation-anxiety-in-the-time-of-covid
Photo by Eric Ward
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Indoor cats need mental stimulation and physical activity to stay happy and healthy. Playing games with your cat and providing cat-appropriate toys can make life better—and more fun—for both of you.
When and How Long to Play
Always let your cat choose whether and when to play. Cats might nip when they’re overexcited or want to stop interacting, so watch your cat’s body language (for example, pinning the ears back or twitching the tail) and be ready to end the session before things go too far.
When you’re petting your cat, remove your hand every minute or so and watch her reaction. If she ignores you or walks away, it’s time to stop. If she rubs her head against your hand, she probably wants more head or face petting. Some cats are overstimulated by being touched for very long on the lower back near the tail and prefer to be petted on the front half of the body.
The ideal length of a play session probably depends on the individual cat. The results of a 2014 cat owner survey showed a possible link between the length of play sessions and cat problem behaviors: owners who played with their cats for at least 5 minutes at a time reported fewer problem behaviors than those who played for 1 minute at a time. However, the survey didn’t show whether longer play resulted in fewer problem behaviors or whether owners just didn’t engage as much with cats who had behavior issues.
To choose toys and games for your cat, start by thinking like a cat. Cats are born hunters, and even cats living the good life indoors need to be able to act on their natural instincts. Cats play by acting out predator behaviors:
The toys you provide should allow your cat to perform all of the instinctive predator behaviors. Cats tend to like moving objects they can stalk, which is why your feet might be a target. Try a variety of toys that mimic the movements of prey animals like rodents and birds. These can include toy mice, balls, toys dangling from the end of a wand, or toys pulled on a string. Of course, don’t leave strings or toys your cat can swallow within your cat’s reach when you’re not there to supervise.
Cats can become frustrated if they can’t catch what they’re chasing. If you use a laser pointer, hide a treat for your cat to find after stalking the moving light. (And don’t point the light into your cat’s face.) Balls inside circular tracks might not be attractive to some cats because they can’t capture, hold, or bite them.
Cats get bored with their toys, so don’t leave the same toys out every day. Rotate your cat’s toys to keep her mind stimulated.
You don’t have to buy a lot of cat toys to play with your cat. Paper bags, boxes, crumpled paper balls, and socks all make great toys. Think about engaging all of your cat’s senses with objects that look, smell, taste, sound, and feel different from each other.
For more ideas for toys and enrichment for indoor cats, check these resources:
1. Delgado M. Do cats have petting preferences? Yes! Cats and Squirrels website. December 29, 2014. Accessed March 19, 2020. http://catsandsquirrels.com/pettingprefs/
2. Strickler BL, Shull EA. An owner survey of toys, activities, and behavior problems in indoor cats. J Vet Behav. 2014;9:207-214.
3. Playing with your cat. International Cat Care. July 30, 2018. Accessed March 19, 2020. https://icatcare.org/advice/playing-with-your-cat/
Photo by Kim Davies
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
It can be fun to choose cute winter wear for your dog (and we love seeing the adorable sweaters on dogs coming into the clinic!). But does your dog really need winter clothing? It depends.
Dogs do not all have the same tolerance for low temperatures. Dogs in the same household might have completely different attitudes about going outdoors in winter, so pay attention to your dog’s preferences and use common sense.
Which Dogs Need Winter Clothing?
Outdoor temperature, weather conditions, length of time outdoors, and level of activity (a leisurely stroll around the block versus a 5-mile run) all affect a dog’s need for extra protection. Also take the following dog-specific factors into account.
Type of Fur
Some dogs’ natural coats are like a puffer jacket; others are more akin to a thin T-shirt. The length of the hair isn’t the only consideration. Dogs with thick undercoats, or double coats, are better protected against the cold than those with single coats. Golden retrievers and Maltese both have long hair, but goldens stay warmer—and shed a lot more—because of their double coat. Goldens are also bigger than Maltese, which brings us to the next point.
Size of the Dog
In general, small dogs like Chihuahuas and toy poodles don’t handle cold weather as well as large dogs like retrievers and shepherds. This partly depends on the individual dog, but little dogs lose heat more easily than big dogs because their body surface area is higher relative to their weight.
Age and Health Status
Young puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with health problems (arthritis, endocrine disorders like hypothyroidism, and so forth) have a harder time maintaining their body temperature in cold weather than healthy adult dogs do.
Breeds that were developed to live in cold climates (like Newfoundlands and Bernese mountain dogs) are obviously better equipped for winter weather than greyhounds and the hairless breeds. Some breeds (and individual dogs) are just better acclimated to cold weather than others.
Signs That Your Dog Needs a Coat
Watch your dog for signs of discomfort in the cold:
If your dog has significant shivering or reluctance to move that doesn’t improve soon after coming inside to warm up, take him to a veterinary clinic to be checked for hypothermia. (Hypothermia is unlikely to happen in dogs in the Charlotte area who are outdoors under direct supervision for a reasonable length of time. It can affect dogs left outside in cold weather without adequate shelter.) Clothing is not a substitute for warm shelter.
Which Dogs Shouldn’t Wear Clothes?
Dogs can overheat if they’re wearing a coat they don’t need. There’s a reason sled dogs don’t wear parkas while they’re running the Iditarod. These dogs don’t need to be wearing clothes:
How to Choose Dog Clothing
Sweaters, jackets, and coats should fit closely enough not to drag on the ground or become tangled around the dog’s legs. However, clothing shouldn’t be tight around the neck or restrict the dog’s movement. Clothing should have no loose hanging bits that could get snagged on something or that the dog might chew. Dog clothing shouldn’t get in the way of urination and defecation (most dog coats are open under the belly and tail). Choose materials that are appropriate for the weather and easy to clean. And if your dog hates his clothes, don’t force the issue. Introduce new clothing gradually and try different materials and fits if you need to.
See more cold weather safety tips here: https://www.mallardcreekvet.com/dr-waldens-blog/cold-weather-safety-for-pets.
Photo by Rebecca Johnson, DVM
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
It’s tempting to share some of the Thanksgiving feast with our pets. Not all human food is safe for dogs and cats, though. The best way to avoid a holiday trip to the emergency clinic is to give pets their usual food and keep table food out of their reach. If you (or your guests) do want to give your pets a little bit of holiday food, though, here are some suggestions that are fine for most dogs and cats.
Keep in mind a few rules of thumb. Don’t give them anything that’s dangerous to dogs and cats: fatty food, bones, raw meat, raw eggs, raisins, grapes, currants, onions, garlic, leeks, raw yeast dough, macadamia nuts, chocolate, and the sugar substitute xylitol. For more, see the posts on Thanksgiving safety for pets and human foods that are toxic to pets.
Unseasoned single-ingredient foods are safer than multiple-ingredient dishes because they’re less likely to contain hidden dangers like onion. Moderation is key; too much of any food can upset a pet’s stomach. And remember that these suggestions don’t apply to pets with food allergies or digestive problems.
A bite of cooked skinless, boneless turkey meat is safe for most dogs and cats. Keep portion size in mind; a 10-lb dog or cat does not need the same amount of turkey that a person would eat. Take these precautions:
Defatted turkey or chicken broth
Pan drippings and gravy are too high in fat for dogs and cats. But a spoonful or two of defatted broth is usually fine for dogs. Don’t give broth to your cat unless you can be absolutely sure it wasn’t made with onions, leeks, shallots, or garlic; try tuna juice instead.
Vegetables and fruits
Dogs like vegetables more than you might think. Avoid grapes, raisins, currants, veggies cooked with fat or butter, and vegetable casseroles (that green bean casserole with the crispy onions on top? no). Stick with plain veggies and fruits, either raw or cooked without seasoning. My own dogs highly recommend all of these:
A small piece of bread, cornbread, or biscuit is generally safe for dogs and cats. Keep unbaked dough out of their reach; raw yeast dough can cause ethanol poisoning. Watch for added fats and seasonings (no onion focaccia or garlic bread). A bite of plain bread is safer than dressing or stuffing, which is likely to contain fat, onion, and possibly raisins or currants. Also avoid store-bought baked goods that might contain artificial sweeteners like xylitol.
For pets eating prescription or limited-ingredient diets
The best approach for pets with medical needs or food allergies is to close them in a room away from the kitchen and dining area. Guests might not realize that these pets have dietary restrictions. If your pet is eating a special diet and you’d like to give treats, ask your veterinarian for safe options. Some prescription diet manufacturers have developed treats that are compatible with their diets.
Photo by Charles 🇵🇭
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
The contents of this blog are for information only and should not substitute for advice from a veterinarian who has examined the animal. All blog content is copyrighted by Mallard Creek Animal Hospital and may not be copied, reproduced, transmitted, or distributed without permission.