Gastric Dilation Volvulus, a.k.a. Bloat

Gastric Dilation Volvulus, also known commonly as bloat and torsion, is a scary, life threatening condition that can strike dogs of any size at any age, although it tends to afflict the larger breeds with deep chest cavities. It is the mother of all veterinary medical emergencies. No one is sure exactly what causes it, but the veterinary profession has an abundance of theories. Bloat occurs when the stomach rapidly fills with gas then, because the enlarged stomach is top-heavy, the stomach flips over (torsion), twisting the ends off and trapping the gas. The gas continues to expand, with no exit route, and the stomach can grow to massive sizes. You can easily imagine from there how quickly things can go downhill. Often the twisted stomach tissue starts to die as the blood flow is compromised, and other organs get displaced as the stomach grows. The twisted stomach can block major blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart, quickly sending the dog into shock. Shock can occur within minutes of bloat starting, so this is not a ‘wait and see’ type of medical condition, this is truly a dire emergency.

Most dogs will act uncomfortable, sometimes pacing, trying to throw up but nothing comes. Many people, including vets, often think it’s just a ‘stomach ache’ and instruct owners to give some pepto bismol and call back in the morning. The veterinary and dog breeder world will offer you many suggestions for the prevention of bloat- from elevated feeders and no play for 30 minutes after eating, to feeding non-grain or raw based diets, not letting your dog scarf down food, and not allowing them to drink loads of water at a time. But despite all this bloat can still strike. Tiki, my 10 year old long-haired German Shepherd, is a dainty eater. She often takes upwards of 10 minutes to eat a cup of food, and generally will leave a bit behind. She eats grain free, from an elevated feeder, and being 10 years old with early stages of arthritis, she doesn’t run around much during the day, let alone after she’s eaten dinner. She’s never been a water tanker, taking a few dainty sips at a time before laying down, coming back for more later if she’s still thirsty. When bloat stuck at 7pm as I was fixing dinner, she hadn’t even eaten since breakfast that morning, and certainly hadn’t engaged in any physical activity within the 90 minutes prior.

All I can say of the experience- harrowing to say the least- was that I thank everything in the universe that I was at home when it started. Had I been at work, even with my roommate home all day with her, she certainly would have perished. My roommate is not a dog person, and while she likes dogs, she’s certainly not well versed in their medical anomalies. In fact, if someone hadn’t educated me on this subject in the past, I’d almost certainly have not dropped everything, grabbed Tiki up, and rushed the the emergency vet. Many people aren’t sure what’s going on, and decide to wait and see, or take their dogs to the vet first thing in the morning. By then it’s too late.

When bloat first presented itself, Tiki was laying in her usual corner of the kitchen while I cooked and my roommate worked on her laptop on the table. She started panting- no entirely unusual in Texas for a long haired GSD, even with the a/c on, but something about her expression made my roommate suddenly ask, “What’s wrong with Tiki?”

I looked over at her and sure enough, she was panting lightly, but had the barest hint on her face that she was uncomfortable. I called her to me, and she got up and obediently came, and I kneeled down to put my hands on it. I rubbed her face then ran my hands down her side, and stopped cold at her stomach. It wasn’t overly distended- yet. But it was rock hard. Outwardly nothing looked amiss, the stomach hadn’t grown yet to be noticeable enough just looking at her (although that’s what most people will first notice about bloat- the visibly distended belly. By that time, it’s almost always too late.)

My heart stopped. I knew instantly what is was. It felt like she had eaten a really big meal. My naturally dainty, slender GSD had a thanksgiving dinner belly- hard to the touch and larger than normal. I switched off the stove top, gabbed my keys and wallet, and literally threw Tiki into the back of my car. The e-vet was 20 minutes away and I made it in barely 10, going 105mph down the freeway while Tiki cried in the back. If I had gotten pulled over I was prepared to lead a police chase right to the front door of the vet.

I didn’t bother to park, stopping right in front of the door, grabbing Tiki and running into the vet. Luckily a tech came right out when they heard the door chime. I practically threw Tiki at her, mumbling incoherently about bloat, and the tech immediately took her back for x-rays. Not 10 minutes later the vet and tech were both back with x-rays. The news was dire. Her stomach had flipped completely and she would need immediate surgery, with no guarantee of survival. They wouldn’t know the damage to the stomach tissue or surrounding organs until they got in there. Her blood pressure was already fluctuating, and her blood work came back with some irregularities from the bloat. I signed the consent papers at the same time as they were prepping for surgery. Before I even left the vet they already had her open on the operating table- less than 30 minutes from when her bloat started.

The wait was agonizing. Even with proper medical interventions, survival is less than 80%, if any part of the stomach had died off, survival drops to below 50%. Survival depends greatly on how long the stomach has been flipped, if any stomach tissue has died from loss of blood, and if the dog was approaching or already in a state of shock before the surgery. Without aggressive medical interventions, death is nearly certain once the stomach flips, and the emergency vet confided to me afterward that she wasn’t going to tell me this, but that particular e-vet had seen many cases of bloat- and not a single survivor, mostly due to owners not knowing what was happening and waiting too long to bring them in. Manually trying to flip the stomach using a tube down the throat has limited success, and bloat will nearly always reoccur. Surgery was our only option.

It was an agonizing 3 hour surgery, but the vet didn’t call immediately to tell me the damage was too severe, so I was hopeful. When she did finally call it was to say things went as well as they could have, and Tiki was now sleeping. I could come get her the next morning and have her transferred to my regular vet.

Waiting at home for the hour between when the e-vet closed and the regular vet opens.

Waiting at home for the hour between when the e-vet closed and the regular vet opens.

When I picked her up the vet gave me a list of complications to look out for, such as behavior that would signal a change in blood pressure or signs of shock. I paid the bill (a bit over $4000, for the curious. /gulp) and I took her to my regular vet and they admitted her for the day for observation while I was at work. My regular vet, a 60+ year old James Harriot-type man, told me he, also, had never had a bloat survivor in his practice in 40 years as a practicing vet. He was so impressed that she had survived, that he brought in all the techs and the other vets to come meet her while he gave them a run down on bloat signs and symptoms (which he did while kneeling on the floor with Tiki and wrapping a bandage around her stomach). By the time I picked her up after work, the vet was confident she was mostly out of the woods, to keep monitoring her, and he sent me home with antibiotics, telling me to come back in two weeks to remove the 40 staples that were holding her together.

Feeling well enough to jump not eh bed while I was washing the sheets, but oh! too weak to move! when I need to make the bed

Feeling well enough to jump on the bed while I was washing the sheets, but oh! too weak to move! when I need to make the bed

In addition to antibiotics, she received antacids to help with the stomach acid on her healing stomach. Part of her surgery included gastropexy- fastening the stomach to the body wall to prevent torsion in the future (as reoccurrence of bloat in dogs without a gastropexy reaches nearly 100%, with a gastropexy, it’s less than 5%).

Finally feeling well enough, 3 days post-surgery, to show a bone!

Finally feeling well enough, 3 days post-surgery, to chew a bone!

Tiki developed a minor skin infection during the end of the second week of healing, apparently licking in secret as we never caught her actively licking her staples, so into the cone of shame she went and she received a week of antibiotics.

"I do not like the cone of shame"

“I do not like the cone of shame”

4 1/2 months later and Tiki is doing great. Her hair has grown back, she’s had no bloat reoccurrence, no complications, and she healed perfectly. She will celebrate her 10th birthday this fall!

4 months post-bloat!

4 months post-bloat!


The Big Squeeze: Let’s Talk About Anal Glands

I love dogs and (almost) all things dog, but one thing I did not want to become an expert on is anal glands.  I think most any dog owner is vaguely aware of anal glands.   If your dog is licking their hind end more than usual, or scooting their butt all over your freshly cleaned floor, or smelling like a 10 day dead fish marinated in liquid poop…the culprit is probably their anal glands.

If you have not heard of anal glands (lucky you!), they are at the rear end of the dog.  The smelly end.  They are two little kidney bean sized glands seated just inside of the rectum, at “5 and 7 o’clock around the anus.”  The normal order of things is that these little glands fill up with foul smelling fluid and they then empty themselves out when your dog poops, leaving behind a nice reek for other dogs to sniff.  Except, sometimes they don’t empty themselves.  Sometimes things go terribly wrong.   That’s where the butt-rubbing on your carpet comes in.


Why, dear God, why?!
The stools need to be firm enough to squeeze those glands into emptying themselves.  Firm poop, you want your dog to have it!  If the dog’s diet is too low in fiber, they can suffer chronically from too-full anal glands.  If the dog goes through a bout of diarrhea for any reason, it can leave the glands full and uncomfortable.  Dogs with chronic tummy upset and the resulting soft stools are also at risk.  Obese dogs or dogs who are not exercised frequently can also be prone to poor rear end muscle tone and that can result in the glands not emptying properly.  Some dog’s glands are simply situated “deeper” and “lower” than they should be, and this unfortunately means that when the stool passes out of the dog’s rectum – the full pressure of the bowel movement is not pressing on the glands and they are left with fluid inside.

What can be done?
Prevention!  The dog’s poop needs to be firmer.  This can mean a total diet change, either to a different kibble formula or even to a raw food diet.  It can mean supplementing the existing diet with more fiber.  Pumpkin is touted as the go to diet additive to introduce more fiber into the dog’s diet.   Always use pure pumpkin, never pumpkin pie filling.  Diggin’ Your Dog makes an easy to use pumpkin fiber supplement.  My dog and I are extremely happy with a powdered fiber supplement called Glandex.  The most important thing to remember is that every dog is different, and while it can be frustrating to find the right solution to keep your dog’s anal glands happy, it is worth the trial and error.

When your dog is scooting, licking/chewing and cannot get those glands empty…someone has to manually empty them.   This means a trip to the veterinarian’s office where the staff can express your dog’s glands, and teach you how to do so at home if you so choose.   Some groomers express the anal glands.  If you do learn how to express your dog’s glands, remember to be patient, use plenty of praise and treats (especially peanut butter or squeeze cheese that takes focus to consume.)  Have a gentle assistant help you to restrain your dog and feed him treats while you do the expression.
However! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!  Expressing a dog’s glands if they are not showing symptoms of discomfort/fullness is extremely unnecessary.  If your dog’s anal glands are working as they should be, just leave them do their job be happy about that.  Manual emptying of the glands can cause tissue trauma and swelling and there is no reason to do so unless it is truly necessary.
This will not be considered a how-to on how to express a dog’s anal glands!   I highly recommend getting an experienced veterinarian, technician or skilled groomer to show you how to express your dog’s anal glands if it is necessary.  The glands can be expressed externally or internally.  External expression is exactly what it sounds like: pressure is placed on either side of anus until the fluid expresses (if the glands are very full you can actually feel them).   It is less invasive, but in my experience, less effective – external expression does not always completely empty the glands.  Internal expression is also exactly what it sounds like: straight to the source!  Finger inside of the dog’s rectum while the thumb places opposing pressure on the gland externally with slight pressure applied until the gland expresses the fluid.

I don’t have to tell you: Manual expression is not fun for man or beast.   Most dogs are not likely to take the finger probing without a struggle.   When the fluid expresses it often shoots straight out of the rear end and it is best to stay out of the way! (TU’s Katie’s wise words: Make sure your mouth is closed when you express anal glands!)  It takes some practice to learn to express a dog’s glands, and it helps if you can grow four extra hands.

And sometimes, things go extra terribly wrong.
My dog Molly is a poster child for bad anal glands.   She came to me as a very young shelter puppy, a stray on the streets of a big city.  She always had a difficult tummy.   We tried a lot of different foods and she still had chronically soft stools as a pup, often diarrhea.  She often licked her hind end and was able to relieve her full glands this way.  She was rather tidy and efficient about it even if she was smelly - we called it “busting a gland.”  We have visited the vet or groomers countless times for manual expressions.  The vet tried to teach me how to express them myself one time and it was a miserable failure.  I DIY just about every aspect of dog care and grooming, but anal gland expression was the one thing I said “No!” to.

Molly is the perfect storm.   She continues to be very prone to stomach upset and gets soft stools rather easily from dietary changes or too many treats and she also has very deep set, recessed anal glands.  She is a challenge to manually express, even for the experienced.  It is amazing that we went 6 years without a major issue.

A few months ago my husband chose to share three chicken skins with Molly.   (Sigh.)  She had a few days of diarrhea followed by soft stools and then she was busy “bustin’ a gland” like nobody’s business.  Then she started….leaking.   Gland fluid on my couch covers, blankets, bathrobe, floor, crate padding.  On my pillow.  One night I woke up and my pajama pants had a big smelly wet spot on them from where Molly had her butt cozied up to me.   Yuck!   This was excessive, but it just felt like another chapter of Molly being kind of gross and having butt trouble.   I took her to the vet and had her glands expressed and was dismayed that the very next day she continued leaking.  This went on for about two weeks before Molly woke me up at 3am with her licking and when I turned on the light, her tail and hind end were covered in blood.   Whoah.

Back to the vet office and this time we made an appointment to see the vet rather than to just have her glands expressed.   The vet on duty that night told me he had never expressed more difficult glands on a dog, and he told me that Molly’s right anal gland was badly infected.  And let me just tell you, an infected anal gland is a pain in the butt, literally.  There is a lot of bacteria in the area, the dog is licking at it and irritating the tissue even further.  If an infection progresses without treatment, the gland can actually abscess and rupture externally.   Ouch.

The treatment for Molly’s infected anal gland began with several courses of different oral antibiotics and warm compresses to the anus.  I soaked a washcloth with hot water, wrung it out and placed it right underneath Molly’s tail and applied gentle pressure for 5-10 minutes each evening.  We visited the vet weekly for manual anal gland expression to evaluate Molly’s progress.   I groaned every time I saw blood fly out onto the exam table – that meant the infection was not going away.  When the first two rounds of (different) oral drugs did not work, we moved on to direct “infusions”.   Infusing the anal gland involves using a small catheter to access the anal gland’s emptying duct and packing the gland full of antibiotics directly.  The rectum has to be pulled out slightly in order for the vet or tech to be able to access this duct – not very fun for the dog at all.  Molly’s infection took two rounds of infusions before the fluid that was expressed was a mixture of blood and regular fluid.   It was the first sign of improvement!  Another infusion, and the next week, all regular fluid.  It took nearly two months to resolve.  I did not think it would ever resolve.

For the first month after the infection cleared up, I was instructed to express the glands weekly.  By now I had gotten over my shyness of doing Molly’s gland expressions myself.  I wanted to be able to keep an close eye on that gland fluid to be certain that the infection was not returning.  Weekly expressions are definitely not necessary anymore – if I notice Molly “bustin’ a gland” I take her into the bathroom and express her glands for her now.  And if she is not fussing at her hind end, we leave well enough alone.   Less manipulation to the tissue back there is best.

If infections or abscesses become a recurrent issue, it is possible to surgically remove the anal glands.  This was very much a Last Resort decision as far as I was concerned.  The anal glands are uncomfortably close to the nerves that control the anal sphincter.  In other words…if there is a complication your dog could become unable to control their bowel movements.  I am hopeful that Molly and I will never have to face that sort of decision, and that her anal glands stay happy and empty for many years to come!

Day to Day with Vestibular Disease, Part 3

This is the final part in my three-part series on our experience with “Old Dog” Vestibular Disease. If you’ve missed the previous posts, you can find them here:

Part 1
Part 2


Dahlia at the beginning of Week 4

As we headed into week 4, I was starting to feel really positive about Dahlia’s prognosis. The vet had assured me that most dogs make a near-complete recovery and as long as the dog is showing improvement after those first crucial 72 hours, they are likely to continue improving. This was certainly what we’d seen with Dahlia! She had conquered the stairs to the outside. She was able to get around the lower floor of our house with no real issues. She was happy going on walks and doing a bit of play with Ben in the backyard.

But she was not still at 100%. And we were all too well aware of that. Her head was still tilted, though it had become less extreme. She still had not attempted the stairs to our second floor. I was still sleeping in the downstairs guest room with her. And she had not been in a car since Christmas.

We were very careful with Dahlia through her convalescence. She is a dog who came to us with very little confidence and while she had gained so much during her 7+ years with us, Vestibular Disease shook her rather seriously. And so we did not want to try to get her upstairs or into the car before she was really ready to do it. Maybe we were too conservative. Maybe others would have pushed the issue earlier. But I think we ultimately made the right choice for her.

day 34-2

Day 34: Playtime!

It was the middle of the 4th week after this whole thing began, that Dahlia tried the stairs to the second floor. I still remember it clearly. Ben raced up the stairs as he usually does (Ben does nothing slowly!) and I went upstairs to find him a treat for bed. When I turned around, Dahlia was starting up the stairs. I absolutely panicked. My plan for getting her up the stairs consisted of one person being at the top of the stairs tempting her with treats while the other person stayed directly behind her in case she got wobbly and fell. Because Dahlia is a stubborn dog who does things on her own terms, she just decided to do it with no one behind her in case things went badly.

I rushed down and got behind her just as she got a little wobbly and stopped. She didn’t fall, thankfully. But it was clear at that point she wasn’t ready to continue. I managed to get her to turn around and walk slowly (one step at a time) back down the stairs.

It was scary. She didn’t get all the way up. But she did it. On her own with no coaxing. Dahlia wanted to get better and so she simply did.

Day 34: Head almost straight!

Day 34: Still sitting a little awkwardly, but her head is basically straight!

It was sometime during the following week that we decided to work more on getting her upstairs. We knew she had it in her and so we gave her a few more days to sleep downstairs and then decided to see if she could do it. She was hesitant and afraid to start up them. Her first experience did not go all that well and she had lost some confidence. So we put her on leash and got out the big guns. The “big guns,” of course, were the treats I used in her agility classes: Hormel dried beef. She loves that stuff. And so we got it out, waved it under her nose, got her really excited and after a bit of hemming and hawing, a bit of wobbling around, she did it. Once she got going, she just kept going (me in front of her tempting her with treats, my husband holding the leash and staying at her side to catch her if she fell) and she got to the top with no real problems.

The next morning was, of course, the next big challenge: Getting her down the stairs. I went down stairs to get some more treats out of the refrigerator and was heading back to go upstairs to put the leash on her and help her down. And lo and behold, Dahlia was making her own way down the stairs. Slowly. One step at a time. But she did it. On her own steam, with no one having to coax her down. She knew she wanted those treats. And so she came down to get them.

Ironically, I was pretty sure the down part would be much tougher than the up part. But Dahlia proved me wrong as she so often does.

day 34

Day 34: Playing with Ben!

By the time weeks 5 and 6 rolled around, Dahlia was regularly racing into the backyard with Ben. She was still a bit wobbly at times and when Ben would do his trick of running 90 mph at her and leaping at her head, she’d fall over. But she got up quicker and would race off after him. Here’s a video shot on day 28 after this whole thing started. You might think the dog running at the camera at first is Ben, but you’re wrong! (And you’ll realize that when the second dog comes flying past the first one.) You can see how much she’s improved since the video I posted last week. She’s much steadier on her feet and while she still struggles a bit and is a bit wobbly, she’s able to run at a pretty decent speed (especially considering she’s running on snow!).


Nearly 8 weeks in: A straight head!

By the end of week 6, she was regularly going up the stairs on her own. We were able to fade out the need for treats to coax her upstairs and every day it seemed like it was just that much easier for her to get started up them. She now goes up the stairs at just the mention of bed time. No treats, no coaxing, and no wobbling at all. And she races down them if she so much as senses someone might be going into the guest room closet (where we keep the treats).

We also noticed that head tilt is almost completely gone. There’s still a bit of a tilt inside, but outside it has disappeared and inside it’s almost not noticeable. This does not happen for all dogs or cats (or, as I found out in doing some research many other animals: rabbits, sheep, cows, and other animals have been affected by this same disease). Some will always retain a small head tilt (and some quite a big head tilt — see Marnie the Dog) so if it doesn’t resolve itself for your dog or cat, don’t be too dismayed!

Day 47: Finally in the car!

Day 47: Finally in the car!

This left one last thing to conquer for Dahlia: car rides. After Christmas (day 10 of this ordeal). she had not attempted getting into the car. I wanted to make sure she was confident enough to get into it. After seeing her try to get up on the couch and then decide not to do it again, I didn’t want to have the same issue with the car. When Dahlia started to attempt the couch again and got on it successfully, I decided it was time to see if she could do it.

So one day, while my husband was out walking Ben, I grabbed some of her favorite treats and took her out to the car to see what happened. I opened up the doors to the car and turned to see if I could help her. But nope. Dahlia did not need any help. She leapt up into the car like she had never ever had Vestibular Disease. She also had no trouble getting out of the car, landing solidly on the ground without stumbling even a little bit. We went to Petco to celebrate. She got a lot of attention from the people she met there and a few delicious treats.


7 weeks in: Racing around the backyard like this never happened!

This is where Dahlia is now. She has her old life back. She can go places with us. She can go upstairs and sleep on her bed at our side. She can run around the backyard with Ben. She gets steadier all the time with running, as you can see in the following videos, shot 7 weeks post-diagnosis.

She is happy and healthy and sometimes it’s almost like this never happened. Just the other day she leapt a branch in our backyard like it was a standard agility jump. I keep saying to people “You wouldn’t know anything is wrong with her.” But the reality is there isn’t anything wrong with her anymore.

But here’s the somewhat sobering reality: our vet told us that this rarely comes back. We left the vet’s office that day feeling relieved that we may never have to face this down again. But having spoken to many people whose dogs and cats have experienced this has led me to believe that a recurrence is not as uncommon as we were led to believe. So will it ever return? It’s hard to say. Knowing now what I know, I feel more prepared to tackle the disease. But at the same time I sincerely hope we never have to go through this with her again. It has been frightening and frustrating and was simply awful to watch for a time. Dahlia is now about 99% better than she was the day that it started. Hopefully if it ever recurs, she will get back to her usual self as quickly.

Throughout Dahlia’s convalescence, I spent a lot of time on the internet doing research and talking to other folks who had been through this. Some of the sites I found that have been indispensable to me are as follows:

Vestibular Disease in Dogs Support Group. This Facebook group was the main thing that kept me going through the past two months. The people there have all been through it, some are still going through it. New people join all the time (and not just with dogs; there is no equivalent cat group on Facebook so some cat owners have joined this one — Hint to cat owners: Create one! I bet you’d be a great resource for cat owners who didn’t want to post in a dog group!). And many people (including myself) stick around after their dogs have recovered to cheer on and support those who are currently going through it.

Lassie, Get Help – Vestibular Disease: Leave a Light On. Besides just the blog post, reading the comments to the post were incredibly helpful. Just seeing that others had been through this and that their dogs were ok made me feel better about the whole thing.

Shake, Rattle, and Roll: Top 10 Things You Should Know About Vestibular Disease. This is a great, very informative PDF about the disease.

I hope these posts have been informative for anyone who has not experienced this disease and perhaps a comfort to those who have. Please stop in and comment if you wish to. Let us know about your dog’s (or cat’s or rabbit’s) experience with this disease and how they’re doing now!

Day to Day with Vestibular Disease, Part 2

Last week I wrote about the absolute scare Dahlia gave us when she woke up and couldn’t walk and the first week of her recovery from Vestibular disease (if you missed the post, you can read it here).

This has been a long, hard road for us. And especially for Dahlia, though she has fought it every step of the way. No one wanted to return to normal more than Dahlia did and her fighting spirit helped her near-constant progress.

day 8

Day 8: Awkward running, but a short run nonetheless!

The second week brought about many great changes for Dahlia, though there were many struggles. Early in the week, she was still refusing to go into my husband’s study, but he decided to bring her out back with Ben through the outside gate. She was so happy to be outside that she tried to chase Ben. She was wobbly. She was unsteady, but she wanted to play. It was the first time since this happened that we actually attempt anything playful. During that first really hard week, we weren’t sure she would ever play again. I remembered wondering if she’d play tug, if she’d ever bark. She was silent during that first week and while Dahlia has never been a noisy dog (see my post on teaching Dahlia to bark, among other things), she has learned to bark in excitement. Seeing her so quiet was hard.

Christmas at my mothers - a very comfortable Dahlia!

Christmas at my mothers – a very comfortable (and tired) Dahlia!

The worst part of the week revolved around Christmas. Because we didn’t want to leave her out of the festivities, we opted to bring her over to my mother’s house (across town). which meant a car ride. As I mentioned in my earlier post, dogs with vestibular disease do not like being lifted off the ground. And as Dahlia had never really been picked up by us, it was especially difficult on her. She really wasn’t ready to attempt a jump up in the car, so we had to lift her in. This involved her rolling, almost falling out of the car, and at least three attempts before she was situated into the car. It also meant a difficult time getting her out. To reduce the stress, I stayed the night at my mother’s place with Dahlia while my husband went home with Ben. That meant two car rides instead of four. It was absolutely the right decision for Dahlia. Now you might ask Should you have taken her at all? That’s the question I still don’t have a proper answer for. Dahlia would not have wanted to be left behind and I was not comfortable at that point leaving her for several hours. So in the end, we decided the stress of getting her into the car was less than the worry about leaving her behind. And outside of the stress of getting her into and out of the car and being nervous coming down the hallway, Dahlia was comfortable at my mother’s place. She begged as usual and, a new thing: she was comfortable walking on the hardwood floors in my mother’s kitchen (anything to beg for food!).

And a Christmas miracle! When I came back from a walk with Ben, Dahlia got very excited and played tug with her Mama. It was the first time she’d shown any interest in toys or playing her favorite game! I will admit that I had tears in my eyes as I played with her (and I apologize for my voice in this video — you might want to listen on mute!).

You can pretty clearly see that her head is tilted to the side as we play. That’s not normal. That’s a result of the vestibular disease. It is something that may or may not resolve as the dog recovers.

day 12

Day 12: Sitting, but the head tilt is still pretty prominent.

By the end of the second week, we were taking up rugs in the house and Dahlia was getting around with little difficulty. Her head was still tilted awkwardly and I despaired of ever seeing her head actually straight again. She wasn’t going up stairs. She wasn’t going into my husband’s study. But she did, finally, sit. Which seems like such a small thing. But many dogs with vestibular disease have trouble with sitting. It takes some decent balance to sit down like that and for the first couple weeks, Dahlia either stood or laid down. But finally. Sit. It was awkward. But she did it. And she did it on her own!

And…perhaps the biggest change that week? Dahlia played tug with Ben. She was so excited to see me when I got home and they were both so worked up (and Ben brought me a toy, as he so often does), that she simply turned to Ben and grabbed the toy he had and a wonderful game of tug began!

Day 18: Beggars!

Day 18: Beggars! (You can see how tilted Dahlia’s head is in comparison to Ben’s)

The third week brought about even more changes. Dahlia started to pursue more play with Ben and more play with us. She was getting steadier on her feet and as she regained confidence, she started to act more like her usual self. When she was excited, she’d race down the stairs into my husband’s study after Ben. It’s like she simply forgot to be scared of them in the moment. And then she’d race outside and try to chase Ben. She was still pretty unsteady on her feet at faster speeds (and especially in the opening of the video where she’s trying to move on the small hill down into our yard). But as you can see in this video, while she’s still pretty wobbly and not giving huge amount of chase, none of it seems to faze her and she eggs Ben on by barking and spinning around to follow his path. (And Ben, as you can see, is having great fun with it, even if she isn’t giving chase!) You’ll also see her shake her head once and lose her balance. In the first week, she would have fallen over. But here she stays on her feet.

While the stairs to the second floor were still a bit beyond her, she was able to sleep in the downstairs guest room with me. Which was huge…for me! I’d been sleeping on the couch in the living room with her for nearly a month but she was finally comfortable walking into the more enclosed space of the guest room and so we moved into there. Sleep came easier for both of us, I think!

Day 19: Awkwardly perched on the couch!

Day 19: Awkwardly perched on the couch!

She also started to get up on the couch, though the couple of times she did it, she struggled a bit. We’re not sure what the issue was exactly. Either she couldn’t quite judge the distance or (and this may be more likely) her back legs weren’t quite able to push off properly. So she ultimately ended up flinging herself onto the couch and just laying wherever she ended up. It wasn’t the most comfortable thing for her and she only did it a few times before deciding she would rather stay on the floor.

She started barking more during this week and especially on command. I wasn’t sure she’d ever get to do any of her old tricks and while some (like standing on her hind legs) may be forever beyond her balance abilities, barking was not. Here’s a short video, shot on day 20. You can see her head is still tilted funny, but she’s excited and happy to bark for the treats we received in the mail from a Secret Santa exchange.

And then…she got naughty. I took Ben out for a walk one day and came back to find Dahlia had pulled a bag of pizzelles (a crispy Italian waffle cookie made with vanilla and, you guessed it, butter) off the counter and proceeded to tear it open and eat half the cookies before I got back. Instead of being upset over such a transgression (though I was sad over the loss of the cookies!), I was thrilled that she had enough of her in her to do it.
In just three weeks, Dahlia had come so far. From not being able to walk to being able to play a bit with Ben, she had made great progress. But there was still more recovery ahead of her!
Read the third and final part here.

Day to Day with Vestibular Disease, Part 1

I will never forget the morning of December 16. My husband woke up around 5:00am and discovered that Dahlia had vomited. No big deal, probably something she ate. He ran down to get some stuff to clean it up and I went to check on Dahlia.

And that was when I discovered her condition.

She couldn’t stand. She tried to, but her back legs wouldn’t get underneath her and she kept falling over.

Her head was moving strangely, like she was following something darting around the room.

I remember calling to my husband, shouting that there was something seriously wrong with Dahlia. I kept trying to get her up and she finally just lay there, head bopping around in the half light of our bedroom, not moving while I panicked.

It was a stroke. I was absolutely sure of it. My husband carried her downstairs. She was dead weight in his arms. He doesn’t even remember the trip downstairs or out to the car. He barely remembers the drive to the emergency vet.

But I do. I remember feeling both panicked and numb at the same time (how is such a thing even possible?). I remember being sure that we were losing our best girl, that the end of the road had come far too early (at only about 9 1/2) and far too quickly (she had been running around the yard playing hard with Ben just the night before). When we pulled up to the vet, I was sure we were about to get terrible news. They whisked her away from us to check her out before we had much of a chance to even think and we were taken to one of the rooms to wait for her return and the vet with her.

I don’t know how long we waited. It wasn’t very long, that much I do remember. The techs brought Dahlia in to us and laid her on a blanket. We both sat on the ground with her. I wanted to cry.

The vet came in shortly thereafter.

And she was smiling. I remember thinking Why are you smiling? We’re losing our best girl…

But we weren’t. And that was what the vet was there to tell us. As it turned out, Dahlia had something called Idiopathic Vestibular Disease (or IVD for short). Sometimes called “Old Dog” vestibular disease, IVD is an inflammation of the nerve going between the inner ear and the brain and is something that tends to strike older dogs (and cats). In most cases, there is no known cause (hence “idiopathic”), though it can sometimes be caused by an inner ear infection.

The symptoms are pretty clear-cut in most cases and come on rapidly:

  • Rapid, uncontrollable eye movement (called “nystagmus”)
  • Dizziness and loss of balance
  • Staggering (some liken this to a “drunken sailor” walk)
  • Circling in one direction when attempting to walk
  • Rolling
  • Head tilt
  • Nausea/vomiting

It was that first one I hadn’t noticed, likely because it was dark in the room, but it explains the strange head movements I saw. Her eyes were trying to orient her body to a room that was spinning rapidly around her.

My dog had vertigo. I’ve suffered from vertigo on occasion due to my hearing issues, but only for short periods. It’s intense. And it’s scary. But I know what’s going on when it happens. Dahlia didn’t. Her world had been turned upside down and ours with it.

But the good news is that while these episodes come on quickly, they also resolve…well…fairly quickly. Generally, the nystagmus should disappear within 3-4 days and at that point, you should see marked (though not complete) improvement.

I am, of course, the type of person who immediately went on the internet and looked up more information on the disease and tried to find progress reports for people’s dogs who had gone through this same thing. One thing I found was that a lot of people had had this happen to their dogs. One thing I didn’t find were very many progress reports. I felt a little bit like I was in the dark staggering about with my dog and hoping I was doing the right thing by her.

So I thought I would document Dahlia’s progress here on Team Unruly. I will admit up front that it is a month out from her original diagnosis and she is much improved, so never fear there! My girl has a strong will!

I won’t lie. The first week that Dahlia struggled through this disease was one of the hardest weeks of my life. We brought Dahlia home rather than leaving her at the vet’s for supportive care (which was an option and never feel bad if you take them up on it). They gave her some sub-q fluids, a shot of Cirenia (for nausea), and recommended 25mg of Meclizine (an over the counter medicine used for motion sickness) a day for the first few days. The hope was that she would feel a little less nauseous and therefore eat something while all of this was going on.

That first morning when she came home she didn’t seem too bad. I remember being relieved that she wasn’t “as bad” as everyone else’s dogs I’d seen videos of. She walked into the backyard. She was wobbly, but she could walk. She even managed to find a place to do her business. And when we went inside, she ate some hamburger. I remember being so happy that this was such a mild case and expected her to be back to her old self in a short bit. But that’s not how the disease goes. And in Dahlia’s case, it worsened over the course of that first day.


Day 4

By that evening, she was at her lowest point. She could barely walk and when she did, she only walked in circles. She developed a dramatic head tilt (in fact, the whole front of her body looked tilted oddly). She couldn’t get down the stairs, so we had to carry her down to go outside. This was an absolute nightmare for Dahlia. And it is for many dogs with IVD. When the world is spinning, they orient themselves by having their feet firmly on the ground. Removing that ground made her panic. But she wouldn’t walk with a towel underneath her belly. And she was terrified to go down the stairs (and we were terrified she’d hurt herself if we let her try). So we had to carry her. She rolled in our arms. We came close to dropping her a few times as she panicked. But we got her outside each time and she was, thankfully, able to find a place to pee on her own.

Two days later, her eyes had slowed down, though there was still some movement, and that seemed to steady her a bit. She still couldn’t take the stairs to the outside and it was still an ordeal to get her out, but she wanted to go further once outside. Instead of just finding a spot to pee out front, she would get about two houses down and around the corner before laying down in exhaustion. Then we’d walk her back and carry her back inside.

Because our house is two stories and our bedroom is upstairs, I ended up sleeping on the couch in the living room with her on the floor near me. I didn’t sleep well those first nights. I was constantly on alert, woke up at every little movement. Dahlia, thankfully slept through the night. Or at least, she did for the first two nights.

At this point, she ended up with diarrhea, likely from all the stress (maybe from the medication), which just added to the difficulty. This was really the lowest point for us. I was exhausted and stressed out, afraid to sleep for fear she’d have another accident or try to get out or that she was overly stressed. It almost seems like a blur a few weeks out from it, like it happened in another lifetime.

Day 4 was when we finally turned a corner. Her eyes stopped moving and while they still seemed a little glassy and she was definitely not “herself,” she was fighting to get back to normal. She pulled her “stubborn Dahlia” trick of standing there and refusing to move unless I went the way she wanted to go. We walked around the whole block. And that afternoon she insisted on going down the steps to the outside on her own. I held onto her collar and stayed with her in case she slipped. And she did stumble a little, but she made it down the steps without having to be carried down and when we returned, she made it back up the steps with only my hand on her collar. Which was simply massive progress at this point. It meant that there was less stress on her and one person could get her out.

We also put down rugs all over the house because she wanted to move around more, wanted to visit us in the dining room or beg for scraps in the kitchen. We found all our old rugs and covered our hardwood floors with them.

It seems like such a small thing, really. Getting down the stairs on her own. Walking around the house. Things she’s done every day of her life. But this was what we were down to: celebrating those little tiny moments.

Day 6

Day 6

We had more to celebrate in the coming days. On the fifth day, her eyes lost the glassy look. She was more alert and with that came better balance. She walked further, she was interested in meeting other dogs and people, she squatted and peed with one leg in the air (see: the tiny moments!). She was able to control her speed better. The first few days of this consisted of walks where she would lurch forward, lose her balance, stagger, stop, and then lurch forward again. Day 5 showed a dog who could control her walking speed again. It meant the walks were slow, but she was able to stay walking at a steady pace.

On the sixth day, she went for a mile-long walk. We’ve always allowed her to make choices for walks and that was her choice that morning. I was at work all day and when I arrived home, Dahlia was at the door to greet me. She had not had the energy or interest in getting up to go to the door since the whole thing began so having her there meant so much.

The seventh day began with a vet trip to take care of the diarrhea issue as it wasn’t clearing up on its own, despite trying a bland diet. She wasn’t able to get into the car, so we had to walk her to the car and lift her in, which continued to be very difficult for her. She panicked and rolled and it took a few times to get her in and out. But the vet visit itself was good. They pronounced her in excellent health. She’d lost weight (thanks Ben!) and the vet said except for the head tilte and her being a little wobbly, there was nothing wrong with her. We got antibiotics and were on our way.

We noticed some more small changes around the house that day. She was willing to walk into the kitchen, which is a tile floor. She contemplated going down the steps into David’s study but for some reason they made her nervous, so she stood at the top and watched from there instead. And she was less hesitant getting around the house. Her head tilt was still rather pronounced, but we noticed that while it was quite dramatic inside still, outside her head tilt was getting better. This is something many have noticed in the community that I belong to for dogs with this particular disease. Some will struggle more inside, some more outside, but it’s not unusual to find that your dog seems much better in one place, but still struggles in a different place.

So at the end of that first week, things were better, but certainly nowhere near normal. I was still sleeping downstairs, still on the couch because she didn’t feel comfortable in the more enclosed guest room, and she still had a long way to go. But Dahlia has a strong will and she was working her way back to normal.

Read Part 2 here.

Product Review: Vetri-Bladder Chews

Some time last year, Herbie started having accidents in the house. Considering that I can count on one hand the number of times that she had accidents in the house during house training, this was cause for alarm.

I immediately collected a urine sample and brought it in to work with me, assuming that we would find evidence of a UTI. As a white pit bull with a history of allergies, it wouldn’t have surprised me. 99% of the time, when Herbie experiences a problem (itchiness, hot spots, rashes) it can be remedied with Benadryl. With a UTI, antibiotics would have been the appropriate course of action, and I wasn’t about to start her on them without confirming the diagnosis first.

To my dismay, the results came back negative for bacteria. Whatever was going on was not a simple infection.

Herbie was spayed at a very young age before I got her. For a shelter puppy, it made sense, but having the procedure done early came with certain risks. When reducing her water intake before bed and taking her out more frequently didn’t work, I started to fear that she had developed spay incontinence. Herbie was four years old, and it was the most likely culprit.

I started to search for a daily supplement that would help with spay incontinence and that would potentially reduce the risk of UTI’s at the same time. I didn’t want Herbie on heavy duty medication, but I couldn’t have her peeing in the bed, in her crate, and on our carpets!

I wound up settling on the VetriSciene Vetri-Bladder bite sized dog chews, which were conveniently available through my favorite pet-supply website of all time,


The ingredients included Red Clover and Soy Protein, both of which are a good source of isofavones, compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen. Since estrogen is lacking in a spayed dog, I was hoping these ingredients would in fact help our problem.

At $22.50 for a 60 count bag, the chews came to about $0.38 per dose for Herbie. The label instructions call for one chew per day per 50 pounds, which is exactly what Herbie needs.

I was admittedly skeptical of the effects of an over the counter product that seemed to have plant-based ingredients, but the difference was immediate. I just give Herbie one chew with breakfast every day. She wags her tail when she hears the zipper open, and definitely thinks it’s a special treat I give her and not Julio.

The accidents stopped right away, and paying $20 every two months to save our upholstery has definitely been worth it. Of course, it means Herbie is a happier girl too. I felt terrible for her when she would pee in the house. Her eyes would get really big and she’d try to run in a panic away from her urine, which would only make things messier.

I do think Herbie has gained some weight since starting the chews, but she’s also almost five years old and isn’t getting as much exercise as she used to, so I’m not sure the two are related.

Of course, I am not a veterinarian and I cannot give you advice on what supplements or medications to give your dog for any medical condition, but if you are experiencing what may be spay incontinence in your female dog, and you are looking for a place to start, I do highly recommend the Vetri-Bladder chews.

Team Unruly is not being in any way sponsored or encouraged by, VetriScience, or affiliate companies. This is a product I found on my own and paid for. This is an honest review arising from a need I had with my own dog!

Confessions of a Dog Gear Hoarder: Outfox Field Guards


In TU member Zak’s last post, she talked about how harmful foxtails can be for your dogs and the costly consquences of getting them embedded. Since I live in the Bay Area of California and we are going through an awful drought right now, foxtail season came early and they are everywhere. Most people here and in similar areas who regularly go out with their dogs in late spring and summer can tell you exactly how many hundreds of dollars they have spent at the vet for foxtail removal; it is not fun! Typically I don’t hike that much during the summer anyway, but foxtails can show up literally anywhere I take my dogs outside. We have encountered these horrible weed monsters in many areas of our daily lives including training fields, trial grounds, and public parks.

If foxtails get into the mouth, eyes, nose, or ears they can wreck a special kind of chaos resulting in pain, injury, and a possible vet trip. Last summer I purchased a pair of Outfox Field Guards for River and Owen. Essentially they are dog-head-shaped mesh covers to catch foxtails before they can make their way to the face. While they do only cover the head, that is also one of the most typical body areas that foxtails embed into without you noticing. Always make sure you do a full body check after walking in a foxtail area; paws are another “popular” body part for trouble.

First time wearing the guards. Not a big deal!

First time wearing the guards. Not a big deal!

Outfox Guards are super simple to put on: just slip the appropriately sized Outfox over the dog’s head, adjust the pull cord snug enough so it cannot slip off, and then velcro both loops to your dog’s collar. Most dogs (most!) don’t care at all that they are wearing one and go about their business as usual; they are able to freely pant, play with toys, and drink while wearing the Outfox. My best advice is to only put them on when you are already at the trailhead or park then go have fun immediately. When first using an Outfox with a new dog, I slip a small handful of treats into the guard every time it’s put on so there is an instant positive association with the equipment.

The pros for this product should be extremely obvious:

  • No more foxtails in your dog’s face! No more late nights freaking out that your dog started sneezing a few hours after your daily walk in the park and could have a foxtail traveling up their nasal cavity.
  • Easy to use and clean. Put on, go have a blast, remove, rinse with the hose and some soap after your dog rolls in the dirt/cow poop/random dead things, done!
  • Most dogs adjust to wearing the Outfox almost immediately. They can do almost all of their normal activities without any changes.
  • The guards are relatively inexpensive to purchase ($38-42) and are quality made to last.
Image from

Image from

Some potential cons:17

  • Some dogs, especially little Cattle Dogs that a certain someone lives with, will not like wearing the Outfox because it interferes with her cow poop eating adventures and will try to remove it a few times during a hike. That’s my girl! However, I have tried these on many dogs over the last couple years and it hasn’t been an issue with any of them. Owen doesn’t mind it one bit, and it’s typically only the first couple hikes that River tries to take it off then she is fine.

    Another potential con: if beekeepers scare you... well...

    Another potential con: if beekeepers scare you… well…

  • Outfox Guards make it difficult to quickly and easily deliver treats to your dog. What I typically do is mark the behavior then just shove food under the end so my dogs can lean down and eat it from the guard. Not incredibly speedy, but it works ok. Friends of mine have also cut a very small hole to push treats through and report that that works out fine too.
  • Smaller water bowls won’t work well while wearing the Outfox. Since the dog will need to push their mouth a little further to reach the water due to the guard, tiny bowls for hiking aren’t very useful. This solution is pretty simple; just bring along a larger one!

Overall, I highly recommend the Outfox Field Guards to help keep your dog (and wallet!) safe and pain-free during foxtail season. Visit their website to order one or look for local California stores who carry them.

Watch Out for Foxtails!

As the summer sun begins to dry the grass, watch out for foxtails!


Mature and immature foxtail grass,

Foxtail grasses produce the annoying “sticker” awns you get stuck in your clothing and shoes as you walk through tall grass.


Foxtail awns stuck in running shoes,

Foxtail is not one kind of grass–it’s several different grass species, which include:

Of all of them, Hordeum species are considered the most hazardous to dogs.


Electron microscope picture of Hordeum, Wikipedia


Anatomy of Setaria foxtail,

Foxtail grasses have retrorse (meaning, bent or pointing backward) barbs.  These barbs are designed to grab and hold onto whatever touches them. The barbs hold on with such tenacity that efforts to dislodge them, such as scratching and chewing, only cause the awn to dig in more deeply.  And while this is an excellent dispersal strategy for the grass, it can be deadly for the dog.  Foxtail awns will snag fur and skin alike, most commonly embedding themselves in the ears (causing rupture of the eardrum, infection, and hearing loss,)  nose (resulting in tremendous pain, uncontrolled sneezing, and breathing impairment,) and paws (causing pain and lameness).  They can also become embedded in the eyes, genitals, and even burrow their way inward into internal organs.  As the grass awns do not break down in the body, they must be manually removed, usually with invasive surgery.


A foxtail awn stuck in a dog’s paw.  Seattle DogSpot and


Foxtail awn embedded in a dog’s eye,

When green, foxtail grasses look like unripe wheat and feel deceptively soft to the touch. While pretty in their immature phase, these grasses are highly invasive and can be found nearly anywhere there is a small amount of dirt and moisture.  And once established, foxtails are tremendously difficult to fully eradicate.


Foxtail in downtown Seattle, Seattle DogSpot

Prevention, then, is the best plan for foxtails, and eradicating foxtail grasses requires a diligent approach.  Foxtails are easily out-competed by turf grass in a well tended lawn, so regular mowing helps prevent foxtails from ever showing up.  If foxtails have already sprouted, it is important to use a bag on your mower to contain the grass cuttings and help prevent unintentional disbursal of the seed awns.  Do not use a weedwhacker type machine as these only serve to spread the awns far and wide on your lawn.

Another method for foxtail containment is to use a selective herbicide, one that is harmless to turf grass but deadly to foxtails. Herbicides containing Dacthal, Balan or Pendimathaline are considered moderately effective, as they target foxtails while leaving turf grasses uninjured, but they only work as pre-emergent herbicides.  They will have little to no effect on established foxtail. For established foxtails, use a non-selective herbicide, such as glyphosate.   And always whenever you are using chemical controls, it is imperative that you ensure no runoff reaches waterways to avoid environmental damage.


Water Hyacinth, Zak Thatcher

But what if you and your dog are enjoying the great outdoors?  How do you protect yourself from foxtails then?

1.  Be mindful of areas where foxtails like to grow.  As foxtails tend to be out-competed by grass, they thrive in areas where the turf is sparse and the terrain rugged.  Be careful of long grass areas as well, as some species of foxtails can survive well and be hidden in overgrown turf.

2.  Be careful to brush off and shake out your clothing after hiking, as foxtail awns can be hidden in fabric, pant cuffs, and shoes.

3.  Check your dog frequently during your hike for awns and grass stickers.  Groom thoroughly upon return from the hike, being sure to check paws, ears, nose, and other areas where foxtail awns can hide.

4.  Consider using a foxtail guard on your dog to help prevent the awns from embedding in the face and neck areas.

So have fun this summer and enjoy walking, hiking, and playing with your dog.  But be careful and watch out for foxtails!


Luka says “Happy hiking!”


Don’t be a Dull Walking Partner!

photo(2)A common complaint that I hear from friends and clients alike is, “leash walks are SO boring!” Mostly what follows after this exclamation is that they want their dog to have a perfect recall so they can only be exercised off leash and magically have all the fun in the world. Well… ok then! Don’t get me wrong: excellent recalls are vital to living a happy and safe life with your dog, and personally I hike off leash with my guys at least 2-3 times every week. I understand wanting to have the wild adventure of off leash play, but just like anything else in dog training, leashed walks are only as boring as you make them be. So here’s an idea: HAVE FUN!

The first, and I should hope the most obvious, advice I can give is to be engaging. Bring yourself to every walk 100%. Don’t you dare use dog walking time to chat on your cell phone or daydream about how many errands you need to run after this mundane neighborhood stroll. Your dog deserves better than that. Even if you are just on the other end of the leash to toss a few cookies to Fido for maintaining a nice loose leash or smile at him when he checks in with you, that is already a step up. While taking solo walks with each of my dogs, I also use this time to tell them how freaking awesome and beautiful they are. Really. Try it!


Client dog Delilah pauses her training walk for a game of tug.

Leashed walks are also an excellent time to practice heeling and obedience behaviors, as well as your dog’s repertoire of super cool tricks. I frequently take breaks during a walk to do a little heeling pattern or two then bust out a few spins and core challenging tricks. Bring along a tug toy to reward with and get crazy! Break out of that “living room training session” mindset and practice everything while on the go. While working their brain much more than a normal walk, Fido will also get the double benefit of proofing his training and focus on you in a variety of locations with distractions.


Another absolute favorite pastime on walks that I share with my dogs is GETTING ON STUFF! Some people call it urban agility, but I just call it being really darn cool with my dogs. See a park bench? Ask your dog to get on it. Tree stump? Hop up! Fire hydrant? First place the front paws on for an easier trick, then balance all four for an impressive balancing stunt. Encouraging your dog to use their body to jump up or balance on something is an easy peasy way to increase confidence on a huge variety of surfaces, and it makes for great photos as well (general public: please stop taking photos of your dog with the camera pointing straight down at their head. Really. It makes your dog look like a bobble head. Think their eye level or lower!). I proof my dogs’ stays very frequently using the “jump up and pose!” method. They absolutely love it and we have such a great time together figuring out what they can jump on during our walks. Many dogs find jumping self rewarding, and it is another entertaining way to change up a typical walk, but start off slow if your dog is ever unsure.

Owen and friend Marti practice their stays and position changes after jumping up on a picnic table.

Owen and friend Marti practice their stays, release by name, and position changes after jumping up on a picnic table.

Teaching a front paw targeting cue is a great place to start until you can work on getting Fido to jump confidently up onto something. I also always have my dogs wear body harnesses on leashed walks so I can help them jump off of something that might be a bit high off the ground; they are taught to automatically stay on whatever they jump on until released or helped.

Go new places! Don’t stick to the same neighborhood route over and over again. Change it up, choose a different path, or simply take a short drive to somewhere else in town. My dogs often ride along with me to lessons and classes in different cities, so I can easily stop to take a walk in a new places on the way home. You might need to have more planning for that option, but it is well worth it. Novel smells and sights are always stimulating to dogs, and can also help to break you out of the boring leashed walk rut. Many people take their young puppies out to new areas often for socialization and training, then forget about it when their dogs grow up. That IS boring! So go somewhere new this week for a walk, even if it is only a few streets over from your own.


“If you always give you will always have… friendship.” (River agrees… and would like you to give her that flock of ducks over there.)

No matter what kind of fun and games you choose to do on walks with your dog(s), do them often! Don’t fall into the rut of making leashed walks out to be a chore when they can provide the best bonding and training time that you and your best buddy have all day. So get out and be creative, engaging, and most of all: have fun on those walks!

Be prepared II: Making a dog emergency kit for your car

A while back, I wrote a post on making a tiny first aid kit to take along on hikes with your dog. I love that little kit, and I still take it along every time I hike.  However, I recently took a pet first aid and CPR class, and it got me thinking about putting something a little more elaborate to carry in my car in case of emergencies.  ‘Emergencies’, in this case, means a couple of different things to me: first, I wanted to have something on hand for my own dogs in case we run into some kind of crisis when we’re out on adventures, and second, I wanted to have supplies ready if I came across a loose or hurt dog.  Loose dogs are not uncommon in my area, unfortunately, and it’s a terrible feeling to not be able to help a dog get back to safety because you don’t have the right gear on hand.  Now of course, it is possible to go really big with a dog emergency kit: my pet CPR teacher’s kit took up an entire backpack and had everything you might possibly need for any emergency situation.  Since I don’t live completely in the middle of nowhere, however, my goal was to make a small, low-profile kit that would allow me to handle a situation for long enough to get back into a town where I could get help. I decided to divide my supplies up into three categories: first aid, dog wrangling devices and food/water. Here’s what I included in my kit: if there are other things you think might be good to include, please feel free to leave a comment! Here’s my full kit:


First Aid


  • Saline solution: for swishing out wounds. You can find pure saline solution in small, portable, squeezable containers in the eye care section of the pharmacy. Don’t get regular contact solution, which contains a disinfectant that’s not great for open wounds: just get saline.
  • Benadryl (or similar antihistamine): for bee stings, allergic reactions, etc. You don’t want the fancy multi-symptom kind, which contain some ingredients that dogs can’t tolerate: you just want nice cheap plain Benadryl (or the dollar store generic, which is what I got)
  • Vet wrap: I love this stuff. It’s self-sticking, it tears easily, and it can be used to wrap wounds up quickly and on the fly.
  • Little scissors: for cutting away fur to expose wounds, and to cut vet wrap and gauze.
  • Asprin: not the absolute best painkiller for dogs, but regular buffered aspirin is generally considered safe for dogs in small doses, and it’s the kind of thing you can carry around in a first aid kit (much less challenging than, say, Metacam). I got a little cheap-o four pill pack from the gas station.
  • Antibiotic gel in little packets: You can squeeze this right on wounds–it’s generally non-stinging–and then cover them up in gauze and vet wrap. When I’m home and have all my luxurious first aid supplies, I prefer a liquid disinfectant like Betadine, but this works in a pinch and is easier to carry than a big Betadine bottle.
  • Gauze & medical sponges: wound covers. Put some vet wrap over the gauze or sponge to hold it in place and you’re good to go for a while.
  • Heat pack: you can use this for swelling and also to help defrost really cold paws.  I am using a self-heating hand warmer (again, the kind of thing you’d find in a gas station) for my heat pack: they don’t require an external heat source and they heat up quickly but don’t get too hot.

Things I included but randomly forgot to photograph

  • Rubber glove: So handy to have! I have used them as impromptu paw covers before, and if you cut the fingers off, you have a little stretchy water-resistant cover that can go over a bandage. Also, you can use them as regular gloves if you have to handle something especially gross.
  • Styptic powder: I included some small packets of Wound Seal, which can be used to stop bleeding.
  • Tweezers: for getting cactus thorns and other nasties out of paws.

Dog WranglingSONY DSC

  • Cheap leash & collar set: I got this in the dollar bin at PetSmart: it’s just a small adjustable buckle collar and a four-foot leash. I picked this one because the collar adjusts a lot, meaning that I could probably wrangle quite a variety of dogs with it! If the loose dog I’m catching is mellow enough to let me put on a collar and adjust it, I vastly prefer using a real collar to a slip lead: I think they can be easier to get on in a calm way, and because they don’t tighten like a slip lead, dogs tend to panic and flail around less in them.  Also, I wanted to have a spare on hand in case one of my dogs somehow gets out of their collar and loses it: it has happened to me before! [*shakes fist at Lucy]
  • Slip lead: Even though I prefer a regular leash-collar set for actually moving dogs around, a slip lead is still handy to have. You can get it over the head of a really skittish dog, you can use it to make an impromptu harness to help hold an injured dog up, you can use it to elevate an injured leg, and you can make an emergency muzzle out of it.
  • Squeaker: This is a squeaker that I pulled out of one of my dogs’ destroyed toys: it’s really handy to have on hand if you want to get a loose dog to come over and see you. You’d be surprised how many scared, injured dogs still want to come over and check out a fun squeaky thing! Pair it with treats, and boom: you’ve often caught your dog.

Food & Water


  • Portable/disposable food and water bowls: I have a couple of portable bowls that CloudStar makes–they are both cheap and sturdy, and they live in my emergency kit all the time.
  • Sample packs of kibble and treats: both of these were pet store freebies.  Lost dogs can be lured over with the treats, and while there’s not a ton of food in that sample kibble pack, it’s enough that I can feed a hungry dog if I find one.  Also, it’s nice to know that if I break down on the side of the road or something, I’ve got at least a small meal for my dogs to munch on if necessary.
  • Water with electrolytes: Electrolytes help really thirsty dogs get hydrated, and while the efficacy of these infused waters is….up for debate, my feeling on it is a) it’s not expensive and b) it couldn’t hurt.  Pedialyte is also a nice thing to have in an emergency bag, and I am going to pick some up just as soon as I can find a non-flavored one (my town seems to only carry the weird fake grape kind).

Here’s my kit all packed up! I found this neat little Kurgo zip-up bag in the freebee bin at work, and it’s perfect for the kit, but any bag that shuts will do: I’d just recommend a zipping/snapping/velcroing bag, because otherwise, if your dogs are anything like mine, you will look up at a stoplight one day to see them tearing through your emergency bag in search of treats. Not that I know from experience or anything, DOGS!!!


Do you have an emergency kit for your dogs? What are your go-to things to pack in it? Share in the comments!