5 Fall Dangers for Dogs

As a dog parent, you know that each change of season comes with a list of potential hazards for furry family members. With autumn upon us and winter on the way, it’s time for a refresher on some of the potential hazards presented by the change of seasons from warmer to cooler weather. Consumer Affairs lists five “doggy dangers of fall.”1

1. Snakes

Snakes preparing for hibernation during the winter months may be more visible in the fall, which can increase your dog’s risk of being bitten. Fortunately, most snakes in the U.S. aren’t poisonous, but even a non-venomous snakebite can be dangerous for pets. Tips to keep your dog safe:

• If you see a snake, don’t walk by it; turn around and head back the way you came
• Clear away snake hiding spots in your yard by removing toys, tools and undergrowth
• Be aware that snakes can strike across a distance equal to about half their body length
• Keep walkways clear of brush, flowers and shrubs
• Clean up any spilled food, fruit or birdseed, which can attract rodents, one of snakes’ favorite foods, to your yard
• When walking your dog, keep him on a leash
• Steer clear of long grasses, bushes and rocks
• Familiarize yourself with common snakes in your area, including those that are venomous

2. Mushrooms

Thankfully, 99 percent of mushrooms present little or no problem for pets or people, however, the remaining 1 percent can be fatal for most mammals if ingested. And to make matters worse, very few people can tell the difference between a toxic mushroom and a safe one.

Since dogs typically come across wild mushrooms during walks and other outdoor activities, especially if you live in a region with lots of moisture, it’s important to take extra care to keep pets away from areas where mushrooms might be sprouting. Dogs tend to be attracted to two deadly mushroom species: Amanita phalloides and Inocybe. Both varieties have a fishy odor, which may be the lure.

To ensure your dog isn’t tempted, all mushrooms in yards (yours and your neighbors’) should be removed promptly before neighborhood pets have a chance to notice them. As a general rule, veterinarians and pet poison experts consider all mushroom ingestions in pets toxic unless a quick and accurate identification of the mushroom can be made.

If you know or suspect your dog has eaten a mushroom, immediately contact your veterinarian, the nearest emergency animal clinic or the 24/7 Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. If your pet throws up or poops, collect a sample, place it in a plastic bag and bring it with you.



3. Rodent poison

Once the weather turns cool, rats and other rodents start looking for shelter and warmth in and under buildings, and in response, people start putting out rodenticides that are unfortunately highly toxic to pets. Every fall, I see several pets that have been poisoned.

Homeowners put out bait to control the mice and rats, assuming their pet won’t or can’t get into it. Even people who hide the bait around their homes can wind up with a poisoned dog. Tips for protecting your pet from rodent bait toxicity:

If you have rodents around your home, I recommend a live trap which catches mice, rats and other rodents so you can remove them from your home without using toxins or poisoning your environment.

If you must use a bait trap with a killing agent, select a product that contains an active ingredient other than deadly bromethalin. For example, diphacinone and chlorophacinone are short-acting anticoagulants, and most veterinarians will be familiar with standard methods of diagnosis and treatment. But again, I don’t advocate using these products if at all possible.
Supervise your dog when she’s outside to insure she never has a chance to consume rodents or rodent bait around your home or neighborhood.
Needless to say, if you suspect your pet has ingested any type of rodenticide, get her to your veterinarian or the nearest emergency animal hospital right away, and if possible, bring a sample of the product she consumed so the vet staff knows what type of poison they’re dealing with.

4. Engine coolants

Another substance people use in the colder months of the year that is highly toxic to pets is antifreeze. Fortunately, antifreeze poisoning can be easily avoided by following a few simple safety tips:

• Look for antifreeze products containing the safer propylene glycol rather than highly toxic ethylene glycol
• Keep antifreeze containers tightly closed and stored out of reach of your pets
• Dispose of empty or used antifreeze containers properly

Be careful not to spill antifreeze, and if you do, clean it up immediately; check your car radiator regularly and repair leaks right away
Don’t let your pet roam unsupervised where he may have access to antifreeze
Fortunately, U.S. manufacturers of antifreeze and engine coolants have begun to add bittering agents (e.g., denatonium benzoate) to their products to discourage pets, children and wildlife from sampling the sweet-tasting liquid.

5. School supplies

Another risk the change of seasons from summer to fall presents for pets is, believe it or not, back-to-school supplies. For example, if you’ve indulged your kids with fruit-scented pencils and erasers, they can attract your dog like a moth to a flame. Common school supplies that present a potential choking hazard for pets include:

• Erasers
• Glue sticks/bottled glue
• Coins
• Action figures/small dolls
• Bouncy balls
• Crayons
• Markers
• Pencils (small splinters can get lodged in the mouth and esophagus)
• Pens (watch out especially for pen caps)
• Paperclips

While these items are considered “low toxicity” to pets, there is the potential for GI upset and even a blockage, so be sure the kiddos keep their school supplies out of reach of four-legged family members.

Repost: Karen Becker, DVM

The Top 5 Benefits of Swimming for Dogs

The Top 5 Benefits of Swimming for Dogs

by Dr. James St. Clair. Posted in Everyday Health, Rehabilitation

Have you ever witnessed the pure joy of a lab belly-slamming into a lake after a tennis ball, a border collie cooling off in the ocean on a hot day, or a Newfoundland proudly saving his human companion from the backyard pool – even when they don’t actually need saving? Many dogs love to swim, but when it comes to dog exercise, the go-to activities are usually walking, running, or playing fetch. Just like humans, dogs enjoy variety, and there’s no better way to get it than with swimming.

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for your dog – and for you! It does wonders for overall health, providing an aerobic workout that also tones and strengthens muscles. And since swimming is low impact, it can be especially beneficial as therapy for dogs who are rehabilitating from an injury or surgery, have joint problems, or are older or overweight. Plus, diving in with your canine companion can be a great way to foster the bond you two share.


Here are five reasons your pup should take the plunge:

1. It Improves Overall Health

Swimming is one of the best, most complete forms of exercise for your dog. Just one minute of swimming equates to four minutes of running! It provides numerous health benefits, including strengthening the heart and lungs, decreasing inflammation, increasing metabolism, and improving circulation which helps keep the skin and coat healthy. Plus, moving their limbs against the resistance of the water uses every major muscle group, improving overall tone and strength. All this adds up to a healthy, happy dog who can run, play, and have fun for longer with less risk of injury.


2. It’s Joint-Friendly

Swimming is low-impact, non-concussive, and non-weight bearing, meaning it allows your dog to enjoy all the benefits without putting stress on their joints and tendons. When submerged, the water takes on most of your dog’s weight, supporting their body and relieving their skeletal system from the stress of jarring impacts that can occur when exercising on land. Furthermore, swimming gets dogs moving in a different way than they usually would on solid ground, which improves their range of motion. All these advantages make swimming an especially-beneficial form of exercise for dogs with joint disorders such as arthritis or dysplasia, and wonderful rehabilitation for pups who are recovering from orthopedic or neurological injury.


3. It’s Stress-Relieving

Not only is swimming great for your dog’s physical health, it also improves their mental wellbeing. Just like humans, dogs need mental stimulation in the form of play, fun, and varied activities that differ from the norm to help them stay sharp and happy. Swimming allows dogs that are usually restricted to exercising on a leash the freedom to get out all their pent-up energy without feeling restrained. Plus, a happily worn-out dog is more likely to look forward to going home and sleeping, allowing them to reap the restorative benefits of a good night’s sleep.


4. It Can Be Pain-Relieving – Warm Water Swimming

Swimming in warm water can be an excellent form of therapeutic exercise for dogs, aiding in the recovery process by strengthening joints, facilitating circulation, and helping fortify muscles. Not only is the warm water pain-relieving, it also promotes blood flow and helps to warm up muscles quicker, reducing the risk of further injury. If you don’t live in a warm climate or have a heated pool, many cities have rehabilitation facilities with heated pools for recovering pets.


5. It’s Great for Overweight Dogs

In the case of overweight dogs, it can be difficult to provide them adequate exercise on land without overworking already-stressed joints and muscles. With the water supporting most of the dog’s weight, swimming is a great way for overweight pups to burn calories and improve their metabolic rate without the risk of injury. Together with a balanced diet, swimming can help bring heavy dogs back down to a healthier weight.


What If My Dog’s Not a Natural-Born Swimmer?

While it’s true that some dogs are more naturally inclined towards swimming than others, most can learn to have confidence in the water when it’s taught with loving care. Approach teaching your pup to swim with the same patience and reassurance you would when teaching a child. If your dog seems apprehensive about entering the water, let them acclimate to the idea at their own pace and offer rewards in the form of treats, praise, or affection to further encourage the desired behavior.

You can begin with a small amount of water – such as a few inches in a kiddie pool – and gradually increase the depth until your dog feels comfortable being submerged. You can also try gently luring your pup into shallow water with a reward, progressively moving further out until they come willingly into deeper water. If they seem unsure of what to do once submerged, try cradling them under their belly (without restraining them) and guiding them through the water encouragingly until they get the hang of swimming on their own. If you make it a pleasant experience, your dog will quickly learn that swimming is something to look forward to.


Where and When Should I Take My Dog Swimming?

There are a number of ways for your dog to enjoy the water – diving into the local pond or creek, taking a dip in the ocean, or joining you in the family pool. Even if you are without an outdoor swimming spot or a backyard pool, many areas have swimming facilities exclusively for pets.

To prevent your pup from taking in too much saltwater or chlorine, always provide an ample supply of fresh water before and during their swim. Also remember to rinse them off after a swim, cleaning out the ears and snout, to avoid irritation to the skin or eyes, or discoloration of the coat.

The amount of time your dog can safely spend swimming varies depending on their physical fitness, overall health, and breed. When swimming, the main thing to keep in mind is to ensure your dog does not become overtired. Some dogs will naturally protect themselves from over-exertion by stopping when they’re tired, but others may push themselves to the point of exhaustion which can be dangerous when swimming. Keep water and food close by, and ensure your dog takes plenty of breaks.


A Note About Safety

Whether your dog is an experienced swimmer or a first-timer, you should always keep safety in mind. Never leave your dog unsupervised or lose sight of them when they are in the water, and ensure there’s an easy exit point available such as a gently sloping embankment, beach, or ramp. Be sure to teach your pup where these exit points are – they won’t always know on their own – and in a backyard pool, train them where and how to use the steps. In the open water, beware of fast moving currents, surf, and undertow.

It’s also a good idea to purchase a canine life vest, especially if your dog does not display the most natural aquatic ability. Your pup should always have a life vest on if you are not within reach of them. Dogs with shorter legs or a lower body fat percentage may have a more difficult time staying afloat and can especially benefit from the extra buoyancy a life jacket provides.

Just as swimming is an excellent way to get fit for humans, it’s also an amazing form of exercise, mental stimulation, and healing for our canine companions.

Best People Food for Arthritic Dogs + 5 Natural Recipes from Dr. James St. Clair

Who hasn’t heard the famous Hippocrates quote, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”? Although we usually think of this as applying to us humans, it’s just as relevant for man’s best friend. And it especially holds true if your canine companion is suffering from arthritis.

Here at TopDog Health, we believe food is food. There are no special “dog food” crops – it’s simply “people food” that has been processed, packaged, and marketed in a different way. And with the exception of a few harmful foods to avoid, there are a variety of “people foods” that can bring a world of benefits to your arthritic dog – safely and naturally.

Here are our favorite inflammation-fighting people foods for your arthritic dog, plus three simple recipes to help ease their joint pain naturally. But first, let’s look at the real culprit behind your dog’s arthritis pain…

Inflammation: An Arthritic Dog’s #1 Enemy

For a dog suffering from arthritis, increased inflammation = increased pain. When your pup ingests something that causes an inflammatory response in their joints, this causes the tissues to swell, which then puts painful pressure on the nerves. Luckily, there are several natural solutions to decrease inflammation in your dog’s joints.

While processed dog foods can contain refined ingredients, added sugars, and harmful preservatives, and anti-inflammatory drugs can have harmful side effects, nature provides an arsenal of inflammation-fighting powerhouses to get the job done – naturally. While we often think of these ingredients from nature as “people food,” they are both safe and extremely beneficial in managing your dog’s arthritis pain. 

Best “People Foods” for Arthritic Dogs

Whole Foods

  • Fiber-filled veggies: Sweet potato, acorn squash, pumpkin
  • Antioxidant-packed fruits: Blueberries, cherries, peeled apple, cantaloupe
  • Vitamin-rich veggies: Broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini
  • Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, collards
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines
  • Lean protein: Chicken, turkey


  • Omega-3 oils: Fish oil, green lipped mussel oil
  • Coconut oil (mix in with dog’s food or use to sauté dog’s veggies)
  • Flaxseed oil (drizzle over dog’s food)

Herbs and Spices

  • Fresh ginger root
  • Turmeric (fresh root or powdered)
  • Cinnamon
  • Parsley (bonus = breath freshener!)

3 Natural Recipes for Your Arthritic Dogs

Here are three simple recipes using the inflammation-fighting foods above to help decrease your dog’s joint pain and manage their arthritis naturally.

Recipe #1: Sautéed Ginger Salmon and Veggies

Natural Recipes for Arthritic Dog


  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1/2 can (3 oz.) skinless, boneless salmon, drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and diced.


  1. In a small nonstick pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the broccoli and ginger and sauté for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach and salmon and cook until heated through, about 3 more minutes.
  4. Let cool slightly before serving to your pup.

Recipe #2: Chicken and Veggie Slow Cooker

Arthritic Dog Natural Recipes

Recipe adapted from www.thedogbakery.com


  • 2 1/2-3 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs and breasts
  • 1 sweet potato, cubed
  • 2 cups zucchini, cubed
  • 2 cups cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 large or 2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cubed (no seeds!)
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil


  1. Place chicken in the crockpot and add water so that it just covers the meat. Then, add sweet potato, zucchini, cauliflower, and apple.
  2. Cook on low for 8-9 hours.
  3. When finished, drain off excess liquid, add coconut oil, and stir to mash (or place in a food processor).
  4. When cooled, scoop daily servings into individual ziploc bags and freeze. Each night, remove one bag from the freezer and place in the fridge to defrost overnight.

Recipe #3: Anti-inflammatory Dog Biscuits

Anti-inflammatory Dog Biscuits

Adapted from www.ProudDogMom.com


  • 4 cups quick oats
  • 1/2 cup ground flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 egg


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together.
  3. Add blueberries, water, and egg, and mix until combined.
  4. Knead for about 3 minutes. Dough will be sticky.
  5. Let dough sit for 15 minutes to dry.
  6. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out flat to about 1/4″ thick.
  7. Stamp out biscuits with a cookie cutter and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  8. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes.
  9. Store in an airtight container for 1 week on counter, 2 weeks in fridge, or 3 months in freezer.

Recipe #4: Turkey Blueberry Kale Medley

Arthritic Dog Natural Recipes


  • 4 lbs lean ground turkey
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 cups kale, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 large or 2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cubed (no seeds!)
  • 5 eggs


  1. In a large pot over medium heat, sauté coconut oil and ground turkey until turkey is browned.
  2. Add all other ingredients except eggs and add water to just cover.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until turkey is fully cooked through, stirring every few minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the eggs, mixing thoroughly.
  5. Let cool and then drain off any excess liquid.
  6. Scoop daily servings into individual ziploc bags and freeze. Each night, remove one bag from the freezer and place in the fridge to defrost overnight.

Recipe #5: Easy Sweet Potato Chews

Natural Easy Sweet Potato Chews

Recipe adapted from www.17apart.com


  • 3 large sweet potatoes


  1. Preheat oven to the lowest possible setting (usually around 175ºF).
  2. Slice one top off the sweet potatoes (for easier balance when slicing).
  3. Using a sharp knife or mandoline, cut 1/3 – 1/2 inch thick lengthwise slices of each sweet potato.
  4. Lightly grease two baking sheets using coconut oil or olive oil. Arrange sweet potato slices flat on the sheets.
  5. Place sheets on the top racks of the oven. Leave to dehydrate in the oven for about 8 hours, or until sweet potato chews are dried and shrunken but still a tad moist and pliable.
  6. Cook less time for softer, chewier treats and more time for drier, tougher treats.
  7. Store in ziploc bags, packed as full and airtight as possible, for up to 6 months.
  8. Give to your pup for a healthy treat that will keep them occupied!

There you have it – the best simple, natural, and effective foods to help decrease arthritis pain in your dog, without any nasty side effects. So get cookin’ with these inflammation-fighting powerhouses – your pup (and their joints!) will thank you.

What is the best way to store dry pet food?

People often ask why we do not carry a huge amount of food, or those gigantic large pound bags. Simply put, freshness! We encourage folks to not buy more food than their pet(s) will consume in a few weeks. This is because from the minute you open the bag of food, the vitamin potential and taste begin to decrease.

How you store it, and what you store it in is very important. Do you buy large plastic bins from the big lot stores? These may not be the best choice as the plastic can leach into the food. Look for FDA approved “food” containers.

Dry food is susceptible to food spoilage that can make your pet sick. Listen to your pet! Sometimes food problems (mold, bacterial and fungal growth) are invisible, but your pet may alert you by refusing to eat it!

In a nutshell:

• Dry food is susceptible to TIME, HEAT, OXYGEN and MOISTURE.

• Whenever possible, keep food in its original bag placed down inside a tightly sealed container.

• Buy fresh food and don’t buy more than your pet will consume in a couple of weeks. Also, don’t pour the remnants of an older bag into the newer bag. This bad habit can transfer bacteria.

• If you do buy those large bags, and use a food container, only pour half of the bag into the container and store the rest in the freezer. Always wash your food container every time you refill it, or buy a new bag because containers can harbor molds and bacteria.

• Ideally, store food in the freezer, refrigerator or a cool, dark place. Preferably not your garage.



The 5 Reasons So Many Dogs Tear Their ACL

by Dr. James St. Clair. Posted in Joint Health And What You Can Do to Help Prevent It

Why is it that an ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injury in dogs is the most common orthopedic injury of all veterinary medicine? Did nature not make this ligament strong enough in dogs? Is it simply due to bad breeding, or are there other factors in play here with relation to this injury?

This question comes up a lot in discussions with my clients. They want to know why their dog got this injury, and if there was anything they could have done to prevent it. Here are the 5 most common predisposing factors to ACL injuries in dogs.

  1. Bad Breeding: We’re all familiar with the term “hip dysplasia.” It has been well documented that the 2 most common causes of this disease condition in dogs are bad breeding and over-nutrition at a young age. We will dig into this more in a future post. But how do hip problems lead to ACL injury? It’s simple: overcompensation.
    Over the years, veterinarians have discovered the direct correlation between hip dysplasia and ACL injuries: if a dog blows their right ACL, X-ray the hips and sure enough many times you will see that the left hip is not good. This makes sense, right? If your left hip hurts, you are going to overcompensate and place more weight and stress on your right leg. Over time, this added stress weakens the Cranial Cruciate Ligament in that right knee. All it takes is a certain movement or hyperextension and POW, you blow the right.
  2. Natural Load: Dogs walk with their knees bent at all times, which means that the ACL is always “loaded,” i.e. carrying weight. Humans, on the other hand, walk with our knees straight up and down. This is why in people, we mostly see ACL injuries in athletes who hyperextend the knee, such as football or basketball players.
  3. Excess Weight: It is well documented that approximately 50% of dogs today are clinically overweight, and in most cases obese. Obviously, the more weight on the ligament, the more strain over time.
  4. Weekend Warrior Syndrome: This is what I call the plague of the domestic dog. Most dogs are natural-born athletes, but in western society – due to our lifestyle and work schedules – we don’t give our dogs enough exercise on a regular basis. And then when we do allow them to be dogs and exercise, more often than not, we overdo it. Clearly, lack of exercise means weaker muscle and weaker soft tissue ligament, making them more prone to injury.
    The most common description of an ACL injury I hear from my clients goes something like this: “My dog was chasing a ball, squirrel, other dog, etc. and then I heard a yelp. When my dog came back into the house, it was holding its leg up.
  5. Lack of Recognizing Early Warning Signs: Many times dogs have joint health issues which are underlying and go undiagnosed by both pet owners and veterinarians, mostly due to lack of people’s understanding of what I call the 12 subtle signs of arthritis. Check out the video discussing these 12 signs at www.dogarthritischallenge.com.

What You Can Do to Prevent ACL Injury in Your Dog

In order to give your dog the best chance of avoiding an injury to their ACL, make sure that they maintain a healthy body weight, exercise them on a regular basis and don’t allow them to overdo it without proper conditioning, get a prophaltix X-ray taken of their hips and lumbar spine to ensure good body structure, and lastly, be informed about the early warning signs of arthritis. As with any preventative health measures, you’ll save yourself and your pup a lot of strife by staying ahead of the problem.

Allergies in Dogs & Cats

EXCERPT FROM “THE ROYAL TREATMENT” – by Barbara Royal, DVM, CVA, founder and owner of The Royal Treatment Veterinary Center


An itchy pet may not be a medical emergency, but it is often a mental emergency.

Allergies are a big issue in veterinary medicine. Although a sneeze can be an initial sign of allergy, a more common sigh of allergy is itching. Itchy dogs and cats chew at their skin and feet, scratching, licking, irritating, and even ulcerating skin. Itching is distressing for both pets and owners. It’s hard to live or sleep with a per that can’t stop scratching. The irritated pet can really weigh on the mind. Not to mention the extreme discomfort the pet is going through.

Not only are people allergic to animals, but animal are allergic to our world, too. I use the analogy of a cup overfilling when I explain allergies to my clients. As long as the cup isn’t brimming over with allergens and immune problems, the animal won’t show any signs of irritation. However, when the cup runneth over, the itchy signs maketh themselves known.

Note: Some of my clients have been told that their pet is allergic to meat. I believe it is highly unlikely that a carnivore is allergic to meat. Although I know it can be true, it should be the exception, not the rule. More commonly, the culprit is the chemicals in processed meats or poor-quality meats, or the grains and chemicals in the processed food irritate an animal’s GI tract, making the intestines a poor border protector. An unhealthy GI tract may allow more antigens into the bloodstream. When a food change alleviates allergies, it is more likely because the food improves the health of the GI tract by providing a good protein content, and fewer grains of chemicals. A healthy GI tract makes all the difference in resolving allergies.

Q&A: Canine Swimming

Why should pet parents consider trying aquatic exercise for their dog? What are some of the main benefits?

Swimming is beneficial for just about everyone. It provides non-weight bearing exercise that improves fitness at every level. Swimming promotes blood and lymph circulation and reduces pain globally.

If a dog doesn’t know how to swim, is that a problem? What if they have a fear of water? 

Though most dogs have an instinctive swimming response, we assume that they need to develop some swimming skills and we go through a series of small steps to promote confidence and competent swimming. Many dogs are afraid of a body of water with no bottom if they don’t have any experience – this fear can be a life-saver for the dog. If you are not a competent swimmer, going beyond where you can touch the bottom could result in drowning. Even dogs bred for the water need a supervised beginning: their enthusiasm sometimes outstrips their skill level! We start them off teaching some “here is the bottom” exercises, with supported swimming one direction toward the owner, and build on that. Very few dogs stay afraid of the water as long as their swim experience is carefully nurtured. For a few elderly dogs, a floatation vest provides buoyancy and safety for those who can’t swim fast enough to stay high in the water. For the overstimulated, a life vest can provide security and calming, but we don’t often use vests for long. Our “puppy package” is designed to allow puppies to develop confidence and learn to swim in 4 short sessions no more than a week apart. Most of the time, puppies are swimming well at the end of those 4 sessions.

How, in particular, does swimming help dogs with issues such as arthritis and joint pain? 

Our facility provides warm water assisted swimming. Formal therapy is done at medical facilities, supervised directly by a veterinarian, often with a water treadmill. We operate with veterinarian input for each dog, and provide structured swimming experiences.

The inflammation involved in arthritis and accompanying joint pain is relieved by warm water and by movement. Starting slowly, as the muscles start to be able to do their jobs better, and the joints are better able to produce joint fluid because they are moving better, the health of the joints improves. Muscles and tendons and ligaments are stronger, and pain is reduced.

Because it is non weight bearing, swimming allows compromised joints to move more normally, improving both the quantity of information and the quality of communication of all systems with the nervous system. For dogs who have any joint issues, this aspect can be the key to improved health and function of all body systems.

What are some of the exercises/movements done in the water for the dog?

Most of our swimmers swim a variation on laps in the water. For those who like toys we customize retrieving activities, and incorporate any limitations or goals into their sessions. Some dogs aren’t interested in toys so we teach them to swim with us, a version of “synchronized swimming” for dogs. Rest periods are incorporated, and these get shorter as dogs get fitter. For the very old, we often float them out to the end of the pool and they swim back 1/2 lap to their people at the edge of the pool. Balance is achieved by making sure that dogs are using both sides of their bodies equally in terms of making turns and the direction of laps. At The Puddle, swimming is very much a family activity and everyone is encouraged to cheer and help the process along (though only swim coaches are in the water) Dogs do much better when their people are involved.

On average, how long can/should a dog swim? (Be it time in the pool for a session or how many days/weeks/months certain recoveries take).

Swim sessions are 30 minutes at The Puddle. Depending on the condition of the dog, actual swimming time per session may be almost all of the 30 minutes or less than 10 minutes, with lots of floating (also very good for the body). We start dogs off on the low end if they are pre-surgical or post surgical, if they have injuries they are recovering from, if they are obese or unfit an any way. We monitor heart rate to determine when to rest. With regular swimming, dogs improve amazingly quickly, but if there is not close attention to the rate at which muscles can recover, harm may be done.

For those who have had orthopedic surgery, adherence to home care rules and exercises is a major influence on how well dogs do in our swim program. We consider 6 weeks pre- and post- surgical to be an ideal start. More swims post-surgical are beneficial in most cases. We’d like them to swim until there is no difference between the muscles on left and right sides.

For the elderly and aging, swimming for life is our recommendation. Our experience is that swimming can add years to the happy, productive life of older dogs. One of our dogs was very creaky at 1yr old, taking anti-inflammatiories and with all the medical support available including chiropractic, acupuncture and massage. His pain level would have ended his life pretty soon. He started swimming once a week and lived to be almost 17. Hard to believe.

Swimming is excellent recreation for almost any dog. There are very few “safe” places for dogs to swim, and some dogs don’t do well in a group of dogs, as at a dog park. Many dogs just don’t have a good place to let off steam. A high percentage of dogs that are “unmanageable” who are surrendered to shelters just are not getting enough exercise. Through our “Share the Care” community program we raise funds and provide services for local rescue groups pre-adoption, and some of those dogs have been transformed by weekly swimming from nervous, fearful, unstable individuals into confident, “let me at it!” swimmers with their former fears of people and new situations a thing of the past.

Are there any risks involved, for instance is the chlorine bad for them?

Every pool is different. Our pool has UV sanitation with a salt generator for the immediate disinfection issues of what comes in with dogs. It’s mild and no dogs or humans have had difficulty with it. There are a few pools with only ozone sanitation, but as with human pools, there needs to be some sanitation process for the immediate issues: UV treated water is totally clean when it comes into the pool, but dogs are not so clean!

There are indeed risks. We encourage anyone looking for a swim facility to observe carefully the way that dogs are handled, the skill and training level of the staff, the “feel” of the facility. In our opinion, staff need to be in the water doing nothing but paying attention to your dog. There needs to be an immediate “oneness” established between the swim coach and your dog in order for your dog to trust them and feel safe. The coach should be trained in how to handle the dog while in the water under all circumstances. This is not an easy task with a frightened dog in the pool for the first time. Dog owners need to be paying very close attention as well, they know their dog better than anyone. Very close observation is needed to ensure that your dog is safe. Do not compromise or make excuses – facilities should be clean, well managed and well supervised.


Beth Taylor, LMT, CVMRT

The Puddle – Pet AquaFitness & Nutrition

1948 Gyorr Ave. South Elgin, IL 60177


Pet Food 101 ~ Part 1

Many of our canines and felines weigh more than they should. There’s no argument about that! Whether our very own dogs and cats are overweight – well, downright fat – that’s a lot different. MY dog is just large boned.

We have a hard time even knowing whether our pets are fat. Owning up, and learning to see the problem, is the first step in helping your dog or cat live longer.  If we do, our pets will avoid some of the most common diseases that eventually shorten their lives.  It’s a lot easier than taking the weight off our human bodies: our pets only eat what we give them.

Do you leave food out for your dog and cat? This is one of the most common causes for obesity. Pick up that food. Another is feeding too much. That’s what this series of posts is about.

It is truly confusing to try to sort out commercial foods. What’s with all the diet food? What’s the difference? What’s best for your pet?

In the very simplest approach, your pet needs to eat the amount of food that meets his needs and no more. The chart below shows you a range of activity levels and life stages and calories needed for each, daily. If you know the amount of calories he needs, you have a place to start.

So……your 50# moderately active, medium age dog needs about 1145 calories per day. There are many ways to meet that need. You can use dry food, or canned food, or frozen food, or one of the array of dehydrated and freeze dried foods. You can make food at home, using our book, Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, as a guide.

In this first segment, we’ll look at dry foods.

Foods made for all life stages are appropriate for the overweight – they just need to eat the right amount.  Often, a real measuring cup is needed more than a new food.

Diet foods have a reduced calorie count, achieved in a number of ways. Less fat, more fiber, more grain (thus less fat) and sometimes even not-so-nice additions like a hefty amount of peanut hulls. Stay away from that one. We think that these foods are more for the humans than for the dogs and cats. The humans get to hand out more diet food – since it has fewer calories, the serving is bigger. But this bigger serving has a cost: more metabolically inappropriate starch, and less fat. The natural diet of a dog or a cat would have about 20% fat, and those would be really good fats. We prefer that you use foods for all life stages. Consult the package carefully to see what the calorie count is. If it isn’t there, check the website, or call the company. Below are examples of good quality dry foods, with the calorie count for one cup. That is an official, LEVEL


Canine Caviar Adult                                      599 kcal

Canine Caviar Venison and Split Pea        596 kcal per cup

Fromm Chicken ala Veg                               370 kcal per cup

Fromm Salmon ala Veg                               405 kcal per cup

Horizon Adult                                                415 kcal per cup

Merrick Cowboy Cookout                             359 kcal per cup

Mulligan Stew Chicken                                 480 kcal per cup

Nature’s Variety Prairie Chicken                 391 kcal per cup

These “all life stages” foods range from 370-599kcal per cup. Clearly, all dry food is not alike. Some all-stages foods have 325, a few have even more than the heftiest of those above.

Your dog might get 3 cups of food a day, or a little less than 2 cups of food. If you don’t do the calculations, you may have a very chunky dog in no time. You might think that there is something wrong – when it’s just a question of too many calories.

Which food agrees with your dog or cat is another topic entirely, but if you at least take the time to figure this part out you’ll have a good idea of how much to start with.

The directions on the package may or may not reflect the way the food performs in your dog’s body. In young skinny dogs, people often feed more and more in the hope that their pet will put some weight on. Like young humans, they might just burn up the extra food – or they may poop it out (these are BIG poops) until the day comes that they start to pack it on as fat.

The dogs and cats we’re talking about here have the opposite problem. If you find that you are having to feed your dog much less than the package directs, there is a good chance the they are not getting the proper amount of nutrients. The food is planned so that the directed amount provides the appropriate nutrients.

Many obese pets (ok, a little fat) in our experience cannot handle high-grain foods and do much better on species-appropriate, real food diets, with a more appropriate balance of protein/fat/carbohydrate than can be provided by a regular pet food.

It is tempting to try one of the “grain free” dry foods, marketed to be the next best thing to real food, but they are much denser foods, with far more calories. We didn’t use any of these as examples above. The serving size is smaller and there is no water to help the body process these foods. We’re not big fans of these foods in general, though they can have a place in a rotation of dry foods.

If your pet seems to be one of those that gains on a very small amount of food, real food is probably a better choice. More exercise certainly helps, but real food AND exercise is the best choice in this situation. A frozen diet can be a good choice, or a home-made one. Canned food can provide an appropriate fat/protein/carb profile, but canned food has even more choices and a broader calorie range.


Pet Food 101 ~ Part 2

What’s important in pet food

  • Feed a diet as close to the natural diet of that animal as you can – a meat and vegetable diet. Simple food is best.
  • Rotate ingredients and brands frequently.
  • Choose foods made from human edible ingredients – this minimizes poor quality additions + byproducts.
  • Good food is not cheap. Good food = healthy dogs and cats.
  • Keep it safe once you get it home.
  • Exotic meats and ingredients are not needed. Novel proteins are only needed by the truly allergic.
  • Dry food does not clean teeth!

Categories of pet food:

Frozen and Canned foods are the closest thing to the natural diet of dog’s and cat’s bodies.

  • Canned food is COOKED, highly processed, and has a lot of water due to the needs of the canning process.
  • Frozen is minimally processed usually RAW, and usually has higher food value – less water
  • The water content makes a big difference in cost to feed
  • Both are good choices for feeding alone, or for feeding with dry food to improve the carbohydrate level
  • The goal in using these foods is to reduce carbohydrate level — choose foods with no starch or very little starch
  • Nutrient percentages to look for: Protein 9%/Fat 6%.  Frozen: Protein 12%/Fat 6% – look for @ twice as much protein as fat

Dry foods are highly processed, starch-based products, with a very wide range of composition and quality

“Regular” foods usually have about 50% carbohydrate, between 350-400 calories per cup.

Best choices are single protein source foods, with simple starch ingredient lists.

When you rotate, choose foods that have different proteins AND different starches. To do this, you probably will have to use different brands. To rotate brands (proteins/starches) is good, except one side effect is that different brands buy from different sources so possible toxic problems don’t add up so fast.

Meat/protein choices: meat and meat meals – simple is best

NO soy, corn, gluten meal of any kind, better to skip vegetable proteins or at least rotate

Starch choices: NO corn, wheat, NOT MUCH oat, barley, rye all can become problems for digestion and allergy development

Okay Starches: Rice, millet, and various seeds, millet, potato, and often from MANY sources

“Grain Free” dry foods are NOT starch free. They are @ 40% carbohydrate – 400-440 calories per cup. Foods are often higher in calories. This is fine except serving size must be decreased.

Foods that use Peas and Beans as starch:

  • Proteins: Meat and meat meal. Protein is often boosted with protein from legumes or potatoes
  • Starches: Beans and peas of all kinds – these are not complete proteins, not easily digestible
  • If these foods agree with your pet, rotate with other non-bean choices
  • Marketing: low glycemic index. Useful info for humans, not good choice long term for dogs

Foods that use Tapioca as starch:

  • Proteins: Meat and meat meal, mixed or single. Protein boosting sometimes done with potato.
  • Starches: tapioca alone or with other starchy ingredients (jicama).
  • Tapioca has no protein, so it will not cause immune-mediated reactions

Foods that use Sweet Potato, Pumpkin, & Yams as starch:

  • Proteins: Meat and meat meal, mixed or single
  • Starches: Starchy Vegetables

“Dehydrated” and “Freeze-dried” foods are expensive but they are useful for travel or transition.  Some have similar composition to canned or dry foods, some are dry version of raw diets.  They are highly processed and not the same as a fresh or raw food diet.

“Specialty category” foods include special needs and life style foods: these are marketing tools.

Use a food made for all life stages and keep your dog lean.

Many “prescription” foods are made with poor quality ingredients – if you know what dietary needs are, usually they can be met with existing commercial foods that have better quality ingredients.

Many “specific condition” foods (joint formula, better coat, hairball) include low quality ingredients with some supplementation to address the condition.  Usually you can do this much better by using a supplement added to a good quality food.  Often the supplement quantity is not at a therapeutic level, wasted money.

Choose the best food you can afford!

There’s no reason to think that dogs and cats should be cheap to feed, no more than humans.  Pay for good food now, or pay your veterinarian to help you with unnecessary, chronic disease later.

TREATS should promote health and improve the diet –Meat treats are best

  • Use the same standards as you use for dry food.
  • REMEMBER that treats are not a complete diet! IF your pet gets substantial calories from treats he/she will be missing some essential nutrients.
  • Dental treats may be dangerous! Do not buy treats with gluten!



  • Dry food is susceptible to food spoilage that can make your dog very sick or even kill him.
  • Don’t buy more than you can use in a couple of weeks, or store it in the freezer
  • Storage containers harbor molds and bacteria. Scrub yours every time you buy a new bag – or don’t use one
  • Keep food in the bag inside the tightly sealed container,
  • Keep it in a cool, dry place – NOT the garage in the summer!
  • If your dog says there is something wrong with the food – Listen!!
  • Sometimes food problems are invisible, but dogs can tell.
  • Throw it away or return it if you have bought it recently.



  • KNOW how many calories are in your food: — foods vary, and feeding amounts must be adjusted
  • The feeding chart on the bag may have little relationship to your pet!
  • If your pet is overweight, he needs to take in fewer calories or different calories no matter what the bag says
  • Many dogs on starch based foods put on weight on minuscule amounts of food
  • This may be an indicator that this dog might do better on a meat-based food (and also is an indicator that you might need to check with your vet about thyroid function).



For a long and healthy life, cats need to eat almost exclusively wet food.  This is the opposite of what most of us were taught!  And cats don’t necessarily agree!

Contact Us for further information: The Puddle ~ Pet AquaFitness & Nutrition  (630) 883-0700.

Improve Diet, Improve Life – from Beth Taylor

Roadblocks to health

We may promote faster healing, better function, and better overall health if we can encourage clients to address other possible roadblocks to health.

The lifestyle of the client (the owner) and the patient (the pet) often contribute to the presenting problem. I believe we will see the optimal results we wish for only if we integrate extensive education about how exercise, fitness and food affect the function of all systems.

A client who comes to us with an overweight, arthritic dog in a lot of pain may see a dog who feels better with drugs for pain and inflammation and an even happier dog when they begin to use the Assisi Loop – but without lifestyle changes, an anti-inflammatory device or drug competes with an inflammatory diet or sedentary life that promotes inflammation. Accomplishing this educational goal is labor-intensive and ongoing. It’s almost an added counseling segment of the practice – people don’t lose entrenched ideas and points of view in one visit. Ongoing educational support is needed – and many times it’s emotional as well.

One of the biggest roadblocks to health is a dry food diet that is pro-inflammatory and likely to include toxins that are difficult or impossible for the body to process. If we can lighten the load for the body, all systems can work more efficiently.

How best to lighten the dietary load? This is a question worth exploring in order to best serve our clients.

Many clients have no idea what they are feeding their pets. A week of journaling followed by an evaluation consultation is often an eye-opener for clients, and allows us to really show the client how what they do adds up. Do their Milk Bones add up to 300 kcal more per day than their dog needs? Do those table scraps (not all bad) add up to more than half the diet – which means that some nutrients will be deficient? To be effective, we need to develop the knowledge to be able to evaluate. It’s mostly arithmetic and internet research, but analysis  and deep label reading skills are required. It’s not enough to look at the front panel – staff need to be able to evaluate what they read and translate for the client.

For example, if a food contains glucosamine, how much does each serving contain? Probably not a therapeutic dose. If the front panel says “bison and sweet potato” but sweet potato is 14th on the ingredient list, and bison is first but beef meal is second, we need to be able to interpret this for the client. (One clue: it’s not a bison and sweet potato food.) Ongoing education sessions with clients result in clients who are willing to take charge of learning, and pets that feel better.

A short look at the various aspects of commercial and home feeding may provide a place to start in developing effective education tools for clients. At our facility (which specializes in swimming, massage, rehab, and food), clients usually come in confused. For example, they’re feeding a high-carbohydrate, plant-based prescription diet that contributes to inflammation, or they’ve read that grain-free is best, or they believe that a raw diet is the only way to go but their dog isn’t doing well on it, or they listened to the salesperson at the pet store and they’re on food advertised as  “low-glycemic index,” heavy on the beans, and their dog’s gut is rumbling. We need to simplify the issues in pet food, and this is no easy task.

pet storeSimplify!

The giant “pet food” category can be divided into dry foods, canned foods, and frozen foods. In addition, there are smaller categories, freeze-dried or dehydrated versions of frozen foods, and dehydrated diets that fall into one of the other categories.

Meat-Based Fresh Food Diets

For dogs or cats, a species-appropriate diet can be a radical step toward better health. The ancestral diet is a meat-based diet, with moderate fat and protein levels, and very low levels of carbohydrate. An appropriate meat-based diet avoids many of the toxic pitfalls of dry food because it simply doesn’t include the ingredients most likely to be toxic: corn, soy, wheat, rice, barley, oats, or any other carbohydrate sources beyond relatively small amounts of vegetables and fruits. The much lower carbohydrate level promotes normal hormonal function in many ways, interrupting the pro-inflammatory cycle.

A species-appropriate diet is a raw diet. It may be homemade or commercially produced. There are challenges in both approaches.

Homemade diets require careful monitoring. Most programs and recipe “cook” books have not been analyzed and do not meet AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) and/or NRC (National Research Council) standards. A “balance over time” philosophy is popular among raw feeders. Basically, the idea is that meals don’t need to be complete or the same every day as long as a correct balance is achieved over time. This is true, but unfortunately it only works if the basic components are correct. This is seldom the case, in my experience. Common flaws in homemade diets include too much fat, too much bone, and missing mineral components that can’t be addressed without supplementation. Supplements designed to be used for homemade raw diets often do not take into account the adjustments that must be made for lower and high fat content in the diet. To try to make homemade diets safer and easier for clients, Karen Becker and I wrote Dr. Becker’s Real Food for Healthy Dogs and Cats, which includes a framework for rotation, fatty acid guidelines, and two mineral supplement recipes.Real food book

Homemade food is a large time commitment. Commercial fresh food diets offer instant success – almost as easily as pouring kibble from a bag.

Commercial frozen foods abound. Products may or may not meet nutrition standards. Food that claims to be AAFCO-compliant may be a relatively safe choice, but knowledge about requirements and labeling is necessary to determine this. Just because the label makes that statement doesn’t mean that it’s true. Within AAFCO-compliant foods, caloric density may range from 300 to 600 kcal per cup. For those concerned about bacteria, High pressure pasteurized foods (which are sterile) and cooked versions are available. Some frozen products are ground fine enough to be cooked for those animals who need cooked food.

Freeze-dried and dehydrated versions of these foods may be useful for switching dogs with GI problems where adding water to the diet may set off an digestive issues. For switching cats away from dry food, these intensely flavorful foods are a good tool.  They’re are great for travel, they make excellent treats, and  they are an acceptable transition for those (owners or pets) who can’t quite make the leap to fresh food in its more natural, with-water state. However, they also cost much more than the frozen versions.

A raw meat-based diet may not work for all animals. Compromised systems may need diets tweaked for their specific needs, and some animals need their meat-based diet cooked.

Frozen foods vary considerably in macronutrient content, and variation concerns me. If a label says that the food is 12% protein and 6% fat, and the calorie content is listed at 600 kcal per cup, something is not right! Fat content is listed as a minimum, and if this food has 600 kcal per cup, there’s a lot more fat than 6%.

Dry Food

Should dogs and cats eat dry food? In my opinion, dry food is at best a compromise. However, issues of cost and convenience make it necessary to help clients find a balance of products that is affordable and workable for their lives.

Dry foods are mostly either “with grain” or “without grain.” This is a confusing distinction, but one that can assume that “grain” is bad and “grain-free” is better.

Foods that include “grains” include a range of starches from wheat and corn through rice, oats, barley, sorghum and so on. They usually have a combination, and they provide about 50% or more of their calories as carbohydrate. Most of these starch ingredients are prone by their nature to contaminants including pesticide residues, GMOs, and mold byproducts like aflatoxins and vomitoxins. Bacterial contamination is common. These contaminants may be present at low levels in purchased food – but some, like aflatoxins and salmonella, can increase post-production, as in the common “pet food storage” container or garbage-can-in-the-garage storage. The home storage dangers exist no matter how good the dry food is.

Digestive issues with grain include the difficulty for dogs and cats in digesting and making use of glutens and other plant proteins in bodies designed to get protein mostly from meat.

Many clients think that “grain-free” means carbohydrate-free, but “grain-free” foods actually contain roughly 40% carbohydrate – something has to hold dry food together.  Pet foods frequently contain vegetable protein isolates that boost the protein content of the food, which reduces the protein coming from meat – and makes the food cheaper to produce.

grainsA common “non-grain” category of carbohydrate in upscale foods is the relatively recent inclusion and promotion of legumes as good food for dogs. From peas and lentils through garbanzos, these “low-glycemic index” ingredients are high-profile persuaders. The inclusion of high-protein legumes always means that there is less meat protein in the food. Long term, I don’t think legumes, which are incomplete proteins, are going to contribute to the health of dogs, though these foods may be acceptable as part of a rotation program.

Rotation of proteins is a practice that many are aware of. What isn’t considered as often is that vegetables have proteins too, so we need to find products that provide actual rotation. Because the products in each brand are closely related, the same starch ingredients are often seen in every product (though the order might be switched around) while the meat changes.  It is probably necessary to go outside a chosen brand to get actual rotation. This is an excellent idea, but few know how to read a label well enough to do this. A frequently updated list/handout is needed to help people make these choices.

Canned Food

Canned foods are usually a better nutrition choice than dry foods. It’s not necessary to add starches to hold them together, so the nutrition profile is often more appropriate. The same evaluation process can be used as is used for frozen foods. In the past, I often recommended that clients begin to improve their pet’s diets with canned food, especially for those people and/or animals who find change difficult. However, it’s very difficult for clients to discern which of the countless canned foods are really better. Now, I often recommend that they use a freeze-dried meat-based food, or a frozen food. High Pressure Pasteurized products provide a sterile food if needed, and many frozen foods can be cooked lightly if necessary. Good canned foods are more expensive than frozen ones, but if it’s difficult for clients to make the conceptual leap to fresh or dehydrated diets, canned food is still a good choice.

We need to provide tools for client that they can understand

Helping clients along as fast as they can go – it’s a tricky endeavor. It would be lovely if we could just hand over written materials and know that people would read, understand, and apply. We all experience the frustration of giving people good information that they immediately forget. It’s my experience that we need to get better at how we present the information. We need to provide simplified presentations that catch the interest of clients. We need to entice them to want to understand more, and we need to spend time with them. If we’re really good, a lot of our clients will be empowered to take charge of the health of their pets in a much more proactive way, and we all win.