Healthy Treats for Your Dog

When Emma first came into the family, she was a tiny four-pound bundle of white fluff. I wanted to be a good pet-parent and feed her a healthy diet, so she would live longer. But I didn’t want this to be limited to just her meals; I wanted her to have healthy snacks, as well.

Considering I’m a healthy eater, I’ve made sure my dog is, too. Emma does not get any “junk food,” table scraps (that weren’t prepared with her in mind – no salt, additives, etc.) or dairy (dairy is actually not good for some dogs). She eats a healthy diet of grain-free kibble with a dollop of grain-free soft food. And, if she gets any extra treats, I make sure to reduce her meals slightly so that she maintains her weight and doesn’t gain. (The more overweight your dog is, the shorter their lifespan.)

While she does enjoy her “people food” treats, she does get her usual chewy provided by the vet to help keep tartar at bay and her teeth strong.

Here are some of Emma’s favorite goodies, which happen to be super healthy—and which you can share with your fur baby, too.

Fruit: Since Emma has nixed bananas from her diet, she does love a good apple. Whenever I have one as a snack, I cut up a slice for her so we can enjoy it together. Apples have antioxidants and are loaded with vitamin C. In the summer, we switch to watermelon (seedless, of course), which has plenty of lycopene, vitamins A, B-6 and C.

Veggies: I’m a veggie lover (as I don’t eat meat), and so, I share my love of veggies with Emma. She loves roasted broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and Brussels sprouts, which have plenty of vitamins A, B1, B6 and K, folate, fiber and potassium. Sweet potatoes are the bomb! They’re a good source of vitamins A, B-6, C and E, not to mention calcium and iron.

Peanut Butter: I’ve never met a dog who doesn’t love peanut butter. Peanut butter is a good source of protein and has vitamins B and E and niacin. I buy the no-sugar, no-salt added, all natural kind. This is the best for dogs. And, a little goes a long way. A small dollop will keep Emma licking her chops for ages.

Salmon: This is one of the best things you can feed your dog as it is full of Omega-3 fatty acids. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and is good to keep the joints supple. When Emma goes to agility class, dried salmon treats are her reward. So even if she doesn’t get grilled salmon (yes, I make her grilled salmon on Sundays), she still gets the benefits from the treats.

What does your dog like to eat?

Man’s Best Friend is Good for the Soul—and the Body!

The day that I brought Emma home from the breeder changed my life. She was a tiny little ball of white fluff that loved to nuzzle my neck and get lots of cuddles, which she still loves to do—along with getting plenty of belly rubs.

At that time, I was going through a very bad period of depression, and once she joined the household, life became a bit more gratifying with her at my side. After all, I had a puppy to walk (and boy, does she love to walk!), to feed and to tend to. There was hardly time to succumb to depression. For those of you who have/had puppies, you know that for the first 6-8 months, you’re on the go. Nonstop.

Emma has been by my side for many years, and has helped me navigate through depression, anxiety and grief, while keeping me active and motivated.

Not surprising, there are a majority of studies that show the physical, emotional and social benefits of having a canine companion. Here are just a few:

Reduce heart disease. A recent study shows that having a canine companion is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease (lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels).

Lower stress. Having a fur baby can help lower anxiety and blood pressure, reducing the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Think about it. You’re sitting on the couch, giving belly rubs to a cute little fur ball who wants nothing more to snuggle and be pet. It turns us to mush, right?

Weight loss. If you have a dog, you better love to walk—and walk a lot. Ever since I brought Emma home, she’s been a walker. I know we were meant for each other because, I too, love to walk and hike and be outdoors. Our daily routine consists of at least 3 miles—sometimes more in cooler weather, and less in the summer. But we make up for it with her agility classes, which usually give me a run for my money, too!

Social life. Before I brought Emma home, I didn’t know all of my neighbors that well. But once Emma was on the scene, all that changed. Neighbors with dogs would come around and we would share stories about our fur babies’ latest antics. Not only that, but whenever I’m out and about with Emma, I’m guaranteed to be stopped by someone who loves dogs. It’s easy to strike up a conversation when you’re accompanied by a great conversation starter. (Read: single peeps, having a dog is great for getting dates!)

If you’re thinking about getting a dog, stop thinking about it and do it! You won’t regret it. And if you are already a pet-parent like me, then you know what a bundle of joy these four-legged fur babies can be.

Five Tips for Traveling With Your Dog

I love to travel. Exploring new hiking trails or different cities can be exciting. But I have a small dog and I don’t like leaving her behind. Thankfully, after years of hating the car, she has grown to like traveling.

The first time I took Emma on a plane was last summer when we visited my dad in Florida. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck. Silly, I know. But I couldn’t help worrying about: What if she pooped on the plane? What if she had to pee? Would she howl or whine if the flight was delayed? What if something unexpected happened to me, what would happen to her? All that and a million other things crossed my mind.

Since then, though, we’ve been on a plane several times. Each time had its own minor worries (mainly because I’m a worrier), but it all went well in the end…even the one time when she pooped inside the terminal at JFK. Yeah, well, if she could’ve just held it two more minutes, we would have been at the pet relief area; but when you gotta go, you gotta go. And while it was one of the things I was initially worried about, poop happens. I grabbed one of the dozens of bags I keep in my jeans pockets when we travel, and quickly cleaned it up and tossed it.

Here are some of my travel tips for smooth sailing with your small pet:

1. Choose A Destination Wisely. Are you staying with family/friends, or will you have a dog-friendly hotel room? Either way, be sure to bring items from home that has your dog’s and your scent on them, so it will help her settle in when you arrive. Plush squeaky toys, balls, and a small blanket are always a good start.

2. The Right Carrier. If you’re flying with a small dog, then she can come on the plane with you. You’ll have to use a carrier that is acceptable to the airline, so be sure to check their website before you purchase one. Inside the carrier, keep a shirt or item of clothing that has your scent on it so your pooch will be calm during the flight.

3. Back Seat Driver. If you’re like me and you like toting your dog around with you no matter where you go, you’ll need to find the option that works for you. The best carriers and harnesses, though, have been crash tested, so do your homework before purchasing. The best ones are a bit pricey—but certainly worth the safety of your pet.

4. H2O. Whenever I take Emma out, I always carry a bottle of water (you can refill it anywhere) and a small collapsible dish. Just like humans, dogs need to stay hydrated, especially when traveling.

5. Travel Food. Just as you would pack snacks for yourself, be sure to bring some along for your pet. Keep in mind: feeding your pet right before a trip is not a good idea, especially if you’re flying. It will increase their urge to go potty in a contained environment. But once you’re on your way, a few bites of kibble here and there will keep her satisfied until you reach your destination.

Over the years, I’ve taken Emma on countless trips with me. And whether traveling by car or plane, these days, she’s a better travel than I am!

5 Winter Safety Tips for Dog Owners

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I’m sure I’m not the only pet parent whose dog loves the outdoors and the snow. It seems, the colder it gets, the longer Emma wants to stay out. And when it snows, it takes forever to get her back inside. If it were up to her, she’d dive through all the mounds of snow until it melts.

Thankfully, I’ve picked up some helpful tips over the years to keep her safe and warm during the coldest season of the year. Hope these will help you, too.

Protect the Paws

Ice melt and rock salt are irritants and can burn the paw pads, so the best thing to do is cover your dog’s paws with booties or a protective salve before heading out. Once back inside, be sure to have a towel handy to wipe off excess snow or salt. If you need to use an ice-melter on your own driveway or walkway, please be sure to choose one that is pet-friendly.

Limit Outdoor Time

To avoid frostbite, limit time spent outdoors. Instead of longer walks, go out several times a day in shorter spurts. It’ll give your fur baby something to look forward to. And, please, don’t leave your dog outside for extended periods of time. I’ve seen too many stories on the news where dogs are left outside in the cold—without food, water or shelter—and they end up with frostbite, or worse, dying. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for your dog. Be smart.

IMG_0479Bundle Up

Depending on the temperature, I have several different outerwear options for Emma. From sweaters in the fall, to insulated coats in winter, I always make sure she is protected from the elements. I wouldn’t like to be outside without a coat in the extreme cold, so why would I let her?

Eat Up

Since dogs burn extra energy trying to stay warm, it might be a good idea to give her a little extra food at mealtime. Not too much, mind you. You don’t want your pup gaining a lot weight that she will have a hard time taking off when the weather gets warmer. Also, don’t forget to provide fresh water. This will help keep dogs hydrated and their skin less dry and flaky.

Join a Gym

Yes, they are such things as doggy gyms! Emma goes to one and it’s a great place to be when the weather outside is rotten. Indoors, she can run around, jump through hoops, zip through tunnels, and even swim! Does your neighborhood have a canine fitness center? If so, give it a try. Your dog will love it. Mine does!

How To Choose the Right Dog For Your Lifestyle

My little WestieSo, you want a dog. Great! Being a pet parent is very rewarding. But it is also a big responsibility. There are factors to consider even before you walk into the shelter or choose a breeder to pick your pup.

Before bringing home your new fur baby, please do some research on which breed and/or size of dog would be best for you. Too often, people adopt a dog that doesn’t fit with their current lifestyle, and the dog ends up having adjustment issues (i.e. behavioral) or ends up getting re-homed because it can’t be trained.

When I first considered getting a dog, I gave a lot of thought about how my life would change: Who would she stay with when I went away? Did I have enough room in my small house? How could I exercise her? Did I need a dog-sitter? How long could she be left alone? Overall, I needed to make sure that the dog would fit into my lifestyle.

emmapuppyI did plenty of research on different breeds and sizes of dogs, I even went to several shelters, but as it turned out, I ended up with my first choice, a Westie (West Highland White Terrier). Westies are known for being stubborn (I can certainly attest to that!), energetic (they never slow down), and easily trainable (when they’re not being stubborn!).

Thankfully, I have been blessed with my little Westie over the years. She is a bundle of love that brings joy into my life every day. And she is certainly worth all the time and energy I continue to spend on caring for her.

Here are some things to consider that helped me find my forever fur baby that may help you:

How Much Time Do You Have?

As in, how much time do you have to devote to caring for and training your new dog? While puppies require a lot more attention than adult dogs, bringing home either will demand much of your time.

For the first few weeks, be sure you are home so you can help get her adjusted to the house. If you get a puppy that isn’t trained yet, you’ll need to start potty training on day 2 (yes, that’s right. Don’t wait!), otherwise, your house will be messy and smelly in no time.

But potty training isn’t where it stops. Dogs must be trained to understand the basics: sit, stay, come, wait, etc., otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for an unruly dog that people don’t want to approach or that won’t play well with other dogs. Buy books on training, hire a local dog trainer, go to a canine fitness center, take online courses, do whatever you have to do, but please, train your dog!

Tip: If you’re a workaholic, for the sake and sanity of the dog, please reconsider. Dogs need love, attention and lots of care. If they are left alone for too many hours, they can become depressed—or worse, destructive to the house due to separation anxiety.

Yes, Size Matters

If you live in a small studio apartment, it would not be wise to adopt a dog that can grow to over 100 lbs (a German shepherd, for example). Ideally, the smaller the space, the smaller the dog. In the home, dogs need space to move around and play; and if your dog is too large to spread out or get a quick lap around the living room, chances are, you’ll need a bigger place!

emmabythejumpsExercise is Essential

Are you someone who likes to go for long walks or runs every day or are you a homebody? Dogs need exercise, and lots of it! The worst thing you can do is not exercise your dog, which can lead to other issues (but that’s a story for another post).

Westies are terriers. That means, they are very active. I knew this when I got her. So, every day, I take Emma out for three long walks, each walk being at least one to one and a half miles. In addition to that, I take her to agility classes so she gets to exercise all her muscles and can socialize with other dogs.

Healthy Diet = Healthy Dog

Exercise and diet go hand-in-hand, whether you’re human or canine. And since I’m a healthy eater, so is Emma. While I am careful of what I feed her (grain-free, human-grade ingredients), I make sure I don’t overfeed her with extra treats (only when Grandpa comes to visit does she get extra) or table scraps (never!). An overweight dog, is an unhealthy dog.

When I first took Emma in for evaluation at the canine gym where she goes to agility, the owner of the school told me she was “overweight” and I could be shortening her life by two years (yes, two years!) if she remained this size. Emma is a small dog. The ideal weight for her breed (female) is 14-16 lbs. She was over 18 lbs at this time! I totally freaked out. I want my fur baby around forever!

What did I do? Well, I immediately put her on a crash-diet (no treats, portion control and more veggies!) and enrolled her into agility classes. The weight came off—and has stayed off! She is a healthy 15.5 lbs, and continues to get plenty of exercise, eat a healthy diet, and even get special salmon dinners once a week!

How Much is This Going to Cost Me?

A lot. No matter what breed or size dog you bring home, be prepared to spend a bundle on your pup, especially during that first year of new and changing diets, necessary supplies (crates, beds, travel carriers, etc.), toys, and, of course, vet bills. All this can add up.

Adding a fur-baby to your family can be one of the most rewarding things you can do. These creatures aren’t just your pets—they become part of the family and should be treated as such.