Last night it happened again. My 60-pound pal, Buster, and I were walking through the neighborhood for his pre-bedtime pit stop. Suddenly, a long-haired Chihuahua darted across the street, yapping and trying to pick a fight. The Chihuahua’s hapless owner was 20 feet behind, calling its name repeatedly to no avail.
What could possibly go wrong when an off-leash Chihuahua runs across a street to pick a fight with a Labrador Retriever? In this case, nothing bad happened. No car struck the Chihuahua. The Chihuahua did not get mauled. The dog did not get lost. The dog and the owner were lucky.
I regularly see and am tasked with trying to fix the serious problems that can occur when dogs are inappropriately allowed off leash. These problems, and many other problems that I treat, are completely preventable.
Here is some advice for people who would like to avoid the canine misery and financial hardship of an unnecessary trip to the vet.
1. Use a leash. Unless your dog has absolutely perfect recall, you need to be cautious about where and when you allow your dog off-leash. Most people who think their dogs have perfect recall are completely delusional. So be judicious.
2. Pay attention to your dog. Even leashed dogs can get into trouble if their owners aren’t watching. Lots of bad things can happen, for instance, when dogs walk around blind corners ahead of their owners. Many people use retractable leashes in such a way that their dogs might as well not be leashed at all. Don’t be one of those people.
3. Use common sense around other dogs. You know your dog is friendly, but the dog he’s checking out may not be. Ask the other dog’s owner whether it’s safe to let them sniff face-to-face. If the other dog’s owner isn’t anywhere in sight, then you know something about how responsible he or she is. Use extreme caution in such scenarios.
4. Brush your dog’s teeth. Yes, it’s a nuisance to brush your dog’s teeth once daily. And yes, lots of people make lots of noise online about how their special diet or treat or toy obviates the need. The fact is that nothing works as well as tooth brushing, and people who claim otherwise usually are pushing their own agendas. Regular brushing will spare your dog the hardship of dental disease like nothing else. It also is your best bet for avoiding expensive dental work.
5. Stay away from foxtails and porcupines. Foxtails are sharp grass seeds, and everyone knows what porcupines are. These two pests can lead to your pup getting foreign bodies in his nose, anus, and every part in between. They’re easy to avoid if you use a leash and pay attention to your dog.
6. Socialize your dog properly. Well-socialized dogs get into fewer fights and are less likely to behave aggressively toward humans. Well-socialized dogs allow their owners to brush their teeth and trim their nails and check their ears â€” so that you don’t have to pay vets or groomers to perform these tasks.
7. Keep toxic or dangerous items out of reach. Over the holidays, I treated dozens of dogs for chocolate ingestion. I treated dozens of others for GI upset after they ate garbage or were fed inappropriate treats.
Chocolate treat season is finally winding down, but plenty of problematic ingestible items are ubiquitous. Many dogs spend time in the hospital after consuming sugarless gum (which, if it contains xylitol, can be highly toxic to susceptible dogs), macadamia nuts, raisins, or even overdoses of their own palatable medications, such as Rimadyl flavor chews. Keep these items locked up or out of reach.
8. Don’t give human medications to your pet without first talking to your vet. Very little good ever has come from the canine equivalent of self-medicating. Some human medications are markedly toxic to pets. Some, such as aspirin, rarely work but interfere dangerously with other medications that may be effective. Dogs who receive a few Advils for a sore paw may end up in the hospital for three days of treatment. Talk to your vet before you medicate your dog.
9. Get regular veterinary checkups. Planned visits can prevent unplanned ones by catching problems before they get out of control.
Here’s to a happy, healthy, and safe new year for you and your dog.