Archive for Life

AROMATHERAPY oils are well known for their stress-relieving properties.
But while people have been indulging in the benefits of lavender, tea tree and chamomile for years, man’s best friend is now able to enjoy their benefits too.

Dog trainer Lynn Aitchison has been using her aroma- therapy talents to help dogs at the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home (EDCH) after training in the unusual field last year.

She believes the techniques used help the dogs at the home, who are often troubled, become less stressed and anxious.

Mrs Aitchison, known as the “dog lady”, lets the dogs choose their scent through sniffing different bottles until they find one they like.

The scent is then poured on to a cotton wool pad and clipped to the dog’s cage so it is with them for several hours.

Mrs Aitchison, from Portobello, says the oils can have an almost immediate effect on a dog’s behaviour.

Just last week, a nervous terrier was brought into the shelter, and was shaking all over.

Mrs Aitchison brought out some soothing oils and within five minutes, the shaking had stopped.

The 59-year-old said: “With people, you’re massaging with aromatherapy oils but with dogs you don’t touch them at all. It’s purely making use of dogs’ more sensitive sense of smell.

“A lot of the time when dogs are brought into the home, their behaviour can be a bit erratic and oils such as lavender and bergamot, which is a stabiliser, can help.

“Geranium, which is a security builder, can often help dogs deal with major upheavals.

“My own dog was attacked quite severely last year by dogs that came out of a house just along the road from me.

“She was petrified to walk past that location because she was convinced this dog was going to come and get her so I did aromatherapy with her.

“I definitely think that made all the difference to getting my dog relaxed when she was passing this house.”

She added: “Members of the public could use this technique too if they have moved house or are getting an extension built and there’s lots of noise and workmen going about.”

Mrs Aitchison, who is one of only two dog trainers in Scotland accredited by The Kennel Club, has also trained staff at the EDCH to use the oils to calm the dogs down if and when they need the techniques.

EDCH general manager, David Ewing, said: “Lynn’s knowledge is invaluable to our staff, helping them to make our frightened dogs feel safe, making it easier for us to work with them, and preparing them for their new homes.

“Lynn is known as “the dog lady” and as well as sharing her knowledge on aroma- therapy, she spends much of the time during her weekly visits keeping the dogs up to scratch with basic skills, such as “sit” and “stay”.

“Because she uses positive treat-reinforced methods, the long-term dogs now see her as “the sweetie lady” and promptly sit as soon as Lynn comes into sight.”

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Dog and Easter Egg

Everyone knows that fireworks are dangerous to pets. Every year, at appropriate times, such as Guy Fawkes night, we’re reminded to keep pets indoors. Yet this time of year – Easter – is a far riskier time for dogs for a simple reason: chocolate. The Veterinary Poisons Information Service recently published figures showed that chocolate was the most common poison to affect dogs in the UK with 1751 cases reported in 2010.

A small dog can die after eating a single Easter egg. The chemical in chocolate that gives humans a pleasant buzz – theobromine – has a highly toxic effect on dogs. A small chocolate feast that would be a pleasant indulgence for a human can kill a dog. Half a small bar of dark chocolate – around 50g (2 ounces) – is enough to end the life of a little terrier. Milk chocolate is less dangerous, needing twice as much for the same effect.

Small dogs are much more at risk. Like most poisons, the effect is dose-dependent, so a 40kg Labrador would need to eat eight times as much chocolate as a 5kg terrier to be affected.

This is not just some theoretical risk. As a vet in practice, I see dogs dying of chocolate poisoning every year. If animals are rushed to the vet within an hour of eating the chocolate, there’s a good chance that they can be saved. Drugs can be given to induce vomiting, emptying the stomach before the chocolate has had time to be absorbed. If treatment is delayed, and the poison has been absorbed into the dog’s bloodstream, there’s sometimes little that can be done to help.

The signs of poisoning start within six hours of the chocolate being eaten, reaching a peak at around twelve hours, and continuing for another 24 to 48 hours. During this time, the chocolate toxins wreak havoc with the function of the heart and brain. Despite the best veterinary care, many patients don’t survive.

The signs of poisoning start with restlessness, vomiting and diarrhoea, with tremors, convulsions and heart failure following soon after. It’s a desperately worrying time for owners: their beloved pets are left in intensive care at the vets, and it’s a matter of waiting, hoping and praying. Some dogs survive; many don’t.

The big risk, contrary to popular perception, is not dogs being given occasional chocolate treats by pampering owners. All of the crises that I’ve seen have involved dogs discovering stashes of chocolate. A box of chocolates is left on a table, or an Easter egg on a sideboard. The dog sniffs out the chocolate, tears the wrapping off and scoffs the whole lot within minutes. Most humans feel full after eating half a dozen chocolates. Dogs have no such “off” switch; they just keep eating the chocolate until every last one has been consumed.

The key to saving a dog’s life in this situation is speed. Any dog that’s eaten more than a square or two of chocolate needs to be rushed to the vet, so that their stomach can be emptied before the chocolate toxins have been absorbed into the bloodstream. Phone your vet at once, whatever the time of day or night. Get your animal treated as soon as possible, whatever it takes.

Dogs die unnecessarily every Easter. Don’t let your pet be one of them.

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How green is your pet’s food?

Cat & dog eating

Anyone concerned with the environmental politics of human food will recognize some of the same issues at play in feeding our pets.

Many widely distributed dog and cat food brands come from the same large facilities, says Julie Paez, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof, a store in Washington, D.C., that focuses on eco-friendly production of food and other pet products.

According to Paez, “A lot of these pet-food companies have ties to human food companies; so much of the trash material that is not fit for human consumption ends up in dog food.” She cites things like feathers and other slaughterhouse castoffs.

Caring about the environmental effects of what we eat naturally extends to our pets’ food, too. But just like feeding human loved ones, the cost of buying organic kibble and top-quality specialty wet food can add up fast.

Your local pet shop can be a great resource for learning about different brands and what goes into them. A few simple guidelines can also help pet owners find foods that are good for pets, the budget and the environment.

Organic food is good, but not necessary

Organic pet food does exist.

“But organic is so hard; it’s expensive, and as long as what you’re consuming doesn’t have hormones and antibiotics and steroids, you’re pretty much OK,” Paez said.

Read your labels

Being an educated consumer of both pet and human food usually means reading labels closely. Paez recommends avoiding any dog or cat food that lists byproducts, artificial coloring or flavoring among its ingredients.

Avoid filler

Many dog and cat foods are heavy on filler material like corn, soy and wheat, says Paez. Look for foods labeled “grain-free.” A range of grain-free brands are available that use ingredients like free-run and free-range meat and poultry. These products cost a few dollars more than other brands, but as Paez points out, “if it’s really good quality food, you’re going to need a lot less of it.”

Do some homework

Sites like The Good Guide,, evaluates thousands of consumer products, including pet food. The Good Guide also offers ratings based in part on how healthy and green the products are and how socially responsible the production line was.

Did you know?

Cats are true carnivores, and they technically don’t need any grains or vegetables in their diet, or just trace amounts.

According to the FDA, the first item to seek out on a label is the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ assurance that a food is “complete and balanced.” This simply means that the product can be used as an animal’s sole source of nutrition.

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Dogs Running

I was out for a stroll in Washington, D.C., one spring morning when a man in a raincoat and pajamas shuffled along walking a dog.

He was not in a good mood, though the dog was. The man looked ill, a likely victim of a hangover.

The dog was not hung over so far as I could tell. The dog was ecstatic to be out romping with Master. And Master had grudgingly rolled out of bed in his jammies and followed his excited bow wow out the door.

If he had been expected at his job, he would have called in sick. But how do you call in sick to a dog?

That’s why some people get dogs in the first place – because they hope it will make a better person of them. People who know they should exercise get a dog because the mutt has to be walked. And, under municipal law, a dog cannot walk itself.

So some people use a dog to intensify their meager willpower. It’s like holding a gun to your head to make yourself exercise – or more accurately, like holding a collie or a poodle to your head.

We can sometimes resist a spouse begging us to take better care of ourselves, but we can’t resist a joyful dog bringing Master the leash and bouncing all over the room.

What moral weaklings we are. I’m not crazy about exercise either. But I am crazy about coffee lattes. So most mornings I walk to a coffee klatch of friends a few blocks away.

It’s probably exercise, but I think of it as going to coffee. Some people walk dogs. Coffee walks me.

Similarly, I knew a single guy who liked to hang out in bars, but he feared for his health. He had no one to go home to, so he tended to stay too long and drink too much.

Finally, he cleverly bought a beagle that needed to be fed each night. Thereafter, he had one quick drink and went home early. “I can’t stand the thought of going home late,” he said, “and having to face those sad beagle eyes.”

Some studies tend to confirm that people with dogs get more exercise than they would otherwise. However, one silly study actually reported that dog owners are more likely to walk for relaxation than are cat owners.

With all due respect, have you ever tried to walk a cat? For that matter, have you ever tried to herd cats?

Cats are not emotionally built to be walked. They will sometimes follow you around for a few steps, especially at feeding time. They will even sit on you if they feel like it, though being sat on by a cat is lousy exercise.

I once saw a woman trying to break her cat to a leash. The cat would not even consent to remain on its feet, let alone answer to a leash. It flopped flat on the sidewalk and could be advanced only by being dragged by the collar on its side.

After angrily saying “Bad Kitty” a few times, the woman burst into tears and capitulated to feline authority.

Another study, like so many studies that belabor the obvious, finds that taking up dog walking tends to greatly increase a person’s normal walking speed.

Of course it does. Most people tend to walk much faster when being pulled from the other end of the leash by a large dog eager to pick up the pace.

After all, about the only way to slow an enthusiastic dog is to flop over on your side like a cat and make the dog drag you along the sidewalk.

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Puppies can be just like babies


Taking care of a dog can be a little on the annoying side, a fact that is finally being noticed by my kids after our dog’s umpteenth blunder around the house. That said, I was greeted mostly with skepticism when I explained that the situation was similar to that of a young baby exploring its environment.

It’s no secret that babies quickly develop a curiosity for everything that surrounds them, and they periodically run into bumps in the road during this discovery process. The same goes for dogs, apparently.

Oddly enough, our little dog and my kids appear to share at least a few interests. For example, one of my boys, like many children, once unravelled an entire role of toilet paper. Smiling widely, he ran around with his fist clenching the white paper, which soon covered two entire rooms. The dog recently did the same thing.

Another one of my kids once emptied out a new box of tissues when he was about 18 months old. The dog had the same idea yesterday.

The bag of flour emptied out by my youngest was given a new spin when the dog dumped the bag of cat food all over the floor.

While we spill the odd glass of milk on the kitchen floor, the dog has accidentally plunged his paw into his big water bowl, sending its contents everywhere.

And, just like the kids will come inside after playing covered in mud or snow and mess up the floors, our big ball of fur took advantage of a rainy day to put paw prints through each room in the house before we could get him under control, a mess that took the kids a while to clean up.

Faced with all of these little canine missteps, my kids have started talking about how it can be annoying having a puppy around. But when I reminded them just what they had gotten into as babies, they started giggling.

“Really? I dumped out a whole bag of flour? What did you do?” my son asked.

“Well, what else could I do? I cleaned it up and laughed,” I told him.

“You didn’t yell at me?” he wondered.

“Sweetie, you weren’t even two years old. I had to admit that you were faster than me and that your little hands were agile,” I explained. “You can’t punish a baby for that kind of thing. You just have to teach them not to do it again. And we are going to do the same thing with the dog. If we are show patience and perseverance, she will understand that she can’t do that.”

As I said those words, our energetic puppy appeared, holding a pair of socks in her mouth, courtesy of someone’s open drawer. My son has since taken to keeping his door closed to prevent thefts like this in the future.

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