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Summer's Over! Back-to-School Routines for You and Your Pet

Just as your kids are prepared with backpacks filled with new supplies and clean books, your animal needs some preparation for the coming months.
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I have always liked the idea of starting fresh with a new school year. Crisp, cold weather is on the horizon and the children are back at school. However, pets remain at home.

School Days Begin

Back to school days for your pet

During the summer break, your dog grew accustomed to your face and the attention from family and friends. Now it is back to business as usual, and he has to fit into the more hectic schedule. But you can make the transition easier. You can get into a good routine by providing your dog with regular exercise and new health habits. For example, planning a once-a-week hair brushing to help with shedding that may be starting now in preparation for a new winter coat. You can also plan to brush your dog's teeth every day (and actually get to it once a week).

Teeth tips:

• Tartar takes two to three days to fully set, so once a week will help, but a few times a week will really keep tartar at bay.
• Use dog, not human, toothpaste -- the fluoride in human toothpaste is not good for dogs.
• Avoid dog toothpastes that have sugars or artificial sugars in them.
• You can use a paste of baking soda and water as toothpaste.
• Don't feel guilty if your dog's teeth aren't perfect -- many dogs are born with a tendency to harbor bacteria and are more prone to produce tartar.

Just as your kids are prepared with backpacks filled with new supplies and clean books, your animal needs some preparation for the coming months. Your kids have certain required shots and your dog or cat may need to be up-to-date as well. But be careful not to over-vaccinate. Many vaccines last longer than one year and sometimes even provide lifetime immunity. The rabies vaccine is required by law, but most states will accept a three-year rabies vaccine now. Ask your veterinarian for a blood titer test to check your pet's immunity to distemper or parvo. Typically, the blood test will show that they don't need the vaccine, which is better for the dog. Also, as soon as the weather is cold and mosquitos are gone, you can stop the heartworm medication. And don't forget that final check for fleas.

Even in a well-run household, accidents can happen. It is wise to annually re-assess your Pet First Aid Kit. Here is a list of things that come in handy when you're dealing with a pet problem at home or getting veterinary advice over the phone.

Use a portable container with compartments for easy storage. I found a tackle box works well.

1. Digital thermometer and lubricating jelly for thermometer
2. Quick-stop powder to stop bleeding -- for nail trimming safety
3. Vet wrap or Ace bandages
4. Tweezers or hemostats
5. Emergency blanket
6. Instant cold packs
7. Eyewash/saline/artificial tears
8. Activated charcoal (buy the veterinary formula)
9. Arnica gel (bruises/trauma)
10. Calming herbal formula like Serenity by Gaia -- about 1/4 of the capsule orally for a cat, and 1-2 capsule for a 50-pound dog up to every eight hours.
11. Calendula cream or tincture (disinfects/cleans)
12. Silver Shield Gel (disinfects, supports immune system, great for burns)
13. Arsenicum -- for allergies
14. Traumeel tablets (homeopathic, safe anti-inflammatory for pain/trauma/arthritis)
15. Aloe gel -- cooling and supportive for the skin for burns/rashes
16. Aloe juice -- orally can act as a laxative or to soothe the GI tract and skin
17. Peppermint -- oral oil or even some of those little red and white pinwheel candies can work to calm the stomach (carmenitive)
18. Betadine -- antiseptic cleaner, can be diluted with cool water for skin lesions
19. Triple antibiotic ointment and cortisone cream for topical use when directed
20. Benadryl liquid (small pets) or tablets (over 25 lbs) -- works for allergic reactions, hives, muzzle swelling reactions. The dose is 1 mg per pound or 25 mg for a 25-pound dog; 75-pound dog would take 75 mg (seems like a lot but is OK in a dog)
21. Hydrogen peroxide (fresh bottle every 6-12 months) -- antiseptic topically, and can be used orally to make an animal vomit (1 teaspoon per every 5-10 pounds) but only if directed. Some things are worse coming back up than continuing through.
22. Cotton balls -- for everything, but don't let your dog eat them, especially after cleaning the ears (they love to eat them then)
23. Animal ear cleaner use after swimming or with irritation/infection
24. Pet shampoo (not human shampoo) or something soothing such as Murphy's Oil Soap
25. Exam latex exam gloves -- for gross things
26. Bulb syringe (to help clean out wounds)
27. Feeding syringe (five to 40 ccs)
28. Muzzle -- animals in pain may try to bite.
29. Doggy life preserver -- for boating, and to help lift injured dog or help them up the stairs
30. Carrier, if appropriate

Equally important, to help calm down gastrointestinal problems:

1. White rice
2. Chicken broth or jars of meat baby food (chicken, lamb, without onion powder) to help give pills, use as bland diet, assist feed or rehydrate
3. Unsweetened canned pumpkin (one tablespoon per 30-pound pet) to add fiber for either loose or too firm stools (a stool regulator)
4. Slippery Elm powder -- stomach soother and fiber source.
5. Probiotic -- bacillus coagulans, lactobacillus, acidophilus can provide proper bacteria for an out-of-whack GI tract.
6. Green Tripe (canned or frozen, provides bacteria and fat and easily digestible protein for a healthy gastrointestinal tract)
7. Powdered medicinal clay -- aids absorption of toxins in the GI tract and decreases diarrhea.

If an emergency happens, being prepared is a big advantage.

With carpools, work, meals, and homework, autumn days go quickly. For your dog's long, lonely school days, restock healthy distractions like chew treats or toys. Bully sticks, ostrich tendons, and yak milk bones make good chewable activities. While you're at it, make sure to pick up healthy training treats such as freeze-dried meats or tripe, or rice cakes, frozen peas, or green beans to keep the calories down. You can even make fun frozen treats for your dog by mixing meat baby food, pumpkin, and yogurt and putting it in ice cube trays. There are more recipes in my book (see below).

Also, check your dog's winter apparel (coats, booties) for fit and warmth. Have you purchased pet-friendly salt for your icy sidewalks? Most sidewalk salt is irritating to pets' feet. It can be a good idea to buy a tray that can be filled with water or have a wet towel in the bottom to help clean off caustic salt after a winter walk.

Back to school can mean back to school for your pet. Besides optimal nutrition and warmth, your furry companion needs mental stimulation. There is a misconception that an old dog can't learn new tricks. This is simply not the case. Dogs, cats, and many species of animals, of any age, enjoy novelty, challenges, and learning more. You can teach your dog a few new words each month. Aside from "drop it," which I think is an essential trick to teach a dog for many safety reasons, my favorite tricks include:

"Drop it," "head down," "spin," "back up," "hit the lights" (flip the light switch), "take a bow," "out" (leave the room), "shake," "bongos" (play the drums), and "what's up" (speak).

Explore a different walking route, even though you may not be able to take those leisurely summer walks now. Keep your cat fit with new cat toys or by placing food bowls in a less accessible location so she is required to expend energy (a feline faux workout) to reach her dinner.

From cleaning a hamster cage to bathing a dog, everyone in the family, including children, are integral parts of the pet-care team and can be involved in many aspects, including some emergencies and daily feeding protocol. Being informed, prepared, and clearly delegating tasks before things get too hectic in the school year makes having a pet more of a joy than a job.

Do you know what a true pet emergency is? Are you aware of which vaccinations are safe? When to start and stop heartworm medications? How to apply tick meds? Do you know how to get the most out of a vet visit? Which snacks and foods are truly healthy for your pet? Need easy-care pet tips on a variety of subjects? Please check out my new book called The Royal Treatment: A Natural Approach to Wildly Healthy Pets, due out Sept. 18, 2012, Emily Bestler Books/ATRIA (an imprint of Simon & Schuster). It's a great way to educate yourself about your pet. And, as a pet owner, you might learn some new tricks yourself.

To order the book, click here.

For more by Barbara E. Royal, D.V.M., click here.

For more on pet health, click here.

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