Gone are the days when our canine buddies lived outside in dog houses. At night, you can find most dogs curled up at our feet or on cushy beds of their own. So what else has changed for our canine companions? Quite a lot, as it happens. Our canine companions now enjoy many of the same things that humans do. Here’s a list of the biggest changes and trends we’ve seen in the last decade or so.
The pampered palate
Dog food is no longer just dog food. Vast improvements in canine nutrition mean today’s canines have access to an ever-increasing variety of healthy, premium foods almost good enough for people to eat, and in specially-formulated lines that offer a wide range of flavours and protein sources. Some people are even choosing raw or homemade cooked diets for their dogs. And nutritional supplements aren’t just for people anymore – you can get vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, glucosamine, herbal formulas and many other products formulated especially for canine metabolisms and health issues.
New vaccine schedule
Annual boosters used to be the routine thing. No one – owners or vets – wondered if all these vaccines were necessary, or questioned what they were doing to canine well being. Thanks to new studies, we now know that vaccines have a much longer duration of immunity than first thought (sometimes for life!). And since over-vaccination can cause other health-related issues, veterinarians are wisely choosing to vaccinate far less frequently. Blood titres are also available to determine
if your dog is still protected. In Canada, the only vaccine that is government-mandated is the rabies vaccine, but even that has changed to a three-year schedule. Studies are currently being conducted that could see the three-year vaccine moved to an even longer interval.
Alternative health therapies
As alternative medicine for humans becomes more accepted, the same therapies are being offered for our canine companions. Acupuncture, massage and chiropractic are just a few of the treatments that are helping. Some vet clinics have rehabilitation facilities to help injured dogs recover their mobility – these include hydrotherapy pools, treadmills and other features that would have been unheard of years ago.
Many high-tech medical procedures and diagnostic tools have made their way into veterinary medicine in recent years. Once for humans only, diagnostics such as cat scans and MRIs are now also available for dogs. Laser therapy and stem cell therapy have burgeoning applications for dogs, while cataract removal and pacemaker implantation are becoming commonplace.
Over the last decade or so we’ve been hit with some serious disasters – from flash flooding in Calgary and wildfires in BC, to last summer’s tragic train derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. These catastrophes have brought to light the need for better disaster planning and response, not just for people, but for animals as well. In 2003, the Canadian Disaster Animal Response Team was founded to help people better care for their pets in emergency situations.
It’s the law!
While there’s still work to be done, anti-cruelty laws are considerably tougher now than they used to be. Formerly, the legal system virtually turned a blind eye to animal cruelty, or only offered perpetrators a slap on the wrist. Now, those charged of animal cruelty or neglect can face hefty fines and jail time. And for the first time in history, you can hire lawyers who actually specialize in animal welfare cases – some law schools now even offer courses on animal law.
Last will and testament
In our parents’ day, those who left money to their dogs in their wills were considered eccentric at best. Now, savvy animal lovers are much more likely to factor their animals into their estate planning so their beloved companions won’t suffer if left without a caregiver. There have even been several comprehensive books written on the topic of estate planning for companion animals, such as Fat Cats and Lucky Dogs by Barry Seltzer, a Toronto-based estate planner, and Professor Gerry W. Beyer.
Is he insured?
Many people today want the best care for their dogs should they become ill or injured. Trouble is, that care can be extremely expensive. Hence the rise of companies offering health insurance for animals. Just like insurance for humans, these companies offer a range of policies to suit your pocketbook as well as your dog’s needs. You pay premiums, just as you would with any other insurance policy, so that if you’re ever hit with a large veterinary bill, you’ll be covered, if not wholly than at least partially. It does away with being forced to make a heartbreaking decision if your pooch ever needs healthcare you can’t afford.
People once assumed that because dogs have “fur”, they can’t feel cold or heat, or care when they get rained on or have to walk on baking hot asphalt. Truth is, dogs that spend most of their time indoors are just as prone as we are to feeling uncomfortable when they go out in inclement weather. Hence the proliferation of warm and/or waterproof coats, jackets and sweaters created just for dogs, in all kinds of state-of-the-art fabrics, styles, colours and designs. Not to mention doggie boots to protect delicate pads from hot pavement, gravel, snow, ice and road salt. For the latest fashion trends, see p. 22.
Understanding, love and respect
More people today are tuned in to the fact that animals have feelings and can experience fear, love, anxiety, grief and joy just as we do. We’ve learned a lot in recent years about the connection between a dog’s emotions and his behaviour, and how “bad” habits most often arise from misunderstanding, negative training or abuse, all of which hurt a dog mentally and emotionally as well as physically.
Animal behaviourists, once unheard of, now help thousands of people whose dogs exhibit problem behaviours; they not only work with the animals to solve the behaviours, but also help their owners better understand their companions. Meanwhile, a growing number of dog trainers have rejected punishment-based training in favour of gentle, positive, reward-based training – instead of hurting or shouting at a dog for doing something “wrong”, positive behavior is reinforced by rewarding the dog when he responds correctly. What could be better for your best friend?