Dog safety expert advice

Dogtopia’s Environmental Biologist Lorraine Rhoads answered your questions about dog safety, including creating a pet first aid kit, preventing kennel cough, using essential oils and more. Watch her Q&A session and see her answers below:

Q: What do I do to help my dog’s grass allergy, short of ripping up my backyard?

There are a couple of options to consider:

It is important to note that dogs are not typically allergic to the grass itself, but to the pollen. Grasses typically release their pollen when the grass matures into the “flower” stage or when the grass is tall enough to produce the feathery like structure or inflorescence on top. If you keep your tall fescue from forming the pollen makers, you can reduce the allergens!

Other options could be that you limit the exposure to the grass during the main flowering season of May – June and especially on windy days.

Additionally, wipe down your pups paws and legs after playtime outside to remove irritating allergens when you come inside.

Check with your veterinarian first, but consider using an Omega 3 and/or Omega 6 fatty acid as a dietary supplement to reduce inflammation and improve overall skin health. If your pup is still dealing with allergies or they continue on a year-round basis, it may be time to look at other possible allergies or reasons for the itching.


Q: Do I need to be careful using an essential oil diffuser around my dog?

Every pet is different, but it is good to be careful. Using a diffuser can be safe and calming for some dogs. Try using a diffuser that is adjustable so you can reduce the amount of essential oil because remember, dogs have an extremely sensitive sense of smell!

There are some oils that are not recommended for use around dogs, so check with your veterinarian first. Clove, Anise Juiper, Wintergreen, have been shown to cause negative reactions like allergies or skin sensitivities. However, Chamomile, Lavender, Peppermint, Ginger are all safe to use in small amounts.


Q: Why did my dog get Kennel Cough, even after taking getting the vaccine? Can the virus shed to other dogs after the vaccine is given?

There is much confusion around the Kennel Cough vaccine. The vaccine can be referred to as Canine Cough, Bordetella, or Kennel Cough. The term ‘Kennel Cough’ refers to a group of contagious symptoms of an upper respiratory infection and not one particular illness. While most veterinarians use a multivalent vaccine that offers protection from the bacteria Bordetella, as well as viruses parainfluenza and adenovirus, there are additional viruses and bacteria that can cause canine cough symptoms that the vaccine does not cover!

It is upsetting when your dog contracts an upper respiratory cough even after vaccination. It is possible that your dog may have come into a different contagious germ that the vaccine did not cover. Keep in mind that if the infection was a virus, antibiotics may not have offered much treatment, but probably addressed or prevented a secondary bacterial infection. The good news is the far majority of upper respiratory coughs are very mild and pups recover quickly, similar to the common cold in pet parents.

Can a dog who was recently vaccinated shed a live virus immediately after vaccination? The answer is: not really. According to Dr. Antje Joslin, it is possible for a dog to shed the modified version of the virus but it will not cause infectious disease in another animal. There are two main types of vaccinations; killed and modified-live vaccines and both types of vaccines have pros and cons. At Dogtopia, we ask that dogs wait a minimum of 48 hours after a vaccination before returning to Dogtopia to allow the dog’s immune system to respond to the vaccine and to safe guard against any potential (and rare) vaccine reaction.


Q: What should be included in the family first aid kit for my dog, especially for outdoor activities? Is there anything you should never use on a dog?

First off, it’s important to consider the climate and environmental conditions of where you will be hiking. At Dogtopia, we make sure that all of our locations are outfitted with the basic canine first aid kit.

Non-sterile gauze sponges 200/pk 2
Instant cold pack 2
Gauze 2” sterile pack 4
Sterile saline wound wash 1
Hibiclens (chlorhexidine solution) 2
Bandage scissors 2
Tweezers 2
Disposable gloves (nitrile) 1
Cotton balls pack 1
Bacitracin ointment 2
Sterile saline drops (individual, disposable 5ml units) 20
Self adhesive wrap (vet wrap) 4
Benadryl (liquid and pill form) 1mg/lb 1 each
Paper tape 3
Styptic power 2


When it comes to more daring adventures, please make sure you have your pups updated on all vaccines (Leptospirosis) and are microchipped. This will be the best way to recover a lost dog. Hiking booties are a great idea in case of an injury and Musher’s Secret is a great product in cold weather to protect paw pads from icy conditions.


Q: What kind of toys should I be buying for a new puppy? What chew toys are safe for teething pups?

The important part of selecting toys for your new puppy is keep safety at the top of your priority! Any toy that can be easily torn apart with pieces that could be swallowed should not be allowed!

That being said, we are talking about dogs here who are destructive by nature so vigilance is key! Watch your puppy carefully as they play and take away toys if you notice they are breaking down.

Be sure to take the size and breed of your dog into consideration when selecting appropriate toys.

Hard nylon bones are designed for the teething puppy. Dogs have 42 adult teeth and all of them should have grown in by around the 6 month mark. Hard rubber toys can come in many sizes and shapes to safely accommodate puppies.

Likewise, teething is a painful process as any mom or dad can tell you! Puppies are no different. Try offering lots of appropriate things for your puppy to chew on that will help alleviate the discomfort.

A Chilly Bone is a freezable canvas stuffy that you can get wet and pop in the freezer. The cool toy will provide some relief from aching gums. You could do this with pretty much any sturdy canvas toy. Caution, it may get messy as it begins to defrost!

Small to medium breeds can use the Nylabone, however, larger puppies that are very hard chewers should avoid this type of bone because pieces can be bitten off and swallowed.


Q: Are there any dog toys to avoid?

The answer to this is very dog-dependent! There are so many variations in dog size and abilities, it’s hard to say for certain one type of toy is safe and one is not. A small breed could easily play with a tennis type ball endlessly with no safety concerns and a large retriever can shred through one and swallow pieces within seconds!

The key is to determine what is an appropriate fit for your pup. Keep in mind, you may have to consider what is safe for dogs with varying size and abilities if you have multiple dogs with differing breeds at home.

Inspect the toys carefully for areas of weakness before deciding on a purchase. Are the seams sewn well? How easily will the squeaker find it’s way out to be swallowed by your pup?

Other things that fall in danger zone category include cow hooves and antlers. Many pet parents are looking for a toy that will last and hold their pup’s interest, but hooves and antlers are incredibly hard and are known to cause broken teeth, which can lead to an expensive vet visit.

Knotted rope toys are ones to watch out for. As the knots can come apart easily, this can lead to rope material being swallowed. Rope material can then cause intestinal blockage which can lead to sudden and severe illness and an expensive surgery.

The key is to make sure you are supervising play with toys!


Q: How do I ensure the toys and food I give to my dog is safe?

When it comes to food and toy safety, researching reputable brands that undergo vigorous certifications and inspections is key. Your trusted brands should have transparency about their source materials and testing data. The vast majority of pet foods are safe and regulations are increasing to protect our pets from companies that would cut corners on source testing, manufacturing processes or make false claims. Some parents are even moving toward homemade diets for their furry family members to ensure they are feeding safe food. Food decisions should always be made with your veterinarian based on the nutritional needs of your pup (age, breed, etc.)

The same thoughts can be applied when considering toy safety. As mentioned above, toy safety can be very dog/breed dependent. When it comes to selecting a toy manufacturer, potentially look at toys that are made in the USA and from companies like WestPaw, Kong, PetSafe and Nylabone, just to name a few.


Q: What’s the best way to remove fun from clothing, furniture and flooring?

Removal of hair can be quite a chore! At Dogtopia, we pay extra attention to the details like hair removal in order to maintain our fresh, clean stores. It’s not possible to truly clean something if we have excessive hair on surfaces! By using a powerful backpack vacuum with a telescoping wand, we can quickly and efficiently remove hair before the sanitation process. In a home environment, hair removal strategies will differ depending on the surface that needs cleaning. For clothing and upholstery, try the lint brush or fabric sweeper instead of the sticky tape rollers. There are many effective ones on the market these days and reducing waste by using something other than adhesive rollers is an added bonus!

Hair removal from flooring does require a decent vacuum. Vacuums are best for hard flooring surfaces because sweeping can often be a frustrating experience as swept hair can often float through the air and land back on places you’ve already swept! Also, static electricity can easily make the job of sweeping hair maddening! Carpeted surfaces also benefit from a decent vacuum when it comes to removing pet hair.

Worth mentioning for hard floor surfaces are microfiber mops that do a great job of trapping the hair for easier removal. Again, reusable microfiber mops over the disposable electrostatic versions help to reduce waste and save money over time. Microfiber mops can endure many, many washes in your washing machine before needing to be replaced. The ones we use for our lobby at Dogtopia can be machine laundered hundreds of times before we have to by a new microfiber cover.


Q: What is the best way to remove pee and pee odors from flooring and soft surfaces?

The best product for this tough job is a bio-enzymatic cleaner. At Dogtopia we use this cleaner as part of our Pet-Safe Cleaning Program because of its safety and efficacy digesting odor causing organic matter. We are so passionate about dog safety that we created a retail version of this product for home use! You can stop into our stores and purchase the Dogtopia Eliminator product to use at home. This type of product is perfect for spot cleaning carpets, rugs and upholstery, removing stains and odor from clothing, stinky household surfaces such as toilets, sinks, and trashcans. It’s even good for artificial turf as many pet parents have installed this type of surface in their own yards.


Q: Does diet affect the smell of a dog?

Strong or different than normal pet odors may be a sign of a health concern. Make sure to check in with your veterinarian to rule out infections, poor dental hygiene, yeast infections or even clogged anal glands.

Be sure to tune in to our future Facebook Live Expert Q&As, and submit your questions ahead of time here.