Dogs playing with bubbles

Dogtopia’s Environmental Biologist Lorraine Rhoads answered your questions about dog safety in our recent Facebook Live session. Topics included pet nutrition, protecting your dog’s paws in cold weather, and what to bring for your pet if you have to evacuate your home.

Q: With all the natural disasters and other emergencies, what essentials should dog parents keep accessible in the event of an evacuation?

A: First thing’s first: plan ahead! Know your local concerns – wildfire? Hurricane? Heat wave? Consider the worst case scenario and create a family plan. Also, make sure your dog is up-to-date on all of its vaccines before a disaster hits!

Create a Canine Go Bag, which should include:

  1. A copy of your current vaccine records from your veterinarian, including a photograph of you and your pet together. KEEP A HARD COPY. You may not always be able to have your phone. This will help in identifying you as the pet parent as well as provide proof to the authorities of current vaccines in the event you and your furry family member are separated.
  2. A set of feeding and water bowls in the bag as well as a supply of dog food (minimum of 3 days.) Also make sure you have a supply of any special medication your dog may need (insulin, heart medication, seizure control medicine, etc).
  3. Collar and leashes for each dog with current ID tags – better yet, make sure your dog has a microchip!
  4. Flashlight with back up batteries and/or glow sticks or reflective tape
  5. Consider having a labeled carrier or collapsible crate ready in case you can use a vehicle to evacuate safely. Label carrier, crate and/or Canine Go Bag with your name and contact information.
  6. A basic first aid kit with doggie safe items.

Before and During a disaster:

With enough warning, make sure your phone is fully charged and do your best to maintain a full charge with your communications by keeping extra chargers ready.

Keep in mind: if you have to evacuate, you need to take your dog with you. If it’s not safe for you to stay, it’s not safe for your dog.

Always evacuate as early as possible. The “better to be safe than sorry” rule applies here! The longer you wait to evacuate the more difficult it will be to do so.

Find a safe place to stay ahead of time. If friends or family are not close enough, contact dog friendly hotels and motels. Keep a list of these places, including their address and phone numbers printed out in your Canine Go Bag. Always check with your closest Dogtopia to see if they can help shelter your pup if it becomes difficult to find a pet-friendly place to shelter.

After the danger has past, there is still danger!

Assess any damage to your home or neighborhood carefully. Always keep your dog on a leash and thoroughly inspect all areas of a yard or enclosure for security before letting your pup off leash. This could be a scary time with many different, sights, smells and sounds, so keep this in mind in the aftermath.

Be aware that there might be wild animals displaced from the disaster that could feel disoriented and scared. Check your pup’s area carefully before letting them off leash in your yard. If you do find a wild animal, keep a good distance for you and your dog because wild animals can carry many communicable diseases.

Common Mistakes Pet Parents Make

Not being current on vaccines – It’s possible that your pup will come into contact with strange and different surroundings, including other animals in the days after a disaster. Protect your pet’s health from preventable diseases by keeping them current on vaccines!

Not having their dog microchipped – The unthinkable can happen and you could become separated from your fur baby. Having your dog microchipped will be the easiest way to be reunited. (Anecdote – During Hurricane Harvey, one volunteer veterinarian estimated less than 20% of displaced pets were microchipped. They were able to contact pet parents right away to reunite lost and scared pets if there were microchipped.

Not having enough supply of prescription medication – If your dog requires regular medication like seizure control medication or insulin for diabetes, make sure you always have a good supply to carry you though a disaster.

Not having enough food supply on hand – Keep your dog’s food supply stocked. It will be important to have enough food with you to last. Going through an unexpected food change during a stressful time will likely result in an upset stomach.

Q: Has there been any recent safety tests done on seatbelts for dogs? Any recommendations for a dog safety belt?

A: Currently manufacturers are not required to test products before going to the market. That means that you can buy a dog safety harness at a local store that is advertised to protect your pup and your human passengers without that product having to undergo any kind of vigorous testing.

The good news is dogs have their own “CPS!”

The Center for Pet Safety is a registered non-profit research and consumer advocacy group. They state on their website that they are dedicated to companion animal and consumer safety. Likewise, they:

  • Conduct rigorous crash testing on commonly available pet safety products using realistic, specially designed, crash test dogs.
  • Do not use live animals in our crash testing.
  • Are not affiliated with the pet product industry.
  • Do not endorse products.

While they don’t endorse product for payment or advertising, they do have CPS certified products on their website.

Q: How much food should a medium sized dog (under 25 lbs) eat per day? And should it be broken up into two feedings? Or is one sufficient?

A: This is a tricky question to answer. The important thing to consider is not necessarily “how much” but “how many calories” are needed. This is based on weight, age, physical activity, pregnancy, health concerns, etc. As always, consult your veterinarian before you make any changes to your dog’s diet.

There are many ways you can calculate your dog’s calorie needs. However, to make things a little easier, we can head over to the internet where the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) supported the launch of the Pet Nutrition Alliance (PNA) website and nutrition calculator.

Based on this example, we plugged in the following to PNA’s calculator:

  1. Enter your dog’s current weight = 25
  2. Select spayed/neutered or intact = (We inputted a spayed/neutered dog since all Dogtopia dogs must be fixed)
  3. Calories currently consuming per day (feel free to leave the current calories section blank if you want to auto-calculate) = blank
  4. Use the Body Conditioning Score chart to select the appropriate value. This is crucial! = 5 is the perfect middle of the road or “ideal” body condition
  5. Select Calculate Now! = 604 calories/day


Be sure to consider how many treats your dog is getting throughout the day, as this effects your dog’s current caloric intake. Pet obesity is at an all time high, which is why Dogtopia launched Healthy Dog Central in the first place. A report in 2016 stated that conditions related to pet obesity cost the pet insurance industry and estimated $62 million.

Always work directly with your veterinarian to monitor your dog’s weight because there are many factors to consider.

Q: Is there a simple solution for a dog’s paws during the cold weather months? Especially a solution for dogs that don’t like the paw booties?

A: Start with lots of positive reinforcement and practice with the booties inside.

  1. Start with very short training sessions inside
    1. You can even start smaller and put the booties next to your pup a little bit each day to get them use to their presence.
  2. Put them on, praise heavily, reward and take them off
  3. You can even reward your pup with a small pea-sized treat for taking a few successful steps in booties before taking them off!
  4. Repeat this activity frequently for the next few days (even weeks) before attempting to take a few steps outside.
  5. Once outside, keep the sessions short and sweet with lots of praise and rewards!

If the weather is that extreme, limit your dog’s exposure to the outdoors until conditions are better.

Another great product for sore paws is called Musher’s Secret. Our veterinarian, Dr. Antje Joslin, agrees that this product can be helpful in protecting sore paws from winter extremes. The label says “non-toxic and non-staining” plus they:

  • Are made from moisturizing blend of 100% pure natural waxes
  • Form a breathable, dense barrier to protect your dog’s paws from the elements in even the most extreme weather conditions

Remember: De-icing products can be extremely irritating and even toxic to dogs so please make sure you’ve cleaned your pup’s paws after any outside play!

Need a backup plan? Come to Dogtopia for indoor exercise! That’s what we are here for.

Q: What are some tips for traveling with dogs on an airplane? Is it safe? What do dog owners need to know?


  • Start by making sure you’ve chosen a dog-friendly airline (check out com for a good list) and book early to ensure the flight you want will allow your new baby to travel with you. Some flights are limited on how many dog passengers they will allow
  • Check with the airline directly to see what their policy is. Verify what type and size carrier will be allowed. You should be able to bring your love pup with you being that small dogs under 20 lbs are allowed in soft sided carriers that fit under the seat. But every airline has a slightly different measurement.
  • Bring food and water with you in non-spill containers. Have enough to last the length of travel, but don’t overdo it.
    • Don’t give your dog a heavy meal before travel or within two hours of your flight taking off.
  • Bring a favorite blanket with the scent of home.
  • Bring a current health certificate from your veterinarian with proof of vaccinations! Health certificates must be issued within 10 days of travel.
  • Make sure you travel with a printed photo of you and your dog. In the event you get separated, having a photo handy will make it much easier for airport personnel to assist you!

Regarding the length of the trip, some professionals say try to keep each leg of your journey to under four hours. Others say to do it all in one nonstop trek so as to limit the on-and-off movement. If that non-stop is quite a long flight, you might consider breaking it into two so everyone can stretch their legs!

Be sure to have a backup plan and check in with your local Dogtopia for boarding where we will look after their every need.

Q: Are there certain cleaning products dog parents should stay away from? And ingredients to look out for?

A: Many household cleaning products can be unsafe and even dangerous for our pups.

Products that are not safe include:

Chlorine (Bleach) – Yes, it’s cheap and yes, it does kill germs, but this chemical is on the top of the list for dangerous cleaners. If we are looking at toxicity levels for inhalation, contact and ingestion, bleach comes out on top for causing trouble. ASPCA has a pet parent handout titled “How to keep your pet out of a poisonous situation” – they mention bleach as a leading cause of severe oral burns and irritation to the respiratory tract.

Ammonia – This is found in many oven cleaners, window cleaners, floor wax products and fertilizers.  Ammonia is a very alkaline “natural” product that is very toxic to your dog! This chemical can cause severe damage to eyes, skin, stomach, and even causing death with enough exposure. Breathing in fumes or ingesting this chemical can lead to trouble fast. With a noticeable increase in “Natural” cleaners – there is an increase of products with Ammonia, please read labels carefully and know that “Natural” does not always mean safe!

Glycol Ethers – these chemicals are found commonly in many green “natural” cleaners including liquid soaps perfumes, paints and inks. Glycol ethers have been known to cause minor allergies and skin irrigations all the way to anemia and cancers.

There’s some doom and gloom on what to avoid, now, how do you effectively clean?

  1. Elbow grease – This may sound a little flippant, but it’s true! Good old-fashioned elbow grease, or mechanical removal of dirt and grime using microfiber cloths and abrasives are still the safety option for the first step in cleaning. It’s not possible to actually clean a surface until you’ve removed the soil load first – that means the physical dirt!
  2. Vinegar and baking soda –It doesn’t always smell the best, but using a mix of 1:1 for many household jobs is SAFE, easy, inexpensive and effective.
  3. Some accelerated hydrogen peroxide (cleaners with the word “Oxy”) products are safe and effective at killing germs. Read the directions carefully. If used at too strong of a concentration, there could be side effects, so be sure to dilute.
  4. Bio-Enzymatic cleaners – This one is a Dogtopia favorite! We’ve even gone so far as to brand our own cleaning chemical called Dogtopia Eliminator for sale in our stores! Not only does it smell wonderful, but the odor elimination properties can’t be beat! This product is VERY safe for any potential inhalation, contact and ingestion and can be used in various ways including upholstered surfaces, kitchen, bathroom, outdoor turf, trash can areas, etc.


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