A guide to travelling with your pet

For pets, car journeys can often be a distressing event and some pets can become anxious and overwhelmed.

Many pets associate the car with a trip to the vets or kennels, which can lead to stress. As more and more pets become part of the family, many owners are now also taking their dogs on holiday with them rather than leaving them in kennels. A car can be outside your pet’s usual environment and one that is not particularly familiar to them. So, planning and preparing for the journey in advance can help make the trip less stressful, especially if it is a long journey.

Whether you are planning a trip to the vets, kennels or on holiday, there are important steps to take and positive things to do that will make the journey stress free for yourself and your pet:

Get them used to the car when young

Introduce your pet to the car at a young age. Pets who are used to travelling in the car from a young age are more likely to be relaxed and happy during car trips. Start by sitting with them in a parked car to get them used to the new environment.

Take small trips

For anxious pets who don’t like being in the car, take them on short drives to get them used to the car. Short trips to the park or pet shop will help them to see the car as something positive.

Reward with treats

Reward your pet for good behaviour in the car, use treats to help them get used to the car while it is stationary and play games in the car. This will help your pet to remove any negativity that is associated with the car.

Secure your pet

Make sure that your pet is safe and secure in the car. Use a cat carrier to transport your cat whilst dogs can be secured using a cage or harness. This will help to keep pets safe from injury during sharp breaking or should an accident happen.

A loose pet could also distract you while driving and even get in the way of the steering wheel or the brake pedal. The Highway Code states that drivers must ‘make sure dogs and other animals are suitably restrained’ in your car. If you don’t follow the Highway Code, you could be considered to be driving without due care and attention.

Some insurance policies also require you to restrain your pet properly in the car. A loose pet could break the terms of your insurance and leave you with a huge bill to pay if you’re in an accident. It may also invalidate your pet insurance if they are injured and need treatment.

Limit food before travel

If possible, try not to feed your pet less than three hours prior to travelling. This will help to reduce travel sickness or any accidents in the car. Your vet may also be able to prescribe something to help with their travel sickness.

Keep pets cool

Keep your pets cool during any journeys. Be aware of your pet’s temperature and pop the air conditioning on or open the window if it gets too warm. Be sure not to open the window too far and don’t let you dog hang his head out of the window as this could cause injury.

Play music

Music, toys or blankets could help your pet to stay calm during the journey. Some dogs travel better when music is playing in the car. You could also give your dog or cat their favourite blanket or item of clothing with your scent on to keep them calm.

Take breaks

If it’s a long journey, take plenty of breaks to allow your dog to stretch their legs, go to the toilet and have some water. Never leave your pet alone in the car, while you are in a service station.

Don’t leave pets alone

Never leave pets alone in the car. The temperature in the car can warm up really quickly and cats and dogs can’t cool themselves down in the same way as their owners. They can overheat very fast if left in the car and could get into a critical condition quickly.

Get a health check

It’s important to make sure that your pet is in good health to be able to make the journey and is tolerable. Some pets can find it distressing and overwhelming, especially if it’s a long trip.

Consider using pet calming supplements

Many pets can get anxious during car journeys and some pet supplements on the market such as Nutracalm or Vetpro can help to naturally calm these anxious pets.




Getting to know…

Melanie Sainsbury, Veterinary Nurse, Natures Menu

Registered Veterinary Nurse, Melanie Sainsbury, lives in Suffolk with her husband, pet dog and collection of chickens, quails and rabbits. She has over 15 years’experience working in various small animal practices and has been Veterinary Education Manager since 2014 for Natures Menu, the UK’s number one for raw and natural pet food, where she helps to promote raw and natural feeding. Here, Melanie explains what raw feeding is and its benefits:

How can owners identify that their pet’s diet is poor?

All owners want to ensure their pets are happy and healthy, and one of the best ways to achieve this is through a balanced diet. A bad diet can manifest itself in several ways leading to digestion issues, unpleasant stools, skin allergies and irritations, serious weight gain leading to obesity and unstable energy levels.

Dogs and cats can thrive on a natural raw meat diet and nutritionally balanced, complete raw feeding aims to give them a diet appropriate to their digestive systems in a safe format. It has been shown to have a positive impact on a pet’s health and wellbeing on countless occasions.

The commonly reported benefits of switching to a healthy, raw diet include fresher breath, cleaner, whiter teeth, more stable energy levels, reduction of allergies and intolerances, increased palatability and less flatulence. For pets with sensitive stomachs, a raw diet has also been known in some cases to improve digestion.

What is RAW feeding?

Raw feeding aims to give dogs and cats a natural, unprocessed diet appropriate to their digestive systems and as close as possible to what they would have eaten in the wild. The stomach pH in dogs and cats is much lower than that of humans, meaning they are able to break down raw meat and bone.

Closer inspection of various pet foods has shown that many contain added sugars, salts, preservatives, meat meals and meat derivatives however, Natures Menu prides itself on using only natural ingredients and never using any additives, cheap fillers or meat substitutes in its products to provide the best food for your best friend.

What are the key benefits to feeding your dog a RAW diet?

More and more, pet owners are beginning to understand that what they put into their pets’ body reflects what they see on the outside with regards to overall health, vitality, energy and behavioural tendencies.

One of the most overlooked aspects of raw feeding is the ‘back-end’ benefits it provides for pets. A raw diet is close to what they would have eaten in the wild and can be easier to digest and much lighter on sensitive stomachs, meaning much firmer and easier to pick up stools that are noticeably less smelly. With firmer stools, many pets suffering from anal gland issues have found a raw diet can really help to naturally empty the glands, rather than an uncomfortable trip to the vet to have them manually expressed.

Personally, I find that feeding a raw diet to my own dog is an incredibly satisfying practice. I can see first-hand the benefits in my dog’s vitality, health and wonderful shiny coat. I know he is getting only the very best food which he absolutely loves and thrives on.

What advice or tips can you give to owners who are new to RAW feeding?

Switching your pet to a raw diet can seem like a daunting prospect, however, Natures Menu has a wealth of advice and guidance available on their website, explaining everything there is to know about raw and natural feeding. The main thing is to be patient; we always advise a slow and gradual transition to raw to avoid any tummy upsets.

Responsible raw and natural feeding is key. I would suggest pet parents do their homework, and choose a manufacturer that offers:

  1. Safe production and delivery – Raw manufacturers should follow strict government guidelines on manufacture, storage, sourcing and bacterial testing. Natures Menu leads the market with quality handling methods, Defra approved micro-biological testing, raw material traceability, leading in-house microbiological protocols with all deliveries supplied in refrigerated vans. When handling raw, we always advise the same hygiene rules apply when handling raw pet food as they would for handling your own raw meat for consumption at home.
  2. Complete and balanced – Responsible manufacturers will ensure their food is balanced with the correct amounts of vitamins and minerals. Natures Menu provides ready-made meals in an easy to portion ‘nugget’ format which means all owners need to do is count out the number of nuggets required for their pet, defrost over night in the fridge and feed!

If your dog is a fussy eater how can you encourage them to eat RAW?

The best way to encourage a fussy dog to eat a raw diet is to slowly make the transition from their current food.  This can be achieved over a period of seven days and is easy to implement. As a guide, from days one to seven, divide the daily ration of food into 50% raw for one meal and 50% previous food for the other meal (feeding one for breakfast and the other for dinner). On day eight, you’ll be able to feed 100% raw for both meals. We would advise you avoid mixing two types of food in the same bowl if possible, for easier digestion.

At Natures Menu, we have products that cater for all types of raw feeder. We firstly have our Natures Menu Original nuggets and 300g complete meals containing 60% meat and 40% fruits and vegetables. Some varieties also contain par-boiled brown rice for a healthy carbohydrate addition. We then have our Country Hunter range, which are all complete and balanced in 80% meat and 20% fruit and vegetable recipes. This range is available in single, novel protein options and offers more unusual meats such as venison, rabbit and duck. The whole Country Hunter range is also grain and gluten free which can be excellent for sensitive digestion.

What other tips can you offer to owners to ensure their pets lead a healthy life?

Understanding exactly what you are feeding your pet plays a big role in them having a healthy life style and my top tip would be to always check the back of your pet food packet to see what’s really contained inside, as first appearances are not always as they seem.

Mental stimulation through walks, exercise, play, toys and even grooming is a big part of any pet’s life and can really help form a bond between pet and owner. I highly recommend treat rewarding toys and puzzle bowls to add some excitement and stimulation to all meal times. And finally, never forget to give them the love and attention they deserve.

For more information about Natures Menu and advice raw feeding visit https://www.naturesmenu.co.uk/advice-centre

Top tips for healthy skin and coat

Managing a pet’s skin and coat is one of the most common reasons a pet owner will take their dog or cat to visit the vet.

In dogs, it is particularly common for Terriers, Setters, Retrievers, Spaniels and Dalmatians to visit the vet with skin problems. As a pet owner you will want to help to calm your pet’s sensitive, dry flaky skin and look for a solution that will soothe and reduce the itching to help make your pet more comfortable.

Skin problems and irritation can be caused by a number of reasons and to complicate matters, your dog or cat could be affected by more than one cause. These can include fleas, food allergies and an acute fatty acid imbalance.

Common signs that your pet may be suffering with some sort of skin complaint could include:
•    Your pet may be moulting more than usual.
•    You might notice that they have thin or balding patches.
•    They could develop dry or flaky skin.
•    Their coat may appear dull or greasy.

Your pet may have all year-round symptoms, which could mean that they are allergic to something in your home, however there are allergic reactions that are seasonal. Outdoor seasonal allergens can include, ragweed, grasses and pollens.

A healthy coat should be shiny but not greasy and will be soft and quite smooth. An unhealthy coat on a dog will be dry and brittle and could also be greasy with a dusty appearance. There could also be a few bald spots and an unpleasant smell.

Persistent itching is not only stressful for your pet but can also cause distress to you as their owner. To help to maintain a healthy skin and coat for your pet, here are some positive things that you can do:

Regular grooming

This will help to remove loose hairs, keep your pet’s coat free from dirt and distribute natural skin oils, which help to make their coat shiny. Try not to groom them more than once a week, as this could lead to irritation on the skin.

Don’t over bathe your pet

This can lead to dry and sensitive skin. Be sure to only use animal specific shampoos, as human shampoo could irritate your pet’s skin.

Protect your pet from the sunhealthy skin and coat

Like humans, overexposure to the sun is bad for your pet’s skin. Pets with light skin and short or thin hair, such as white cats are more susceptible to sensitive skin caused from the sun. Try to limit the amount of time your pet spends in the sun and watch for signs of burning. If your cat spends a lot of time outdoors, there are sunscreens available for pets.


Be sure to feed your pet a good quality diet. Foods rich in fatty acids, oils and vitamins can support healthy skin.

Parasite control

One of the most common causes of skin problems in pets is parasites and fleas. Prevention is always the best treatment for flea control. Be sure to treat all pets, indoor and outdoor, as outdoor pets can carry fleas to indoor pets. Consult your vet for the best product to treat your pet.


A constant supply of water is important to keep your pet cool and hydrated, like us, your cat or dog requires water to maintain healthy skin.

Reduce stress

Stress can lead to over grooming. Understand what is causing your pet to become stressed and try to reduce this, if possible.

Keep your home and their bed clean

Regularly clean, provide fresh bedding and reduce dust in your home. Hoovering on a regular basis, at least twice a week, will help to get rid of any excess dust. This will include rugs, curtains and any other material that gathers dust.

Consider using natural supplements

Some pet supplements on the market contain high quality Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E, which naturally calm sensitive skin, soothe dry, flaky skin and reduce itching and scratching.

If you think your pet may be suffering from a skin problem you should contact your vet, who will be able to offer advice with regards to your pet’s health needs.











A guide to managing your pet’s weight

Obesity in pets is a common problem that can affect both cats and dogs. Like humans, our pets need a combination of a balanced diet and the right amount of exercise to stay healthy and mobile.

Managing your pet’s weight can be tricky as it’s tempting to feed them tasty treats or scraps from the dinner table. It’s often hard to resist puppy dog eyes but maintaining a healthy weight for your pet is important to ensure they lead a happy and healthy life.

According to the 2018 PDSA PAWS Report, 5.7 million pets in the UK are fed treats every day, with 50% of veterinary professionals predicting that pet obesity will have the biggest health and welfare implications in ten years’ time. Despite this, 80% of dog owners and 74% of cat owners stated that their pet was an ideal weight.

There are a number of reasons why your pet may put on unwanted weight, which include:

  • Over-feeding – it is important to regulate your pet’s food to avoid weight gain.
  • Lack of exercise – most pets need daily exercise to ensure they maintain a healthy weight.
  • Medical conditions – joint problems such as arthritis can lead to pets gaining weight when they are eating the same amount of food but not exercising as much due to the pain and lack of mobility.

What a healthy pet should look like

As their owner, it’s key to understand what a healthy pet should look like. For dogs, ribs should be easily felt and may/may not be seen with a minimum layer of overlaying fat. A clear waistline should be easily seen.

For cats, you should be able to see the waste behind the ribs, ribs can still be felt but with a slight fat covering. There will be a slight paunch of fat on the abdomen. There are common signs that your pet may be overweight which include: trouble breathing, unable to groom themselves, no definition, trouble getting around and constipation. Speak to your vet if your pet’s weight is a cause for concern.

Finding that balance of a good diet and the right exercise for your pet can be tricky. To help them to lead a healthier life, here are some positive changes you can make:


Simply feeding your pet less food could help to reduce their calorie intake, or you could feed them pet food that is low in fat, low in carbohydrates and high in protein. If you are unsure what the best food is for your pet, your vet will be able to offer advice on a sufficient diet for your pet’s age and health needs.

Measure their food

To ensure you don’t overfeed them, measuring their food could help to reduce their calories. Don’t leave food out all day for them to graze as this encourages your pet to eat more. Feed them small portions at set times.

Limit treats

Although it may be tempting to give pets the odd little treat, any that they have should be included in their daily calorie allowance or reduced altogether. Also prevent other members of the family from sneaking treats and food from dinner plates to your pet.

Regular exercise

Keeping your pet active is just as important as a nutritional diet. Exercise also improves muscle tone, increases metabolism and helps to reduce boredom in your dog or cat. Your vet will be able to advise the right amount of exercise your pet should be doing depending on their age and breed.

Regular vet visits

Regular vet visits will help to monitor your pet’s weight and your vet will be able to advise on how much weight they need to lose or in some pets gain weight. Be sure to speak to your vet before you start any new food or exercise routine for your pet.

Multiple pet homes

If you have more than one pet be sure to feed them separately to prevent one eating the others food. Especially if you have both cats and dogs.

Leave human food out of reach

Don’t feed your pet any food that is meant for humans. Leave any human food out of reach as it is not only too calorific for your pet, it could also lead to digestion problems and cause your pet to be sick.

Don’t put your pet on a crash diet

Reducing your pet’s food and upping their exercise should be enough to help reduce any unwanted weight. Don’t put your pet on a crash diet or starve them as this could prevent them from getting essential nutrients.




The benefits of gut health for pets

The gut is inhabited by billions of microbes (microflora). These bacteria have a fundamental impact on the physiology and wellbeing of your pet. The benefits of a healthy microflora are not just limited to digestion.

Your pet’s gut can’t function properly without the trillions of microbes living and working there – called the gut microbiome – this ecosystem of bacteria provides a myriad of life-supporting functions that can help your pet live their healthiest days. There is increased awareness of the benefit of probiotic support for hospitalised and convalescent animals where microflora balance and the GALT immune response can be affected while animals recuperate.

Supplementing your pet’s diet with a high-quality probiotic and maintaining a healthy gut flora provides a wide range of health benefits, which include:

Supporting immune function

With so much of the immune system centred in the gut, it’s no wonder that the microbes living there have such a supportive impact on a pet’s immune function. Probiotics work hard to support the gut barrier, which blocks out harmful bacteria and toxins from leaking into your pet’s bloodstream.

Approximately 70% of the body’s immune Lymphatic tissue is located in the digestive tract, mostly in the form of ‘Gut-Associated Lymphatic Tissue’ (GALT). The GALT contains many types of immune cells that optimise the efficiency of the immune response. Studies have shown that having a healthy microflora stimulates this immune tissue. Therefore, a healthy digestive system is important for optimal immune support.

Healthy weight management

A healthy gut full of friendly flora can help your pet with weight management. Probiotics support blood sugar levels already within a normal range, help to encourage safety hormones and maintain healthy digestion, all of which can help to keep your pet from wanting to overeat and gaining unwanted weight.

Soothes sensitive tummies

Sensitive digestion is a common reason for pet owners to take their animal to the vet. Studies indicate that both cats and dogs experiencing temporary diarrhoea see significant benefits from taking a probiotic supplement when it comes to both recovery and prevention.

Easing stress

Both cats and dogs can experience stress in a number of situations. Probiotics can help the body to produce and regulate feel good neurotransmitters (like Serotonin and GABA) that can support a positive mood. Beneficial bacteria can also keep stress at bay by supporting appropriate levels or cortisol, the ‘stress’ hormone.

Maintain energy levels

As they get older, pet’s energy levels can wane, which can be due in part to an imbalanced microbiome. Probiotics can help to support energy levels by helping your pet to thoroughly absorb all the nutrients from the foods they eat. Some friendly flora even produces B Vitamins, which are essential for energy production.

Maintain joint health

Painful joints can majorly impact on active pets and surprisingly a healthy gut can do wonders to support your pet’s physical strength. Some strains of bacteria produce vitamins that can help you pet metabolise calcium for strong bones and beneficial bacteria can also help to make enzymes that support the body’s overall mineral absorption.

If you are worried about your pet’s gut health, you should consult your vet who will be able to offer advice dependant on your pet’s health needs.












Making a happy guinea pig home

By Emma Purnell, RVN Cert.Nut

Guinea pigs can make wonderful pets – they are cheeky and inquisitive and very talkative! However, they can live for 5-6 years, are a long-term commitment and do still have a number of specific requirements which must be met in order to have them as a furry family member.

The average hutch is not big enough for guinea pigs, they are active animals and need a large space to explore with plenty of hiding places. They require both a dark sleeping area and a light area with plenty of space to adventure, both well ventilated. The minimum size for a pair of guinea pigs is 120cm x 60cm x 45cm but the bigger the better. They should be able to access their whole environment at all times. Being ‘prey’ animals means they can be easily frightened by sudden noises, movements and possible predators – this includes dogs, cats, foxes and large birds. Where their enclosure is housed should bear this in mind – either outdoor or indoor with other pets around. If they live inside, they should be away from the television, other pets and loud noises. Indoor enclosures can be open at the top, as long as no other animal is able to get in and they cannot climb out. All outside housing, hutches and runs, should be fully enclosed and secure so they cannot escape as well as being predator proof.

Bedding can include newspaper lining, paper-based litter for toileting areas and plenty of good quality, dust free hay. For indoor enclosures, fleece bedding can be used to cover flooring, but it should be expected to be toileted on and chewed so will need washing daily and replacing regularly. It is advised that soft wood products (such as pine sawdust) are not used as they can be implicated in some respiratory and other health issues and straw should be avoided where possible as, although good for providing warmth, it can cause eye injuries.

Toileting areas must be cleaned out daily and the whole enclosure cleaned out at least once a week. Toys and enrichment for guinea pigs come in many forms and can really make your guinea pigs happier. Hiding spots around the environment canhappy guinea pig home help them to settle and give them somewhere to hide if they get scared. Hiding places can include tunnels, boxes and plastic ‘caves’. Generally, toys and hiding spots can be found in a range of materials from cardboard to plastic, wood to fabric and will all have the potential to be chewed so should be seen as disposable! Wood chew toys can be of benefit to help wear down teeth but a good quality hay-based diet should help avoid the need for this. Metal toys and toys with head sized holes in such as hay balls should be used with care – there are reports of guinea pigs becoming stuck between the bars of these when young.

Guinea pigs cannot cope with extreme temperatures – the ideal temperature for them is around 17-20°C. It’s advised they are kept indoors when the temperature outside is under 15°C – if this is not possible, make sure they have plenty of bedding to keep them warm. Microwavable heat pads can be used but must be removed if they begin to chew them. They must also be able to move away from any heat to regulate their own temperature. If the temperature is too high, they can overheat. This also applies in summer. They should not be in direct sunlight at any time. Non-toxic cool packs wrapped in towels can be provided in summer (again under supervision and removed with any chewing). Ensuring the enclosure is easily accessed will be important for cleaning, but also helps with picking up and handling your pet. Guinea pigs have a reputation for being good pets, if handled from a young age in the correct manner, they can be handled (under strict supervision) by children and rarely bite. Guinea pigs have a fairly delicate spine and can suffer severe injuries if handled incorrectly. Adults should catch and pick them up and for the child to sit on the floor to handle them, reducing the risk of injury if they are accidentally dropped.

Happy guinea pigs often do little hops and skips in their runs while adventuring – this is known as ‘popcorning’ and can be done at very high speed! Companionship is vital to a happy guinea pig home. They are highly social animals and live in communal groups in the wild. As pets, they need to be kept in pairs (or small groups) with two females being the easiest pairing. Two boars (boys) can be kept together but can be more difficult and it is best to introduce younger boars. Groups can consist of a neutered male and females or larger female groups. Traditionally, guinea pigs have been kept with rabbits, but this is not recommended. A small group of guinea pigs will provide a far happier environment. Guinea pigs can breed at a very early age and so boys and girls need to be kept separate from around three weeks of age. Unless they are neutered you may find you have the pattering of tiny paws – while this sounds very cute, there are significant health issues involved with pregnancy in very young guinea pigs.

Emma qualified as a Veterinary Nurse in 2008 and works for Nutravet (UK) Ltd. She has a BSc in Zoology with Animal Ecology and an MSc in Ecology, helping to fuel her interest in more exotic species. She has a particular love of small furries and has a grade A distinction in Canine and Feline Clinical Nutrition (CertNut).

Doggy dangers: 13 potential garden hazards for dogs

Outdoor specialists, GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk have revealed the most common hazards for pet owners to avoid in the garden this spring.

From common garden plants like weeds and lilies, to potentially deadly compost, pesticides and weed killers, the garden poses a number of threats to our four-legged friends.

As temperatures rise, dog owners are urged to be extra careful in their backyards this spring and lookout for 13 potential dangers for their pet.

A spokesperson for GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk, said: “Now that the worst of the winter weather has passed, dogs and their owners alike will be starting to spend much more time in the garden. So, our specialists have encouraged dog owners to be proactive in protecting their best friends by keeping an eye out for common garden threats to avoid any problems.

“Though we hope our advice will help to protect your dog, if he or she gets into difficulty or shows any sign of having ingested a poison, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, weakness or confusion, it’s vital to seek veterinary assistance right away.”

Here is the GardenBuildingsDirect.co.uk list of potential doggy dangers in the garden:


Many brits might be surprised to learn that stones and pits in apricots, cherries, plums and peaches contain deadly cyanide. The fruits could therefore be very dangerous if they’re crushed before they’re consumed, and larger stones could be a choking hazard too, whilst the stems and leaves might also be poisonous.

Slugs and snails

Dogs can catch a dangerous lungworm infection if they accidentally eat a slug or snail that carries the larvae of the parasite. Though your dog wont usually want to consume slugs or snails, they should still be cleared away urgently, particularly any that are near toys or sources of water.


Tomatoes, potatoes, azaleas and lilies are just some of the common vegetables and flowers that can be deadly to dogs. Unripe, green or raw potatoes can be severely dangerous to dogs, whilst tomato leaves, azaleas and every part of a lily could be poisonous to dogs and cause vomiting, diarrhoea or even death. If you must grow any of the above, make sure your dog can’t get them while you’re not looking.


Garden compost heaps will usually be packed full of mouldy food and waste, which can produce dangerous mycotoxins, which are extremely dangerous to dogs. A dog might be quite tempted by compost that still contains the remnants of tasty dinners though, so it’s important to make sure a proper bin or barriers are used to prevent your pet smelling and then raiding the pile in search of a snack.

Cocoa mulch

All dog owners should be well aware that eating chocolate could poison their pet, but garden bedding mulch made from cocoa beans can be dangerous too. It’s wise to avoid using cocoa mulch in your backyard if you have a dog because it contains theobromine – the same hazardous ingredient that’s in chocolate – which acts like caffeine and can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and muscles or heart problems.

Fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides

Many typical insecticides and pesticides contain chemicals such as metaldehyde and disulfoton, which are a significant threat to dogs, so read the packaging closely and don’t buy the product if there’s a potential risk. Lots of high street fertilisers will also contain anti-pest additives and consequently dangerous chemical, so caution is highly recommended with those too.


Many mushrooms are perfectly edible, but others can be highly toxic – to both dogs and their human owners. Symptoms of a curious canine who’s ate a backyard mushroom can range from sickness and hallucinations to kidney or liver failure, so unless you’re an expert that can tell the difference between varieties, it’s best to remove all backyard fungi before it’s too late.


If you’re lucky enough to have a lovely pond in your back garden, it’s wise to make sure its exterior is properly barriered with fencing, gravel or plants. An exposed pond with vulnerable slopes could mean your dog slips, trips or jumps into the water when unattended and lead to all sorts of difficulties.


Some weeds are barbed and meant to burrow into the ground to germinate – but this also means they could penetrate a dog’s body too and cause internal damage. It’s pretty much impossible to avoid this common weed, but your dog’s body should be checked regularly (especially entry points like the ears, nose, mouth and eyes) and any weeds you spot in the garden should be uprooted (not mown) as soon as possible.

Weed killer

Swallowing or even licking many common domestic weed killers could be really risky for dogs and cause breathing or heart problems if enough is consumed. This is because many weed killers contain glyphosate, so it’s vital to shut your dog inside if you’re planning to use such a product.

Unsecured tools and equipment

All sharp, mechanical and potentially dangerous tools or equipment should be securely stored in a shed. This is even more important if there’s a dog at home, which could easily injure itself on items left lying around if it knows no better.

Lawn feed

Widely available lawn feeds often include ferrous sulphate which has the potential to harm dogs’ skin and cause gastrointestinal problems or iron poisoning. The safest way for green-fingered Brits who own dogs to grow garden grass is the natural way – with sunlight, water and organic enrichment.

Poorly maintained boundaries

A broken backyard fence or collapsed garden wall is not only a hazard that could fall on and hurt an explorer dog. Curious canines that see a large enough gap in your property’s boundaries might be tempted by sights, smells or sounds to investigate what’s beyond and find themselves on the loose in public before you know it.














Getting to know….

Nick Jones MA – Dog Behaviourist and Dog Witness Expert

Nick Jones is an experienced, qualified and full-time dog behaviourist who specialises in dog behaviour problems and dog expert witness work. He is passionate about creating an understanding and rewarding bond between dog and owner. Here he answers Companion Life’s questions about puppy training…

Could you give a few details about how you got into dog training?

I took on my first dog over 20 years ago and she was a Wire Haired Vizsla. Amber taught me a great deal about dog training and was a wonderful way to get into the world of working tests in the gundog field. At this same time, I was a stay at home dad with our daughter and when she started school at the age of five, I was looking to start my own business and it seemed natural to take the dog training route after Amber and I won our first working test together when she was 9 months old. I am today with 20 years of practice under my belt working full-time as a dog behaviourist, as well as acting as a dog expert witness for cases that fall (most commonly) under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

How important is it for new pet owners to train their puppies from day one?

Day one for most new puppy owners would ideally be at the age of 8 weeks. It is perfectly possible to start to think about very simple routines in the home that gently introduce a little control and making an effort to request (for example) very short sits and waits prior to feeding times, being petted, being released outside for toilet breaks…pretty much anything that you can find to request a little sit and a two second wait is a very good place to start. I do this by placing a soft collar on the dog and to place the dog in the sit position and hold its body there for a few seconds before using the ‘Okay!’ release word.

We have little Ruby that we took on at 8 weeks and although she is as bright as a button, she was carrying out these little sits and then waits within a few days of being with us. There’s no magic, just calm consistency from the outset. Food driven puppies can be easily lured into the sit and then down position for small flakes of chicken and then once they are following the hand and food nicely, we can then introduce the word we want to use alongside the luring. This very simple, basic training sets the owner up for a positive relationship whereby the dog accepts from the outset that it needs to keep its eyes and ears open ready for owner input that is interesting and beneficial to the dog. I suspect that many owners don’t look at these basic elements until three or four months of age, when in fact, the puppy could be largely trained by that age already, if they had done a little and often as I suggest above.

What dog behavior problems are the most common you see that can be avoided through training?

Whilst I look at all dog behaviour problems across a wide range of breeds of all agesand sizes, those that relate to a lack of socialisation are seen on a regular basis. These would be behaviours such as aggression to other dogs or animals, nervousness and anxiety. This brings me back to why it is essential that a puppy is taken on at 8 weeks of age and that a gradual and thorough exposure to the world that the dog is likely to encounter as an adult is provided. Many puppies are just hitting public life at 12 weeks plus, when the ‘golden window’ of social exposure closes at 14-16 weeks.

How should new pet owners approach puppy training?

The key is to start from the very beginning and it’s not just about what commands the puppy understands, but also a schooling in good manners and politeness. Start as you mean to continue and don’t allow the puppy to get away with things that would be unacceptable as an adult dog. Naturally, you will need to take into account a very young dog’s short-term memory and its need to burn off energy, but stay on track with your basic behaviour and training approach and all will be well. Look upon training and manners as a long-term thing, that isn’t only in the first few months, but goes well into years 1, 2 and 3 and then you move into adult maintenance mode.

What research should new owners do before they choose their new dog?

There are many different breeds that would potentially suit a new owner, rescues included, so take your time and think it over long and hard. Avoid looking at litters unless you’re really quite certain you are ready to choose one! I see a large number of owners that have what may be unsuitable breeds in the home, because they openly admit that they fell in love with the breed and just had to have one.

When looking at different dogs, ask your self:

  • Do I have the time and energy for this breed in terms of its exercise needs?
  • Can I afford to feed it a quality diet?
  • Do I have experience with a dog of this outlook and intelligence (some dogs make better starter dogs than others)?
  • Is the size of my home appropriate for this breed?
  • Do I already have other animals that would accept this dog?
  • Does this dog already have behavioural issues that I will be able to address?

This is just the beginning and a book alone could be written just on this question!

What are your top 3 training tips that new puppy owners should take on board?

  1. A little and often goes a long way.
  2. Keep any formal training sessions short, sweet and finish on a good note for yours and the puppy’s sake.
  3. Look to weave little training moments into the day, so that it is less about training sessions and more about keeping the puppy tuned into you at key moments in the day as touched upon in Q.1.


For more information on dog training and behaviour, you can visit www.alphadogbehaviour.co.uk or view Nick’s Puppy Training Journey videos here.

Why does my dog lick and chew their feet?

Do you find your dog often likes to lick or chew at its feet and paws? It might seem like an everyday occurrence, but if your dog is causing its paws to bleed or swell, it could be a sign of something more serious.

Argos Pet Insurance discusses some of the reasons why your dog might be licking or chewing their feet, and shares tips for how you can deal with their chewing and licking habit.


If you spot your dog licking or chewing their feet, you should check they haven’t injured themselves. If you dog like to run about outside, it can be very easy for them to get things stuck in their feet or between their toes, such as grass seeds, or to cut themselves on anything sharp, such as thorns.

You may not even notice anything wrong with your dog’s paws, as it could simply be an irritant, rather than causing them any pain. However, if the problem is left untreated, it could develop into a more serious problem and cause extra discomfort for your dog.

Other potential injuries which can lead to your dog licking or chewing its paws could be a broken claw. Double check your dog’s paws, and if you see any signs of bleeding, go and see your vet.


One of the other most likely reasons why your dog chews its paws could be down to allergies.

A specific ingredient in your dog’s food may be having an effect on your dog’s skin causing it to itch. One way to combat food-related allergies is by switching your dog’s food to hypoallergenic food.

It could also be as simple as dust mites or fleas which are causing your dog to chew its paws. You can protect your dog from fleas by utilising a flea treatment, but to rid your house of dust mites requires a bit more work. To get rid of dust mites, we recommend using a dog bed which has a removable cover that can be washed in hot water regularly.

Even a change in the season can cause potential allergies in your dog as various plants spring up outside, spreading different types of pollen. If you suspect your dog has a skin allergy, you should consult with your vet, who can also advise on a solution.


Another reason for your dog licking or chewing at its feet could be due to Canine Compulsive Disorder, which can be caused by stress.

However, if you think your dog is chewing its feet due to a behavioural problem, as opposed to a medical issue, there are animal behaviourists who can help with this problem. You should first consult your vet in order to rule out any medical causes.

You may not have seen your dog chewing at their feet, but if you find your dog’s paws are sore or have signs of bleeding, they may still be at it. Your dog may suffer with separation anxiety and chew its paws when you’re out as they feel anxious or stressed at being alone.

It can be difficult to get your dog to stop licking or chewing its feet, particularly if you’re not at home all the time to keep watch. One way you can keep a close eye on what your dog gets up to when you’re not around is by investing in a pet camera. Not only will you be able to check on your dog regularly throughout the day, but you can also help to reduce any anxiety by feeding treats and talking to your dog via the camera.

What should I do if my dog’s paws bleed or swell?

If your dog’s paws are swollen or bleeding, it could be a sign of something stuck in your pet’s foot. The first thing to do is to check your dog’s paws for any objects that could be causing the discomfort and remove any objects you find.

Next, soak and clean your dog’s paws – you can use just salt and water. If the swelling still doesn’t go down, you should consult your vet.

There’s no one way for preventing your dog from chewing at its feet, as this is dependent on the original cause of the problem. However, if you’re still stuck on what to do about your dog’s licking and chewing habit, we recommend a trip to your vets for further advice.

For more information on Argos Pet Insurance you can visit www.argospetinsurance.co.uk.










Canine companions: how dogs have helped humans throughout time

Dogs have long been known as ‘man’s best friend’. Movies such as Turner & Hooch and K-9 have been created on the back of the partnerships man and dog have made. But, where exactly did the phrase come from?

According to the History World, animal domestication started during the Ice Age approximately 20,000 years ago. Here, Cliverton, who provides insurance for dog trainers, take a look at the history of dogs and how we’ve trained them to partake certain roles.


In the Ice Age, mammals as big as mammoths were big enough to undermine both humans and wolves. While there isn’t specific evidence that shows this led to the two ‘teaming up’, archeologists who excavated an Iraqi cave found a jawbone that was over 12,000 years old and showed potential signs of domesticated breeding. This is because the structure had a smaller jawbone and teeth.

Some textbooks refer to Roman ladies having lapdogs in a bid to keep their stomachs warm and to try to cure stomach aches. It’s been suggested that dogs were the first animals to have been domesticated due to their human-like tendencies.

So, how have dogs’ skills been used by humans to help in everyday life?

Guide dogs

The first attempt to train a dog to help someone with sight problems can date back to Paris in 1780. By 1788, a blind sieve-maker from Vienna named Josef Riesinger had people doubting that he couldn’t see following how well he trained a Spitz to help him.

Fast forward a little closer to the modern day and guide dogs were used during the First World War in a bid to help soldiers who had returned from battle suffering sight loss, often by poison. This concept was the brainchild of German doctor, Dr Gerhard Stalling, who noticed dogs were looking after a patient when he wasn’t around. While it took several exploratory attempts, by August 1916 he had opened the first guide dog school for the blind in Oldenburg. This quickly grew, and many new branches were opened across the country, training up to 600 dogs each year.

Nowadays, the UK has around 5,000 guide dog owners, with the lifetime cost of a guide dog being approximately £55,000. The partnership allows people with no sight or limited sight to continue to live their life to the fullest integrated in society.

Hearing dogs

In the same way that they are used to help with sight, dogs have the ability to work as a hearing aid. The concept for training a dog to help with hearing issues didn’t actually exist until the early 1970s following a simple request by a hearing-impaired woman. Before Mrs Elva Janke’s request, her dog naturally helped with hearing around the house before it died. This led to her enquiring whether it would be possible to train another canine to alert her in the same way.

They are used to alert individuals who are hard of hearing with their alarm clocks, oven buzzer, telephones, smoke alarms and even a baby’s cry. Generally, they are mixed breed dogs that have come from an animal shelter.

Police and military dogs

The first recorded use of canines working alongside the police force was in the 14th Century in St Malo, France. At this stage, they were solely used to guard dock installations. By 1888, the London Metropolitan Police Force used bloodhounds to track suspects in the Jack the Ripper case. While the killer evaded the law, the use of dogs continued.

In the modern day, dogs have many uses in police forces and military personnel across the world. These include, but are not limited to, narcotics detectors, explosive detectors, specialised searches, mine detection, combat trackers, and multi-purpose roles.


While there are many possible dates of when dogs were first used to herd sheep, a doctor named Johannes Caius first mentioned the ‘shepherd’s dogge’ in the 1500s and could well be the earliest reference to dogs working in this way. Fast forward to the late 18th Century, and shepherd and poet, James Hogg, stated: “Without [the sheep dog], the mountainous land of England and Scotland would not be worth sixpence. It would require more hand to manage a flock of sheep and drive them to market than the profits of the whole were capable of maintaining.”

Sheepdogs are responsible for keeping flocks of sheep in line when moving them. They are thought to be the safest and most efficient means available, because sheep aren’t scared of a sheepdog that is well trained.

Animal-assisted therapy

There are roots in ancient Greece when it comes to animal-assisted therapy when the Greeks used animals – normally horses – to boost the spirits of those who were severely ill. However, dogs also have a place in the history books regarding animal-assisted therapy.

In the 1880s, Florence Nightingale noted that small pets were a good way to reduce levels of anxiety and stress, and this is still something which is used to date. In the 1960s, the first formal research on this theory was undertaken. Dr Boris Levinson discovered a dog provided a positive effect on young patients who were mentally impaired.

There are many purposes for animal-assisted therapy, including improving self-esteem, enhancing social skills, and helping with post-traumatic stress disorder. This is because the presence of an animal has been found to have a soothing effect and helps build rapport between a therapist and their client.

Simply pets

Finally, while it’s clear that dogs have many positive uses in a work sense, they also help by simply being a pet. Their companionship offers a great way to reduce our anxiety or stress levels and can provide the motivation needed to take part in exercise. This is because dogs require a lot of exercise, so you must take part in the activity too. Then, in doing so, you open yourself up for the social aspect also. Walking your dog can lead to conversations and bonds forming with other dog walkers and helps those who are perhaps socially withdrawn. Research has found that people who have more friends and social relationships are generally mentally healthier.

Also, by stroking them, it provides a sense of calmness, while caring for a pet can add a purpose and reward to your day too, which can help combat depression.

With so many great benefits, it’s clear that a dog really can be the best friend for a human.