It's a foster dog...NOW WHAT?

Note: These are my opinions, and the way I handle incoming foster dogs. Your mileage may vary. If you have questions about the best possible course of action for a dog, please consider consulting your vet.

Transport - With thanks to Sheri Lazar, click here for a page on safe transport of possibly ill/exposed/unvaccinated dogs! Getting them there safely, without risk to other dogs, is the first step!

Quarantine - to quarantine or not is a decision that you need to make for yourself, your personal dogs, and your household. Do I do a total quarantine? Not unless the dog is obviously ill. My house isn't set up well for a quarantine area, other than crating in a quiet area of the house. If you've got the setup to do so, it's a good idea. BE PREPARED TO DISINFECT. Anything, at any time. Bleach, industrial Lysol, and ammonia are on hand at my house at ALL times.

What I do take great pains to make sure of is the ever-popular "poop scooping". Every new foster dog gets "picked up after" until they've had a negative stool test at the vet. Click here to see what kind of "cooties" new dogs can bring in, and precautions to take. (Will you see dogs with most things on the "cooties" page? Possibly not; some of the parasites are quite common, but many aren't. It's a bit overwhelming as a complete list, so it's off on it's own page for reference.)

What's in my first aid kit? Click here to see what items I keep on hand for minor first aid and emergencies.

Common foster maladies:

Fleas and ticks - The most common "creepy crawlie". For fleas, step one is a good, thorough, bath. It's not necessary to use a flea shampoo - any shampoo is capable of "smothering" fleas...the trick is to leave the dog soaped up for 5 minutes or longer. For a dog that's really infested, Capstar will begin to kill fleas within 30 minutes. For ticks, there are two good methods. The first is to smother them out - take some vaseline, and cover the area with the tick and the tick itself. Be sure not to leave any air pockets. The tick will pull it's head out, and can be removed from the dog. You can also use a q-tip soaked in mineral oil for this method. The second method is to take a pair of tweezers, and pull the tick out - this method is more difficult, as the tick's head can be burrowed in the body, and can cause infection, etc. if not removed. Follow up with Frontline Plus to prevent any additional "guests" if it's flea or tick season in your area.

Anxiety - This "malady" is included here as it is almost universal. Fosters, no matter how good or bad their previous situation may have been the change is still stressful.

First Aid - My personal habit is to allow the new dog to do whatever makes them comfortable, as long as it won't hurt them...and ignore them til they feel more comfortable. If they're crate trained, having a crate available as a "safe place" may help. I've had dogs take refuge in the bathroom, under the dining room table, and once had a peke puppy spend the evening in my bookcase. Reassurance is generally NOT helpful - cooing "poor baby" reinforces the pup's opinion that there's something to be concerned about!! Usually, fosters will approach you fairly quickly, on their terms.

The exception to this would be puppy mill dogs. This is a special and touching area of rescue, and beyond the scope of these pages. Click here for info on this process.

If a dog seems more stressed or anxious than normal, Rescue Remedy is your friend! RR is a Bach flower essence useful for new situations - it can be given orally, placed in the dog's water, rubbed into the ears, etc. See the alternative medicine page for more information on flower essence therapy.

Refusal to eat - Another common problem with new fosters, this can be caused by stress, change in food, or intestinal parasites. My general rule of thumb is to put the food down, and take it up after 15 minutes if it's not eaten. (Only pursue this method if the dog appears otherwise healthy.)

First Aid - If you really feel that the dog has gone too long without eating, here are a few of the things you can do to make the food more appealing. (Please note that intestinal parasites, particularly coccidia, can make a dog not eat....please follow any prolonged lack of appetite episodes with a vet visit, or at the very least a stool test.)

mix in 1/4 cup of cottage cheese
mix in some meat baby food and water
add some chicken or beef broth
mix in some canned dog food

sprinkle the food with parmesan cheese

If you have a dog that is refusing to eat due to an obvious stomach upset, please see the section on diarrhea for solutions.

Kennel cough - The term "kennel cough" is used to cover a wide variety of upper respiratory infections. It may not surface right away - if a dog was in a shelter or animal control for a period of time, it could take 7-10 days for the symptoms to surface. Symptoms include coughing, gagging, and vomiting a white foam. This generally looks and sounds much worse than it is.

First Aid - Any pediatric cough syrup, or one that contains no alcohol. Using a plastic syringe, give the dog a child dose appropriate for the dog's weight. Some vets do give antibiotics for kennel cough; however, since most infections are caused by a virus, antibiotics are of little use. If the dog worsens, if there's any green mucous present, or if the cough begins to sound like it's coming from the chest, consult your vet immediately.

A Note About Bordatella - If a dog has been vaccinated for bordatella, shouldn't they be safe? They shouldn't catch kennel cough, right? Not necessarily. As stated above, "kennel cough" covers a wide varity of upper respiratory infections. The bordatella vaccine is intended to prevent the most virulent strains that can make a dog seriously ill, or even cause their death. It's not "one size fits all", and in some cases a dog vaccinated with a live vaccine can infect an unvaccinated dog (if they come in contact immediately after vaccination).

What does this mean for bordatella and your personal dogs? Use your judgment, and talk to your vet. Many boarding and training facilities are now requiring bordatella, even if the protection isn't 100%.

Diarrhea - Dogs can get diarrhea for as many reasons as humans, or more! If the dog is "new" to you, please get a stool test done. (No, I'm not obsessed with poop - but parasites are common!) In the short term, however, the key is to treat the symptom. Blood in the stool can be nothing, but don't take chances - if you see blood, head for the vet!

First, does the dog appear to not feel well, or just have a loose stool? If the dog isn't feeling well, then my personal plan is to skip offering them one meal entirely. This gives their stomach a chance to settle. After the "skipped" meal, subsequent meals are either hamburger mixed with cooked rice, or chicken mixed with cooked rice. I cook the rice in chicken or beef broth, in lieu of water. A minimum of the next two meals should be nothing but the meat and rice combination - or until the stool begins to firm up again. Once the stool has begun to firm up, then begin mixing the dog's regular food in with the rice mixture, until they can tolerate regular food again.

Canned pumpkin does wonders for both diarrhea and constipation. The fiber will help with diarrhea, and the high water content helps with constipation. Remember to get the plain kind, without any spices. How much? Anywhere from 2 tablespoons to 1/4 of a can for a large dog, and scale down appropriately for a small dog. Another good addition is slippery elm powder. Slippery elm is a herb that helps with digestive upsets; if you buy a powdered capsule, allow roughly 4mg of powder per 1 lb of dog. Slippery elm is also available as a liquid with a dropper - give the full human dose for a large dog, 1/2 a dose for a medium dog, and 1/4 of a dose for a small dog.

Another thing to keep on hand is pepto bismol tablets. The tablets are easier for me to manage than syringes of the liquid. The dosage that I use is a whole tablet for a large dog, half for a medium, a quarter for a small dog. Wrapping these in a small bit of american cheese generally makes a dog with at least some appetite eat them; otherwise, you can put them down the throat manually.

I've heard of some folks using Imodium with success- however, I'm not personally comfortable with this. First, it's been proven to be an inappropriate choice for collies or similar breeds - click here for more information. Since you can never be really sure with a shelter dog as to the true breed mix, I'd rather not take chances. Secondly, it's a very small, powerful pill for humans. I'm not comfortable trying to cut a small pill down to an appropriate dosage for a dog, even if I was sure what that dosage would be.

Starvation, or malnourishment - There are some great links on the 'net that deal with this topic - one of my favorites is here. A tip to add, though, that I received from a dalmatian rescuer - it's not uncommon for a starved dog to appear to be recovering, and then "crash". This is because their electrolytes are out of balance. To prevent this, give the dog unflavored Pedialyte to drink, in lieu of water.

Minor cuts and abrasions - Anything that doesn't require stitches is generally treatable at home. If it's a small cut (nick with a clippers, for example) just apply a bit of Kwik Stop. This is a stypic powder meant for nails that are cut too short, but will stop any minor bleeding. Cornstarch is a substitute, if you don't have stypic powder available. If it's a slightly larger cut, wash with peroxide, and apply a bit of antibiotic ointment.

If it's in an area that the dog won't leave alone, cover the cut with a bit of gauze pad, and then wrap it with vet wrap. Vet wrap is available at most feed stores, and many pet stores.

Ear infections - Ewwww. Icky, smelly, and just generally not fun to deal with. Generally once the ear is actually infected, vet treatment is needed. Otomax is generally the ointment of choice, although other brands are available. One of my favorites is Zymox. For minor infections, and preventative maintenance, nothing beats the blue power treatment. Other ear washes are straight isopropyl alchohol (not recommended if the ears are infected), 3/4 witch hazel to 1/4 aloe vera gel, or a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water.