They deserve a “round of a-paws”: pet care tips for students

Giving back to our canines requires more than meets the eye, such as regular dental and skin care.


Shalom Berhane

Joy Edwards and their emotional support dog, Rudy, at Regis Center for Arts on March 12, 2023.

by Emma Walytka

Self-care has become increasingly prioritized since the COVID-19 pandemic and is defined by the National Institutes of Health as taking the time to improve and nurture one’s physical and mental health.

Though canines may not be able to pamper themselves or tell their owners to get a bath running, owners can gift them an assisted self-care boost with proper treatment. University of Minnesota professors and a first-year student provided insight into how to properly care for a dog while still attending college.

You make me smile, and that’s the tooth

General practitioner in primary care at the Veterinary Medical Center and Assistant Professor Kara Carmody said owners should prioritize dental care for pets the same way they do for themselves.

Carmody said daily brushing is ideal for pets because of food particles’ ability to form plaque, which hardens into calculus, a coating of bacteria on the tooth’s surface. She said this process can happen in 12 to 72 hours, which is why it is important to brush a dog’s teeth at home in addition to taking them to a dentist once or twice a year for deep cleaning.

“When calculus is allowed to sit on the teeth and under the gum line, it induces inflammation that causes redness of the gum surrounding the tooth,” Carmody said. “There is also inflammation of the bone, so over time, the bone is disintegrated, eaten away, receded and eventually prompts the teeth to become mobile and then extracted.”

Carmody said it is also important to be aware of how teeth brushing can affect an owner’s relationship with their canine because some dogs have an extremely negative reaction to the task. She recommends brushing as a primary course of action for pets, but water additives with enzymes and dental sticks can also be helpful.

“They are designed to be bigger and longer lasting, essentially trying to mimic the mechanical action on the teeth,” Carmody said. “I direct owners to a website called Oral Health Council, which has products that are scientifically proven to best remove plaque and tartar on your dog’s teeth.”

Carmody said pet owners should note the calorie density in dental treats and be especially aware of the amount smaller dogs are fed because the treats are not completely balanced in terms of nutrition.

Canines need skincare

Professor of Dermatology in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences Sandra Koch said one can gauge the overall health of a canine’s skin by observing its hair. She said the hair should appear shiny without matting as an indicator of healthy skin and to pay extra attention to long-haired dogs, whose fur can mask underlying scabs or concerns.

In a wooded area like Minnesota, ticks can also be a concern for owners who take their dogs on trail-driven walks. Proper tick removal is important because ticks can transmit diseases.

“Grab a gauze or a piece of paper and hold the tick and gently rotate and gently pull out, focusing on getting out the head portion,” Koch said. “If the owner doesn’t feel comfortable, they can always bring their dog to a vet in a timely manner.”

Genetics also play an important role because some breeds have a predisposition to certain diseases, Koch said. For example, the Shar Pei breed has a lot of skin folds, which can lead to a condition called dermatitis.

“Their folds are prone to getting inflammation and infection or bacteria or yeast overgrowth, which can then make them itch and cause discomfort,” Koch said. “It’s important to wash in between their folds with regular baths.”

A semester in the life of an emotional support pup

Joy Edwards, a first-year student who lives in Super Block on campus, has an emotional support miniature poodle mix named Rudy. To get Rudy’s exercise in during the colder months, Edwards and a friend will throw toys back and forth along the hallway in addition to putting a line of treats down the hallways as a brain exercise, she said.

Edwards said Rudy also loves the local Chuck and Don’s pet store, so whenever Edwards needs to make a stop to get dog food, she gives Rudy full buying power.

“When we go to the treat aisle, I sort of let him sniff everything and whichever one he picks up, I’ll be like, ‘Okay, that’s yours,’” Edwards said.

Edwards said Rudy stays bundled up in the colder months with a snow coat from Canada Pooch and a onesie underneath. When she has a class that is far from home, she said she carries Rudy in a specialized backpack.

Edwards said because of her own food allergies, she avoids dyes and unnatural additives in her dog’s food.

“If my body reacts really poorly to a lot of these unnatural things, I wonder how his little body might react, so I do a lot of research before I get anything new, especially with his treats,” Edwards said.

Edwards had never been to the Midwest before attending the University, and it was a cultural change coming from Seattle to Minnesota. She described herself as being introverted and the process of icebreakers and meeting new folks can be tiring at times, so having a pet was a helpful addition to the social aspect of her college experience.

“He’s been really great in sort of creating a conversation starter with other people,” Edwards said. “Although, my mindset has changed to instead of being like, ‘Oh, I need to do things for myself,’ it sort of helped to be like, ‘Okay, I need to do things for him.’”