(Note: I will soon have these topics finished and I’m also planning to have videos discussing each of these topics. There will also be a page devoted to issues regarding cats. Please be patient. Thanks so much, Dr. Clark.)
Important Issues Concerning Dogs:
Anal Glands (Scooting): Anal glands are located at either side of the anus at 4 and 8 o-clock. There’s a duct from each of these glands that travels up to the anal tissue and, in the smaller breeds, the ducts can get blocked up. If it gets infected, the gland will sometimes rupture to the outside. Most of the times, the dogs will show that it’s bothering them by scooting or dragging their butts on the floor. It’s not that hard to squeeze these glands out if owners want to try, especially when it’s time for a dog’s bath. The trick is to have someone hold the front of the dog and it’s important to pull the tail forward towards the head as this will stretch out the skin over the anal area so you can feel the glands better. I like to use tissue paper or kleenex as it’s soft and I can feel the glands through the kleenex. When the skin is pulled tight over the anus, you’ll be able to fell a half-marble shape at 4 and 8 o’clock. The trick is to squeeze the glands together and the pressure will force the fluid up through the ducts. The fluid is quite foul smelling unfortunately so be prepared for a skunk-like smell. Luckily, there’s nothing at the anal area that you can hurt when you squeeze the two glands together so don’t be worried or afraid.
To be complete, scooting can be caused by two other things other than the anal glands. One common cause of scooting is when a dog has a soft stool. A soft, sticky stool will make a dog feel like it needs to strain a bit after it’s finished pooping and it will often scoot afterwards as it may feel the need to wipe its rear end. The anal area may actually even burn a bit after a soft stool. The other reason dogs scoot is because they’re itchy and scooting is just another way to scratch their rear ends.
Anesthesia and Surgery (things you need to know in order to protect your pet): It is extremely worrisome that people have no idea what goes on when their pet is put under anesthesia at certain veterinary clinics. I wouldn’t have known myself if I hadn’t done so much relief work in the past several years. Having had my own veterinary clinic in Camarillo, California for 17 years, I’d always assumed that everyone did anesthesia in the same way I did. What I discovered when I became a relief veterinarian in Nashville, Tn. shocked me. I now warn people that they need to ask about 3 things before their pet goes under anesthesia.
First: You will want to spend a little extra money so that your veterinarian can put in an IV catheter in your pet’s leg. This is an important safety guideline because, if your pet starts to have problems while under anesthesia, you don’t want to have the vet frantically trying to hit a vein so that he can save your animal.
Secondly: You want to make sure your animal has GAS anesthesia. In this day and age, it’s simply irresponsible for veterinarians to still be using INJECTABLE anesthesia: it’s simply not safe. One thing that everyone knows when it comes to anesthesia is that there are always going to be sensitive individuals and resistant individuals. With sensitive individuals, it takes very little anesthesia to keep the individual under. If you give an animal an injection into the muscle based on the pet’s weight, it’s going to be too much anesthesia for a sensitive animal. That’s why you want to insist on GAS anesthesia for your pet.
With gas anesthesia, the vet will give your pet a small amount of sedation via their IV catheter (just enough to relax them so an endotracheal tube can be passed) then the gas anesthesia will keep your animal under with a slight turning of the gas anesthesia dial. Gas anesthesia is very safe (as long as someone is monitoring the anesthesia: that’s number 3 and we’ll get to that in a moment.) Unfortunately, with injectable anesthesia, there’s no way to retrieve or eliminate the anesthesia once it’s injected into an animal.
I’ve encountered many examples of this horrible practice of giving injectable anesthesia at various veterinary clinics but one clinic in particular stands out as one of the worst. This clinic is a huge, new facility that even has a satellite clinic in a nearby town. When the owner of the clinic called me to ask if I could do some relief work until their full-time vet arrived in six months, he inquired as to whether I performed surgery or not. After what I’d already seen while working at other clinics, I said, “Sure as long as I don’t have to use injectable anesthesia.” He said, “Well, that’s what we use but if you want to use gas anesthesia, we’ll make arrangements for that.” I couldn’t believe that such a beautiful new animal hospital would still be using injectable anesthesia as it’s so out dated and unsafe.
One day, when I was getting ready to go into surgery in order to spay a dog, I was reviewing at the animal’s paperwork and I saw a paper that said “DNR: Do Not Resuscitate. I asked the technician who’d been working at the clinic for a long time why owners had to sign a DNR (in my thirty-plus years, I’d never seen such a thing.) The technician explained that, because the clinic was constantly having to resuscitate animals (as they don’t do well with the injectable anesthesia) and since the clinic charged owners for resuscitating their animals (which they weren’t happy about), the clinic decided to make owners sign DNR’s. With a DNR, an owner has to choose whether to agree to pay extra if their animal has to be resuscitated or to let their animal die if they don’t want to pay extra. Can you believe such a thing? Instead of simply going with gas anesthesia (which would make the anesthesia so much safer), the veterinary clinic chose to stick with injectable anesthesia make the owners decide whether their pets lived or died.
The reason veterinarians choose to use injectable anesthesia instead of gas anesthesia is because injectable anesthesia is cheaper and it makes it easier for veterinarians to do surgery without someone monitoring the anesthesia. Pet owners would be aghast at how often animals are under anesthesia without someone monitoring them. There should be someone qualified to monitor the pet’s heartbeat, respiration, color, blink response and jaw tone (all things that help determine how deeply the animal is under anesthesia.) With gas anesthesia, it’s harder to do surgery without someone monitoring the gas anesthesia machine (though, unbelievably, I’ve seen clinics who use gas anesthesia and still don’t have someone monitoring the machine or the pet!)
Making sure that a qualified individual is monitoring a pet’s anesthesia is the third thing an owner wants to ask about (in addition to asking for an IV catheter and gas anesthesia.) Unfortunately, “qualified” in veterinary medicine is not like it is in human medicine: very few technicians are board certified. Also, there’s no governmental agency that checks on the people working at veterinary clinics in order to make sure they know what they’re doing. I’ve seen clinic workers who didn’t even know how to listen to a dog’s heartbeat yet were doing a dental on a dog with no one else in the room.
Don’t blindly trust your pet’s care to a veterinarian: if your pet is going under anesthesia, make sure you check with your veterinarian about these three things: use of an IV catheter, gas anesthesia and careful monitoring of your pet’s anesthesia.
Another way to feel confident about your pet’s care is to take your pet to an animal clinic that’s AHAA accredited. AAHA accredited clinics are held to a much higher standard of care and have regulatory consultants that come in every three years to make sure the clinic is doing everything to established standards.
Back Pain (extremely common in dogs): I’m constantly telling owners that they don’t want their little dogs jumping up and down off of their beds. I tell owners not to waste their money on the stairs that are out there for consumers to buy because those stairs often feel a bit wobbly and unstable to a dog plus dogs don’t like stretching their body between steps: they’d rather jump on something that’s big enough for them to put all four of their feet on the structure (like an ottoman.) For my little dog Priscilla, her first step is my carry-on luggage that I’ve filled up so that it doesn’t sink in and that I’ve covered with a towel for traction. Her next step is a small ottoman that she is big enough that she can completely stand on it and she faithfully uses both of these steps every time she wants to get up and down off my bed.
Jumping off a tall bed or a tall porch will really wear on a dog’s back over time. I always tell owners that, even though we’re frequently told that it’s a dog’s hips that debilitate it when it’s older, it’s more often a dog’s back that makes it difficult for a dog to get around when it’s older. That’s why we have to do everything we can to protect our dog’s back. So, don’t allow a small dog to jump off the bed (even if they can do it easily) especially if it’s a long-backed/short-legged dog.
To further protect a dog’s back, it’s important to not encourage our dogs to do a lot of gymnastics or acrobatics when they’re chasing a ball or a frisbee. I tell owners that it’s not the running that gets a dog into trouble, it’s the cutting and twisting that ends up hurting them. What helps to keep a dog from getting hurt is to throw the ball far enough such that it has stopped by the time the dog reaches it. In the same way, we want to keep the frisbees we throw close low to the ground. For the dogs that chase toys in the house, it’s important to have a rug in the part of the room where the dog retrieves the toy so they don’t slip and slide.
Another way to protect our dogs backs is to not let our dogs get so itchy that they’re constantly twisting and turning in order to chew at their rear ends. This kind of behavior really takes a toll on a dog’s back.
If a dog happens to have an acute episode of back pain, the first thing the dog’s going to do is to quit moving. Dogs in back pain tend to curl up in a corner, crying out and whimpering if they happen to move the wrong way. Acute back pain requires cortisone, muscle relaxers and pain relievers. Yet, it’s important to not sedate a dog too much on pain relievers because we want a dog to be aware of their pain enough so that they don’t overdo while they’re healing. Even though a dog will feel better with medication, it’s important that they keep their activity down for a few weeks up to a month. It’s also critical that whatever behavior caused the dog’s back injury in the first place is remedied or changed so a dog doesn’t re-injure himself: these behaviors include jumping off of the bed without the use of an ottoman, doing a lot of wild ball chasing and constantly twisting and turning as a result of a dog being itchy.
Whenever I want to check to see if a dog’s back is a tender, all I have to do is pinch the sides of a dog on either side of the vertebral column from the neck to the rump. What I consistently see with dogs that are in back pain is a lot of dramatic flinching where the ribs meet the lumbar spine. This is a particularly weak area for all creatures since the spinal column is rigidly locked into place by the rib cage but is completely unattached at the upper lumbar area. It’s a sure fire way to see if a dog’s back is bothering him and it can be noted even when a dog’s not in acute pain. A lot of dogs have back issues even though they’re not in debilitating pain at the moment.
Ball Chasers (how to prevent injury): As mentioned under back issues, ball chasing is a good way for dogs to injure their backs but one of the most common injuries to arise out of ball chasing is torn cruciate ligaments. A torn cruciate ligament is a severe injury and often requires surgery. What’s problematic is that, whether a dog has surgery or is confined for months so its body can heal on its own, the dog’s putting its entire weight on the remaining good leg and, statistically, dogs will end up tearing the other cruciate ligament within a year or two. That’s not a fun experience for either the dog or the dog owner. So, if your dog loves to chase balls or frisbees, throw the ball or frisbee so that it stops before the dog reaches it. That way, the dog won’t do as much cutting, leaping, twisting and turning which is what causes a dog to tear a cruciate ligament.
Bathing (ok to bath dogs as often as you want): I constantly hear owners telling me that a vet or a groomer or someone told them to only bath their dog once a month (or less) or the dog will end up itchy with dry skin. This is simply not true. Humans wash our hair daily and we don’t get itchy or have dry skin. The ONLY requirement I have for bathing a dog is that the dog shouldn’t be more itchy after the bath. If a dog is more itchy after a bath, it either means the shampoo didn’t suit the dog or the dog wasn’t rinsed well enough. Most dogs actually feel less itchy after a bath though that only lasts for a day or two.
The reason so many people conclude that their dog has dry skin is because they see flaking at the rump area of the dog. When a dog’s itchy, the skin responds in three different ways. The first thing the skin does when it’s itchy is it starts secreting a seborrheic substance onto the skin in an effort to coat the skin and protect it from whatever is irritating it. This is the same seborrhea that accumulates in dog’s ears when the ears are infected (and is what makes a dog stink!) When someone pets a seborrheic dog, their hands end up smelling like “dog” (as will anything the dog touches such as couches and carpets.) When a dog with sebum on its skin is bathed, the sebum gets rubbed off the skin and ends up looking like flakes: hence the reason why people think the dog’s skin is dry. In reality, very few dogs have a true dry skin which would consist of a very fine flake and no smell. The final two things the skin does in response to being chronically itchy is to become thickened and pigmented. That’s why dogs that have been itchy for a long time often have rumps that look like a baboon’s butt.
The best thing for an owner to use on a dog that has seborrheic, smelly skin is Dawn dishwashing liquid because it’s a grease cutter and an anti-bacterial. And, the rule for itchy dogs is: THE MORE BATHS THE BETTER. It’s okay to use our own shampoos on our dogs (such as Suave) but , since these shampoos produce a lot of suds, it’s important to make sure that the dog is rinsed thoroughly. I’m not sure all the expensive oatmeal shampoos are worth the money but they certainly aren’t going to hurt the dog. Using Dawn and giving as many baths as possible is going to help a smelly, itchy dog as much as using expensive specialty shampoos
Biting Dogs (aggressive dogs versus fear-biters)
Bladder Stones (urinary bladder stones)
Collapsing Tracheal (a small dog issue)
Constipation (an almost non-existent problem in dogs)
Coughing (heart issues versus tracheal coughing)
Dentals (Teeth Cleaning): Teeth cleanings (dentals) are being done way too frequently these days. I constantly tell owners to please say “Thank you but no thank you” when their veterinarian tries to talk them into anesthetizing their dog in order to clean its teeth. It’s flat out dangerous to put our dogs under anesthesia all the time (please read what I have to say about the different forms of anesthesia and how our pets are often under anesthesia with no one monitoring them while they’re under!)
Even teeth with a lot of tartar (including loose teeth) are NOT dangerous to your dog but the anesthesia most certainly is. Small breeds of dogs, brachycephalic dogs (the dogs with smushed up faces) and dogs over 8 or 9 years of age are even more fragile when it comes to anesthesia and don’t let a veterinarian tell you otherwise. Never, ever do a dental on a dog over 10 to 11 years old. Veterinarians who advocate dentals on older dogs are NOT looking out for the best interests of your pet. All one has to do is look at the veterinary journals that say: “If you want to make an extra $50,000 a year, just add 15 dentals to your roster each month.” All I can say is shame on the veterinarian who jeopardizes your pet to make a buck.
It’s important to understand that the way a dog’s teeth and mouth age is dictated by the dog’s genetics. It doesn’t really help that much to brush a dog’s teeth (though if an owner wants to it’s certainly not going to hurt the dog but please don’t feel guilty if you don’t or can’t brush your dog’s teeth!)
Also, when it comes to a dog’s teeth, it doesn’t make a difference if the dog eats canned or dry food. It does help a dog’s back teeth if they have the opportunity to occasionally chew on something hard as it can help to scrape off some of the tartar. The most important thing to remember is how a dog’s teeth look over the dog’s lifetime is completely related to the dog’s genetics.
Almost all large breeds have great teeth for the most part. Large dogs (such as German Shepherds and Labs) are rarely going to have dental issues because their teeth are so large that they’re securely embedded in the dog’s maxilla and mandible. Large breeds rarely have the gum recession, tartar and loosening of the teeth that small breeds do. Small breeds (especially those under 15 pounds) have the exact same number of teeth that large breeds do but their teeth are super tiny so they can be crammed into a very small mouth. There’s simply no way that a tiny tooth can hold onto to the gums and bones in the same way that a large tooth can. It’s like having a 4 X 4 post anchored in cement versus a toothpick anchored in cement: there’s no contest as a toothpick is going to come loose a lot sooner than a $ X $ post.
It’s actually quite normal for a small dog’s teeth to get tartar and to loosen up over time. It’s simply a fact of life. Though veterinarians may tell you that it hurts your dog to have tartar on its teeth, it’s simply not true. A little dog’s teeth may be gross and smelly but they aren’t hurting the animal. Putting an animal under anesthesia all the time is what is going to hurt an animal (or kill it.)
There are only a few instances when an animal needs to be put under anesthesia for a dental issue. One is when the upper fourth premolar gets infected. This is a fairly common occurrence in dogs and it’s quite obvious when it happens as there’s going to be a lump under one of the dog’s eye. Amazingly, a dog with an infected fourth premolar is rarely ever bothered by the infected tooth but the only way to resolve the issue is to remove the tooth.
The only other time that it’s imperative to remove a tooth is when one of the dog’s canine teeth has gotten loose to the point that it’s sticking into the dog’s mouth and is keeping the animal from closing its mouth. Most of these loose canines can actually be pulled without anesthesia as they’re often just hanging by a thread but, if the tooth isn’t loose enough, it’s going to be necessary to give the dog a whiff of anesthesia in order to get it out.
What I’ve observed at clinics where veterinarians put older animals under anesthesia to do teeth cleanings is that many of the dogs come back in two to three weeks in kidney or heart failure. It’s heart breaking to have to tell an owner that the anesthesia has caused the dog’s kidneys or heart to fail. Unfortunately, once a dog has kidney or heart failure, it’s very, very difficult to turn it around.
The problem with all older creatures is that they walk a fine line and, even though a veterinarian has done lab work and decided the lab work looked okay, it still doesn’t mean that the anesthesia won’t push an older dog over the edge: especially when it comes to the kidneys and heart.
Since it’s the smaller breeds that have the most problematic teeth, those are the breeds veterinarians most frequently try to put under for dentals. The issue with smaller dogs (especially the brachycephalic dogs with smushed up faces) is that they’re the most fragile and sensitive dogs when it comes to anesthesia. A veterinarian needs to be extra careful with the anesthesia when it comes to these small dogs.
The scariest part of a dog getting a dental with anesthesia is that the vet is never the one performing the dog’s dental. It’s always a staff member who may or may not have good training. There are times when a dog is having a dental done under anesthesia and no one is monitoring the dog’s anesthesia: it’s just the technician and the dog. (Please read the anesthesia section so you can familiarize yourself with all the problems that occur with anesthesia and can learn how to protect your dog if it has to go under anesthesia.)
I often tell owners that the best time to have their dog’s teeth cleaned is when the dog’s having to go under anesthesia for something else like a laceration or a growth removal. If a dog’s already having to go under anesthesia, that’s a good time to do a dental.
When it comes to SMELLY BREATH, that’s something that can be easily resolved with a low-dose of the antibiotic Clindamycin. I have prescribed a low dose of Clindamycin to dogs for years as a way to eliminate stinky breath. Owners are shocked and thrilled to discover that a low dose of Clindamycin on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays will make their dog’s rotten breath disappear. Unfortunately, most vets don’t want to prescribe Clindamycin as they either don’t know how well it works or their mainly focused on performing dentals. I actually don’t think most veterinarians realize how well Clindamycin works to eliminate mouth odor. For small breeds, I tell owners to ask their veterinarians to at least let them try the Clindamycin. For small breeds, Clindamycin comes in a 20 ml bottle that’s 20 mg/ml. Small dogs under 10 to 12 pounds only need 1/4 ml Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. At this low dose, it’s completely safe and probably helps the dog by keeping down the bacterial growth in the dog’s mouth. My little dog, Priscilla, actually does great on only 1/4 ml Mondays and Fridays. If I ever happen to forget to give Priscilla her Clindamycin, my 5 year old grandson is quick to remind me: “Nana, you forgot Priscilla’s medicine because her breath stinks!”
The only bad thing about Clindamycin is that it tastes horrible! I warn owners that they’ll need to try and mix it with something yummy like canned food or yogurt or maybe cottage cheese. If you just squirt it in a dog’s mouth (as I do with my dog Priscilla), the dog’s going to act like you’ve given it vinegar!
Diabetes: Diabetes occurs quite frequently in older small breed dogs. It’s characterized by increased thirst and urination, increased appetite, weight loss in spite of increased appetite and cataract formation. It’s easily diagnosed by a blood test or even a urine test. If you’re concerned your dog might have diabetes, you can just bring in a urine sample to your veterinarian and they can do a strip test to check the urine and give you the answer while you wait. Owners can get their own urine test strips by ordering Multistix online. I love the Multistix because they not only check for glucose (sugar) in the urine but they also check for blood, pH, white cells, ketones, specific gravity (how concentrated the urine is), and other things. Multistix only cost $20 and one gets 100 strips. It’s a great test to have on hand for your pets or yourself.
Diabetes is a disease where there’s not enough insulin and, without insulin, the glucose in the blood stream can’t get into the body’s cells. Oral medication doesn’t work in dogs so the owner must give insulin injections to the dog. There are two main types of insulin currently being used for dogs. The newer form of insulin being used is called Lantus Insulin. The Lantus insuling offers some advantages as far as more stable blood glucose levels but unfortunately it costs almost $300 and doesn’t have a long shelf life. An alternative to Lantus insulin is NPH insulin which has been used for years and is much cheaper and has a longer shelf life. With the NPH insulin, the owner gives the dog an injection twice daily. The dog’s blood glucose can be monitored by using the glucometers one can buy at Walgreens or Walmart or the dog can go into the vet periodically to have the glucose levels checked.
It’s also possible to use the Multistix to get a sense of how a dog is doing with its diabetes. If an owner checks the dog’s urine right before it’s time to give the dog its insulin shot, the urine strip should show that the glucose is high but the ketones are negative. The reason that there should be glucose in the urine when it’s time to give an insulin injection is because, by the time it’s time to give another insulin injection, the insulin in the body has been used up and the blood glucose is getting high again and it’s showing up in the urine. If there isn’t much glucose in the urine when it’s time for another insulin injection, it most likely means that the dog is getting more insulin than what it needs. In that case, the insulin needs to be reduced by a unit or two until the glucose in the urine is high at the time when the insulin is due to be given. If the Multistix strip shows that there are ketones in the urine, then it means that too much insulin is being given. Ketones appear in the body when the body isn’t getting enough glucose and the body is breaking down fat in an effort to supply the body with the glucose it needs. Seeing ketones in the urine means the owner needs to increase the insulin by a unit until the ketones in the urine disappear.
Diarrhea: Diarrhea in dogs is most commonly the result of a dietary indiscretion (most commonly the fatty foods mentioned in the diet section: bacon, sausage, grease, drippings, chicken and turkey skins, fat off of meat and bones.) Diarrhea can occur from anything that a particular dog is sensitive to, including certain dry foods and definitely certain canned foods. I always tell owners when they ask which dog food is the best food that the best food for their dog is the food that suits them. If 50 dogs were fed Pedigree, Blue Buffalo or any other brand of dog food, there’s going to be a certain percentage of dogs on each brand of food that don’t do well on that food. So, the quest for owners is to find the dry dog food that suits their particular dog. I personally don’t feel it has to be an expensive food or a grain-free food: just a food that agrees with a certain dog.
When it comes to canned food, diarrhea is a much more common occurrence. So, for dogs who need to be fed some canned food to yummy up their dry food so they keep their weight in a healthy range, I tell owners to pick ONE brand and ONE flavor and stick with it because, if an owner varies the brands and flavors of canned food too much, it’s a good likelihood the dog might get a soft stool.
Only a few intestinal parasites cause diarrhea: most commonly whipworms, coccidia and, occasionally, giardia. These can be detected with a stool sample. Most of these parasites are primarily found in young dogs and pups.
There are two types of diarrhea: small intestine and large intestine. With small intestine diarrhea, the dog often feels sick and has some lack of appetite and vomiting. The diarrhea from a small intestine upset is frequently very watery and voluminous. This is the kind of diarrhea one sees with Parvo. With large intestine diarrhea, the stools are usually just soft, not runny, and there’s often mucous and a small amount of blood sitting on top of the stool. The blood and mucous are from the dog continuing to strain which is common in large intestine diarrhea. Most dogs with large intestine diarrhea act perfectly normal and are eating and acting fine.
If a dog has diarrhea and is vomiting and not eating, THE DOG NEEDS TO GO TO THE VET. If a dog has diarrhea and is still eating fine and isn’t vomiting, the best approach is to start the dog on a bland, highly digestible diet such as softly boiled white rice, low fat cottage cheese, boiled chicken or turkey breast and scrambled eggs. One can also try adding some pumpkin as pumpkin is purported to help with diarrhea. The owner needs to continue giving the bland diet until the dog’s stool is back to normal and, at that point, the owner can start adding in some of the dog’s regular food.
As far as medication is concerned, it’s okay to give a dog some Loperamide or Lomotil (Imodium) which are both over the counter medications. The dose for both of these medications is 0.05-0.1 mg/lb. twice daily as needed. The literature says that Collies and other similar breeds may be overly sensitive to these anti-diarrheals. These medications are not indicated for use in cats. An owner can also try some of the probiotics and other medications that are available at various pet and feed stores.
If an owner takes their dog with diarrhea to the veterinarian the most commonly prescribed medication will be Metronidazole or Flagyl.
If a dog continues to have diarrhea despite medication or if the diarrhea re-occurs as soon as the medication is stopped, then the dog may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD.) Unfortunately, the only way to diagnose these two diseases is with an intestinal biopsy. With both of these diseases, a dog will need to be kept on a special diet and some medication.
The key to dealing with diarrhea from any cause is to figure out what makes the diarrhea better and to keep the dog on whatever food or medication is keeping the diarrhea under control.
Diet: Click on this to read. This will tell you how to avoid too much protein in your dog’s dry food, in what ways dry food is different from canned food, what table food is permissible and what table food to never to feed, a super easy way to get your dog to lose weight and the best diet to feed an older dog)
Dogs that are too thin: Certain breeds of dogs are just not big eaters. Some of these include German Shepherds, Huskies and Boxers. They just don’t care about food the way other dogs do. So, to keep these dogs from being overly thin, it’s often necessary to yummy up their dry food so they’ll eat more. It’s a pain but there’s just no way around it. The reason we don’t want dogs to be too thin is because, if they’re overly thin, they don’t have anything to fall back on if they get sick or don’t eat for a period of time.
Owners often don’t realize that their dogs are too thin because the dogs either have a fluffy coat that hides their thinness or they have a big belly which makes the owners think they’re fat. Big bellies can be the result of many things: parasites (especially in puppies), heart worm disease, fluid in the abdomen, liver disease or cancer. How one knows whether their dog is underweight is feeling the spinal column and the pelvic bones over the back. If one feels along the top of a dog’s back and the dog is too thin, one can feel every spinal process and the pelvic bones. These bones should have tissue and meat over them if a dog is a good weight.
If a dog is too thin, the easiest way to yummy up the dry food so that the dog will eat more is to add a small amount of canned food along with some hot water: stirring it around until it makes a nice stew. I have a Boxer named Sadie that I have to do this with because if I just leave out the dry food, she’ll eat enough to survive but she stays way too thin. I tell owners to pick ONE brand and ONE flavor of canned food to add because if they vary the flavors and brands of canned food too much, they’re likely to come across one that causes the dog to have a soft stool. Also, just to clear up any confusion, canned food is not the “meat” we’re led to believe it is. If one checks the label of any canned food, one will see that the water content is 78 to 80%! That’s why I tell owners they don’t need to spend a lot of money on canned food as it’s just yummy water (canned food is a balanced diet though and certainly has it’s place in the diet of some dogs.) Some owners tell me their dogs don’t like canned food that’s made for dogs. I tell owners it’s fine to use canned CAT food to yummy up their dog’s dry food as the canned cat food is a lot more tasty. Again, stay with one brand and flavor of canned cat food. (Just remember that it’s not a good idea to feed dogs dry cat food as it has too much protein for dogs. It doesn’t hurt if a dog gets into the cat’s dry food occasionally but it’s important that dogs don’t eat dry cat food on a regular basis.
If an owner doesn’t want to use canned food to yummy up their dog’s dry food, it’s okay for them to add some of the “legal” table food to the dog’s dry food. It’s fine to add cottage cheese, milk, yogurt, shredded cheese, soup, etc. but it’s very important to NOT use any fatty foods such as grease and drippings as they’ll make many dogs sick.
It’s also fine to fatten up an overly thin dog by giving the dog treats. Many dogs will eat treats when they won’t eat their own dry food. Most treats contain a balanced diet so they’re perfectly healthy for dogs to eat. I really like the “Carry Out” treats, especially for the smaller breeds, because they’re soft and can be crumbled up into smaller pieces.
Ear Issues (infections, ear washing, hematomas): Many dogs have ear issues at one point or another in their lives. These ear infections can be located at the inside of the ear flap, all the way down the ear canal or both. Whenever a dog’s ear gets irritated, it does one of three things: first off, the ear starts secreting a smelly substance called sebum. The ear is trying to coat itself with the sebum in order to protect itself from whatever is irritating it but the sebum actually ends up being a medium for bacterial and fungal growth. The other two things the ear does in response to irritation is to get pigmented and thickened.
It’s important to clean an ear if it has sebum and other goop in or on it. The best way to do this is to wash the ear using Dawn dishwashing liquid. What’s good about Dawn is that it’s a grease cutter and an antibacterial. I know that many people believe it’s important to NOT get water down a dog’s ear but that’s simply not true and I don’t know where that old wive’s tale began. All an owner needs to do is to make the ear wash a part of the dog’s regular bath or, if the dog doesn’t get a lot of baths, just wash the ears by themselves. To wash a dog’s ear, one follows same format as when one bathes a dog: get the ear wet with some water (ideally using a hose or a hand-held shower nozzle), apply the Dawn (it doesn’t take much), massage the ear to the point it’s nice and sudsy, then rinse and massage until there is no more sudsing. This is a great and easy way to clean the ears without using a lot of chemicals in over-the-counter ear washes. How frequently one needs to wash the dog’s ears depends on how bad the ear infection is. The ears might need to be washed 2 times a week or just 2 times a month. The quest is to keep all the goop and sebum off and out of the ear. It’s not necessary to use Q-tips when one does this kind of ear wash. Using Q-tips, in fact, can actually be traumatizing to an infected ear if one does a lot of digging and scraping of the ear canal.
Once the ear is clean, it helps to get purchase some 1% hydrocortisone over the counter and apply it to the inside of the ear flap (if it’s affected) and down the ear canal once a day until the ear is looking better. Once the ear seems better, then use the hydrocortisone as needed to keep the ear good (maybe 2-3 times a week.) I can’t stress enough how important it is to keep treating the ears until they are 100% healed. If you stop treating them too soon, the infection will simply come back.
Some ear infections are so bad that they require antibiotics and prednisone to heal. This means having to go to your veterinarian. Unfortunately, most vets only want to give a week or two of medication and this is often not enough to get the ears completely healed. It’s up to the owner, unfortunately, to call and get more medication or take the dog back to the vet to make sure the ear is completely healed before the medication is stopped.
Excessive Water Intake (a definite red flag): Whenever any creature (dog, cat, person) starts drinking a lot more water than what’s normal for that creature, it’s a red flag. Excessive water consumption means that something is accumulating inside the body and the body is trying to flush it out. It could be the result of an infection, diabetes, kidney or liver disease, thyroid issues and many other problems in the body. If your dog starts drinking excessive water, it’s important to have the dog’s urine checked to make sure it is truly dilute (i.e.-has a low specific gravity) and, if it is overly dilute, to try to discover what the problem is through lab work. It’s never a good idea to limit a dog’s water intake in order to control its urination: the reason for the excessive urination must be investigated.
Excitement Urination: This is a common phenomenon in young dogs and typically occurs when the owners come home, when new people are introduced to the dog or the dog gets scared or scolded. The best way to handle this problem is to anticipate it. If it’s possible to have the dog outside when it’s most likely to happen, that can be helpful so the dog doesn’t urinate on the floors or carpet in the house. The quest in trying to control excitement urination is to distract the dog. One of the best ways is with food. So, if the excitement urination occurs when an owner walks in the house, it’s helpful to have a special treat ready before you walk in the door. Having some lunch meat or some cheese or some kind of other yummy dog treat the dog loves in your hand at the moment you see the dog can help the dog to focus on that instead of its excitement at seeing you walking through the door.
Euthanasia (how to make sure it’s a gentle procedure for your dog): When that sad moment comes and it’s time to have to put your dog to sleep, I think it’s extremely important to make that process as easy as it can be for both the dog and the owner. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to give the dog a strong tranquilizer first before the euthanasia solution is given. First off, the tranquilizer can be given either subcutaneously or intramuscularly and that’s a lot less stressful to a dog than the intravenous route needed to administer the euthanasia solution. It makes it so much more of a gently process if the dog has a chance to fall asleep first from the tranquilizer before the euthanasia solution is given. We don’t want our dogs being scared or feeling disoriented during their last moments on earth. It’s the last consideration we can offer them. So, it’s important for owners to talk to their veterinarians about this before they come in for the euthanasia. Don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian to give your dog a strong tranquilizer so that you can sit with your dog while it falls asleep. This way you’ll know that your dog is at peace before the euthanasia injection is given. There can be unpleasant consequences to giving the euthanasia solution by itself: a dog might struggle or cry out or even have spasms. There’s no reason to have to have our pets go through these unpleasant experiences and we sure as heck don’t want to see our dog going through anything like that.
Fighting between dogs in the same household: Dogs are pack animals and, as such, they are going to have a pecking order. Most commonly problems occur between the same sexed animals in a household. Having our animals spayed or neutered may help minimize these conflicts but sometimes even that isn’t enough to stop fights between certain individuals. Most conflict occurs as a result of three things: attention, turf or food. Many fights start when a certain person is present and the dogs refuse to share the attention of that person. Many fights occur when one dog gets too close to another dog’s toys, bed or food. Unfortunately, there’s no good way to anticipate every situation that might set two dogs off so owners are often put into the position of trying to separate them or find a home for one of the dogs. It’s important to figure out some means of stopping the fighting because not only do the dogs get injured but many times owners (especially children) get injured when the dogs fight. The best thing to do when two dogs are fighting is to grab a big comforter or blanket and throw it over the dogs using it as a buffer between the dog’s teeth and the people trying to pull the dogs apart.
Fleas and Ticks: The first thing that one has to consider when looking for protection for our dogs against fleas and ticks is the fact that every product will eventually experience resistance by the fleas and ticks. That’s why Frontline, which used to work so good for fleas, has now become much less effective. This is also true for Advantage which used to be my favorite product for flea protection. Right now, my favorite product is Comfortis. I love Comfortis when is comes to flea protection. Unfortunately, it doesn’t kill ticks so, if you have tick issues, then you’ll need to use something else. What I love about Comfortis is that it’s oral (so no pesticides on our dogs) and it can also be used for cats. The other great thing about Comfortis is that it can be broken down into pieces and divided among the different sized pets in a household. That makes it extremely economical. Comfortis is available in a Pink box for dogs 5 to 10 lbs and cats 4-6 lbs (140 mg), Orange box for dogs 10.1 to 20 lbs and cats 6.1-12 lbs (270 mg), Green box for dogs 20.1 to 40 lbs and cats 12.1-24 (560 mg), Blue box for dogs 40.1 to 60 lbs (810 mg), and Brown box for dogs 60.1 to 120 lbs (1620 mg). Amazingly, the prices between the various sized only varies by 2 to 3 dollars! So, when I treat my five cats, I simply get a brown box tablet (1620 mg) and divide it into sixths. Voila!
One thing that one needs to take into consideration about the Comfortis being an oral medication is that it’s a hard pill. I tell owners to crunch it up into a powder using a pill cutter and the side of a knife because, if it’s turned into a powder and fed with something yummy like canned food (or people tuna for the cats), it’s going to be much less likely to be thrown up.
As far as ticks go, they are by far the hardest external parasite to control on dogs. Ticks are tough. I’ve heard good reports from owners with respect to both the Seresto collars and Bravecto (both of these can be used on cats.) Nexgard seems to do a so-so job of controlling ticks as well as Advantix and Frontline. There are some newer products that I haven’t yet been able to make a determination as to their effectiveness (such as Simparica) but I’m always looking for the next new product that’s going to be able to keep the ticks at bay.
Flaky Skin (dry skin is very rare in dogs and most flaking in dogs is a seborrheic or secretory issue): please read the section about bathing: I hear owners all the time complaining about their dog having “dry” skin. In fact, a true dry skin in a dog is extremely rare. What most dogs have is a seborrheic skin where the skin secretes sebum and then the sebum drys and flakes leading an owner to think it’s a dry flaking. Most of the time, the flaking owners are complaining about occurs at the top of the rump. Typically, this is a response to the dog being itchy. In the same way a dog’s ear get goopy and seborrheic when it’s infected, a dog’s skin does the same thing. The primary reason dogs chew and are itchy at the rump is the result of fleas. In response to this itchiness, the dog’s skin will secrete the sebum to coat its skin in an effort to protect itself. If itchiness at the rump goes on and on, the fur will be chewed off and the skin will get pigmented and thickened looking like a baboon’s butt. The best way to deal with a seborrheic flaking is to resolve the itching and to bathe the dog frequently with Dawn dishwashing liquid. Since the Dawn is a grease cutter, it will help get the sebum off the dog’s skin. The worse thing about sebum is that it stinks! Many hounds have a naturally seborrheic coat that has nothing to do with being itchy. These dogs have a lot of sebum in their coat because it’s there to protect them when they are in cold water. Hounds with seborrheic coats have enough odor that just petting them will make your hands smell like dog. All an owner can do in this situation to keep the dog from smelling up their house is to shave the dog or bathe them frequently or possibly apply some powder to absorb the sebum. My daughter had me babysitting her hound Birdie and Birdie stunk so bad that I told my daughter the only way Birdie could live in my house was if I shaved her. I did shave her and in addition I gave her a bath twice a week and she had minimal odor.
Growths (lumps and bumps): The most important thing I want to mention about lumps on a dog (especially an older dog) is that 99% of these lumps are benign. Most benign lumps fall into two categories: lumps below the skin (mostly fatty lumps) and lumps above the skin (warts, cysts and other peduncular bumps.) All of these lumps are benign and the only reason they’d need to be removed is if they create a problem of some kind: like they’re in the way (like a big fatty lump that’s under the armpit and makes it hard for the dog to move) or they keep getting traumatized through grooming or other means (warts and cysts.) I always tell owners that, when it comes to warts, if they keep getting crusty it’s important to break the bleed-crust cycle. When a wart gets traumatized (through grooming or the dog scratching it), it’s going to bleed and form a crust. Then the crust gets knocked off and it bleeds and forms another crust. To break this cycle, an owner needs to apply some petroleum jelly to the crust to soften it and get it off, then keep adding the petroleum jelly until the wart quiets down and quits bleeding and crusting up.
There is one kind of tumor that is dangerous and that’s a tumor that’s IN the skin. These are mast cell tumors and they are malignant and owners need to get these removed. Mast cell tumors typically grow fast and are more common in younger dogs. Sometimes, there will be multiple mast cell tumors that come up at one time or in close proximity. An easy way to diagnose the composition of a growth is to do a needle aspiration. The dog doesn’t need to go under anesthesia and it’s not painful. Needle aspiration can differentiate between a fatty tumor and a mast cell tumor. The veterinarian aspirates cells from the tumor with a needle, squirts the cells on to a microscopic slide and then stains it and either looks at the slide themselves or sends it to a laboratory for analysis. Mast cell tumors are easy to diagnose as the cells have lots of blue granules in them that are very characteristic.
As far as all the lumps that naturally occur in animals as they get older, these lumps are rarely a concern. Unless the lumps are causing a problem for some reason, it’s not in a dog’s best interest to put them under anesthesia in order to remove them. Again, we don’t want to be putting our older dogs under anesthesia unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Heart Disease: It’s very common for small breeds of dogs to develop heart problems when they get older. What typically happens is that the mitral valve in the left side of the heart gets leaky, allowing blood to flow back into the lungs where its just been getting oxygenated. When the blood backs up inside the lungs as a result of the leaky valve in the heart, the blood vessels in the lungs get overly filled and fluid leaks out of the blood vessels into the air spaces. This is called pulmonary edema.
When a dog has fluid in its lungs due to a leaky heart valve, that dog is going to cough. The cough will occur mostly at night and when the dog gets excited. There will be 3 to 4 outward coughs or more followed by a gag. The dog will also have exaggerated inspirations if you watch the way it’s breathing. In other words, the dog’s chest will be more exaggerated in its movements with the emphasis more on the dog’s efforts to breath in.
There are 3 medications most commonly used with heart problems. First, a dog will be put on Lasix (furosemide) as it’s a diuretic and will get the fluid out of the lungs. The next medication is Enalapril which is a beta-blocker. What the Enalapril does is to relax the blood vessels so it’s easier for the heart to push the blood around the body in the same way that a larger diameter water hose moves more water than a small diameter water hose. Finally, it’s important for the dog to be on a drug called Pimobendan (Vetmedin) as this is an actual heart drug that helps the heart beat more strongly and slows the heart down. When the brain notices that the heart is not doing its job, it tells the heart to speed up thinking that if the heart goes faster that will help things. Unfortunately, the faster the heart beats the less efficient it becomes because the heart is beating so fast that the individual chambers of the heart can’t fill completely before contracting. These three drugs work together to keep a dog’s heart problems under control.
Once a dog is doing better on all three medications, the Lasix is typically decreased as much as is possible in order to put less stress on the kidneys. The heart and kidneys are always at cross purposes because the kidneys want lots of fluid flushing through them while the heart wants less fluid in the body since the heart has to work a lot harder when there’s more fluid in the body. That’s why we always feed a low salt diet with heart patients so there’ll be less fluid in the body for the heart to deal with. Yet, it’s also important to feed a dog that has heart problems a low protein diet so as to decrease the stress on the kidneys. All heart problems eventually impact the kidneys so we have to keep that in mind in our efforts to find a happy balance between the different needs of the heart and the kidneys.
Heart Worms: Heartworm disease is a big problem wherever dogs are exposed to mosquitos. The only way your dog can get heartworms is if a mosquito bites a dog that already has heartworms, sucks up the baby heatworm larvae floating in the blood and then bites your dog. That’s why it’s helpful when a dog is mainly an inside dog or happens to live in an area where there are very few other dogs (i.e.-out in the country.) The only concern for country dogs is that coyotes carry heartworms: we just don’t know what percentage of coyotes have them. The critical fact to remember is that your dog gets heartworms from being bitten by a mosquito.
Adult heartworms live in the heart and produce microscopic larvae that float around in the blood stream. When a mosquito bites a dog with heartworms, it sucks up the microscopic larvae and spreads them to other dogs. Giving monthly prevention keeps a dog from getting heartworms. Unless a dog is under 5 months of age, though, a heartworm test is required before any heartworm prevention will be sold to a dog owner. The reason for blood test is that some of the drug companies that sell heartworm prevention (ex-Heartgard) offer a guarantee that, if your dog comes should come down with heartworms while it’s on the prevention, the drug company will pay for the heartworm treatment. That’s why the companies require your dog have a heartworm test before they dispense the heartworm prevention (the drug companies don’t want to pay to treat a dog that already has heartworms.)
There are two ways to treat heartworms: one involves a drug called Immiticide which is extremely toxic and expensive. The thing that makes treating a dog that has heartworms so dangerous concerns the fact that, as the worms are dying, little pieces of the worm are going to be breaking off and going into the lungs. That’s why every dog that’s undergoing heartworm treatment must be confined and prevented from having any exercise for 6 weeks. Otherwise, the dog could die from the dead worms causing clots in the lungs. Most heartworm treatment with Immiticide involves a specific protocol of heartworm prevention, doxycycline and prednisone. The recommendations for this treatment can be found on the American Heartworm Society website. The safest treatment with Immiticide involves 3 injections of the drug: one at the beginning of the month and two at the end of the month. This allows the worm death to be spread out over a month rather than it happening all at once which increases the likelihood of problems.
The second way to treat heartworms concerns a very controversial treatment called the “Slow Kill.” This involves putting a dog on monthly or bimonthly heartworm prevention along with an antibiotic called doxycycline (which renders the adult worms easier to kill.) The slow kill method obviously takes a longer to kill the adult worms. It’s controversial because of the concern that this method of heartworm treatment might eventually increase the resistance of the adult worms to the heartworm preventives. Unfortunately, as the treatment for heartworms with Immiticide is so expensive, many owners have had no choice but to use the slow kill method of treatment for their dogs.
It’s important to note that a dog should never be treated for heartworms based on one positive test alone. The most common test done these days is a “snap” test that reacts to protein from the adult female heartworms. Sometimes, it possible to get a false positive snap test. That’s why it’s vital that a pet owner have a different type of heartworm test done so as to confirm the positive snap test. The best alternative test is a test called the “Knot’s” test. This test actually tests a dog’s blood for the baby heartworms (the microfilaria): if a dog has the baby heartworms in its blood then it definitely has heartworms.
One final note for those people who can’t afford heartworm prevention or the blood tests required: there are some alternatives. First off, there are Canadian veterinary supply companies that will sell the heartworm prevention without requiring a blood test. Secondly, it’s always possible to purchase a larger sized heartworm prevention chew and divide that chew among smaller dogs. Finally, there is a product called Ivomec which is Ivermectin for cattle and it can be purchased at Tractor Supplies and other feed stores. There are formulas online that explain how to mix the Ivermectin with propylene glycol so it can be diluted enough to be given orally to a dog. It takes an extremely small amount and it’s important to follow the dilution directions carefully so as to not overdose the dog. Please remember: Ivermection is not recommended for use in Collies, Border Collies, Aussies and certain other breeds as they have a sensitivity that makes it more likely that they’ll have a bad reaction.
Hypothyroidism (mainly a large breed, older dog issue): Hypothyroidism occurs primarily in older, mid-sized or larger breeds of dogs. The typical symptoms involve a dog that’s overweight and sluggish with non-itchy skin issues. Hypothyroid dogs often have diffuse fur loss that’s not due to the dog being itchy. Many of these dogs also have thickened and pigmented skin. They tend to have exaggerated folds of skin, especially around the face giving them a “down-dog” appearance.
Sometimes it’s hard to diagnose a hypothyroid dog just on the basis of lab work. This has been an ongoing problem for veterinarians who might suspect a dog to be hypothyroid but the lab work isn’t definitive. It’s not uncommon for a hypothyroid dog to also have an elevated cholesterol level in addition to an elevated alkaline phosphatase level. This can help confirm the diagnosis. Sometimes, it may be worth it to just try a dog on a round of thyroid medication to see if it corrects some of the dog’s symptoms.
Intestinal Parasites (important to note that roundworms are a concern for toddlers)
Jumping (off beds and out of trucks): please see section on back pain
Lameness and Injuries (ball chasing and jumping off of the bed recommendations)
Loss of Appetite
Overweight Dogs (see section on diet)
Picking the Right Dog for yourself and your family
Picking the Right Veterinarian
Poop Eating in Dogs
Radiology (X-rays versus Ultrasound)
Sedation (over the counter options)
Smelly Breath: (please look at the last paragraph under the section titled dentals)
Spay/Neuter (why it’s so important to spay the females as opposed the males)
Teeth (how vets are doing too many dentals these days…please read the section titled dentals)
Urine Leaking (primarily an older female issue)
Vaccinations (why it takes a series of vaccines for your puppy to be protected; don’t go to the park until your puppy’s had its last shot at 4 months of age; don’t give Leptospirosis to dogs under 20 pounds)