(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 to protect your pet): It is extremely upsetting to me how little people understand what goes on when their pet is put under anesthesia at many veterinary clinics. I wouldn’t have known myself as I’d had my own veterinary clinic in Camarillo, California for 17 years and had always assumed that everyone did anesthesia in the same way. What I learned when I became a relief veterinarian in Nashville, Tn. shocked me. I now tell people that they must ask about 3 things before their pet goes under anesthesia.
First: You will want to ask your veterinarian to put an IV catheter in your pet. This is an important safety guideline because if your pet starts to have problems while under anesthesia, you don’t want the vet to be frantically trying to hit a vein in an effort to save your animal.
Secondly: You want your animal to have GAS anesthesia. In this day and age, it’s simply ridiculous for veterinarians to still be using INJECTABLE anesthesia: it’s just not safe. One thing that everyone agrees on when it comes to anesthesia is that there are sensitive individuals and resistant individuals. With sensitive individuals, it’s going to take 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 is going to be way too much 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) and your pet will then have the gas anesthesia administered by the slight turning of the gas anesthesia dial. 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 been injected.
I’ve encountered many examples of this horrible practice at veterinary clinics but one clinic in particular stands out. This clinic was a huge, new facility that even had a satellite clinic in a nearby town. When the owner of the clinic called to ask if I could fill in until their full-time vet arrived in six months, he inquired if I did surgery. After what I’d already seen 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 can arrange that.” I couldn’t believe that such a beautiful new animal hospital would still use injectable anesthesia as it’s so ridiculously old school.
One day when I was getting ready to do a spay on a dog, I was looking at the animal’s paperwork and I saw a paper that said “DNR: Do Not Resuscitate. I asked a technician who’d been working at the clinic for a long time why the clinic made owners sign a DNR (in my thirty-plus years, I’d never seen such a thing.) The technician said that the clinic was constantly having to resuscitate animals (as they didn’t do well with the injectable anesthesia) and that the owners had gotten mad when the clinic had tried to charge them for resuscitating their animals. So, instead of simply changing to gas anesthesia which would be so much safer, the clinic made it a policy to have owners sign DNR’s. With the DNR’s, the owners had to choose to either pay extra if their animal needed to be resuscitated or to let their animal die if they didn’t want to pay extra. Can you believe such a thing? I was totally shocked and disgusted.
If you’re wondering why the clinic didn’t want to change to gas anesthesia, it’s because they wanted to be able to keep doing surgery without having to pay someone to monitor the anesthesia. Pet owners would be aghast if they only knew how many times their pet is under anesthesia and NO ONE is monitoring their pet. While an animal is under anesthesia, a qualified person should be monitoring the pet’s heartbeat, their respiration, their color, their blink response, their jaw tone (all things that help determine how deeply under anesthesia an animal is.) With gas anesthesia, you really need to have someone monitoring the machine (though I’ve seen clinics who use gas and still don’t have someone monitoring the machine or the pet.) This is completely reckless and irresponsible and, unfortunately, many animals die because of it: though an owner will undoubtedly be told some story as to how their animal had a weird and unusual reaction to the anesthesia. Owners are never told the truth: that the veterinarian chose to cut corners and the animal died because of it.
So, for number three: not only do you want an IV catheter for your pet along with GAS anesthesia, you want to insist that a qualified individual is monitoring your animal the entire time your pet is under anesthesia.
Unfortunately, “qualified” in veterinary medicine is not like it is in human medicine. Very few technicians are even board certified. There is no governmental agency that checks out the people working at veterinary clinics to make sure they know what they’re doing. I’ve see clinic workers who didn’t even know how to listen to a dog’s heartbeat that 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 it’s going under anesthesia without asking about these three things.
The only other 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 higher standard of care and have regulatory consultants that come in every three years to make sure the clinic is doing everything that it’s required to do so that it can retain its accreditation.
Back Pain (extremely common in dogs): I constantly tell owners that they don’t want their dogs jumping up and down off of the owner’s beds. I tell owners that dogs don’t often like the stairs that are out there for us to buy because the stairs often feel a bit wobbly and unstable to a dog and dogs don’t really like to be spread out between steps: they’d rather jump on an ottoman or something that’s big enough for them to place all four feet on the structure. For my little dog (Priscilla), her first step is my carry-on luggage that I’ve filled up so that it’s flat and then I wrapped a towel over it for traction. The next step is a small ottoman that she can completely stand on and she uses both of these each 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 told it’s a dog’s hips that debilitates it when it’s older, it’s usually the dog’s back that actually makes it hard for a dog to get around when it’s older. That’s why we have to try and protect our dog’s backs. So, we don’t want them jumping off the bed (even if they can do it easily) especially when it comes to the long-backed/short-legged breeds.
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 frisbee. I tell owners that it’s not the running that gets them into trouble, it’s the cutting and twisting that gets them hurt. It helps to throw the ball far enough such that it has stopped by the time the dog reaches it or to keep a frisbee 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 they go to retrieve the toy so they don’t slip and slide.
It’s also important to not let our dogs get so itchy that they’re constantly twisting and turning trying to chew at their rear ends. This kind of behavior is extremely hard on a dog’s back.
When a dog has an acute episode of pain, they are not going to want to move at all. Their backs will be all hunched up and they’ll cry out or whimper if they happen to move the wrong way. Acute back pain requires cortisone, muscle relaxers and pain relievers. Yet, it’s important to not zonk a dog out too much on pain relievers because we want them to be aware of their pain enough so that they don’t overdo while they’re healing. Even though a dog may feel better with the medication, it’s vital to keep their activity down for a few weeks to a month. Changes need to be made so that the owner can minimize the activity or behavior that caused the injury in the first place.
Whenever I want to know if a dog’s back is a tender, all I have to do is pinch the sides of the dog from the neck to the rump. What I’ll consistently find whenever i’m examining a dog with back pain is that the dog will dramatically flinch when I pinch the area where the ribs meet the lumbar spine. This is a weak area for all of us as the spinal column is locked into place with the rib cage but suddenly becomes unattached at the upper lumbar area.
Ball Chasers (how to prevent injury): As mentioned under back issues, ball chasing is an easy way to injure a dog’s back but one of the most common injuries from ball chasing is a torn cruciate ligament. A torn cruciate ligament is a sever injury and often requires surgery. The problem is, whether a dog has surgery or is confined for months in order to allow a cruciate ligament to heal, the whole time the dog is healing it will be putting its entire weight on its good leg. Statistically, dogs that tear one cruciate ligament will often tear the other one in a year and a half. That’s not fun. So, let your dog chase a ball or frisbee but try to throw it such that the object stops before the dog reaches it so it doesn’t do any sharp cutting or twisting that will damage the cruciate ligaments.
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 it will get dry skin or become more itchy. This is crazy. We wash our hair daily and we don’t get itchy or have dry skin. The ONLY requirement for bathing is that a dog shouldn’t be more itchy after a bath. If the dog is more itchy after a bath, it either means the particular shampoo didn’t suit the dog or the dog wasn’t rinsed well enough and soap was left on the dog. Most dogs feel less itchy after a bath but it only lasts a day or two.
The reason so many people feel their dog has dry skin is because they see flaking at the rump area of their dog. When a dog is itchy, the skin responds in a few different ways. The first thing the skin does when it’s itchy is it secretes a sebum substance onto the skin in an effort to coat the skin and provide a protective layer over the skin. This is the same sebum that forms in the ears and is what makes any itchy dog stink. When an owner pets their seborrheic dog, their hands will smell like musk as will their couches and carpet. When a dog with sebum on its skin is bathed, the sebum is worked up off the skin and will look like flakes: except that it’s not a dry flake, it’s a moist and seborrheic flake. Very few dogs have a true dry skin and the flake of a dry skin is very fine and non-smelly. The other two things the skin does on a chronically itchy dog is become thickened and pigmented black. That’s why some dog’s rear ends look like a baboon’s butt!
The best thing to use on a dog with seborrheic smelly skin is Dawn dishwashing liquid because it’s a grease cutter and an anti-bacterial. And, the rule is: THE MORE BATHS THE BETTER. It’s also fine to use our own shampoos on our dogs (such as Suave.) Since these shampoos have a lot of suds it’s just important to rinse the dog real well. I’m not sure all the oatmeal shampoos really help that much. I’d lean more towards Dawn than spending a lot of money on specialty shampoos for dogs.
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 are being done way too often 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 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 their anesthesia while they’re under! Extremely dangerous! 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 and older dogs over 8 or 9 years of age are very 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 old dogs are NOT looking out for the welfare 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 veterinarians who would jeopardize your pet to make a buck.
I want to stress that everything concerning a dog’s teeth is dictated by the dog’s genetics. It doesn’t help that to brush your dog’s teeth (though if an owner wants to it’s certainly not going to hurt the dog but definitely don’t feel guilty if you don’t or can’t brush your dog’s teeth!) It doesn’t make a difference to a dog’s teeth if it eats canned or dry food. It does help a dog’s back teeth some if they like to chew on something hard as it will help to scrape off some of the tartar. Yet, overall, how a dog’s teeth look over a dog’s lifetime is entirely related to its breed.
Almost all large breeds have great teeth for the most part. The fact is a German Shepherd or a Great Dane is rarely going to have any dental issues over its lifetime because their teeth are so big that they’re deeply embedded into the dog’s maxilla and mandible. A large breed never has the gum recession or loosening of teeth that a tiny breed does. A tiny breed (less than 15 pounds) has the exact same number of teeth as does a large breed except that they’re in a tiny, tiny mouth. There’s no way a tiny tooth can ever hold onto to the gums and bones in the way that a large tooth can. It’s analogous to having a timber in cement versus a toothpick in cement: there’s no way a toothpick is going to hold up in the same way that a timber can. It’s very natural and normal for a tiny breed’s teeth to get tartar and loosen up over time. It’s simply a fact of life. Though it would seem like it would, it doesn’t hurt a dog to have tartar on its teeth or to even have loose teeth. I defy any veterinarian to show me an instance where an animal has had its life shortened by bad teeth. A little dog’s teeth may be gross and smelly but they don’t hurt the animal. Putting an animal under anesthesia all the time is what is going to hurt the animal (or kill it.)
There are only a few instances when an animal must be put under for a tooth issue. One is when the upper fourth premolar gets infected. This is a common occurrence and it’s very clear when it happens as there is going to be a lump that forms under the eye. The pet is still rarely bothered by the infected tooth but the only way to resolve the issue is to remove the tooth. The only other time when it’s imperative to remove a tooth is when one of a dog’s canine teeth has gotten loose enough to twist itself where it’s keeping the animal from closing its mouth. I’ve pulled many of these without anesthesia as they’re often just hanging there but sometimes it may be necessary to give the animal a whiff of anesthesia to get it out.
The problems I’ve observed at clinics where the veterinarians put older animals under anesthesia for teeth cleanings is one of two things: either the animal doesn’t do well or they come back in a few weeks with kidney or heart failure. It’s heart breaking to have to tell an owner that putting their dogs under to clean its teeth is what caused the dog’s kidneys or heart to fail: unfortunately, once an animal has kidney or heart failure, it’s extremely difficult to turn them around. The problem with older animals is they’re often walking a wobbly tightrope as far as their health is concerned. A veterinarian will often do lab work before the procedure, often saying that the dog’s lab results are passable. But, when an older dog is put under anesthesia, it’s often just enough to push them over the edge into kidney or heart failure.
As it’s the smaller breeds that have the most problematic teeth, these dogs are the ones that veterinarians most frequently want to put under anesthesia in order to clean their teeth. The problem with the smaller breeds, especially the brachycephalic breeds (the ones with the smushed up faces) is that these dogs are the most fragile and sensitive dogs when it comes to anesthesia. A veterinarian must be extra careful with the anesthesia when it comes to these smaller dogs (under 15 pounds) and the brachycephalic breeds. The problem is the vet is never the one doing your dog’s dentals. It’s always someone else who may or may not have good training and there may be someone monitoring your dog’s anesthesia and there may not be someone monitoring your dog’s anesthesia. Please read the anesthesia section so that you can familiarize yourself with all the problems that occur with anesthesia and how to best protect your dog when it’s absolutely necessary for it go under anesthesia.
I often tell owners that the best time to have a teeth cleaning is when their dog is already going under anesthesia for something else like a laceration or a growth removal (though most growths are benign and only need to be removed if they’re causing a problem like bleeding or getting rubbed raw.)
When it comes to SMELLY BREATH, it’s easily resolved with the oral antibiotic Clindamycin. I have prescribed a low dose of Clindamycin for dogs for years and owners are thrilled at how there is NO ODOR when it’s given Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Unfortunately, most vets don’t want to prescribe Clindamycin since they’re focused on doing teeth cleanings under anesthesia. I actually don’t think most veterinarians realize how well Clindamycin works to eliminate mouth odor. For small breeds, I’ll tell owners to ask their veterinarians to at least let them try the Clindamycin. Clindamycin for small breeds comes in a 20 ml bottle that’s 20 mg/ml. These little dogs only need 1/4 ml Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. At this low dose, it’s completely safe. My little dog, Priscilla, does great on only 1/4 ml Mondays and Fridays. If I happen to forget to give Priscilla her Clindamycin, my 5 year old grandson is quick to remind me. He’ll say, “Nana, you forgot Priscilla’s medicine, didn’t you?” The only bad thing about Clindamycin is that it tastes horrible! I’ll tell owners to mix it with a little tuna juice or something tasty to minimize the look of yuk that they’ll get on their faces if you simply squirt it in their mouths.
Diet: Click on this to read. This will tell you how to avoid too much protein in your dog’s dry food, how dry food is different from canned food, what table food is permissible and what table food to never to feed your dog, 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
Ear Issues (infections, ear washing, hematomas)
Excessive Water Intake (a definite red flag)
Euthanasia (how to make sure it’s a gentle procedure for your dog)
Fighting between dogs in the same household
Fleas and Ticks
Flaky Skin (dry skin very rare in dogs and most flaking in dogs is a seborrheic or secretory issue): please read the section about bathing
Growths (lumps and bumps)
Hypothyroidism (mainly a large breed, older dog issue)
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
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 see last paragraph under 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 section under 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)