Just like you and me dogs can suffer from temperature extremes. Hyperthermia, hypothermia, dehydration and frost bite are the most serious and common illnesses caused by weather extremes. Keep in mind that every dog is different in their tolerances so don’t go by temperatures you find on the Internet. For example a small Chihuahua cannot withstand the cold like a Husky. The best method I’ve found to keep your dog safe is just a mix of observation and common sense. Often your dog will tell you what it wants. If you’re dog pulls towards home it’s a clear sign it doesn’t want to be outside. If you see your dog lift its paw or begin limping on a cold day it’s very likely that your dog has some salt in its paw or the ground is just too cold for comfort. Brush its paw gently and if it doesn’t immediately stop limping, head inside. In the heat of the summer just make sure you regularly fill your dog’s bowl with fresh water and that your dog has some shade. Finally, keep track of the time you’ve been outside with your dog and shorten it from your usual time outside on extreme weather days because dogs can get so excited about being outside, they will ignore their own state of health. Here are a couple of articles that provide some excellent detail on the subject.
While it is responsible for you to get your dog neutered or spayed, there is a mountain of evidence that doing so before your dog reaches sexual maturity increases the risk of cancer, tumors and other health problems. Yet, many vets will advise you to neuter or spay as soon as possible. This excellent article from Dogs First lays out the cons of early neutering with links to all scientific studies referenced. I highly recommend you read this article and discuss it with your veterinarian before you decide when to neuter or spay your dog.
How often you clean your dog’s ears depends on your dog. Dogs that have large ears, like Bassett Hounds typically need their ears cleaned more often because of the limited air flow and warmer temps in the ear. Dogs that are in the water a lot will also need ear cleanings more often. Luckily, it’s easy for you to determine yourself by examining your dogs ear once a month. Sometimes you can smell when it’s time for an ear cleaning, or your dog will start shaking its head more often than usual. The cleaning itself can be relatively easy for many owners and you can save a lot of money, by just getting a few cheap supplies and doing the cleaning yourself. Here’s a link to a helpful video, though I think they could have picked a dog with less hair around its ears! Overall, an excellent video to get you started. I’ve also included a link to an informative article about the causes and treatments for dog ear discharge. As with all health related subjects, I encourage you to educate yourself and then talk to your vet and ask for some guidance on the subject.
There are many causes of eye discharge that range from allergies, infection, dust, injury, and more. The best thing to do is clean the corner of your dog’s eyes regularly with a tissue. You’ll get used to seeing what the discharge looks like and how much accumulates daily. This helps to prevent staining of the fur around the eye and more importantly gives you a baseline so that when you see a discharge that is not what you are used to seeing, you know it’s time for a visit with your veterinarian. Yellow or green looking discharge usually indicates an infection so if you see this talk to your vet as soon as possible. Here’s some good information on eye discharge from Pet WebMD.
Before you change anything, give your dog a bath with a decent shampoo and conditioner, wait 24 hours, brush them, and take a picture of them in the sun. Now you have a starting point so when you feel the pinch of the expensive “prescription” dog food that your vet said would help, you can repeat the above steps and then compare pictures and know for sure if the change in diet is making a difference. Brushing your dog’s hair daily and giving him a bath is something you should be doing regularly and will help to maintain a healthy and shiny coat. The frequency depends on your dog’s breed and how much time your dog spends outside rolling in the dirt. For my German Shepherd I brushed him once every day or two and bathed him about once every 6 weeks in the winter and once every 2 weeks in the summer. If you think your dog’s coat still looks dull, your dog sheds excessively, or its skin looks flaky and dry, check to make sure it’s getting the omega 3 fatty acids appropriate for its weight. Check with heck with your veterinarian to determine the best dosage and then consider gradually switching food (see “What’s the Best Food for My Dog?”) or add fish oil to your dog’s diet. In addition to helping to make your dog’s coat look shiny and feel soft, fish oil has many other benefits. Just take note that not all fish oil formulas are the same. Many are rich in omega 6 instead of omega 3, so be careful about the one you select and consider using a human grade product. Odds are good you’ll pay less for it too. I’ve included this informative link about fish oil from the VCA Hospitals.
You can give your dog bones, but here are some good practices to adhere to. 1) Stick to cow femur bones since they are the toughest bones available and are less likely to splinter and cause your dog harm. 2) Don’t cook or smoke the bones as this makes them more likely to splinter. 3) A good idea anyway – learn dog first aid so you know what to do if your dog is choking, whether it be a piece of bone, or a toy. 4) Stay in the proximity of your dog when he has a bone so you are there for him if he begins to choke. 5) No matter how sweet you think your dog is, never take a bone away from him without using a distraction or some other method to get him off the bone before picking it up. Not adhering to this rule may result in you being bitten. 6) Never give your dog a bone around children or other dogs. Keep them separated while your dog is on a bone to avoid any type of guarding instinct, even if you’ve never before seen your dog display this type of behavior. 7) Be prepared for the mess. It will make a mess, but your dog will love you so much!
Of course this too is debatable. Luckily, it’s not difficult for those of us that aren’t veterinarians to make a personal choice about teeth cleaning for our dogs. The American Veterinarian Medical Association says that you should have your dog’s teeth cleaned. It’s important to recognize though that they are promoting the use of their own members, so of course this is their stance on the matter. On the flip side of this debate there are people that argue that dogs have been around for millions of years and did fine without having their teeth brushed for the majority of that time. Here’s my simple recommendation, do what you can yourself to maintain the health of your dog’s teeth in an effort to avoid having your dog anesthetized yearly for a professional cleaning. A few things you can do: 1) Give your dog real cow femur bones to gnaw on. You can buy them at most grocery stores – ask your butcher. I’ve included a link to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health confirming that this help to keep your dog’s teeth clean. The bone marrow is also very good for your dog. 2) Brush your dogs teeth after teaching your dog to enjoy it. I’ve included a link on how to teach your dog to love getting his teeth brushed. 3) Ask your vet to give you a tutorial on how to inspect your dog’s teeth so you know what to look for. Just these few steps may help you avoid having to have your dog’s teeth professionally cleaned which requires the dog be restrained in a manner that is not pleasant, or risk having your dog anesthetized
Nail trimming can be a traumatic experience for both owners and their dogs, but it’s important to keep your dog’s nails trimmed. If you don’t you risk causing injury to their toes. It will also be more likely that your hardwood floors show more wear than they would have had you kept your dog’s nails trimmed. If you want to save the money and learn to trim them yourself, ask your vet to show you how because if you trim too much nail you can hit what’s called the quick, and it will cause your dog pain and the nail will likely bleed profusely. It will also be very difficult to get your dog to trust you to clip his nails in the future. One great suggestion I have is train your dog to enjoy a nail clipping before you ever actually try to clip their nails. I found this great video on YouTube that shows you how. Don’t rush it – in the video the trainer is working with a dog that he’s already trained. The whole process he runs through can take up 2 or 3 weeks with daily training. Every dog is different so progress at a pace that your dog is comfortable with. If you rush it, you risk a major setback. Also, unlike the trainer in the video that has extensive experience clipping, I suggest you get at eye level with your dog’s paws so you can see clearly where you’re clipping. Some dogs have translucent nails and you can actually see the quick in the nail. Lastly, Keep a styptic stick on hand just in case you do cut the quick. I also, decided to share this second video with you. I used to also use a Dremel on my dog to file his nails. Just cutting them would leave them rough and sharp. This video gives you an idea, but I’m sharing to show you what not to do. I don’t doubt this guy loves dogs, but most of these dogs are showing a lot of stress signals. Check out the tucked tail of the first dog. Why not just take the time to teach your dog not to fear this process?
I think there are some variables to consider like your dog’s age and state of health, but in general most vets agree that a yearly wellness exam is best for keeping your pet healthy and possibly avoiding expensive to treat diseases that may develop. My vet and I agreed on a yearly exam, until my dog developed a rare disease at which point we changed it to twice a year plus anytime he showed signs of a flare up or other unrelated changes in his mood or physical activity levels. The American Veterinarian Medical Association also recommends a yearly wellness exam.
Another contentious subject that we must consider as dog owners is whether or not vaccinate, and how often. As a dog care provider I’ve learned something that I didn’t know as a dog owner. That is that vaccination schedules vary by veterinarian! In fact, some veterinarians don’t even recommend some vaccines that others do. It actually makes a lot of sense, since some diseases are more prevalent in certain climates or environments. Some dogs don’t respond well to vaccinations, others have allergic reactions and some dog owners may worry about over vaccination. Titer testing determines the amount of antibodies left in your dog’s system and although more expensive, can help to prevent over vaccination. More veterinarian practices are now providing titer testing. Titer testing can be invaluable as it has shown that some dogs seem to retain their antibodies for many years after the initial vaccinations, while others do not. I’ve included three articles that I think are very relevant here. The first by doctor TJ Dunn about the importance of vaccinations from a veterinarian’s perspective, where he addresses the push from some holistic veterinarians not to vaccinate at all or to partially vaccinate. The second article from the American Veterinary Medical Association dives deep into titer testing so that you can have an informed discussion with your veterinarian if this is something you would like to do to ensure you’re not over vaccinating your dog. The last article by Dr. Becker talks about the administration of the monthly heartworm pill. It makes a lot of sense, but I read this after the passing of my dog, so I’ve never had this conversation with another veterinarian and I would recommend that you do so with your vet before following my advice or that of any other veterinarian.