Common Canine Ailments
Dogs, like humans, have their share of common ailments. While occasional illness may be inevitable, preventive care will go a long way in ensuring your dog?s good health. For starters, a natural diet rich in essential fatty acids is crucial, as is plenty of exercise. The quality of commercial foods has improved over the past few years, so, although I do tout the virtues of a home-prepared diet, a good, preferably organic commercial food will do if you don?t have the time or inclination to make their meals yourself.
When it comes to Opal and Dixie?s health, I believe that no precaution can be too extreme:
- Their beds and bed covers are organic and made with post-consumer recycled plastic water bottles. They?re made by West Paw Design.
- Their toys are also organic, and also made by West Paw.
- I only use natural, non-toxic household cleaning products.
- I keep my carpets well-vacuumed, twice a year they?re deep cleaned by a company that uses only plant-based cleaners (Healthy Choice Carpet Cleaners), and no shoes are allowed past the foyer. The only "nasties" brought in from the outdoors are from their little feet, but I?m not about to make a big fuss about that.
- I work (hard) to keep them at a healthy weight. Early in the morning before I leave for work we go out for a long walk or jog in our dog park and enjoy a little vigorous ball playing. Sometimes they?d rather play with each other, and watching them run and roll around is so much fun that people often stop to watch them. At midday, they go out for another long walk, and after work, we go out yet again for more play.
- I feed them a healthy, natural diet of organic meats, fresh fish, dark, leafy greens, carotene-rich foods, berries and probiotics. To monitor their weight I make an effort not to overfeed them, although I have to admit that sometimes I do succumb to their big, brown, longing eyes!
- Because they?re long-backed, short-legged dogs and do play rather vigorously, I massage them regularly. If I detect a slight spasm or any sign of discomfort, I bring them to their holistic vet, Dr. Kari DeLeeuw at Coastal Holistic, for a gentle chiropractic adjustment.
- I regularly clean their ears with our Organic Ear Wash to keep any type of bacteria or inflammation at bay.
Despite our best intentions, occasionally our dogs will wind up with a condition requiring treatment. Some of these may include:
Most common in older dogs, arthritis is an inflammation of the joint due to regular wear and tear, infection or trauma. Diagnosis is typically made by an x-ray examination of the affected joint, and treatment often includes surgery, steroids and pain medications. A holistic vet may recommend a natural diet, weight loss if necessary, and less vigorous exercise. A soft, warm bed can provide some soothing relief as well.
Bacterial infection and gum ulcers are two causes of bad breath. Dixie had bad breath when we first adopted her, and it wound up being due to a decaying tooth. Once her tooth was extracted, her bad breath was gone forever. Sometimes, a nervous stomach can trigger bad breath. A natural diet with antioxidants and essential fatty acids will often resolve the problem.
Herbs are an easy, natural remedy for bad breath. Steep dried or fresh fennel, ginger, peppermint, parsley and spearmint and allow it to cool. Once cooled, the resulting tea makes a great breath freshener for dogs.
Bloat is a serious canine condition that involves the twisting of a dog?s stomach. It can occur from overeating, being fed only one meal a day or eating too quickly. Older, larger breeds, underweight, and aggressive or anxious dogs are at the greatest risk. Signs of bloat include anxiety or restlessness, weakness or collapse, depression, a bloated belly, pale gums, weakness and regular dry heaving or an unexplained change in behavior or personality. With bloat, the twisted stomach cuts off blood supply and circulation to the body?s internal organs, trapping gas, causing excruciating pain and often leading to a relatively quick death. A dog must be brought to the vet immediately and without hesitation at the first sign of bloat.
Cancer is the number one killer of dogs, second only to euthanasia due to overpopulation. The cause or causes of cancer remain a bit of a mystery in the case of both humans and animals, although diet has been proven to play a significant role in its prevention. A natural diet rich in dark, leafy greens, carotene-rich foods, berries, an increase in proteins and essential fatty acids are essential not just for dogs, but for us as well.
Not too long ago, I interviewed Nadine M. Rosin, the author of book called, The Healing Art of Pet Parenthood. When Nadine?s dog, Buttons was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eight, unable to face the prospect of conventional treatments she set out to help Buttons holistically. After many diet and lifestyle changes, she was able to extend Button?s life by a miraculous number of years. Cancer-free, Buttons passed away peacefully of old age a week before her 19th birthday.
While it has been years since Opal and Dixie had diarrhea, I found that the best treatment was to feed them some plain, brown rice, sometimes with a tiny bit of chicken or turkey for flavor. A few of these meals would nip the problem in the bud. If your dog?s diarrhea lasts any longer than two days, or if it is preceded by serious vomiting then followed by diarrhea, possibly bloodstained, waste no time in taking your dog to the vet. Parvovirus is a highly infectious disease that is often fatal, and while it is doubtful that Parvo will be the cause of the condition, it is always better to be safe, than? yes, you guessed it.
The appearance of small white flakes on your dog?s skin, incessant scratching and gnawing at the paws and sometimes, missing fur, are indications of excessively dry skin and coat. This condition may be caused by allergies, a parasitical infection, or actually, nothing at all. In Opal?s case several years ago, it was caused by an allergy to a flea bite.
A traditional vet will often treat your dog with antibiotics and Prednisone, neither of which I am a huge fan of. Prednisone is a strong steroid, and in Opal?s case led to weight gain, irritability and mild aggression. Another reason I?m not crazy about Prednisone is that after a round of the potent steroid, the problem will often recur. I prefer the recommendation of vets who advocate regular brushing to spread the dog?s natural skin oils throughout his skin and coat, frequent baths with a soothing, hydrating shampoo, and the addition of flaxseed to their diets.
Ear infections actually top the list of canine conditions. Healthy dogs? ears are clean and odor-free, so if you notice an unpleasant odor or discharge emanating from your dog?s ears or you notice him scratching his ears and shaking his head, it is likely that his ears need a good cleaning. Regular cleaning with an ear wash such as Opie & Dixie?s Organic Ear Wash will keep your dog?s ears clean and free of bacteria, debris and inflammation. If despite your good intentions it turns out that your pup?s ears are harboring yeast, mites or bacteria, a vet may recommend medicated ear drops or oral medications like steroids and antibiotics. A holistic vet will likely prescribe herbal ear drops and herbs.
Hot spots can be the result of allergies, acute dermatitis or who-knows-what. A trip to the vet may be in order for a severe case of hot spots in order to rule out mange, or a serious weakness in your dog?s immune system. Like dry skin, itchiness and dandruff, hot spots are often treated with steroids and antibiotics. I vouch for herbs, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, oatmeal baths, and natural remedies such as aloe vera or oatmeal poultices instead.
Ahhh, obesity; one of the most common canine (and feline!) conditions. Surprisingly, few pet parents realize just how threatening obesity is to their pet?s health, so I thought I?d spend a little time on this one.
Dogs carrying even a few extra pounds of weight have extra demands put on virtually every organ of their bodies. When these organs are overloaded, disease and sometimes, even death are the consequences. The ability to exercise, even to breathe, is diminished in overweight dogs. They also may become more irritable due to their discomfort and possible pain. A sad but very real truth is that dogs do die at a younger age than those maintained at an optimum weight.
The health risks to overweight dogs are serious, and every dog owner should be aware of them. We owe it to our pets.
Some of the risks of obesity include:
- Cancer - Obese dogs tend to have an increased risk of developing certain types of tumors and cancers.
- Diabetes - Obesity causes an increase in the secretion of insulin in response to the increased blood glucose level in the overweight dog.
- Damage to joints, bones and ligaments - Studies have suggested that approximately one-quarter of overweight dogs develop serious joint complications. The bones, joints, muscles, and associated tendons and ligaments all work together to give the dog efficient mobility. Dogs that carry excess weight can develop arthritis and hip displasia, or their already-present hip displasia can become more severe. One of the ligaments in the knee is already subject to wear and tear when a dog is of normal weight. Extra weight creates extra tension, often tearing the knee?s ligament and requiring that surgery to repair it. Long-backed, short-legged dogs such as dachsunds, basset hounds and mixed breeds of this body type are prone to develop slipped discs, which are not only very painful, but often, permanently crippling. Carrying extra weight undoubtedly increases the chances that they will develop this condition.
- Heart disease and heart attacks are common health risks caused by obesity. The heart has an increased work load since it must pump additional blood to excess tissues. The strain of the work can lead to congestive heart failure.
- Decreased energy and stamina - Again, extra weight forces the heart, muscles, and respiratory system to work harder. Harder work is exhausting, and rest provides the most comforting relief. Heat intolerance is also due to overweight conditions and can further aggravate your dog?s system.
- Liver function is an obvious risk due fat build-up in the liver.
- Constipation and intestinal gas are often results of obesity.
- The impact of obesity on immune system function is well-known. Extra pounds lead can lead to resistance to viral and bacterial infections.
- Skin and coat disorders are often the result of obesity as well. The skin forms different types of oils which are the perfect breeding ground for infections.
- Increased surgical and anesthetic risk ? Increased fat in the tissues makes surgery more difficult, as fat obscures the surgical area. Because anesthetics are taken up by fat, an overweight animal will also take longer to come out of anesthesia because the anesthetic must first be removed from the fat. Many anesthetics are broken down by the liver. A fatty liver will not be as efficient at breaking them down, leading to poor circulation of oxygenated blood to the tissues and even cardiac arrest.
A dog?s weight is best managed as we manage our own: by decreasing the amount of food they eat, introducing fresh vegetables and essential fatty acids into their diet, holding back entirely on treats until they reach a desirable weight, and increasing their level of exercise.
If your dog keeps licking his or her paw pads, they may be irritated from walking on hot pavement, trekking through snow and ice, or stepping on irritating chemicals such as those found in certain rug shampoos, floor cleaners or garden products. The sore and inflamed paws that result from any of these conditions or products can lead to excessive chewing and licking, which in turn leads to raw, calloused, cracked paws. Cracked paws are not only painful, but they are prone to infection. I recommend starting off by trying our Healing Paw Balm. With regular use, the herbs and oils in our balm will likely soothe and heal the pads for good. If not, there is a chance that the condition is due to a severe allergic reaction to something he or she is eating, breathing or stepping in, or it could be due to a chronic yeast infection similar to athlete?s foot, a nutritional deficiency or an autoimmune disease. I would recommend a trip to the vet if the pads seem not to heal.