What Is a Cardiac Arrhythmia?
A cardiac arrhythmia is an abnormality in a dog’s heartbeat. It may be associated with the rate (too fast or too slow), an irregularity in the heartbeat pattern, or a problem in the location where electrical signals are formed in the heart. Some arrhythmias may be harmless and do not require treatment, while others can be serious and life threatening.
Dogs of any age or sex may experience arrhythmias. Certain breeds are predisposed to specific types of heartbeat abnormalities. Boxers, German shepherds, and cocker spaniels are among the many breeds prone to heart conditions that can be associated with changes in heart rate and rhythm.
What Causes an Arrhythmia?
There are many types of heart rhythm disturbances, and just as many potential causes. While heart disease can cause an arrhythmia, an arrhythmia does not necessarily indicate that your dog has a heart condition. Other causes of heart arrhythmias include:
What Are the Signs of an Arrhythmia?
Dogs with arrhythmias that are relatively harmless may show no outward signs. In many cases, however, an arrhythmia can lead to heart failure, changes in blood pressure, and alterations in blood flow to vital organs. Dogs with these types of arrhythmias may show signs such as:
How Is This Condition Diagnosed?
Your veterinarian may note an irregularity in the heartbeat when listening to your pet’s heart with a stethoscope. An electrocardiogram (ECG) can provide additional information to further define the type of arrhythmia present.
If your veterinarian suspects that the abnormality is caused by a heart condition, he or she may recommend chest radiographs (x-rays) and/or an echocardiogram, which is an examination of the heart using ultrasound equipment. Depending on your pet’s condition, the veterinarian may refer your pet to a veterinary cardiologist (a heart specialist).
Since many other factors besides heart disease can cause arrhythmias, your veterinarian will probably also suggest doing blood work to look for underlying diseases or conditions.
How Are Arrhythmias Treated?
If the arrhythmia is caused by an underlying condition, such as hypothyroidism, treating the underlying disease may help resolve the arrhythmia. Otherwise, the goal of treatment is to eliminate or manage any discomfort your dog may have and prevent dangerous arrhythmias from leading to sudden death.
Numerous medications can help control arrhythmias. Many of these drugs may have side effects, so be sure to ask your veterinarian if there are signs you should watch for. In some cases, it is recommended that a pacemaker be implanted for long-term control of the arrhythmia.
Once your pet is diagnosed with an arrhythmia, your veterinarian may recommend periodic recheck examinations to evaluate your pet’s heart rate/rhythm and assess your pet’s response to treatment. Blood work, echocardiography, and other diagnostic tests sometimes need to be repeated periodically to help protect your pet’s health.
Companion animals today have the opportunity to live longer, healthier lives than ever before. One of the main reasons for this is the availability of vaccines that can protect pets from deadly viral and bacterial diseases. Over the past several decades, the widespread use of vaccines against canine distemper, parvovirus infection, rabies, and other diseases have saved the lives of millions of dogs and driven some of these diseases into relative obscurity. Unfortunately, these diseases still pose a significant threat to dogs that are unvaccinated; so, although vaccine programs have been highly successful, pet owners and veterinarians cannot afford to become complacent about the importance of keeping pets up-to-date on their vaccinations.
Why Does My Dog Need Vaccines?
Vaccines are one of our most important tools against infectious diseases. Some of these diseases, such as “kennel cough,” can be transmitted directly from dog to dog. If your dog is ever around other dogs, such as at a kennel, dog park, grooming salon, or day care facility, your dog is likely to be exposed to infectious diseases. Even dogs that look healthy may be sick, so keeping your dog’s vaccines up-to-date is a good way to protect your dog from illness.
Even if your dog doesn’t have contact with other dogs, some diseases can be transmitted indirectly. For example, parvovirus infection, which is potentially fatal , is spread through contact with feces from an infected dog. Even if your dog never has contact with a dog infected with parvovirus, your dog could be exposed to the virus through contact with feces from an infected dog, such as in a park or on a beach. Lyme disease—a dangerous infection that is carried by ticks—is another disease that your dog can be exposed to without coming into contact with other dogs.
So, even dogs that spend most of their lives indoors or have very limited contact with other animals are not completely safe from exposure to infectious diseases.
How Do Vaccines Work?
Although there are many types of vaccines, they tend to work through a similar principle. Most vaccines contain a very small portion of the virus or bacterium that is the infectious agent. Some vaccines contain small quantities of the entire virus or bacterium, whereas others contain particles that are part of the infectious organism. When this material is introduced into the body in a vaccine, the body’s immune system responds through a series of steps that include making antibodies and other cells that will recognize the target organism later. When the vaccinated individual encounters the “real” organism later, the body recognizes the organism and reacts to protect the vaccinated individual from becoming sick.
Are Vaccines Safe?
All of the available vaccines have been thoroughly tested and found to be safe when administered as directed. Most dogs tolerate vaccines very well, although reactions can occur in some cases. Some dogs can seem a little “tired” after receiving vaccines. Notify your veterinarian if your dog develops hives, redness on the skin, breathing problems, facial swelling, or vomiting. You should also tell your veterinarian if your dog has ever had a problem after receiving a vaccine.
What Vaccines Does My Dog Need?
Many vaccines are available for dogs, but every dog does not need to receive every available vaccine. So how do you know what vaccines your dog should have? The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has developed a summary of vaccine recommendations to help veterinarians clarify how to best protect dogs through the use of vaccine programs. AAHA evaluated the available vaccines and categorized them to provide guidelines on how commonly they should be used.
Vaccines are categorized as core, non-core, or not recommended. A core vaccine is one that all dogs should receive. The core vaccines for dogs are rabies, distemper, adenovirus-2, and parvovirus. Non-core vaccines are optional ones that dogs can benefit from based on their risk for exposure to the disease. Examples include the vaccines against Lyme disease and leptospirosis. Categorization of a vaccine as “not recommended” does not mean that the vaccine is bad or dangerous. This designation simply means that there is currently insufficient information to recommend the widespread use of the vaccine.
Because core vaccines are recommended for all dogs, your veterinarian will recommend keeping your dog’s vaccines against distemper, parvovirus, adenovirus-2, and rabies up-to-date at all times. The decision regarding non-core vaccines should be made after you and your veterinarian have discussed the vaccines in question and whether your dog might benefit from receiving them.
Factors to consider include your dog’s lifestyle (how much time your dog spends outside), where you live, where you travel with your dog, and how often your dog has contact with other dogs. Bear in mind that vaccine recommendations can change: if your dog’s lifestyle changes, your veterinarian may want to discuss modifying the vaccine recommendations to ensure that your dog is well protected.
What Is the Recommended Schedule for Vaccines?
Puppies generally receive their first vaccines when they are around 6 to 8 weeks of age. Booster vaccines are generally given every 3 to 4 weeks until the puppy is 16 weeks of age. Your veterinarian can discuss with you which vaccines your puppy will receive at your “puppy checkup” visits. Vaccines are generally repeated a year later.
Although puppies are considered especially vulnerable to some diseases, it is also very important for adult dogs to be up-to-date on vaccines. Traditionally, many vaccines were repeated yearly, during regular annual checkup examinations. However, research has shown that some vaccines can protect dogs for longer than 1 year. In light of research findings, the AAHA guidelines note that some vaccines don't need to be repeated more often than every 3 years. The decision regarding how often your dog needs vaccine boosters depends on several factors, including your dog’s overall health status and risk for exposure to the diseases in question. Your veterinarian may recommend annual boosters after considering your dog’s lifestyle and disease exposure risk. The decision regarding how often to administer any vaccine (annually, every 3 years, or not at all) should be an individualized choice that you and your veterinarian make together.
Vaccination remains one of the most important services your veterinarian offers, and although vaccination is a routine procedure, it should not be taken for granted. It also allows a regular opportunity for your veterinarian to perform a physical examination, which is very important for keeping your dog healthy. Protecting patients is your veterinarian’s primary goal, and developing an appropriate vaccine protocol for your pet is as important as any other area of medicine.
What Is Canine Urine Marking?
Canine urine marking is a natural, instinctive behavior in dogs, but it is not appropriate inside the house. Dogs, especially sexually intact male dogs, urinate on objects to mark their territory or to leave a message for other dogs. Urine marking behavior usually begins when the dog reaches sexual maturity.
What Causes Canine Urine Marking?
An intact male dog is most likely to mark when there is a female dog in heat nearby. Intact female dogs are also prone to marking when they are in heat. However, any dog may mark if another dog has urinated anywhere in the house. By urinating on the previous site of urination, the dog essentially “remarks” that location as its own territory. Unless the scent of the urine is completely removed, the dog is likely to keep urinating there.
In multi-dog households, dogs, especially of the same sex, may compete for dominance, which can result in urine marking. This same behavior can occur in a confident dog that feels dominant to the owner.
Any anxiety-producing situation can trigger urine marking as well. Workmen in the house, the arrival of a new baby, or visiting relatives can all produce anxiety in a dog. Even the addition of a new TV or a new computer may threaten a dog so that it feels compelled to mark the packing boxes. Rest assured, your dog is not trying to get back at you. It’s just doing what comes naturally.
How Is Canine Urine Marking Diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will start by discussing when, where, and how often the behavior occurs. A workup should be conducted to rule out medical disorders that may be causing the problem. If there are no medical causes, your veterinarian will need to determine if incomplete house training or other behavioral conditions are causing the problem.
How Can It Be Treated?
In most cases, overcoming urine marking requires multiple steps:
Neutering. If the dog is sexually intact, neutering is the first step. In many cases, male dogs that are neutered stop urine marking within weeks to months of the procedure. Female dogs that are spayed almost always stop the behavior. However, behavior modification is often needed as well.
Scent elimination. It is important to remove the scent of previous urine marks with a good enzymatic cleaner. Camouflaging the odor with another scent is not effective. An enzymatic cleaner can help neutralize the scent to prevent recurrences of the behavior. Many dogs won’t urinate where they eat, so you can also try feeding your dog in the location it used to mark.
Positive reinforcement. Never punish a dog for urine marking. Punishment can create more anxiety, which may only exacerbate the problem. Instead, you need to supervise your pet closely. If you see the dog starting to eliminate inside, interrupt him or her with a firm “No,” and bring the pet outside. When the dog urinates outside, reward him or her with praise and treats. Make sure to bring your dog outside frequently, always providing rewards for appropriate urination outdoors.
Confinement. During retraining, it helps to limit your dog’s access to frequently marked areas. You may need to confine your dog to a room or small area by shutting doors or by using baby gates or a crate. As your dog’s behavior improves, you can gradually increase his or her freedom in the house. Be careful to frequently exercise your dog outside, so your dog does not become agitated with long periods of confinement.
Minimize anxieties. If you can identify the factors that are causing your dog anxiety, remove them or minimize their importance. With a new baby, for example, you can desensitize your dog by gradually increasing the amount of time your dog is exposed to the new baby. At the same time, use counterconditioning tactics, such as praising, petting, and rewarding your pet for calm behaviors around the baby, so it has positive associations with the child.
You may also consult your veterinarian about a D.A.P. Dog Appeasing Pheromone diffuser. By mimicking the pheromones produced by a mother dog to give her puppies a sense of calm and well-being, this product can help ease anxieties in dogs.
Establish dominance. Some dogs need to be gently reminded that you are the boss and that they need to work for rewards. Ask your dog to sit or lay down, then provide a reward such as a treat or a walk and TLC!
Medications. As a last resort, you can consult your veterinarian for medications. In most cases, dogs are given a type of antidepressant. These drugs often take 4 to 6 weeks to make a difference. However, behavior modification is always the first choice and should continue, even with medications.
When Is a Dog “Senior”?
With many dogs living well into their teens, many owners wonder: When is a dog truly senior? The answer is that there is no specific age at which a dog becomes senior. Individual pets age at different rates. However, most dogs become senior at 7 to 10 years of age, and most large- and giant-breed dogs become seniors earlier than small-breed dogs.
Knowing the general age of your dog can help you monitor him or her for early signs of any problems.
Health Issues in Senior Dogs
As dogs grow older, their bodies become less able to cope with physical or environmental stress. Their immune systems become weaker, and they are more prone to developing certain diseases or conditions, including:
This is why regular senior wellness visits with your veterinarian are important for the long-term health of your dog.
The Senior Dog Wellness Exam
Just as with people, it’s important for dogs to see their doctors more often as they age. Most experts agree that healthy senior dogs should see their veterinarians every 6 months. A thorough senior wellness exam is designed to:
During a senior wellness exam, your veterinarian will ask you questions to obtain a complete medical history for your dog and to determine if there have been any changes in health or behavior since the last visit. During the physical examination, your veterinarian will assess your dog’s overall appearance and body condition by listening to his or her heart and lungs; feeling for signs of pain, tumors, or other unusual changes in the neck and abdomen; checking joints for signs of arthritis or muscle weakness; and examining the ears, eyes, and mouth for any signs of disease.
A routine senior wellness exam should also include the following tests to check your dog for signs of disease and to assess your dog’s kidney and liver function:
Most veterinarians recommend that this baseline laboratory testing be conducted at least once a year in adult dogs aged 2 to 7 years, and more frequently in senior dogs. Dogs that have an existing medical problem may need testing more often.
Additional tests may be required depending on the results of routine screening tests. Which tests are necessary and how often they are performed are different for each dog, but, in general, the ones listed above will provide your veterinarian with a good “snapshot” of your senior dog’s health. Over time, these test results can be tracked and compared to help your veterinarian detect any developing health trends.
Monitoring Your Senior Dog
Dogs age much more rapidly than people do. Therefore, they may appear healthy for a long time and then seem to become suddenly ill. You can help your veterinarian by keeping a close eye on your dog between exams. If you notice any unusual signs of trouble, don’t wait for your regularly scheduled checkup to see your veterinarian: call right away. Signs to watch for and quickly report include the following:
Unexplained weight loss or weight gain can be an early sign of underlying disease. Weight management itself can also be an issue: Many senior dogs are obese, and obesity can contribute to the development of diabetes, arthritis, and other conditions.
Keeping Up With Basic Care
Along with paying more attention to your dog’s health as he or she ages, you should continue routine wellness care such as parasite prevention, dental care, nutritional management, and appropriate vaccination. Maintaining proper routine care becomes even more important as your dog’s immune system ages.
Take steps to ensure your dog’s comfort, such as making sure that food and water bowls are still easily accessible to your old friend and that you give him or her plenty of attention and affection.
Foods for senior dogs should be lower in fat but not lower in protein. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. Size is used to determine when it’s time to feed your dog a senior diet:
Smaller, more frequent feedings are easier on a senior dog’s digestive system.
You might need to give your senior dog more opportunities to urinate and defecate.
Because senior dogs can’t regulate their body temperature as well as young dogs, senior dogs should be kept warm, dry, and indoors when not outside for exercise. Senior dogs are also more sensitive to heat and humidity, so they should be protected from conditions that could cause heatstroke.
Arthritic dogs may appreciate ramps instead of stairs, extra blankets on their beds, and an orthopedic bed.
If your dog is losing his or her sight or hearing, remove obstacles and reduce your dog’s anxiety by keeping floors free of clutter.
Regular toothbrushing (only with dog toothpaste) will help reduce plaque that can cause problems, but many senior dogs require professional cleanings under general anesthesia.
What Is It?
Canine parvovirus is a deadly disease that is caused by the canine parvovirus type 2 (CPV-2) virus. The virus attacks the gastrointestinal tract and immune system of puppies and dogs. It can also attack the heart of very young puppies.
CPV-2 is highly contagious and is spread through direct contact with other infected dogs or with infected feces. It is easily carried on hands, food dishes, leashes, shoes, etc. The virus is very stable in the environment and can survive for over a year in feces and soil through extremes of heat, cold, drought, or humidity. While up to 85% to 90% of treated dogs survive, the disease requires extensive supportive patient care and can be expensive to treat. In untreated dogs, the mortality rate can exceed 90%.
Signs of Infection With CPV-2
Affected dogs often suffer from vomiting and diarrhea and can become extremely dehydrated. In acute cases, death can occur in 2 to 3 days.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis is made based on history, signs of disease, physical examination, and laboratory tests performed on blood and feces. There is no effective treatment for CPV-2 other than supportive care, which consists of fluid therapy, medications to control vomiting and diarrhea, and prevention of secondary infections.
Because of the prevalence of the disease and its severity, the CPV-2 vaccine is considered a core (essential) vaccine by organized veterinary medicine, meaning that all dogs should be protected from this disease. Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent disease associated with CPV-2 infection. The CPV-2 vaccine is typically given in a combination vaccine that also protects against other serious diseases, such as canine distemper and canine adenovirus-2.
Your veterinarian will give you the vaccination schedule for your dog, but in general, all puppies should receive the CPV-2 vaccine every 3 to 4 weeks between 6 and 16 weeks of age, followed by a booster 1 year after the last dose. Thereafter, booster vaccinations are generally administered every 1 to 3 years.
Infected dogs should be kept isolated from other dogs until they have recovered and are no longer shedding (spreading) virus. The environment, bowls, etc. should be disinfected with a dilute bleach solution.
Keep puppies away from other dogs at dog parks, groomers, and pet stores until the puppy vaccination series has been completed.
What Is Canine Pancreatitis?
The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen that is involved in helping the body digest food. The pancreas releases enzymes (proteins that are involved in chemical reactions in the body) into the digestive tract to help break down fats and promote digestion. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the condition is referred to as pancreatitis.
When pancreatitis occurs, the pancreas releases enzymes and other substances into the surrounding area of the abdomen. These substances cause localized inflammation that damages the pancreas and nearby organs and can lead to life-threatening complications.
There are two forms of pancreatitis: acute (tends to occur suddenly) and chronic (tends to happen over time). Both forms can be mild or severe, and their clinical signs can be very similar. Although several types of events are known to cause pancreatitis, the underlying cause remains undetermined in many cases. Acute pancreatitis can occur after a dog eats a fatty food such as pork, beef, and some other human foods. Dogs that get into garbage can develop pancreatitis. Pancreatitis can also have other causes, including certain medications and some viral or bacterial infections. Dogs that are obese or have diabetes are at greater risk for developing pancreatitis. Miniature schnauzers may also be predisposed to the disease. Chronic pancreatitis can result from repeated episodes of acute pancreatitis, but in most cases it is not clear what causes chronic pancreatitis.
What Are the Clinical Signs of Canine Pancreatitis?
The clinical signs associated with pancreatitis can be mild or severe, and the acute and chronic forms of the disease can look very similar:
Severely ill dogs may have a high fever, low blood pressure, and dehydration.
How Is Canine Pancreatitis Diagnosed?
Obtaining information about your pet’s medical history and performing a physical examination can provide your veterinarian with valuable information that can help determine if your dog may have pancreatitis. However, the diagnosis of pancreatitis can be complicated because there is no single test that can diagnose it in all cases. Initial diagnostic testing may include blood work such as a chemistry panel and complete blood cell count (CBC), radiographs (x-rays), and an abdominal ultrasound examination to look for any pancreatic abnormalities and rule out intestinal blockages and other causes for the clinical signs. There are also specific blood tests that, when combined with other supporting information, can help diagnose pancreatitis; your veterinarian may recommend specific testing if pancreatitis is suspected.
Treatment and Outcome
Canine pancreatitis can be challenging to treat. There is no treatment that reverses the condition, so therapy is aimed at supporting the patient and minimizing the clinical signs until they resolve. Antibiotics are commonly given (although not always), as well as medications to relieve vomiting and pain. Another aspect of treatment may involve “resting” the stomach and intestines to give them time to heal and rebound. Your veterinarian may recommend withholding food and water until the pet is no longer vomiting. During that time, the patient can receive fluids by injection; some veterinarians provide additional nutrition through intravenous feeding (directly into a vein) or placement of a feeding tube. If the pet does not respond to medical treatment, there are also surgical procedures to treat pancreatitis.
The long-term outcome for a dog with pancreatitis can be difficult to predict. Severe pancreatitis can cause life-threatening damage to the body, including causing kidney failure, diabetes, and intestinal obstruction. If a pet recovers from an episode of acute pancreatitis, there may be concern that the problem will recur and become chronic. Sometimes, a permanent diet change to a reduced-fat diet may be recommended. Pet owners may also be advised to discontinue any table food or other items that may contribute to future episodes of pancreatitis.
What You Need to Know
Obesity (the storage of excess fat) is usually caused by excessive food intake and insufficient exercise. According to estimates, 40% to 50% of dogs are overweight and 25% of dogs are obese. Obesity is more common in older, less active pets. Dogs that are fed homemade meals, table scraps, and snacks are more likely to be overweight than dogs that are fed only a commercial pet food.
There are many obesity-related health problems (see the box), and some medical conditions can lead to obesity, so it’s important to bring your dog in for annual veterinary checkups. By examining your dog, your veterinarian can tell you whether he or she is overweight or obese, what the cause is, and how to treat him or her.
Losing weight can help your dog live longer, avoid disease, and feel better, especially on hot days.
What to Do
Consult your veterinarian before changing your dog’s eating and exercise habits. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate diet and exercise program for safe weight loss.
When helping your dog lose weight, slower is safer. “Crash” diets or intense workouts aren’t appropriate for inactive dogs. If your dog gained the weight slowly, he or she can lose it slowly.
The most effective weight-loss plans involve increasing activity and feeding fewer calories. The more convenient you make it, the better the chance of sticking with it.
When on a weight-loss program, your dog should lose 2% or less of his or her initial body weight per week. For example, a 100-lb dog should lose no more than 2 lb every week. A weight-loss program may take 1 year or longer.
There are several dietary strategies for helping your dog lose weight. Your veterinarian may suggest one or more of the following (be sureto use a measuring cup to keep track of how much you’re feeding your dog):
You can help your dog become more active and lose weight by scheduling regular playtimes and walks. Consult your veterinarian before beginning an exercise program for your dog. For walks, start out slow to give your dog a chance to adapt to an exercise routine. Work up to a brisk, 10- to 20-minute walk or jog once or twice a day. On hot or cold days, go easy or rest. If you don’t have time to walk your dog, hire a dog walker. Doggy day care centers can also help ensure that your dog gets plenty of exercise throughout the day.
Here are some calorie-burning activities for your dog:
Consider adopting another pet so that your dog has a playmate that encourages activity. If you don’t want to commit to a new pet, try scheduling regular visits with the pet of a friend or relative.
Low-Calories Dog Treats
Do not feed your dog (or cat) grapes or raisins because they have reportedly caused kidney problems in pets.
How Do I Choose a Dog Food?
A high-quality, complete and balanced diet is important for the health and longevity of your dog. Among other benefits, a proper diet helps build strong bones, promotes healthy gums and teeth, protects immune function, and results in a lustrous haircoat. Unlike cats, which are carnivores (meaning that they must eat meat), dogs are omnivores, meaning that they can eat meat and plants as their primary food sources.
A large number of dog foods are available at pet supply stores, so selecting a dog food can be daunting. How do you find a food that’s right for your dog? Start by asking your veterinarian the following: “Which food will meet the particular needs of my pet?” and “Which brand(s) do you recommend?”
Most pet foods are created for different life stages, including puppy, maintenance, or senior diets. Within these life stages are even more specific categories. For example, if you own a Saint Bernard puppy, you’ll need to feed a puppy food for large-breed dogs. Large-breed puppy foods are specially formulated to meet the special requirements of large-breed puppies (for example, these foods have higher amounts of calcium and phosphorus because large-breed puppies grow faster than small-breed puppies). As another example, an adult dog that is used for hunting or breeding will most likely require a maintenance diet with higher energy content.
Before purchasing a dog food, look for a statement on the label that verifies that the food underwent AAFCO feeding trials. This means that the food was tested on animals according to guidelines from the Association of American Feed Control Officials. A label that says the food meets AAFCO standards simply means that a chemical analysis of the food appears to be complete and balanced, but the food has not been tested on animals. Because some nutrients may not be digestible when fed to animals, the feeding trial statement is a better indication of the nutritional adequacy of the food.
With a complete and balanced commercial diet, vitamin supplements are usually not necessary; in fact, supplying too many nutrients can be dangerous. Consult your veterinarian before giving your pet any supplements.
Do Certain Diseases Require Special Foods?
Nutrition can help slow the progression, or manage the signs, of many diseases. For dogs with kidney disease, for example, diets lower in protein have been shown to help slow disease progression. Foods with limited or hydrolyzed proteins can help reduce the itching and scratching in many allergic dogs. For dogs with osteoarthritis, many diets now contain higher levels of glucosamine and antioxidants to help reduce pain and inflammation.
Most diets that are designed for a specific disease are prescription diets and are only available through veterinarians. If your pet has a disease or condition, consult your veterinarian for nutritional advice.
Is a Homemade or Raw Diet Okay to Feed?
The advantage of homemade diets is that they can be tailored to the specific needs of your dog. However, most homemade diets found in books or on the Internet can be too vague or too complex, and ingredient substitutions or alterations may result in a diet that is nutritionally deficient or unbalanced or is even toxic. If you really want to provide your dog with a homemade diet, it’s best to work under the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist to ensure that the diet you prepare is complete and balanced for your dog.
While the proponents of raw diets claim that meat and bones more closely resemble the diet that dogs would eat in the wild, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this idea. Raw diets have the same potential drawbacks of homemade diets: raw diets can also be nutritionally deficient and unbalanced. What’s more, raw diets carry the risk of contamination with bacteria such as Salmonella, and bits of bone can break teeth and perforate the digestive tract. If you want to feed your dog a raw diet, consult your veterinarian for advice, and make sure to handle all the food and your dog’s feces with care to avoid transmitting bacteria to people in your household.
What Do I Need to Know About Table Scraps and Treats?
The biggest problem with table scraps and treats is that they add unnecessary calories that can make your pet overweight. Pet obesity often leads to diabetes, increased blood pressure, and orthopedic problems, all of which can reduce your dog’s life span. If your dog is overweight, consult your veterinarian about a diet and exercise plan to get your dog back to a healthy weight. In addition, many dogs are allergic to common foods, such as wheat and chicken, resulting in problems such as itchy, infected ears and skin infections.
Table scraps and treats can also upset the bacterial balance in the digestive tract, resulting in vomiting and diarrhea. Fatty treats, especially, can lead to pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), which can require hospitalization. Even if your dog is fed a balanced diet, additional treats can result in unbalanced nutrition. If you can’t refuse your dog’s begging, consider giving your dog healthy treats such as raw carrots and green beans.
Canine influenza virus (CIV) was first detected in 2004 in racing greyhounds in Florida. Investigators learned that this new canine influenza developed when an equine influenza virus adapted to infect dogs. This was the first time that an equine influenza virus had been found to “jump” from horses to dogs. According to Dr. Cynda Crawford of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, canine influenza does not infect people, and there is no documentation that cats have become infected by exposure to dogs with CIV.
CIV has caused localized disease outbreaks around the country. According to veterinary experts, CIV has been reported in more than 30 states plus the District of Columbia. Ask your veterinarian whether the disease has been reported in your area; if it has, please take steps to prevent your dog from contracting it. (See Prevention and Vaccination below.)
CIV is spread between dogs through direct contact (coughing, sneezing, facial licking) or indirect contact (contaminated bowls, leashes, collars, or the hands or clothing of people who handle ill dogs). Virtually all dogs exposed to CIV become infected; however, 20% of dogs don’t show signs but can still spread the virus. Infected dogs usually develop signs of illness within 2 to 4 days. If your dog has been to a place (kennel, hospital, pet or grooming shop, dog park) where the presence of CIV is suspected or confirmed, contact your veterinarian; your dog may need to be quarantined even if he or she doesn’t show signs of illness. If your dog shows signs of a respiratory infection (sneezing, coughing, nasal discharge, fever), you should keep him or her away from other dogs and contact your veterinarian.
Canine influenza cannot be diagnosed by signs alone because the signs (coughing, sneezing, nasal discharge, fever) are similar to those of other respiratory illnesses in dogs. For dogs that have been sick for a short time, veterinarians swab the nose or throat and submit samples to a diagnostic laboratory for analysis. Specific blood testing can also be helpful in making a diagnosis.
Because CIV is a virus, the treatment mostly involves supportive care recommended by your veterinarian. Seriously ill dogs may require fluid therapy, but most affected dogs only need to be quarantined at home or in a kennel for 2 weeks while potentially contagious. Antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent or treat a subsequent bacterial infection.
Prevention and Vaccination
Any time your dog spends with other dogs increases your dog’s risk of exposure to CIV, so if an outbreak is occurring in your area, don’t allow your dog to have contact with other dogs. Ask kennel owners, groomers, show event managers, and your veterinarian what their facilities’ policies are regarding disinfection, quarantine, and disease prevention. As with human influenza, frequent hand washing and disinfection may help prevent the spread of CIV. If you think your dog may have been exposed to CIV, isolate him or her and contact your veterinarian.
There are vaccines that can help protect dogs from CIV. The vaccine does not prevent infection, but vaccinated dogs usually don’t become as sick as unvaccinated dogs and do recover more quickly. The vaccine is useful for dogs that may be exposed to high-risk environments, such as kennels, boarding facilities, dog parks, or dog shows. Ask your veterinarian whether your dog should be vaccinated against canine influenza.
Canine Influenza Fast Facts
www.cdc.gov/flu/canine (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
www.avma.org/public_health/influenza/canine_guidelines.asp (American Veterinary Medical Association)
What Is Canine Hip Dysplasia?
Canine hip dysplasia is a painful disease that affects millions of dogs each year. It is an inherited developmental disorder of the hip joint and can lead to debilitating arthritis. Its progression can be influenced by environmental factors, such as weight gain, nutrition, and exercise. Certain breeds, especially larger ones, are particularly prone to hip dysplasia, but the disease can affect dogs of any size and breed.
Just as in humans, the hip joint in dogs is a “ball and socket” joint. In healthy dogs, the ball and socket fit together tightly. In dogs suffering from hip dysplasia, the joint is “loose,” and the ball part of the joint may even rotate partially out of its socket. In time, this looseness causes wear and tear on the joint cartilage, leading to osteoarthritis.
Canine hip dysplasia is an inherited problem, meaning that certain breeds or families of dogs may be prone to it. For this reason, when purchasing or adopting a puppy, especially if it is a breed that is known to be predisposed to hip dysplasia, make sure the parents (if known) do not have hip problems and that the puppy has been screened by a veterinarian for any early signs of the disease.
What Are the Signs?
The disease is painful and progressive and can affect one or both hips. It can affect very young dogs (many are less than 1 year old), but dogs of any age can be affected. Clinical signs include:
Breeds that are most commonly affected include:
A diagnosis of hip dysplasia is made based on clinical signs, physical examination, and radiographs (x-rays). Two systems have also been developed for screening and/or diagnosing dogs with hip dysplasia. Responsible breeders use at least one of these systems before including a dog in their breeding program:
The OFA System: The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) oversees a multibreed hip registry database. The OFA’s system, which has been in use since 1966, has developed a standardized evaluation system and radiographic test to help breeders and owners assess the hip health of prospective parents as well as any puppies they may produce. Dogs must be 24 months of age or older to be included in the registry.
The PennHIP System: The PennHIP system, which was developed at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, has been in use since 1993. It uses a series of three radiographs to assess a “distraction index”—or DI—for each dog. The greater the DI, the higher the chances that the dog has or will develop hip dysplasia. The PennHIP analysis can be performed in puppies as young as 4 months of age.
Canine hip dysplasia is a serious, progressive disease, and better outcomes are typically achieved when it is diagnosed as early as possible and management and treatment measures are initiated promptly. Risk factors for the development of hip dysplasia in dogs that are genetically prone to the disease include obesity and overfeeding large-breed puppies during growth phases.
A proper diet that helps maintain an ideal weight, combined with a veterinarian-approved, regular exercise plan, can help slow the progression of hip dysplasia for some dogs. In less severe cases, medical management can also include providing pain medications as needed under veterinary supervision as well as administering oral or injectable joint supplements or medications. “Comfort care,” such as keeping dogs out of cold weather and performing massage or physical therapy, can also help keep affected dogs comfortable and slow progression of the disease for as long as possible.
In severe cases, surgery may be indicated. Surgical options include hip replacement surgery, reconstructing the hip joint, or removing the abnormal part of the joint and allowing the surrounding structures to form a “false joint” over time. Your veterinarian will discuss the best methods of management with you and whether surgery is an option for your dog.
NOTE: Canine hip dysplasia can be an expensive disease to manage and/or treat. Before purchasing or adopting a puppy, be sure to find out the hip “status” of the parents. If that is not possible, be sure to have your puppy’s hips evaluated by your veterinarian as soon as possible.
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