Health Care Issues

Author

Cindy Moore, cindy@k9web.com
Copyright 1995-1997.

Table of Contents


Prologue

Considerable information herein is summarized from Carlson & Giffin, authors of a home veterinarian handbook. I would like to thank them for their informative and accessible information. Any mistakes made in the summaries are my responsibility and not Carlson & Giffin's. I believe that I am within copyright laws by using summarizations (no direct quoting, except for the toxic plants section), my own organization of the material, and precise acknowledgement where relevant.

This article is presented for informative purposes only, and should NOT be used to "replace" normal veterinary care. Rather, the information included is intended to allow you


In General

Your dog cannot tell you when it feels sick. You need to be familiar with its normal behavior -- any sudden change may be a signal that something is wrong. Behavior includes physical and social behavior; changes in either can signal trouble.

If you familiarize yourself with basic dog care issues, symptoms to look for, and a few emergency care treatments, you can go a long way toward keeping your dog healthy. Never attempt to replace vet care with your own (unless, of course, you are a vet); rather, try to be knowledgeable enough to be able to give your vet intelligent information about your dog's condition.

You should know some emergency care for your dog. This is beyond the scope of the FAQ, as you really need pictures or demonstrations. Check a home-vet book and ask your vet about them. Some of these include:

There are a number of good books that cover basic care for dogs. These include:

Miller, Harry. The Common Sense Book of Puppy and Dog Care. Bantam Books, Third Edition (revised) (1987). ISBN: 0-553-27789-8 (paperback).

Includes a section on practical home care, listing major symptoms you should be alert for, and listing general criteria by which you can determine a dog's overall healthiness. Discusses major diseases and problems, gives sketches on what may be wrong given certain symptoms.
Taylor, David. You and Your Dog. Alfred A. Knopf, New York (1991). ISBN:0-394-72983-8 (trade paperback).
Taylor gives flow-chart questions to consider when deciding if symptoms are serious or not. Not as comprehensive as other care books, but a good start in understanding what you need to look for when your dog seems off. Includes illustrations of many procedures, such as teeth cleaning and nail trimming. Informative discussion of reproductive system, grooming, and dog anatomy.
An *excellent* resource that details all aspects of health issues for dogs, and one that every conscientious dog owner should have is:

Carlson, Delbert G., DVM, and James M. Giffin, MD. Dog Owners's Home Veterinary Handbook. Howell Book House, Macmillan Publishing Company, 866 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022 USA (1980). ISBN: 0-87605-764-4 (hardcover).

This comprehensive book is a complete guide to health care of dogs. It lets you know when you can treat the dog, or when you need to take it to the vet post-haste. It lists symptoms so that you may inform your vet of relevant information about its condition. The arrangement of the material facilitates rapid reference. Illustration of key procedures (pilling, taking pulse/temperature, etc). Lists poisonous substances, including houseplants. A must have home veterinarian handbood.

Administering Medicine

There are many devices to aid in administering medicine. In particular, pill plungers are effective and available by mail order. A syringe with no needle is good for liquids. Ask your vet for some other ideas.

Pills

(summarized from Carlson & Giffin)

Open your dog's mouth and drop the pill down as far back as you can, on top of and in the center of the tongue. Close the dogs mouth and hold it shut while stroking the throat until your dog swallows. If it licks its nose, chances are that it swallowed the pill. Giving it a treat afterwards helps insure that the pill is swallowed.

You can try hiding the pills in a treat, say cheese or peanut butter. Pill plungers work well, also.

Liquids

(summarized from Carlson & Giffin)

Tilt the chin up at 45 degrees, and place the neck of the bottle into the cheek pouch, between the molar teeth and the cheek. Seal the lips around it with your fingers and pour in the liquid. Large amounts can be given this way. Hold the muzzle firmly while the dog swallows. Bottles, syringes and eyedroppers can be used. Your vet can help you out here.

Eyedrops

If you must administer eyedrops to your dog and it resists, try the following trick: stand behind your dog and hold the eye open to administer the drops. You don't appear as dominating this way.

Allergies

Dogs can get allergies just like people do. However, symptoms involve skin problems rather than respiratory distress. Check the skin problems section over for possible clues toward allergies. A common culprit is fleas, but dogs can be allergic to many other things, including some types of food commonly found in dog food.

A good way to have your dog's allergies tested is with an ELISA test. Your vet should know about this test and be able to have it done at your request.


Aging

Although aging is irreversible, some of the infirmities of an older dog may in fact be due to disease and therefore correctable or preventable. It is important for any dog over six years of age to be examined thoroughly every six months.

In particular, you want regular blood work done on your dog. For example if kidney function declines, you want to know so that you can switch to kidney-sensitive diets.

A recently published book is

Hampton, John K. Jr., PhD, and Suzanne Hampton, PhD. Senior Years: Understanding your Dog's Aging Process. Howell Book House. 1993. ISBN: 0-87605-734-2.

Behavioral changes

(summarized from Carlson & Giffin) Older dogs are more complacent, less energetic and curious. They may be forgetful, and sleep more. Crankiness and irritability are common. They are less tolerant of changes in the environment; in particular you may wish to have someone come by and check the dog at home rather than kennel it when you leave on vacation. Older dogs in hospitals and kennels go off their feed, become overanxious, and bark frequently.

Physical changes

(summarized from Carlson & Giffin)

Loss of muscular tone and lessened activity may result in the neck and body becoming more bulky, but the legs more thin. Resistance to cold is impaired and older dogs should always have a warm and draft-free bed. Arthritic dogs may need a padded surface on which to sleep.

Moderate exercise helps keep the joints supple, and should be encouraged, but not beyond its ability to do so. Also, some conditions, such as heart trouble, may necessitate restraining it from exercise. Toe nails will require more frequent trimming. Stiffening joints may make it more difficult for the dog to keep its genital and anal areas clean. The skin may dry out and require some care to keep it clean and less dry.

Loss of hearing and sight may occur. Tooth and gum disease is fairly common. Kidney failure and disease is more common (look for increased thirst and other symptoms of kidney failure). Incontinence (mostly in older spayed females, treatable with estrogen) may appear.

An older dog needs less calories; the food must be of high quality so that it still gets the nutrition it needs with fewer calories.

Geriatric Vestibular Disorder

Common in older dogs, apparently something happens neurologically in the connection between the brain and the inner ear (sometimes infection, sometimes inflammation). Very little is actually known about it, but it does tend to subside after about a day or so. Unfortunately, the dog is generally unable to eat or drink, as it is completely disoriented.

Dogs rarely show any enduring effects from such an episode other than sometimes their head leaning or tilting to one side.


Bathing

You may need to bathe your dog on occasion. The main thing to remember is that dogs' skin is more delicate than humans. It is much more prone to drying out when you wash it. Human based shampoos are formulated to remove all the oils. You need to get one formulated for dogs that will remove dirt but not the essential oils for the coat. Dogs that are frequently bathed may require some supplements (such as Linatone or vegetable oil) to keep their skin and coat healthy.

A condition called impetigo may result from not rinsing all the soap out. Other general problems, such as fleas that prefer dried-out skin, may occur.

Procedure

(summarized from Carlson & Giffin)

First, groom your pet to rid its coat of any mats or knots. Bathing will not remove these and in fact will worsen them. Plug its ears with cotton to prevent water in the ears. To prevent soap-burn in the eye, smear the eye area with a little vaseline, or administer a drop of mineral oil in each eye.

Wet your dog thoroughly. Using a nozzle and spray is much easier. Using a shampoo formulated for dogs (the pH balance of human shampoos is wrong), lather and rinse its head carefully, keeping soap and water out of its eyes and ears. Lather and rinse the rest of its body. Relather and rinse any other areas that had stubborn stains.

Rinse your dog *thoroughly*, and then rinse it again, even beyond when you think you've got all the soap out. Try adding Alpha-Keri bath oil (one teaspoonful per quart water) to the final rinse for coat luster. Do NOT use vinegar, lemon, or bleach rinses; they are acidic and will damage the dog's coat and skin.

Dry your dog gently with towels, and keep it indoors until it is completely dry to avoid chilling.

Dry shampoos

Dogs with very oily coats may benefit from "dry-cleaning" in between baths. Calcium carbonate, talcum/baby powder, Fuller's earth, and cornstarch are all effective. They can be used frequently without fear of removing essential oils or damaging the coat and skin.

Apply the powder, then brush out, against the lay of the hair, from the bottom up (toes to head) with a soft bristle brush. Then brush the whole dog normally to get all the powder out.

Tar

Do not use petroleum solvents, which are extremely harmful, to remove the tar from your pet's skin. Instead, trim away excess coat containing tar where possible. Soak remaining tarry parts in vegetable oil overnight and then give your dog a complete bath.

Sap

Sap (especially pine tree sap) often must simply be trimmed off. However, some people have had success with Murphy's Oil Soap.

Dental Care

Owners that practice good dental care with their dog will reap many benefits in the long run.

Typical problems

The most common cause of bad breath is excessive calculus and plaque deposits on the teeth. Bacteria live and feed in the plaque and produce gum and bone infection, pain, and bad breath.

Calculus is a crusty collection of food particles, minerals, and bacteria that forms at the teeth-gum borders.

Plaque formation eventually leads to gum disease, mouth odors, receding gums and bone destruction and infection. The rate at which plaque forms in your dog's mouth is mainly due to genetic predisposition, but can be slowed by daily oral hygiene using antiplaque liquid or gel and/or pastes and regular professional cleaning and polishing.

Pyorrhea (inflamed and infected gums) of the teeth is often the cause of kidney infections and endocarditis in older dogs. The pressure on the gums and infection of the teeth is quite painful to your dog.

Preventive steps

An antiplaque liquid or gel (Chlorhexidine) can be applied to the gum tissue with a cotton ball or swab. As an alternative, a soft bristle toothbrush or finger brush can be used with a non-foaming enzymatic toothpaste manufactured for dogs.

Treatments should be done daily or at least every other day, depending on the current problems. Only a few areas are particularly susceptible to plaque and calculus formation. The areas of greatest concern are the canines and upper back molars (side facing cheeks).

Chlorhexidine penetrates gum tissue and prevents bacterial growth, plaque build-up, gingivitis, and bad breath. In addition to the canines and molars, look at the front incisor teeth and brush away any accumulation of hair and food at the gum line if present.

To remove existing calculus deposits, your dog will require short general anesthesia and your dog's teeth will be cleaned with dental instruments along with an ultra-sonic machine that vibrates the calculus off the surface of the teeth. Calculus from under the gum tissue is carefully removed using a hand scaler. Finally, the teeth are polished to reduce purchase for new deposits. This can often be done when the dog is under anasthetic for other reasons, such as neutering.

Cavities, etc

Dogs do not commonly get cavities. When they do occur, it is more often at the root of the tooth rather than at the crown. Cavities can lead to root abscesses.

Abscessed roots often cause a swelling just below the animal's eye. Generally, tooth extractions are needed at this point.

Disease Transmission (Zoonoses)

Zoonotic diseases are those that can be transmitted from animals to people.

(summarized from Carlson & Giffin)

Any worm infestation has the potential of causing problems in humans. Standard hygienic precautions will avoid most of these. Things to watch for: babies getting infected when playing near or on contaminated soil or feces, working in the garden without gloves.

Rabies, toxoplasmosis, brucellosis, and tetanus (lockjaw) can all affect both dogs and humans. Again, simple hygienic precautions will avoid most problems.


Ears

Your dog's ears should be clean, slighly pink-gray and have no odor. Problems with the ear to watch for include: The most common problems with ears are ear infections (yeast or bacterial). Ear mites are actaully pretty uncommon in dogs. In any case, any of the above symptoms are grounds for having the vet check your dog's ears out.

Ear mites are treated with medication. Sometimes a reapplication is needed. Some people have gotten rid of light infestations by cleaning the ear out and then coating lightly with baby oil or mineral oil.

Ear infections are a little harder to treat, usually requiring daily ear drops for a week or so, weekly drops for some time after that. Some dogs prone to ear infections need to have ear drops on a regular basis. Drop-eared dogs are a bit more prone to ear infections, as prick ears normally allow more air circulation.

An easy home remedy to *prevent* ear infections (will not cure an existing one) is:

2 Tablespoons Boric Acid
4 oz Rubbing Alcohol
1 Tablespoon Glycerine

Shake well. Put 1 small eyedropperfull in each ear. Rub it around first, and then let the dog shake. Do this once a week and you shouldn't see any ear infections. It works by raising the pH level slightly inside the ear, making it less hospitable to bacteria.

To clean out an ear that's simply dirty (some buildup of dirt and wax is normal, but excessive ear wax may indicate that something else is wrong), take a cotton ball, dip in hydrogen peroxide if you like (squeeze excess out) and wipe the dog's ear out. The canal is rather deep, so you will not injure your dog so long as you only use your finger to probe the canal. Clean all around the little crevices as best as you can. Use another cotton ball for the other ear. Be sure to dry the ears out thoroughly.

Food

There are many dog food formulations out there, ranging from inexpensive grocery-brands to expensive premium food. You should find out what suits your dog best: while many dogs have done just fine on dog chow, others do much better with other foods such as Nature's Recipe, Iams, Pro-Plan, etc.

The theory behind the more expensive foods is that they are more digestible and contain less "bulk" and "fill." Hence, your dog will eat less in volume (and thus the extra cost of the food is somewhat offset) and excrete small and firm stools. You may need to experiment to find out how your dog does on different brands. Dogs vary in their individual reactions.

Food should be fed once or twice a day. Put the food down and take it up again after ten to twenty minutes regardless of whether your dog has finished eating it. This discourages "picky eating" and lets you be certain of exactly how much food your dog is eating. Frequently, a problem is first indicated when your dog's feeding goes off, so scheduled feeding like this (rather than free feeding) will tip you off to potential problems right away.

The larger or younger your dog is, the better multiple daily feedings are; simply divide up each day's portion into individual feedings. Fresh water should always be available, and changed at least once a day.

Vegetables

Many dogs appreciate vegetables. In particular if your dog is fond of munching on the grass, you can often alleviate this by feeding vegetables to your dog. Stick with fresh, raw foods: carrots, broccoli and cauliflower stems, apple cores, etc are popular. Stay away from potatoes and onions.

People food

Feeding your dog "people food," i.e., table scraps and such is a poor idea. First, you may encourage your dog to make a pest of itself when you are eating. Second, feeding a dog table scraps is likely to result in an overweight dog. Third, if your dog develops the habit of gulping down any food it can get, it may seriously poison or distress itself someday.

Eating problems: gulping, etc.

For a dog that gulps the food down so rapidly that gas is a result, you can slow down the rate of eating by putting large, clean rocks (3-4" diameter) in the dish along with the food.

Home Cooking Food

Cooking food for one's own dog is a trend that is increasingly popular. It is controversial, with some adherents claiming every kind of benefit possible and detractors pointing out problems. Whatever position one takes on this concept, it's clear that for the dog owner who wishes to proceed with, thorough research must be done. Tracy Landauer has kindly supplied a good overview. Please note that improper attention to the nutritional requirements of your dog will make him quite sick. This is not something to undertake lightly or on a whim:

For anyone considering switching over to a raw diet, do your homework first; don't just jump in blindly.

All of the books below should be available at either Amazon.com or Direct Book Services. Most folks start with the Pitcairn book. The first Billinghurst book spawned the unfortunate acronym, BARF (Bones And Raw Foods). Kymythy's book is also very easy to comprehend and use - she even includes charts and blank grocery lists. Goldstein's book is an excellent read.

Wellpet is an email listserv dedicated to natural pet care and diets; warning, it's a high-traffic list, but for starters, their web site has a lot of the basics and great FAQs. Their web site would be the best place to get basic info about feeding raw and why. It's an inexact science, be warned. Subscription info there too. See http://www.listservice.net/wellpet/welcome.htm.

There's also a discussion group on OneList called rawdiets, and another email list called K9 Cuisine.


Incontinence

The most common occurrence of incontinence is in the older spayed bitch. Most often this is due to a hormonal imbalance and as such is easily treated in one of two drugs. The traditional way is with doses of DES (estrogen). Typically, the dosage is varied until the incontinence stops, and often the dosage can be later reduced altogether. Another method of treatment is with phenylpropanolamine (PPA, brand name Dexatrim) which tightens all the muscles.

DES replaces the hormones, restoring the hormonal balance. PPA works independently of the hormones and as such, may introduce new problems. Both drugs are known to cause problems and side effects, although typically, the level of dosage that DES is administered at for incontinence will not cause problems. At high dosages, DES is thought to be linked with breast cancer and obesity. Since PPA tightens all muscles in the body, it can potentially cause serious side effects, especially with the heart. There is speculation that PPA is often prescribed at dosages too high for dogs. In humans, PPA is not advised when thyroid levels are low; this might also be a problem with dogs.

Which drug is safer for your particular spayed bitch depends on the particular dog and her particular veterinary history. What's best for one dog might be bad for another, depending on what other veterinary conditions or susceptibilities she has.


Neutering

If you are not planning to breed your pet or put it to stud service, or your dog's breeding days are over, you will want to neuter it. There are a number of health benefits associated with neutering, for either sex.

Technically, the general term for either sex is neutering; bitches are spayed and dogs are castrated. However, general usage is that bitches are spayed or neutered and dogs are neutered.

Neutering is *not* a solution to behavioral problems; training is. However with some dogs it can alleviate some factors that make it more difficult to train. But you cannot expect to neuter your dog and have it turn into an angel without any work.

Tip: let your dog eliminate before taking it in and again after getting it back. Many dogs, especially crate-trained dogs, will not eliminate in the vet's kennels during their stay.

Castration

Dogs are castrated. A general anesthetic is administered, the testicles are removed (oriectomy) and several stitches are used to close it up. The scrotum will shrink and soon disappear after castration. You will want to neuter the dog around six months of age, although dogs can be neutered at any time after this. For example stud dogs are typically neutered after they are too old to breed, and they suffer no ill effects. Some clinics may use a local anesthetic instead.

Spaying

Bitches are spayed; this is an ovario-hysterectomy (uterus and ovaries are removed). She must be put under general anesthesia. A large patch of fur will be shaved (to prevent later irritation of the incision) off the lower abdomen. You may have to take your bitch back in to remove the stitches. From a health point of view, the earlier the bitch is spayed, the better. Ideally, she should be spayed before her first heat, this reduces the risk of reproductive and related cancer (e.g., breast cancer) later in life considerably; not to mention guaranteeing no unwanted puppies. The most dramatic rise in risk of cancer occurs after the second heat or two years of age, whichever comes first before spaying. After that, while the risk is high, it does not rise further.

Post-op recovery

You will need to watch to make sure your dog does not try to pull out its stitches, and consult your vet if it does. You might, in persistent cases, need to get an Elizabethan collar to prevent the animal from reaching the stitches. Puffiness, redness, or oozing around the stitches should be also reported to the vet. Some stitches "dissolve" on their own; others require a return to the vet for removal.

For further information on how neutering may affect your dog, see the section on neutering in Assorted Topics.

Cost

The cost can vary widely, depending on where you get it done. There are many pet-adoption places that will offer low-cost or even free neutering services, sometimes as a condition of adoption. Local animal clinics will often offer low-cost neutering. Be aware that spaying will always cost more than castrating at any given place since spaying is a more complex operation. Vets almost always charge more than clinics, partly because of overhead, but also because they often keep the animal overnight for observation and will do free followup on any later complications. Larger animals will cost more than smaller ones.

Pet Assistance has a program to help you locate low-cost neutering. There may be an 800 number, but the San Diego number is 619-697-7387. They can refer you to a veterinarian in your area who will perform low-cost spaying or neutering. Other low cost/coupon assistance: 1-800-321-PETS; Pet Savers Foundation at 1-800-248-SPAY. Most vets honor these coupons.

Effect on behavior

There is an extensive discussion on the effect neutering has on a dog's behavior in the Assorted Topics chapter of the FAQ. In summary, no one really knows, and for every example presented, a counter-example can be made.

Overheating

Dogs are not as good as people in shedding excess heat. You should take general care during hot and summer weather that your dog does not get too hot. Make sure shade and water is available and that there is some fresh air. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR DOG IN A CAR on a hot day! Cars heat up much more quickly than you think and that one inch or so of open window will not help. If you park in the shade, the sun may move more quickly than you think. A water-filled pump sprayer can help keep your dog cool. But your best bet is to prevent overheating.

Heatstroke is indicated by some or more of the following symptoms:

Wet the dog down gradually using cool, not cold water. Get it out of direct sunlight. Give it a little cool water to drink at a time. Cold compresses to the belly and groin helps. Get the dog to the vet. A dog that has had heatstroke before can be prone to getting it again.
Puberty

Bitches

In general, a bitch can start her first estrus, or "heat" between the ages of 6 months to 18 months. If you know when her dam first went into heat, that will give you a good indication of what to expect with your puppy. It is often felt that the larger breeds take longer to enter heat than the smaller ones felt, but familial patterns, if known, are a more reliable indicator.

The first signs of estrus include: a small amount of clear discharge, a modest swelling of the vulva (the external genital fold), and increased licking of the area. Some bitches have a shortened attention span. This period can last from 4 to 14 days. Other dogs will show an interest in licking the area (as opposed to just smelling it) as well.

The next stage includes bloody discharge, which can be anything from a few spots of blood to leaving a trail behind as they go, and increased swelling of the vulva. The nipples will enlargen somewhat. This period can last anywhere from 4-14 days as well. At the end of this stage, the vulva is at maximal size.

At this point the bitch is fertile and ready to be bred, and will accept male dogs. This stage lasts for several days. After the first heat cycle, the bitch's vulva and nipples will shrink down, but not to the puppy size that they were before.

However, there is much individual variation. Some bitches can show little or no sign of being in season throughout much of their estrus cycle. Some will always accept male dogs (even when they are not yet fertile) and others never accept them.

Spaying is generally done when the bitch is not in season. The increased vascularity (higher blood flow) in the organs makes the operation more risky. In addition, such an operation would alter the balance of hormones in the dog's body rather abruptly, a potential source of problems. However, it can be done, and often is if the bitch winds up unintentionally pregnant, for example.

Dogs

Male puppies are born with undescended testicles, just like human males. Somewhere between 4 months to a year, the testicles will descend, although you should be able to feel the testicles from about 7 weeks onward. At about this time the levels of testosterone are peaking. An intact male dog between 10 and 12 months of age has about five times the testosterone level he will have in his final adult intensity, if he is not neutered!

Male puppies will urinate like female puppies (by squatting) until about the time their testicles descend, and then will generally start to urinate standing up. Initial confusion is normal at this stage: be prepared for the puppy to raise the wrong leg, try to raise both legs, try to walk at the same time, or even try to use people as a "post"! You can encourage him to restrict his marking by praising him when he marks an acceptable item and scolding him when he is not. Discourage him from marking when you are on a walk; get him to mark around your yard as much as possible. (Marking, as opposed to urinating, is when only a small amount of urine is deposited.) Neutering early may or may not affect this behavior.

If a dog has only one testicle, he is monorchid. If he has one undescended testicle, he is cryptorchid (unilateral); two undescended and he is cryptorchid (bilateral). Popular but incorrect usage calls the dog with one undescended testicle monorchid and two undescended cryptorchid. Granted, you may not be able to tell whether a dog is monorchid or has unlateral cryporchidsm without exploratory surgery. Undescended testicles often become cancerous and should be removed. Furthermore, such dogs should not be bred since the condition is hereditary.

Further Reading

From a MedLine search:

TI: Questions and answers on the effects of surgically neutering dogs and cats.
AU: Johnston-SD
SO: J-Am-Vet-Med-Assoc. 1991 Apr 1; 198(7): 1206-14

TI: Effects of neutering and spaying on the behavior of dogs and cats: questions and answers about practical concerns.
AU: Hart-BL
SO: J-Am-Vet-Med-Assoc. 1991 Apr 1; 198(7): 1204-5

TI: Gonadectomy in immature dogs: effects on skeletal, physical, and behavioral development.
AU: Salmeri-KR; Bloomberg-MS; Scruggs-SL; Shille-V
SO: J-Am-Vet-Med-Assoc. 1991 Apr 1; 198(7): 1193-203

TI: Implications of early neutering in the dog and cat.
AU: Stubbs-WP; Bloomberg-MS
SO: Semin-Vet-Med-Surg-Small-Anim. 1995 Feb; 10(1): 8-12


Skin Problems

Remember that a dog's skin is composed of only one layer, so it is much more delicate than a human's skin, which has three layers. A dog's skin depends on the hair and oils on it to keep it in good condition.

Some preventive steps:

Relieving dry skin

Some things to try:

Allergies followed by staph infections

Once a dog has an allergic reaction, it is quite common to have a secondary staph infection. Many vets aren't familiar with this. The staph infection may stay around long after the allergy is gone.

A vet that specializes in dermatology can be of great help in dealing with skin problems. See if your vet can refer you to such a person.

Some studies on primrose and fish oil in helping relieve or cure secondary infections from allergies are documented in DM, March 1992. More information may also be obtained from writing to the RVC Dermatology Dept, Royal College St, London. NW1.

Summary table

It is beyond the scope of this FAQ to examine any of these skin problems in great detail, but here is a summary table of possible problems. Summarized from the summary tables in Carlson & Giffin, pages 67-69.

Itchy Skin Disorders

Name Symptoms ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Scabies | *intense* itching, small red spots, typical crusty ear tips ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Walking | puppies 2-12wks, dry flakes move from head to neck to back, Dandruff | mild itchiness ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Fleas | itching/scratching on back, tail, hindquarters ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Lice | on poorly kept/matted coat dogs, uncommon, may have bald spots ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Ticks | irritation at site of bite, often beneath ear flaps or thin skin ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Damp Hay | severe itch from worm larvae, contacted from damp marsh hay Itch | (regional) ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Inhalation | severe itch, face rubbing, licking paws, seasonal Allergy | also regional ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Flea Allergy| scratching continues after fleas killed, pimple rash Dermatitis | ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Contact | itching/irritation at site of contact Dermatitis | ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Allergic | repeated or continuous contact (eg flea collar), Contact Derm. rash may spread ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Lick sores | "boredom sores", licking starts at wrists/ankles -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hormone-related Hair Loss or Poor Hair Growth

Name Symptoms ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Thyroid | loss of hair Deficiency | (see Canine Ailments) ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Cortisone | hair loss in symmetrical pattern, esp. trunk, skin is thin Excess | may also be from steroid treatments ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Estrogen | greasy hair, hair loss in flanks/abdomen, wax in ears, loss of excess | hair around genitals, enlargened nipples, dry skin, brittle hair ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Estrogen | scanty hair growth, smooth soft skin deficiency | ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Acanthosis | hair loss in armpit folds, black thick greasy rancid skin Nigrans | ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Seborrhea | "dandruff", hair/skin oily, yellow brown scales on skin, | resembles ringworm -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Other Hair Loss, etc

Name Symptoms ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Collie Nose | sunburn on lightly pigmented nose, loss of hair next to nose ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Ringworm | scaly/crusty/red circular patches .5-2in diameter w/hair loss | in center and red margin at edge (not from a worm) ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Demodectic | hair loss around eyelids, mouth, front leg, young dogs mange #1 | ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Demodectic | progression of #1, patches enlarge & coalesce, pyoderma mange #2 | complications, affects all ages ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Calluses, | gray/hairless/wrinkled skin over elbow, pressure points elbow sores | -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

With Pus Drainage (Pyoderma)

Name Symptoms ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Puppy | impetigo: pus filled blisters, crusty hairless skin Dermatitis | on abdomen, groin; acne: purple-red bumps on chin, lower lip ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Hair pore | pimple-like bumps on back, sometimes draining sinus, infection | hair loss ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Skin Wrinkle| inflamed skin, foul odor in lip fold, facial fold, Infection | vulvar fold, tail fold ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Hot Spots | in heavy coated dogs, painful inflamed patches of skin with | a wet, pus covered surface from which hair is lost ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Cellulitis | painful hot inflamed skin (wound infections, foreign bodies, | breaks in skin) ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Abscesses | pockets of pus beneath the skin, swells, comes to a head & drains ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Puppy | under 4mos, sudden painful swelling of lips, eyelids, Strangles | ears and face, draining sores, crusts, and sinus tracts | (prompt vet attention required, do not pop "acne") -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Lumps or Bumps on/beneath Skin

(all lumps should be checked by vet even if not apparently painful) Name Symptoms ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- Papillomas, | anywhere, including mouth, not painful Warts | can look like chewing gum stuck to skin ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Hematomas | (bruises) - esp. on ears, from trauma ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Tender Knots| esp. at site of shot or vaccination, painful ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Cysts | smooth lumps beneath skin, slow growth, possible cheesy | discharge, possible infection, otherwise not painful ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- Possibly | rapid growth, hard & fixed to surrounding tissue, cancerous | any lump from a bone, starts to bleed, a mole that spreads or lump | ulcerates, open sores that do not heal (only way to tell for | sure is a biopsy) -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Diagnosing

Skin problems are not easy to diagnose and cure, but there is a lot of research going on. Something that can help is to keep a diary for the dog. Every day, record what the dog ate, what the weather was like, whether it is itching or not, and anything else that might be relevant (visitors, for instance, when it is bathed, and so forth). It's sometimes hard to recall all the variables that might be affecting the dog, but if you keep a diary, sometimes patterns become very clear.

Temperature

Normal temperature range for a dog is 100 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Because dogs regulate their temperature less efficiently than people do, there is more variation in "normal" temperature. Your dog's temperature will be higher just after exercise, on a hot day, while snuggled under a blanket, etc.

Dogs' temperatures are normally taken rectally. Try a digital read-out rectal thermometer, available at any drug store. Put a little Vaseline or KY Jelly on the tip, insert gently into the rectum (not too far), and hold for a minute or so. The digital model has a beeper that goes off when "done." The thermometer is easy to clean with soap & water or wipe with alcohol.


Trimming Nails

Most dogs need to have nails trimmed at some point. While the vet will often clip them for you, many dogs need their nails trimmed more often than that to prevent injuries and other problems associated with overgrown nails.
A tip: Look for illustrations of dog nails. Most dog care books will have one. Cardinal (a dog products vendor) provides a small poster that illustrates not only normal nail clipping but also how to gradually work back the length of nails that have grown too long and is quite informative.

Clipping

Use nail clippers available at pet stores. Look for the guillotine type (don't use the human variety, this will crush and injure your dog's nail) and get blade replacements as the sharper the blade is the easier this procedure is. There is another kind that looks like scissors with hooked tips that are also good, and may be easier to handle (however, the blades cannot be replaced on this type).

Before cutting the nails, examine them carefully. If the nails are are white, the difference between the nail and the pink quick is easy to see (use good lighting). If the nails are dark, it will be much harder to tell where the quick is, in which case you must take care.

If your dog resists having its nails trimmed, try trimming them while you sit on a couch with the dog on its back in your lap. By putting the dog on its back, you make the nails accessible and put the dog in a submissive position where they are less apt to fight. As with many things, this is easiest if you start while your dog is still a pup.

If the cutter is sharp, the nails won't crack if you cut at right angles to the nail. that is, hold it so that the blades are on the top and bottom of the nail, not to the sides of the nail.

Do not cut below the quick. It will be painful to your dog and bleed everywhere. When in doubt, trim less of the nail. It will just mean trimming more often. Clip the portion above the quick for each nail and don't forget the dewclaws. Keep a styptic pencil on hand to staunch any blood flow. Flour or cornstarch will help in a pinch.

Dewclaws are a "fifth" toe, positioned as a "thumb" to the rest of the nails and they do not touch the ground. Not all dogs have them, and they may be found on the front legs only or on all four legs. Many dogs have their dewclaws removed when they are puppies to prevent infection resulting from easily injured dewclaws. Some adult dogs that regularly tear their dewclaws should have them removed. While they take longer to heal than three-day old puppies that have had theirs removed do, the pain of periodically tearing them and going in to the vet to have them bandaged back up makes the surgery worth while.

Grinding

The nail grinder avoids the potential problems of cutting the quick, nails cracking, and sharp edges afterwards. The nails can also be thinned, allowing the quick to recede, resulting in shorter nails and a tighter paw.

RC Steele and other mail-order companies sell them for about $45. One model is the Oster Pet Nail Groomer, Model 129, with two speeds. Some dogs may be spooked by the noise. It may help to watch someone who knows how to use it first.

Filing

You can use a wood rasp and file your dog's nails down. Also, if you clip them, using a plain file afterwards helps smooth the edges down and keep them neat. You can use "people files" or purchase files shaped for this purpose.

Vaccinations

Regularly scheduled shots

An indispensable part of keeping your dog healthy is to keep its vaccinations up-to-date. A table, lifted from Carlson & Giffin, shows all the major vaccinations (at minimum) that a dog in the US should have. Conditions in your area may necessitate additional shots; ask your vet about them as they may not always be routinely included in normal shot programs. DHLPP is a combination shot: Distemper, (Canine) Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, (Canine) Parainfluenza, (Canine) Parvovirus. Age Vaccine Recommended -------------------------------------------------------------- 5-8 wks | Distemper - measles - CPI ------------------+------------------------------------------- 14-16 wks | DHLPP, Rabies ------------------+------------------------------------------- 12 mos & annually | DHLPP ------------------+------------------------------------------- 12 mos & | Rabies 3 yr intervals | --------------------------------------------------------------

Vaccination failure

Vaccinations may fail under the following conditions:

Other vaccines

Not an exhaustive list: Other vaccines and preventives should also be given such as heartworm, Lyme disease, etc, when needed. Heartworm prevention should begin around 5 months, but then it depends on where you live. Those living in warmer, damper areas with higher concentration of heartworm may want to start earlier. Lyme disease vaccine instructions recommend giving it around 12 weeks; Bordatella vaccines (for Kennel cough) around 6 months or earlier depending on risk.

Vaccine overload?

Be sure your dog is safe and vaccinated against everything you think the dog may be exposed to, however, don't overload its system! You can do more harm than good by vaccinating your dog for everything all at once than if you stagger the vaccinations and let the individual immunities build up gradually.

For some interesting material on new suggested vaccination protocols, see: http://www.cvmbs.colostate.edu/vth/savp2.html.

Up-to-date on shots?

Do you know what it means when your vet tells you your dog has ALL its shots? Chances are, your dog isn't. Stay informed and read up in some of the dog literature about what types of vaccinations your dog should have. Then make sure your vet has administered vaccines for the appropriate things -- it's up to YOU to make sure your dog has *all* its shots, not your vet.

For an interesting article on vaccinations, see the May 1992 issue of Dog World. Another thoughtful article by Christine Wilford, DVM is in Gazette, January 1994.


Vomiting

One of the most common and non-specific symptoms that a dog can have. You must look at how and what it is vomiting. If your dog vomits once or twice and then seems its normal self, it is probably not serious.

Non-serious causes

(summarized from Carlson & Giffin)

Most commonly: overeating. Animals that gulp their food and immediately exercise (esp. puppies) are likely to vomit. This is not serious. Feeding in smaller portions more often helps eliminate this problem. In particular, if the vomit looks like a solid tube of partially or non digested food, your dog ate too fast.

Note that eating grass or other indigestible material is also a common cause of vomiting.

Types of vomiting

(summarized from Carlson & Giffin)
Repeated vomiting:
Its last meal is first vomited. Then a clear, frothy liquid. This suggests a stomach irritant. Grass, spoiled food, other indigestibles, and certain infectious illnesses (such as gastroenteritis) all cause irritation of the stomach lining.

Sporadic vomiting:
The dog vomits off and on, but not continuously. No relationship to meals, poor appetite. Haggard appearance and listlessness may indicate an internal organ disorder, a chronic illness, a heavy worm infestation, or diabetes. A thorough checkup is called for.

Vomiting blood:
Fresh blood indicates a break in the mucus lining somewhere between the mouth and the upper small bowel. Common causes are foreign bodies, tumors and ulcers. Material which looks like coffee grounds is old, partly digested blood -- the problem is somewhere in the stomach or duodenum. Vomiting blood is always serious and requires a trip to the vet.

Fecal vomiting:
If the vomit is foul and smells like feces, there is an obstruction somewhere in the intestinal tract. Blunt or penetrating abdominal trauma is another cause. The dog will become rapidly dehydrated with this type of vomiting and requires vet attention.

Projectile vomiting:
The vomit is forcefully expelled, sometimes for a distance of several feet. It is indicative of complete blockage in the upper gastrointestinal tract. Foreign bodies, hairballs, duodenal ulcers, tumors and strictures are possible causes. Intracranial pressure can also cause projectile vomiting, causes can be brain tumor, encephalitis, and blood clots. Take the dog to the vet.

Vomiting foreign objects:
Includes bone splinters, rubber balls, (pieces of) toys, sticks and stones. Sometimes worms. You may want to have the vet check your pet for any other foreign objects, although not all of these will show up readily on x-ray scans.

Emotional or Stress vomiting:
Sometimes excited or upset dogs vomit. Remove the dog from the source of distress. If it is something it will encounter often, you will have to train the dog to remain calm around the source.

Motion sickness:
Vomits in the car. Most dogs will outgrow this problem. Check with your vet if it does not. See Carsickness in Assorted Topics for further comments.

Worms

Summary

Worm Symptoms ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- roundworms | pot belly, dull coat, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of weight ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- hookworms | anemia, diarrhea, bloody stools (esp. puppies) ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- tapeworms | "rice" on anal area or in stools, possible diarrhea/vomiting ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- whipworms | loss of weight, some diarrhea, difficult to detect ------------+---------------------------------------------------------------- threadworms | profuse watery diarrhea, lung infection symptoms (esp. puppies) -----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Preventing worms

(summarized from Carlson & Giffin.)

The best way to deal with worms, of course, is to make use of worm prevention techniques.

Most worms have a lifecycle that makes it easy to reinfest dogs because only part of that lifecycle is on the dog. Steps you can take to control worms in general:

Puppies

Most puppies have worms, as some immunity to worms only comes after six months of ages and the mother will infect them with her dormant worm larvae. Puppies should be wormed at 2-3 weeks and again at 4-6 weeks. You should be especially vigilant for worms while your puppy is still growing; a bad case of worms can seriously interfere with its development. Bring fresh fecal samples in regularly to the vet for analysis.
Health Care Issues FAQ
Cindy Moore, cindy@k9web.com
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