Thursday, September 24, 2009

Identifying when your dog has a serious health problem

Jessie was alert, but seemed lazy. I checked her gums and they went white and stayed white. I rushed her to the vet, who diagnosed her as having a tumour that was blocking her circulation.

Three-year old Zack was unsteady on his feet and lethargic. I checked his gums and they went brick red. I rushed him to the vet, who said he had suffered a stroke.

Your dog’s gums are a window to their health. If you suspect a medical problem, lift your dog’s lip and press the gums just above their teeth. By doing this the blood is forced out of the small capillaries under the skin, and you’re able to see the “capillary refill time”. If the gums stay white or take two seconds or more to return to their normal pink colour, or if the gums are bright, firey red, your dog could be experiencing a serious medical emergency.

If you suspect your dog is ill, check their gums. If they don’t return to their normal colour quickly, get immediate veterinary care.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Human foods poisonous for dogs

Like many dogs, carefree little Kokanee merrily grazes through her home looking for interesting stuff. After sniffing around mom’s purse, she hit the jackpot and snagged a few pieces of tasty xylitol sweetened gum. That was the start of some serious health problems and a lot of trips to the vet. The little gal is fine now, but it was quite a scare.

People typically child and pet-safe their homes by locking up prescription and over-the-counter drugs, alcohol and vitamins, and avoiding poisonous household plants, then accidentally or lovingly treat their furry companions to fatal foods. Here are some non-fido-friendly ingredients to watch for as either whole foods or as ingredients found in processed foods:

  1. Products sweetened with xylitol

Danger, danger. If you live with a diabetic or someone on a diet, watch your sweeteners. Even a few sticks of xylitol-sweetened gum or sweetener packages can cause liver damage. Check the ingredients listings – even when a product is sweetened with aspartame, it can also include traces of xylitol.

  1. Chocolate, cocoa powder and chocolate icings

Chocolate contains theobromine, a compound which makes dogs pee a lot and increases or changes their heart-rate. While excessive urination is uncomfortable, the heart rate changes can kill them. While some dogs miraculously eat a box of chocolates and survive, it’s likely that the chocolates were fruit filled with lots of milk and sugar rather than real high-quality chocolate. It’s chocolate purity that counts. One ounce or 28 grams of pure dark chocolate can kill an 11 pound dog.

  1. Coffee, coffee beans and coffee grounds

They all have caffeine, and dogs that eat caffeine can suffer from caffeine toxicity. The symptoms are similar to the symptoms of chocolate toxicity, and just as serious, if not more so.

  1. Hops

If you’re a home brewer, watch out. Hops can cause malignant hyperthermia, and potentially death. Unbeknownst to most vets, at least eight cases of hop toxicity in dogs have been recorded by the National Animal Poison Control Center at the University of Illinois.

  1. Macadamia nuts or macadamia nut butter

The toxic compound is unknown, but the affect causes locomotory difficulties. Dogs develop a tremor of the skeletal muscles and weakness or paralysis of the hindquarters. Affected dogs are often unable to rise and are distressed, usually panting. Some dogs have swollen limbs and show pain when the limbs are manipulated.

  1. Raw, cooked or dehydrated onions, onion powders

Onions contain a substance called thiosulphate which dogs and cats can’t digest. According to veterinarian Dr. Wendy Wallner onion toxicity causes a Heinz body anemia. Heinz bodies are small bubble-like projections which protrude from a red blood cell and can be seen when the cells are stained. This "bubble" is a weak spot in the red blood cell and, the cell has a decreased life-span and ruptures prematurely.

  1. Raisins and grapes

Grapes and raisins appear to cause renal failure in dogs. Veterinarians have not determined the toxic component and it’s also not clear if long-term ingestions can lead to the same effects that a large one-time ingestion can.

  1. Raw, cooked or powdered garlic

Garlic is also a member of the Allium species, in causing changes in red blood cells in dogs and cats.

NOTE: There’s a lot of controversy around garlic for dogs. Some sources claim that it’s poisonous, while others recommend serving it in small doses for its natural antibiotic properties. Do your own research. Talk with your vet. Then make your own informed decision.

  1. Green, unripe potatoes and tomatoes

The green parts are toxic. Potatoes, tomatoes and other Solanum species plants are members of the nightshade family. These plants contain solanine and other toxic alkaloids, which can produce drooling, severe gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting and diarrhea, loss of appetite, drowsiness, central nervous system depression, confusion, behavioral changes, weakness, dilated pupils and slowed heart rate.

  1. Other
  • Significant quantities of avocado fruit and branches.
  • Fruit pits or seeds, which often contain cyanide, which is poisonous.
  • Spices such as tumeric, nutmeg and mustard seed.
  • For cats, avoid cleaning and disinfecting products that contain Phenols

Cats are unable to process phenols and so if they ingest any (for example licking their paws after walking across a damp floor) the phenols will build up in their body as well as potentially cause severe burns to the skin. Phenols are found in pine scented products (pine based cat litter has the phenols removed) and in disinfectants that turn water 'milky' or cloudy.

Individual animals also have food allergies, which make them intolerant to specific items. Although problematic, these are not typically fatal. If you think your dog has food allergies, there is no reliable diagnostic test other than a strict food elimination diet. Your veterinarian would likely recommend an extremely limited diet and reintroduce foods until the cause is found.

Similar to humans, fatty foods can be harmful and even lead to pancreatitis, a serious inflammation, which can be fatal. And, large amounts of salt can produce excessive thirst and urination, or even sodium ion poisoning. It’s best to skip feeding fido salty scraps such as meat fat, chips and dips.

If you think your dog has been poisoned, telephone ahead, then bring your pet immediately to your veterinarian. In Regina for after-hour emergencies, contact the 24-Hour Clinic in Regina located at 1846 Victoria Ave East, 761-1449.

For more information, talk with your vet and read other online resources:

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dog 101: Doing it right

Imagine letting a two year old child run around your home at night. He’d get into trouble, break things, hurt himself – might even poop or pee somewhere he shouldn’t. The next day you would hit him, rub his nose in his poop, then set him free to get into trouble again.


You would put the little guy into a warm, safe crib with a diaper and try potty training in the morning – maybe even rewarding him with a Smartie if he did his business in the toilet.

Puppies are no different. Put him in a kennel, give him a safe toy, take him out to his pee spot in the morning then give him a biscuit for doing his business.

The sad reality is that many people get a dog, but don’t know what they’re supposed to do. They give the dog free access to the house, expect the dog to read their mind, think that he is doing things to be vengeful, then get frustrated and act out in anger. There are better ways.

Meet Bo. Bo is a four month old Australian Shepherd cross. Darn cute. He’s a very good puppy because his people are doing things right.

Here are some basics for new puppy people:

Picking your dog: This furry little friend will be with you for more than a decade so please think it through rather than acting on impulse. Understand what kind of dog fits your lifestyle – are you active or a couch potato? Do you want to have a wash-and-wear kind of dog, or do you want to spend time and money every six weeks on grooming? Can you afford the food bills for a bigger dog? Research the various breeds and quality breeders, talk with experienced dog people, then make an informed choice that fits your lifestyle.

Healthy Socialization: Get your dog used to everything – old people, young people, men, women, babies, cats, other dogs – you name it. The more exposure they can get, the better. Make sure they’re positive exposures- have your friends hand-feed your pup and give him or her affection. Ask your friends and family to gently handle the dog – doing all-over checks. That way your little pup will be easily handled by vets, groomers and other care providers. Take them to dog places – dog parks, positive-oriented obedience classes, agility, kennels, groomers, vets. The more they get to know other dogs, the better they’ll be at being a dog.

Basic Training: You’ll need to teach it house training, kennel training, leash training and some basic commands to give them manners and keep them safe.

Immediate Identification: Get a license, tattoo and microchip. They're more likely to make it home safely if he or she ever accidentally runs away.

Early Sterilization: Your little guy or gal will be healthier, happier and cleaner and less likely to exhibit aggression if you get her spayed or him neutered when young.

Annual Vaccination: Take your little one to the vet for a check-up and full set of vaccinations. Some people don’t realize that they need a series of shots – typically three vet visits – then an annual revaccination or titer count check thereafter.

Quality Nutrition and supplementation: Feed your dog the right quantity of high-quality foods. If you feed them cheap stuff, you’ll end up scooping most of it up out the back end. Feed them too much and you’ll end up with an unhealthy, obese dog. Giving them more treats doesn’t mean you love them more. Keeping them trim and healthy is a very loving gift. Really.

Regular Dental Care: Keep your dog’s teeth clean. A lot of dogs have really unhealthy mouths that are painful to them and expensive to their owners – teeth cleanings and extractions cost hundreds of dollars. Either give your dog crunchy things to chew on so they wear the plaque off (I give my dogs raw bones – other commercial products are available too), or brush your dog’s teeth regularly. Remember, the alternative is that it could cost you hundreds of dollars…..

Vigorous Exercise: Stimulate your dog’s mind and body. You’ll both enjoy life and each other’s company more that way. Your dog doesn’t want to be a couch potato – they want to run hard and play games with you –a tired dog is a good dog 

Keen Observation: Watch what goes in and out. Do all-over body checks to notice any changes, lumps or bumps. Keep a file to record any changes so you remember to discuss all the little things with your vet at their annual medical check-up.

Words of Caution: Dogs are like gambling addicts. If they get away with something once, they’ll think they can get away with it again. If you don’t want them to mooch food from the table, never feed them at the table. If you don’t want him or her to be on the furniture, never let them on. Letting them do something once lets says it’s fair game. And being inconsistent confuses them. And, particularly for small dog owners – never let your dog do anything that you wouldn’t let a 150 pound dog do. That means no biting, jumping, humping, scratching at your legs, etc. Everyone will be happier in the long-run.

Here are two excellent, more detailed resources to help you do it right: