Canine Care: Are We Being Good Pet Parents?

Written by R. Jill Fink, MFA

For over 10,000 years, we have welcomed the domesticated canine into our homes. Dogs are more than just our best friends; they are our family members. We provide a loving home and care for them 24/7, but do we really do all we can to provide them with a long, happy, and healthy life? What else can we do, as pet parents, to keep Fido in top shape?

Local Veterinarian Dr. Sue Billiar, at All Pets Clinic on Silver Springs Boulevard, has 31 years of experience in her field. Dr. Billiar says that many pet owners might not fully realize the importance of a yearly physical examination. Sadly, an estimated 5 million to 8 million animals are euthanized in the U.S. every year due to overpopulation. Dr. Billiar stated that a common myth exists that female dogs should go through a heat cycle and have one litter of puppies before being spayed, but this is simply not true.

Like us, dogs need proper nutrition, exercise and a clean living environment. They also suffer from many of the same ailments that plague humans. Did you know that some dogs suffer from acne? They can also deal with dilemmas like allergies, skin conditions, ear infections, weight management, and influenza. Dogs are also susceptible to more serious “human” illnesses like heart disease, epilepsy, and cancer.

The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, or HSVMA, lists over 300 different “congenital and heritable disorders in dogs.” Canine diseases can come from other sources like environmental causes, autoimmune disease, or inadequate care. When purchasing from a breeder, it’s up to the buyer to make sure the seller has screened the puppy’s parents for health issues before deemed suitable for producing offspring. The breeder also needs to have appropriate tests done at the vet’s office on all of the dogs they offer as parents or puppies. It’s a great idea to thoroughly research a potential breeder.

The most common genetic disorder in dogs is hip dysplasia. Diagnosis before breeding is necessary to keep breeding stock healthy and limit occurences in offspring. The hip joint is a ball-and-socket arrangement that requires lubricating joint fluid. Without a good fit, inflammation occurs and eventually, arthritis can set in. Hip dysplasia can be diagnosed only by x-ray of the hip joint. Other genetic canine ailments range from tumors to diabetes. Dogs can also develop diabetes as part of aging and can often be controlled by diet and exercise. Regular insulin shots may be prescribed as well.

Arthritis can also occur in elderly pets. Noticeable symptoms are mobility issues like reluctance or inability to jump or run. Your veterinarian can diagnose most forms of arthritis during a routine exam. Sometimes, an x-ray might be suggested in order to measure inflammation or rule out other potential problems. While there is no cure for arthritis, there are different treatment options available.

According to the American Heartworm Society, heartworm disease is a “serious and potentially fatal disease in pets.” Heartworms can grow up to fourteen inches long when they take up residence in your dog’s heart, lungs and blood vessels. This parasite is spread by mosquitoes and it can cause severe lung disease, heart failure, and organ damage. If untreated, their numbers can increase. Early detection and prevention is the best option for early treatment.

In the early stages of heartworm disease, symptoms can be hard to spot. Signs of heartworm disease may include a mild, but persistent cough, weight loss, reluctance to move around, fatigue, and decreased appetite. As the disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and excess fluid in their abdomen. If heartworms multiply, the blood flow to the heart can be restricted. This can lead to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse called Caval syndrome. Symptoms can include pale gums, a sudden onset of labored breathing, and dark urine. Few dogs survive without prompt surgical removal of the blockage. If the infection is caught early enough in dogs, it can generally be treated.

Fleas and ticks are unwelcome hitchhikers, but they can also carry serious diseases and pass them along to both animals as well as humans. The best way to purge these pests is to use a monthly topical flea and tick preventative. Always check your pets and yourself after being outside or playing with other animals. Vacuuming furniture and carpets regularly helps as well.

A highly contagious and deadly virus called Parvo, short for Parvovirus, is quite common. Parvo is most frequently seen in unvaccinated puppies and kittens. It can be transmitted by people, animals or even shoes, carpet or dog toys that might have come in contact with an infected dog or its feces. The virus is hard to kill and can survive for months. The mortality rate depends on the strength of the animal’s immune system, how soon the symptoms are detected and how quickly they are treated. Luckily, most survivors of Parvo do not suffer long-term effects.

Most of us have dealt with “dog breath,” but the condition is no laughing matter. Dogs can develop tartar, gum disease, and cavities that require professional dental care. Dental disease can also lead to dangerous heart and kidney conditions in pets. Teach your kittens and puppies that brushing their teeth is a normal part of your grooming routine and save your pet a dental procedure down the line. Dr. Billiar recommends a yearly cleaning, along with other dental prevention measures, to help break tartar and keep bacteria from growing in your dog’s mouth.

It’s easy to give in to those sad eyes. We’ve all been there. Your dog is your four-legged, furry child. Who can resist feeding them a little nibble of candy or a leftover glob of guacamole every once in a while? Obesity in dogs has become a serious problem. Overweight pets are more prone to heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and shortened life spans. Overfeeding is a major cause of this condition. It’s easy to check with your veterinarian for food and exercise advice.

Dog treats and toys have become somewhat of a hot-button issue in the last decade. The FDA reports that since 2007, they have received almost 5,000 complaints of pet illnesses due to the effects of dog treats imported from China. What’s worse is that some products, even though they are stamped with “Made in the USA,” can still be made from tainted ingredients sourced cheaply from China or other parts of the world. Spokeswoman for the FDA Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine, Megan Bensette, said that no requirement exists for a package of treats or food to list the source of each ingredient. “We recommend that consumers contact the company to verify the origin of ingredients if they are seeking products that contain only U.S.-sourced ingredients,” she added.

Always consult your Veterinarian if you have any doubts, questions, or problems. If you think your pet might have ingested a toxic substance, call your Vet immediately or phone the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

All pet parents should avoid giving their dogs “human food.” Dogs can also find toxins on their own. Here’s a list of toxic substances and items that should not be left in reach of or given to dogs.

  1. Acetaminophen, Amphetamines, Antihistamines, Decongestants, Aspirin – Poisonous for dogs.
  2. Avocados – Contain a substance called persin, which is a fungicidal toxin destructive to the heart, lung, and other tissues in animals. The high fat in avocados can upset a dog’s stomach and cause vomiting and possibly pancreatitis. Symptoms are subtle but include breathing difficulties and a bloated abdomen.
  3. Baby Food  – Certain brands can contain onion powder, which can be toxic to dogs. (Please see onion below.) This can also result in nutritional deficiencies if fed in large amounts.
  4. Cat Food – Generally too high in protein and fats to be good for dogs.
  5. Chocolate, Coffee, Tea, and Other Caffeine Including Coffee Grounds (in Garbage) – Caffeine can be toxic and affect the heart and nervous systems. The fat content in chocolate is dangerous as well.
  6. Citrus Oil Extracts – Can cause vomiting.
  7. Fat Trimmings – Can cause pancreatitis.
  8. Grapes and Raisins – Contain an unknown toxin which can damage the kidneys. There have been no problems associated with grape seed extract.
  9. Hops (in Beer) – Unknown compound causes panting, increased heart rate, elevated temperature, seizures, and death.
  10. Human Vitamin Supplements Containing Iron – Can damage the lining of the digestive system and be toxic to the other organs including the liver and kidneys.
  11. Ibuprofen – TThe second most common cause of canine poisoning in the world today is ibuprofen. Dogs love the smell of this drug and will do anything to get to it.
  12. Liver (in Large Amounts) – Can cause Vitamin A toxicity, which affects muscles and bones.
  13. Macadamia Nuts – Contain an unknown toxin, which can affect the digestive, nervous, and muscular systems. This can cause temporary paralysis, which could last up to 24 hours. This leads to unnecessary euthanizations EVERY YEAR because some Vets are unaware of this condition.  
  14. Milk and Other Dairy Products – Some adult dogs do not have sufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose in milk. This can result in diarrhea. Lactose-free milk products are available for pets.
  15. Moldy or Spoiled Food, Garbage – Can contain multiple toxins causing vomiting and diarrhea and can also affect other organs.
  16. Mushrooms – Can lead to abdominal pain caused by liver or kidney damage. Vomiting and diarrhea followed by convulsion, coma and death is quite possible if eaten.
  17. Nutmeg – Can contain toxins, which may affect multiple systems in the body, cause shock, and result in death.
  18. Onions and Garlic (Raw, Cooked, or Powder) – Contain sulfoxides and disulfides, which can damage red blood cells by causing hemolytic anemia. Garlic is less toxic than onions.
  19. Persimmons – Seeds can cause intestinal obstruction and enteritis.
  20. Sugary Foods – Can lead to obesity, dental problems, and possibly diabetes mellitus.
  21. Pits from Apples, Cherries, Peaches and Plums – Contain cyanide and can also cause obstruction of the digestive tract.
  22. Potato, Rhubarb, and Tomato Leaves – Contain oxalates, which can affect the digestive, nervous, and urinary systems. This is more of a problem in livestock.
  23. Raw Eggs – Contain an enzyme called avidin, which decreases the absorption of biotin (a B vitamin). This can lead to skin and hair coat problems. Raw eggs may also contain Salmonella.
  24. Raw Fish – Can result in a thiamine (a B vitamin) deficiency leading to loss of appetite, seizures, and in severe cases, death. More common if raw fish is fed regularly.
  25. Salt – If eaten in large quantities it may lead to electrolyte imbalances.
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