By Dr. Becker
Sadly, many dog parents seem more concerned with keeping their pet safe from rare and exotic diseases they have almost no chance of getting, than helping prevent the most common types of disorders we see in canine companions today. Here are three of the most common and entirely preventable medical conditions in dogs.
Preventable Malady No. 1: Dental Disease
Year after year, gum and dental disease makes the top 10 list of avoidable conditions in dogs. Here's how to help prevent the problem in your own pet:
1. Feed a nutritionally balanced, species-appropriate, fresh food diet, and feed it raw if possible. When your dog gnaws on raw meat, it acts as a kind of natural toothbrush and dental floss.
2. Offer recreational bones and/or a fully digestible, high-quality dental dog chew to help control plaque and tartar. The effect of dental chews is similar to raw bones, but safer for power chewers or dogs that have restorative dental work and can't chew raw bones.
3. Brush your pet's teeth, preferably every day. If you can't manage it every day, commit to several times a week. A little time spent each day brushing your dog's teeth can reap tremendous rewards in terms of his oral health and overall well-being.
4. Perform routine mouth inspections. Your dog should allow you to open his mouth, look inside and feel around for loose teeth or unusual lumps or bumps on the tongue, under the tongue, along the gum line and on the roof of his mouth. After you do this a few times, you'll become aware of any changes that occur from one inspection to the next. You should also make note of any differences in the smell of your dog's breath that aren't diet-related.
5. Arrange for regular oral exams performed by your veterinarian. He or she will alert you to any existing or potential problems in your pet's mouth, and recommend professional teeth cleaning under anesthesia, if necessary.
If you're vigilant about your dog's dental home care and she doesn't have any special situations that predispose her to tartar build-up or other dental issues, she may never need a professional cleaning by a veterinarian. However, pets with extreme tartar build-up, badly inflamed gums or oral infections need extra help.
Preventable Malady No. 2: Ear Infections
Ear infections are another incredibly common and preventable condition that sends tens of thousands of dogs to the vet every year, which is really a shame, since avoiding the problem is so easy. Since some dogs are much more prone to ear infections than others, which is why I recommend checking your pet's ears daily or every other day at a minimum. It's wax, moisture or other debris collected in the outer ear canal that invites infection.
The solution is simple, but you must do it consistently: Clean your pet's ears when they're dirty. If his ears collect a lot of wax every day, they need to be cleaned every day. If his ears don't produce much wax or other crud you can clean them less often, but you should still check them every day and take action as soon as you see the ear canal isn't 100 percent clean and dry.
If you think your dog might already have an ear infection, it's important to make an appointment with your veterinarian before you begin a cleaning regimen. In many cases an infection leads to rupture of the eardrum, which requires special cleaning solutions and medications. For healthy doggy ears, my six favorite cleaning agents are:
- Witch hazel
- Organic apple cider vinegar mixed with an equal amount of purified water
- Hydrogen peroxide, a few drops on a cotton round dabbed in coconut oil
- Green tea or calendula infusion (using tea that has been cooled)
- One drop of tea tree oil mixed with 1 tablespoon coconut oil (for dogs only — never cats)
- Colloidal silver
Never use rubbing alcohol to clean your dog's ears — it can cause burning and irritation, especially if the skin is inflamed. Use cotton balls or cotton rounds to clean the inside of the ear canal. You can use cotton swabs to clean the outer area of the ear, but never inside the canal, as they can damage your dog's eardrums.
The best method for cleaning most dogs' ears is to saturate a cotton ball with cleaning solution and swab out the inside of the ear. Use as many cotton balls as necessary to remove all the dirt and debris.
Preventable Malady No. 3: Obesity
The pet obesity epidemic in the U.S. is a disaster and entirely preventable. Over half the dogs in this country are overweight or obese. Obesity in dogs is both its own disease and the root cause of many other diseases that develop as the result of too much weight, including arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, hypothyroidism and kidney disease. And you can add to this list a significant reduction in the quantity and quality of your overweight dog's life.
To save your furry family member from the debilitation and early death sentence caused by obesity, rule No. 1 is daily exercise. Consistent daily exercise, including at least 20 minutes (and preferably 60) of aerobic activity will help your dog burn fat and increase muscle tone.
If you're unable to provide him with this much physical activity (and some dogs require even more), consider joining a pet sports club or doggy daycare. Another option is to hire a dog walker (or dog jogger, hiker or biker).
If your dog is very overweight or obese, he may not be able to endure extended periods of exercise initially. Swimming is an excellent alternative because it's a low-impact, gentle form of exercise for dogs that need to start out slow, as well as those with arthritis or mobility issues. Ask your veterinarian what exercises are safe for your dog to do, and which you either need to avoid or put off until he's in better condition.
Rule No. 2 involves what and how much to feed your dog. Pet foods high in carbohydrates — typically kibble — are the biggest cause of obesity in both dogs and cats. Your dog needs food high in animal protein and moisture, with low to no grain content (which is pretty much the opposite of what dry pet foods offer).
A high-quality fresh food diet is the best choice for pets in need of weight loss. It's important to adequately nourish your dog's body as weight loss occurs, making sure her requirements for key amino acids, essential fatty acids and other nutrients are met.
The key to healthy weight loss is to meet your pet's nutritional requirements through a balanced diet but feed less food, which forces her body to burn fat stores. The first step is to transition her to a diet free of potatoes, corn, rice, soy and tapioca. My recommendation is a homemade fresh food diet.
Next, calculate kcal (kilocalorie) requirements for your dog's ideal weight. Then measure her food portions using an actual measuring cup and drastically limit treats (be sure to include treats in her total daily calorie count).
To Help Your Dog Live a Long, Healthy Life, Don't Overlook the Obvious in Search of the Obscure
In other words, while it's certainly important to take precautions to prevent potentially deadly infections and diseases your dog may be at risk for, it's equally important to insure she doesn't acquire a much more prevalent, lifestyle-related condition that can also destroy her health and shorten her life.