Are You Protecting Your Dog’s Health?

We all want our pets to live healthy lives, but are we as informed as we should be? Take this quiz and see how you measure up.

1. I schedule basic veterinary checkups for my adult dog:

a. Once a year

b. Twice a year

c. When needed

Optimal answer: b. Twice a year

Although annual visits are a good start, twice-yearly exams are your best insurance against hidden diseases. “I also recommend checking your pet’s blood test and urinalysis once a year in patients over 7 years old,” says Dr. Ernie Ward, a veterinarian based in North Carolina.

2. I give my dog a bath using:

a. Dog shampoo

b. My shampoo

c. Baby shampoo

Optimal answer: a. Dog shampoo

“Though we often treat our dogs as our kids, they aren’t,” says Dr. Bernadine Cruz, a veterinarian in California. “A dog’s skin is much more fragile than ours, with a very different pH. Using our shampoos -- even a baby’s shampoo -- can strip a dog’s skin of its protective oils.”

3. I check my dog’s ears:

a. Once a year

b. Every few months

c. Every few weeks

Optimal answer: c. Every few weeks

Ear infections are common but preventable. “If the earflap is red and inflamed; if the canal is narrow, has a heavy buildup of debris or is smelly; or if touching your dog’s ears is painful; you have a problem that needs to be addressed,” says Cruz.

4. My dog gets its teeth cleaned:

a. Once a year

b. Twice a year

c. Every five years

Optimal answer: a. Once a year

Annual cleanings are recommended, but Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson -- a Virginia-based veterinarian who is a member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council -- says some dogs need more. “Just like some people have more cavities, some dogs have more severe dental disease than others. Your veterinarian will be able to determine how often they need those teeth cleaned,” says Nelson. Between cleanings, brush your dog’s teeth at least weekly.

5. I bring my dog for vaccine renewal:

a. Yearly or sooner

b. Every three years

c. Every five years

Optimal answer: a. or b. Yearly or sooner, or every three years

Core vaccinations are given every three years, but many others last a year or less. Go over this with your veterinarian and know the schedule for each vaccine.

6. The best way to exercise my dog is:

a. Go for daily walks

b. Give him free reign of the backyard

c. Take occasional trips to the dog run

Optimal answer: a. Daily walks

Dogs left outside alone do not self-exercise. And while trips to the dog run are great, the most important thing is consistent exercise. Daily walks, as long as they’re substantial, are the basis of a good exercise routine.

7. I feed my dog:

a. Table scraps

b. Bones

c. Only dog food

Optimal answer: c. Only dog food

“An occasional bite of people food is OK, but a good-quality dog food is the foundation for a health-filled life,” says Cruz. Dogs love a big bone, but they’re dangerous to intestinal tracts -- especially cooked bones, which splinter easily.

8. My dog’s mealtime schedule is:

a. Once a day

b. Twice a day

c. I keep the bowl full all day

Optimal answer: b. Twice a day

A perpetually refilled bowl is a no-no that can lead to obesity, and Cruz says feeding only once daily can negatively alter metabolism. Three times a day is acceptable if portions are controlled. “The most important weapon against obesity is a measuring cup,” says Ward. “Find out from your veterinarian how many calories your dog needs each day and feed that amount to your pet.”

9. My dog’s food bowl is made of:

a. Plastic

b. Ceramic

c. Metal

Optimal answer: b. or c. Ceramic or metal

“Many dogs become sensitive to plastics and may develop skin issues if fed from plastic bowls,” says Ward. Plastic is also more likely to retain bacteria.

Score:

Eight to nine correct: Congratulations! You’re doing a great job safeguarding your dog against medical problems. But remember that as your dog ages, you’ll need to adapt too. Maintain a close relationship with your vet, and your dog will live a long and happy life.

Five to seven correct: Looks like you’ve got a decent foundation when it comes to safeguarding your dog against medical problems, but there’s room for improvement. Go back over your incorrect answers and take action on them!

Zero to four correct: Oh no! We’re sorry to say it, but at 50 percent or less, you scored an F. You’ve got some work to do with safeguarding your dog against medical problems.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/skynesher

Can a Pain Management Center Help Your Dog?

From dealing with arthritic hips to recovering from a recent surgery, dogs nationwide are benefitting from new interest in animal pain management centers. These veterinary practices specializing in pain alleviation are now available to help you and your dog, no matter the situation, whether you have an elderly dog or one that suffers from a more chronic condition.

How the Process Starts
All veterinarians offer pain medications, but you might want a specialist in pain management. If so, and depending on where you live, you might wind up at places like the Animal Pain Management Center in Snyder, N.Y.; the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colo.; or at Mountain Ridge Animal Hospital & Pain Management Center in Lafayette, Colo.

Even if you are seeking a second opinion, your dog will likely have to undergo routine blood work and X-rays. “These allow us to see exactly what’s going on,” says Michele Beveridge, practice manager of Mountain Ridge. Dogs may try to hide their pain and illness. Conversely, some of their behaviors might be misinterpreted as pain. It’s therefore essential to find out the truth behind the symptoms. “We cannot just pass out medications,” says Beveridge. “If medications are prescribed, we also have to run routine blood tests, since each individual handles medications differently.”

Available Treatments
Once a diagnosis is made, one or more pain medications may be prescribed. Alternative treatments are also possible. These could be offered in addition to the prescribed meds. They may include one or more of the following:

  • Acupuncture Small-animal acupuncture care is becoming more common both nationally and internationally. Mark Bianchi, a holistic veterinarian at the White Oaks Veterinary Clinic in Edmond, Okla., is certified to provide veterinarian acupuncture by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society. “As pets age, natural wear and tear on the joins can lead to pain and reduce a pet’s ability to move comfortably,” says Bianchi. “Pets that have sustained an accident injury may also suffer recurring pain, even after the injury has healed. Pet acupuncture is a natural way to relieve this pain by restoring balance to the nervous system and enhancing a pet’s natural endorphins for pain relief.”
  • Water Therapy “Dogs that are post-op, that are obese, have arthritis or other ailments may benefit from water therapy,” says Beveridge. Mountain Ridge offers a water treadmill where dogs can do cardiovascular exercise and limber up their joints, all while enjoying the buoyancy that water provides.
  • Laser Therapy Laser therapy involves a low-light laser that is run over areas of the dog’s body. Doctors now use this kind of therapy on humans too. “It can decrease inflammation, improve blood flow to target areas, and may decrease pain,” says Beveridge.
  • Stem Cell Therapy To treat pain and chronic conditions, some veterinarians now also use another carryover from human medicine: stem cell therapy. “It requires a surgical procedure,” says Beveridge. “Fat is removed from the animal’s stomach. Stem cells are harvested from the fat and are then later injected into trouble sites.” Rob Landry, veterinarian and owner of Mountain Ridge, has successfully treated both dogs and cats with stem cell therapy, she says.

Dogs Can Live a Pain-free Life
Thanks to new therapies and animal pain management specialists, your dog has a very good chance of living a long, healthy and pain-free life. If your dog suffers from a serious illness, sometimes discomfort can hurt the chances for healing. For example, many dog cancer patients suffer from appetite loss after chemotherapy. Bianchi believes acupuncture can help to both relieve pain following cancer treatments and prevent this loss of appetite that often happens. Your dog then has a better chance of eating as usual, keeping your pet’s strength up at a time when fortitude is needed.

Your dog’s behavior might even improve for the better. “Many times, a pet may act out or be aggressive toward other humans or animals because of pain,” says Bianchi. “By relieving the pain, a pet’s natural even temperament emerges, resolving the behavioral problems.”

6 Ways to Keep Your Dog Healthy in 2012

With the turn of every year, countless people resolve to improve their health by losing weight, exercising and more. The vast majority breaks those promises and ends up feeling disappointed. So rather than subject yourself to another year of self-defeat, why not resolve to improve the health of your dog instead? Below are a handful of both timely and timeless ideas to choose from.

1. Assess your choice of dog food. As your dog ages, its nutritional needs will change. “Aging brings with it physiological changes. Some are obvious, others are not,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian for Iams. “Skin and hair coat changes may be obvious, while lean muscle mass loss and digestive or immune system failure may be less evident or hidden.” The science behind today’s dog food has gotten specific enough that there are different blends for almost any situation. Talk to your vet about whether your dog is due for a change.

2. Upgrade your dog’s ID tag. The classic bone-shaped metal collar charm may help your dog get returned if it wanders away, but technology allows for so much more. Dr. Patricia Joyce of New York City Veterinary Specialists says, if possible, to use a GPS tracker that allows you to find your dog wherever it is. Another option is a QR code tag, like those offered by PetQRTag.com. The tags are the same size as a regular ID tag but are not as constrained by space. They point a person to a Web page that can hold as much information as you’d like to give, from contact info to special medical issues your dog has. As your dog ages and your contact information changes, the tag never needs to be replaced.

3. Hop on the social media bandwagon. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter can help you diagnose and work through potential health problems. A standout is PetPop.com, where pet owners create profiles and link up. In the PetPop Healthy section, a panel of veterinary experts fields questions from site members and provides advice.

4. Train your puppy. What do socialization skills have to do with health? “Euthanasia for behavior problems is still a leading cause of death for dogs in the U.S.,” says Lisa Mullinax, a dog trainer for 4Paws University Inc. in Sacramento, Calif. “More people are beginning to realize proper socialization prior to the age of 14 weeks is an important step in preventing behavior problems, but few truly understand how to do so safely and positively.” She also stresses the importance of training a dog to always come when called -- a great accident-prevention skill.

5. Don’t ignore dental health. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, periodontal disease is the most diagnosed problem in dogs. But it doesn’t have to be that way. “Dental disease is one of the most preventable conditions in veterinary medicine,” says Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson, a veterinarian in Arlington, Va., who is also a member of the Iams Wellness Council. Schedule an appointment with your dog’s doctor for a teeth cleaning, and brush on your own as well.

6. Get pet health insurance. Sometimes even the best prevention can’t stop disease or an accident, and veterinary bills can add up quickly. It can put pet owners in the most difficult of positions: You either set yourself up for extreme financial hardship, or consent to putting your dog down. Health insurance allows an alternative. Thanks to more modest monthly premium payments, decisions to undergo costly procedures are easier to make.

So this New Year’s, let yourself off the hook and make a resolution for your dog. Whether you opt for the tried-and-true or the timely and trendy, following through with just a few of these tips can make a world of difference.

New Health Trend: Dog Fitness Centers

Aromatherapy, massage, acupressure and fitness swimming sound like the services offered at an exclusive spa. All that’s missing at Rocky’s Retreat in Orlando, Fla., is human clientele.

At their new dog health and fitness center, Sherri Cappabianca and co-owner Toby Gass offer dogs an array of gentle, noninvasive services that they consider to be far from frivolous indulgences. “It’s absolutely integral to their health,” says Cappabianca, who has more than 1,000 hours of training in canine aqua therapy, small-animal massage, small-animal acupressure, canine behavior and related fields.

Increasingly, dog owners understand that their pets need regular exercise and preventative efforts to maintain good health. They’re finding that the sorts of therapies we humans enjoy, such as aromatherapy and massage, also serve their dogs well.

Does Your Dog Need a Fitness Center?
Clients come to Rocky’s Retreat for myriad reasons, says Cappabianca. For example, swimming may help rehabilitate your dog after an injury. Obese dogs, dogs that need gentle exercise, high-energy dogs in need of a release, dogs that experience stress (such as service dogs) and dogs with behavioral issues can benefit as well, says Cappabianca. Aromatherapy can be soothing for anxious dogs, while massage can work well for senior dogs, among others.

It can also simply be practical for you as a dog owner to use a dog fitness center, says Dr. Craig Woods, a Prescott, Ariz., veterinarian who did his graduate work on muscle biochemistry during exercise. “Dog fitness centers can be an excellent way for dog owners to provide their pet’s exercise requirements,” says Woods.

What to Expect From a Dog Fitness Center
Rocky’s Retreat is designed to be a soothing sanctuary, with a welcoming lobby, a spacious room for doggie day care, a pair of treatment rooms, an indoor pool and a large backyard. When it comes to swimming, “one of us is in the pool at all times, with our hands on the dog at all times,” says Cappabianca. “If a dog is paralyzed or partially paralyzed, we exercise those limbs. With high-energy dogs, we control their speed with resistance. We start at the far end of the pool and have them swim toward their owner.”

Clients might schedule a massage every couple of weeks or a swim once a week. At Rocky’s Retreat, prices range from $90 for an hour swim, to $85 for aromatherapy, to $60 for a massage/acupressure treatment. The center also offers specials, memberships and therapy packages.

Because dog fitness centers generally aren’t regulated, it’s up to you to do your research and make sure the center you use follows certain standards. Consider these factors before you use a facility:

  • Training and credentials Technicians should have experience and training in the services they are offering. They’ll often list their training and affiliations on the fitness center website, as Cappabianca does.
  • The ability to handle veterinary emergencies “It is also important that the pet exercise center have qualified staff that has some experience in veterinary care,” says Woods. “Always ask a pet exercise center what their staff qualifications are, and make sure they have a veterinarian who can attend to emergencies or situations that might arise.” The center might not have a veterinarian on staff, but it should have an affiliation with a veterinarian who can be called upon when needed.
  • A range of programs The center should be able to tailor programs for a dog’s age, breed, weight range and other considerations, says Woods.
  • A quality facility Cappabianca has seen supposed canine aqua facilities simply run out of someone’s backyard pool. The facility should be clean, welcoming and designed with your dog in mind. Evaluate how your dog will get into and out of the pool, and make sure the surface surrounding the pool is nonslip. The area should be secure to prevent canine escapes, notes Cappabianca. Understand how pool sanitation is maintained. “Ours is ozone-based, so there’s less chlorine than there is in drinking water,” she notes. The facility should maintain liability insurance.

As with any aspect of your dog’s health, you should consult with your veterinarian before your dog engages in a new fitness routine.

Top 5 Ways to Improve Life for Your Senior Dog

Staying in tune with your dog’s health and needs can make the difference in improving its quality of life as it ages. It doesn’t require great effort either, say dog owners and experts.

Manage Your Dog’s Senior Years

Five simple steps will help your furry friend age well:

1. Visit your veterinarian frequently. “Instead of seeing the veterinarian once per year, make an appointment every six months,” says Dr. Gary Ryder, a veterinarian and pet expert on JustAnswer. “This will help catch any diseases, tumors or ailments before they progress too much. Many times, we can catch something before it spreads and offer a cure, or at least greatly improve the quality of life.” Annual blood work will help you monitor the function of your dog’s internal organs. It’s smart to get a baseline blood panel when your dog is 7, the age most dogs are considered to be senior, advises Dr. Debbie Van Pelt of the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado.

You’ll also want to discuss with your veterinarian any aging issues related to your dog’s breed. Too often, says Van Pelt, dog owners assume there’s nothing a veterinarian can do for common aging problems, such as arthritis. However, you should know that many new medications, particularly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs designed for dogs and cats, have been developed in the last couple of decades. “We see a lot of older dogs and cats who have arthritis, and owners are giving them baby aspirin,” notes Van Pelt. “That’s really doing them a disservice.” Both you and your veterinarian should regularly evaluate your dog’s dental care as well. Poor dental hygiene can lead to gum disease and numerous health problems.

2. Watch your dog’s weight. An overweight dog is likely to suffer more mobility and health issues and find its quality of life to be diminished. Consider switching your dog to a high-quality commercial food that is designed for seniors and adjusting your pal’s calorie intake. It’s a good idea to consult your veterinarian about when to make the switch, since breeds age differently.

3. Keep your dog moving. Walk your dog regularly, alternating between short and long walks. Debra Atlas, an environmental journalist, also keeps her 15-year-old dog healthy with swimming, when it’s feasible. “There is essentially no impact on the joints, but it allows muscle activities and it burns calories,” says Atlas.

4. Maintain training. “As dogs get older, they will lose some of their sight and hearing,” says Ryder. “With that in mind, it’s nice to use hand signals and repetition so that they have a routine. This will help prevent wandering off and accidents due to any old age impairments.”

5. Modify your dog’s environment and activities. Your dog may still want to play but may no longer initiate activity, says Atlas. Know that though your dog is still a puppy at heart, its senior body can’t keep pace, says Sonia Singh, who blogs for Paw Posse, a retail website for big dogs. Be sensitive to how much your dog is able to do. Atlas has installed a dog ramp that enables Magic to descend the steps into her backyard. You might need to make other adjustments, such as moving the location of your dog’s bed for better access, says Van Pelt.