How to tell if your dog is healthy

Since your dog hasn’t mastered speaking in words yet, you may wonder how you can tell if your dog is feeling okay. It turns out, many of the clues can come from just looking at your dog and reading his body language.

Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA’s Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, shares some of the signs to be on the lookout for when it comes to your furry friend’s health:

  • Good appetite

  • High energy level

  • Healthy-appearing coat

  • Interactive behavior

  • No vomiting, diarrhea, coughing, sneezing, increased thirst or unexplained weight loss

The above signs are just the beginning of being able to tell if your dog is healthy, though. Different parts of your dog’s body hold the key to determining if she is truly healthy.

The Mouth
If you notice that your dog has bad breath, it can be an indication of the need for a dental check up, or even something more. “ Some odors may be indicative of fairly serious chronic problems,” said Dr. Murray. “Liver or intestinal diseases may cause foul breath, whereas a sweet, fruity smells may be indicative of diabetes. If your dog’s breath smells like ammonia or urine, kidney disease is a possibility. Any time you notice your pet has bad breath accompanied by other signs of ill health, schedule a visit to the veterinarian.”

Another unlikely place to look to tell if your dog is healthy are his gums. “Once a week, with your dog facing you, lift his lips and examine his gums and teeth,” says Dr. Murray. “The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling. His teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar.”

 Not only can irregularities mean a problem with your dog’s mouth, but it can also be a sign of gastrointestinal issues.

The Eyes
Your dog’s eyes are also indicators of his overall health and wellbeing.  In fact, many vets recommend that you give your dog regular home eye exams to keep you aware of any potential health problems. Dr. Murray explains how easy it is to do this: “Face your dog in a brightly lit area, and look into his eyes. They should be clear and bright, and the area around the eyeball should be white. His pupils should be equal in size, and there shouldn’t be tearing, discharge or any crust in the corners of his eyes. With your thumb, gently roll down your dog’s lower eyelid and look at the lining. It should be pink, not red or white.”

If you do notice a problem, call your veterinarian. They can prescribe medicine to heal any eye disorders that can be impairing your pooch’s vision.

The Skin
Be mindful of your dog’s skin, as well. “Your dog’s skin is an indication of her overall health,” says Dr. Murray. “When a skin problem occurs, your dog may respond with excessive scratching, chewing and/or licking. A wide range of causes -- including external parasites, infections, allergies, metabolic problems and stress, or a combination of these -- may be affecting your dog’s skin.”

 Skin problems can also affect your dog’s fur, which can result in excessive shedding.

Here are some other ways to tell if your dog may be ill.

Other more common signs of an ill or injured dog include pale gums, rapid breathing, weak or rapid pulse, change in body temperature, and difficulty standing. And of course, if you’re ever really in doubt as to whether or not your pup is sick, making a trip to the vet can help, if only to alleviate your worry.

The Lonely Dog

Last spring Lori Taylor, 39, of Brooklyn, New York, was as happy as she’d been in recent memory. After being laid off eight months earlier, she had a new job, a steady paycheck, and somewhere to go every morning.

But the other member of Taylor’s household—a two-year-old dachshund named Oliver—was markedly less excited. “Oliver had gotten used to me being home with him,” said Taylor. “He kind of freaked out when that changed.” Suddenly her landlord, who lived upstairs, was complaining that the once quiet Oliver was spending his late afternoon hours each day barking.

The pair could not remain in the apartment if something didn’t change.

So Taylor consulted her veterinarian, who recommended as much exercise as she and her pooch could fit in. “I started getting up an hour earlier each day, and walking fast around the park with Oliver for that entire hour to wear him out. It was either try that or move. Luckily it worked.”

Dr. Trisha Joyce, a veterinarian with New York City Veterinary Specialists, says canine exercise is often the first defense against loneliness and other emotional issues that lead to behavior problems in dogs. Below, Dr. Joyce weighs in on how to identify and ameliorate loneliness in your best doggy friend.

Do Dogs Get Lonely?

Dogs are social animals, and generally don’t tolerate long periods of being alone. “Whether it’s ‘lonely’ as we feel it or not, we don’t know, but they do exhibit signs that being alone is not good for them,” says Dr. Joyce. Signs can include behaviors like barking, chewing furniture, excessive self-licking and soiling the house. “Different breeds have different tolerance for being alone,” explains Dr. Joyce. “For example, border collies and other dogs bred to be on high alert are likely to be the most sensitive. Also younger dogs, or dogs accustomed to spending most of their time with others, won’t likely respond as well to long periods of being alone.”

How Can You Identify Loneliness in Your Dog?

Dogs communicate with their owners through their actions. A dog that is injuring itself (like with excessive licking or tail biting) or causing other disturbances (like barking or destroying property) during longer stretches of time spent alone may be reacting to loneliness, which is an especially likely cause if the amount of alone-time has recently increased. Once your veterinarian has ruled out medical explanations for the problematic behaviors, emotional problems can, and should, be addressed.

One caveat: it is important to distinguish loneliness (which crops up during repeated, lengthy periods of being alone) from separation anxiety, diagnosed when dogs become very upset as owners prepare to leave, and then exhibit behaviors like not eating when owner is away, or gnawing at doors and windows even during short periods of solitude. Your veterinarian can help you understand whether your pet’s problem likely results from loneliness or separation anxiety, the latter of which is often treated with a combination of behavioral techniques and medication.

How to Help Your Dog Cope with Loneliness

While quitting your job is not likely a viable option, many dog owners have found the strategies below useful:

Wear them out. Dr. Joyce notes that a dog worn out from a healthy morning exercise session is calmer and happier throughout the day. Just ask Taylor, who continues to exercise Oliver every morning. (“He’s stopped barking, and I’ve lost 10 pounds!” Taylor says.)

Entertain them. Dogs do better alone when they have something to do. Interactive toys (like the red rubber Kongs that allow you to hide food for your pet to excavate) can lie around until Fido needs to busy himself with something.

Buy them company. If a midday dog walker is in your budget, it’s a good option for the lonely dog. Just 20 minutes of social interaction with the walker and others they meet on the street can go a long way toward improving your dog’s mood.

And finally, Dr. Joyce adds, make the most of your time together when you are able to be with your pooch. “Engage with your dog,” she says. “Toss a ball, give him a good brushing, or even just watch some television together. At the end of the day, dogs are happy just to sit on the couch with you, too.”

How to Prevent 5 Common Dog Illnesses

A few simple steps on your part could mean more years of happy times with your dog. You are likely your dog’s primary health advocate, playing a critical role in your pet’s continued good health and long life.

Too often, illnesses and injuries that affect a dog’s health and even shorten its lifespan are easily preventable, say the experts. Yet it needn’t take great effort on your part to avoid these canine health problems. “That’s how most of life is,” says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and Exceptional Canine. “We find ourselves in these predicaments sometimes when we could have easily done the right thing. Most of the common dog diseases can be avoided.”

Helping to Prevent Dog Illnesses

You can hopefully look forward to a number of years filled with games of fetch, rambles on the beach and other pleasures of dog companionship if you work to prevent these health problems, say Dewhirst and other veterinarians.

Heartworm
“Heartworm tops the list,” says Dr. Duffy Jones, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta. The heartworm is a parasite spread through the bite of mosquitoes. Heartworm disease, which affects the lungs and sometimes the heart, can be fatal if untreated. “Heartworm is such a devastating disease, and it can almost be totally prevented,” says Jones. Consistently administer a monthly preventative, such as Revolution, to protect your pooch, he advises. In the past, dog owners in cold-weather areas might not administer prevention during winter months. However, the disease is spreading, and it’s critical to treat your dog year-round. “Get the monthly Revolution and don’t worry about it,” he says.

GI Upset
Your dog’s upset tummy is likely preventable, according to Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station. “Pets’ GI tracts are not equipped to handle all sorts of different protein and carbohydrate sources as ours are,” explains Nelson. “We routinely eat high-fat, high-protein or sugar-loaded foods, though they might not be the healthiest options. Our pets, however, are accustomed to a more controlled diet.” Even the smallest morsels of people food can lead to anything from diarrhea to pancreatitis in your dog. Limit your dog’s diet to canine food.

Diabetes

Nelson considers this debilitating illness to be the No. 1 preventable disease in veterinary medicine. “Obesity is the predisposing factor to this awful disease, and the way to avoid it is to keep your pets slim and trim,” she says. Practice portion control as you feed your dog, and provide regular exercise. Diabetes can lead to multiple health problems for your dog, such as heart and kidney problems. “Weight is a big thing that contributes to disease, and it’s one of the things that owners can directly have some control over,” advises Dewhirst.

Dental Disease

Your dog’s dental health has implications throughout its body, notes Nelson. “Dental disease has been linked to heart disease, kidney and liver disease and even some cancers,” she says. Brush your dog’s teeth regularly, and ask your veterinarian for advice if you’ve never done this before. Regular veterinary exams will let you know when your dog’s teeth need cleaning.

Injuries and Trauma

Too many emergency veterinary visits could be avoided, says Dewhirst. Make sure fencing is secure if your dog spends time outdoors, and use a restraint, such as a leash, on outings. Dewhirst sees many traumas caused by dogs being bitten by other animals or injured while chasing cars. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will help prevent injuries, says Nelson. Don’t engage in bursts of activity (e.g., weekend warrior outings), but look for steady, frequent exercise opportunities.

Take practical steps to prevent illness, and you’ll reap the rewards for years to come, says Dewhirst. “Your dog will live into its geriatric years very healthy, mobile and happy.”

Dogs Can Improve the Mental and Physical Health of Kids

Just by owning a dog, you are improving your chances of living a longer life. Consider the statistics. Your chances of having a heart attack are reduced by 4 percent, likely due to more regular exercise. A survey of 1,000 Medicare patients found that 40 percent of all respondents with pets went to the doctor far less often than those without a canine friend around. Nursing homes that have companion animal programs are able to reduce their usage of prescription drugs. The good news about dogs just goes on and on.

Now, several compelling studies indicate that dog ownership is particularly beneficial to children, with positive health impacts likely extending into adulthood.

Dogs Protect Against Respiratory Infection Linked to Asthma
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, recently conducted a study that found that the house dust from a home with a cat or dog is distinct from the house dust in homes without pets. That in itself is common sense. But when they further investigated the differences, the scientists discovered that microbial agents in the pet-contributed dust contained microbes, which appear to protect against infection. The illness in question is a common respiratory virus associated with the development of asthma in kids.

Kei Fujimura, a researcher on the study, speculates “that microbes within dog-associated house dust may colonize the gastrointestinal tract, modulate immune responses, and protect the host.” A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics supports the overall determination.

Eija Bergroth of Kuopio University Hospital in Finland studied 397 children from their birth onward. A diary was kept for each child, mentioning the frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections, together with info about dog and cat contacts during the first year of life. Kids that were in contact with dogs and cats had fewer instances of infection and, as a result, required fewer antibiotic treatments.

Bergroth and team suspect that “animal contacts could help to mature the immunologic system.” It’s therefore possible that early exposure to pets stimulates growing human bodies to jumpstart the immune system, which can then better kick into action to ward off illnesses with a health boost that could extend into adulthood. Some individuals are allergic to pet dander; for these people, the problems probably would outweigh the benefits, but the majority of people are not allergic to dogs.

Dogs May Help Prevent Cancer
Marion Vittecoq and Frederic Thomas of the Tour du Valat research center, who have investigated the possible connections between human health and pets, mention a National Institutes of Health Study by G.J. Tranah and team. It found that dog and cat owners have a reduced risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The longer the duration of pet ownership, the lower the risk that the individual will suffer from this type of cancer.

Could dogs help prevent other types of cancer? Hopefully future studies can help answer that intriguing question.

Dogs Promote Good Mental Health
So far, we’ve been addressing how dogs can benefit our physical health. Studies also show that canines are good for our mental health too. For example, psychologists at Miami University in Ohio and Saint Louis University conducted multiple experiments to see how pet ownership affects people. Almost to 400 individuals -- with pets and without -- participated.

“We observed evidence that pet owners fared better, both in terms of well-being outcomes and individual differences, than non-owners on several dimensions,” said lead researcher Allen R. McConnell of Miami University in Ohio. “Specifically, pet owners had greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, tended to be less lonely, were more conscientious, were more extraverted, tended to be less fearful and tended to be less preoccupied than non-owners.”

With a dog, we have the added bonus of gaining a new best friend. You probably even consider your dog to be a treasured family member, and for good reason. “Dogs are among our closest social companions because we have bred them for tameness and,

over generations of selection, they have become even more socially compatible with humans,” says Jon Day, a former researcher at Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition. “Such social relationships may be characterized by generally harmonious collaboration under

conditions of balanced interests where social partners provide support for each other.”

Day therefore touches on the other positive aspects of pet ownership, such as comfort, companionship and a pleasant, vibrant life force to share one’s days with. The fact that canines may also improve our mental and physical health only adds to the reasons why you should pet your pup frequently with joy and gratitude … and maybe even consider adopting another dog.

Credit: Kasana88    

How to Manage Your Dog’s Health Care

Has the recession affected your spending habits? A new survey reveals that the economic doldrums have impacted many dog owners. “Dogs and cats are feeling the bite of the recession as pet owners put a leash on pet care expenses,” says Susan Spaulding, executive vice president and principal at The Pert Group, which conducted the survey with Brakke Consulting. “The recession has not only decreased what consumers spend on their own health, but also what they spend at the veterinarian.”

Dogs haven’t been hurt as much as cats, but there is still cause for concern. John Volk, a senior consultant at Brakke, shares the reasons why -- as well as promising news for dogs and their owners.

Fewer Dogs Are Going to the Veterinarian
On the downside, the Pet Owner Channel Use Study found that dogs are visiting their veterinarian 20 percent less than they did five years ago. Since the overall population of both dogs and humans has increased over that same period of time, the drop-off is significant.

Volk believes additional research is needed to fully understand why people are going to the vet less often, but he thinks the economy is a key reason. “Factor in the recession and the cost of veterinary care and you can see why owners could be postponing trips to the veterinarian,” says Volk.

Longtime dog owners realize that preventative care can help stave off health issues, ultimately saving pet owners money. All dogs should at least have an annual exam. Older pets should see the vet semiannually. The visits will include the basics, such as a full physical, a dental evaluation and a parasite check. Routine blood work and a stool analysis should also be included, especially for older dogs.

Boarding and Dog Day Care Spending Is Decreasing
With boarding and dog day care spending decreasing over the past five years, owners may be taking on more of this work themselves. They could also be recruiting friends and relatives to help watch their dogs. With new facilities offering high-tech and novel services, however, even cash-strapped dog owners might find them to be irresistible in the not-too-distant future.

Pet Insurance Spending Is Increasing
One very good outcome from the study is the finding that dog owners are now spending more on pet insurance. Insurance is another tool for combating the recession, allowing for regular veterinary visits and safeguarding against the cost for required special care, such as hospital stays and treatment for serious illnesses.

Volk says there is growing interest in health insurance for pets, so expect this business sector to continue to grow in the years to come.

Food Spending Remains the Same
Compared to a similar study conducted in 2007, the findings of this latest pet owner study show that dog food expenditures are basically the same. “There are more purchases of cat food, but actual expenses are higher for dog owners just because dogs are often bigger than cats and eat more,” says Volk.

The Way We Buy Pet Health Care Products Is Changing
The study found that more dog owners are turning to the Internet for their shopping needs. The reasons? Variety, sometimes-lower costs and convenience. Still, the trend is worrisome to Volk, who supports one-on-one interaction and expertise rather than online ads and in-store displays.

He and his colleagues are also concerned about the Fairness to Pet Owners Act. This legislation was introduced last year and referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health. Among other things, it would require veterinarians to write a prescription, whether or not they will dispense the product. The majority of survey respondents have already indicated that they would fill those prescriptions outside of their veterinary office, at least some of the time. How veterinarians would react to the change remains unknown.

Signs of Improvement
In the few months since the new Pet Owner Channel Use Study was conducted, there are “anecdotal reports that veterinarians are seeing increased volume,” says Volk. He quickly adds, however, that it is too soon to tell whether or not the recession and other problems of recent years are finally on the way out.

Nevertheless, at least one major pet health insurance company has “reported a good uptick in revenue for the first quarter of 2012.” That, food sales and other indicators provide hope that dog owners have learned to cope with financial challenges and are looking ahead to an even brighter future for themselves and their pets.