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 Myth of the Hypoallergenic Dog

Over the past few years there has been a lot of talk about specific dog breeds that are “hypoallergenic” and perfect for families with members who have pet allergies. Most of the time these dogs tend to be hairless, or they have hair instead of fur, which leads many people to believe that the dogs do not spread allergens into the home. 

Unfortunately this is a mostly a myth, as no dog is entirely hypoallergenic. We spoke to Dr. Jules Benson, VP of Veterinary Services at Petplan pet insurance, to find out more.

What Causes Pet Allergies?

According to Dr. Benson, “there is no true hypoallergenic dog, because [the thing that] causes the allergic reaction is common to all dogs. All dogs shed skin cells -- or dander -- even if they don’t shed fur.” The allergens are also present in these skin cells, as well as in saliva and urine. People with pet allergies react when these allergens are inhaled. “Dog dander is extremely small, like a micron of dust, and it can linger in the air so people can breathe it in without knowing it,” Dr. Benson explains. “Pet urine and saliva particles can adhere to a pet’s fur after they lick themselves, as well, so petting a dog could also lead to a reaction.”

Do Allergy-free Dogs Really Exist?

So that’s the bad news. But don’t worry, there’s good news as well. While there are no dogs that are 100% allergy free, there are some breeds that are better for people with allergies than others.  “Dogs that have hair, not fur, actually don’t shed as much and tend to produce less sneeze-provoking dander,” said Dr. Benson. 

The list for these types of dogs includes Poodles, Shih Tzus and Yorkshire Terriers, mostly hairless dogs like the Chinese Crested, and larger breeds like Portuguese Water Dogs and Schnauzers.

Unfortunately there is no way to totally cure pet allergies. “Allergic reactions occur because the body’s immune system is treating the allergen -- in this case, pet dander -- as an enemy, so repeated or prolonged exposure could simply lead to a more extreme reaction -- which could be very dangerous,” says Dr. Benson.

It is possible that some people, mostly children, may outgrow an allergy completely, but this has nothing to do with repeated exposure to a dog.  If you do bring home a so-called hypoallergenic dog, don’t be surprised if those allergies do rear their ugly heads. However, if you or a family member only has minor pet allergies, one of the dogs listed above could be the right fit for your home.  

Reduce the Allergens in Your Home

There are also ways to reduce the pet allergens in your home so as to limit the spread of dander. Specific areas of your home collect more allergens than others. This includes carpets, furniture, mattresses and window treatments. The key is diligent housekeeping. When purchasing a vacuum cleaner, make sure to get one with a HEPA filter. These are designed to remove even the smallest particles of pet dander. Hardwood floors are a great option, too, as hair is visible and easier to remove.

Frequent baths and grooming of your pet will also help. “Just be sure to use a moisturizing shampoo so your pet’s skin doesn’t dry out from so many baths,” warns Dr. Benson. You can also restrict your dog to specific parts of your home, and keep him out of the bedrooms of the family members who are allergic. Special air filters are also available to help remove dander that could be floating in the air.

At the end of the day, if you believe you are allergic to dogs, be sure to get tested by an allergist who can determine if your allergies are due to pet dander or other allergens. Then you can determine if you’re perhaps able to live with a dog that produces less dander.

How to best bond with your new dog

It’s an exciting day when you bring your new dog home, but it can also be a challenge. Getting your new pet comfortable with her surroundings can be tough, but with a little work you’ll be best friends in no time.

Start by Puppy Proofing
When you first introduce your puppy or dog into your home, you want to make sure the area is safe. Prior to arrival, Caitlin Fitzgerald, DVM, recommends puppy proofing your house. “Puppies and dogs often like to chew and mouth things they shouldn’t,” she said. “Take care to hide exposed wires, and place anything of value that you do not want to become a chew toy out of reach.”

It is also a good idea to confine the new pet to a small area so he can get used to the new smells of the house and become acclimated to the environment. Fitzgerald suggests trying to keep loud noises and activity levels down so the new pet does not become frightened. Another option that some pets also do well with is having their own crate or cage that they can get to know as their safe place.

Get to Playing
Playtime is when the real bonding can start. “Specific toys that help to build bonds are any toys that engage the human and the dog, such as Frisbees, tennis balls, rope toys” says Fitzgerald.  “Fetch and tugging games are also fun for the owner and the dog, plus it’s a great way to add in an element of exercise.”

Teach Trust
It is important to teach your dog trust early on through petting, grooming and snuggling. Scent plays a big role in trust, so spend time holding and petting your new dog. You can also give an article of your clothing to the dog to sleep with to further share your scent. “Dogs like to be given direction, so a confident owner will be a great leader to the dog, and that helps with building trust,” says Fitzpatrick. “A dog obedience trainer is a very good option for owners to learn proper ways to lead their pet.”

Whatever happens, stay committed. Oftentimes bonding happens faster than you expect, and you’ll be able to enjoy the wonderful and rewarding experiences that your new dog brings into your life in no time!

Hydrotherapy Helps Dogs Get in Shape for Adoption

Emma, a golden retriever, clearly loves her hydrotherapy sessions at Doggie Paddle in Portland, Oregon. The two and a half-year-old swims for 45 minutes with the water jets blasted on high. And then there’s two-year-old Labrador retriever Seamus. “He won’t get out of the pool unless he’s retrieved four rubber chickens. Not two or three, but always four,” says Julie Thomas, who owns the canine therapeutic swimming and exercise business.

While the sessions might seem like fun and games to Emma and Seamus, hydrotherapy provides important physical therapy to dogs, especially those who have difficulty engaging in regular outdoor activities. “It can be comparable to human physical therapy, only for dogs,” Thomas says.

What Is Hydrotherapy?

Hydrotherapy usually involves either a small pool with a treadmill or, in the case of Doggie Paddle, a larger pool with adjustable swim jets that provide resistance. With the latter on high, just a five minute swim can be equivalent to a five mile run. Most facilities keep the temperature comfortable and warm. Chlorine can irritate the skin, coat and eyes of dogs, so look for a pool that offers some other, gentler form of filtration and sanitizing.

Dogs either walk right in or, if they need a bit of help, are carried into the pool. “I had a Great Dane once who just lay in my arms and did not move a muscle,” shares Thomas. “I simply got behind him and moved his legs as though he were riding a bicycle.” This got his circulation going, helping to relax his muscles and improve his joint function.

Which Dogs Benefit Most From Hydrotherapy?

Thomas says that at least seven types of get the most out of hydrotherapy, including:

·         Dogs recovering from surgery. This includes canines that have undergone everything from amputations to hip surgery.

·         Overweight dogs. For pooches with packed-on pounds, swimming provides “a safe, low-impact way to burn calories.”

·         Older dogs. When arthritis kicks in and energy levels slow down, hydrotherapy can still provide your pet with regular exercise.

·         Overactive dogs. Some healthy dogs just have incredible energy to burn. They can work it off safely in the pool without driving your family nuts.

·         Sporting dogs. Dogs that compete in sports, such as agility, gain conditioning from pool time.

·         Dogs -- both literally and figuratively -- on their last legs. Thomas often sees dogs right before they are euthanized, allowing the dogs to naturally relax and providing owners with one final meaningful, shared moment with their beloved pet.

·         Dogs up for adoption. Doggie Paddle is located very near the Oregon Humane Society’s Westside adoption center.

 

How Hydrotherapy Helps Homeless Hounds

Go into any animal shelter, and you’re bound to see dogs looking less than fabulous. They are often stressed, older, out of shape and perhaps feeling unloved. That’s where Thomas’ work comes into play. For the past two years, she’s been donating swim sessions to homeless dogs and improving their chances for adoption.

“They not only get in shape physically, but they also become more socialized and used to handling,” she explains. Karl Willard, an animal care technician at the OHS, believes the shelter is the first in the country to offer this form of enrichment.

Splashy Fun for Owners Too

At some pools, such as the one at Doggie Paddle, owners can go in along with the dog(s). This can lead to a great workout for all, and what amounts to a mini-refreshing pool party.

“Sometimes friends will do this together,” Thomas says. “I have a few clients who bring all six of their bearded collies.” She has yet another client who brings her four dogs -- along with her 5-year-old son.

The Human-Dog Connection

Before starting her hydrotherapy business, Thomas earned a doctorate in adult education and gerontology. She is also certified to do hydrotherapy and massage for dogs. All have come in handy. “In terms of gerontology, the basic concepts concerning many physical issues, emotional concerns, and more carry over to dogs,” she says.

As for massage, many dogs enjoy a soothing rubdown as they enter or exit the Doggie Paddle pool via ramp. “Dogs frequently bark like crazy in their owner’s cars because they can’t wait to get here,” she says. After hydrotherapy, they display another mood, she concludes. “One dog is so relaxed that he drifts into blissful slumber after each session.”