Howdy Folks and Fellow Dog Lovers! It’s true that my website is MyGeriatricDog.com and equally true that every dog I’ve ever personally owned has lived, (or is living) to a ripe old age. I love everything about a senior dog, from the gap-toothed grin, to the following-me-around-everywhere-I-go, to the sweetly grizzled muzzle.
But I also worked in veterinary clinics for over 20 years, and in this article, I would like to relate some of the most commonly asked questions about dog health, from a veterinary technician’s standpoint. If you answer the phone in a busy veterinary office and hear the questions the clients ask on a daily basis, you will begin to think that you have heard everything!
These questions and answers are pertinent to any dog, not just seniors, and are among the most commonly asked questions about dog health that I encountered in my years working in a successful and very popular animal hospital.
When should I get my new puppy vaccinated?
Some vets differ slightly on the vaccination schedule for a new pup, but ideally, a puppy should receive the first vaccine at 6 weeks old. This is the age at which the protective antibodies from mama’s milk begin to diminish. This first shot should be followed up with three more of the same, approximately three weeks apart, to build up your pup’s maximum immunity.
The schedule would be then:
- 1st shot and deworming at 6 weeks
- 2nd shot and deworming at 9 weeks
- 3rd shot and deworming at 12 weeks
- 4th shot and deworming at 15 weeks
The rabies shot can also be given at 15 weeks. Your pup will then get his rabies certificate and tag, and be ‘legal’.
Puppies and kittens are born with worms, and can be wormed as early as 3 weeks of age. The reason it takes repeated treatments to rid your puppy of worms is because the medicine kills the adult worms but in the meantime, these adults lay eggs in the pup’s intestinal tract.
My dog won’t eat! What’s wrong with her?
As common as this question is for a veterinarian or a vet tech, it is not one that can be answered over the phone. There are a wide variety of reasons that could cause a dog to lose her appetite and to best find out the reason and the proper treatment, a veterinary examination is in order.
Your dog’s loss of appetite can be anything from intestinal parasites to an upset stomach to an intestinal blockage to bad teeth to an infection of some kind to something more serious, like cancer. When you do bring your dog in for an examination, the vet will likely ask you many questions about her so be prepared for that.
He’s shaking his head & scratching his ears. That means he has ear mites, right?
Clients would often jump to the conclusion that a dog shaking his head and scratching at his ears automatically meant ear mites. That could be the reason but a much more common cause of these symptoms is an ear infection or the scientific term, ‘otitis externa’.
Some dogs can be predisposed to this condition and require intermittent treatment throughout their lives. The good news is, although the medicine needs to be purchased from the vet or a pet supply company, the treatment can be done at home, by you.
Breeds such as the cocker spaniel with heavy ears that flop down over the ear canal and prevent air circulation are prone to chronic ear infections, as are dogs that swim on a regular basis. Water gets trapped in the ear canal, yeast moves greedily in, followed by bacteria.
Smaller breeds such as the Lhasa apso or poodle can also be susceptible because they have tufts of hair that grow from deep in the outer ear. These tufts of hair trap moisture and debris which can eventually lead to infection. Any veterinarian worth his or her salt will make it a habit to pull the hair from these breeds’ ears no matter the reason for the vet visit, and show you how you can continue the process on a biweekly basis with a gentle pull of your fingertips.
If your dog does indeed have an ear infection, the vet should flush the ears right there in the exam room, and gently clean them with cotton swabs. It’s a good idea for you to watch this procedure so you can do it at home if the condition flares up again.
Don’t be afraid to ask your veterinarian questions so you can recognize the early signs of an ear infection and nip it in the bud. The most obvious symptoms of course, is your dog shaking his head and scratching at his ears. You may also smell an unpleasant odor from the ears. The inside of the ear may appear red and inflamed or you may see gunk down in there.
Your vet should also apply medicine to your dog’s ears, showing you how to do it at home. He or she will arm you with the flushing and drying agents, as well as an antibiotic ointment and instructions as to how to treat your dog at home. Typically, a canine ear infection can be cleared up within a week. If it’s a particularly bad infection, your dog’s doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics as well.
The treatments for ear infections in dogs are very effective and relatively inexpensive. Some ear flushes and drying agents can also be used a few times a week as a preventative if your dog is prone to chronic ear infections. You can also mix up an ear cleaning solution at home using one part hydrogen peroxide and one part water.
O.K. SO WHAT IF IT’S EAR MITES?
To distinguish between ear mites and an ear infection as the cause of you dog’s head shaking and ear scratching, your vet needs to make the diagnosis. If ear mites are suspected, the vet will gently swab your dog’s ear with a Q-tip. This swab will be added to a microscope slide with oil and examined.
One of the things I always got a chuckle out of was when the vet I worked for would get an ear mite or two into focus under the microscope and invite the client to see exactly what was having a party in their dogs ears. EEEEEWWW
If it is ear mites your veterinarian will likely recommend a different treatment from that of an ear infection. Many pet doctors prefer to dispense a miticide for ear mites.
There are however, all-natural products available that treat both mites and infections which don’t have the caustic properties of a miticide. The duration of treatment varies depending on the product, but once the ear mites are gone, your pet should be free of them for good unless he comes into close contact with another dog or cat that has them; By close contact I mean, very close, like sleeping head-to-head together.
Why does my dog eat grass?
This is definitely one of the most commonly asked questions about dog health. I remember a phone conversation with Sandy, a very good client we saw frequently with her Jack Russell terrier whom she named “Hurricane Jack.” She was very worried about him as she said to me, “Honestly Sue, I’m looking out the kitchen window at him right now and he’s literally grazing!”
Yes, dogs eat grass the world over. It has even been observed in wild dogs; in fact, this canine behavior is so common that most vets consider it normal, so there’s no need to freak out if your dog is doing it. Luckily this behavior rarely leads to health problems. There are several theories as to why your dog may be grazing in your backyard:
- Dogs eat grass when they have an upset stomach to induce vomiting and thus to feel better; (although eating grass usually doesn’t lead to vomiting. Less than 25% of grazing dogs vomit afterwards.)
- Young dogs or even puppies eat grass out of boredom.
- Dogs weren’t meant to be totally carnivorous and they need some “greens” in their diet.
- Some dogs like the chewing action involved in eating grass and even like the taste.
- They do it instinctively as a way to improve digestion or to treat intestinal parasites.
- Dogs eat grass because they crave more fiber in their diet. There was a published study done on grass eating dogs that reported on a poodle that ate grass and then threw up every day for seven years straight. The owner put her on a high fiber diet and three days later, she stopped eating grass altogether!
- There is some nutritional need that is not being met in the dog’s regular diet, so they eat grass to fulfill it; (However, well nourished dogs eat grass just as readily as undernourished dogs.)
Which theory is correct? Perhaps they all are to some extent, so take your pick. As I said, this canine behavior is very common and rarely leads to health problems so if your precious pooch sometimes chews on your lawn, don’t worry about it!
My dog is scratching and itching but I don’t see any fleas!
One of the most common reasons dogs scratch and itch is external parasites such as fleas, ticks and mites. Sometimes fleas can go unnoticed by a pet owner until there is a large infestation, especially on a dark colored dog. Fleas are everywhere, on every continent (even Antarctica!) so don’t be so sure your dog is flea-free just because you can’t see them. Fleas also lay eggs outside, in your carpet, and in your dog’s bed.
If you give your dog a bath with flea shampoo and when you rinse him, the water runs off a rusty brown color, fleas are the problem and you have an infestation. It’s time to get him on a monthly flea treatment. There are some very effective flea treatments available and your veterinarian can recommend one; Most also treat ticks as well.
Mites are another reason your dog may be scratching. They can be ear mites or certain mange mites. You will not see these as they are invisible to the naked eye. Your veterinarian can diagnose which type of mite it is and very effectively treat it, or send you out with medicine to give at home.
IF YOU’VE RULED OUT EXTERNAL PARASITES…
If your dog is free of external parasites, it’s time to look at another reason for persistent itching, chewing, and scratching, and that is allergies. It really can be enough to drive even the most tolerant dog owner crazy, but if it’s making you uncomfortable, just think how your dog feels.
Dogs can be allergic to something in the environment, such as pollen or mold or even grass, and canine allergies will manifest in seemingly continuous scratching and chewing; Often the allergic dog will lick and bite at his paws.
Your dog could also have a flea allergy. If this is the case even one flea will drive him nuts and attentive flea control is even more important. Dogs can also have contact allergies and itch and scratch from a certain carpet or shampoo. Of course if the allergen is something you can remove from his environment (such as a certain shampoo or even switching to a hypoallergenic dog food), that would be an easy ‘cure’. But more commonly, the allergen (or allergens), is something ubiquitous, like fleas, pollen, or grass, and most dogs are allergic to more than one thing. Unfortunately, there is no cure for such allergies in dogs.
If this all just seems like bad news, don’t worry…there is good news!
There may not be a cure for canine allergies but the tiresome symptoms can be addressed and effectively treated. Your veterinarian can help you and your dog with this. The treatments range from antihistamines to cyclosporine capsules to prednisone to Omega 3 fatty acids, depending on the severity of your dog’s allergy.
There are also soothing, relieving shampoos that can go a long way in alleviating his itchy condition when used once or twice a week. If your dog has allergies, it’s best to go with an all-natural, anti-itch shampoo.
IT COULD JUST BE DRY SKIN
There are certain factors that can cause your dog’s skin to dry out, resulting in general itchiness. Cold weather, indoor heating and over shampooing are a few examples. Luckily, doggie dry skin is fairly easy to treat and many products are available for just this canine condition.
Do not use a harsh flea shampoo on your dog more than once every three weeks, unless you dilute it or it has a moisturizing agent added. Be sure to rinse your dog thoroughly after shampooing, as residual shampoo left in your dog’s coat will dry out his skin and trigger the scratchy-itchies.
Oatmeal shampoos are very effective in relieving your dog’s dry itchy skin as are certain moisturizing oatmeal mist sprays designed to restore softness and shine to your dog’s coat.
Your dog’s good doctor may also suggest adding Omega 3 fatty acids to his diet.
IT COULD BE A HORMONAL IMBALANCE
Your dog may have hypothyroidism. This is a condition where his thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroxine, resulting in listlessness, weight gain and chronic skin problems. Hair loss usually first occurs on the tail or around the neck area. Along with his scratching and itching, you may notice a thickening of his skin and a distinctive odor.
Good news here too! Hormone replacement therapy for the hypothyroid dog is relatively easy and affordable with an FDA approved drug. Your veterinarian will want to diagnose the condition with a blood test and prescribe medication based on his weight. The treatment is lifelong for your dog and the vet may also put him on antibiotics for several weeks to clear up the skin infection.
Why is my dog scooting her bottom across the grass/carpet?
I do understand why this is one of the most commonly asked questions about dog health. If you are a dog owner and have never seen your dog do this before, the first time can be startling, not to mention comical.
We had some clients, Jeff and Karen, who owned a rottweiler named Noel (as she was born on Christmas). One day Jeff looked outside and saw Noel scooting her rear end around the yard in a circle. He called our clinic and said, “Sue, tell Dr. Jerry that Noel is doing the butt-hole-bogey.” Not so funny though, when she’s dragging her anus across your carpet.
There are a few reasons dogs do this:
- Anal glands Dogs have two glands just below the anus at 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock. These glands fill up with a thick, fatty, brownish, smelly substance that dogs use to mark their territory and identify each other. Normally, these glands are emptied when your dog defecates and she lays her scent. Sometimes however, the glands don’t get entirely emptied and the substance dries inside the glands and causes her discomfort in that area. She scoots to try to relieve the irritation. Your vet can help with this “sticky situation.”
- Tapeworms Tapeworms are an intestinal parasite that your dog gets from swallowing a flea that is harboring the tapeworm larvae. (The flea is the intermediate host for the tapeworm.) A flea will crawl into your dog’s mouth, or she’ll reach around to chew on herself following an aggravating flea bite and ingest that flea. Simply put, your dog now has a tapeworm. Tapeworms do not lay eggs like most other worms; Instead, they break off tiny segments of themselves. These segments actually crawl out of your dog’s anus, creating a tickling sensation. That’s why your dog scoots. After the tapeworm segments crawl out, they dry up and look like rice grains. If you think you see rice grains in your dog’s bed, or around his tail, it’s tapeworms. Call your vet. If the vet knows your dog’s weight, you can just swing by and pick up the medicine. Tapeworm control is flea control!
- A matted bottom Sometimes when dogs have digestive issues it causes diarrhea. Diarrhea caught in fur can make for a matted bottom, especially in a long-haired dog. If you get your dog groomed or bathed regularly, you can ask that the fur under the tail and around the haunches be trimmed to about 1/2 inch or so, or you can also do it yourself if you have a pair of clippers. It’s important to keep that area clean if you have a long-haired breed.
- Fleas Fleas often do hang around a dog’s tail area and if she’s scooting, it may be to dislodge fleas and scratch the itch of fleabites. Flea control is very important for your dog’s health, especially if you live in a warm, humid climate; But it’s so convenient, easy, and inexpensive these days to rid your dog of fleas that there’s really no excuse!
I could go on and on about the most commonly asked questions about dog health…
Yes, I really could go on and on but I must stop myself somewhere. Many of the questions I’ve fielded over the years from curious clients were real stumpers, both to me and the vets I worked for and research was required.
Being a dog owner is a singularly unique experience, and it would be nice if we could just ask our comical canines why they engage in certain behaviors but we wouldn’t get much more than a quizzical head tilt.
Perhaps I should have put a cautionary statement at the beginning of this article: Warning! Not for the Squeamish! But working with animals is a hands-on, visceral experience and when dealing with animal health, often you’re looking nature right in the face (yucky or not.)
I certainly hope that these commonly asked questions about dog health and the answers I’ve given have satisfied your curiosity about certain matters regarding your dog’s health and behavior. I have most definitely enjoyed writing it.
As always, you are invited to leave comments or any questions you have below