Pro-active Health

Everyone wants a healthy, happy dog. Feeding a dog the correct diet is just one aspect of maintaining good health. Pro-active care is as important for our dogs as it it for humans and includes dental care, neutering, worming and vaccinations.

How would you feel if your teeth were never cleaned?
Not cleaning one’s own teeth for a few hours results in teeth feeling as if they are wearing fur coats – imagine if you had to go through your whole life with “furry” teeth gradually progressing to bleeding gums and a mouth full of abscesses until your teeth fell out.

Dental tartar that builds on human and canine teeth comprises 80% bacteria that damages the gums, the bone beneath and the ligaments that hold teeth in place. Bacteria can gain access to the blood stream and infect the heart, lungs and kidneys. Advanced dental disease is as painful and unpleasant for a dog as it is for a human.

Feeding a good quality diet and giving your dog an antler or rawhide to chew helps in cleaning teeth. Rawhide should not be treated with chlorine and not dyed (avoid the white and coloured versions) and in whole pieces. Some rawhide treats comrpise lots of sharp, small pieces or sheets that shatter and have very sharp edges and these should be avoided.

Only use toothpaste that is specifically designed for canine use. Human toothpaste is likely to contain toxins and foaming agents and is totally unsuitable.

As with humans, the extent of tartar build up is partly influenced by genetics and even dogs that have their teeth cleaned regularly may need a scale and polish under a anaesthetic.

How would you feel if your guts were wriggling with worms?
In many parts of the world, the presence of parasitic worms are a daily fact of life for humans and, although in affluent countries, people are largely worm-free, it is not something that can be taken for granted. Unlike their wild and feral cousins, domestic dogs do not have to suffer with internal parasites. All dogs will pick up worms from grass, scavenged food and, if fed raw meat, from their diet. Some of the worms can be transferred to humans and, in any case, can have a major impact on your dog’s health if left untreated.

Cheap wormers are cheap for a reason – they are far less effective than prescription wormers and are always a false economy.

The most common worms in the UK are:
Toxicara canis – roundworm – picked up in grass, transmited to puppies pre-natally or when feeding
Angiostrongylus vasorum – lungworm, caught from snails and slugs
Dipylidium – the most common species, spread by fleas
Taenia – caught by scavenging or eating mice and similar prey
Echinococcus granulosus – sheep tapeworm, caught by eating infected offal.

The extent of worm infection varies by region and is not static. Lungworm for instance, used to be confined to small areas in south west England and some parts of Wales but has now spread across southern England. Roundworms are one of the most commonly found canine parasites and are present in a large percentage of parks, gardens and other green spaces. They are often transmitted via faeces that has not be picked up.

The most appropriate worming regime for your dog should be undertaken in conjunction with veterinary advice, but most vets are likely to recommend a comprehensive, prescription wormer monthly for puppies up to 6 months of age and quarterly thereafter. The exception is if feeding a raw diet which increases hugely the chances of parasite infection (and bacterial transmission) for dogs and humans, when worming should be monthly.

How would you feel if your dog died of an easily preventable disease?
There has been much debate over the efficacy and safety of vaccinations in humans and animals in recent years, with heated opinions being expressed on all sides. What is without doubt is that diseases such as distemper and parvo virus that were common fifty years ago were, until recently rarely encountered and many dogs were spared a miserable decline and death.

To some extent, vaccines are effective by providing “herd immunity” when a significant proportion of a population has been vaccinated and therefore protects that minority that has not. There may be legitimate clinical reasons not to vaccinate a dog such as following an adverse reaction (very rare), but the miniscule risk of a vaccine side effect is greatly outweighed by the benefit of protection against serious disease, not only for your own dog but for other dogs in the community. Even dogs that have chronic illnesses are more likely to benefit from being vaccinated. The extent of illegal importation of puppies that are too young to have been vaccinated to supply the puppy farming trade from countries where there is little or no herd immunity is one of the reasons that once uncommon diseases such as distemper, parvo virus and para influenza are being presented to vets. Of course this also applies to the importation of rabies, although we as yet, do not routinely vaccinate against it.

The National Office of Animal Health (NOAH) offers comprehensive advice regarding vaccinations and many other isses. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has also produced Vaccination Report which includes statistics for the incidence of adverse reactions.

Would you like to be responsible for an unwanted pregnancy?
The debate over routine neutering of dogs is, if anything, even more contentious than that over vaccination. It is often clouded with anthropomorphic arguments and comparisons with human health and sexuality.

Neutering has tended to be routinely advised in the UK, but in countries such as Sweden, Denmark and Russia for example, it is not. In fact, until 1988, it was illegal to neuter a dog other than for immediate health reasons in Sweden and that is still the case in Denmark. However, neutering is not just a consideration for sexual welfare but of societal welfare. Countries with relatively small dog-owning populations, or relatively small human populations, do not tend to have a major problem with abandoned dogs.

This is not the case in, for instance, the UK, many Mediterranean countries, the USA or Australia where shelters are overwhelmed with unwanted dogs and many are euthanased for no other reason than that there not enough suitable homes to take them in.
There are health benefits to neutering aside from preventing unwanted pregnancy including the risks of developing prostate and testicular cancer, mammalian cancer and pyometra, all of which can be life-threatening.

In the end, the decision will always rest with the owner, but it should be one based on accurate, balanced information and not a knee-jerk reaction based on false empathy.