People who know me even a little bit know I’m a detail-oriented person. I really do sweat the small stuff, and I think that’s a trait you want in a health care provider. When I’m examining a dog, I look at the small details as well as the big picture.
But even though I like to see people paying attention to every aspect of their dog’s care, I’m often taken aback by dog owners who fixate on one aspect of their animal’s care while ignoring many others. Some of the things dog owners ignore truly do make a difference to an animal’s quality of life. So you can understand my wondering why it is that some people are anxious to discuss the “horrors” of vaccines and the harm they may do while I’m looking at a pet who’s in misery from a problem I can address not in theory but right now.
Yes, it’s great that you’re educating yourself on the debates over vaccine protocols or preservatives in food or whatever you want to discuss. I love working with pet owners, and I’m here to listen and to offer my educated guidance. But I’m also here to make sure your dog is healthy, right at this moment — and that means addressing any health issues that are actually an issue, right at this moment.
Is Your Dog in Pain…Now?
As I said, discussions over “holistic” care or anything else are just fine, but let’s get your pet healthy first, OK? As a veterinarian, I regularly see a small group of health problems that dog owners often overlook, ignore or treat as “normal.” If your dog has any of the issues on this list, please see your veterinarian immediately. And be prepared to follow through and follow up because many of these problems take time and dedication to resolve, especially if they’ve been ignored for a long time.
Chronic ear problems.
Recurring ear infections are not that common in adult humans, which may be part of the reason we tend to forget just how painful they are. But think back to the nonstop pain of childhood ear infections — or, if you’re a parent, recall how helpless you felt the last time your child had an ear infection. It’s true that people do bring their dogs in for treatment, but the follow-through can be very poor. Drops don’t get put in, follow-up appointments aren’t made and eventually pet owners just decide that ear infections are “normal,” especially for flop-eared dogs. Please don’t confuse “common” with “normal” — instead, imagine the agony you’d be in if every single waking minute of every day you were dogged by a condition that was painful and itchy. You’d go crazy, wouldn’t you? Your dog feels the same way.
What would you think if every day you looked in the mirror and saw gums that were bleeding and receding, and teeth that were discolored, loosening and falling out? “Doggy breath” isn’t normal, and pets need dental care just like people do. Sometimes I flip the lip on a dog I’m seeing — usually for some other reason — and discover gums that look as if a blowtorch had been passed over them. You know these animals are in constant pain. And what about those teeth? Imagine what it would be like to be in excruciating pain every time your tongue touched your tooth, or if you had to try to gingerly eat on only one side of your mouth, away from the affected area. Your veterinarian can get your dog’s mouth back in good shape at any age and can show you how to keep things in good shape. No more pain!
Skin issues and biting pests
Have you ever been bitten by a bug and thought to yourself, “Didn’t hurt a bit. Go ahead and bite again, or invite your buddies to join in the feast. I can take it!” Of course you haven’t. When a human gets nailed by a biting bug, we swat them away, spray ourselves with repellents, take antihistamines and apply soothing salves to the bite. Now imagine being constantly under attack from fleas or other biting pests, with no way to stop the biting or alleviate the itch. Doesn’t your dog deserve parasite control? I hope you think so. And pests aren’t the only cause of canine skin problems that can afflict your dog. Have you ever suffered from a chronic rash or other skin issue that made you want to scream from the itching? Then why would you ignore a dog who’s always scratching? Take care of your dog’s skin — just like you would take care of your own.
Arthritis may be inevitable, but pain from those aching joints doesn’t have to be. We understand this when it comes to our own discomfort and pain: When we hurt, we take painkillers by the handful and tell everyone we know how miserable we are. If your dog has arthritis, he can’t tell you where it hurts, when it started or just how bad it is in general, but I guarantee you he’s suffering all the same. What we commonly chalk up to old age can be treated and managed, and your dog’s quality of life can be improved — but only if you take responsibility and talk to your veterinarian.
Yes, many of us live in glass houses when it comes to our pets’ weight, which may be one of the reasons so many veterinarians are reluctant to bring it up. And many veterinarians are doubly sensitive when it comes to discussing an overweight pet with an overweight owner, not wanting to hurt any feelings. But you need to take a good look at your dog, and you need to know what you are allowing when you let him get and stay overweight. Let me be blunt: Fat kills. How? Let’s just take one item: arthritis. Canine obesity makes arthritis worse, and when an old dog is unable to move well and is in pain, he’s at risk of being euthanized. And those dogs are the lucky ones. Other pets are just allowed to suffer, even though we know how much losing weight can help. Talk to your vet about your dog’s weight, and be ready to listen to and follow his recommendations to get the pounds off your pet.
Remember, “Chronic” Doesn’t Mean “Untreatable”
These five problems are what I think of as “frog in hot water” issues. There’s an old parable that if you put a frog in hot water, he’ll jump right out. But if you put him in cold water and raise the temperature slowly, he may die before he notices he’s in trouble.
Wait, wait! I am not suggesting that you boil a frog! But I do think it’s important to realize that if your dog suddenly had an infected mouth or red, itchy skin or was a normal size one day and obese the next, you’d run — I mean as in right now! — to your veterinarian to get help. But because so many of these issues creep up on us — and on our dogs — over time, we don’t pay as much attention to them, or we overlook them entirely.
That’s why I want you to step back right now and look at your dog. Be brutally honest: Are you ignoring chronic health issues that are making him miserable? If the answer is yes, call your veterinarian. For most of these often-chronic conditions, there are things that can be done to stop, or even reverse, the damage. All you need to do is recognize the problem and reach out to your veterinarian. The result will be a happier, healthier dog — which is what we both want to see.
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