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Caring for the pearly whites

Just like people, dogs need to have their teeth brushed and cleaned. But the fact is, probably the number one health problem for dogs, apart from being overweight, is periodontal disease. Regular veterinary dental cleaning along with specially designed pet toothbrushes and toothpaste and chew snacks designed to eliminate plaque, can help reduce build-up.

Tooth woes…

According to the American Veterinary Dental Society, more than 80 percent of dogs show signs of periodontal disease by the age of three. The accumulation of tartar and plaque and the resulting gingivitis can lead to more serious disease. Tartar accumulates, and eventually the healthy pink gum looks red and swollen. At this point, without medical intervention, gingivitis or inflammation of the gum takes over. This process leads to bad breath. And worse, it often leads to damage to the jawbones and loss of teeth.

Caring for puppies’ teeth…

Puppies enjoy chewing on everyday household objects. Discourage your dog from doing that and provide him with a specially designed toy. Although puppies will generally not have problems with their teeth or gums, plaque can quickly build up at the base of the teeth and cause gum disease in dogs as young as 12 months. To reduce the risk of this happening, regularly check your pet’s teeth. Special dog biscuits or chews are very beneficial and help clean the plaque off your dog’s teeth. You can also introduce tooth brushing at this age.

Spot check: teeth and gums

Lift your dog’s lips away from his gums, and press a finger firmly over an upper tooth. When taken away, the white colour of the finger imprint on the gum should return to pink. Open the dog’s mouth to inspect all his teeth. Beware of tartar build-up, which is yellow to dark brown in colou r, and can lead to periodontal disease. This should be removed by a veterinarian.

Oral hygiene…

Visit a vet: First of all, have your dog visit your vet to have his teeth properly cleaned. The procedures used are similar to what we go through when we visit the dentist to have our teeth cleaned. The difference is that dogs who have their teeth cleaned are either sedated with a tranquilizer or, more commonly, put under general anesthesia. In between visits to the vet, brush your pet’s teeth regularly.

How to brush your dog’s teeth: Consult your vet for suitable brush and paste. Owners can lightly brush their dog’s teeth at least twice a week to remove plaque deposits. Do not use tooth pastes made for humans, which can cause nausea in dogs if swallowed.

Start by putting a small amount of the toothpaste on your finger, and gently rub it on your dog’s front teeth and gums. After a few times, switch from a finger to a dog’s or a child’s toothbrush, one with soft, rounded bristles. Start by brushing the front teeth only, with a downward motion on the top teeth and upward on the lower teeth—the same way we’re supposed to brush our own teeth. After your dog gets used to this new activity, start doing teeth farther back in the mouth, brushing the premolars, then molars with the same motion you used on the front teeth.

Other alternatives: An alternative to brushing is using a dental chew. Studies by Waltham have shown that certain specifically designed dental health chews (Dentastix or schmakos) result in a significant reduction of plaque and calculus accumulation, gingivitis and malodour. Dry dog food like Pedigree also helps prevent dental plaque accumulation.

Caring for dogs who are convalescing

If your dog has been ill or had an operation, you’ll have to give him some special care and attention. Here’s a guide to what you need to the dietary and medical needs of a recovering dog.

Your dog needs sleep, rest and peace While he’s recovering, your dog may feel weak, and gets tired easily. He’ll probably spend more time than usual resting or sleeping. But don’t worry, this is a natural reaction to illness or surgery. It means your dog is conserving energy while his tissues heal and his body gets back to normal.Your dog’s special dietary needs Good nutrition is especially important for a dog who’s been ill, injured, had an operation, or not eaten in several days. If he doesn’t eat properly at this time, his wounds may not heal right away, and he’s more likely to get an infection. Supplying the right amount of high-quality nutrients also prevents your dog’s body from using his own important tissues as energy sources.Proteins: Proteins are the major building blocks in the repair process, and are important in helping your dog’s immune system to fight infection. The protein needs of convalescing dogs are usually higher than they are for normal and healthy dogs.

Fats and carbohydrates: Fats and carbohydrates are excellent sources of energy. Dogs need larger amount of energy than normal, so the tissues that have been affected by illness, injury or surgery can repair themselves quickly. Increasing the level of fat in your dog’s diet provides them with a more “Concentrated” food. So your dog needs to eat smaller amounts of food to receive the higher levels of energy needed for repair.

Minerals and vitamins: Convalescing dogs need to eat food that gives them the correct balance of minerals and vitamins. This helps speed up the healing process, decreases the recovery time, and builds up depleted body stores.

The medical needs of a convalescing dog

Stroke and groom him gently, and look for any changes in his coat or skin. If he has an injury or has had surgery, check to see if this area has any redness or discharge. Watch for any weight loss or gain, lumps or swelling, vomiting or diarrhoea. Tell your vet right away if you notice these signs or anything else unusual.

Giving medicines to your dog: Always remember to give the full course of the treatment of any drug your vet prescribes. Don’t stop giving the medicine because your dog seems better. This may cause your dog to become worse, and may make future treatments harder. If you think your dog is reacting badly to any drug, get advice from your vet right away. Your vet can show you how to give the medicine.

Caring for dressings: Your dog may need bandages, splints, casts and other dressings, if he’s recovering from an injury or surgery. These may be put on to protect the wound from dirt or to discourage your dog’s natural tendency to lick a wound. Keep the dressing clean and dry by keeping your dog away from dirt and water, especially puddles.

When to contact your veterinary practice

Here’s a list of signs worth reporting to your veterinarian:

  • Collapse or convulsions.
  • Increased frequency of urination, increased amounts of urine produced, or urination in the house by a previously house-trained dog.
  • Greatly increased thirst and water intake.
  • Persistent cough or abnormal breathing.
  • Diarrhoea or vomiting that lasts for more than 24 hours.
  • Loss of appetite for more than 24 hours.
  • Weakness or lethargy.
  • Swelling, bad odour, or change in colour of the skin around a dressing.
  • If a dressing slips out of place, falls off, or is chewed off.
  • If your dog is determined to chew a dressing or lick a wound.
  • Lameness or a change in the way your pet walks or runs.
  • If your dog is in obvious discomfort. Persistent head shaking, excessive scratching, pawing of ears, or rubbing his hindquarters along the ground may be signs of distress.

What to feed dogs while they’re recovering

Good nutrition is particularly vital while a pet is recovering from illness, injury or surgery, so your vet may prescribe a special diet for your dog. This diet will include all the nutrients and energy a convalescent dog needs, and may be in a more concentrated form. Besides, your dog should always have access to clean, fresh drinking water. If he can’t move around at all, you may need to take special care to make sure he has water right at hand (or paw).

How to encourage your dog to eat

  • Feed your dog small amounts, often. Divide the daily allowance of food into small meals of fresh food.
  • Warm the food gently to just below body temperature. Don’t try to give your dog food that’s very hot.
  • Leave the food beside your dog for about 10 to 15 minutes, and then remove it if he seems to have no interest in it. He’s more likely to eat fresh food if you offer it to him later on.
  • Some dogs have exotic tastes and may like flavourings such as garlic powder. Ask your vet what flavourings would be fine to use in your dog’s food.

Caring for young dogs

Young dogs need a lot more calories than their older counterparts. But meeting this need is easy; just follow the guidelines in this article.

Caring for your breeding female dog

If your female dog is eating a good balanced diet, she will not need any extra food for the first five weeks after she’s mated. In the womb, most of the growth of developing puppies takes place during the last 4 weeks of pregnancy. So you should start increasing her daily feed intake by about 15% each week from about the fifth week onwards. By the time she is due to give birth, she may be eating 50% more food than usual. It may be difficult for her to eat large meals because of the pressure the puppies put on her stomach.

The last couple of days before giving birth, many female dogs loose interest in food. The day before she has her babies, her rectal temperature may drop slightly, and she may start looking for a place to give birth. It’s a good idea to give her a large, comfortable box early in the pregnancy, so she’ll be used to it and will probably want to give birth in it. Once she starts feeding her puppies, her energy (calorie) need will rise quite a bit. By the third to fourth week of lactation, she may require up to four times her normal quantity of food. Give her food in several meals, and make sure food is easily accessible to her at all times; bring the food to her so she doesn’t have to leave her pups. Remember that it’s very important for her to eat enough high-quality food, designed for lactation, so she can feed her fast-growing puppies. It’s also important that she has access to fresh, clean water at all times.

Raising motherless puppies

If you can’t find a suitable foster mother dog to feed orphaned puppies, you will need to feed them at less than six weeks of age on a suitable puppy-milk substitute. Or, if your female dog is not able to produce enough good milk, you will also need to use a milk substitute and give the puppies’ supplemental feedings. Puppies under one week old need to be fed 6 times a day, or every 4 hours, day and night. After they are two weeks old, you can reduce this feeding routine to 4 meals a day or every 6 hours. You will need to use either a syringe or a puppy feeding bottle.

Ask your vet to show you how to feed the puppies. By the time the puppies are about three weeks old, they can feed by lapping their milk substitute from a bowl, and will begin to nibble a little food, as well.

Puppies must be kept warm, but not too hot. You can use heat sources such as heating lamps, hot water bottles covered with towels or blankets, or heating pads covered with blankets. Just make sure it’s not too hot!

Puppies under 3 weeks of age need to be stimulated to pass urine and feces. Their mother would have licked them to clean them; you can simulate her behavior by stroking their rears with warm, damp cotton batting.

Weaning puppies

For the first few weeks of their lives, puppies feed on their mother’s milk, which is very rich in calories, protein, fat and calcium. At around 3-4 weeks of age, puppies can lap or nibble moist food from a bowl. Young puppies may need four or five meals a day. In the early stages of weaning, their mother’s milk is still an important part of the diet. But by 6 to 8 weeks, most puppies can be completely weaned, and are ready to leave their mother.

After weaning

  • Once weaned, your puppy will continue to grow very quickly, and will need about two to three times the energy intake (calories) of an adult dog of the same weight. The time for you to change the frequency and size of the feedings depends on the breed of your puppy. Small breeds reach their adult weight at six to nine months, whereas very large breeds such as Great Danes are not fully grown until they’re 18 to 24 months.
  • Larger breeds have two distinct phases of growth, and after they’ve turned 6 months, you should feed them an appropriate junior-dog diet. These diets have more calories than adult foods to meet your young dog’s needs for maturation, but fewer calories than puppy foods to reduce the risk of joint or hip problems later on.
  • If you’re feeding your puppies a special puppy diet, the label on the food package will tell you how much to feed puppies of various ages and sizes.
  • Do not overfeed your puppy as fat puppies are more likely to have weight problems and can develop joint and leg problems.
  • Your puppy’s feces should be well formed and firm. Feeding a highly digestible food will produce smaller amounts of wellformed feces.
  • Some puppies are particularly sensitive to changes in their diet, so make any such changes gradually, and resist the impulse to feed table scraps.
  • Puppies should be fed 4 times a day until they’re 4 months old, 3 times a day until they’re 6 months old, and then at least twice a day after that. This is especially important for very small and large breeds of dogs.
  • Puppies should have clean fresh water available to drink at all times. As the puppy gets older, you may find that giving him milk to drink causes diarrhea.

Caring for dog with food sensitivities

If your dog has an intolerance or reaction to certain food ingredients, you can work with your vet to discover what that ingredient is and then change your dog’s diet. Here’s what to know about food sensitivity.

What is food allergy?
Veterinarians estimate that food allergies cause 1% of all skin problems in dogs. Other allergic skin problems, such as allergy to flea bites, are more common. No-one knows exactly what percentage of gastrointestinal problems, such as vomiting or diarrhoea, are caused by food allergies, as pet owners often change the food they feed their dog once one type of food is tolerated. Pets who have itching skin as well as gastrointestinal problems are more likely to have food allergies.
The exact way a food ingredient in the diet causes the symptoms of food allergy is also still a mystery. Animal specialists suspect that abnormal amounts or types of protein particles from food are absorbed into the bloodstream from the digestive tract. This causes antibodies and inflammatory chemicals to be released from the cells of the digestive tract and skin, a process called “Hypersensitivity.” The skin and digestive tract may then become sensitive to food which contains that particular ingredient. Sensitivity reactions such as itching of the skin, vomiting or diarrhoea, may occur within minutes to hours, or even several days later.

Which foods cause food allergy?
Any food ingredient you’ve been feeding your dog can cause hypersensitivity reactions. The protein part of the food is the most likely culprit, often in foods such as beef, eggs, wheat gluten and lamb.
Some animals develop diarrhoea when they consume milk, although this is not a true allergy; it’s described as an intolerance, as a hypersensitivity reaction is not part of the picture.

Diagnosing food allergy
Skin irritation and scratching can result from causes other than food allergy. That’s why it’s important that you carefully consider other causes, such as allergies to fleas. If your dog’s skin damage is severe and is making him irritable and miserable, your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs until the “itch-scratch” cycle ends.

The elimination diet
To get to the bottom of the problem, your vet may ask you to list all the foods in your dog’s diet, including treats, bones and table scraps. Your vet will look through this list for foods your dog hasn’t previously eaten and he or she will then prescribe a nutritionally balanced diet that probably won’t cause allergic reactions in your dog. This type of diet is called a “selected protein diet.”
Feeding your dog only the elimination diet for the prescribed time is the best diagnostic procedure to find out if your dog has a food allergy. It may take up to 6 or even 10 weeks for the itching caused by the allergy to completely disappear, so it’s important for the elimination diet to be nutritionally complete to prevent nutritional deficiencies and ill health. Your dog may be showing gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhoea, but these usually go away within a few days.

The food challenge
To find out which protein sources your dog is allergic to, your vet may recommend testing different protein sources once your dog’s clinical signs have improved. The way you do this test is to introduce suspected food items to the diet in small quantities—one new food ingredient per week. If the itching or diarrhoea your dog previously experienced comes back, you’ve likely succeeded in your sleuth work and discovered an offending food ingredient. If, however, you don’t want to try the food challenge and your dog is happy on the elimination diet, you may continue to feed him these foods – as long as they represent a complete and balanced diet.

Guidelines for care and attention

  • If your dog has been prescribed drugs, make sure you administer them exactly as prescribed.
  • Make sure your dog has access to a plentiful supply of clean, fresh water. Eliminate other fluids, such as milk, at least while your pet is on the elimination diet.
  • When feeding your dog the elimination diet, give him absolutely no other foods.
  • You may need to separate pets in the household during feeding times.
  • You may need to feed your dog the elimination diet for up to10 weeks before all the allergic signs disappear. Be patient!
  • Watch your dog closely for remission or a decrease in severity of signs during the elimination diet period and let your vet know about any improvements or reactions to specific foods.

Caring for overweight

Excess weight is a common problem for dogs. But, as with humans, it’s better and healthier for a dog to be of normal weight than to be overweight. A quick way to check if your dog is overweight is to feel his ribs with the flat of your hand. If you can only feel the ribs with difficulty, your dog probably needs to lose weight.

How dogs become overweight

Dogs nearly always become overweight from eating more food than they need, and then not getting enough exercise. Calories in the food they eat, which aren’t used for daily activities, are stored as fat. Overeating may result from greediness, boredom, or overfeeding. Feeding leftovers or giving frequent snacks or treats often contributes to the excess weight problem. Over-fed puppies tend to become overweight dogs, and also have a greater risk of developing orthopaedic problems. If you feed your puppy correctly when he’s young, he’ll be less at risk of having weight problems later in his life. Occasionally, metabolic disorders can also make a dog overweight. If your veterinarian suspects a metabolic disorder is causing your dog to gain weight, he or she will test for that disorder.

Why your dog should lose weight

Being overweight is a real danger to your dog’s well being. It may shorten his life, here are some of the problems an overweight dog may come down with or aggravate:

  • Problems of movement, including arthritis, hip dysplasia, spinal disc problems and rupture of joint ligaments.
  • Decreased exercise tolerance.
  • Liver disease.
  • Diabetes mellitus.
  • Surgical and anaesthetic risk.
  • Heat intolerance.
  • Poor coat and skin condition.
  • Lowered resistance to infectious diseases.
  • Respiratory disorders made worse.

Helping your dog lose weight

Weight loss for most dogs involves increased exercise and eating food with fewer calories. It’s usually easier to feed normal amounts of a low-calorie diet than to feed much smaller amounts of a regular diet. Plus, your dog will not feel as hungry. Your veterinarian can help with advice and special diets, but achieving success is up to you and other members of your family. It will take effort and commitment, but this is well worth it in terms of the quality of life, health and companionship your dog and you will enjoy. Dieting for dogs