In this section, we hope to demystify some of the options to feeding your Golden to promote good health, various types of allergens and their treatment, as well as holistic and integrated therapies on the rise in the management of several conditions in Goldens. Management plans should always be made in consultation with your veterinarian; however, this section provides informative tips about:
One of the most common questions that we are asked is, “What should I feed my dog?” There are so many choices – dry vs. canned, raw vs. home-cooked vs. commercial. And the number of pet food companies is positively baffling. The best advice we can give about feeding your Golden is to feed them the highest quality food you can afford.
The tooth structure and intestinal tract of dogs have become adapted to an omnivorous diet. This means that, under normal circumstances, dogs can meet their nutritional needs by eating a combination of plant and animal foods. The ideal food for the average dog would be fresh whole prey, eaten raw, and supplemented with whatever fresh grasses, fruits, and berries are in season. However, this would be socially unacceptable and impractical.
The source of the proteins and fats in a dog’s diet is less important than the quality and digestibility of these essential components. Dogs can do well on a properly balanced vegetarian diet; however, an all-meat diet would be unbalanced and not provide the proper nutrients. A well-balanced diet must include an appropriate amount of minerals, vitamins, certain essential amino acids (from proteins), and specific essential fatty acids (from fats). To meet their energy needs, dogs have evolved to use proteins and fats as their primary energy sources but they can also use carbohydrates for energy; however, complex carbohydrates such as grains are more digestible when they are cooked.
It is generally best to select a low-calorie diet. Most adult, indoor, spayed or neutered dogs have low energy requirements. Your Golden’s diet should contain a relatively small number of calories per cup ~ ideally less than 350 calories. Feeding a high-calorie diet means that you must often feed a small amount, which can be very unsatisfying.
Feeding a commercial diet is certainly most convenient and most likely to prevent nutritional deficiencies. In terms of nutrition and digestibility, there are no differences between dry and canned dog food. For dogs who need to consume more water or have certain special dietary needs, canned foods may be a better choice. Otherwise, most dogs will do fine on dry kibble. Some dry kibble has been specially formulated as dental diets and can mechanically help remove plaque.
Dogs have varying nutritional needs during different stages of their lives and feeding a diet that is formulated for all life stages is not necessarily appropriate. An ‘all-purpose’ dog food may not provide enough nutrients to meet the needs of a growing puppy or a pregnant or nursing mother. The same all-purpose diet may provide excessive nutrients to a senior or inactive dog. If you have a large or giant-breed puppy that is at risk for hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia or other growth abnormalities, you should feed a puppy food specially formulated for large-breed puppies. These diets are formulated to contain the optimal ratio of proteins and calcium to moderate rapid bone growth that can lead to joint disorders. Older dogs will benefit from diets lower in calories, higher in protein, lower in sodium, and with fewer carbohydrates.
Many owners are concerned about the use of preservatives in commercial dog foods. Preservatives are not necessarily bad and are important to prevent food from spoiling. Owners also tend to mention their concern regarding the use of meat by-products in commercial pet foods; however, it is important to realize that by regulatory definition, meat by-products are not hooves and hair but organ meats, which are perfectly nutritious and eaten by many humans.
Many owners feel that their pet will benefit from a home-cooked diet. It is important to remember that feeding a home-cooked diet does not mean just sharing from your plate. If you want to feed a home-cooked diet, it is important to follow diet recipes that have been formulated by animal nutritionists or have been shown to meet basic nutritional requirements.
The benefits of homemade diets include confidence in the freshness and wholesomeness of the ingredients and the potential inclusion of non-essential or synergistic components in the diet. The risk of homemade diets is that your Golden could end up not just undernourished but actually malnourished. This risk can be minimized by using recipes that have been analyzed for nutritional adequacy and by adhering strictly to the recipes when preparing the food.
Problems may occur if diets are either under- or over-supplemented with certain vitamins and minerals.
Some people are proponents of feeding grain-free (carbohydrate-free) diets, raw meat diets or bone, and raw food diets. Some animals do very well on these diets and others do poorly. Raw food diets are available commercially or can be prepared at home. If feeding a raw diet, it is very important to make sure that it is nutritionally balanced.
Raw meat and poultry are commonly contaminated with bacteria, some of which may be harmful. Cooking will kill bacteria, although it may not necessarily destroy toxins that were produced by the bacteria. Freezing does not kill bacteria and improper food storage allows them to multiply. Advocates of raw meat diets maintain that healthy animals are resistant to the bacterial pathogens found on commercially available raw meat sources. Critics of raw meat diets maintain that bacterial pathogens could represent a health risk to animals or their owners. To minimize these risks, it is necessary to ensure that the ingredients are stored properly, good food preparation practices are followed, and strict attention is paid to hygiene including hand washing after food preparation, sanitation of food bowls and feeding areas, and immediate cleanup of feces.
Raw bones are not without some risk. They may cause fecal impaction or bowel perforation. Raw bones may also cause dental problems such as fractured teeth. Cooked bones must NEVER be fed since they are brittle and prone to splintering and can cause both obstructions and perforations of the intestinal tract.
It is important to remember that dogs may be allergic to any component of their diet. In dogs, it is usually the skin that suffers if there is a food allergy. Food allergies are one of the itchiest conditions that dogs may develop. It may take months to years for a food allergy to develop, so a dog may become allergic to a diet that they have been on for a long time. The most common food allergies in dogs are beef, dairy, and wheat. Unfortunately for food allergic pets, most pet foods contain some mixture of beef, dairy, wheat, lamb, fish, and chicken. This means that simply changing foods is bound to lead to exposure to the same allergens. There are two ways to address food allergy ~ feeding a diet based on a truly novel protein source (this usually means an exotic diet like venison, duck, kangaroo, rabbit or even alligator) or feeding a diet where the protein has been pre-digested into units too small to interest the immune system.
The main point to remember about choosing a dog food is to make sure to consult your veterinarian or animal nutritionist to make sure that you are feeding a nutritionally balanced diet. Proper diet is an important element in providing our beloved family members with the long, healthy life they deserve.
A ‘Weighty’ Issue
We humans aren’t the only ones battling weight issues ~ so are our pets. Just like us, weight issues can be genetic, due to an underlying endocrine condition like hypothyroidism or Cushing’s disease, and can also be related to medications your pet may be taking, like steroids to help with allergies or seizure medications like phenobarbital. However, weight gain most likely tends to be related to how we feed our pets.
Count calories ~ the feeding guides on pet food bags are formulated for adult, intact dogs (not spayed or neutered). Based on this, you could be feeding 20-30% too much, especially if you have an older pet. Ask your veterinarian how many calories your pet should be taking in each day to maintain a healthy weight. A guide is to take your pet’s weight and divide it by 2.2, multiply this by 30 and add 70.
Measure meals! Use a proper measuring cup to properly measure out the amount to feed your pet. Studies show that giving as few as 10 extra kibbles a day can add up to a pound of weight gain per year for small dogs. Once you calculate how much to feed your pet, divide this amount into two to three meals per day. This will help stimulate their metabolism to burn off the calories.
If you want to feed treats, make sure they are good treats. Many treats are full of sugar and fats. Try and find treats that are low calorie and sugar free. Make sure you consider the calories of the treats when calculating out how many calories your pet should be eating per day. As few as 30 extra calories per day can mean an extra three or more pounds in a year. Your pet won’t know the difference between getting the whole treat or just part of a treat. So, break up the treat into pieces and consider only giving half.
Sliced apples, bananas, carrots, green beans, broccoli, and celery can be fed as treats, provided that your pet does not have any allergies to these foods. Stay away from onion and garlic ~ they are toxic.
Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish oils, have been proven to help prevent numerous diseases because of their anti-oxidant effect. They also have anti-inflammatory properties. Almost every pet and people can benefit from taking these. L-carnitine has been shown to help with weight loss and promote lean muscle mass. Again, always consult with your veterinarian before starting supplements.
Strive for health with 20 – 30 minutes of brisk walking. This boosts the immune function in dogs. It also improves cardiovascular health and may reduce some behavioural problems.
Watch those carbs. A high protein, low carbohydrate diet helps prevent obesity and since obesity can predispose dogs to diabetes mellitus, we are also lessening the chance of diabetes. Look for a low or no-grain option with a protein source as the first ingredient.
Read the food labels. Is the diet complete and balanced? Is it life stage appropriate? When purchasing a dog food, you should be looking for the AAFCO seal of approval (Association of American Feed Control Officials). AAFCO sets standards for feeding control protocols, establishes minimum and maximums for key nutrients, and sets the nutrient guidelines for life stages. Be careful when feeding a food ‘For All Life Stages’ ~ this is basically puppy food. What may be appropriate for your puppy is not appropriate for the adult or senior pet.
Allergies & Nutrition
There are three main types of allergies in dogs ~ atopy (inhalant allergies), flea allergies, and food allergies, typically characterized by chronic ear infections, itchy and stained paws, hot spots, red staining on the face or belly, an itchy body, and gastric upset. In dogs, just like in humans, the incidence of allergies is increasing. Dogs are allergic to many of the same environmental allergens as humans.
Common allergens are pollens, dander, grasses, trees, and fabrics. In food allergies, the allergen is usually a major protein or carbohydrate ingredient such as beef, chicken, pork, corn, wheat or soy. However, any food, preservative or dye can be an allergen. Some dogs have many allergies. It is not particularly unusual for a dog with a food or inhalant allergy to also be allergic to flea bites, especially considering that flea bite allergy is extremely common among pets. Flea bite allergy is caused by the flea’s saliva, so it only takes a few bites to cause the problem.
First and foremost, it’s important that your vet confirms that your dog’s chronic issues do stem from allergies, and not another, potentially more threatening health issue. When everything else is ruled out, managing allergies can be challenging, but not impossible.
Dogs that have flea allergies will bite at the base of their tail and scratch frequently. Many dogs have a characteristic thinning of the hair above the base of the tail. Fleas or flea dirt can be found on the dog the majority of the time; however, it can occasionally be difficult to find fleas as only a few fleas are needed to cause a problem in an allergic dog.
Atopy usually starts out as a seasonal itchiness. After several years, the itchy period extends until, in many cases, the dog is itchy almost all year round. Atopy tends to begin between the ages of one and three. Itchiness due to atopy responds rapidly to steroids. Atopy is associated with skin irritation around the eyes, mouth, ears, armpits, abdomen, legs, and anus.
Atopy is often diagnosed based on history and symptoms. In dogs that do not respond to symptomatic treatment, further testing is often needed. This may be in the form of biopsies or allergy testing. Testing is best done during the pet’s non-itchy season. The test involves injections of small amounts of allergen extracts into the skin. Reactions noted are compared to reactions produced by two controls ~ pure histamine (very inflammatory) and pure saline (very non-inflammatory). Prior to testing, many medications commonly used to treat atopy must be withheld. Allergic skin testing is generally performed only by veterinary dermatologists. As an alternative to skin testing, several blood tests have been developed to check for the presence of allergy-type antibodies in the blood.
These tests can be submitted by any veterinarian and drugs generally do not need to be withheld prior to testing. Skin testing is ideal, but blood tests may be considered for animals suspected of having inhalant allergies that simply cannot go without medication, who have negative skin testing or for whom skin testing is unavailable for other reasons.
There is no cure for allergies and it is usually a life-long problem. The goal is to control and manage allergies and improve the quality of life for dog and owner. Prednisone and other related steroids tend to be useful as the first line of defense against itchy skin. Dogs are started on a higher dose, which is tapered to every other day. An atopic dog will respond within a few days. Problems occur when the dog’s need for itch control demands excessive use of prednisone or there are an excessive number of undesirable side effects. Common side effects include excess thirst, excess appetite, urinary incontinence, lethargy, and panting.
Antihistamines are less harmful and have fewer side effects than prednisone; however, only 10-20% of dogs will respond to any given antihistamine. Often several different antihistamines must be tried to determine which is most effective. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), clemastine, hydroxyzine, and chlorpheniramine are four of the most commonly tried. Even if there is not adequate response to an antihistamine alone, combining the antihistamine with a steroid will generally lower the required dose of the steroid. Fatty acid supplementation alone is helpful in 10-25% of itchy dogs and will often boost the effectiveness of antihistamines.
Atopica (cyclosporine) is an immune system modulating drug originally developed for use in organ transplant patients but also useful in other immune-mediated diseases. Since allergies are an immune-mediated condition, cyclosporine has been found to be an alternative to steroids. Atopica tends to be quite effective with minimal side effects; however, it can be quite expensive.
Topical sprays and shampoos are helpful in some dogs but rarely adequate on their own. When bathing, it is important to remember that cool water is considered much more soothing than warm water. It is also important to remember that ten minutes of skin contact is the minimum requirement for any medicated shampoo to allow for the therapeutic benefit to be realized.
Allergy injections (hypo sensitization) may be considered in pets just like in people; however, hypo sensitization should not be expected to end all scratching. Allergy shots require approximately 6 to 12 months to begin working ~ 25% of atopic dogs will not respond, 25% of dogs will require prednisone at least some of the time, and you will need to give the injections.
Severe itching has a major impact on a dog’s quality of life. It is important not to develop the mindset that steroids should be avoided at all cost. This is not fair to the itching pet. Steroids are valuable tools in the treatment of itchy pets. The goal is not to avoid steroid use but to avoid long-term dependence on steroids if possible. However, there are a few dogs that will still require long-term steroid use in order to achieve any reasonable comfort. These dogs need to be monitored with checkups, routine blood work, and other testing as needed.
Food allergy is one of the itchiest conditions known to dogs. Many people assume itching due to food allergy requires a recent diet change of some sort. In fact, the opposite is true. Food allergy requires time to develop, so most animals have been eating the same diet for years before problems develop. The following clues point us toward a diagnosis of food allergy ~ itchiness is not and has never been a seasonal problem. There has been partial response to steroids at best and there is a combination of facial itching, foot or limb chewing, belly itching, and recurrent ear infections. Some dogs will also have itching and irritation around the anus.
Addressing a food allergy is best done through an elimination diet. Until recently, allergy testing was unreliable and costly, often resulting in frustration for the owner when results were inconclusive. Allergy testing can be ordered online; however, the cost can be prohibitive. An elimination diet is more economical as the only associated costs are the foods you choose to use, and for many, it is still the only real way to know what your dog can tolerate. We begin this process by simplifying the diet as much as possible, usually with only one protein and one carb, and then build the diet from there (for kibble feeders, the best kibble for this is the series of Limited Ingredient diets from Natural Balance, or for commercial raw feeders, a new veterinary line of whole food, lightly processed food called Rayne is also available). The most common mistake we make in elimination diets is time. An allergy can stay in the body for up to 12 weeks and when we’re making changes after just a couple of days or weeks, we may not be seeing the true results of the food test. For example, if your dog is allergic to chicken and you switch to a salmon-based diet, you’ll need to stay on the salmon diet (unless of course the condition worsens) for 12 weeks before you’ll know if your dog is reacting to something in the new diet. Once you’ve passed the 12 week point and your dog is showing improvements, begin adding one new ingredient (even if in the form of a topper or a treat) every two weeks, provided there are no additional allergic reactions. Remember though, if you add a food that causes a reaction, you’ll be back into that 12-week cycle. Be sure that everyone who has access to your dog understands his strict diet limitations as one little tidbit fed from a friend can result in 12 weeks of waiting! Also, be cautious of treats (staying within your approved ingredient list) and access to other dogs’ food in multi-dog households.
WARNING: Diets that include duck, venison, and other proteins commonly used in hypoallergenic diets are now readily available. Before feeding these foods, remember that these ingredients will not be useable for diet trials in pets that have eaten them as their normal diet. That may complicate the diagnosis of food allergy in the future.
Most dogs will react to a food that they’ve had in abundance throughout their life and, for many, that begins with grains and chicken. A good starting point for those new to elimination diets is to cut out grain (not just gluten-free) and chicken first, and see how your dog improves.
If you believe your dog has both environmental and food allergies, keep in mind that an elimination diet can be very challenging to conduct when your dog may also be reacting to pollens. For those of us with dogs who have both types, elimination diets are really only reliable when done during the colder months. For many, medications like Benadryl or steroids seem to be the only option to stave off symptoms of outdoor allergies, and sometimes, they are necessary. If despite all your efforts, your dog’s allergy symptoms are causing secondary health issues like chronic loose stool, gastric upset, chewing of their paws or skin to the point of bleeding or even aural hematomas from chronic ear infections, you may need to medicate your dog. Risk of skin infections, pain from self-harm, and even repeated surgery to deal with hematomas are all detrimental to your dog’s health; therefore, often a compromise must be made to weigh the damage from medications versus the damage from these health issues. In regard to natural alternatives, Milk Thistle is a wonderful supplement to protect the liver as is Turmeric, which can also help to balance the immune system. Fish oil acts to not only promote a healthy coat, but also contains anti-inflammatory properties to help manage allergy response. Probiotics are probably the most important addition to a dog’s diet when dealing with the yeast that develops in an allergy dog and it should be provided in the form of either powder or tablet (yogurt just doesn’t have enough probiotic in it to provide the relief you’re looking for without feeding so much dairy it upsets your dog’s stomach). Probiotics should always have a wide range of bacteria strains, beyond just acidophilus, and well-known brands like Omega Alpha or Kazooticals will provide just what your dog needs. Raw, local honey is also a gentle way to desensitize your dog to pollens, and if used long-term, can have considerable effects. It should always be raw so that the pollens haven’t been destroyed via pasteurization and should always be local so that your dog is slowly exposed to the pollens from the area where you live. Lastly, topical treatments like Apple Cider Vinegar (always organic, with ‘mother’, never apply to broken skin as it can burn), Colloidal Silver (don’t give internally to a dog on probiotics, as it can counter-act the probiotic), Coconut Oil and Oil of Oregano are all great products for destroying yeast build up, conditioning the skin, and relieving itch.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
Because allergies are the result of the immune system’s over reaction, limiting your dog’s exposure to toxins is a great way of preventing or reducing allergies. If the immune system is always being challenged by toxins, it never has a chance to ‘relax’ and function normally. Consider eliminating scent diffusers and plug-ins in your home, avoid fabric sprays that your dog will walk/lie on and then consume through licking themselves, and switch to natural cleaning products.
The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) has recently changed its vaccination protocols for core vaccines to once every three years. Do some research on the science available about vaccines and speak to your vet (and perhaps get a second opinion from a holistic vet) about minimal vaccine protocols. The science available to us about canine immunology and vaccinations is far different from that which is available about humans and children, and well worth the investigation on your part.
Choose high quality supplements. Many ‘for dogs’ supplements are waste product from human production and aren’t required to meet the same standards. Quality companies do exist, like Omega Alpha, Ascenta, Mercola, and Purica, but in many instances, a human product can be used.
Keep a journal of what your dog eats, what changes you make, the season, and how your dog is seeming to feel. Working with allergies is a long-term commitment and we can easily forget what works and what doesn’t. Tracking your progress (or lack thereof) can make life much easier and avoid duplication of trial and error.
Integrated Health Care
The technological advances in veterinary medicine have brought continuous new drugs, diagnostic, and surgical procedures that have resulted in a significant increase in the average lifespan of our pets. With the rising popularity of natural medicine, many practitioners and owners have also embraced approaches such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
TCM has been practiced in humans for over 5,000 years and for 3,000 years in animals. It includes acupuncture, herbal medicine, and food therapy. The goal of treatment is to restore balance and remove energy blocks. This aids in pain relief and the regulation of gastrointestinal motility and has anti-inflammatory effects and promotes immune-regulation and microcirculation. These strengthen the body and help it heal.
The needles used in acupuncture are very small and most animals become very relaxed during the treatment. Unfortunately, not all animals will tolerate acupuncture needles. In these animals, a Chinese herbal formulation can be used in lieu of acupuncture to give similar physiological effects. Chinese herbal medications can be used in combination with many western treatments or as an alternative to drugs with undesired side effects. Many foods have similar yet less intense medicinal actions as herbs. By adding or eliminating certain foods from your pet’s diet, long-term health benefits can be achieved.
There are many conditions that respond well to TCM. It is beneficial in chronic illness, especially when the pet is not responding well to conventional western therapies. It has also proven effective for urinary incontinence, arthritis, disc disease, seizures, IBD (irritable bowel disease), cardiac disease, skin problems, renal failure, liver disease, chronic cough…to name a few. Animal chiropractic alone or in conjunction with acupuncture can be very effective for animals with pain or mobility problems. Home treatment can be particularly good for those animals with mobility issues and the familiar environment can be more relaxing.
TCM and chiropractic are medical modalities that can be used as the sole method of treatment; however, some choose to integrate them with western veterinary medicine and other natural remedies. Every animal is unique and requires an individual assessment to determine the best combination of therapies.
Medical Conditions and Your Golden
This section, largely written by or under the direction of veterinarians, provides a breakdown of various medical conditions common to Goldens including cancer, torn ACL’s, and ticks, as well as their treatment options. While not meant to replace medical advice from your veterinarian, here you will find detailed descriptions of the medical diagnosis or injury and suggested approaches to management aimed at educating adopters and empowering them in ownership.
Golden Retrievers and Cancer
A study by Purdue University found that 61.4% of Golden Retrievers died of cancer. Of those with cancer, 16% were diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma, 11% with lymphoma, 10% with mast cell tumor, and 5% with osteosarcoma. The average age for development of cancer was 8 to 10 years of age.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of suspicions regarding cancer in Golden Retrievers, but not a lot of concrete answers. Due to the high incidence of cancer in Goldens, there are many research projects underway. One study confirmed that Golden Retrievers with lymphoma have higher levels of DNA damage than healthy Golden Retrievers or healthy mixed-breed dogs. These results suggest that inherited deficiencies in the ability to repair DNA may contribute to the development of lymphoma in Golden Retrievers. The information gained from this study may help scientists develop prevention strategies for canine cancer.
Another study found that early neutering increases the risk of certain cancers, in particular lymphosarcoma. However, this same study found that hemangiosarcoma cases were increased in late-neutered females as compared to intact and early neutered females. Therefore, the choice of if-and-when to spay and neuter is no longer straightforward. The days of automatically spaying and neutering dogs at six months of age are gone. We now must take into consideration a number of factors when deciding on an age. In the majority of females, it is still wisest to spay prior to the first heat as in females the most common cancer is mammary cancer. In males, it seems better to wait until at least 12-18 months of age.
There are many research projects underway, including a Golden Retriever Lifetime Study being sponsored by Morris Animal Foundation. The goal of this study is to identify genetic, environmental, and nutritional risk factors for the development of cancer. Approximately 3,000 Golden Retrievers, up to two years of age, will be enrolled and followed for 10 to 14 years. In addition to identifying incidence and risk factors for specific cancers, information on other diseases will also be captured. This study is costing approximately $25 million.
What can Golden Retriever owners do about this high incidence of cancer?
Remember and watch for the top ten warning signs of cancer: abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow, sores that do not heal, weight loss, loss of appetite, bleeding or discharge from any body orifice, offensive odour, difficulty eating or swallowing, hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina, persistent lameness or stiffness, and difficulty breathing, urinating or defecating. Not all dogs with these symptoms will have cancer, but these symptoms should be investigated further. Make sure your Golden receives regular check-ups including radiographs and bloodwork, if possible. Early detection may increase the survival rate of certain cancers. However, early detection tests currently on the market do not seem to be worthwhile. Contribute to research either financially or by providing information or blood and tumor samples to ongoing research studies. There are many groups such as the Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium that collect samples. In Ontario, donations may be made to the Smiling Blue Skies Cancer Fund at the University of Guelph. This fund is in honor of Blues Man, a Golden Retriever who lost his life to cancer.
If your Golden has cancer, remember that just like in humans, there are ongoing clinical trials. These clinical trials are not for everyone; however, in many cases the patients enrolled benefit while also benefiting research into cancer treatments.
Ligament Tears & ACL Surgery
Many people don’t realize their dogs can tear their knee ligaments just like people. The most common ligament tears are those that involve the cranial (or anterior) cruciate ligament (CCL or ACL).
Why do we refer to the possible surgical interventions as ‘repairing ACL deficiencies’? It’s now widely understood that many dogs, of various breeds, actually have a gradual degeneration of the cranial cruciate ligament that ultimately ends in failure or tearing. Sometimes this appears as a sudden, painful lameness and other times the owners are unaware their dogs have such a catastrophic injury because it happened so gradually and owners simply attribute the increasing lameness to ‘old age’. Scientific studies support that as many as 75% of dogs may have degenerative tears even if they are not identified as such at initial diagnosis.
Many different breeds of dogs have now been identified as high-risk breeds such as Mastiffs, Staffordshire Terriers, Akitas, Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and even Cocker Spaniels. We now know there are genetic factors involved as some breeds, such as Greyhounds, rarely tear their ACLs despite their high impact and demanding athletic lifestyles.
Over the years many surgical procedures have been developed to aid in stabilizing the knee with a goal of returning the dog to normal functioning of the hind limb. If your dog is diagnosed with an ACL tear, it is ideal, in almost all cases, for any breed of dog, of any age, to have a surgical repair to help with the loss of stability in the knee that occurs when the ACL ruptures. This ligament is instrumental in stabilization of the knee (and the entire hind limb) during standing, walking, running, and jumping. Dogs that do not have repairs performed will invariably develop significant osteoarthritis and in most cases, moderate to marked lameness. Over time, this lameness appears as a decrease in the flexibility of the knee joint (and hence the entire hind limb), mobility, and strength and results in a decreased ability to perform everyday activities.
These techniques focus on determining the ideal way to change the angle of the tibial plateau to neutralize the forces occurring during standing, walking, and jumping. The tibial plateau is the top surface of the shin bone (tibia) that is essentially in contact with the femur (thigh bone) within the knee joint. By changing the angle of the tibial plateau, the forces that were controlled by the anterior cruciate ligament are no longer of concern and the pet can walk with no discomfort or abnormal forces occurring within the knee joint. These techniques involve bone plating and are very strong surgical repairs for a joint that is under a great deal of stress during every day activity. The most commonly used techniques are the Tibial Plateau Leveling Osteotomy (TPLO) and the Tibial Tuberosity Advancement (TTA). Although these surgical repairs are different in their approach, they are essentially utilizing the same principles to achieve stability for the knee joint and are considered the surgical repairs of choice for numerous reasons. They both are repairs that are extremely strong and essentially lead to immediate stability for the dog thus allowing for quick recoveries post-operatively. This is a win-win for pets undergoing the surgery and for the owners who are responsible for the post-operative care.
Many people are very intimidated by the prospect of such a surgery for their dogs. While the recovery period is not short, with the more stable bone plating techniques, most pets require no assistance of any kind and are essentially 100% healed by 8-10 weeks post-operatively. If other techniques are used, recovery can take at least six months although the effort required of the owner decreases proportionately with time post-operatively. Initially owners need to expect they will be essential in helping their pet to go outside for bathroom breaks, icing, massage, and easy to perform physiotherapy. As time progresses, usually around 10 days post-operatively, there’s more focus on walking exercises and building strength. Summer can be ideal for physiotherapy as swimming in a pool or lake is ideal if owners cannot frequent hydrotherapy pools.
Don’t be dismayed if your pet has an ACL tear. Dogs can lead a perfectly normal life with proper care and it does not take an expert to care for them at home.
Leptospirosis is a disease caused by spiral-shaped bacteria called leptospires. Humans and animals become infected through contact with contaminated urine, water or soil. The bacteria enter the body through skin or mucous membranes, such as the eyes, nose or mouth, especially if the skin is broken from a cut or scratch.
Even pets living in suburban areas are often exposed to wildlife, such as raccoons, skunks, squirrels, opossums or deer that are infected with leptospirosis.
Drinking contaminated water can also cause infection. Infected wild and domestic animals may shed the bacteria into the environment continuously or sporadically for a few months up to several years.
Dogs are generally infected by drinking, swimming or walking through contaminated water. Even pets living in suburban areas can be exposed to wildlife, such as raccoons, skunks, squirrels, opossums or deer that are infected with leptospirosis. Dogs may also pass the disease to one another; however, this happens rarely. All animals can potentially become infected with leptospires, although cases in cats are rare. Leptospires prefer warm weather and are readily killed by freezing, so the incidence of disease is greatest between July and December and after periods of wet weather.
The symptoms of leptospirosis vary and are not really specific. Some dogs do not have any symptoms. Common symptoms include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, refusal to eat, severe weakness, depression, stiffness, and severe muscle pain. Younger animals are generally more seriously affected than older animals. The bacteria most commonly affect the kidneys and liver. Infection may result in sudden death or become chronic and produce kidney failure, hepatitis, fever or eye infections. The time between exposure to the bacteria and development of disease is usually 5 to 14 days, but can be as short as a few days or as long as 30 days or more.
Leptospirosis is not always easy to diagnose. Blood testing to detect antibodies can be performed; however, a second sample called a titer would take place between two and four weeks after the first sample. Tests may also be run on urine.
Leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics. If treated early, the dog may recover more rapidly and liver and kidney disease may be less severe. Intravenous fluids are often crucial to support blood flow through the damaged kidneys so that recovery is possible. In a study from the University of California at Davis, dogs with mild to moderate disease received IV fluids and antibiotics and 82% survived. Dogs with moderate to severe disease tended to require hemodialysis. The prognosis was worse for severely affected dogs that did not receive hemodialysis, while 86% of those receiving hemodialysis survived.
There are two main ways to prevent leptospirosis. One is to keep rodent problems under control, since rodents can carry and spread the bacteria. The other means of prevention is to get your Golden vaccinated. The vaccine does not provide 100% protection because there are many types of leptospires and the vaccine only protects against four of the types. Vaccination will reduce the severity of the disease but will not prevent infected dogs from becoming carriers. It is also important to have your dog vaccinated even if it gets leptospirosis because they can still get infected with a different type. The leptospirosis portion of many vaccines has been associated with vaccine reactions more often than any other portion of the vaccine. However, as technology has improved, vaccines made from leptospires grown in protein-free media have made vaccination reaction far less likely.
If your dog has been diagnosed with leptospirosis, it is important to avoid contact with urine, blood or tissues from your pet. Your pet should take all prescribed medication and have veterinary follow-ups as recommended. Normal daily activities with your pet will not put you at high risk for leptospirosis infection; however, if you show any symptoms such as fever, muscle aches or headaches within three weeks of exposure, you should see your physician.
Tick & Lyme Disease
The incidence of ticks seems to be on the rise in Ontario. This is creating concern among many pet owners, primarily due to the fear of ticks carrying Lyme disease. Although ticks can transmit diseases, they are usually nothing more than a nuisance. The best approach is to prevent them from embedding, and if embedded, to remove them quickly.
Ticks are skin parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. Ticks like motion, warm temperatures from body heat, and the carbon dioxide exhaled by mammals, which is why they are attracted to dogs, cats, and people. Ticks wait for their host on the tips of grasses and shrubs. When the plant is brushed by a moving animal or person, the tick quickly leaves the vegetation and climbs onto the host. Ticks can only crawl…they do not jump or fly.
Most ticks found on dogs are ‘hard’ ticks. They have a hard shield just behind the mouthparts (sometimes called the ‘head’). Unfed hard ticks are shaped like a flat seed. Female ticks engorge with blood when attached and can significantly increase in size. Ticks do not burrow under the skin. Most types of ticks require three hosts during a two-year lifespan. Each tick stage requires a blood meal before it can reach the next stage.
The tick bite itself is not usually painful but the tick can transmit disease or cause tick paralysis. It takes several hours to days for an attached tick to transmit disease, so owners can usually prevent disease transmission by looking for and removing ticks on a regular basis.
Residual insecticides can be used to prevent ticks from attaching. Unfortunately, many of these products are not available in Canada. Revolution (a spot-on heartworm/flea preventative) is labeled for one kind of tick. Advantix is a spot-on that repels and kills fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and some flies. It is highly toxic to cats, so cats should not be allowed near dogs while the product is wet and should not be allowed to groom dogs in the area the product was applied. Preventic collars have some effectiveness against ticks. The collars do not keep all ticks off, but they do discourage ticks from implanting or staying on. The collar might be somewhat more water resistant than a residual insecticide, so if your dog swims, the collar might be a better choice. All of these products either kill the tick or cause it to drop off prior to the 48-hour deadline necessary for the transmission of Lyme disease.
The best way to find ticks on your dog is to run your hands over the whole body. Check for ticks every time your dog comes back from an area you know is inhabited by ticks. Ticks attach most frequently around the head, ears, neck and feet, but can be found anywhere on the body.
The safest way to remove a tick is to use rubbing alcohol and a pair of tweezers. Dab rubbing alcohol on the tick and then use the tweezers to grab the tick as close to the dog’s skin as you can. Pull slowly and steadily trying not to leave the tick’s head embedded in the skin. Don’t squeeze the tick because it might inject some disease-causing organisms. Risk of disease transmission to you, while removing ticks, is low but you should wear gloves if you wish to be perfectly safe. DO NOT apply hot matches, Vaseline, turpentine or nail polish because these methods for removing the tick do not work and are not safe for your dog. Once you have removed the tick, kill it by putting it in rubbing alcohol or insecticide. After you pull a tick off, there will be an area of inflammation that could look red, crusty or scabby. The tick’s attachment causes irritation. A mild topical antibiotic may be applied, but usually is not necessary. The inflammation should go down within a week.
Lyme disease is a systemic infection caused by a bacterium called a spirochete. The bacterium is carried by several species of ticks, most commonly the deer tick or black-legged tick. In Ontario, blacklegged ticks are more commonly found along the north shores of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. In general, black-legged ticks infected with Lyme disease are much more common in the United States along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine to Virginia and in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Dogs become infected when they are bitten by an infected tick. The tick needs to feed on the dog for more than two days before infection occurs. The tick itself becomes infected by feeding on infected mice, birds, deer, and other animals. Direct transmission of Lyme disease from one dog to another has not been reported, even when infected and uninfected dogs have lived together for long periods. Transmission of Lyme disease from dogs to people has not been reported.
Some dogs infected with Lyme disease do not show any signs of illness. In dogs that get sick, the signs may be vague and not appear for several months. The most common clinical sign is lameness, but a small percentage of dogs develop severe, life-threatening kidney disease. Lyme disease can be treated with a variety of antibiotics. In dogs, Lyme disease is generally a minor infection not nearly worthy of the attention it has received. Lyme disease in the dog is an infection from which 90% of infected dogs will never get sick and the 5-10% who do get sick can be easily treated with a safe, inexpensive course of antibiotics. There is a vaccine against Lyme disease available. Not all dogs need to be vaccinated and the decision to vaccinate would be influenced by the level of Lyme disease in the areas the dog lives in and travels to, the amount of time the dog spends outside, and the potential for side effects from the vaccine.
REMEMBER ~ although ticks can transmit diseases, they are usually nothing more than a nuisance. The best approach is to prevent them from embedding and, if embedded, to remove them quickly.
Lameness is one of the most common reasons people present their dogs to the vet. Sometimes it is so subtle that it is difficult to tell which leg is involved. The front legs take two-thirds of the weight when the dog is in motion.
Often, even before an overt lameness manifests, behavioural changes signal that something is wrong. Dogs with discomfort will be reluctant to go up or down stairs or jump in or out of the car. They might stop sleeping on the couch as it hurts to get on and off. So, short of them having an obvious injury where they are holding up a paw and looking pathetic, how can we tell?
The front legs take two-thirds of the weight when the dog is in motion. Even so, front-end lameness can be very subtle. Usually there will be a head bob associated with it. The head will come up when the sore leg takes weight. This can be confusing but they are guarding the sore leg ~ pulling up on it.
Have your dog walk towards you on an even, non-slip surface such as the sidewalk. If you can’t see anything, have someone jog the dog towards you. Be careful they are not pulling up on the leash as this could mask the head bob. If you still don’t see anything, watch from behind as the dog moves away from you. Sometimes the head bob can be seen from behind.
Now that you are watching from behind, observe the hind legs. Some lameness will cause a hip hitch. The hip on the affected side will pop up as they move. Also watch where the paws land. Neurologic issues will cause the paws to cross over or splay out as the dog doesn’t know where they are in space. Another sign of neurologic lameness is wear of the top surface of the middle two toenails on the affected foot.
Have your dog sit. If they won’t sit squarely, they may have a sore stifle or knee on the side the foot is sticking out on.
When you get to the vet, don’t be offended if they do all this over again to confirm your diagnosis. They probably will. Then they will examine the limb or limbs from the tip of the nails to the shoulder or hip looking for the specific site on the limb. It can be as simple as a torn nail or puncture of the pad or as serious as a bone tumour.
All the joints will be felt for heat, pain or swelling. Then they will be taken through their flexion and extension looking for a pain response, decreased range of motion, anD crepitus or grinding. The degree of flexion and extension can be measured against known normals. If none of the joints seem to be involved, the long bones will be palpated deeply. The muscle mass will be palpated and compared to the other limb. Muscles that are not getting used as much are smaller.
If the limbs don’t seem to be the source, the spine and tail will be examined in the same way. Some lameness comes from there. Have you ever suffered from sciatica? Your butt and leg feel like someone is stabbing them with a hot iron. If an area of concern is identified or the vet still isn’t sure exactly from where the problem is stemming, diagnostic tests may be ordered. Radiographs are the most likely. This usually requires an anesthetic to get a good set as sometimes it is painful to position the patient. If your dog moves, the rad is ruined and that means a do over, which means more radiation for your dog and hospital staff. If we still can’t find the source, a referral may be offered. Most referral centres have the ability to do CTs and/or MRIs.
Dilated Cardiomyopathy & Diet
Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is one of the most common heart diseases that occurs in large and giant breed dogs. There does seem to be a genetic component. It rarely occurs in smaller dogs. Dilated cardiomyopathy causes weakness of the heart muscle that eventually leads to enlargement of the heart chambers resulting in congestive heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms and/or sudden death.
In 2017/2018, it was noted that breeds not typically associated with a genetic predisposition to dilated cardiomyopathy were developing the disease. In particular, there was concern about dilated cardiomyopathy in a group of Golden Retrievers. Golden Retrievers do not have a genetic predisposition to the disease, though they may have an increased sensitivity to taurine deficiency. The FDA began investigating the link between grain-free, boutique and exotic ingredient diets and the increased incidence of DCM. It was found that 90% of the products associated with DCM were labeled as grain-free and 93% of those products contained a high level of peas and/or lentils. It was also found that about 42% of the DCM cases had low taurine levels. Taurine is an amino acid that has been associated with DCM.
Currently, it seems that there may be two separate problems occurring – one related to taurine deficiency and a separate and yet unknown problem (with a third group of dogs likely having DCM completely unrelated to diet). What seems to be consistent is that it does appear to be more likely to occur in dogs eating boutique, grain-free, or exotic ingredient diets.
Grain-free diets are not necessarily better. While there are dogs with food allergies, the overall percentage is actually quite small. Grains do not contribute to any health problems and are used in pet food as a nutritious source of protein, vitamins, and minerals.
If you are feeding a grain-free diet that was recommended by your veterinarian, then discuss risks vs. benefits with them. If you have selected a grain-free diet, then you should reconsider your dog’s diet. Could you switch to a diet made with more typical ingredients and manufactured by a company with a long track record of producing good quality diets?
If you elect not to change from a grain-free or boutique diet, then you should monitor your dog for signs of heart disease – weakness, slowing down, less able to exercise, short of breath, coughing, or fainting. You can supplement your dog’s diet with additional taurine, but as mentioned above low taurine levels is not the only factor.
If you have further questions, please speak with your veterinarian for advice.
Note from the editor: We have been feeding our fur-family a grain-free Performatrin (Pet Valu’s brand). It is important to note that we are not advocating any particular brand but when I read this report, I immediately discussed this with the folks at Pet Valu. When I told them I was considering changing our food, I was informed that extra taurine is added to this grain-free food. So, whatever you’re feeding, please check the ingredients before you change their food. Above all, please consult with your vet.