We’ve all heard the stories and seen the television shows about amazing vet surgeries and heroic vets doing their best to save dying animals, much to the tearful thanks of owners everywhere. But the reality of caring for dogs and their problems is much different. For most owners and vets , the same old troubles crop up again and again, no matter the breed. So what problems exactly do American vets see all the time? What’s the day in-day out routine, and how can we, as dog owners, stay out of the vet’s office?
To help with our canine quandary, we skipped the Wikipedia and Google searches and went straight to a real, live vet: Jesse Fallon, MS, DDM, who practices in Southwest Virginia. What we found were problems that ranged from the irresponsible to the deadly, the painful to the plain. From the most common to the least, are the top five troubles we bother our vets with:
1. Dog Allergies:
That’s right, your sneezing and scratching dog may not just be making noise–these symptoms may be the sign of a real allergic reaction in the home.
“Pollen, dust mites or food, it’s very similar to people allergies,“ said Fallon, “the symptoms manifest as itchy skin. Dogs can be allergic to anything, including the same things that people are allergic to.”
This common problem proves to be a tricky one, though. “It’s a hard disease to diagnose and treat, though we usually treat for the itchiness,” he said, “You can do de-sensitization therapy if you can pinpoint what the trouble is, and you can prescribe anti-histamines. Or, you can get a blood test for allergies.”
This begs a question–if allergies are so common today, how did the dogs of the good old days survive their allergies? After all, regular vet visits have become a common occurrence only in the latter part of the 20th century, and people have been owning dogs for thousands of years longer than that.
“In the wild, nature selects against allergies,” explained Fallon, “The dog that has the allergy doesn’t have as much time to look for food and such. We see it a lot today because we perpetuate inbreeding with specialized breeds.”
Every year, more and more dogs suffer from this slow and silent killer.
“A lot of pets have it, and, of course, they have their owners to blame. Just like people, many American dogs don’t get enough exercise,” said Fallon, “With obesity, you are predisposed to diabetes, joint disease is a bigger problems and the dog is at risk for many other kinds of orthopedic problems.”
Now, the tough part. We know when we are fat, but how can we tell if our dog is fat?
“You can just take a real, serious look at them. Your dog should have a recognizable waste and you should be able to feel the ribs but not see them. That’s the best weight,” he said.
What if you dog comes up on the chubby side or seems to be giving into his pork potential?
“You put them on a diet, just like a person,“ Fallon said, “Limit feeding to once or twice a day and use a measuring cup. Don’t leave food out all day and take the food away.”
3. Dietary Indiscretion:
Sounds scientific, right? It really isn’t. From digging in the trash to wolfing down your leftovers, this dog behavior brings plenty of pooches to the vet’s office.
“The dog is not used to eating huge quantities of human food,” Fallon said, “Diarrhea or vomiting is frequent. This isn’t a life threatening disorder, but can disrupt your household if your dog is vomiting all over the carpet or the sofa.”
So, Rover just ate a big plate of meatloaf and is showing off his gratitude by giving the meatloaf back to you, after a thorough chewing, all over your new carpet. What do you do?
“Your treatment would be to not feed him for 12 to 24 hours and give him plenty of water,” he said, “You just let their gastro-intestinal track rest. I don’t recommend Pepto-Bismol; the problem isn’t something abnormal in the digestive tract, it’s that you introduced something they are not used to. Just resting is the best medicine.”
Oh, and lay off the meatloaf.
4. Orthopedic Problems:
Regardless of whether your dog has seen better days or has dreaded genetic problems, trouble with the joints can spell a painful end for our favorite pet. While some can be treated, many orthopedic problems finish up very badly for dogs.
“This can be hip displaysia or ligament damage,” said Fallon, “These type of problems are more common in larger dogs, but it also can just be arthritis associated with age changes.”
Purebred dogs can be much more at risk for inherited problems, but all dogs, eventually, can come down with bad arthritis, just like old people. Trouble getting up and down the stairs, getting up after a nap or trouble moving are all signs of orthopedic problems.
If you think that your dog could be suffering, what do you do? Aside from costly surgery, is there anything that can be done to help our aging companions?
“Generally, controlled exercise is good for most orthopedic diseases as well as keeping them at a proper weight in preventing or delaying problems,” said Fallon, “Obesity can contribute to this. Some things are unavoidable. Arthritis that sets in as our dogs live longer lives, then they are more likely to develop these problems. Some have to be treated medically, and arthritis is treated with pain medication. But don’t start giving painkillers at home, take the dog to the vet and get diagnosed.”
Also known as good, old-fashioned poisoning, this most deadly of our top five is also the problem seen the least.
“Dogs eat prescription meds, antifreeze, insecticides and rodent poison–these are all common. If you know your dog has eaten something, you need to get to the vet immediately.”
But how can we tell that poison is the culprit and not number three on our list, dietary indiscretion? How can a dog owner tell the difference between Fido eating rat poison and Fido eating a foot long sub?
“Generally, with indiscretion, the dog will be acting more normal,” Fallon said, “In toxicity, you will see the evidence; you will see a medicine bottle chewed up or the rat trap eaten, or the dog is just not acting right.”
“If there is any doubt, you should go to the vet. You need to get somewhere ASAP,“ Fallon cautions, “Don’t wait, especially if you know they’ve eaten something. The easiest thing is to get the dog to vomit quickly, since it doesn’t absorb as much of the poison. Some drugs that aren’t toxic to people, like Tylenol or Advil, but can be very toxic to dogs.”
For poisoning, or any of this top five list, Fallon gives some stern advice: “The big thing is, all of these things are treatable, if the dog gets to the vet in time. Remember, we see these type of things all of the time. We know what to do in regards to diagnosis and treatment.”