Getting a dog is a joy, but it can also be a crash course with no real blueprint or comprehensive instruction. Things have a way of coming. Curve balls are thrown in your direction. In four years with my dog, I’ve learned a lot of things that vets don’t mention on this first puppy exam.
1. The importance of slime in dog feces
A delightful subject, yes, but an important one.
Dog owners know that poop is a barometer of a dog’s health. Slime in a dog’s feces is one of the scariest things you will come across, along with blood. But here’s what nobody will tell you: phlegm in dog poop isn’t necessarily a sign of illness.
The internet is full of terrible explanations of what it could mean – from parasites to irritable bowel disease. Even cancer. When large amounts of mucus appeared in my dog’s poop, after consulting with Dr. Google Fear Of The Worst. Fortunately, thanks to other dog owners, I’ve learned that slime poop isn’t always a bad sign. Indeed, it can be a sign that the body is healing. If I hadn’t had this experience with my dog, or had it associated it with other dog owners whose pups had also passed through it, I would still be in the dark about it. (Three different vets had no idea what was going on.) Here’s what I found out.
When drugs like antibiotics or steroids are stopped, owners often report seeing annoying amounts of mucus in the poop. In this context, mucus is not a signal for an illness, but a release of a toxic load.
These two drugs are known to put strain on the intestines. When they are stopped, the body expels the lining that was built to protect the intestinal wall. Basically, the mucosal plaque is no longer needed as soon as the drug is no longer taken.
The same thing can sometimes happen when the quality of the dog food is improved. Again, mucus in the poop is not a cause for concern, but a positive sign of an ongoing detox.
2. Raw meatbones are the best toothbrushes
Much has been written about the epidemic of dental disease in dogs, which sometimes begins when they are barely adult. There is an industry that revolves around products and there is no shortage of home remedies to supposedly clean your dog’s teeth and sweeten his breath: chewing teeth, mouth sprays, chicken-flavored toothpaste, water additives.
But there is a simple, obvious, and natural solution that avoids any fuss: raw meat bones. The tearing, tearing, and crunching of engulfing bones and cartilage make the toothbrush of a raw, fleshy bone nature. All of these tendons are the canine equivalent of floss. Your dog will love this type of brushing!
It is an unfortunate fact that many munch-fed dogs are on their way to anesthetized tooth cleanings or even extractions. Raw-fed dogs or dogs whose diet is supplemented with raw meat bones have a far better insight into lifelong dental health. My dog’s teeth shine thanks to daily chicken frames and weekly lamb necks without brushing their teeth or artificial interventions.
But that’s just a dog. What does science say This 2016 study found that raw, fleshy bones transformed dogs’ teeth and reduced tartar build-up in a group of beagles by nearly 90 percent in just 20 days.
3. Use a Dremel to trim the nails
This is easily the most hassle free device I’ve found for trimming a dog’s nails.
Why is a Dremel dog nail grinder such a game changer? It doesn’t cut, it grinds. This means there is no risk of cutting quickly and there is no way you can injure your dog.
All four paws are ready in a few minutes. I build it into my dog’s routine as a quick, regular hit as soon as he’s put on his harness and just before we head out the door.
It’s the little things!
4. The value of orthopedic dog beds
They are one thing and they are worth the cost of protecting your dog’s joints not only as they age, but also right before puppyhood.
I discovered the power of proper bedding when my dog developed hygromas (sacks filled with liquids) on his elbows from laying too much on hard surfaces. Treatments for hygromas range from daily compresses, braces and bandages to fine needle aspiration.
Then I got an orthopedic dog bed and hey Presto, the hygromas went away in a month.
The secret of the orthopedic dog bed is its memory foam and multiple layers. The quality is streets ahead of the beanbag – like stuffing that’s usually found even in high-end dog beds. To give your dog the best possible bed, don’t wait for something to go wrong. Our puppies spend a large part of the day sleeping. It is worth making sure they are well supported.
5. There are benefits to fasting
Daily feeding of dogs is a human invention. Dogs’ closest living relatives, wolves, have a feast or starvation feed program. They regularly go for days without eating or feed on secondary foods like wild berries when prey is scarce. In August 2017, researchers from the Voyageurs Wolf Project observed an adult wolf bursting berries from a group of five pups. In fact, a study of the weekly summer gray wolf diet in northeast Minnesota found that wild berries – mostly blueberries and raspberries – made up between 56 and 83 percent of the wolf diet from mid-July to mid-August.
All of this means that your dog is evolutionarily adapted to fasting periods. Domestic dogs are generally more sedentary than their wild counterparts, but we feed them more. No wonder most dogs are obese.
In addition to what happens in nature, the benefits of fasting for dogs and humans are increasingly being recognized scientifically. Fasting has been shown to facilitate healing at the cellular level through a process known as autophagy. It’s a psychological hurdle for many owners who equate love with filling a dog’s bowl. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that the opposite is true. Including a weekly “fasting day” in your dog’s routine can support his or her natural repair and regeneration processes and make a major contribution to maintaining long-term health.
Fasting is also a great first port of call for dog diarrhea or an upset stomach. Chicken and rice may be the remedy, but diarrhea and vomiting are the measures the body takes drastic measures to empty the bowels quickly. You don’t want to counteract this with more food. If you take a 24-hour break from digestion, your dog will return to normal in most cases. (Keep your dog hydrated and if problems persist, contact your veterinarian.)
6. Place the food bowls on the floor
There is conflicting information as to whether raised or low-level food bowls are better at reducing the risk of a deadly condition known as bloating. In this case, a dog’s stomach fills with gas and then rotates. It can come on quickly and is fatal if not treated immediately, usually with surgery to release the gas and return the stomach to its normal position.
Prevention is the name of the game. One of the easiest things to do is use a slow food to keep your dog from swallowing their food. Where the confusion arises is where the bowl is positioned: should it be on the floor or raised? Currently, Jerold Bell, DVM, in “Risk Factors for Dog Bloat” suggests that increased bowls may actually increase the risk of bloat for large breed dogs. So, leave the fancy platforms behind and go old school.
While bowls close to the ground are believed to help, this is exactly the opposite of what was previously recommended. It is also worth bearing in mind that there is disagreement and some confusion about what makes a dog bloat. Ultimately, vets don’t really know.
It has long been thought that vigorous exercise near meals and guzzling water might be triggers, but Bell’s report failed to support these popular theories. On the contrary, he noticed that most dogs were bloated in the middle of the night on empty, gas-filled stomachs. More needs to be learned, but the causes of the bloating are likely to be multifactorial.
Many dog owners structure their dogs’ routines to minimize the stress of a full stomach, as previous studies have indicated that this can be a risk factor. Feeding slowly near the ground and feeding fresh food are things that you can do without incurring any disadvantages and that, at least as far as we know today, can reduce your dog’s risk of suffering from gastric torsion.
7. Snuff mats provide mental movement
These mats are fantastic for bringing the spirit of a dog into play. Mental exercises tire a dog faster than physical exertion, and sniffing is one of the best ways to capitalize on your dog’s foray and get him to think.
You can buy a snuff mat or make one yourself with a rubber sink or doormat and strips of fabric. Hide healthy treats on the mat and leave them out to keep your dog busy while you work. Or offer it up as an indoor activity on a rainy day that uses your dog’s energy in a constructive way. A snuff mat was an essential part of my tool kit for living in a tiny apartment with a boxer.
8. How do you recognize acid reflux in dogs?
This is something else I didn’t understand from when I saw it on my dog. It took another owner who had been through it with his own pup to identify the signs of acid reflux in dogs. Since then, I have seen acid reflux in many other dogs whose owners, like me, had no idea what the symptoms meant.
In dogs, acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is associated with a constellation of symptoms. My dog had almost all of them at the same time.
The classic signs are:
- Lick air
- Jaw snaps
- Heavy swallowing
- Trying to eat leaves or specks of dust off the floor
- Lick fur or fabric
- Stomach gurgles
- Throw bile or food
Acid reflux in dogs can last a few minutes or 24 hours. Treatment involves identifying the cause, but it all starts with a diagnosis.
9. The dangers of roadside sprays and lawn care chemicals
Urban life for dogs is associated with many chemical exposures. Consider how often your dog will walk in publicly manicured parks or sports fields, or along grassy roadsides. These green spaces are almost certainly chemically treated with fertilizers and are routinely sprayed with weed killers. My ward council uses glyphosate, which has long been linked to human cancer.
Think how close your dog’s nose is to the ground and how much of his or her interaction with the world involves sniffing. My dog takes a deep breath of every square inch of pavement, every tree trunk, every patch of grass.
Where I live (Melbourne, Australia), roadside spraying occurs in the early hours of the morning and no signs are ever put up indicating the area is freshly drenched. Who is the first to walk on this ground? Dog owners with their clueless pups reading the pee mail and enjoying the scents.
You have no way of knowing or effectively avoiding these exposures. However, you can vary where you go with your dog. For example, my dog and I hike along the local beach several times a week instead, and I know these trips are less likely to expose him to herbicides.
You can also control the things that you can control. By that I mean minimizing chemicals in the household. Consider making natural cleaners from vinegar and lemon juice instead of store-bought sprays with unspeakable and potentially toxic ingredients. Avoid scented candles and hairsprays. Use an air purifier to tackle volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions, which are released from a range of household items.
Anything that will help your dog’s liver keep up with the constant detoxification that modern life demands is well worth doing.
10. Not all puppy schools are created equal
I don’t know about your experience, but the puppy preschool we attended was a full blown mess. Have fun, sure. But we spent the next year unlearning the bad habits that were picked up there. When I finally found a good dog trainer, he shook his head. He had seen it all before.
Now I know there should be a method for going mad. It’s not enough to throw a couple of puppies in the same room together and call it socialization. You don’t want a puppy preschool where the puppies can just play and rough in an unstructured manner, with a lot of excitement and little control.
As I have learned, your puppy will be quick to hook up other dogs with crazy fools if they are a great all-rounder. This association later laid the foundation for a whole range of problematic behaviors. This may be why your dog becomes a wild thing while walking and spots another dog across the street. Dogs mean crazy game, right?
What you actually want is for your dog to see you as the most exciting thing in their world and always the best option to get their attention. So don’t automatically sign up for the first puppy preschool that is offered to you. Take a look around, ask questions of the trainer so that you understand their approach and how the courses are conducted.
I learned so much of what I know about dogs in a roundabout way. I started out as a dog owner who said “ask your vet” about everything. Whether it was my own health or that of my dog, I had a blind faith in the “white coat”.
Nowadays I believe in a much more proactive, independent approach. I have found immense value in getting in touch with other dog owners and doing research for myself.
This is not an argument against veterinarians. Rather, it is a great vote of confidence in the owners’ collective knowledge. Dog owners represent a vast storehouse of practical wisdom, as only possible through direct, lived experience.
Tap on it.