5 common health problems in dogs

How to handle five common canine health problems – and determine whether it’s okay to treat them at home or see a veterinarian.

Using natural home remedies to treat our own minor ailments can help foster a deeper knowledge of wellness while reducing medical costs. But when our dogs experience a health problem, it can be difficult to know when to go the DIY route and when to consult a veterinarian. After all, animals can’t tell us the full extent of their symptoms. In this article, we explore the answer to this question as it relates to some common canine health challenges.

1. Allergies

“[This is] probably the biggest problem we see in today’s pets,” says veterinarian Dr. Mark Newkirk. Dogs can develop environmental allergies, and may also exhibit allergic reactions to food, fleas, and substances such as pollens and ragweed. Vaccines can also cause allergic reactions in dogs because of their impact on the immune system.

• When allergies develop in dogs younger than two years old, a change in diet may be in order. Giving your dog a grain-free diet and adding unusual protein sources such as venison, rabbit and duck can often eliminate allergy symptoms.

• You can also improve your dog’s health at home by augmenting his diet with essential fatty acids from sources such as fish oil and flax seed. “Omega 3 combats the allergy reaction and inflammation, while Omega 6 helps moisturize the skin,” says Dr. Newkirk. “A common error is dosing too low. In order to have maximum effect, you must give these oils to bowel tolerance – that is, until the stools soften.”

• Probiotics can also build up your dog’s health, leaving him less vulnerable to allergies. “Shredded sweet potatoes or canned pumpkin can work well,” says Dr. Newkirk. Trace minerals such as zinc can also provide health protection.

• In addition to dietary measures, choose dog shampoos with care and avoid over-shampooing. “For dry and itchy skin, oatmeal and aloe shampoo is a good one,” says Dr. Newkirk. “When the issue is bacterial, then a benzoyl peroxide shampoo is good. If greasy, a seborrhea shampoo is needed.”

If these measures do not eliminate your dog’s allergies, then it’s time to consult a holistic or integrative veterinarian. Dr. Newkirk notes that he has had great success treating dog allergies with herbs, homeopathy and NAET, a way to desensitize the animal to the allergens.

2. Arthritis

As more dogs live longer thanks to improved medicine, veterinarians have seen a rise in arthritis cases, particularly among older dogs of larger breeds. People frequently misdiagnose arthritis issues as being solely hip problems when actually the problem may center in the knees or lower back.

“Home care for canine arthritis involves weight loss, improved diet, glucosamine and massage,” Dr. Newkirk says. You can also apply moist heat, since the addition of moisture allows the heat to penetrate more deeply. Also, most people treating their dogs’ arthritis with glucosamine provide too low a dosage to make any difference. “ A 50-pound dog should be taking about
2,000mg a day,” says Dr. Newkirk.

When these therapies don’t do the trick, see a vet. “Lasers, chiropractic and acupuncture are all greatly helpful,” says Dr. Newkirk. “Rehabilitation therapy works wonders. The addition of the underwater treadmill to our practice has often been nothing short of a miracle for some pets. Various Chinese and Western herbs such as yucca and licorice are very helpful. Homeopathy and homotoxicology are also often added for pain and healing.”

3. Elimination problems

As with humans, short bouts of diarrhea or constipation in dogs are not necessarily cause for serious concern. Dr. Newkirk notes that herbs such as slippery elm, yucca or licorice can be useful in resolving short-term problems. If a dog is exhibiting diarrhea, avoid giving him food for 24 hours and provide ice cubes for him to lick. Chronic, prolonged or recurring diarrhea, however, is a problem requiring veterinary attention. The same applies to constipation.

People sometimes assume dogs have a bowel problem when the issue is actually arthritis; this is because they see the animal squat as if to empty his bowels, get up without producing any stool, then defecate as he walks. Arthritis pain in the back, hips or knees may make the defecation position diffi cult for the dog to maintain long enough to complete elimination.

4. Vomiting

Infrequent vomiting is generally not a cause for concern.

“If your pet vomits once or twice and is happy and playful, then he probably ate something and got rid of it,” says Dr. Newkirk. Withhold food for 12 hours, and use ice rather than letting the dog drink a lot of water.

“If the dog is lethargic, febrile or excessively salivating, it’s time to see the vet!” advises Dr. Newkirk. These kinds of symptoms, along with frequent vomiting, can indicate serious health problems. Canine digestive issues often respond well to alternative veterinary healing modalities. Pharmaceutical drugs offer little or no benefit with gastrointestinal issues. However, approaches such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, which seeks to restore balance, can treat concerns such as excessive gas production.

5. Ear infections

If your dog shows symptoms of an ear infection, don’t try to treat it at home before first having a vet diagnose the nature of the infection. By looking at your dog’s ears, he can tell whether the infection is acute or chronic, and whether it is due to bacteria or yeast. This is important.

In the case of an allergy-related infection, a conventional practitioner may prescribe products such as Benadryl, although Dr. Newkirk notes that antihistamines are not always beneficial to dogs. Pure aloe can help eliminate the pain in the case of acute ear infections, while colloidal silver kills bacteria and yeast. However, dogs often experience a great deal of pain from infections and may resist medication or scratch the ear constantly.

Food allergies can result in yeast infections in the ear. Dr. Newkirk recommends a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and water, administered carefully to reach all the nooks and crannies of the ear.

Acute and chronic ear infections often benefit from alternative treatments such as laser therapy, Chinese herbs and acupuncture, as well as chiropractic. In cases where the inner ear structure is infected, surgical intervention may be advisable.

There’s a lot you can do at home to help your dog in the event of any of the above health issues. However, these suggestions should not take the place of regular veterinary care. In addition, if your dog’s problems persist or are causing him any pain or discomfort, and/or if you’re unsure about how to administer a particular remedy or have other questions about your dog’s condition, a veterinary appointment is definitely called for. Always keep these words of wisdom in mind: when in doubt, consult a veterinarian.