Do you know that old cliché about people looking like their pets, especially their dogs? Well, I for one have seen it so many times that I know there is a lot of truth to it. Of course, a dog might begin to morph into a “mini me” for so many reasons. As the simplest example, consider the man or woman who likes to be very neatly groomed and somewhat fancily dressed. If they also keep a large poodle, that dog requires the same level of care and can take on the same “coiffed” look as the human.
Naturally, the scruffier person who is not all that tied up in hair, makeup and clothes might keep the fancier poodle, but it is more likely that they’ll veer towards a low-maintenance, even scruffy, puppo.
We share a lot with our dogs beyond appearances, or habits in grooming and upkeep. In fact, a recent study proved we share genes that are often associated with certain health risks. In this article, I want to look at some of the health problems we share with our dogs, and then look at some of the essential health and first aid tactics all dog owners should know. Before finishing up, we’ll also take steps to ensure you have a comprehensive first aid kit for your dog(s) on hand at all times (home and car) to guarantee that you can always provide your dog with optimal health and wellness.
Yes, you can catch certain things from a dog, as well as giving them certain health problems. The technical terminology for this is zoonoses (what pets give to us) and reverse zoonoses (what we give them). Though reverse zoonoses are rare, a recent review of the data indicated that human-to-animal transmission of bacterial issues, viral issues, parasites and fungal issues were all possible. This was true whether it was a pet, farm animal or some wildlife.
For example, ringworm, influenza, mumps, salmonella, giardia, MRSA (a type of staph infection), tuberculosis, and second-hand smoke with all of its risks can all transfer from a human to the animals around them. To reduce the risks, you will always want to wash your hands before you feed or pet your dog after you have used the bathroom. You must also prevent a dog from drinking out of any toilet bowls and licking your face if you know you have one of the transferable conditions. And while many experts are anti-bed sharing, I let my dogs sleep with me and have never (knock wood) had any sort of transfer of health issues (in either direction, unless you count Janice’s frequent bouts of gas that she so gladly shares with everyone!)
The things dogs can transfer to us most commonly include campylbacteriosis, tape worm, hookworm, rabies, roundworm, and on rarer occasions humans have managed to catchbrucellosis, capnyocytophaga, cryptosporidiosis, echinococcosis, ehrlichiosis, giardiasis, leishmaniasis leptospirosis,Lyme disease, MRSA pasteurellosis, plague, ringworm, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, salmonella or mange from their dogs.
Yet, these are transfers of disease. There are also health issues that the two species just share in common due to certain genetic factors. These include:
And as is the case with human heart disease, it may not show signs until damage has been done. If your dog suddenly tires easily or seems to struggle to breathe or exercise at their normal level, get them to the vet. If all of this is accompanied by bouts of coughing, it is a medical necessity to get them treated. Many vets use medications on more severe cases, but often, improvements can be gained through the minerals taurine and carnitine being added to your dog’s daily intake.
The problem is that many owners are unsure of their dog’s ideal weight. A good approach is to stand above your dog and look directly down at their torso. They are supposed to have a general hourglass figure. Not a sharply defined hourglass, but a dip or contour at their “waist” area. There should be minimal fat on the ribs, and most dog breeds should not have a pot belly but one that tucks upward a bit instead.
While keeping a watchful eye on what and how much your dog eats is the number one method of controlling obesity, you should also give serious attention to the amount of exercise your dog’s breed(s) require. For example, almost all dogs should have at least 20 minutes of brisk exercise every day. This does not include things like walks or a few minutes of playing inside the home. A 30-minute, brisk walk in which you are also a bit winded is a good idea of what most dogs need. However, I dislike generalizations and strongly urge every dog owner to speak with their vet about their dog’s specific needs for exercise and caloric intake.
One trick I use for my two dogs (boxers named Janice and Leroy) is to scatter their dry kibble in different areas of the house. They know the locations where I tuck their bowls, but not each bowl is filled each day. This forces my often lazy dogs to go upstairs or the recreation room in the basement to see if I’ve put out some treats or a bit of kibble. Yes, it is a pain, but those two will wolf down whatever is out, whether hungry or just bored. Asking them to do a bit of hunting, remembering the many spots with the bowls and going to find which have been filled gives them mental stimulation and a reason to climb the stairs a few times a day. Naturally, they get lots of exercise too – they are boxers – but I think this is a nice trick to get a lazier pooch up and moving.
If you still struggle to help your dog shed some pounds, ask the vet for further suggestions and help. It could be that your dog has a thyroid issue or another health issue that is causing weight gain or retention.
There are some warning signs that will indicate your puppo is struggling with this conditions, and these include limping, licking or chewing an area around a joint because it is painful, or difficulty moving or climbing. As soon as such symptoms occur (or if you adopt a dog that is a breed prone to the condition), you can take steps to help them to a great degree. First and foremost is to ensure the dog is always at a healthy weight. Just as overweight humans are more prone to joint disease, so too are dogs. A lower-calorie diet can be a good first step or preventative measure. You also want to look for foods or supplements that are high in antioxidants, glucosamine and the omega 3 fatty acids that can all help the joints.
And as I usually suggest for all dogs, give them a place to rest or sleep that has a bit of padding and warmth. Young, old, healthy or infirm, a dog really appreciates a “dog bed” that cushions their bones from the floor. There are some with heat elements that can be wonderful for a dog developing and/or living with arthritis. If not, you can help out with a simple, old-fashioned heating pad laid on a towel over the affected area. This boosts circulation and feels really good to your dog who might be dealing with chronic pain.
Also, take the now famous lesson from Schoep, the German Shepherd mix photographed with his owner John Unger. In the now globally viral image, Unger is seen neck deep in a lake, with Schoep floating (sound asleep) in his arms, head peacefully on his chest. The pair visited a nearby lake daily to help Schoep’s arthritis symptoms. It was one of the few ways he could get total pain relief and would often nap in total comfort. He lived to be a shocking 20 years old and died a year after becoming an Internet sensation. The lesson? Get your dog into water therapy if they have serious arthritis symptoms as it can help tremendously!
It also behaves in ways similarly to that in humans, and you can often see its early signs and note its progression. For example, dogs often initially suffer sleep and wake cycle disruption or a general anxiety and this eventually worsens into aggression, lethargy or decreased activity, inappropriate vocalizing, pacing or other repetitive behaviors, eliminating indoors, vacant staring, no social interaction and even disorientation. Changes in hearing and vision are some of the earliest warning signs, but the good news is that catching it early can help you to manage a dog’s anxiety, get them on proven medications and developing a routine that helps them from becoming confused easily.
And though that seems like a lot, there is also epilepsy, chronic flatulence, joint injuries like ACL or cruciate ligament injuries, allergies, bladder and kidney diseases, hearing loss and anxiety/depression, too.
As you can see, dogs can often develop similar health issues to humans. Sadly, a lot of research shows that dogs develop conditions because their owners might also have them, or because of their owner’s lifestyle. The sedentary person who carries a lot of extra weight is often likely to have an obese dog. Since this condition sets the stage for further health issues (such as heart disease, arthritis and even some forms of cancer), it is entirely possible that both you and your pooch can suffer further health issues that mirror one another. The answer is to address those conditions as quickly as you can – after all, you want both of you to enjoy a long, happy and healthy life together!
And though those issues are often preventable (dementia and cancer are exceptions, naturally), there are some dog health issues that are not. Because of that, I want to go over some of the most important dog first aid and DIY treatments to ensure you can keep your beloved puppo as healthy as possible, even after an injury or emergency. These are the same sorts of tactics and techniques you would use with people who are injured and in need of expert medical care. In other words, these are emergency methods to use until you can get your dog to the vet.
Even if an injury is minor, though, I always visit the vet to ensure nothing undetected or problematic has occurred. For example, it can seem that a toenail issue is a minor one. It isn’t. Always get your dog in for a medical exam after even the slightest injury or glitch.
And with that in mind, let’s learn some of the key ways to help your dog(s) if injured.
So, the first step in administering first aid to your dog (or any dog, for that matter) is to be prepared to do so. At the end of this article, we will look at the “must have” items in a first aid kit for dogs, and I strongly urge you to keep one in your home, another in the car, and a miniature version in your pack if you go out hiking with a dog.
The second tactic is to know what to do in an emergency. As I have written about in the past, keeping a cool head is one way you can be sure you will do everything you can to help or even save an injured or sick dog. think about the approach promoted by the American Red Cross whenever you are offering the most basic first aid:
That is a very general set of steps, and is effective whether a dog is not breathing, bleeding, or suffering the effects of overheating/animal attack/car strike. However, you should also know what to do if your dog wolfed down a bag of chocolate chips or M&Ms, fell down the stairs, and so on. And I have to reiterate right now that the very first thing you MUST do is stay CALM. Dogs read our body language, tone of voice, and general behaviors and if you are screaming and panicked, it is only going to make things much worse for your dog.
So, take a few deep breaths, and let’s begin…
These are the essentials. However, below are the case by case tactics you can use as first aid:
To do compressions, you need to put one of your hands under the dog’s chest as a way of supporting it and the other hand in the area around the hear. Just as human chest compressions vary on the size of the person, you’ll want to depress around an inch for medium sized dogs, a bit more force for the bigger guys, and less for the smaller dogs. Use quick and firm pressure doing 80-120 beats per minute and around 110-150 for the smaller dogs. And just as you do with human CPR, you alternate between compressions and breaths, doing compressions for four to five seconds and then a single rescue breath.
Keep going until your dog’s pulse and breathing are restored or until you can hand them over to the veterinarian who can use other tactics. Try to remember that a dog’s chances of survival once they require CPR are statistically low. Yet, you are their only hope of survival at that point and should feel 100% comfortable performing CPR until your vet says it is no longer effective or possible to save your dog.
Try to get the dog on its side and then open their mouth, pulling the tongue forward to flatten it. If you can see the item, try to remove it gently with a pair of tweezers or even pliers. However, be sure you will succeed as doing this runs the risk of knocking it further down their throat. If you cannot reach it, get to the vet. If you fear there is not enough time before the dog stops breathing, or the dog collapses, you can use a sort of canine Heimlich maneuver.
Do this by positioning your hands on either side of the dog’s rib cage and applying firm but quick pressure (if they are still standing) three or four times in a row. You can also lay them on their side and strike one side firmly with a palm to force air out of their lungs and upward – dislodging the item. You must repeat these steps until that items is out or until you reach the veterinarian’s office.
So, if you feel your dog ate something poisonous, call the vet at once. You can phone the Poison Control Center that operates 365 days/year, 24 hours/day (for a fee) at 888.426.4435, but you don’t want to risk it if you are pretty sure they’ve swallowed toxins. NOTE: If you do call the 888 number have your dog’s age, breed, weight and gender along with the symptoms and any suspected toxins available.
If opting for a vet visit, collect any packaging or materials that remain or that the dog may have vomited or hacked up. NEVER try to get a dog to vomit or administer any medication unless the vet or the Poison Control people tell you to. If their eyes were exposed to poison you can try to flush them before heading to the vet. However, that is the most you should attempt at home. The best bet is to get help ASAP.
If there is a flesh wound or foreign body causing a wound – do NOT remove it. If you can shorten it and leave only three to five inches sticking out, it is helpful, but never yank out something like debris, an arrow shaft, porcupine quills, and so on. What you must do at these moments is keep your dog calm, try to soothe them and stabilize them, and then get them to the car and to the vet.
And to ensure you can provide truly optimal care, it is important to have the items we’ve mentioned above like gauze and towels, and so on. Below is the list of essentials for a dog’s first aid kit.
Below is the main list. The starred items can also be included in a version for the car and for camping.
*A list of numbers you’ll need in an emergency: veterinarian, emergency clinic, poison control, animal control, non-emergency police
*Muzzle (or gauze rolls) Remember muzzling is to prevent bites and you must not muzzle if a dog is struggling to breath or is vomiting
*Clean towels and gauze pads
*Non-stick bandages and pads
*Non-stick tape for bandages
*Eye dropper to flush wounds or provide oral treatment
*Lubricant jelly for wound protection
*Activated charcoal for poison control (Milk of Magnesia can be substituted)
3% Hydrogen Peroxide
*Antibiotic spray or ointment
*Treats that can help relieve stress
*An extra leash and collar
*Tools – scissors, tweezers, gloves, cotton balls, bottle of water, blanket, flashlight
Tuck these into a convenient case or bag and keep with the dog’s carrier or in a convenient spot to have on hand whenever needed.