Obesity. If your dog is fat it is almost certainly your fault, for if you feed your pet a normal diet and exercise it sufficiently it should not get fat. Be honest with yourself, and list all the tidbits and treats that you feed your pet during the day. You are being just as cruel to the animal as if you were deliberately mistreating it. Obesity can lead to and aggravate heart problems, and hip dysplasia and can complicate matters when your dog needs an anaesthetic – so throw away the chocolate drops and the biscuits, and start to feed your pet properly and become a responsible pet owner.
Dental Problems. You know how miserable you feel when you are suffering from a toothache, so if you suspect that your dog is feeling the same way take it to your vet. Canned food is so soft that there is almost no chewing necessary, so tartar soon begins to build upon the teeth. Once this has happened, your vet can remove it but if you start a programme of dental hygiene when your dog is young you can get it used to having its teeth brushed. Do not use toothpaste but otherwise do it just as you do yours, keeping a special toothbrush strictly for the dog. Broken teeth can lead to infection, and dental abscesses are not infrequent.
Coughs and Sneezes. If the condition persists, take the animal to a vet but before you do, have a look inside the mouth if the animal is coughing – it might have something stuck in the back of the throat that you can see and remove. In this case, do get someone else to hold the dog for you and use something like a short piece of broom handle to slide gently between the teeth while you are working to prevent them from closing on your hand. If you are unable to remove the obstruction easily, give up and go to the vet quickly. Similarly with sneezing, have a quick look to see if there is something like a grass seed stuck up a nostril and if you can get it out, do so. If the sneeze is a single one, there is no need to worry.
Impaction of the Anal Glands. On either side of the anus are small glands that sometimes become swollen and uncomfortable. The dog will constantly lick the area and may also slide his back end along the floor to relieve the condition. You can usually empty these glands yourself, but get your vet to show you how to do it the first time.
Internal Parasites. These are usually worms which can be conveniently divided into roundworms and tapeworms. Roundworms are usually about 1-2 cm (1/2-3/4 in) long and look like thin, white maggots. You may see them around the anus or in the faeces. Get some roundworm tablets and administer them according to the instructions on the pack. But do note that the tablets will not kill the eggs inside the dog, so they will hatch into a new lot of worms if you do not give a second dose a few days after the first direction. It is very easy to neglect this stage when you find that the first dose has to get rid of the worms. Tapeworms are amazing animals. They have heads with lots of teeth that lock onto the wall of the gut so that they can extract nutrients therefrom, and then they start to grow. A good healthy tapeworm can grow to a length of many metres (yards). The body is white, segmented and flat, and you might find short, broken-off bits around the anus or in the faeces again the treatment is by using tablets – tapeworm tablets in this case. Roundworms are easy to see but frankly, one does not often find tapeworm segments despite my description of them. The easiest way of diagnosing worms is to keep an eye on the quantity of food the animal eats. If he becomes abnormally hungry for no apparent reason and if he also acquires a narrow, pinched look around the flanks there is a good chance that you are feeding worms as well as dogs.
Vomiting or Diarrhoea. Provided that your dog is otherwise well and neither of these symptoms persists, nor do they occur together, it is likely that the animal has only picked up a mild infection or become overexcited. In the case of diarrhoea, a dose of kaolin and morphine should help and for the vomiting, refrain from feeding the dog until the next day and then give it a small meal. However, if the whole messy business continues or there is blood in the vomit or faeces, call your vet.
Heatstroke. This is almost invariably caused by leaving a dog in a car during hot weather, despite the annual warnings not to do this. You will rightly be accused of cruelty to your pet. Let the dog cool down and give it plenty of fresh air and a drink of clean water when it wants, and it will probably recover perfectly.
External Parasites. Several parasites can cause all sorts of skin problems for dogs. Undoubtedly the one that worries most people is the flea. Owners visualise themselves becoming infected as well, and there is still a social stigma attached to fleas. A dog flea will not live on you, though it might very well bite you, and oddly enough some people are bitten by fleas far more frequently than others.
Contrary to popular belief, fleas do not live on a dog all the time – they jump on to feed, then off again to their home in the dog’s bed or favourite armchair, so spraying the dog will only get rid of the fleas that are actually on him. If you put up Vapona blocks throughout the house, you are unlikely to have flea problems: every new lot that is brought in by the dog soon dies off. During the summer when your dog goes for long exciting walks through the long grass, he might very well pick up the odd sheep tick. These little animals embed their tiny mouth parts in the skin and sit there happily sucking blood. They look like a white or grey lump about the size of the nail on your little finger, attached to the dog by a fine point.
If you try and pull it off you will almost certainly leave the very small head embedded in the dog and this might cause an infection, if the tick’s body bursts during the operation, you will find it full of blood from your pet. There are various ways of getting rid of the things, such as painting them with alcohol or oil and waiting a day for them to die whereupon the mouthparts relax, but by far the best way is to pull them off with a quick jerk. But, do not attempt to do this unless someone experienced shows you how – there is a knack to it that is impossible to describe – or you will leave the head behind.
One frequently sees dogs scratching, especially in the summer, and sometimes this is in response to eczema or manages caused by lice or mites. This sort of parasitism is annoying because not only do you have the problem of the parasite but you also have the possibility of secondary conditions caused by the dog scratching away at the site of the irritation. Do not bother with creams and potions – take the dog to your vet because the causal organism has to be destroyed. Some mites cause ear problems which again require veterinary treatment.
The other condition which causes a fair bit of distress through the summer is caused, unbelievably, by vegetable matter such as the awns on some grass and corn seeds. These awns have microscopic barbs, which sometimes penetrate the soft skin between the toes during a walk in a field or a park, or even enter a nose while the animal is having a good sniff at an exciting smell. Once an awn has dug itself in, it is virtually impossible to remove as it snaps into segments. Those that are left slowly bury themselves deeper, and every movement causes them to travel further, often causing infection as they go. They eventually work their way out again through the skin but sometimes this might not happen till the seed has travelled right up a leg. They are nasty things and the wounds refuse to heal until the awn is out. The only thing to do is to take the animal to the vet; in the meantime, be aware of the danger and keep your dog away from fierce-looking grass seeds.
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