The behavior connection – some lessons

Just a few thoughts in this post about the need to investigate behavior changes in our dogs.

Since our dogs can’t communicate with us in our language, behavior changes can be an indicator of an underlying physical condition.

A few instances from my practice just within the last couple of weeks…

a)  I have been working with a client in my nutrition practice to isolate the food ingredients that her dog will tolerate.  He’s been a very itchy boy.  Working in combination with a vet, we’ve isolated both the foods he can’t tolerate and also environmental factors that need to be managed.  He was still gnawing at his feet, however.  So this very good owner called in a dog trainer who pointed out that her dog was anxious – needing more boundaries at home.  His condition continues to improve as his owner implements a training program and I am now working on recipes for the homemade portion of his diet.

Lessons:  A good owner keeps observing and bringing the right skills and people into their dog’s care team.  Problems are often multi-layered and they need different skill sets.  Rarely does one professional tick all the boxes.

b)  I was contacted by a dog owner who has had their dog on pain medication for a while and wanted to know what I could do for him since he didn’t respond to acupuncture.  They returned from an overseas vacation and were told that there dog was happy and playful at the boarding kennels.  But, to them he was withdrawn and unhappy.  My recommendation was to get back to the vet for x-rays to help with a diagnosis before taking a ‘shot in the dark’ about what to try.  The x-rays have proven a number of structural conditions with his spine and tail.  We now have a better chance of getting together a management plan that will work.

Lessons:  It’s understandable that owners are reluctant to put their dog under anesthesia in order to have tests done.  But if a condition isn’t improving, pain medication alone isn’t the answer without knowing the rest of the story.  Your dog deserves a solid diagnosis and you need it to have the best chance of success in managing their health.

c)  Another itchy dog.  This time, much more than usual.  He’s had a history of food reaction.  The owners introduced a new treat that marketed itself as having high levels of antioxidants as a way of augmenting his homemade diet.  Who wouldn’t give this a try?  But the change in behavior – itching not only his ears and feet but also constantly licking at his private parts – was marked.

I read the label on these new treats, which use wheat.  I am 99% sure that his previous intolerance to commercial foods was caused by the grain content.  My recommendation – ditch the new treats and move onto other solutions.  We’re doing this now.

Lessons:  Just because the label says the product benefits health doesn’t mean it will for every dog.  Be willing to withdraw products in favor of new ones.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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