Category Archives: dog care

Fish oil supplements – beware!

I regularly see posts on Facebook about supplementing dogs with fish oils.  I meet new clients fairly regularly who feel they are doing the right thing by feeding fish oil supplements to their dogs as a source of Omega 3 and for anti-inflammatory support.

However, most owners seem unaware of the studies that most commercial fish oil supplements in New Zealand are oxidised – meaning that the levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids is dramatically lower than claimed on the label.  I’m not in favour of ingesting rancid oils!

In fact, this 2015 study found that only 8% of the supplements tested in the New Zealand market met the levels expected by international recommendations.  And higher-priced supplements and those with brand name labels were no indicators of better quality.

Another study based on supplements available in Canada showed that 50% of the supplements tested were oxidised.

In keeping with my philosophy of food as a source of wellness, I’ve moved away from the concept of fish oil supplementation using commercial supplements and instead choose real-life salmon and sardines as a source of fish oils.

If I was a dog, I’d choose a few sardines over a fish oil capsule any day!

tinned sardines

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

A perspective on time, a precious resource

Time is a precious resource.  We only have so much time in our day – you don’t get any more or any less than anyone else.

I have often said that one of the most important things we have to give our dogs is our time.  Time for play, time for love, time for care…That said, since I often work with sick or elderly dogs in my massage practice, I am also very mindful of how time can get away on us.

Our dogs live at a different time scale than we do.  There are many illustrations of the this  – here’s just one:

dog age chart

With our dogs aging at a faster rate than we do,  we don’t always understand the impact of a delay.

For example:

I meet many dog owners who come to see me because they have a fear of putting their dog on medications such as those that are used for arthritis.  Let me be clear on this – although I practice natural therapies – I am not against using traditional medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  Actually, quite the opposite.

Many dogs benefit from pain relief just like we humans do.

One of the better ways to assess the levels of pain in a dog is to give it a short course of NSAIDs and simply watch for changes in the dog’s behaviour and levels of activity.   If the dog improves, this is often the best indicator we have about the dog’s level of discomfort.

If pain is managed, then we can do even more hands-on work like acupressure, stretching, acupuncture and massage and this often means dosages of the ‘hard drugs’ can be reduced without sacrificing pain management.

In this example, the owner is hesitating to make a decision on using medication – even with the idea that we go into the arrangement knowing the medications will be used for only a short period – perhaps 2-3 weeks.

The dog weighs 25 kg and is 10 years old.

I start working with the dog and suggest a number of times that I believe the dog is in pain or at a minimum – uncomfortable.

The owner takes 2 months to make a decision before agreeing to try some pain relief.

In human years, since the dog is aging at a rate of 6 years to 1 human year at this life stage… 

The owner has waited the equivalent of one human year to make a decision!

 I will ask– if this was your grandma/grandpa/father/mother –  would you allow them to live like this without pain relief?

The answer has always been ‘no.’

We have a duty to care for our dogs which involves acting in their best interests.  They can’t tell us in words how much pain they are in, it’s up to us to figure it out.  And in deciding what to do, we must always be mindful of how precious time is.

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

Sun Seekers

IMG_1552

Izzy the greyhound rests in the late winter sun after a day of teaching a massage workshop for other greyhound owners

Our dogs are warm-blooded mammals, just like we are.  It’s no wonder that so many dogs love sitting in the sun and will move as the sun moves.

Based on the meridian theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, it makes sense to me that the sun’s warmth will gently warm acupoints, stimulating blood and qi flow and releasing endorphins which make the dog feel better.

Dogs also produce Vitamin D in their skin, it’s a bit like humans only harder because the sun’s rays have to penetrate through their fur.  Dogs aren’t as efficient in converting 7-Dehydrocholesterol, which is the precursor to vitamin D.

If there’s a wound on the dog, sunlight will help to dry it out.  Sunlight is also a natural anti-bacterial (which is why our mothers and grandmothers swore by the need to hang towels and sheets in the sunlight to brighten and freshen them.)  Sunlight can help kill excess yeast which is particularly useful for dogs that fight skin problems relating to yeast.

Even though a dog can sit inside during winter to enjoy the warmth of the sun, windows will filter out some of the sun’s rays which we probably want to have in terms of penetrating through the fur to help with Vitamin D production.  That’s why in winter, I like to exercise Izzy on sunny days without her coat so she receives the full effect of the sun.

Thin coated dogs (like Izzy) have to be protected from UV radiation during summer and the warmer months.  White-coated dogs and those with thin skin over the muzzle or under the arms also need to be protected from sun damage.

But that’s not much of a worry right now, during the depths of the southern hemisphere winter.

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

Take Your Dog to Work Day

Take Your Dog to Work Day is coming up on Friday.  I hope many of you are able to take your dog with you for the dayand maybe even convince your manager that a pet-friendly workplace has ongoing benefits.

Here’s my column on Office Dogs…profiling two Christchurch businesses that allow dogs to come to work!

September 2016-page-001

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

Play date

A change of scene, play, and social time with other dogs are all important to the emotional health of our dogs.

Izzy, for example, has a boyfriend who lives on the other side of the city.  His name is Bergie and they have a special relationship.  I can’t even remember when it started; they just met at greyhound walks and bonded to each other.

So, it’s important to his owners and to me that we make the time for them to see each other.  This week, they finally managed to have a play date after being severely rained out of one date and then missing another chance to see each other when, again, the rain and cold interfered with the monthly farmers market display for Greyhounds as Pets.

On this date, Bergie decided to impress Izzy with his hole digging skills…she took a front row seat!

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

Reflections on palliative care

My latest palliative care dog passed away about 2 weeks ago.  While it has been a busy couple of weeks for me, I do think about her.  I sometimes wonder if owners really believe me when I say that I think about their dogs not only when they are active clients but also after they have passed.

This old girl was 17 years old and came with a long file of veterinary records for me to review.   From the outset, I knew I wouldn’t be working with her for very long.   Her owner was very open when booking an appointment with me, “I’m just not ready to say goodbye.”

At the first consult, we talked about expectations, her vet’s advice, and quality of life.  I provided the owner with a quality of life checklist that I’ve developed specifically for older and palliative care dogs.

This old girl had fighting spirit, but she was also frail.  So the focus was on acupoints for immune system strengthening and endorphin release.  The first session went well and the feedback was great – “she’s been her old self….”

Having personal experience with this, I know that sometimes these dogs at the end of life have a final burst of life energy.  It rarely lasts.

We ended up having only one additional session.  Although we re-booked for a third session, it wasn’t to be.

I am grateful to all the people who entrust their dog to me, but especially honored by those who are facing critical and emotional decisions and are not afraid to share their distress.

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

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