Category Archives: dog care

The pledge

With every New Year, I read about how people make resolutions – many of which despite the good intentions don’t last much longer than February. But I’ve been thinking a lot about the lifelong commitment we make to a dog, and of course the number of cases we see each year when people don’t fulfill that commitment.

If we could change the rules of pet ownership, I’d definitely support the case for licensing owners rather than the dogs.

If I could change one thing about my practice, it would be that I would see more dogs for canine fitness and well-being and less for rehabilitation. Rehab means that the dog has been injured in some way, and often when I do the health history as part of my intake process, I can see where the dog was probably going to have a problem and that the early warning signs were missed or ignored.

So here’s my best effort for the Dog Parent’s Pledge for 2021.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Perspectives on budgeting

In the 11+ years I have been in professional practice, I’ve met a lot of great dogs with equally loving families. Yet, when it comes down to discussions with their veterinarian, often the only ‘budget’ that is mentioned is that of the financial budget.

In this post, I’d like to discuss budgeting because I think there are a total of four (4) budgets. These are the financial budget, the time budget, the physical budget and the emotional budget. Dog owners may, at any time, face a crisis in one or more of these budgets.

The Financial Budget – how much money can you spend to keep your dog healthy and happy? This typically becomes the budget of concern when a major procedure like surgery is required and that’s why veterinarians discuss it the most. Whether by an accident or illness, some owners are caught without enough money in the bank or pet insurance to cover the necessary treatment.

In other cases, a dog may be diagnosed with a medical condition which requires regular medication. Since medications for dogs are not subsidised by the Government (as they are in human health in New Zealand), some medications can be quite expensive. As our dogs age, it’s very common to develop mobility problems associated with arthritis, for example. Not only does this condition require medication, but also changes to the home environment, equipment ranging from harnesses to ramps to mobility carts, and professional help with canine fitness and physical therapy.

Veterinarians are often asked to euthanise a pet when the family cannot afford the cost of their dog’s care. This is referred to in the profession as ‘economic euthanasia.’

The Time Budget usually becomes an issue when a dog requires care at home. Dogs that require crating post-surgery have to be taken out to the toilet on lead on a regular basis, for example. Many pet parents can’t work from home because of the nature of their jobs; some employers may not be supportive of the need for regular breaks to return home to care for a dog or to allow the dog in the office…

I see the time budget become an issue in my practice because of the exercises needed to improve a dog’s strength, balance and flexibility. I specialise in in-home care and, while I always aim to make these exercises easy to do with items in the home, some owners struggle to have the time to undertake them on a consistent basis. Just this week I had a regular client ask, “do I have to do these every day, because they take another half-hour on top of our walk…?”

An owner’s physical abilities is also a budget of sorts. Let’s call this the Physical Budget. A large-sized dog that needs lifting because of an injury or longer-term mobility problem is going to be a challenge to an older owner or one who is slight of frame themselves.

Finally, there’s the Emotional Budget. The bond with our pets is quite strong and caring for a dog with major mobility or other health issues results in caregiver stress, just as it does with human caregivers. Unfortunately, without extended family or close friends who can provide some relief, I’ve seen owners who are totally depleted in energy and enthusiasm for life because of the toll of taking care of a geriatric or unwell pet.

Owners of dogs with severe behavioural problems often find that caring for them takes an emotional toll, as well.

Let’s remember that a pet owner in crisis may not have finances at the top of their list – and so a deeper conversation about pressures of care is required. I find that my in-home service, with clients in their own home and more relaxed and willing to talk, is of huge benefit to getting the best results for their dog, working as a team.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Raised dog beds

This photo popped up in my Facebook news feed today with the dog bed listed as ‘free to a good home.’

I’m not a fan of these beds. The heavy metal frame is an accident waiting to happen, particularly for older dogs who are slow to rise, often needing a stretch before they start moving after a good sleep. A number of years ago, I worked on a young dog who tripped getting out of a bed like this and broke his leg on the metal frame!

The theory behind these beds is that they keep your dog off of cold floors and out of drafts (draughts) and it may be easier to clean underneath with the vacuum or a mop.

In my opinion, a soft sided bed with lots of padding underneath is a better and safer option. I know many dogs who end up sleeping on double mattresses, too.

This free to a good home dog bed should be sent to the nearest scrap metal yard so that no dog is put in danger.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Early-life diet and can­ine atopy can have a con­nec­tion

Meat-based maternal diet during pregnancy and as the puppies’ first solid diet during the early postnatal period (at 1–2 months of age), both showed a significant “protective” effect from atopy in adult age.

Researchers from the international multidisciplinary research group “DogRisk” at the University of Helsinki have found novel early-life risk factors that impact the prevalence of atopic dermatitis in adult dogs. The results are also interesting for human medicine as the disease, atopy, is very similar in young dogs and in children.

The identified risk factors include non-modifiable and modifiable variables in the pre- and postnatal age, being just before or after birth. This new knowledge empowers dog owners, opens up research on processed foods, and advances primary atopy preventive strategies. 

So far over 12,000 dog owners have answered the Finnish internet-based DogRisk food frequency questionnaire. The data allows for associating many non-modifiable and modifiable risk factors with owner-reported canine atopic dermatitis (CAD) prevalence.

As partly reported previously, an increased prevalence of atopy in adult age significantly associated with the dog being from an allergy prone breed, its mother having a history of atopy, and more than 50 % of the dog’s hair coat being white. But the most interesting for the owners are the things that they can have an impact on: early life diet had the strongest association with the disease.

Novel diet-re­lated risk factors for atopy in dogs

A non-heat-processed, meat-based maternal diet during pregnancy and as the puppies’ first solid diet during the early postnatal period (at 1–2 months of age), both showed a significant “protective” effect from atopy in adult age. The same diet also indicated protection at a later puppy stage (at 2–6 months of age), but this finding did not reach significance.

On the contrary, an ultra-processed carbohydrate based maternal diet (commercial dry kibble) during pregnancy and as the puppies’ first solid diet during the early postnatal period, increased atopy incidence in adult age.

“As the differently processed diets also have a very different macro-nutrient profile it is, at this stage, impossible to say whether it is the lack of “cooking”, the minimal amount of carbohydrates, preservatives and coloring agents, the different quality and quantity of animal proteins and fats, the non-sterility of the food, or something else, that made raw foods come out as superior for atopy health in our data”, says the study’s main researcher Dr. Manal Hemida from the Helsinki One Health network.

Additionally, de-worming the dam during pregnancy, exposing the young puppies to sun light for at least one hour per day, spending time on a dirt floor or lawn before six months of age, keeping the young puppies at normal body weight, and continuing to live in the same family where they were born, were all associated with a significant decrease of CAD risk at adult age.

“These results, however, only suggest causality, but do not prove it. A prospective diet intervention during pregnancy and at young age is needed to confirm our findings”, says Adjunct Professor Anna Hielm-Björkman, leader of the DogRisk research group.

Original article in PLOS ONE: Identification of modifiable pre- and postnatal dietary and environmental exposures associated with owner-reported canine atopic dermatitis in Finland using a web-based questionnaire. Manal Hemida, Kristiina A. Vuori, Siru Salin, Robin Moore, Johanna Anturaniemi, Anna Hielm-Björkman. Published: May 29, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225675

Source: University of Helsinki

Eddie

I said goodbye to Eddie on Saturday. With his Mum’s permission, I am writing this post.

Eddie and I first met in June 2016 when he was the tender age of 11 weeks. He was the newest addition to a family that already included his French Bulldog sister, Jorgie – also a regular massage customer.

As he rapidly grew, he developed his rugby player neck which earned him my nickname “My Little Boofhead.” It didn’t take him long to understand that the table meant massage – leaping up to get started:

I would set up for massage downstairs and then brace myself for Eddie and Jorgie to arrive

In the intervening 4+ years, Eddie proved to be an enthusiastic Lover and not a Fighter (contrary to what so many people believe about Bull Breed dogs). Always eager to please, he learned strengthening and rehab exercises quickly.

He was also an Over-Sharer – I lovingly called him this because he would often howl in my ear for part of his massage session. I am convinced he wanted me to know everything he had been doing since I last saw him. (I just wish he had come with subtitles and a volume control).

Eddie was one of those dogs that seemed to go from crisis to crisis. He needed soft palate surgery after suffering from enlarged tonsils, he developed digestive problems that did not respond to various therapies and, after biopsy, was diagnosed with IBD. He then ingested rat poison when visiting a neighbour and had to go to the emergency vet for what was – thankfully – a quick intervention. He then ruptured one cruciate and had surgery followed by 12 weeks of rehab- only to become a statistic and rupturing the other in good measure.

And then in September, just as it looked like we had fully rehabbed him from his second cruciate surgery and he was ready to strengthen and return to normal activity, out of the blue he developed pancreatitis that wasn’t linked to a food indiscretion.

As it turned out, his ultrasound revealed that Eddie was likely suffering from stomach cancer and our focus turned to his quality of life. Eddie’s mum asked that we continue laser therapy for pain relief, knowing that laser therapy is contraindicated in cases of cancer – this was about keeping him happy and comfortable as a cure was not possible.

Eddie’s time has come. A follow-up scan has shown that his tumour has grown significantly and, tomorrow morning, he will be helped across the Rainbow Bridge.

In Eddie’s case, I see him mounting the Bridge in his custom-built stairlift (this video made him something of a Facebook star with some loyal followers on my page).

Eddie has taught me a lot about living in the moment; no matter what the health challenge of the time, he seemed to roll with it. But cancer is a wasting disease and only in the last few weeks did we notice how flat he had become – definitely not his normal self.

Goodbye, My Little Boofhead. It’s been quite a ride – one that I wish would have lasted for much longer.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

I took my dog to the vet…

Izzy went to the vet this week. It’s funny because some people I meet think that I should be anti-vet because I work in the field of complementary therapies for dogs.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Traditional veterinary care is essential – it’s like going to the family doctor – or GP as they are called here in New Zealand. Your dog will need things like check-ups and vaccinations during the course of its life; many dogs end up with injuries that require surgery of some sort and your vet does these, too. The work I do with dogs integrates well with traditional veterinary care.

(I’m not anti-vet – but I do meet vets that are anti-complementary therapies. That’s a whole other subject for another day and not the purpose of this post.)

In Izzy’s case, this week we were visiting so she could have another injection of SYNOVAN™ and to get a repeat of her gabapentin, which we use for pain relief for her arthritis.

I always bring a mat for her because the floor is slippery and not nice to lay down on when you are an arthritic senior dog. Her mat is also useful because it is her safe place – a Fear Free technique – because often vets do things that are ouchy and frightening. We bring the mat with us to the exam room, too, so she has a surface that is comforting and familiar.

What do you do when your take your dog to the vet?

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Petco removes shock collars from sale

This week, those of us in the Force Free/Fear Free movement were given cause to celebrate when Petco, a major pet retailer in the USA, announced that it was removing shock collars from its stores and online platform.

Shock collars are aversives – they use pain to suppress an unwanted behavior. These totally unnecessary devices are inhumane when behavioral science has moved along to prove that positive reinforcement training works better and is an ethical approach to dog training.

I’m interested in this subject because, sadly, shock collars are widely available in New Zealand. I see many Facebook groups of dog owners who recommend these devices as soon as there is a barking dog complaint, for example. And the body language of a dog wearing a shock collar tells the story of a dog being punished.

To continue to raise awareness to this subject, I include the statement of the Pet Professional Guild released this week in response to Petco’s announcement.

Official PPG Statement

Official Pet Professional Guild Response to Petco’s Removal of Electric Shock Collars from Stores

The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) and The Shock-Free Coalition are greatly encouraged by Petco’s announcement on October 6, 2020 that it will no longer sell electric shock collars “operated by a person with a remote in hand.” PPG has always believed unequivocally that the pet-owning general public needs – and deserves – to have access to better educational tools so they can, 1) make the right decisions regarding their pets’ training, care and welfare, and 2) ensure they live in safe, nurturing and stable environments, free from fear and pain.

Scientific Data
Increasingly, peer reviewed, scientific studies are showing that, whether discussing dogs, humans, dolphins or elephants, shock as a form of training to teach or correct a behavior is ineffective at best and physically and psychologically damaging at worst (Schilder & van der Borg, 2004; Schalke, Stichnoth, Ott, & Jones-Baade, 2007; Polsky, 2000; Cooper, Cracknell, Hardiman, Wright & Mills, 2014). Overall (2013) states that shock collars, aka e-collars, “violate the principles of three of five freedoms that define adequate welfare for animals: Freedom from pain, injury, and disease, freedom to express normal behavior and freedom from fear and distress.”

The current scientific data, in addition to the moral and ethical concerns about mental and physical damage to animals subjected to methods using force, fear and/or pain, have moved a number of representing professional organizations* to advocate for the use of humane training techniques founded on evidence-based learning theories and avoid training methods or devices which employ coercion and force. PPG is delighted that Petco has now joined their ranks.

Effects of Electric Shock
The use and application of electric shock provides no effective strategy for an animal to learn a new or alternative behavior. Some common problems resulting from the use of electronic stimulation devices include, but are not limited to:

Infliction of Stress and Pain
Generalization
Escalation
Global Suppression or “Shut-Down”
Fear, Anxiety and Aggression
Redirected Aggression
Unintended Consequences

Shock-Free Coalition
In September 2017, the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) rolled out its Shock-Free Coalition, the key purpose of which is to build a strong and broad movement committed to eliminating electric shock devices from the worldwide supply and demand chain. This would be achieved by:

 Engaging and educating pet owners and shelter/rescue workers to help them make informed decisions about the management, care and training of the pets in their charge.

Building a worldwide coalition that provides pet owners access to competent, professional pet industry service providers.

Creating widespread pet industry transparency and compliance regarding how professionals implement their services and communicate their philosophy to pet owners.

Supporters are encouraged to sign the Shock-Free Pledge, much in the same way as Petco has invited supporters to sign its #StoptheShock petition.

Consumer Transparency
One of PPG’s key goals is to shape the pet industry to ensure that dog trainers, behavior consultants and professional pet care providers, 1) pursue an ethical responsibility to do no harm to the animals in their care, and 2) present their qualifications and experience truthfully with full transparency and disclosure – including the training tools and methods they use.

PPG recognizes that industry changes will happen in stages and, just like the progressive behavior change programs we create for the animals in our care, gradual changes must be reinforced. By encouraging “anyone using or looking for shock collars to consider training with treats instead of electricity and partnership instead of pain,” Petco has made an important first step towards improving the lives of pets everywhere, as well as educating dog owners about alternative, kinder training methods and tools. We look forward to seeing electric fence systems, which work in exactly the same way as shock collars, i.e. by causing fear and pain, follow suit.

*Including, but not limited to, the American Animal Hospital Association, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, the British Veterinary Association, the New Zealand Veterinary Association, the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology and Pet Dog Trainers of Europe.

Resources
Pet Professional Guild. (2015). Open Letter Regarding Shock Collar Training. Available at: https://petprofessionalguild.com/An-Open-Letter-Regarding-Shock-Collar-Training
Tudge, N.J, Nilson, S.J., Millikan, D.A., & Stapleton-Frappell, L.A. (2019). Pet Training and Behavior Consulting: A Model for Raising the Bar to Protect Professionals, Pets and Their People. (n.p.): DogNostics Career Center Publishing

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

The Dogs of Democracy

“Humans would do well to study the character of dogs” – Diogenes

This quotation is the opening slide of the documentary Dogs of Democracy, by Mary Zournazi, which was released in 2016. I’ve just watched the film on Doc Play, the app where it is available in New Zealand.

The film portrays the many stray dogs who live in Athens and the people who take care of them. It’s set at a time when citizens of Greece had been protesting against years of austerity measures that depressed the economy and its people.

One dog, Loukanikos, participated in many of the anti-austerity marches and his story is told posthumously by the people who knew him best. I particularly liked when Loukanikos is described a symbol of revolt and purity.

If you like dogs, you’ll like this 57-minute film. And if you follow news about economies and world economics as well as being a dog lover, you’ll have an even better appreciation for the timing and subject matter of the film.

For me, well – I’d like to go to Athens when this pandemic is over and give every one of those strays a good massage while visiting the birthplace of democracy.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

The Dog Doc

I’ve been wanting to watch the documentary The Dog Doc since March 2020 – when New Zealand was heading like so many countries into a Covid-19 lockdown. The film had just been launched and sadly, also due to Covid-19, its many planned showings had been cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions and the temporary closure of movie theaters. The film’s producer had then opted to make the film available on-demand.

Unfortunately, due to licensing restrictions for New Zealand, Amazon Prime would not allow me to hire this film. And then other priorities took over for a time….I finally contacted the film’s producer, Cindy Meehl, through the film’s website to ask how I could view the film from New Zealand so I could write about it in my column for NZ Dog World magazine.

I was pleasantly surprised when Ms Meehl responded to me the same day and put me in touch with MadMan Entertainment, whose Communications Director also responded to me the same day (I was on a roll) to say that the film was available on Doc Play. All I had to do was to sign up for my 30-day trial. (Score!)

Dr Marty Goldstein’s story is inspirational to anyone who has had a beloved pet facing a health challenge – terminal or otherwise. Sometimes, traditional veterinary care just isn’t enough to give the dog quality of life while preserving as much time together as possible for the human family.

Because Dr Marty has made it his life’s work to use integrative therapies – traditional veterinary medicine alongside homeopathy, massage, physical therapy, cryotherapy, herbal remedies, and other options. For someone like me working in complementary therapy, he is one of my idols. We need more Dr Martys.

The film follows real clients who presented to Dr Marty’s Smith Ridge Veterinary Clinic in New York State – in real-time. As a Fear-Free certified practitioner, I was dismayed to see two dogs in the film wearing prong collars and also a scene where veterinary technicians are physically restraining a dog with strong force.

Before we cast judgement, though, we must remember that documentary film making is designed to capture the moment without stage management. I was lucky enough to have Madman Entertainment organise an interview with Dr Marty via Zoom, where I asked him about the prong collars. He replied that the owners would have been spoken to during their initial consultations about the use of these aversives, which he doesn’t support:

“When you impart stress on a dog, such as through the pain of a shock or prong collar, you add to their immune system load and add to the disease rather than the ability of the body to fight the disease.  A strong and relaxed mind helps to re-build a strong body.”

There is a wonderful scene in the film where Dr Marty explains the use of titre testing to a client. Dr Marty is not an anti-vaxxer but he is clearly anti-over-vaccination and a titre test can show whether a dog has sufficient immunity without requiring a re-vaccination simply because of a date on the calendar.

Dr Marty explained in his interview with me that there is proven science behind titre testing, but that for a range of reasons – commercial veterinary practice is not following the science but rather the profit motive. (See my 2013 review of the book Pukka’s Promise – a great read for those wanting to understand canine health and longevity).

An added benefit for me was that Dr Marty counts a greyhound as part of his pack (Izzy liked this, too).

I thoroughly recommend a viewing of The Dog Doc. Dr Marty’s wish is that the film is an enduring resource for pet parents to help them ask informed questions about their pet’s care and to seek the support of integrative specialists when there may be no options in their local community.

For my New Zealand clients, stay tuned for my October newsletter which will include a special offer to clients of The Balanced Dog to access Doc Play for an extended free-trial period.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Big Dogs Face More Joint Problems if Neutered Early

Heavier mixed-breed dogs have higher health risks if neutered or spayed early, according to a new study from researchers at the University of California, Davis. The study found mixed-breed dogs weighing more than 44 pounds as adults are at higher risk for one or more joint disorders if neutered before 1 year of age. Dogs weighing up to 43 pounds had no increased risk for joint problems. The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science.

It’s standard practice in the U.S. and much of Europe to neuter dogs by 6 months of age. This study, which analyzed 15 years of data from thousands of dogs at UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, suggests dog owners should consider their options carefully.

“Most dogs are mixed breeds,” said lead author Benjamin Hart, distinguished professor emeritus at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “We hope this study will influence the spay or neuter process in order to give people wishing to adopt a puppy the time to make an informed decision on when to spay or neuter.” 

Researchers examined common joint disorders including hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tears, a knee injury, in five weight categories. They also looked at risks of mixed-breed dogs developing cancers based on weight but found no increased risk in any weight category compared to intact dogs.

The risk of joint disorders for heavier dogs can be up to a few times higher compared to dogs left intact. This was true for large mixed-breed dogs. For example, for female dogs over 43 pounds, the risk jumped from 4 percent for intact dogs to 10-12 percent if spayed before a year of age.

Neutering policies should be reviewed

“The study raises unique challenges,” noted co-author Lynette Hart, professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “People like to adopt puppies from shelters, but with mixed breeds it may be difficult to determine just how big the dog will become if you don’t know anything about the dog’s parents.”

Neutering prior to adoption is a common requirement or policy of humane societies, animal shelters and breeders. The authors suggested the policy be reviewed and modified appropriately. Shelters, breeders and humane societies should consider adopting a standard of neutering at over a year of age for dogs that will grow into large sizes.

Lynette Hart said the study is especially relevant for people and organizations raising service dogs.

“They need to take a serious look at this,” said Hart. “Joint disorders can shorten a dog’s useful working life and impact its role as a family member.”

A previous study conducted by the UC Davis researchers found health risks based on neuter age varied greatly depending on the breed of the dog.

Source: University of California Davis media statement