Category Archives: dog care

Dogs to benefit from test to spot liver disease

Vets have developed a blood test that quickly spots early signs of liver disease in dogs, a study suggests.

Experts say that the test – based on insights gained from human patients – could help vets identify damage and start treatment early, saving the lives of many dogs.

The test – which is to be launched worldwide – means that fewer dogs will have to undergo invasive liver biopsies, findings by the University of Edinburgh suggest.

Diagnosis challenge

Diagnosing canine liver disease is challenging and catching early signs of damage is key to its treatment, vets say.

Current diagnosis is based on biopsies, which are expensive and can lead to complications.

Joining forces

Vets based at the University’s Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies teamed up with medical doctors to look at blood levels of a molecule known as miR-122 in dogs. This molecule is found in high levels in people living with liver disease.

They worked with pets and their owners to test miR-122 levels in 250 dogs, including cocker-spaniels, labradoodles and Old English sheepdogs.

Testing kits

Dogs with liver disease were found to have significantly higher levels of a miR-122 compared with healthy dogs and dogs who had a different disease that did not affect the liver.

The team now plan to launch a testing kit to help vets worldwide quickly assess if their patient pooches have liver damage.

The study is published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Lead vet researcher, Professor Richard Mellanby, Head of Companion Animal Sciences at The Hospital for Small Animals at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We have found a specific, sensitive and non-invasive way to detect liver damage in dogs. We hope that our test will greatly improve outcomes by allowing vets to make rapid and accurate diagnosis.”

Dr James Dear, Reader at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Cardiovascular Science and NHS doctor, who co-led the study, said: “‘I am delighted that the blood test we developed to improve the diagnosis of liver disease in humans can be used to help dogs too.”

Source:  University of Edinburgh


Flower essences – are they the same as Bach flowers?

Because I’m using an emotional nutrition range in my practice, which are mixtures of flower essences and homeopathics, I have been getting asked questions about them – which is great!

People refer to them as Bach flowers, and this isn’t entirely correct.

Dr Edward Bach worked in England in the years 1930 to 1935 on his flower remedies and when he died in 1936, his system of 38 remedies in total were fully documented.  These are the true Bach flower remedies.  The most notable combination is Rescue Remedy which is widely used today in both humans and animals.

He began collecting plants and flowers – the most highly-developed part of a plant – in the hope of replacing nosodes with a series of gentler remedies.  In his research, he matched a flower essence to a particular emotional state.  Here are a few examples:

  • Gentian – for discouragement after a setback
  • Mimulus – fear of known things
  • Vine – dominance and inflexibility

The Bach flower remedies should feature the Bach signature label  (made in England) which looks like this:

Bach flower logo

The remedies are made by infusing the flowers in spring water, either by the sun-steeped method or by boiling. The remedies contain a grape-based brandy as a preservative and there are alcohol free versions which are preserved in glycerin made from sunflowers

Following on from Dr Bach’s work on flower essences, there are other flower essences that have been developed from flowers growing in other parts of the world.  For example, there’s a whole range of essences extracted from Australian bush flowers.

So when people ask me about using flower essences, I remind them that there’s a difference between essential oils and flower essences and I also explain that not all flower essences are Bach flowers.

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

Muscle loss and wasting

I encounter dogs in my practice who are experiencing muscle loss and wasting fairly often.

Since owners must submit veterinary records to me for review as part of my intake process as well as update me on any subsequent vet visits, if there’s a diagnosis of chronic illness – such as kidney disease or cancer – then this muscle loss  is understandable and classified as cachexia.

In the absence of a diagnosis of disease, and working with an aging dog, then the muscle loss is classified as sarcopenia.

Muscle loss results in a change of appearance, which owners often notice first around the shoulder blades, top of the head, and around the pelvis.  Muscle wastage can be graded as noted below:

Muscle condition score

Exercise and good nutrition can be interventions with muscle loss.  Chronically ill dogs need a high quality diet that is appropriate for their disease, for example.  And aging dogs do need exercise that is targeted to their needs and abilities.

Owners should always be on the watch for signs of muscle loss – so early interventions that are medical and non-medical can be considered.

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

You get out what you put in

In 2007, I was unlucky enough to rupture an Achilles tendon; the rupture also took the rather unusual form of detaching from the bone in the heel of my foot.  In most cases, these ruptures occur higher up the leg, with the tendon snapping in half.  I clearly remember my surgeon at the time warning me of the risk of re-rupture, which was entirely linked to the quality and commitment to rehabilitation.  Many people don’t commit to the time and consistency that rehab actually takes and they pay the price of exercising too strenuously too early, or not following the instructions for self-care.

Every rehab program can have setbacks and mine was no different.  It took a year but I fully recovered.  I went to physio for all the obligatory ultrasounds, etc.  But more importantly, I did my exercises at home.  All the toe raises, stretches, massaging and walking.   I kept a journal of everything.

This personal experience has helped me greatly in my dog massage and rehab practice; it’s given me great insight into the frustrations and joys of rehab.  And the main lesson I learned was that the substantive part of my rehab program was my responsibility.

The same is true of a dog’s rehab program – well, sort of.  The dog doesn’t know what it has to do, it’s the owner’s responsibility.

And that’s one reason why I practice on an in-home basis.  I see many dogs in need of strengthening, stretching and/or toning exercises.  I always aim to make these exercises simple, and using items that are easily found around the home or sourced for a reasonable price.  (I also have a hire pool of equipment, to also ease the burden of rehab care.)

Adjustments are often needed to match the dog’s abilities.  And that comes with practice and feedback from the owner.  And we work together through any setbacks.

I tell my clients:  “To a large extent, you get out what you put in.”

Rail walking at CBBR

Cavaletti rail practice at Christchurch Bull Breed Rescue (Charlene with Caesar)

Many clients have goals – it could be that the family is going on vacation and wants the dog in better shape (or fully recovered) when the dog goes to kennel or to another family member.  It could be that the dog is in the care of a re-homing agency and the dog needs to be better before adoption.  Or, the goal may simply to have the dog better before summer so that the family can enjoy the beach or the park again, together.

Like personal training, goals are great.

To achieve them, we get out what we put in.  I enjoy being part of the owner’s team to achieve those goals.

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

Moving day(s)

One of the reasons that things have been quieter on the blog over the last few weeks has been because we have needed to relocate.  Our home is undergoing repairs from damage received in Christchurch’s 2010 and 2011 earthquakes and so everything (including us) had to go.

As most of you know, moving house is rarely fun and often stressful and our animals have to be managed carefully during these events.  As I’ve said many times, having a solid routine is extremely important for dogs – they get comfort and a sense of security from routine.

So in our case, Izzy was catered for as the #1 priority.  All of her beds, her caterpillar and her crate were packed and driven to our temporary house.  Meanwhile, she went to a friend’s house for a play date with his greyhound.  I picked her up in the evening and brought her to the new place, where she was fed dinner and was put to bed.

Although unsettled for the first few days, I kept her to her routine which included morning walks, feedings, and sleep time followed by afternoon walks and evening meals.  Temporary House

I’m proud to say that Izzy has settled in well; me – well I’m making due with the typical soft mattress and cheap furniture that is found in most holiday rental homes.    After all, I wasn’t able to travel with my bed!


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

Marketing Fear Free

Fear Free certification is something that is still new to the veterinary and complementary professions.  I saw an ad recently on Facebook for a Fear Free certified veterinary practice looking to hire and I’ve amended it to explain a bit more about what I stand for.

Where do you want to take your dog?

If you want your dog treated where…

  • dogs are allowed to rest on a comfortable, padded massage table – or the floor if they are more comfortable
  • appointments are booked hourly so there is no need to rush
  • you see me – a  fully qualified therapist with a commitment to ongoing professional development
  • I adjust my pace for each dog, so anxious dogs may take longer (but it is worth it)
  • and yummy dog treats and food diversions are used on a liberal basis

…then please book your dog into The Balanced Dog.  I look forward to working with you in the Fear Free way.

Bailey and Neisha May 2018

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

FF Certified Professional Logo jpg

The differences between flower essences and essential oils

I have found that there is often confusion between essential oils and flower essences.  This isn’t surprising – both evoke connotations of fresh smells and flowers.  However, it’s important to understand the difference and the use of these products when caring for your dog.

Essential oils are a fundamental part of aromatherapy.  They are often diffused in a burner of some sort, such as the traditional one with a tea candle below the area where the oil is placed, or in the newer modern version – ultrasonic diffusers.

When used for massages, the essential oils (which are very strong) are diluted in carrier oil such as sweet almond oil or in a waxier, balm-like base.  Most of my human massage therapist colleagues use essential oils in their practices in this way – lavender is very common, for example, for relaxing human clients!

Essential oils are very much for use outside the body (not to be ingested).

Now here’s the thing:  I am generally not a fan of using essential oils in dog care. 

These oils are quite powerful.  And for the same reason that I don’t like chemical sprays for air fresheners and fly control (See:  Before you install these devices, consider your dog), I don’t think they are useful with dogs.  If dogs have a sense of smell that is 100,000 times more powerful than ours, how can we be sure that we aren’t driving them crazy with the odour of these oils?  I don’t believe we can.

Flower essences are a whole other ball game.  The most famous of the flower essences is Bach’s Rescue Remedy, which is a blend of flower essences designed to help with stress and anxiety.   Dogs can be given Rescue Remedy in times of need  – such as fireworks season.

Because of the popularity of Rescue Remedy, many dog owners don’t realise that there are a wide range of flower essences (some of which technically come from trees) which can be used for emotional and other imbalances.  Dr Edward Bach, an English doctor and homeopath, originally studied and documented flower essences in the 1930s.  For this reason, they are often referred to as Bach Flower Remedies.  However, there are other essences such as those that come from Australian wild flowers which cannot be attributed to Dr Bach.

Flower essences are made by infusing the plant material using a heat source (often sunshine) and air into water.  The infusion is then preserved with something like brandy and stored – ready for use.  Flower essences contain the natural energy of the plant material (not the plant material itself) and we can use these, internally – unlike essential oils –  to help with imbalances.

The principle behind flower essences is that they are based on energy and so if your dog doesn’t need that particular energy, nothing will happen.  But by matching the right essence to their condition, flower essences can help.

The only thing that ‘smells’ about a flower essence is the alcohol preservative in the mixture.  This is a major difference between the essences and essential oils and is key to why I am happy to use them in my practice.

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