Category Archives: Dogs

Doggy quote of the month for May

People love dogs

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

Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 8 – adding complementary therapies

This is the post I’ve been wanting to write – the 6th rung on our ladder is complementary therapies – my specialty!

At the outset, I need to say that you will find some professionals/websites who believe that you need your vet’s permission to use complementary therapies.  That is not correct.

While you should always make your vet (and any other member of your healthcare team) aware of what treatments you are using with your dog, you are your dog’s guardian.  The decisions you make about your dog’s healthcare are up to you – provided of course that what you are doing for your dog meets accepted ethical standards and is within the law.

(Read further to navigate the interface between traditional veterinary care and complementary care….)

Arthritis management diagram

In my experience, the reasons why dog parents are interested in complementary therapies varies.

  • I meet people who have a mistrust of medications (which will be the subject of Part 9 in my series) and they want to lower their dog’s dependency on them
  • Others have used complementary therapies successfully for their own healthcare and seek to do the same with their pet
  • Some just want to ensure that they have done everything they can for their dog and feel that they have reached the maximum benefits with traditional veterinary care alone
  • And others see complementary therapies as a cheaper option than traditional veterinary care and seek it instead of going to the vet.  (There’s a difference between complementary and alternative!  I will not take clients into my practice who cannot provide records to show that their animal has been under the care of a qualified veterinarian.)

Key Point 1:  If you meet a complementary therapist who speaks badly about veterinary care, or actively encourages you not to go to the vet, then my advice is simple: walk away.


As a pet parent, I have used various complementary therapies with my dogs over the years.  These have included:

  • acupuncture
  • acupressure
  • massage
  • laser therapy
  • supplements
  • hydrotherapy
  • TCM food therapy
  • homeopathy
  • flower essences
  • herbal medicine
  • medicinal mushrooms
  • crystals
  • animal communication

It’s important to understand the modality of the therapy and what it aims to achieve.  Every practitioner should be able to give you a clear understanding of what they do with your dog and whether their therapy is a match for your dog’s situation.

Key Point 2:  Ask the practitioner about their qualifications and commitment to further study.  Have they attended specific training in their modality?

Be cautious of claims such as  “I mentored with…”  Mentoring is not structured training with examination, case studies, or a standard that the student must meet to become qualified.

While online study is useful for continuing professional development (and I use this mode myself), I am wary of ‘core’ qualifications which are achieved online exclusively.  A professional tutor or trainer should have been able to communicate with the student and seen their work firsthand and you just can’t get this quality of instruction through videos alone.  Moreover, if a practitioner is prepared to pay money to travel to achieve their qualifications, it gives you added assurance that they were prepared to invest in their career.

Key Point 3:  Look for other signs of professionalism like professional affiliations and, if the modality is regulated where you live, are they compliant?

Professional associations exist to support their professions with continuing education requirements, peer support, group insurance policies for liability/indemnity and networking.  In the dog care field, there are developments happening all the time.  Modalities need to adjust as new information comes to hand.  So if your practitioner isn’t connected to any associations, you have to ask why…

Key Point 4:   Ask your vet for recommendations, but ask questions about why they recommend a practice, too.

Many veterinarians are not familiar with complementary therapies or understand the range of what is available in your area so their ability to refer may be limited.  You should do your own research about what’s available and cross-check it with your vet’s recommendations/referrals.  Also, with more practices taking a corporate approach (the days of the independent vet practice are numbered if not gone altogether in many areas), they also enter into preferred supplier agreements which have a financial motive behind their referral.

Key Point 5:  Look for a robust intake process to any complementary practice.

A practitioner should take time to understand your dog’s health status and your concerns.  Satisfy yourself that these are in-depth questions and that the practitioner is not simply ticking boxes.  Every dog is different and so the approach for complementary therapy should be suited to each individual dog.

Key Point 6:  Treatment shouldn’t happen behind closed doors – you should be there!

As your dog’s guardian, you should be present when anyone is working with your dog.   Not only should you witness what the treatment entails, but also your dog’s reaction to it.   As a Fear-Free certified professional, my approach relies on watching the dog’s non-verbal communication and reactions and going at their speed.  A session should not just be about ‘get this done in 30 minutes.’

Key Point 7:  Understand the costs

Just as with veterinary care, complementary care incurs costs.  Make sure you budget for your dog’s care – from buying supplements to more hands-on therapies.  In this, I would say that while drug-based solutions can often kick in rapidly, the effects of some complementary therapies – such as supplements and homeopathics – take a bit of time to build in the dog’s system.  Factor in the time it takes to see results when you are budgeting.

And finally, if you aren’t seeing results with a complementary therapy within a reasonable amount of time, then stop and re-evaluate.  Remember that we can go up and down our ladder and that our dogs are aging at a faster rate than we do.


Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

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

There is no such thing as too many collars

Little things matter in these tough isolation times.  Today, Izzy’s new collar arrived from Collaration Martingales

Well of course we had to fit it and then, what’s a girl to do?  Go out in for walks in your pram to show it off!

I don’t recommend collars for walking (Izzy wear’s a harness which is not visible in the video).  When walked in collars, there is a high risk of pulling and pressure which can cause trachea injuries and neck strain.  Many older dogs I work with have issues in their necks from long-standing walking and pulling on a dog collar.

I also do not support the use of prong, citronella, and shock collars.  All of these are aversives and are not Fear-Free.

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

The origin of feces (aka shit happens)

The archaeological record is littered with feces, a potential goldmine for insights into ancient health and diet, parasite evolution, and the ecology and evolution of the microbiome. The main problem for researchers is determining whose feces is under examination. A recent study published in the journal PeerJ, led by Maxime Borry and Christina Warinner of Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH), presents “CoproID: a reliable method of inferring sources of paleofeces.”

After thousands of years, the source of a particular piece of feces can be difficult to determine. Distinguishing human and dog feces is particularly difficult: they are similar in size and shape, occur at the same archaeological sites, and have similar compositions. In addition, dogs were on the menu for many ancient societies, and our canine friends have a tendency to scavenge on human feces, thus making simple genetic tests problematic, as such analyses can return DNA from both species.

Shit happens

H35 (Ash pit number 35) coprolites from Xiaosungang archaeological site, Anhui Province, China © Jada Ko, Courtesy of the Anhui Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology

In order to access the insights contained within paleofeces, the researchers developed coproID (coprolite identification). The method combines analysis of ancient host DNA with a machine learning software trained on the microbiomes within modern feces. Applying coproID to both newly sequenced and previously published datasets, the team of researchers from the MPI-SHH, Harvard University, and the University of Oklahoma were able to reliably predict the sources of ancient feces, showing that a combination of host DNA and the distinct colonies of microbes living inside humans and dogs allow their feces to be accurately distinguished.

Classification capability provides insights into digestive health

“One unexpected finding of our study is the realization that the archaeological record is full of dog poop,” says Professor Christina Warinner, senior author of the study. But Warinner also expects coproID to have broader applications, especially in the fields of forensics, ecology, and microbiome sciences.

The ability to accurately identify the source of archaeological feces enables the direct investigation of changes in the structure and function of the human gut microbiome throughout time, which researchers hope will provide insights into food intolerances and a host of other issues in human health. “Identifying human coprolites should be the first step for ancient human microbiome analysis,” says the study’s first author, Maxime Borry.

“With additional data about the gut metagenomes of non-Westernized rural dogs, we’ll be better able to classify even more ancient dog feces as in fact being canine, as opposed to ‘uncertain,’” Borry adds. As the catalog of human and dog microbiome data grows, coproID will continue to improve its classifications and better aid researchers that encounter paleofeces in a range of geographic and historical contexts.

Source:  Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Beyond Izzy’s pram (managing dogs through to old age) Part 7 – making adjustments to your home

Thanks to Covid-19, a lot of us are spending a lot more time at home.  This is the perfect time to assess your home and to address the adjustments you should make for an aging dog.

Arthritis management diagram with 5 rungs

Think of the older people you’ve had in your life.  Perhaps Grandma or Grandpa.

Older people may not be able to handle steps as well as they used to, and because they are not as agile on their feet with reduced reflexes, they are more susceptible to slips, trips and falls when navigating obstacles.

The same is true for dogs.

Polished wood, tiles, and linoleum are all slippery surfaces.  You don’t want your dog to lose its footing ever – it only takes one slip to cause an injury.  Non-slip rugs and floor coverings can work wonders to protect your dog before an accident happens.

Stairs and steps are always dangerous surfaces for dogs – even a healthy dog can have an accident on these surfaces.  If you do not have a workaround for your dog using steps (such as going in and out of another door), add non-slip treads in rubber or carpet tiles to the stairs and supervise your dog when going up and down whenever possible.  A harness helps greatly with this.

One of the areas I feel is overlooked when making home adjustments is the possible loss of your dog’s eyesight and the need for better lighting.  Eyesight, particularly during nighttime, can diminish in older dogs.

I had personal experience of this with my English Pointer, Daisy.  I noticed that she was becoming reluctant to go outside at night (where we had 2 steps leading down to our walk and yard).  When I’d flip on the light, she was happy again.  I was concerned not just that she could slip/trip on the steps, but also that she may not be able to navigate our garden and could bump into a bush, damage her eyes, etc.English Pointer with Puplight  I could have installed several floodlights to light up the section (but somehow, I didn’t think this was an economical option and one that may also not please the neighbors).

While not a home adjustment per se, I chose a PupLight – a lighted dog collar that I could clip on before sending her out in the dark.  Although marketed as a safety feature for walking dogs at night, the PupLight was ideal in lighting her way ahead of her.

Here’s an example of why I chose the ladder for my diagram on managing older dogs. 

Remember that I said we can go up and down the management steps as we need to?

Well, I had clients with an elderly Golden Retriever.  They initially made adjustments to their home which worked well for a few months.  But then their dog’s mobility got worse.  They were living in a modern two-storey townhouse and all the bedrooms were upstairs with a winding staircase which had a landing halfway up.

Their solution?  Time for another home adjustment.  Only this time they moved their own queen-sized bed into the lounge downstairs and placed their mattress directly onto the floor to reduce its height.

Their elderly Golden Retriever could still sleep with them in bed and navigate ‘jumping’ into bed with them safely!

Got questions about this post?  Please feel free to post a message or contact me through my practice, The Balanced Dog.

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

The best isolation companion ever

I have been a lover of dogs since, well, forever.  And now that we’re in lock down thanks to Covid-19, who better to have as your isolation companion than a dog?

IMG_5118[1]

Companions are those that we choose to spend a lot of time with and, in isolation, mental and physical health can be hard to maintain.  But dogs get us out for walks every day (and sometimes more than once a day – I think twice is better) and research has proven that for mental health – a loyal dog is one of the best supports you can have.

Through the simple act of running you hands through their fur, watching them play, or grooming them, your blood pressure lowers and oxytocin (the hugging hormone) is released. Dogs are experts at unconditional love – even when you’re a bit stressed or depressed at being isolated from your normal life.

Dogs are just plain good for the mental health of their human companions.

Consider that we’ve been locked down for 2 weeks….

  • Izzy and I haven’t fought once
  • We don’t compete for internet access or the television
  • I have more time to cook for Izzy and she’s quite happy about that
  • Our walks are longer, with no time pressures
  • Cuddling in bed is taking on a whole new importance for both of us, particularly as we are back on standard time and having cooler nights
  • Every day – or at least part of it when I’m not working – is a weekend

I hope that one of the lessons we learn from Covid-19 is the importance of pets and that all dog parents will continue to set aside quality time with their dogs.  And for those non-dog people, some of whom are probably going to be divorced this time next year, I highly recommend a dog.

In isolation or not – they are the best companion you will ever have!

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

Dogs can experience hearing loss

Just like humans, dogs are sometimes born with impaired hearing or experience hearing loss as a result of disease, inflammation, aging or exposure to noise. Dog owners and K-9 handlers ought to keep this in mind when adopting or caring for dogs, and when bringing them into noisy environments, says Dr. Kari Foss, a veterinary neurologist and professor of veterinary clinical medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

hearing loss dog

This puppy does not respond to audible cues unless it can see the person giving them. The puppy’s assessment includes Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response testing, which independently evaluates hearing in each ear. The painless procedure can be done on dogs when they are awake, sedated or anesthetized. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

In a new report in the journal Topics in Companion Animal Medicine, Foss and her colleagues describe cases of hearing loss in three working dogs: a gun dog, a sniffer dog and a police dog. One of the three had permanent hearing loss, one responded to treatment and the third did not return to the facility where it was originally diagnosed for follow-up care.

The case studies demonstrate that those who work with police or hunting dogs “should be aware of a dog’s proximity to gunfire and potentially consider hearing protection,” Foss said. Several types of hearing protection for dogs are available commercially.

Just as in humans, loud noises can harm the delicate structures of a dog’s middle and inner ear.

“Most commonly, noise-induced hearing loss results from damage to the hair cells in the cochlea that vibrate in response to sound waves,” Foss said. “However, extreme noise may also damage the eardrum and the small bones within the inner ear, called the ossicles.”

Pet owners or dog handlers tend to notice when an animal stops responding to sounds or commands. However, it is easy to miss the signs, especially in dogs with one or more canine companions, Foss said.

“In puppies with congenital deafness, signs may not be noticed until the puppy is removed from the litter,” she said.

Signs of hearing loss in dogs include failing to respond when called, sleeping through sounds that normally would rouse them, startling at loud noises that previously didn’t bother them, barking excessively or making unusual vocal sounds, Foss said. Dogs with deafness in one ear might respond to commands but could have difficulty locating the source of a sound.

Owners think their pet is experiencing hearing loss should have the animal assessed by a veterinarian, Foss said. Hearing loss that stems from ear infections, inflammation or polyps in the middle ear can be treated and, in many cases, resolved.

Hearing-impaired or deaf dogs may miss clues about potential threats in their surroundings, Foss said.