It’s been tens of thousands of years since dogs and humans first began cohabitating. But it’s still a steep learning curve for each owner when they bring a dog into their life. Here are 5 things I wish I’d known at the start.
1 What to do about diarrhea
When your dog is sick, as an owner you want to do something to make them well again — and fast. It feels a lot better to be taking action than just watching them suffer.
But dog ownership has taught me that sometimes the very best thing you can do to help your dog — is nothing at all.
If your dog has a little diarrhea or has gone off their food, listen to what their body is telling you. Give them lots of bathroom breaks to clear the problem from their system and make sure clean fresh water is always available.
But instead of trying to entice them to eat something, let them to rest. Encourage them to sleep as much as possible. Don’t offer food for 24 hours. Ideally wait until 24 hours after the symptoms have stopped.
This will give your dog’s body a chance to recover. Fasting promotes healing and can actually be incorporated into your dog’s routine even when he’s not ill.
Something else to be aware of when it comes to dog poop — and this was a huge learning for me — is that mucus in your dog’s droppings is not always a cause for concern. Worst case scenario, it’s a sign of colitis or even parasites or parvovirus. But, as I discovered with my own dog, it can also be due to a change in food or a recent course of drugs. So don’t panic if this happens to you.
Of course you can always consult a vet if your dog continues to feel unwell. But chances are a short fast will see him bounce back quickly.
By holding fire, you’ve also avoided giving your dog antibiotics unnecessarily. This is always a good idea since all drugs come with side effects. Antibiotics in particular are known to disturb your dog’s gut bacteria, creating stomach problems of their own. Plus, the more often you give antibiotics, the more likely it is that your dog’s body will develop antibiotic resistance. When this happens the medication may not work next time, when you really need it.
2. A stress-free way to trim dog nails
Forget nail clippers and the stress of worrying if you’re going to accidentally hit the quick.
And don’t give up and think you have to outsource the task to your vet or the groomer. You can take care of your dog’s nails yourself at home with a good nail grinder.
Unlike nail scissors or guillotine-style clippers, these tools mean you can’t hurt your dog even if you misjudge where the quick is. Which makes the task much less nerve-wracking for both of you.
Check your dog’s nails every few weeks and keep them short enough that they don’t touch the ground when he’s standing up.
3. How to avoid household chemicals
Like us, dogs are exposed to a lot of toxins in modern daily life. From lawn care chemicals and roadside pesticides to car exhaust fumes and cleaning sprays you use in the bathroom and kitchen.
Minimize your dog’s exposure to chemicals by using natural products at home. You can make your own non-toxic cleaning fluid from citrus peel and vinegar.
4. Vets are human too
We tend to think white coats give doctors and veterinarians superhuman powers. We put a lot of faith in medical practitioners. But it’s important to remember that vets don’t know everything and they can make mistakes.
This means it’s important to educate yourself as much as possible, so you can play an active role in your dog’s care and act as a check and balance.
This might mean doing your own research so you’re fully informed about the pros and cons of a particular procedure your vet has suggested. Or it could mean looking up a drug that’s been prescribed so you understand the possible side effects and whether there are any natural alternatives that are worth considering first.
A good vet will welcome you as an involved participant in your dog’s health and wellbeing.
5. Raw meaty bones are nature’s toothbrush
Feed these as part of your dog’s diet and you will never have to worry about brushing your dog’s teeth or running the risk of an anaesthetic procedure for teeth cleaning. Bad breath will be a thing of the past.
If your dog has never had a bone before, you are likely to see dramatic improvements within weeks and gleaming white teeth after a few months. Plus, your dog will be happier for the constructive outlet for his natural instinct to chew.
Avoid feeding weight-bearing bones and go for softer ones like lamb necks.
Remember that cooked bones of any kind should never be given to dogs. Cooking makes them brittle and likely to splinter, with the risk of gut perforation.
Armed with these few tips, life as a dog owner will be easier for you and your dog will be happier. Enjoy!
After dropping out of medical school, Jane Cowan spent two decades as a journalist and foreign correspondent. When her boxer dog became seriously ill, she directed her investigative instincts to his healing. Jane writes about her adventures with Shiva at Shiny Happy Doggy.