What Did My Vet Say? Dog Health Information (Part 1)
I am not a veterinarian and am not permitted to give medical advice regarding canine health. I am not going to.
So, what am I going to write about in this article then, you may wonder? I am going to share some publicly available information, published by the National Institute of Health (1) and other reputable and well-respected veterinary scientists.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the nation’s medical research agency. It doesn’t get more official than that.
The studies I am going to share are something every dog owner should know about. Their findings indicate that some things we have become accustomed to doing to our dogs, are ill-advised and need a fresh look. I am also going to outline some of my own decisions and opinions formed based on this information.
I am a professional dog trainer and naturally own several dogs myself. I have seen the health journeys of many client dogs over the past fifteen years in the business. I also regularly read canine medical studies, and as a result, have adopted some strong opinions on what is and isn’t healthy for dogs. My German Shepherd Max is almost eighteen years old at the time I am writing this article and my boy Sylvester, also a German Shepherd recently turned thirteen. It would appear I am doing something right, as all my dogs are very healthy and rarely need to see my veterinarian.
This article is not intended as a criticism of veterinarians. Most are well-intentioned, good people and some black sheep exist in any profession. We all need great veterinarians we can rely on in case of need and I love my own veterinarians. I use several different ones for different reasons and I will touch on those later. My veterinarians have saved my own dog's lives after accidents and other medical emergencies over the years and I am very grateful for their skill and expertise.
I think we all can appreciate that if you are a busy veterinarian, it is often difficult to stay up-to-date with the latest research in every area of veterinary care; no matter much one tries or wants to.
I simply acknowledge that my veterinarian can’t know everything. Veterinarians know a lot about animal health, how to diagnose diseases, perform surgeries, etc. It is what they learned in veterinary school. It takes a while to get through that. We need to appreciate their expertise in their field.
But we also need to acknowledge what is limited or missing in the typical veterinary school curriculum. I.e. most veterinarians can perform spay or neuter surgeries but what if you don’t want to remove the entire reproductive system because it impacts the endocrine system?
That has health impacts, especially later in your dog’s life.What, if you just want to get a vasectomy or ovarian-sparing spay for your dog? Usually, only a board-certified veterinary surgeon knows how to perform those, and most veterinarians will easily admit they can’t perform that surgery, as they haven’t learned how to.
However, many veterinarians don’t seem to feel the same restraint when it comes to assessing or evaluating canine nutrition or dog food; an area that receives little attention or focus in standard veterinary training. This is why we have experts in that field, called canine nutritionists.
Veterinarians should be open about not being experts on canine nutrition unless they had supplemental education and refer you to a specialist instead of just suggesting certain brands of foods they may sell themselves.
I feel similarly about the far too frequent, instant prescription of anti-anxiety medication for fearful dogs. Anxiety and fear in dogs are a field I specialize in as a dog trainer. Veterinarians aren’t behavioral experts and usually don’t have enough understanding of canine behavior to prescribe the best possible solution for an anxious dog. I am not saying it could never include a prescription, but if that is all one has to offer, of course, the answer to ever behavior becomes a pill. This is basically what veterinary behaviorists do; they prescribe drugs.
We should all be open and honest about what our area of expertise is and stick to that or if we wander outside of it, offer solid evidence for our opinions, like I am doing in this article. An opinion not rooted in reality and fact—to me—is the most useless thing in the world.
This is what I will do. I will touch on several areas of canine health, provide the relevant published studies regarding current standard practices and share my own approach in each area. I am not calling on anyone to follow my lead, but I do encourage you to review this information, review your current practices regarding your dog, maybe have a discussion with your current veterinarian and maybe have a second conversation with a holistic veterinarian to see the difference. Your dog will thank you.
…My Dogs Needs to be Vaccinated/Needs Annual Booster Shots
Yes, your dogs absolutely need to be vaccinated against things that can kill them. Legally, you are required to get a rabies vaccine every three years in most states. There are efforts underway to change the interval to five years (more tests are in progress to proof seven-year immunity) by the Rabies Challenge Fund (2).
Dr. Ronald Schultz and Dr. Jean Dodds, two highly respected vaccination experts, outline on their website the current state of knowledge on established vaccine durations and immunizations; I highly recommend you take a look. No other vaccine is mandated by law, but Parvo and Distemper are also considered core vaccines and should be administered.
Some also consider Hepatitis a core vaccine, but Dr. Dodds disagrees and she is the expert. However, I personally don’t blindly shoot my dogs up with these vaccines every year; vaccinations carry risks. I only get a booster shot when the immunity from the last vaccination is wearing off. Based on studies, most canine vaccines last between five years and the life of your dog!
Yes, studies consistently show that most vaccines only need to be given once for lifetime protection. Luckily, more and more veterinarians (especially holistic veterinarians) are now able to perform affordable titer tests in-house. I found a great local, holistic veterinarian who makes this easy and affordable.
Titer tests show with absolute certainty if your dog still has immunity (meaning antibodies in the blood) or not and needs a new vaccination (Journal of Veterinary Medicine, February 2002).I only vaccinate when I must. Vaccines, like every medical procedure, have risks and there can always be adverse reactions (Canine Vaccine Adverse Events, Aguirre, 2007). I don’t give my dogs any other vaccines aside from the core vaccines.
The diseases, addressed by all the other vaccines, are either easily treatable, should they occur, or are rare to begin with. If a veterinarian—especially the ones in veterinary hospital chains (3) are known for this—recommends vaccines against diseases other than the core vaccines, it is always a good idea to spend a few minutes searching online how many cases of this disease were reported in the prior year in the country overall and in your state in particular.
The fewer the cases, the lower the risk and I would never accept a vaccine for a disease with only a few cases in my state. Keep in mind that most boarding and grooming places require your dog to get a Bordetella vaccine (basically your dog’s flu shot); some, every six months! That is crazy to me. This is one of the reasons I groom my dogs myself and have a great pet sitter who comes to my home when necessary. I am not doing that to my dogs.
Dr. Ronald D. Schultz is the Professor and Chair of the Department of Patho-Biological Sciences at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM was a research scientist with the New York State Health Department and is the Executive Director of the New York State Council on Human Blood and Transfusion Services. She is also the founder of hemopet.org (thyroid blood tests) and nutriscan.org (saliva food allergy tests).
In short, these two experts know what they are talking about.
Links to the studies:
Duration of Immunity to Canine Vaccines by Dr. Ronald D. Schultz, 1998 (4)
Duration of Immunity for Canine and Feline Vaccines by Dr. Ronald D. Schultz, 2015 (5)
2017 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines by Dr. Ronald D. Schultz, 2017 (6)
2018 Vaccine Protocol and Best Practices by Jean Dodds, DVM (7)
Changing Vaccine Protocols by Jean Dodds, DVM (8)
Vaccine Adverse Events in Dogs Aguirre et al, J Am Vet Med Assoc 231:79-88, 2007 (9)
…My Dog Needs Tick and Flea Control
That sounds like a good idea. I highly suggest you take active measures to prevent ticks and fleas from infesting your dog. However, how you go about it matters. Several studies as far back as 1989 have shown that the tick and flea dips, which are applied to your dog’s back pose a measurable risk of cancer; transitional cell carcinoma and bladder cancer especially.
The tick and flea collars aren’t any better. These products absolutely work in terms of preventing ticks and fleas but at what cost? These products contain poisonous insecticides and herbicides.
Similar chemicals used for bug prevention on lawns and in gardens. They are as toxic and pose as much of a cancer risk as do the garden products. All of these have shown in many studies to cause cancer in animals and humans. Applying that a dog’s back doesn’t seem like the greatest of ideas. Why are you being told to not let your dog sleep in bed with you after the tick and flea dip was applied? Because it’s toxic and harmful to humans too. I have used natural alternatives to prevent ticks and fleas with my dogs for fifteen years and never had a tick or flea problem.
Here are a few suggestions:
What? Are you crazy? Isn’t that poisonous? No, not in small dosages. Too much garlic is toxic, no doubt, but too much of anything is harmful. People have died from drinking too much water. I use two teaspoons of organic garlic powder for an 80-lb dog per week.
I prepare raw food for my dogs once a week and freeze it. I distribute it evenly during food preparation. If you’re feeding differently, you could set two teaspoons of garlic powder aside in a shot glass each week and sprinkle some over the food each feeding. Wet-dry food with a spray bottle (water only) before sprinkling the garlic, so it will stick to the kibble.
A veterinarian once challenged me on that approach, telling me there was a study proving garlic doesn’t work for flea prevention. When I asked for a copy of that study, she couldn’t produce it and revealed the study proved garlic doesn’t kill fleas or ticks. That is correct. Garlic doesn’t kill fleas or ticks, but it repels them, meaning they leave my dogs alone and that is all that matters. What is this obsession with killing things?
Another approach is making yourself an essential oil spray. Use a small spray bottle, fill it 2/3 with purified water and add 10-15 drops of essential oils of d-limonene (use a combo of lemon, orange and grapefruit), rosemary and lavender each. Spray your dog with it a few times a week.
More Ideas on natural tick and flea prevention without toxins: Dr. Judy Morgan .
Links to the studies:
Epidemiologic study of insecticide exposure, obesity, and risk of bladder cancer in household dogs by Glickman, 1989 (11)
Herbicide Exposure and the Risk of Transitional Cell Carcinoma by Glickman, 2004 (12)
Epidemiologic Studies of Risk Factors for Cancer in Pet Dogs by Kelsey, 1998 (13)
Polluted Pets: Chemical Exposures and Pets' Health by EWG, 2008 (14)
…My Dog Needs Parasite / Worm Protection
Yes, they do, but it again depends on how you go about it. Typical ingredients in the most common preventative treatments include Ivermectin and Afoxolaner. While there are certainly worse things on this earth, these chemicals do have side effects.
Just look at your current product, google their ingredients and side effects and decide if those are something you want to expose your dog to. I certainly don’t. I’m not a big fan of anything that isn’t necessary. I have personally used Noni Fruit Leather as parasite preventative for over ten years and I have even dealt with a whipworm infection in my rescue dog Max, when he joined the family.
He came to me with this infestation and I didn’t know he was ill. Neither did the shelter, as he had no symptoms. I detailed my whipworm story here.
Noni Fruit Leather has been working well for me and none of my dogs ever contracted any parasites. Not even my existing dogs got sick when Max joined us. Whipworms are nasty little things that can survive in the soil for seven years.
Another way of preventing parasites is food-grade Diatomaceous Earth. A product that makes administering it easy, is Paratrex. It is a parasite treatment and preventative for humans you can also use for your dog.
Links to the studies:
Morinda Citrifolia (Noni) Linn. Reduces Parasite Load by Almeida-Souza F, 2016 (15)
Epidemiologic Studies of Risk Factors for Cancer in Pet Dogs by Kelsey, 1998 (16)
Epidemiologic study of insecticide exposure, obesity, and risk of bladder cancer in household dogs by Glickman, 1989 (17)
Check back to our blog for Part 2 of this article on August 29th!
Ralf Weber is a certified dog trainer and behaviorist. A professional member of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP), an AKC evaluator for Puppy S.T.A.R., Canine Good Citizen and Community Canine certifications, author of the dog behavioral book: "If Your Dog Could Talk" and owner of the dog training company Happy Dog Training. Ralf works with clients in Southern California and can be contacted through his website at HappyDogTraining.info.