Let me preface this article by saying that this is general info only, every dog and every situation is different. Drug interactions may be different for every dog and environmental effects may differ from dog to dog. Also, the breed, sex and age of a dog can add to its issues so PLEASE call your vet with specific questions.
As a dog trainer and someone who has worked in the veterinary world, I get questions on basic care for dogs. So I had clients email me their questions and I sat down with a local vet to see if she could help us all out with basic information for our beloved pets. Dr. Robyn Murray-Theiss at Pyramid Veterinary Hospital is a client as well as a highly respected vet that has seen a few of my dogs. She really helped clarify some questions that my clients and I have.
Malaika: Ok Robyn, I get a ton of questions about allergies. One of my clients now has a dog who is scratching a lot and it seems to be getting worse. What can you say about allergies that may be helpful?
Dr Murray-Theiss: Well, Allergies are really tough to just diagnose without seeing the dog. There are so many allergens out there and all dogs can react differently. Some dogs have food allergies, some have environmental allergies, and some can have both. Each would be treated quite differently!
After chatting for a while about allergies, it became clear that this is something best directed to your vet in person. There are a few things you can try, but remember, EVERY DOG IS DIFFERENT! You can try to give your dog Benadryl, be sure to contact your vet to determine if Benadryl is a viable option for your dog and to determine dosing requirements. Another thing you can try is a nice bath a few times a month or even up to once a week. Make sure you get shampoo and conditioner specific for dogs and specific for their allergy. I shop at the PAWSitively Pets store in Damonte Ranch on Damonte Ranch Parkway by Super Wal-Mart. They have a wide variety of great shampoos and skin care products and have an extremely knowledgeable staff to help you. I just bought an all natural spray there and each night before bed, I spray some on my Malinois where she is itchy and it really seems to help her scratching all night.
Malaika: Some of my client’s dogs eat their own feces. My clients want to know if this is because of nutritional deficiency or just a gross habit.
Dr Murray-Theiss: NO, this is not a nutritional deficiency, dogs like to eat gross things!
We talked further about this and what a gross habit it is. It can be unhealthy too, dogs can ingest parasites and worms! This habit doesn’t necessarily go away either so there are ways to train a dog to stop it. First, be sure to keep the yard clean as prevention is the best medicine. If you continue to experience problems, contact me at Dog Gone Amazing and we can go over other options to help prevent this gross habit.
Malaika: OK, a question I get all the time is why does urine burn the lawn?
Dr. Murray-Theiss: Yes, this is a problem we just have to deal with as dog owners. It really doesn’t matter if it is a male or female. It is all about the pH level of the urine. I strongly urge against using over the counter products that say they can help. Those just change the pH level or acidity of the urine which can then affect the liver and kidneys.
I can actually give a few simple solutions for this. I have only owned female dogs and so I am more than familiar with this problem. Female’s urine doesn’t necessarily burn the grass more than males but males mark their territory so they tend to spread out the spots where they urinate. Once again, EVERY DOG IS DIFFERENT and every dog has a totally different pH level in their urine. It can depend on if your dog is has been neutered/spayed or if they are still intact. That would lead to more hormones which may affect pH levels. Also, what you are feeding your dog can have a major effect on their pH level. What I did with my females is water the lawn more often! Not over using water, just watered more frequently with less water…. Consider it rinsing the grass! Also, you can just zero-scape your yard which is what we ended up doing!
Malaika: So, most people do not know what foods or plants are poisonous to their dogs. I know there a so many but can you give a few major no-no’s?
Dr Murray-Theiss: Wow, there are so many! Most people know about chocolate but also grapes and raisins are poisonous. Onions, macadamia nuts, sugar free gum. We see a lot of that at the vet hospital. Dogs love your gum!! Keep it away. There is a great website that can help answer all these questions: www.aspca.org/pet-care
Malaika: We are going into winter and so many people ask me about how to know when it is too cold for their dog’s feet. Is there a temperature that is too low to hike in? What about boots for dogs? Is there any other ways to protect their feet?
Dr Murray-Theiss: Yes, you definitely want to watch your dog in the snow and cold weather. Ice and sharp snow can cut their paws. Be aware of walking in weather below freezing, which is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Work your dog up to long walks or hikes but I also recommend boots for dogs. Conversely, be careful of hot asphalt in the summer.
Malaika: Is it ok to feed dogs raw Marrow bones?
Dr Murray-Theiss: No. I am not a fan of morrow bones. There can be too much bacteria and dogs can get shards off of bones that can cause bad stomach upset or even cause a foreign body, that’s a bone getting stuck in their digestive tract. That can lead to surgery.
We talked about this for a while because I give my dogs raw bones all the time and have yet to experience any problems. So, once again, IT DEPENDS ON THE DOG, I think. My dogs are on a mostly raw diet so they are used to it. I am also very careful and let my dogs have the bones for a few minutes at a time, refreezing them and I make sure I am there to watch them chew on them. If the bones are outside all the time, they can get a bit nasty and harbor a ton of bacteria. I do not give cooked or smoked bones as the dog can get large chunks off and can have bad diarrhea. So be careful with raw bones. If you are interested in a raw diet for your dog, talk to your vet or contact me for some healthy ideas.
Malaika: Here is a question straight from a client’s mouth, “I have a friend who gives her dog baby Aspirin after long hikes or when the dog seems stiff. Is that ok?”
Dr Murray-Theiss: This is a tough one, and I would tell this person to see a vet. I will say, however, that any healthy dog should not have stiffness after any moderate to heavy exercise. That should definitely be checked out. Please be careful with self medicating your dog. Aspirin in particular can be really hard on dog’s GI tract. Also, if you have been giving your dog Aspirin, even one, then we diagnose the dog with a problem that needs specific medicine (NSAIDS or steroids), we can not treat it properly because you have been giving it Aspirin. We can’t give 2 different kinds of pain medicine. So, as I said, if your dog is healthy, and it is limping or showing signs of stiffness after walks or any time, please see your vet.
Malaika: Let’s talk parasites and worms! Ewwww! How often should you be de-worming your dog? What kinds of parasites affect dogs? What de-wormers do you recommend for dogs?
Dr Murray-Theiss: Good Question! Luckily here in Reno, we don’t have a ton of parasites to worry about. The main ones would be Giardia, hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms. Remember the eating feces question? This is where they get those! Please just watch your dog. You can de-worm your dog once a year and/or keep it on monthly Heartworm prevention like HeartGard or Iverheart, all available through your vet. Around horses and livestock, once again just watch what your dog eats! These dogs may definitely benefit from a monthly de-wormer (heartworm prevention) or more frequent de-worming. Try not to let them eat horse poop!
Malaika: This is a spin off the above question. We talked about Heartgard prevention for worms. What about fleas and ticks?
Dr Murray-Theiss: Well, we do not have a big problem with fleas in Reno/Tahoe/Sparks. They cannot survive well in this climate. But if you travel at all, I highly recommend a flea treatment. Ticks are another story. They may not be in Reno, but they are in the desert areas and they are coming over the mountains from California. So, for safety, it is best to also add flea/tick prevention year round, depending, once again, on your dog and where you go with your dog or where you live.
Malaika: Now on to rattlesnakes. Are they deadly? What can we do to prevent bites or what should we do when our dog has been bitten?
Dr Murray-Theiss: Wow, well I just took some continuing education classes on rattlesnakes and this can be a complicated question, but a rattle snake bite CAN be deadly and your dog should be taken IMMEDIATELY to a vet if it has been bitten! The severity of the bite depends on the location of the bite and how much venom was injected (each case is different). But the take home message here is to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible. The rattlesnake that is most common here is the Western Rattlesnake. To avoid bites, you can try the Rattlesnake avoidance class, or just try to hike really high into the pine trees where there are less snakes. The worst time for snakes is in the spring and fall. Check out the NDOW website for more info on local snakes and their avoidance classes.
Malaika: This is kind of my own question because I get asked this all the time and it seems to be a very controversial topic. When should you spay or neuter your dog? And why should you spay or neuter your dog?
Dr Murray-Theiss: This can be controversial. Basically, all dogs should be fixed between 6-9 months of age. For females, you should spay them BEFORE their first heat cycle, it reduces the risk of mammary cancer by up to 80%! There is no psychological impact spaying or neutering your dog and it will not change their personality. They are still happy, healthy dogs.
If you do not fix your dog, there are things you should be aware of: A male, intact dog can smell a female in heat for at least 3-5 miles away. A male dog will do just about anything to get to a female in heat including running across roads and risking getting hit by a car. On the flip side, a female in heat can be a mess. My dog’s first heat cycle was 2.5 months long.
So, there are all the questions I got from my clients. I hope this helps but please remember, your vet is there for you no matter how silly you think the question is. If you have any concerns about your dog, please call, or schedule an appt with your vet!
Thank you Robyn for your help!
You can find Dr. Robyn Murray at Pyramid Vet Hospital at 775-356-8323
You can find me at