Archive for July, 2009
The thyroid gland produces hormones that govern or affect a number of bodily functions. A dog with hypothyroid is producing fewer hormones than she should. She may show symptoms ranging from infertility to dry, dull coat, flaky skin, runny eyes, or even difficulty walking. Thyroid problems can be diagnosed with a blood test, and medication can usually relieve the symptoms fairly rapidly. In most cases, the dog will have to remain on the medication for life.
A lick granuloma is an injury the dog does to herself. She begins to lick at a spot on one of her legs – usually a front leg around the ankle, but it may also be a rear leg right above the paw—and she continues licking, producing a wet, weepy sore that often becomes infected. This compulsive behavior has been associated with boredom and separation anxiety. Curing the problem often requires the help of a veterinarian and a behaviorist.
This disorder is caused by a lack of peristaltic function in the esophagus. In other words, the muscular contractions of the esophagus that move food down into the stomach are not happening as they should. Food then builds up in the esophagus, causing it to stretch, until the food empties into the stomach by sheer pressure, or the dog vomits the food back up.
Experts feel this is an inherited problem, and dogs with the condition should be spayed or neutered. Treatment includes feeding the dog several small meals throughout the day from a raised (shoulder-height) platform.
This disorder usually appears in puppies between 3 and 6 months of age. The puppies will be less inclined to play and will be sore when touched. The muscles gradually waste away until the dog looks lean and lanky instead of stocky. Heat and cold both seem to cause more discomfort, as does strenuous exercise.
This is an inherited disorder. Dogs developing it should be spayed or neutered, as should the parents of the dog who developed it. There is no cure or treatment.
A dog who weighs more than she should can develop diabetes, hypothyroidism, and back, shoulder, and other skeletal problems. Although the breed does tend to gain weight easily, obesity is caused by too many calories and not enough exercise.
Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)
OCD occurs most often in young, fast-growing puppies of larger breeds, including Labs. The bone underlying the cartilage in joints breaks down, causing the puppy pain. It can happen in the elbow, shoulder, or ankle. Contributing factors include obesity, repetitive motions (such as running long distances), or jumping off high places or jumping over high jumps.
This disease causes lameness and pain in young, rapidly growing puppies, usually between the ages of 6 and 14 months, although it is occasionally seen up to 18 months of age. The lameness usually affects one leg at a time and can sporadically move from one leg to another. Some veterinarians prescribe aspirin to relieve the pain, and most suggest the dog be kept quiet. Often, this problem clears up on its own.
Many experts feel the tendency to develop this disorder is inherited, but it can also be made worse by feeding a diet that is not balanced—perhaps too high in carbohydrates or too much protein without enough carbohydrates. The debate continues, so talk to your dog’s breeder or veterinarian about diet and panosteitis.
PRA and Other Eye Disorders
Labs are, unfortunately, at risk for several eye disorders, including progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataracts, and retinal dysplasia. With PRA there is a progressive deterioration of the retina. Gradually the dog becomes blind. This is thought to be inherited, and all dogs who develop symptoms should be removed from a breeding program. Unfortunately, this problem usually shows up between 4 to 6 years of age, so some affected dogs may have already been used for breeding.
Cataracts cause cloudiness in the lens of the eye, and severe cataracts can cause blindness. Cataracts that develop early in the dog’s life are almost always inherited, while those that appear in dogs who are 10 years of age or older are usually due to old age. Some cataracts can be removed, so talk to your veterinarian when signs of cloudiness first appear.
Retinal dysplasia is an abnormal development of the retina. In mild cases the vision is only slightly affected, but in more severe cases the dog is blind. This disease is often associated with Labs who carry the genes for dwarfism.
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Unfortunately, there are several health problems that affect many Labrador Retrievers. That doesn’t mean every Lab has these problems, but they do have a tendency to show up in the breed. It’s very important that when you choose your new dog, you discuss these health problems with the breeder. Ideally, they have tested all of their breeding animals before breeding. Your veterinarian should also be aware of these disorders, not just so they can be diagnosed, but also so they can keep up on the newest treatments.
Bloat, or gastric torsion, is the acute dilation of the stomach, caused when the stomach fills with gas and air and, as a result, swells. This swelling prevents the dog from vomiting or passing gas. Consequently, the pressure builds, cutting off blood from the heart and to other parts of the body. This causes shock or heart failure, either of which can cause death. Bloat can also cause torsion, where the stomach turns on its long axis, again causing death.
The first symptoms of bloat are obvious. The dog will be pacing or panting, showing signs of distress. The dog’s sides will begin to distend. To be successful, treatment should begin at once – there is no time to waste. If the pressure is not immediately relieved, death can follow within an hour. Get your dog to the nearest veterinary emergency clinic.
To prevent bloat, do not allow your Lab to drink large quantities of water after exercising or after eating. Feed two smaller meals each day instead of one large meal, and limit exercise after eating until a couple of hours have passed. Feed a good-quality food, preferably one that does not expand significantly when wet and does not produce large quantities of gas.
To see how much your dog’s food expands, or to see how much gas the food produces, take a handful of the kibble and drop it in a bowl of warm water. After fifteen minutes, look at the food. Some foods will be wet but will not enlarge. This is good. Other foods will triple their size when wet. This can be dangerous if it happens in your dog’s stomach. Some foods will be producing gas bubbles, almost as if they were carbonated. Again, this can be bad news in your dog’s stomach.
Unfortunately some Lab bloodlines seem to be prone to cancer. Cancer in dogs, just as in people, is not one disease but a variety of diseases. Although research is continuing, it is unknown how or why some cells go on a rampage and become cancerous.
When you examine your Lab each day, be aware of any lumps or bumps you might feel, especially as your dog is growing older. Your veterinarian can biopsy any suspicious lump, and if it is cancer, many times it can be removed. Early removal offers the best chance of success. Unfortunately, cancer is often fatal.
Cold Water Tail
It has been reported that after a day or two of heavy hunting, with the obvious excitement resulting in strong tail wagging by the dog, along with repeated exposure to cold water, the muscles at the base of the tail swell. This strange-sounding disorder really isn’t that uncommon, especially in the hunting Lab community. Experts are still looking at the condition to see if the muscles alone are involved or whether the swelling of the muscles presses on nerves.
In any case, when it occurs, the tail hangs limp and the dog appears to be in discomfort. With rest and anti-inflammatory medications, the dog recovers.
There are two types of dwarfism seen in Labs. The first is associated with retinal dysplasia (see page 86). In this form of dwarfism, the dog may have vision problems or blindness from the retinal dysplasia and have skeletal problems as well.
The dog’s head is usually larger than normal and the legs are short and bowed outwards. The dog will have a Bulldog-type appearance.
The second type of dwarfism is thought to be caused by a decrease in growth hormones produced by the pituitary gland. As a result, the dog does not grow correctly. These dogs appear to be in proportion with no skeletal deformities, but just remain very small. In addition, the coat may be softer than it should be and woolly, and the dog may develop hair loss.
Any dogs showing any symptoms of dwarfism should be spayed or neutered, and the breeder needs to be informed so they can take another look at their breeding program.
Elbow dysplasia is thought to be due to the incorrect development of the three bones that make up the elbow. The affected elbow can be painful, inhibit movement, and can develop arthritis.
Epilepsy (a seizure disorder) can occur in Labrador Retrievers. Idiopathic epilepsy (the form of epilepsy that is not caused by a brain tumor, injury, or other obvious cause) tends to be inherited and usually appears between the ages of 1 and 3 years, although it may first appear up to about 7 years of age. The intensity of the seizures can vary, from mild twitches and a dazed look in the eyes to full convulsions. Managing epilepsy will require a close partnership with your veterinarian.
This disorder usually appears in dogs between the ages of 7 months and 2 years. The dog can usually play just fine, but after about five to twenty minutes of heavy exercise or hard training (as with field training), she begins to appear stiff. The rear legs become weak and often collapse. In some cases, the forelegs also become weak and unable to support the dog’s weight. The dog may appear to be disoriented. Some dogs die.
This disorder is still being studied. Because littermates may all show signs of the disorder, it is currently thought to be inherited. Treatments vary, as do the dog’s ability to recover. If a Lab shows signs of this disorder during strenuous exercise, all exercise should stop immediately, and the dog should be taken to the veterinarian.
Hip dysplasia is a failure of the head of the femur (thighbone) to fit into the acetabulum (hip socket). Hip dysplasia is not just caused by poorly formed or malpositioned bones; many researchers believe the muscles and tendons in the leg and hip may also play a part.
Hip dysplasia is considered a polygenic inherited disorder, which means many different genes may lead to the disease. Also, environmental factors may contribute to the development of hip dysplasia, including nutrition and exercise, although the part environmental factors play in the disease is highly debated among experts.
Hip dysplasia can cause a wide range of problems, from mild lameness to movement irregularities to crippling pain. Dogs with hip dysplasia must often limit their activities, may need corrective surgery, or may even need to be euthanized because of the pain.
Contrary to popular belief, hip dysplasia cannot be diagnosed by watching a dog run or by the way she lies down. It can only be diagnosed accurately by special X-ray. Once the X-ray is taken, it can be sent to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP), which reads, grades, and certifies the X-rays of dogs over the age of 2 years. Sound hips are rated excellent, good, or fair, and the dog’s owner receives a certificate with the rating. A dysplastic dog will be rated as mild, moderate, or severe. Any dog who is found to be dysplastic should be removed from any breeding program and spayed or neutered.
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The easiest way to make sure your dog is well cared for is to set up a routine, then follow this routine each and every day without fail. Without a routine, it’s too easy to say to yourself, “I had a tough day at work today, I’ll do that tomor¬row.” Eventually, if you procrastinate enough, you’ll forget what you were going to do. Your dog is the one who will suffer.
The Daily Inspection
Once a day, you need to run your hands over your Labrador Retriever – not just over the coat as you would do when you pet your dog, but run your fingers through and under the coat so you can feel the dog’s skin. As you do this, you will get to know the feel of your dog. Then if a tick latches on and buries its head in your dog’s skin, you will feel it with your fingers. If your dog cuts herself, or has a lump or bruise or a skin rash, you will feel it. By checking the dog like this everyday, you will find these things before they turn into bigger problems.
After you finish brushing your dog, put the brushes down, and starting at the dog’s head again, run your hands over your dog’s head, around the muzzle, over the skull, feeling around the base of the ears, through the thick neck hair, mak¬ing sure you touch every square inch of skin. Take your time as you do this. Think of it as giving your dog a gentle massage. Your dog may go to sleep as you massage, but make sure you don’t. Stay alert and look for problems.
As you massage and examine your Lab, become familiar with every part of her body. Let your hands and fingers learn what your dog feels like. Run your hands over the shoulders, down the front legs, over the ribcage, and down the back to the hips. Run your hands down each leg, handling each toe on each paw, checking for burrs and foxtails, cuts and scratches. Don’t forget to run your hands down the tail, too, checking for lumps, bumps, and burrs.
A side benefit of this daily exam will show up when you need to take your Lab to the veterinarian. Your dog will be used to intimate handling and will not be as stressed by it as a dog who is not handled in this manner.
Check the Ears, Teeth, and Skin
Skin allergies are not uncommon in this breed. Skin allergies can show up as red skin, a rash, hives, or a weeping, oozing sore. If during your daily exam you see a skin problem developing, get your Lab in to your veterinarian right away. It’s much easier to treat a skin problem when it’s first starting than it is later when the problem has spread and the dog is tormented by the itching. Your vet¬erinarian might also be able to help you identify the cause of the sensitivity.
During your daily exam, check also for cuts, scrapes, bruises, and sores. If you find any minor cuts and scrapes, you can wash them with soap and water and apply a mild antibiotic ointment. However, if a cut is gaping or looks red and inflamed, call your veterinarian
What vaccines dogs need and how often they need them has been a subject of controversy for several years. Researchers, healthcare professionals, vaccine manufacturers, and dog own¬ers do not always agree on which vaccines each dog needs or how often booster shots must be given.
In 2006, the American Animal Hospital Association issued a set of vaccination guidelines and recommendations intended to help dog owners and veterinarians sort through much of the controversy and conflicting information. The guidelines desig¬nate four vaccines as core, or essential, for every dog, because of the serious nature of the diseases and their widespread dis¬tribution. These are canine distemper virus (using a modified live virus or recombinant modified live virus vaccine), canine parvovirus (using a modified live virus vaccine), canine aden-ovirus-2 (using a modified live virus vaccine), and rabies (using a killed virus). The general recommendations for their adminis¬tration (except rabies, for which you must follow local laws) are:
– Vaccinate puppies at 6-8 weeks, 9-11 weeks, and 12-14 weeks.
– Give an initial “adult” vaccination when the dog is older than 16 weeks; two doses, three to four weeks apart, are advised, but one dose is considered protective and acceptable.
– Give a booster shot when the dog is 1 year old.
– Give a subsequent booster shot every three years, unless there are risk factors that make it necessary to vaccinate more or less often.
Noncore vaccines should only be considered for those dogs who risk exposure to a particular disease because of geographic area, lifestyle, frequency of travel, or other issues. They include vaccines against distemper-measles virus, canine parainfluenza virus, leptospirosis, Bordetella bronchiseptica, and Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease).
Vaccines that are not generally recommended because the disease poses little risk to dogs or is easily treatable, or the vaccine has not been proven to be effective, are those against giardia, canine coronavirus, and canine adenovirus-1.
Often, combination injections are given to puppies, with one shot containing several core and noncore vaccines. Your veteri¬narian may be reluctant to use separate shots that do not include the noncore vaccines, because they must be specially ordered. If you are concerned about these noncore vaccines, talk to your vet.
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External parasites live on the outside of your dog’s body. They are called para¬sites because they need your dog for life – either for food or to continue their life cycle. Without your dog, these creatures would die. Unfortunately, parasites can also cause your dog great discomfort, irritation, illness, and sometimes even death. It’s very important that you keep an eye on your dog and make sure par¬asites stay off him.
Fleas are about the size of the head of a pin, but the dangers these little bloodsucking pests pose to your dog are formidable. A flea is a crescent-shaped insect with six legs. It is a tremendous jumper. Fleas live by biting a host animal and drinking its blood.
You can see fleas by brushing the dog’s coat against the lie of the hair and looking at the skin. A flea will appear as a tiny darting speck, trying to hide in the hair. Fleas show up best on the dog’s belly, near the genitals. You can also look for them by having your dog lie on a solid-colored sheet and brushing vigorously. If you see salt-and-pepper–type residue falling to the sheet, your Labrador Retriever has fleas. The residue is made up of fecal matter (the “pepper”) and eggs (the “salt”).
Making Your Environment Flea Free
If there are fleas on your dog, there are fleas in your home, yard, and car, even if you can’t see them. Take these steps to combat them.
In your home:
– Wash whatever is washable (the dog bed, sheets, blankets, pillow covers, slipcovers, curtains, etc.).
– Vacuum everything else in your home – furniture, floors, rugs, everything. Pay special attention to the folds and crevices in uphol¬stery, cracks between floorboards, and the spaces between the floor and the baseboards. Flea larvae are sensitive to sunlight, so inside the house they prefer deep carpet, bedding, and cracks and crevices.
– When you’re done, throw the vacuum cleaner bag away – in an outside garbage can.
– Use a nontoxic flea-killing powder, such as Flea Busters or Zodiac FleaTrol, to treat your carpets (but remember, it does not control fleas elsewhere in the house). The powder stays deep in the carpet and kills fleas (using a form of boric acid) for up to a year.
– If you have a particularly serious flea problem, consider using a fog-ger or long-lasting spray to kill any adult and larval fleas, or having a professional exterminator treat your home.
A heavy infestation can kill a dog, especially the very young and very old. Keep in mind that each time a flea bites, it eats a drop or two of blood. Multiply numerous bites a day by the number of fleas, and you can see how dangerous an infestation can be.
Fleas’ biting their host can also cause other problems. Many Labs are allergic to the flea’s saliva and scratch each bite until a sore develops. This is called flea allergy dermatitis and is a serious problem in many areas of the country. Fleas can also carry disease, such as plague, and are the intermediary host for tapeworms, an internal parasite.
To reduce the flea population, you need to treat the dog and his environment (see the box above). If you treat only the dog and do not treat the house, yard, and car, your Lab will simply become reinfested. Flea eggs can live in the envi¬ronment for years, waiting for the right conditions to hatch. This is not an insect that can be ignored!
In your car:
– Take out the floor mats and hose them down with a strong stream of water, then hang them up to dry in the sun.
– Wash any towels, blankets, or other bedding you regularly keep in the car.
– Thoroughly vacuum the entire interior of your car, paying special attention to the seams between the bottom and back of the seats.
– When you’re done, throw the vacuum cleaner bag away—in an out¬side garbage can.
In your yard:
– Flea larvae prefer shaded areas that have plenty of organic material and moisture, so rake the yard thoroughly and bag all the debris in tightly sealed bags.
– Spray your yard with an insecticide that has residual activity for at least thirty days. Insecticides that use a form of boric acid are non-toxic. Some newer products contain an insect growth regulator (such as fenoxycarb) and need to be applied only once or twice a year.
– For an especially difficult flea problem, consider having an extermi¬nator treat your yard.
– Keep your yard free of piles of leaves, weeds, and other organic debris. Be especially careful in shady, moist areas, such as under bushes.
If you have any questions about what is safe to use on your Labrador Retriever, call your veterinarian or groomer. If you have questions about how to use a particular product, call the manufacturers. They will be more than willing to talk to you and explain exactly how the product should be used.
As you examine your Lab for fleas, also check for ticks that may have lodged in the ears or in the hair at the base of the ear, the armpits, or around the genitals. Don’t just grab and pull or the tick’s head may separate from the body. If the head remains in the skin, an infection or abscess may result, and veterinary treatment may be required.
How to Get Rid of a Tick
Although the new generation of flea fighters are partially effec¬tive in killing ticks once they are on your dog, they are not 100 percent effective and will not keep ticks from biting your dog in the first place. During tick season (which, depending on where you live, can be spring, summer, and/or fall), examine your dog every day for ticks. Pay particular attention to your dog’s neck, behind the ears, the armpits, and the groin.
When you find a tick, use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close as possible to the dog’s skin and pull it out using firm, steady pressure. Check to make sure you get the whole tick (mouth parts left in your dog’s skin can cause an infection), then wash the wound and dab on some antibiotic ointment. Watch for signs of inflammation.
Ticks carry very serious diseases that are transmittable to humans, so dispose of the tick safely. Never crush it between your fingers. Don’t flush it down the toilet either, because the tick will survive the trip and infect another animal. Instead, use the tweezers to place the tick in a tight-sealing jar or plastic dish with a little alcohol, put on the lid, and dispose of the container in an outdoor garbage can. Wash the tweezers thoroughly with hot water and alcohol.
A word of caution: Don’t use your fingers or fingernails to pull out ticks. Ticks can carry a number of diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and several others, all of which can be very serious for both dogs and humans. A couple of weeks after removing ticks from her dogs (using her fingers), a friend of mine came down with viral encephalitis, a serious disease. After quizzing her, her doctor believed she got the disease from the ticks. Fortunately, she is now okay, but a pair of tweezers would have saved her and her husband a lot of pain and worry
Although some flea products are advertised as being able to kill ticks, too, the best way to make sure your Lab is tick-free is to examine his body regularly. Make it part of a daily exam.
Mites are tiny creatures. Experts say we all have them – humans, canines, and all other creatures, including the ones who live in the ocean. The mites that infest your dog usually do so without causing a problem. However, when the dog is stressed or his immune system is threatened, sometimes the mites can proliferate out of control. Some dogs may also have sensitivities to mites.
Sarcoptic mange is caused by a mite that bites your dog. Your Lab will itch, scratch horribly, and you will see tiny red bumps and patchy, crusty areas on his body, legs, and stomach. Your veterinarian will need to treat him, but this con¬dition usually responds very well to treatment.
Demodectic mange is caused by a different mite. Often dogs with this do not itch and sometimes act as if there is no problem at all. The first spots usually show up on the dog’s face as small, moth-eaten–looking spots where the hair is missing. Again, the veterinarian needs to treat this mite infestation.
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Keeping your Lab clean and brushed is only a small part of the body care he needs. The rest of the grooming chores can be done when you brush your dog, or you can set up a separate routine for them. Just make sure you remember to do them regularly. Don’t forget!
Each time you brush your Labrador Retriever, you should check his ears for dirt and wax buildup. Because the Lab’s ears are folded down (called drop ears), when his ears get wet, they may stay wet. Bacteria, wax, and dirt can build up and cause infections. If the dog’s ears have a sour smell or seem to be extremely dirty, or if the dog is pawing at his ears or shaking his head, call your veterinarian immediately
To clean the ears, fold one earflap up over the dog’s head so the ear rests on the top of his head. Dampen a cotton swab with witch hazel and gently clean out the ear, getting the swab into all the cracks and crevices of the ear. Never put anything down the dog’s ear canal. You may want to use two or three cotton swabs per ear, especially if the ear is dirty. Leave the ear flap up for a moment or two so the inside of the ear can dry. Then turn the dog around and repeat on the other ear.
If your Lab has some matter in the corners of his eyes, just use a damp paper towel to wipe it off. It’s just like the sleep matter you sometimes have when you wake up. However, if your dog has a different type of discharge, or his eyes are red and irritated, call your veterinarian. Get him into the vet right away if you see a foreign object—such as a grass seed—in his eye.
If you start when your Lab is a puppy, keeping his teeth clean can be easy. Take some gauze from your first-aid kit and wrap it around your index finger. Dampen it and dip it in baking soda. Take that baking soda and rub it over your
dog’s teeth, working gently over each tooth, the inside and the outside, and into the gum line, taking care not to hurt the dog.
The rubbing action of the rough gauze and the chemical characteristics of the baking soda will help prevent plaque formation and will get rid of the bacteria that form on the teeth and gums.
Do two or three teeth and let your dog have a drink. Then work on a couple more. You may even want to break it into several sessions, doing half or a quar¬ter of the dog’s mouth at each session.
Your dog’s nails need to be trimmed regularly, preferably once a week. If the nails get too long, they can actually deform the foot by applying pressure against the ground, causing the toes to be pushing into an unnatural position. Long nails are more prone to breaking and tearing, too, and that can be as painful to the dog as it is when we tear a long fingernail. However, if the nails are trimmed regularly, you can keep them short and healthy.
There are two basic types of nail clippers. One is shaped much like a pair of scissors, and the other has a guillotine-type blade. The scissors-type can be found in a large size that will cut the Lab’s larger nails.
With your clippers in hand, have your dog lie down on the floor in front of you. Take one foot and pull the hair back from the nail so you can see the entire nail. If your dog’s nails are black, you won’t be able to see the quick, which is the bundle of nerves running inside the nail; but if your Labrador Retriever has one or two white nails, you will be able to see the pink quick inside. When you trim the nails, if you cut into the quick, the nail will bleed and your dog will cry. The quick is just like your nail bed and hurts just as much if it is cut. So trim the nails just beyond the quick.
A healthy Labrador Retriever should have a shiny coat, clean ears, and short nails. The dog shouldn’t smell or be offensive in any way Use your common sense when grooming your dog. If you are unfamiliar with a shampoo, dip, or other grooming product, read the label. If you are worried a certain product might be too harsh or might be dangerous to you, don’t use it on your dog. If you have questions, call a local groomer.
If your dog has a white nail, you can use it as a guide in determining how much to trim. However, if all your dog’s nails are black, you will have to take it a little slower. Look at the nail’s shape. It is arched, and if the nails are long, there is a slight hook at the end. You can safely trim that hook without cutting the quick. Then, very carefully, take off just a little more.
Obviously, you will know when you hit the quick—you’ll feel guilty because your dog is crying and bleeding. Don’t panic. Take a bar of soap and rub the nail along the soap. The soap will clog the nail for a few minutes until the nail can clot. Now, while the soap is in the nail, hold that paw and look at the nail you cut. How far did you go? Trim the other nails using that one as a guide but tak¬ing less off the rest.
Many dogs dislike having their nails trimmed. Some will whine or cry so much you may even think you have cut into the quick. Other dogs will try to escape from you, fighting and wiggling. If your Lab dislikes nail trimming, try to make it as pleasant as possible. Have the nail clippers at hand, but hidden, perhaps in your pocket. Have your dog lie down in front of you and then give him a massage, slowly and gently. When the dog is relaxed, touch one of his feet, also slowly and gently. Then go back to massaging, then touch his feet again. By doing this, you are showing him that touching his feet is painless and is followed by more massaging.
When your dog will let you touch his paws without reacting, have the nail clippers in hand as you massage, then trim one nail. Trim just one, then go back to massaging. When he is relaxed, trim one more. And so on. If your dog is very frightened of nail trimming, you may want to break this down even further, doing one paw per massage session.
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As a breed developed to be in the water often (originally to retrieve fish and birds from very cold water), Labs have an oily coat. Their skin produces these oils to keep the coat waterproof, so the dog is protected from the cold. The oils in the Lab’s skin that help produce the shiny coat can also cause some problems, though. When those oils mix with dirt, they can cause the dog to smell. Most people refer to this as a “doggy smell,” and that it is, but you don’t have to live with it. So, depending upon your Labrador Retriever’s living environment and his work and play habits, you may wish to bathe him once a week or once a month.
When choosing a shampoo, ask your veterinarian or a dog groomer for recommendations. There are many shampoos on the market. When you buy the shampoo, read the label carefully. Some shampoos are made to be diluted in water, a capful or half a cup to a gallon of water. Other shampoos are formulated to use as is. Other shampoos, especially those formulated to kill fleas or ticks, must remain on the dog for two to five minutes before being rinsed off. To make sure you use the shampoo correctly, read the entire label. Don’t use shampoos made for people; these are much too harsh and will dry out your Lab’s skin and coat.
New Products in the Fight Against Fleas
At one time, battling fleas meant exposing your dog and your¬self to toxic dips, sprays, powders, and collars. But today there are flea preventives that work very well and are safe for your dog, you, and the environment. The two most common types are insect growth regulators (IGRs), which stop the immature flea from developing or maturing, and adult flea killers. To deal with an active infestation, experts usually recommend a prod¬uct that has both.
These next-generation flea fighters generally come in one of two forms:
– Topical treatments or spot-ons. These products are applied to the skin, usually between the shoulder blades. The product is absorbed through the skin into the dog’s system. Among the most widely available spot-ons are Advantage (kills adult fleas and larvae), Revolution (kills adult fleas), Frontline Plus (kills adult fleas and larvae, plus an IGR), K-9 Advantix (kills adult fleas and larvae), and BioSpot (kills adult fleas and larvae, plus an IGR).
– Systemic products. This is a pill your dog swallows that transmits a chemical throughout the dog’s bloodstream. When a flea bites the dog, it picks up this chemical, which then prevents the flea’s eggs from developing. Among the most widely available systemic products are Program (kills larvae only, plus an IGR) and Capstar (kills adult fleas).
Make sure you read all the labels and apply the products exactly as recommended, and that you check to make sure they are safe for puppies.
You can bathe your dog outside if the weather is warm and the water from your hose isn’t too cold, or you can bathe him in the bathtub. Either way, change into old clothes (you will get wet!) and leash your dog. Put a cotton ball in each of his ears so you don’t get water in them. Make sure he is thoroughly brushed first, then use the hose or shower to get him entirely wet. It can be hard sometimes to wet the dog clear to the skin – that wonderful double coat repels water well.
Once your Lab is wet, put some shampoo on your hands and start working it into the coat, starting at the head and ears and working down the neck. Be care¬ful not to get soap in his eyes. Continue until the dog is covered with shampoo. Don’t forget his legs, tummy, groin, and tail. Start rinsing in the same way, starting at his head and working down the body. Rinse thoroughly – any soap left on his body could make him itchy and may even cause a rash.
Once your Lab is thoroughly rinsed, let him shake off the excess water. Then, before you towel him off, go get your canister vacuum. Put the hose on the air exit port so the vacuum is blowing air instead of sucking air, and use that airstream to blow the excess water off your dog. Now towel dry him and, if you wish, use your blow-dryer to finish drying him. Just remember blow-dryers can get very hot, so be careful not to burn him with it. Never use the hottest setting.
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Your Labrador Retriever should be brushed two to three times each week. Brushing will reduce some of the hair in the house, and that’s always nice. But brushing also stimu¬lates the oil glands in the skin, which help keep the coat healthy and shiny. There are three grooming tools you can use.
A pin brush looks like a woman’s hairbrush. It has an oval head with numerous metal, pinlike bristles. These pins have round heads on them, like a bead. This brush will go through the coat down to the skin (and the bead on the bristle pre¬vents scratching the skin) and will loosen clumps of coat, dirt, grass seeds, burrs, or other debris. Use this brush first.
To brush your dog, lay him on his side and sit or kneel next to him so that you and he can both relax. Then, starting at his head, begin brushing in the direction the coat grows. Brush with the coat, from the head down to the tip of the tail. Make sure the brush goes all the way through the coat to the skin; don’t just skim over the top of the coat. By going through the coat to the skin, this brush will make sure the undercoat is not bunched, clumped, or stuck together. It will also pull out the dead undercoat.
When you have finished one side, then roll your dog over and do the same thing on the other side.
Not all Lab coats have the same density and texture. If your Lab has a more dense coat, the slicker brush may be a better choice. A slicker brush has many thin wire bristles that are bent at an angle. This brush is effective at getting out all the dead hair, especially from the undercoat. Use the slicker brush after the pin brush, and use it the same way you did the pin brush. Don’t forget the tail!
The next tool you will use is a shedding blade. This looks like a flexible saw blade bent into a U shape with a handle holding both blades together. This does not go through the coat but, instead, will pull out all the dead outercoat. With your dog still lying on his side, repeat your previous pattern, going over the dog from head to tail on each side with the shedding blade.
You may also wish to introduce your dog to a canister vacuum. If he will toler¬ate it, it will help tremendously to get the last bits of shedding coat off the dog. When you’re done brushing your Lab, you should have a dog with a clean, shiny coat and a garbage bag (or vacuum bag) full of loose hair.
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1. Don’t feed your Labrador Retriever chocolate, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, onions, or any highly spiced, greasy, or salty foods. The first five can be toxic, and spicy or junk foods can lead to an upset stomach.
2. Don’t believe all the dog food advertising you see and hear. Keep in mind that advertising has one goal: to get you to buy that product.
3. If you change foods for any reason, don’t do it all at once. Mix the foods so the dog has 25 percent new food and 75 percent old food for a week. Then feed half and half for a week. Finally, offer 75 percent new food and 25 percent old food for a week. This will decrease the chances of an upset stomach.
4. Nutritional changes are slow, so don’t keep switching every few weeks. Feed the new food for at least six to eight weeks before evaluating the results and making any other changes.
5. Don’t feed your Labrador Retriever from the table. This will lead to begging and even stealing.
6. Be careful about giving your Lab any bones, except raw beef knuckle¬bones. Labs have powerful jaws and could crack, splinter, and swallow smaller bones, which can cause choking and damage the gastrointestinal system.
7. When traveling, don’t assume your dog will be fine drinking the local tap water. On a trip, bring food and water from home to limit any digestive upsets.
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Dog owners who feed homemade diets usually do so because they are concerned about the quality of commercially available foods. Some owners do not want their dogs eating the additives or preservatives that are in many commercial dog foods. Others cook their dogs’ food so they can control exactly what their dogs eat. Many, many people began making homemade diets for their dogs during and after the pet food recalls of 2008.
There are many resources now available to dog owners who wish to feed a homemade diet. Just make sure the diet is complete and contains all the nutri¬ents your dog needs, and keep a line of communication open with your veteri¬narian so they can monitor your dog’s continued good health.
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Dog food sales in the US are a huge business with tremendous com¬petition among manufacturers. Dog owners should understand that, as a big business, these companies’ goals include making a profit. Although advertising may show a dog and owner in a warm and fuzzy, heart-tugging moment, the nutrition your dog might get from the food being advertised has nothing to do with that heart-tugging moment. It’s all about getting you to buy the food.
Dog owners must be wise consumers, and we cannot let the pet food recall of 2008 fade into memory. Read the dog food labels, check out the manufacturers’ Web sites, check the recall lists, and talk to dog food experts, including your vet¬erinarian if they have a background in nutrition.
A good-quality food is necessary for your Labrador Retrievers health. Dog foods vary in quality, from the very good to the terrible. To make sure you are using a high-quality food, read the labels on the packages. Make sure the food offers the levels of protein, carbohydrates, and fats recom¬mended earlier in this chapter.
Read the list of ingredients, too. If one of the first ingredients listed is by-prod¬ucts, be leery of the food. By-products are the parts of slaughtered animals that are not muscle meat—lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, fatty tissue, stomach, and intestines. Dog food manufacturers can meet protein requirements by including by-products, but they are inferior forms of protein that do not metab¬olize as completely in the dog’s body.
Labrador Retrievers do well on a dog food that uses a muscle meat as the first ingredient. Muscle meats are listed on the label simply as beef, chicken, fish, and so on. Steer away from foods with a lot of soy or soy products, as these are thought to contribute to stomach gas, which can lead to bloat
Many Labrador Retrievers have sensitivity to the grains used in many com¬mercial dog foods. Cereal grains, such as rice, wheat, corn, and barley, are used in commercial dog foods because they are inexpensive. However, many dogs, including many Labrador Retriever puppies, will develop a behavior problem when eating these foods. Cereal grains have a high glycemic index—they raise the dog’s blood sugar. Sensitive dogs will then become fidgety, wiggly, and have a hard time concentrating and learn¬ing. These Labs would do better eating a food with carbohydrates from potatoes, sweet potatoes, apples, or bananas, because these foods help maintain a stable blood sugar level with no spikes or valleys, and these foods are more easily
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