Lifestyle disease in dogs

Can my dog suffer from a lifestyle disease?

Lifestyle diseases are getting more and more common in dogs. In this blog we go through why there is such a rise in lifestyle diseases in dogs and what you can do to keep your dog healthy throughout his/her entire life.

The dog was domesticated 15.000-32.000 years ago. With domestication we have seen many behavioral changes as our dogs adapt to our way of living. It started with us humans going from migrants to settlers, then we started farming the lands and then cities began to rise all over the world.

Our dogs have followed us faithfully from the very beginning of their domestication, where a wolf had her pups in a settlement and the pups where taken in by a human.

In previous blog posts I have talked about how the domestication have affected our dogs’ emotional development (Emotions in dogs) and how the relation between humans and dogs have evolved (The relation between human and dog – how strong is it really?), but how has the domestication affected their physical needs? And how do their physical needs today affect their behavior?

Lifestyle disease in dogs
A lifestyle disease can be due to your dog not getting the right nutrition.

Life in the fast lane increase the risk of lifestyle disease

Lifestyle diseases in humans has been a problem ever since we started to urbanize our lives. Humans exercise less and the range of fast food that is continuously popping up for our convenience, leads to less and less home cooked wholesome meals. Our lives are stressed, and grabbing something to go on the way to and from work or our many activities, is often the easiest fix to silent our hunger.

This stressful lifestyle we are carrying are not only affecting us negatively in the range of different lifestyle diseases, it is also affecting our dogs.

Dogs used to roam around on the farm, following the farmer as he went about his business. Sometimes, getting lucky and snatching a bone from the recent slaughter of a cow. Nowadays, our dogs are left at home for several hours each day. We pour their kibble in a bowl for them once or twice a day and take them on the mandatory walk around the blog. The rest of the time is spent inside four walls, probably snoozing on the couch. It is not surprising that next time you take your dog to his/her annual vet check he/she has gained 5 kilos and your vet gives you disapproving looks.

It is estimated that one in three dogs suffers from obesity, and with obesity, just like in us humans, we can say hello to diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, breathing problems, skin problems and heart disease, just to mention some.

While humans often develop type 2 diabetes due to their unhealthy diet, dogs often develop type 1 diabetes, which demands that they get insulin. The arthritis aches in their bones due to carrying around so much weight for an extensive amount of time, while the extra weight has also caused pressure on their lungs making it hard to breathe properly, also affecting the heart as it struggles with the extra kilos surrounding it. Not to mention the itchy scaly skin that just makes life very uncomfortable. It is a grim picture for sure, but sadly the news that our dogs are overweight are surprising to many.

With love comes food, right?

We feel bad for leaving our dogs for so long so we give them that little extra to nipple on, so they will know that we love them. We want to walk them more, but we just haven’t gotten around to it and taking the normal route around the blog keeps us from spending too much energy.

The diseases will automatically affect our dog’s behavior. Pain can alter a dog’s behavior to the unrecognizable and your once so sweet pooch can turn into an aggressive, angry terror. Obesity can limit your dog’s mobility to a point where he/she won’t even bother fetching the ball you just threw as the effort is simply too much. You might think they are just lazy or don’t like the ball, but maybe it is because they simply don’t have the energy to play as their heart is already working overtime to keep the regular body functions going.

How to minimize the risk of a lifestyle disease

Here is the silver lining.

By exercising your dog more you not only help your dog, you also help yourself. Studies have shown that dog owners who walk their dogs daily for at least 30 minutes are less likely to develop heart diseases and diabetes. By walking your dog, you lower your blood pressure and are less likely to develop depression and then it of course keeps those extra kilos around your tummy at bay.

Dogs need a healthy balanced diet, lots of exercise and enrichment to keep both their body and mind healthy. If your dog is suffering from overweight have a chat with your vet to learn about the best kibble to feed and how much exercise they estimate your dog needs on a daily basis. Then make a schedule for your dog to make sure you comply with the recommendations both in regard to their food and their daily exercise. Remember no feeding them table scraps. Instead use the many enrichment ideas here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1k6j-eStlk0&list=PLKSDzqanrS38ahzYGg79Hyz5VeTCTmFRU)

to come up with new ways to enrich your dog’s mind while giving them that little extra exercise they get from working for their food.

Have fun and keep up the exercise!

OCD in dogs

OCD in dogs – A 6 point plan to action

Can dogs really suffer from OCD?

The answer is yes dogs can suffer from compulsive disorders (OCD)!

https://youtu.be/Q4hyp0ZIgi0

In dogs’ compulsive disorders are displayed just like OCD in humans – A normal behavior done to an excessive degree. They will display a normal behavior, such as digging, but while other dogs stop after some time, a dog with compulsive disorder (OCD) will continue to dig and dig and it is not possible for them to stop. 

The behavior might also be displayed in scenarios not common for that specific behavior. A compulsive behavior starts as a normal behavior performed under a stressful situation and that gives the dog a relieve from the stress, he/she feels. To find a release from the stress is normal, the problem arises when the dog cannot stop doing that behavior. The reward for doing the stress relieving behavior is so strong that the dog wants to do it again and again, until it becomes ritualized and repetitive, an OCD behavior.

The most common behaviors that can turn into compulsive disorders are licking, digging, spinning, tail chasing and barking. Some breeds are more disposed to develop compulsive behaviors then others. Bull terriers and German Shepherds have a higher disposition for developing tail chasing. Labrador retrievers can display oral compulsive behaviors like pica (a dog picks up something in his/her mouth and eats it) and Doberman pinchers are known for flank sucking.

Compulsive behaviors (OCD) can often lead to severe damage on your dog. A dog can dig until his paws draw blood, or lick or bite on his tail until there is a wound or skin infection. Some might even need an amputation due to the severe damage.

OCD in dogs

What can you do to help your OCD dog?

  1. CONTACT YOUR VETERINARIAN.

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from a compulsive disorder, then the first thing you need to do is contact your veterinarian. The veterinarian will give a thorough medical exam to make sure that your dog is not suffering from anything else before giving your dog a compulsive disorder diagnoses (OCD). Having a compulsive disorder is highly stressful for your dog and you might need medical help until you learn how to work with a dog with compulsive disorder. In severe cases your dog might have to stay on the medicine throughout his/her life.

2. CONTACT AN ETHOLOGIST

After you have gotten the diagnosis and help from your vet you need to contact a certified behaviorist (Ethologist). He/She will help you make a plan for how to help you and your dog to best work with the compulsive disorder.

(Contact me today for a consultation)

3. REMOVE ALL TRIGGERS

The next step you need to take is to remove all possible triggers for your dog’s compulsive disorder. This is important to minimize the risk of triggering the compulsive behavior and thereby making it easier to help your dog to stop performing it. The behaviorist and you should also look at what happens right before your dog goes into his compulsive behavior and what might be the underlying emotions for that.

4. CREATE A ROUTINE.

Dogs with compulsive disorders have a higher tendency to stress and need even more structure and set routines then normal dogs. They thrive best when they can foresee what will happen next and that will keep their stress level down. Increased stress will often trigger the compulsive disorder more.

5. MAKE AN ENRICHMENT SCHEDULE

Then you need to set up a well-balanced enrichment schedule for your dog. It is important not to overstimulate a dog with tendencies to compulsive behaviors, but you also need to enrich their minds in order to get them tired so the need of performing the behavior is not triggered more due to excess energy (frustration). It is a fine balance that is very individual for each dog, which is why it is so important to work with a professional.

(Get enrichment ideas here)

6. TEACH YOUR DOG COPING MECHANISMS

Once your dog goes into his compulsive behavior it can be nearly impossible to stop them without force which is why you need to teach your dog other coping mechanisms to use when he/she feels stressed. These coping mechanisms could be, instead of licking or biting my tail I can take my teddy and hold it in my mouth, or instead of digging, I can find a stick and play fetch with my human.

OCD in dogs – A 6 point plan to action 1
fur-color and behavior

Can your dog’s sparkling fur color tell you about his/her behavior?

Does the color of a dog’s fur really say something about their behavior?

Well yes it can!

Where does the color come from?

Dogs come in all different types of colors these days, even within the same breed you can get different colors. The colors come from 2 different types of pigment – Eumelanin and Pheomelanin. Eumelanin gives black fur and Pheomelanin gives red, yellow and brown.

Dogs did not always come in so many colors. Wolves, as we know, are not found in this many colors. The many different colors in a dog fur was created throughout the dogs’ domestication. In fact, the changes in the dog’s fur was the first signs that domestication had begun. But not only did they change fur color they also started losing their color. Throughout the dog’s domestication the offspring started getting little white spots in their fur. This was linked to Eumelanin slowly being decreased and then through generations evolved into offspring being completely white individuals (read more about the dog’s domestication here).

The Fox experiment

Can your dog's sparkling fur color tell you about his/her behavior? 2

The geneticist Belyayev and his team was interested in what happens when you try to domesticate a species, in this case a fox ( Watch more about the experiment here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HsIibD-TLcM).

Belyayev and his team decided to see if they could explain what happens both to an animal’s genetics but also behavior during domestication. They captured foxes and bread them. After each breeding they would pick the tamest offspring and make them next in line to breed. Then they would again pick the tamest individuals and have them breed and that continued over many generations.

By picking out the tamest individuals, a.k.a the least afraid and aggressive, and breeding them, they found that after a few generations the offspring started to have white spots in their fur. The white seemed to increase after every new generation. What is interesting here is that Belyayev and his team picked the tamest individuals for breeding and ended up affecting other aspects of the foxes physical appearances. In this case tameness is related to loss of pigmentation. The fact that the foxes started getting white spots in their fur is not surprising as a gene often codes for more than one thing. In this case the gene that coded for tameness also coded for pigmentation.

Although no one knows how exactly this happens, the physiology behind might be able to explain why this loss of pigmentation affects a dog’s behavior. The production for Eumelanin and Dopamine are related in the body. Dopamine has a big influence in how the brain works in social contexts making it plausible that by decreasing the production of Eumelanin you also affect the Dopamine production, changing the way the brain works and thereby affecting the way an animal behaves.  

The red colored Cockers

A study in Spain performed a behavior study on Cocker Spaniels. They found that red Cocker Spaniels showed more aggression to people then black or mixed colored Cocker Spaniels. Here, the gene coding for a higher risk of developing aggression is also the gene coding for pigmentation.

Risk of disease

Can your dog's sparkling fur color tell you about his/her behavior? 3

Science has also found that certain colors are correlated with risk of certain diseases. This is the case for Australian Shepherds who are born white but also deaf. They are missing the pigment Eumelanin who not only gives the black color but also has a specific function in the inner ear. Without Eumelanin the white dogs go deaf.

This proves that the fur color of your dog can have an affect on his/her behavior and that we as owners need to take that into consideration when we work with our dogs.

A myth that we actually can confirm as being true.   

Emotions in dogs

Emotions in dogs – How is your dog feeling?

Behind every behavior lies an emotion.

Talking about emotions in dogs is something relatively new in the scientific world of dog behavior. The neuroscientist Gregory Berns was one of the first to establish that dogs really does empathize with us and that what we feel can be transferred down to our dog and make them feel the same. Do they love us? You bet!

But what are they feeling themselves and how do they portray those feelings, and more importantly how do we as humans learn how to read and understand those emotions?

A dogs’ emotions

Emotions in dogs - How is your dog feeling? 4

A dog has emotions just like we do, and as we know from ourselves, emotions are never neutral and can vary in intensity. The core emotions help your dog to survive and are beneficial, it is when an emotion turns into a permanent state that problems can arise.

Just like us, a dog can go from content to super happy or depressed and sad to downright frustrated. Emotions impact how their brain is structured and how it functions, through the signals of different neurotransmitters, which in return shapes their personality. Different emotions provoke different behaviors and different cocktails of neurotransmitters are wired in different situations. This creates quick changes in the different emotional states, making it hard to specifically pinpoint the exact emotion to an exact behavior.

How can you help your dog with his/her emotions?

Emotions in dogs - How is your dog feeling? 5

The first is to learn to read their body language as that is our dogs most pronounced communication with us when portraying their emotional state (more about that here).

The second is to learn how to teach our dogs. It has been shown that by using positive reinforcement we help our dog stay more balanced. Both low and high arousal in a dog affects their ability to learn, so it is our job as their human to find that golden in between, in order to optimize their learning. By using treats in our training, we also make the experience more pleasant. This increases the dogs’ willingness to stay focused on the training.

By providing a strong positive base for our dogs it can help them handle the always unavoidable unpleasant scenarios that exist in our environment and that we cannot control. Your dog will get scared or frustrated at some point in his/her lives, but by having that strong positive base with consistent positive reinforcement it is easier for them to bounce back and not enter a permanent state of fear or stress and thereby also avoiding a range of behavioral problems.

Emotions also have the amazing ability to spread backwards.

What does that mean?

Well, say that your dog loves to play with their toys, but doesn’t like to ride in the car. What if you play with the toys in the car and then take a ride? Then the car ride becomes a positive experience because you first did something that your dog already likes.

Sadly, it can also go the other way – say that fireworks go off right when you step out the door, and the next time you try to enter your dog is scared. His/her fear of fireworks has been transferred to a fear of the doorway.

However, if you have given him/her that positive base he/she is more likely to ‘yes get scared’ but then bounce back to normal faster. Stress and fear are not always negative. A little stress, the so-called eu-stress can be positive for your dog and so can a fear (helps your dog to survive by staying away from truly dangerous things). It is when staying in those states for a longer period that problems may arise.

It is important to remember that all dogs have friends, enemies and acquaintances – we cannot expect our dog to love everything! But by giving them different positive experiences with as many different things as possible, we create a strong foundation and early avoidance of problem behaviors that stems from negative emotions.

Remember, that first impression lasts, so make it a good positive one!

The take home message of today’s’ blog is therefore:

By understanding the underlying emotional state of our dog we can prevent a potential behavioral problem and not only create a better understanding of our dog but also improve the bond between us.

senior dogs

Senior dogs – How to make their senior years golden!

As a dog age, they change and so does their needs.

You might have noticed that those energetic puppy outbursts are getting fewer, your dog is taking longer naps and the walks seems slower than before.

Senior dog
Belga, my senior dog girl

A dog can be called a senior dog from the age of 7 and onward depending on the breed. In general smaller breeds live longer than bigger breeds and mixed breeds tend to live longer than purebreds. As a dog grows older you will begin to see differences in his/her behavior. Little hints here and there that shows you that age is catching up, showing you that your dog is becoming a senior dog.

What can you do to help your senior dog in his/her golden years?

Loss of hearing and sight

One of the first things to go with age is a dog’s ability to hear and see.

If you find that your dog doesn’t come to you anymore when you call him/her, or he/she can’t find the stick you just threw in front of him/her, it could be signs that your dog is losing his/her hearing or sight. Behavioral issues such as your dog being startled if you come from behind him/her, or reactive and latch out at you if you touch him/her are also signals that your dog might have trouble hearing. If you notice these signs you should always first take your dog to the vet and get him/her checked out as your senior dog might also be in pain.

But there are also things you can do yourself in order to give your senior dog the best conditions.

Show me your body language

Senior dogs - How to make their senior years golden! 6

Dogs are all about body language (Learn the basics in reading dog body language here) and they can understand your signals even better than you often can yourself. As your dog’s sight and hearing deteriorate, he/she will start to depend more and more on your body language.

Teaching your dog hand signals early on can help him/her better understand, and makes it easier for the both of you to communicate. As his/her hearing worsens you can use hand signals such as clapping your hands on the floor to get his/her attention as he/she will feel the vibration and then come to you.

Also avoid petting him/her without having him/her see you first. A dog can be very startled by such an approach and react with snapping or growling. It is a natural response and should of course never be punished. Just imagine how you react when you get startled.  

Loss of vision can be helped by you always keeping the house clutter free, and keeping the furniture, his/her basket and his/her food and water bowl in the same location. That way your dog will memorize the home and have no trouble getting around by himself/herself. If you are moving with a senior dog, make sure to give time for helping your dog finding and learning his/her way around his/her new home.

Come on buddy, keep up

Have you noticed that your senior dog has started lacking behind you in walks or might even stop and lie down?

As a dog age so does his/her joints and bones, and he/she might suffer from pain when walking. Again, it is important to always take your dog to the vet to rule out any ailment and perhaps get some medicinal support to take the top of your dog’s pain.

An elderly dog doesn’t need that much exercise so keep the walks shorter and maybe put a few more short walks in during the day. A senior dog might also have trouble keeping house clean so more walks can also help him/her relief himself/herself more often and keep him/her from having accidents inside. Avoid having your senior dog jump up in the car but help him/her in and out using a ramp or simply by caring him/her. Also avoid stairs and don’t call your dog unnecessarily when he/she is lying down – go to him/her instead if you want to give him/her cuddles.

Besides the walk, a good massage is nice for anyone with sore joints and muscles and helps the blood circulation which in turn keeps the joints stronger and healthier for longer. Your senior dog will also have trouble regulating his/her heat, so make sure that he/she has a nice cozy bed maybe even close to a heater so he/she can stay nice and warm during those cold months of winter. This of course also goes the other way. You need to make sure that your dog doesn’t get too warm during the summer, and make sure he/she has a place to go to where he/she can cool off.

I might be old, but I can still think

Does your dog understand you

The phrase “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” might be true for humans but certainly not for dogs. Dogs can learn throughout their life and it is important that we as their humans keep their mind sharp and keep giving them mental stimulation – letting them sniff after their food in their basket or giving them that frozen stuffed Kong filled with goodies for them to yum up is essential even for a senior dog (more enrichment ideas here.)

In fact, due to the shorter walks I would say it is even more important to incorporate mental enrichment in your senior dog’s everyday life to keep that mind sharp. It might take longer for him/her to learn a new trick but that doesn’t make it impossible and think of all the fun you will have while training.  When his/her mind does start to weaken and he/she starts to forget the things he/she used to know, stay patient with him/her and instead focus on the stuff that you can still do.

I will stay calm when you are stressed

You might have noticed your dog is starting to react different when you take him/her out. He/She seems a little more nervous and doesn’t want to socialize with the dogs or humans you meet anymore. Older dogs are easier stressed and can become anxious. It is important that you listen to these signs, as your dog’s anxiety might worsen if you keep putting him/her in situations that he/she is uncomfortable with. He/She might not enjoy the dog pen anymore, so maybe it is better to have him/her play in your yard with his/her best friends – a dog play date! He/She might want to be closer to you or have more alone time, either one should be respected and nurtured.

Keeping up your dog’s daily routine helps him/her from becoming anxious, along with continuous mental stimulation to keep him/her engaged and tire him/her out. If you want to go out, then maybe leave him/her at home where he/she is more comfortable or get a pet-sitter to come and be with him/her while you are away. Most importantly, stay patient – your dog, no matter age or condition, will pick up on your mood as fast as you can think it, and your irritation will cause his/her anxiety to rise which will not help the situation at all.

Of course, there are many more things you should be aware of as your dog age – nutrition, dental care (Want to learn how to brush your dogs teeth? Read How to brush your dog’s teeth – A 7-step guide) and maintaining his fur to mention a few. Always keep up with your dog’s yearly vet appointments and although there might be more issues arising as your dog age be there for him/her and in return you will get the satisfaction of knowing that you made his/her life as good as you could and you were with him/her all the way through <3

If you need help with your senior dog ,then book a consultation with me here.