Advice on caring for your canine friends

For many years Dr. Judy and I maintained a mixed animal practice. We were happy to examine and treat any animal upon request and counsel the owner if treatment wasn’t indicated.

Generally, we found, owners want what’s best for their pet or livestock, barring financial restrictions.

Farm dogs like Ol’ Shep often have to earn their way, either as a working dog or a lone sentry, watching for burglars or alerting everyone when the cows are out on the road at 3 a.m.

To ensure their longevity, working dogs like Shep need to be provided a few essential health practices. As a puppy Shep should receive a three-shot series of puppy shots starting at eight to 10 weeks of age and spaced two to four weeks between.

This is followed up with a one-year rabies vaccination by six months of age. Once these vaccinations have been “boostered” a year later, vaccines can be administered every three years. However, there isn’t total consensus among vets that Shep’s shots should be spaced at three-year intervals.

Previously, the thinking was that distemper/parvo vaccinations should be administered every year as a one-shot booster, with the exception that mature dogs receive rabies vaccinations every three years.

Not every dog is a working dog. Many are considered a member of the family. This was the case for our dog, Sable. (My 14-year-old son, Allen, named her after a lady that wrestled on the WWF.) Sable was a 100-pound chocolate Lab with a big frame.

If your dog is as dear to your family as Sable was to ours, you may want to talk with your vet about developing a wellness plan, a planned program of vaccinations and other preventive health services. Generally, this is an excellent strategy for providing your dog the best veterinary care at a budgeted, reduced fee.

On the other hand, Ol’ Shep likely will receive minimum health care. The vet will likely administer Shep’s vaccinations while he’s at the farm treating livestock or a horse or two.

Another health issue, which is more of an annoyance for Shep, is fleas. But if Shep spends any time in the house, this will become an annoyance for you too. When not controlled, these pesky critters will get in the carpet, in sofa cushions and on people. Fleas also may carry tapeworms between dogs.

It is easier to prevent fleas than try to eradicate them after your house is infested and you are being bitten. Powerful organic phosphate chemicals are no longer routinely used to kill fleas on dogs.

For prevention, flea and tick collars are helpful, but nothing beats a systemic topical treatment applied to Shep’s neck, topline and base of the tail. Some owners are disenchanted by topical treatments because the fleas don’t immediately roll over dead with all eight feet in the air. These topicals usually act as flea birth control. Fortunately, fleas have a short lifespan — about seven days. So, before long they die of old age — and won’t be replaced by a new generation.

Check with your vet on the best flea control measure for your dog.

Hopefully your dog sees your vet during regular hours in the office or on the farm, rather than in a late night emergency visit. Late night service is usually more expensive and sometimes not available, unless you are prepared to drive to a major city.

Some pet owners rarely provide health care for their animals until a middle-of-the-night crisis. Here’s an example from my experience:

Late one night Dick called me to report that the family dog was coughing and hacking.

I could tell that Dick was of the mindset to just put the dog outside. But I could hear his wife, Janeen, crying in the background that her dog was in distress.

Dick wasn’t choked up until I told him what my fee was to see the dog in the middle of the night.

But a crying wife can work wonders. It wasn’t long until Dick said that Janeen would meet me at our office with the dog, Festus.

Clearly Janeen’s dog wasn’t an old farm dog like Shep. Festus was a white 10-pound mutt that had been conferred a little class, referred to as a “Malta-poo.”

I knew that the dog likely had tonsillitis. When I tried to look at its tonsils, it latched onto my thumb like a bolt of lightning.

I reflexively jerked my hand back from the dog, which did not release its death grip until my hand reached its apex. Festus bounced from the ceiling, ricocheted off a wall and landed in the sink behind me. It turned the faucet on full blast before completing a four-point landing.

It was obvious there wasn’t going to be any touching this dog without losing a hand.

Fully embarrassed, I told Janeen that there was no need to look down its throat. As she retrieved the wet dog from the hand sink, I told her, “Festus has tonsillitis. I can treat him with an antibiotic, which will likely relieve the infection.”

Janeen was clearly relieved. Then I told her, “In return for being so understanding and kind, I won’t charge you my emergency fee.”

I recommend a couple of essential health protocols for all dogs, whether they’re an Ol’ Shep or a more privileged family dog. Have your vet test your dog for heartworms every year, early in the spring before mosquito season.

Mosquitoes carry heartworms. Dogs can be put at high risk if bitten by a heartworm-infected mosquito. Heartworm infections lead to congestive heart failure. If your dog tests negative, put him on a prevention program for heartworms — one tablet a month during mosquito season.

Generally, dogs should be put on a heartworm prevention program during their first spring after six months of age.

If, like Sable, your dog is a member of the family, I recommend other health programs to assure your pet’s longevity. Check with your vet for a wellness program, including annual physicals, teeth cleaning, and vaccinations for Lyme’s disease and several viruses. These programs are very beneficial and easier on your dog and your pocketbook than treating an illness.

By the way, the morning after I was bitten by Festus during the “emergency” office visit, Judy asked me over breakfast, “I saw Dick’s check in your shirt pocket. Why doesn’t it include the emergency fee?”

Fortunately, my mouth was full.

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