If I could go back in time and give myself just a few pieces of advice as a first-time dog parent, these would be my top 6 nuggets of wisdom.
Feed raw meaty bones
Opinions differ over raw feeding but when it comes to raw meaty bones, they’ve been shown to dramatically improve a dog’s dental health.
Research in Brazil found chewing raw beef bones was an effective method of cleaning dogs’ teeth. The 2016 study found a daily bone reduced dental calculus in three-year-old Beagles by as much as 87.8% after just 20 days.
Dog parents sometimes feel uncertain about the safety of feeding bones, but the researchers observed no complications such as tooth fractures, pieces of bone stuck between teeth or intestinal obstructions.
Consider fasting your dog
Wolves in the wild are regularly forced to fast because of the natural cycles of food security and food scarcity.
Meanwhile pet dogs, which are far less active than wolves, are fed far more. It’s no mystery why a majority of American dogs (and even more cats) are now obese.
In his book “Give Your Dog a Bone,” Australian vet Dr Ian Billinghurst talks about the benefits for the kidneys of not feeding protein-heavy meals to dogs every day.
Dogs are “facultative” carnivores, meaning they prefer meat but can maintain themselves on a secondary food when their preferred food is scarce. For wolves and dogs alike, that secondary food is fruit. The Voyageurs Wolf Project found wolves in Northern Minnesota eat almost exclusively blueberries for a whole month at the height of summer.
One 24 hour fast per week, or a fruit-only day, can give your dog’s body a little digestive rest and promote cellular repair and regeneration in a process called autophagy.
Understand what your dog’s poop is telling you
Dog poop is an unavoidable part of trhe life of every dog parent. But it’s also an important barometer of what’s going on with your dog’s health.
Diarrhea is perhaps the most common abnormality encountered. But mucus is also something many of us notice at one time or another.
It can be very worrying to see slime in your dog’s droppings especially when it’s listed as a symptom of things like irritable bowel syndrome and parasites.
But one of my biggest realisations as an dog parent—and something I learned through direct experience with my own dog—has been that mucus in your dog’s poop is not always a sign that something is wrong.
If your dog has just been on a course of medication or you’ve just changed his diet, you may observe mucus. What’s happening is the gut is expelling the protective lining it had formed against the drugs or previous poor quality food. Now that the irritant has been removed, the coating is no longer needed.
Of course, if mucus or diarrhea doesn’t clear up on its own, see your vet.
Avoid off-leash dog parks
They might seem full of color and movement, but dog trainers will warn you to exercise caution when it comes to off-leash areas. The more plain-spoken dog behaviorists will tell you more bluntly: off-leash dog parks are a disaster waiting to happen.
Aggressive dogs can be present without your knowledge. Even normally well mannered dogs can behave unpredictably. Dog dynamics are complex and depend on the particular combination of dogs present on any given day.
If a dog fight breaks out, you have little hope of stopping it in such an uncontrolled environment.
Play it safe and give off-leash dog parks a wide berth. One-on-one play dates with known dogs are a much smarter idea.
For any dog parent, trimming a dog’s nails is fraught with the fear of cutting the quick. If you hit the nerve once, you are going to have a much more difficult time getting your dog to cooperate in the future.
Keeping nails short is essential for your dog’s wellbeing. Overgrown nails are not only painful, but also throw off your dog’s posture and gait.
When I discovered grinding tools like the Dremel—which is actually a sanding device—all the stress went out of this task, for both me and my dog. There is no risk of your pup getting hurt because you’re essentially filing the nail with a rough surface, rather than slicing through it with a blade.
Slow feeder bowls
Especially if your dog is a deep-chested or giant breed, you want to be mindful of the risk of bloat or gastric dilatation-volvulus. This is a potentially fatal situation where the stomach fills with air and twists, eventually cutting off blood supply to vital organs.
Avoiding exertion close to meal times and using slow feeder bowls to prevent gulping are two simple things you can do to minimize the risk.
No matter how much you read, or how well prepared you think you are, when it comes to being a dog parent there is only so much you can learn without doing.
Most of these tips I learned through trial and error or from other, more experienced dog parents. This knowledge would have made life easier for me and my dogs if I’d had it back at the start.
By making small tweaks here and there, and having this or that crucial tidbit of information, it’s amazing how much you can improve your dog’s health and wellbeing. Not to mention ease your own mind as a dog parent.