With the start of 2020 well underway, dog owners may consider setting New Year’s resolutions around caring for their furry friends.
Jennifer Granick, an associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, provides information and tips for dog owners to help keep their dogs healthy all year long.
Q: What is the best way to avoid unforeseen (and expensive) health issues?
Prof. Granick: Routine vaccinations and flea and tick preventatives can help your dog avoid illness or unscheduled veterinary visits. In addition, some dogs are good candidates for non-core vaccines — such as social dogs who visit dog parks, frequent doggy daycare or routinely head to the groomer — as they are more likely to encounter other dogs with infectious diseases. Vaccination for germs that cause “kennel cough” are often required for participation in social activities. A combination vaccine for Bordetella, Adenovirus and Parainfluenza virus is most common, though in some regions it may also be appropriate to vaccinate your four-legged friend for canine influenza. Lyme disease vaccination can prevent illness, reduce the use of antibiotics in your dog and prevent rare but life-threatening complications of this disease. In the long run, vaccination can save dog owners a lot of money and heartache.
Q: If my dog isn’t showing any signs of disease, how important are routine check-ups?
Prof. Granick: Catching disease early can be life-saving. Check-up visits with the veterinarian are important for early disease diagnosis. Most dog owners are pretty in tune with their pets, and veterinarians rely on owners to notice subtle changes in behavior that can alert them that there might be a problem. Veterinarians are trained in detecting other abnormalities, by physical examination or routine testing, which can be red flags of disease before a dog ever has any clinical signs. When your veterinarian recommends blood work, it is likely a good idea. This is especially true for older dogs, even if your dog seems fine. That way, you might catch something early (e.g., liver, kidney or endocrine disease). If the exam and lab work are normal, you gain peace of mind and your veterinarian has a key data point, illustrating your dog’s baseline values, which can be helpful in the future, should changes arise.
Q: What should I feed Fido?
Prof. Granick: Diet decisions are complicated. The pet food industry creates persuasive advertisements, often appealing to human palates and food values. Food recalls create fear in pet owners, as no pet owner wants to make their dog sick by providing a basic need, but some diets come with hidden dangers. There is an association with some grain-free diets and heart disease in dogs, which the Food and Drug Administration and veterinary cardiologists are still working to unravel. If your dog is on a grain-free diet, discuss alternatives with your veterinarian.
Raw food diets might be contaminated with bacteria that can make you, your family members and your dog sick. Raw diets should especially be avoided in very young, old or dogs with weak immune systems. Tell your veterinarian what your food values are, so they can help find a safe diet that you can feel good about.
Q: How do antibiotics affect dogs?
Prof. Granick: Antibiotics are critical for recovery when pets have overwhelming bacterial infections, but all drugs have potential down sides and should be used only when needed. Just like in people, not all infections are caused by bacteria (i.e., germs that can be effectively treated with antibiotics). Over-using antibiotics can cause unwanted side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea and — in rare cases — autoimmune disease and liver or kidney toxicity. Antibiotics, used to target harmful bacteria, also affect the good bacteria in the gut and on the skin. As we learn more about the microbiome — the collection of good bacteria that lives in and on the body — we have realized how important it is for overall health. A healthy microbiome supports the immune system, gut, kidney and skin health — and even behavior.
Not all infections require antibiotic treatment, either because it is not caused by bacteria or because pets can recover on their own. Overuse of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or bacteria that can survive treatment with commonly used antibiotics. This can make future infections in your dog hard to treat. It can also impact family members, as there is evidence that dogs and people share microbiome bacteria with each other. Never pressure your veterinarian to prescribe an antibiotic. Always ask if there are other ways to support your dog through an illness. For example, if your dog develops diarrhea due to dietary indiscretion — such as enjoying the delights of the garbage can post-holiday feast — a bland diet, probiotics and a little time will likely do the trick.
Q: What work are you doing at the College of Veterinary Medicine to improve health in dogs?
Prof. Granick: When I first started veterinary practice, antibiotic-resistant infections were a rarity, and I have seen bacterial susceptibility to commonly used antibiotics decrease over time. For this reason, my research efforts are focused on learning more about how veterinarians are using antibiotics in practice and how we can strategically use antibiotics in a way that helps mitigate resistance in bacteria that cause devastating, lethal diseases. My team is working to collect antibiotic use data in companion animals, as this information is lacking in the field. We are also working on how to support veterinarians in stewardship of our antibiotic resources. Find out more about these efforts as well as healthy antibiotic use in pets on the Antimicrobial Resistance and Stewardship Initiative website.
JENNIFER GRANICK is an associate professor in the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. Her areas of expertise include antimicrobial stewardship, and infectious diseases that affect cats and dogs, particularly those that also affect humans. She was recently featured by This Dog’s Life discussing best practices for dog care.