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The Essential Australian Shepherd
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To Good Health
The strongest body and soundest genetic background will not help a dog lead ahealthy life unless he receives regular attention from his owner. Dogs are susceptibleto infection, parasites and diseases for which they have no natural immunity. Itis up to us to take preventative measures to make sure that none of these interfereswith our dog's health. It may help to think of the upkeep of a dog's health in relationto the calendar. Certain things need to be done on a weekly, monthly and annual basis.
PREVENTIVE HEALTH CARE
Weekly grooming can be the single best monitor of a dog's overall health. Theactual condition of the coat and skin and the "feel" of the body can indicategood health or potential problems. Grooming will help you discover small lumps onor under the skin in the early stages before they become large enough to be seenwithout close examination.
PREVENTIVE CARE PAYS
Using common sense, paying attention to your dog and working with your veterinarian, you can minimize health risks and problems. Use vet-recommended flea, tick and heartworm preventive medic ations; feed a nutritious diet appropriate for your dog's size, age and activity level; give your dog sufficient exercise and regular grooming; train and socialize your dog; keep current on your dog's shots; and enjoy all the years you have with your friend.
- Run your hands over your dog to feel for any injuries.
As you examine your dog, check also for ticks that may have lodged in his skin,particularly around the ears or in the hair at the base of the ear, the armpits oraround the genitals. If you find a tick, which is a small in-sect about the sizeof a pencil eraser when engorged with blood, smear it with petroleum jelly. As thetick suffocates, it will back out and you can then grab it with tweezers and killit. If the tick doesn't back out, grab it with tweezers and gently pull it out, twistingvery gently. Don't just grab and pull or the tick's head may remain in the skin,causing an infection or abscess for which veterinary treatment may be required.
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 spottedfever and others, all of which can be very serious.
- Aussies love the outdoors, so be sure to check frequently for fleas and ticks.
FLEAS AND TICKS
There are so many safe, effective products available now to combat fleas and ticks that--thankfully--they are less of a problem. Prevention is key, however. Ask your veterinarian about starting your puppy on a flea/tick repellent right away. With this, regular grooming and environmental controls, your dog and your home should stay pest-free. Without this attention, you risk infesting your dog and your home, and you're in for an ugly and costly battle to clear up the problem.
- Use tweezers to remove ticks from your dog.
Proper Ear Care
Another weekly job is cleaning the ears. Many times an ear problem is evidentif a dog scratches his ears or shakes his head frequently. Clean ears are less likelyto develop problems, and if something does occur, it will be spotted and it can betreated easily. If a dog's ears are very dirty and seem to need cleaning on a dailybasis, it is a good indication that something else is going on in the ears besidesordinary dirt and the normal accumulation of earwax. A visit to the veterinarianmay indicate a situation that needs special attention.
- Clean your Aussie's ears weekly and have them examined regularly by a veterinarian to detect problems.
Keeping Eyes Clear
An Australian Shepherd's eyes rarely need special attention. A small amount ofmatter in the corner of the eye is normal, as is a bit of "tearing."
Australian Shepherds with eyelashes that turn inward and rub against the eye itselfoften exhibit more tearing than normal due to the irritation to the eyes. These eyelashescan be surgically removed if it appears to be a problem, but are often ignored.
Excessive tearing can be an indication that a tear duct is blocked. This, too,can be corrected by a simple surgical procedure. Eye discharge that is thicker andmucous-like in consistency is often a sign of some type of eye infec tion or actualinjury to the eye. This can be verified by a veterinarian, who will provide a topicalointment to place in the corner of the eye. Most minor eye injuries heal quicklyif proper action is taken.
- This Aussie sits patiently as the veterinarian examines his eyes and checks for irritants.
The DHL vaccine, which protects a dog from distemper, hepatitis and leptospirosis,is given for the first time at about 7 weeks of age, followed by one or two boostersseveral weeks apart. After this, a dog should be vaccinated every year throughouthis life.
Since the mid-1970s, parvovirus and coronavirus have been the cause of death forthousands of dogs. Puppies and older dogs are most frequently affected by these illnesses.Fortunately, vaccines for these are now routinely given on a yearly basis in combinationwith the DHLPP shot.
Kennel cough, though rarely dangerous in a healthy dog that receives proper treatment,can be annoying. It can be picked up anywhere that large numbers of dogs congregate,such as veterinary clinics, grooming shops, boarding kennels, obedience classes anddog shows. The Bordatella vaccine, given twice a year, will protect a dog from gettingmost strains of kennel cough. It is often not routinely given, so it may be necessaryto request it.
YOUR PUPPY'S VACCINES
Vaccines are given to prevent your dog from getting infectious diseases like canine distemper or rabies. Vaccines are the ultimate preventive medicine: They're given before your dog ever gets the disease so as to protect him from the disease. That's why it is necessary for your dog to be vaccinated routinely. Puppy vaccines start at 8 weeks of age for the five-in-one DHLPP vaccine and are given every three to four weeks until the puppy is 16 months old. Your veterinarian will put your puppy on a proper schedule and will remind you when to bring in your dog for shots.
While the exterior part of a dog's body hosts fleas and ticks, the inside of thebody is commonly inhabited by a variety of parasites. Most of these are in the wormfamily. Tapeworms, roundworms, whipworms, hookworms and heartworm all plague dogs.There are also several types of protozoa, mainly coccidia and giardia,that cause problems.
The common tapeworm is acquired by a dog eating infected fleas or lice. Normallyone is not aware that a healthy dog even has tapeworms. The only clues may be a dullcoat, a loss of weight despite a good appetite or occasional gastrointestinal problems.Confirmation is the presence of worm segments in the stool. These appear as small,pinkish-white, flattened rectangular-shaped pieces. When dry, they look like rice.If segments are not present, diagnosis can be made by the discovery of eggs whena stool sample is examined under a microscope. Ridding a dog temporarily of tapewormis easy with a worming medicine prescribed by a veterinarian. Over-the-counter wormersare not effective for tapeworms and may be dangerous. Long-term tapeworm controlis not possible unless the flea situation is also handled.
Ascarids are the most common roundworm (nematode) found in dogs. Adult dogs thathave roundworms rarely exhibit any symptoms that would indicate the worm is in t heirbody. These worms are cylindrical in shape and may be as long as 4 to 5 inches. Theydo pose a real danger to puppies, where they are usually passed from the mother throughthe uterus to the unborn puppies.
It is wise to assume that all puppies have roundworms. In heavy infestations theywill actually appear in the puppy stools, though their presence is best diagnosedby a stool sample. Treatment is easy and can begin as early as 2 weeks of age andis administered every two weeks thereafter until eggs no longer appear in a stoolsample or dead worms are not found in the stool following treatment. Severely infectedpuppies can die from roundworm infestation. Again, the worming medication shouldbe obtained through a veterinarian.
Hookworm is usually found in warmer climates and infestation is generally fromingestion of larvae from the ground or penetration of the skin by larvae. Hookwormscan cause anemia, diarrhea and emaciation. As these worms are very tiny and not visibleto the eye, their diagnosis must be made by a veterinarian.
Whipworms live in the large intestine and cause few if any symptoms. Dogs usuallybecome infected when they ingest larvae in contaminated soil. Again, diagnosis andtreatment should all be done by a veterinarian. One of the easiest ways to controlthese parasites is by picking up stools on a daily basis. This will help preventthe soil from becoming infested.
The protozoa can be trickier to diagnose and treat. Coccidiosis and giardia arethe most common, and primarily affect young puppies. They are generally associatedwith over-crowded, unsanitary conditions and can be acquired from the mother (ifshe is a carrier), the premises themselves (soil) or even water, especially ruralpuddles and streams.
The most common symptom of protozoan infection is mucous-like, blood-tinged feces.It is only with freshly collected samples that diagnosis of this condition can bemade. With coccidiosis, besides diarrhea, the puppies will appear listless and losetheir appetites. Puppies often harbor the protozoa and show no symptoms unless placedunder stress. Consequently, often a puppy will not become ill until he enters hisnew home. Once diagnosed, treatment is quick and effective and the puppy returnsto normal almost immediately.
The most serious of the common internal parasites is the heartworm. A dog thatis bitten by a mosquito infected with the heartworm microfilaria (larvae)will develop worms that are 6 to 12 inches long. As these worms mature, they takeup residence in the dog's heart.
The symptoms of heartworm may include coughing, tiring easily, difficulty breathingand weight loss. Heart failure and liver disease may eventually result. Verificationof heartworm infection is done by drawing blood and screening for the microfilaria.
In areas where heartworm is a risk, it is best to place a dog on a preventative,usually a pill given once a month.
At least once a year a dog should have a full veterinary examination. The overallcondition of the dog can be observed and a blood sample can be collected for a completeyearly screening. This way the dog's thyroid function can be tested, and the jobthe dog's organs are doing can be monitored. If there are any problems, this formof testing can spot trouble areas while they are easily treatable.
- All dogs need vaccination s to protect them from common deadly diseases.
- Proper care, regular vaccinations, and stool checks and preventive medications for such things as heartworm will help ensure your dog's health.
Spaying a female dog or neutering a male is another way to make sure they leadlong and healthy lives. Females spayed at a young age have almost no risk of developingmammary tumors or reproductive problems. Neutering a male is an excellent solutionto dog aggression and also removes the chances of testicular cancer.
Female Australian Shepherds usually experience their first heat cycle somewherebetween 6 months and 1 year of age. Unless spayed they will continue to come intoheat on a regular cycle. The length of time between heats varies, with anything fromevery six months to a year being normal.
There is absolutely no benefit to a female having a first season before beingspayed, nor in letting her have a litter. The decision to breed any dog should neverbe taken lightly. The obvious considerations are whether he or she is a good physicalspecimen of the breed and has a sound temperament. There are several genetic problemsthat are common to Australian Shepherds, such as eye defects, hip dysplasia and cancer.Responsible breeders screen for these prior to making breeding decisions.
Finding suitable homes for puppies is another serious consideration. Due to theirpopularity, many people are attracted to Australian Shepherds and seek puppies withoutrealizing the drawbacks of the breed.
Owning a dog is a lifetime commitment to that animal. There are so many unwanteddogs--and yes, even unwanted Australian Shepherds--that people must be absolutelysure that they are not just adding to the pet over-population problem. When breedinga litter of puppies, it is more likely that you will lose more than you will make,when time, effort, equipment and veterinary costs are factored in.
ADVANTAGES OF SPAY/NEUTER
The greatest advantage of spaying (for females) or neutering (for males) your dog is that you are guaranteed your dog will not produce puppies. There are too many puppies already available for too few homes. There are other advantages as well.
Advantages of Spaying
No messy heats.
No "suitors" howling at your windows or waiting in your yard.
No risk of pyometra (disease of the uterus) and decreased incidences of mammary cancer.
Advantages of Neutering
Decreased incidences of fighting, but does not affect the dog's personality.
Decreased roaming in search of bitches in season.
Decreased incidences of many urogenital diseases.
Not Eating or Vomiting
One of the surest signs that an Australian Shepherd may be ill is if he does noteat. That is why it is import-ant to know your dog's eating habits. For most dogs,one missed meal under normal conditions is not cause for alarm, but more than thatand it is time to take your dog to the veterinarian to search for reasons. The vitalsigns should be checked and gums examined. Normally a dog's gums are pink; if illthey will be pale and gray.
There are many reasons why dogs vomit, and many of them are not c ause for alarm.You should be concerned, however, when your dog vomits frequently over the periodof a day. If the vomiting is associated with diarrhea, elevated temperature and lethargy,the cause is most likely a virus. The dog should receive supportive veterinary treatmentif recovery is to proceed quickly. Vomiting that is not associated with other symptomsis often an indication of an intestinal blockage. Rocks, toys and clothing will lodgein a dog's intestine, preventing the normal passage of digested foods and liquids.
If a blockage is suspected, the first thing to do is an x-ray of the stomach andintestinal region. Sometimes objects will pass on their own, but usually surgicalremoval of the object is necessary.
- Get to know your Australian Shepherd's eating habits--if he starts missing meals he may be ill.
Diarrhea is characterized as very loose to watery stools that a dog has difficultycontrolling. It can be caused by anything as simple as changing diet, eating toomuch food, eating rich human food or having internal parasites.
First try to locate the source of the problem and remove it from the dog's access.Immediate relief is usually available by giving the dog an intestinal relief medicationsuch as Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol. Use the same amount per weight as for humans.Take the dog off his food for a day to allow the intestines to rest, then feed mealsof cooked rice with bland ingredients added. Gradually add the dog's regular foodback into his diet.
If diarrhea is bloody or has a more offensive odor than might be expected andis combined with vomiting and fever, it is most likely a virus and requires immediateveterin ary attention. If worms are suspected as the cause, a stool sample shouldbe examined by a veterinarian and treatment to rid the dog of the parasite shouldfollow when the dog is back to normal. If allergies are suspected, a series of testscan be given to find the cause. This is especially likely if after recovery and noother evidence of a cause exists, a dog returns to his former diet and the diarrhearecurs.
WHEN TO CALL THE VETERINARIAN
In any emergency situation, you should call your veterinarian immediately. Try to stay calm when you call, and give the vet or the assistant as much information as possible before you leave for the clinic. That way, the staff will be able to take immediate, specific action when you arrive. Emergencies include:
Bleeding or deep wounds
Call your veterinarian if you suspect any health troubles.
To test your dog for dehydration, take some skin between your thumb and forefingerand lift the skin upward gently. If the skin does not go back to its original positionquickly, the Australian Shepherd may be suffering from dehydration. Consult yourveterinarian immediately.
Vomiting, breathing with difficulty, diarrhea, cries of pain and abnormal bodyor breath odor are all signs that your pet may have ingested some poisonous substance.Poisons can also be inhaled, absorbed through the skin or inj ected into the skin,as in the case of a snakebite. Poisons require professional help without delay! Callthe National Animal Poison Control Center hot line at (900) 680-0000. The call willbe charged to your phone--$20.00 for the first five minutes and $2.95 for each additionalminute.
- Some of the many household substances harmful to your dog.
If your dog has ingested a potentially poisonous substance, waste no time. Call the National Animal Poison Control Center hot line:
(800) 548-2423 ($30 per case) or
(900) 680-0000 ($20 first five minutes; $2.95 each additional minute)
If your dog breaks a bone, immobilize the limb very carefully, and seek veterinaryhelp right away. If you suspect a spinal injury, place the dog on a board very slowlyand carefully tie him securely to the board before immediately transporting him tothe veterinarian.
- Make a temporary splint by wrapping the leg in firm casing, then bandaging it.
Scratches and Cuts
Minor skin irritations, such as scratches, can usually be cured by using an over-the-counterantibiotic cream or ointment. For minor skin problems, many ointments suitable fora baby work well on an Australian Shepherd.
Heatstroke can quickly lead to death. Never leave your dog in a car, evenwith the windows open, even on a cloudy day with the car under the shade of a tree.Heat builds up quickly; your dog could die in a matter of minutes. Do not leave yourAustralian Shepherd outside on a hot day especially if no sh ade or water is provided.
Heatstroke symptoms include collapse, high fever, diarrhea, vomiting, excessivepanting and grayish lips. If you notice these symptoms, you need to cool the animalimmediately. Try to reduce the body temperature with towels soaked in cold water;massage the body and legs very gently. Fanning the dog may help. If the dog willdrink cool water, let him. If he will not drink, wipe the inside of his mouth withcool water. Get the dog to the nearest veterinary hospital. Do not delay!
Bee stings are painful and may cause an allergic reaction. Symptoms may be swellingaround the bite and difficulty breathing. Severe allergic reaction could lead todeath. If a stinger is present, remove it. Clean the bitten area thoroughly withalcohol; apply a cold compress to reduce swelling and itching and an anti-inflammatoryointment or cream medication. Seek medical help.
Puppies are curious creatures and will naturally chew anything they can get intotheir mouths, be it a bone, a twig, stones, tiny toys, string or any number of things.These can get caught in the teeth or, worse, lodged in the throat and may finallyrest in the stomach or intestines. Symptoms may be drooling, pawing at the mouth,gagging, difficulty breathing, blue tongue or mouth, difficulty swallowing and bloodyvomit. If the foreign object can be seen and you can remove it easily, do so. Ifyou can't remove it yourself, use the Heimlich maneuver. Place your dog on his sideand, using both hands palms down, apply quick thrusts to the abdomen, just belowthe dog's last rib. If your dog won't lie down, grasp either side of the end of therib cage and squeeze in short thrusts. Make a s harp enough movement to cause theair in the lungs to force the object out. If the cause cannot be found or removed,then professional help is needed.
- Applying abdominal thrusts can save a choking dog.
For open wounds, try to stop the bleeding by applying pressure to the wound forfive minutes using a sterile bandage. If bleeding has not stopped after this time,continue the pressure. Do not remove the pad if it sticks to the wound because moreserious in-jury could result. Just place a new sterile bandage over the first, andap-ply a little more pressure to stop the bleeding. This procedure will usually besuccessful. Take the dog to the medical center for treatment, especially if the bleedingcannot be controlled rapidly.
If bleeding cannot be stopped with pressure, try pressing on the upper in-sideof the effected leg; for tail bleeding, press on the underside of the tail at itsbase. Do not attempt to stop the bleeding with a tourniquet unless the bleeding isprofuse and cannot be stopped any other way. A tourniquet must be tight; consequently,it cannot be left on for a long time because it will stop the circulation. It couldbe more dangerous than the bleeding!
Do not put creams or oils on a burn. Cool water can be used to carefully washthe burn area. Transport to the veterinary clinic immediately.
Your Australian Shepherd cannot take care of himself. When you took this dog home,you assumed the responsibility of caring for him. This means not just making surehe is fed and brushed, but also checking his nails, making sure vaccinations areup-to-date and getting him to the veterinarian when necessary. The easiest way tomake sure your dog is well cared for is to set up a routine and follow it each andevery day without fail.
What's Wrong with My Dog?
We've listed some common conditions of health problems and their possible causes.If any of the following conditions appear serious or persist for more than 24 hours,make an appointment to see your veterinarian immediately.
DIARRHEA Intestinal upset, typically caused by eating something bador over-eating. Can also be a viral infection, a bad case of nerves or anxiety ora parasite infection. If you see blood in the feces, get to the vet right away.
VOMITING/RETCHING Dogs regurgitate fairly regularly (bitches for theiryoung), whenever something upsets their stomachs, or even out of excitement or anxiety.Often dogs eat grass, which, because it's indigestible in its pure form, irritatestheir stomachs and causes them to vomit. Getting a good look at what yourdog vomited can better indicate what's causing it.
COUGHING Obstruction in the throat; virus (kennel cough); roundworminfestation; congestive heart failure.
RUNNY NOSE Because dogs don't catch colds like people, a runny noseis a sign of congestion or irritation.
LOSS OF APPETITE Because most dogs are hearty and regular eaters,a loss of appetite can be your first and most accurate sign of a serious problem.
LOSS OF ENERGY (LETHARGY) Any number of things could be slowing downyour dog, from an infection to internal tumors to overexercise--even overeating.
STINKY BREATH Imagine if you never brushed your teeth! Foul-smellingbreath indicates pla que and tartar buildup that could possibly have caused infection.Start brushing your dog's teeth.
LIMPING This could be caused by something as simple as a hurt or bruisedpad, to something as complicated as hip dysplasia, torn ligaments or broken bones.
CONSTANT ITCHING Probably due to fleas, mites or an allergic reactionto food or environment (your vet will need to help you determine what your dog'sallergic to).
RED, INFLAMED, ITCHY SPOTS Often referred to as "hot spots,"these are particularly common on coated breeds. They're caused by a bacterial infectionthat gets aggravated as the dog licks and bites at the spot.
BALD SPOTS These are the result of excessive itching or biting atthe skin so that the hair follicles are damaged; excessively dry skin; mange; calluses;and even infections. You need to determine what the underlying cause is.
STINKY EARS/HEAD SHAKING Take a look under your dog's ear flap. Doyou see brown, waxy build-up? Clean the ears with something soft and a special cleaner,and don't use cotton swabs or go too deep into the ear canal.
UNUSUAL LUMPS Could be fatty tissue, could be something serious (infection,trauma, tumor). Don't wait to find out.
HEALTH PROBLEMS IN THE AUSTRALIAN SHEPHERD
Autoimmune Problems--The dog's immune system protects him from disease;when a virus or bacteria enters the body, white blood cells are triggered to combatthem. In a dog with an immune system problem, the body will not produce these whiteblood cells, or with an autoimmune problem, it will begin producing white blood cellsto attack itself. Although the causes of autoimmune disease can vary, some researchersfeel that there is a genetic predisposition toward it. Dogs with any autoimmune diseaseshould not be used for breeding.
Bloat--Bloat is the acute dilation of the stomach, caused when the stomachfills with gas and air and as a result, swells. This swelling prevents the dog fromvomiting or passing gas, and as a result, the pressure builds, cutting off bloodfrom the heart and to other parts of the body. This causes shock or heart failure,both of which can cause death. Bloat can also cause torsion, where the stomach turnson its long axis, again causing death.
The first symptoms of bloat are obvious. The dog will be pacing or panting, showingsigns of distress. The dog's sides will begin to distend. To be successful, treatmentshould begin at once--there is no time to fool around. If the pressure is not immediatelyrelieved, death can follow within an hour.
To prevent bloat, do not allow your Australian Shepherd to drink large quantitiesof water after exercising or after eating. Feed two smaller meals each day insteadof one large meal and limit exercise after eating until a couple hours have passed.Feed a good quality food, preferably one that does not expand significantly whenwet and that does not produce large quantities of gas.
Cancer--Unfortunately, some Australian Shepherd lineages seem to be proneto cancer. Cancer in dogs, just as in people, is not one disease, but a variety ofdiseases. Although research is continuing, it is unknown how or why some cells goon a rampage and become cancerous. When you examine your Australian Shepherd eachday, be aware of any lumps or bumps you might feel, especially as your dog is growin golder. Your veterinarian can biopsy any suspicious lump; if it is cancer, it canoften be removed. Early removal has the best chance of success. Unfortunately, canceris often fatal.
Eye Defects--Aussies have been known to have some eye defects. There areseveral different types of eye defects found. Aussies should have an eye screeningas early as 8 weeks of age, prior to being sold or going to a new home. Every Aussie,especially those used in a breeding program, should have his eyes examined each year.
Hip Dysplasia--Hip Dysplasia (HD) is a disease of the coxofemoral joint;to put it simply, it is a failure of the head of the femur (thigh bone) to fit intothe acetabulum (hip socket). HD is not simply caused by poorly formed or positionedbones; many researchers feel that the muscles and tendons in the leg and hip mayalso play a part in the disease.
HD is considered to be a polygenic inherited disorder, which means that many factorscome into play. Many different genes may lead to the disease, not just one. Also,environmental factors may lead to HD, including nutrition and exercise, althoughthe part that environmental factors play in the disease is highly debated among experts.
HD can cause a wide range of problems, from mild lameness to movement irregularitiesto crippling pain. Dogs with HD must often limit their activities, may need correctivesurgery or may even need to be put to sleep because of the pain.
Panosteitis--This disease causes lameness and pain in young, rapidly growingpuppies, usually between the ages of 6 and 14 months, although it is occasionallyseen in dogs up to 18 months of age. The lameness usually affects one leg at a timeand can sp oradically move from one leg to another. Some veterinarians prescribe aspirinto relieve the pain and most suggest the dog be kept quiet.
Thyroid Disease--The thyroid gland produces hormones which govern or affecta number of different bodily functions. A dog with a thyroid that is producing lesshormones than it should may show symptoms ranging from infertility to dry, dull coatand flaky skin, to running eyes or even difficulty walking. Thyroid problems canbe diagnosed with a blood test and medication can usually relieve the symptoms fairlyrapidly. In most cases, the dog will have to remain on the medication for life.
- Learning about the specific health problems of the Australian Shepherd breed will help you better care for your dog.