Keeping Your Canine Healthy

Generally speaking, a healthy dog is a happy dog.  That said a healthy dog has a happy owner.  In this case a healthy canine has a happy handler and a happy police administrator.  Typically you should only have to take your canine to the vet once a year for shots and a general exam.  But there are many things that you should be doing during the year to keep your canine healthy and out of the vet’s office until the regular yearly visit, unless there is an injury.

Part of having a healthy canine is having a clean canine.  Being a police canine, s/he is probably going to get dirtier than the average dog, so bathing will be more frequent.  Going through various shrubs, and other obstacles, let alone rolling around in the dirt with the latest suspect can get a canine quite dirty.  You may not really see it, but after a while you will know it by the bad odor.  If you can, you should give your canine partner a bath before the odor comes to life.  Bathing will not only remove whatever may cause a bad odor, but also will help remove anything else that your canine may have been exposed to.  During the bath, make sure you rub the canine (not human) shampoo in well and feel the skin as you rub.  Feel for any bumps or abrasions that weren’t the before.  Bumps that you might find could be a tick, so when you feel any bumps take a closer look, investigate what that bump is.  If you feel what maybe an abrasion, again investigate and determine what it is.  Treat any abrasions with basic first-aid and if necessary call the vet for advice.  If during your shift your canine has gone through a stagnant body of water, meaning non-moving, you should be giving s/he a bath later on in the day.  This especially applies if you see green scum floating on the surface, or anything else out of the ordinary.  You never know what kind of parasites or insects that your canine may have come into contact with.  It is better to be safe than sorry. 

Although you may be able to get away with only giving a bath every couple of weeks, you should be doing a thorough head-to-toe examination more frequently, like once a week.  Once a week you should be checking the eyes, ears, mouth, feet, and anal area.  I would recommend checking the feet at the end of every shift or anytime your canine has run through an area with glass or other objects that may cause injury.

You need to check the eyes any type of matter in the corners of the eyes.  If there is any, use a washcloth with warm water or saline solution to wipe the matter away.  Eyes that are clear, not red and have no discharge except for tears are signs of a healthy canine.  Discharge in the eyes can happen if the canine has allergies; yes canines can have allergies, but can be easily treated by the vet.

Ears should be checked weekly, generally in the course of grooming.  The inside of the ear is the most important part to check; but you should also check the outside of the ear for any injuries.  Check the inside of the ear for any dirt or dark colored foreign substance.  You may find a dark greasy like substance, which is fairly common, but should be cleaned out.  You can generally clean the ear yourself by using a damp cloth wrapped around a fingertip and gently wiping the dirt and grime away.  You should never try and poke into the ear canal.  Small crevices in the outer ear can be cleaned with a cotton swab.  Sometimes the greasy substance will be difficult to remove or will be down in the ear canal.  In those cases, you should consult with your vet.  There are ear cleaning solutions that can be prescribed to help clean the ear.  Excessive build-up of dirt and grime will eventually interfere with hearing, so keep an eye on those ears.

If we don’t take care of our teeth by brushing, it can lead to tooth decay, tartar and cavities.  The same goes for our canines.  So, what should you being doing to maintain healthy teeth and mouth in your canine.  First let’s discuss the examination.  With the mouth closed, pull back the lips to expose the gums and teeth.  If the gums are pink and firm, that’s an indication of healthy gums.  Check the teeth for any stains and that they are firm.  Some canines aren’t cooperative when dealing with their mouth, which is a reason why all these examinations should be started when they are very young.  It is a matter of training.  Typically, if you gently push on the corners of the jaw, the mouth will open.  Check the insides of the teeth for stains and that they are firm.  Also check the tongue at this time for any sores.  If you find the gums to be pale, swollen, bleed when touched or have red marks, they should pay a visit to the vet.  How clean the teeth are can depend on many factors, such as what kind of food, treats, and play toys.  Everyone has their own preference on dog food, so I won’t tell you what you should use.  Personally I only feed kibble.  Kibble as you know is hard food, which is abrasive and helps clean the teeth by friction.  Milk-Bones and dog biscuits also work in the same fashion, so they are good to use as a treat and during training as a reward.  There are many chew toys on the market that are supposed to help clean the teeth, some work, some don’t.  Chew toys made out of a hard nylon is what I have found to be effective.  Once in a great while, I will have a large bone from a steak or a leg bone from a cow that my canine gets to enjoy.  Like kibble, bones are abrasive and helps clean the teeth.  What I have mentioned is what I do with my canine and have never had to brush his teeth or take him in to get tartar scraped off.  It is recommended by some to brush the canine’s teeth and gums twice or more a week.  If brushing the teeth is something you want to do, I recommend starting when they are a puppy.  It is a matter of training and over time they will get used to it and not fight you.  So if you have decided to brush your canine’s teeth, here is the recommended method.  Use toothpaste for dogs and a soft bristled nylon toothbrush.  There are various designs, some similar to human toothbrushes to angled heads and even ones that slip onto your finger.  Brush back and forth in a short circular motion; pointing the tip of the brush toward the gum line, as you would your own teeth.  Brush all the surfaces.  Vigorous brushing may cause bleeding and discomfort.  This can also indicate gum disease.  If after several brushing, the bleeding continues, consult your vet for treatment.

As mentioned above, the canine’s feet should be checked at the end of every shift or more frequently depending on what has happened during the shift and what s/he has been exposed to.  The pads of the feet are tough, but can be easily cut by glass and other rubbish in the course of pursuing a suspect.  When conducting an examination of the feet, gently hold a paw upside-down and check between the pads with your finger for any soreness or foreign matter stuck between them.  Paw pads should be hard and leathery.  Pads can become irritated with too much abrasion on hard surfaces or by chemicals used in the winter for snow and ice removal.  Heat and the before mentioned chemicals can also cause the pads to crack, so it is imperative that you check them for irritation and cracking.  Rinsing the feet with warm water will remove any chemicals and will also make it easier to examine the feet for any injuries or potential problems.  One last thing to check for is broken toe nails.  Broken toe nails can cause great discomfort and/or pain as it applies pressure to the nerve(s).  Sometimes it is just a matter of doing a little trimming, but you may have to get the vet involved, especially if you’re not comfortable doing the trimming or if the nail needs to be removed.

I have saved to dirtiest and grossest part for last, the anal area.  About every week or so, you should lift the tail and look at the anal area for soreness or redness and any dried fecal matter.  If you should find dried fecal matter, put on some latex surgical gloves and wash the anal area with warm water.  In longer haired canine’s it may be necessary to cut away the dried matter with a pair of blunt scissors like EMT shears.  During the examination, you may find swelling or redness, this maybe a sign of anal sac (gland) impaction.  For those that don’t know, on either side of the anus are two sacs in which secretions accumulate.  Typically these sacs are drained of the secretions due to the pressure during defecation.  Sometimes this doesn’t always happen, and in some cases becomes a chronic problem.  A sign of anal sac impaction is excessive licking of the anus or scooting along the ground or as I like to call it…the butt scootin’ boogie.  This is their attempt to relieve the pressure that has built up in the anal sac.  You can relieve this pressure, but it is messy.  Since I am not a vet, I don’t want to explain how to do this.  It is best that you consult with your vet if you find your canine continually showing the signs of anal sac impaction as outlined above.  If this becomes a chronic problem, the anal sacs can be surgically removed.

Have a warm and healthy winter.

Stay Safe!