Are raw diets better?
Question:My neighbor keeps telling me how great her dogs have been since she switched them to a raw diet. Is this something that might benefit my dog? He’s very active, and I’d like to do whatever I can to keep him this healthy.
Answer: Raw diets are certainly popular in some circles. Proponents say that this approach to feeding---which includes raw meats as well as organ meat, bones, fruits and vegetables---is healthier because it is closer to the diet a dog evolved to eat. And, certainly, some dogs seem to thrive on these diets. You can buy commercially prepared raw dog foods, which tend to be expensive, or you can make your own.
However, before you head for the butcher counter, do your homework and be aware of the incredible amount of work it takes to get this type of diet right. The companies that produce the major dog food brands employ canine nutritionists with PhDs, who dedicate their careers to creating formulas with balanced nutrition to support the health of your pet. If you start making your own dog food, you’ll lose the benefit of their expertise, and your dog may not be getting all the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients he needs.
Also, raw meats can harbor a wide range of pathogens, including salmonella, klebsiella, E. coli and many others, which can cause serious illness in the human members of the household as well as the dog. If you go this route, it is important to maintain a high level of hygiene around everything that comes in contact with these foods. With commercial raw foods, be sure to follow the package directions for storage.
For most busy horsepeople, I would think that it makes more sense to stick with a well-balanced mainstream diet. The major brands offer safe, balanced nutrition formulated for every stage of a dog’s life. And that leaves you more time to spend with your horse.
When my dog limps
Question: When my horse is lame, I know to check his hooves for rocks and injury and feel his legs for heat and swelling. But I’m not sure what steps to take when I notice my dog limping a bit. How do I determine if it’s something minor that might pass versus something more urgent that requires a veterinarian?
Answer: Active dogs who spend their lives around horses are likely to injure themselves, developing lameness, now and then. Since we don’t have to worry about riding them, we may tend to procrastinate, or “wait and see,” before seeking veterinary care for our dogs. But that is not a good idea. If your dog is limping, take him to see a veterinarian.
In the meantime, check the leg carefully, starting at the toes. But keep yourself safe. Just as you know that any horse in pain may kick you, you must also assume that any dog in pain will bite you, no matter how docile he normally is. Putting a muzzle on him would be a good precaution.
Start by gently running your fingers over and between the toes and toenails, footpads and foot joints. Look and feel carefully, because hair and shadows can obscure small but painful injuries. Then move on up the leg. For chronic lamenesses, the elbow, stifles and hips are the most common sites of pain in dogs.
If you find anything that looks swollen or infected, if your touches cause your dog to react in pain, or even if you cannot find anything wrong but your dog continues to limp, be sure to see your veterinarian as soon as you can. As with horses, many injuries or chronic issues are easier to deal with when treatments are started as early as possible.
Do not try to treat your dog with your own medications or with your horse’s. Correct dosages and product safety varies dramatically between species and even between breeds of dog!
Chewing on hoof trimmings
Question: My dog loves chewing on the hoof trimmings he finds on the ground after the farrier leaves. Is there any reason I shouldn’t let him?
Answer: Hoof trimmings are nontoxic and naturally very attractive to dogs, but it’s not a good idea to let your dog have them. One reason is that they often cause vomiting a few hours after they are ingested, so you may end up with bits of hoof deposited on your living room carpet or in your bed. In rare cases the hoof trimmings could cause an obstruction in the gastrointestinal tract and require the canine equivalent of colic surgery.
The other major reason to keep hoof trimmings away from dogs is behavioral. In seeking these treats, a dog could easily develop the bad habit of inserting himself close to the horses as your farrier works, adding another unpredictable factor to an already dangerous job. This behavior increases the risk of injury to the farrier, the horse, the person holding the horse and the dog, too.
For everyone’s safety, it’s best to keep dogs well away from both horse and farrier while work is being done.
This article first appeared in the October 2017 issue of EQUUS (Volume #481)