Dog Care FAQ


Why does my dog eat grass then vomit?

In most cases where dogs eat grass and then vomit, the dog is not ill at all. Certain foods, particularly fatty or very salty meals will result in excess bile production. In humans, excess bile will simply be passed through our intestines and out in our faeces. Dogs, however, rid their bodies of excess bile by eating grass and after a few minutes vomit up the grass and bile. This is evident in the thick mucous that is wrapped and intermingled with the grass, often stained yellow, indicating the presence of bile pigments.

It is up to you to observe how often this behaviour occurs and to decide if a trip to the vet is necessary. A dog that vomits more frequently than every two-three weeks and eats copious quantities of grass could be harbouring some type of parasite. In the wild, dogs will eat grass or some wild herbs in an attempt to decontaminate themselves of parasites. If your dog continually eats grass it is worthwhile having it’s faeces examined by a vet. Even with the most efficient of worming programs your dog can still harbour other intestinal parasites such as protozoa or bugs like Giardia. It may take several faecal tests before getting evidence that a bug is present in your dog’s intestines.

The investigation required for an animal that vomits too frequently depends on the dogs history and a thorough physical examination by a veterinarian. A dog that is a continuous grass eater who frequently vomits up grass, bile and also food, may require blood tests, X-rays and possibly even an endoscopy to look inside the stomach.

Occasional vomiting of bile is not an abnormality but some owners do become concerned about it. Such dogs may benefit from a change of diet, increased vitamin content in the food or even some herbal medications. A diet low in fat, high in good quality protein and an easily digested soluble carbohydrate will be of benefit to the animal even if it’s not totally necessary. Some owners have reported benefits adding a combination of cooked fresh beetroot and fresh carrot to the dog’s diet.

How can we ensure that we have a trouble-free litter?

Entire books have been written about breeding and whelping bitches, so we’ll just cover the basic points to assist you in whelping your first litter.There are a few decisions that need to be considered prior to embarking on breeding your animal.

Firstly, can you find good homes for the puppies?

Secondly, is your bitch actually worth breeding from? That is to say, while you love her dearly, does your animal carry any inheritable problems that may be inherited in the puppies? Temperament is the most important consideration, so if your bitch is antisocial, aggressive or hyper-excitable, think carefully before breeding from her.

Are there any physical, heritable defects that your female carries? A veterinary examination will discover if there are problems that  should not be promoted into the next generation. It is your responsibility to ensure that these puppies are given every chance of being both mentally & physically sound.

The male you choose to be the father (sire) of the puppies should also be scrutinised for temperament and physical soundness. Your vet may recommend screening  tests for your bitch, it is reasonable to expect the potential sire to have also undertaken similar testing procedures.

Any female undergoing a pregnancy must be in the prime of good health. Her vaccination program must be up to date and worming regime thorough. Prior to breeding, your bitch should not be fat and her muscle development should be maximised by an enjoyable walking program, and this should continue throughout the pregnancy.

A bitch should not be bred from on her first cycle as most domestic dogs are too physically and mentally immature during the first oestrus. Generally, the third or fourth cycle is the optimum time to mate your bitch.

In canines, the normal gestation period, that is the time from mating to whelping is approximately 63 days (9 weeks). Once the bitch enters the her trimester (6 weeks after mating), she should be introduced into an area that has been prepared for her to deliver her pups. Given a good whelping area, the bitch will usually commence nesting during the final week leading up to the birth of the puppies.

The nesting continues throughout this period with the bitch tearing up newspaper or scratching at whatever bedding has been provided. As the cervix starts to contract, the foetal fluids are released and the bitch enters the next stage of labour. The first puppy can be expected within 1-2 hours with further pups being delivered, on average, every hour. Providing the bitch is in the correct environment, there is little need for human intervention other than observing and monitoring.

If the bitch is continually straining and failing to produce a puppy within 40 minutes of serious muscular contractions it is time to seek veterinary assistance. This may indicate a bad presentation and a puppy stuck in the birth canal. You should also seek the help of a professional if the bitch fails to deliver a puppy every hour or so.

When your bitch has finished whelping, she will settle quietly to feed her puppies. Puppies are born without protection against infections and require the mother’s milk to absorb antibodies (protein that fight infections) into their own bloodstreams.

Weaning of your puppies will commence around 3 or 4 weeks depending on their development, breed, number of puppies, condition and the condition of your bitch. Do not offer the puppies cows’ milk or cereal to commence the weaning process – this usually leads to diarrhoea as they may not be able to completely digest the sugars in the milk. In the wild, pups receive regurgitated food from the mother to start their weaning process. For domestic dogs, a superpremium dry food, soaked in warm water to ensure it fully softens, is often a good starting point.

Once the puppies have accepted the new food and eagerly await their meals, it is time to remove the bitch from the puppies. This should be done over a period of about a week, continually increasing the time the bitch spends away from the puppies.

At 6 weeks your puppies will need to be taken to the vet for vaccinations. During this time the vet will examine them for any obvious congenital or heritable problems, especially things like heart defects, obvious eye problems or luxating kneecaps.

My dog keeps scooting. Is it worms?

When dogs place their bottom on the ground and drag it along the grass, it is called ‘scooting’. This happens whenever a dog gets an itchy or inflamed anal region. While worms can be one of the causes of such a problem, a more common cause for scooting is anal gland impaction.

The anal glands are two secretory sacs located at the 4 o’clock and 8 o’clock position around the anus. They fill with a dark, foul-swelling, thick substance that is released when a dog is frightened. Some of the fluid is also released if a dog is passing very, dry hard faecal material as the anal secretions are fatty, therefore lubricating the region.

The anal glands or sacs are connected by the means of very small ducts (or canals). These can easily become blocked, especially in smaller dogs, resulting in the sacs becoming impacted with the anal gland secretions. Unfortunately, infection will easily localise in this area, which is known for its colonisation by a varied range of bacterial flora. This further inflames the area and the dog tries to relief itself by scooting & licking constantly under the tail. When this situation arises the only relief the dog can receive is by expressing the anal glands.

Using a gloved hand, your vet will squeeze each gland so that it forcibly unblocks the duct, emptying the contents of the anal sac.

Left unattended, without releasing the build-up of secretions, the pressure inside the sac will continue to rise, finally climaxing in a rupture of the skin to relieve the situation, like a pimple bursting. In fact, an anal gland abscess has been created which, unless professionally treated, will continue as a source of infection in the region. This requires the animal to have surgical intervention, curetting the abscess and administering antibiotics.

How can I stop my dog destroying the backyard?

In case you haven’t noticed by now, dogs are basically intelligent and gregarious. The first species to be domesticated, they enjoy the company of people. In fact, many dogs prefer being with humans rather than their own species. Left alone, boredom can set in and this can result in unacceptable or nuisance behaviour, requiring the offending animal to undergo extensive retraining. Unless, of course, you look after your dog’s interest.

When a dog bonds strongly with a person who fails to teach that dog tolerance and patience, certain consequences must be expected when the two become separated. Some dogs will simply sulk around until their owner returns, while others become anxious to be reunited. A dog that is continually left alone will find its own entertainment and stimulation. It might start pulling clothes off the line or knocking pot plants off window-sills, or digging up the garden. Dogs require both physical and mental stimulation in order to avoid boredom. A dog that has been on an exhausting run with its owner is less likely to develop the habit of incessant barking compared with a dog that is continually confined to its yard. Allowing a dog to roam by itself outside the yard is not an option – it’s irresponsible and dangerous and teaches the dog independence to the point where it cannot distinguish acceptable behaviour.

Teaching your dog tolerance and patience should begin on the first day the puppy enters your house. An easily cleaned, sheltered, quiet area of your house needs to be alloted as the puppy’s area of confinement. This may be a laundry area inside the house, a kennel and pen in the backyard or a small wire enclosure where the puppy can be safely confined. Your dog needs to spend short periods in the selected area where it may be fed a bone to give it a distraction from its solitude. Under no circumstances should the animal be attended to while its barking or whining for attention. Prior to having placed the puppy in the pen, you should take the dog outside, have a small play and give it ample opportunity to go to the toilet.

Mental stimulation for you dog can be provided in a few ways. A concentrated 10 minute obedience lesson goes a long way to providing mental exercise for the pooch. To ensure that this is delivered effectively you will need to be committed to weekly obedience school where a qualified instructor can teach you how to correctly train your animal.

Leaving a large bone with your dog can assist in the initial separation anxiety experienced by the animal, but depending upon the size of the bone and the effectiveness of the dogs teeth, this distraction may be short-lived. Toys can also assist in providing amusement to the dog and generally should be utilised at two particular times. Firstly, the owner should encourage play behaviour with the toys during fun times in the backyard and secondly, offer toys for the dog to play with when you are leaving the house.

If your dog is destructive whenever you are away from home it is a matter of going right back to basics and beginning lessons from scratch. You will need to spend money on a secure and safe pen that prevents your dog from accessing areas where it creates that greatest amount of damage in your yard. Next you will need to allow your dog to see you while it is confined in its pen. So make the pen an attractive area for the dog by playing games or feeding the animal in its new confined area. You can hide small portions of food or toys in different areas within the yard, affording the animal rewards during its solitary, investigative hours.

There a quite a few reasons why dogs dig. Looking at it from the dog’s point of view, digging is considered normal. In fact, when a dog digs in a freshly worked garden bed, it is simply mimicking your behaviour. It’s seen you till the soil and is just helping you out. Worse still, if you add compost or fertiliser to the garden bed (especially in the form of blood and bone) the area is all the more inviting.

One important factor in trying to understand a dog’s digging behaviour is that some breeds are actually meant to dig. The word ‘terrier’ for example, comes from the Latin word that means ‘to hide’, and terriers are literally dogs that go to ground. Dogs will also do this in very hot weather in an attempt to create a cooler environment. Making a den to sleep in is not unnatural for any dog.

Many dogs dig at random, leaving potholes throughout the backyard. This behaviour is usually attributed to the release of pent-up energy and these dogs dog for the sheer enjoyment and exercise value. Geriatric dogs lose some ability to regulate their body temperature, often feeling the cold or the heat much more than when they were younger. In these cases, old dogs start digging to find a more comfortable environment, perhaps even digging when they are indoors, which has disastrous results for the carpet.

Finally, some dogs dig simply because they are deprived of social contact with people. Dogs will dig near gates or doors or any area where people may congregate – the dog is attempting to escape its solitary confinement and is simply looking for attention, especically from humans.

The hardest digging behaviour to treat is that which arises because of genetic predisposition. For dogs that dig because it is in their nature, the most effective therpay is allowing them to find a distraction from the digging. Structured obedience classes with lessons given by you to your dog each day may provide mental stimulation to change the dogs behaviour to some extent. Toys left in the backyard may also help, providing the dog doesn’t get into the habit of wanting to bury them.

Dogs that enjoy digging simply to release energy obviously require therapy. If you spend 15-30 minutes once or twice each day throwing a ball, the bursts of energy required for sprinting will soon tire the animal.

If nothing appears to work you may need to build a concrete or paved area for the dog to confine it to when you are not at home.

When do female puppies first come into heat?

The scientific answer is that bitches come into their first season or cycle when they reach 75 per cent of their mature body weight. In practical terms, toys and many terrier breeds such as Maltese, Jack Russells, Cavalier King Charles spaniels and pugs usually have their first season (oestrus) around six months of age. The range for small dog dogs to have their first oestrus is 6 to 9 months. Large breeds have a range from 9 to 18  months, although it is not abnormal for some giant breeds to have their first cycle at two years of age.

Do dogs go senile?

Although senility in animals has not been widely studied, people who work and live with dogs over a long period of time can testify to the fact that senility seems to affect dogs. One man who worked in this field has described  a problem in geriatric dogs called canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. Dogs that suffer from this syndrome are characterised by decreased interest in their environment and a decreased ability to interact correctly with humans and other animals.

You should realise that the family pet might become more aggressive when it reaches senility. Various treatments have been tried in order to assist with the overall mental problems seen in older dogs and some can improve their moods. Your need to learn to compensate by doing such things as ensuring the dog has a warm, comfortable space where it can lie and sleep undisturbed, especially by youngsters. Having been your best friend for over ten years, serving you by guarding your life and property, your dog deserves its space and comforts during the twilight years of its life.

How do I know if it’s the right time to put my dog to sleep?

Often people bring their old dogs to see me and ask the question, ‘How will I know when it’s the right time?’ My answer is nearly always the same. I simply tell people because they care enough to make sure an enquiry for the one you love, they will know in their heart when the time is right.

There are, of course, certain signs. If your dog can get up to eat and drink, can go outside to the toilet, can still recognise your return from work or shopping, then all is well even if they spend most of their time sleeping. When they do not go outside to relieve themselves, have trouble standing to eat or drink, or become so senile that they snap at every person – then its time to let them go. Dogs become embarrassed the way you and I would, so we shouldn’t let them lose their dignity.

Urinary incontinence can occur because of hormonal or even infectious reasons, so this needs to be discussed with and treated by your vet. There are many useful drugs that can improve the quality of life for a geriatric dog. Never be shy about asking your vet for assistance, like older people, checkups by the doctor shoudn’t be left  until the condition becomes serious. Caught early, many geriatric conditions can be treated, extending your dogs life expectancy while maintaining good quality of life. But this therapy must not be pushed to the extreme, as there comes a time when drups and any other areas you might have explored no longer help.

The other matter that needs to be addressed is the issue of how the act of euthanasia (putting your dog to sleep) will be performed. Will it be painful?

An general anaesthetic intravenous injection is used, a compound called phenobaritone. The dog is taken into a state of deep sleep, the anaesthetic effect continuing until heart function is also anaesthetised. The heart stops, circulation around the body ceases and peacefully and painlessly the dog will pass on.

At times, people are left wondering if it is the right time because the dog was not constantly whimpering in pain but dogs just don’t do that. The signs of pain are the inability to walk, lameness, loss of appetite, lethargy and often mental dullness. One needs to assess the quallity of life that the pet is maintaining or rather, in cases of pain, enduring.

There are no fixed rules or formulas to help make your decision as to when is the right time. Use common sense, don’t allow your dog to suffer or lose its dignity, and listen to your heart. Your will know when the time has come to accept your greatest and final responsibility as a dog owner – saying goodbye to an old friend.