The 7 most serious mistakes pet owners make in caring for their dogs

Agatha's Apothecary 5 Most Serious Problems With Routine Veterinary Care

A great veterinarian is one of the most important parts of your support system for your four-legged family members.  But as an informed pet owner, it's your job to make sure that the care that is meant to heal doesn't end up causing your pet harm years down the road.

Like most good pet parents, you love your dog, (perhaps to an embarrassing degree if the truth were known).  

Fancy collar and lead

You buy a ridiculous amount of toys and treats.  You spend hours perusing online pet sites looking for that perfect dog bed or a snazzy leash & collar (pets like to be trendy too right?).

You worry endlessly about choosing the proper food, walking the isles of the local pet emporium, reading the fine print on the back of dozens of bags of kibble trying to find the best food.

You hire dog walkers to come keep your dog entertained if work demands too much time.  When you vacation, either the family Fido comes along or you spend a fortune on the best pet spa in the city so you won't feel too guilty for leaving even for a short trip.

Cute dogs walking with leash

But when it comes to veterinary care, are you like many owners, woefully ignorant of what's truly best for their beloved pets?  Do you blindly agree to whatever your veterinarian says your dog needs, simply because you don't have a clue of the dangers many common veterinary treatments might pose to your dog?

Even worse, when you have doubts about a treatment or worry a protocol isn't entirely safe or appropriate?  Do you hesitate to question your dog's doctor and reluctantly allow your pet to receive drugs or undergo procedures that you fear are not without genuine risk?

As a dog breeder and veterinary technician who has managed two animal hospitals and worked hand in hand with some very good (and a few not so good) veterinarians.  I've had years of hands on experience in daily clinical care of literally thousands of pets.  Those years were invaluable to a pet professional and have given me a unique view of caring for the pets we love.

My goal here is certainly not to bash veterinarians.  I love my doggie doctor and depend on him to help me keep my dogs healthy.  I also acknowledge that the majority of veterinary protocols are both necessary and absolutely vital to keeping pets healthy. 

BUT the veterinary profession is still fraught with problems and often slow to change in regards to things that are legitimately troubling in regards to what is truly best for our pets.  Dubious methods of treatment that continue to be the norm in spite of research that show real reason to be concerned about outdated practices that you will find many veterinarians still clinging tenaciously to.

You can't be afraid to ask questions before allowing your pet to become a statistic like so many others that sadly have learned the hard way about when veterinary care hurts instead of heals.

Problem #1  Neutering Your Puppy at too young an age

Neutering your pet too young article.

First, let me be absolutely clear, spaying or neutering your pet is vitally important for not only their long-term health but for your peace of mind. Owning an unneutered pet can quickly become a major headache.  Males will begin to wander and mark territory, females will be in season every 6 or 8 months and cause you sleepless nights trying to avoid all the canine Casanova's in the neighborhood and the resulting litters of unplanned puppies.  Altering your pet will help them avoid certain cancers, and make the focus of their affections remain at home and firmly focused on the family and not the neighbor's Beagle.

Now that we've got benefits of why you SHOULD neuter your pet out of the way, let's talk about why you need to let your puppy grow and mature before rushing to make that appointment when your vet says it's time to get your young dog "fixed".  

Current research is pointing to many excellent reasons to delay neutering your pet until they have matured and their growth plates have had time to close. Early neutering (which is typically as early as 5 months of age) is being blamed for the rapid rise of joint disease and the explosion in numbers of joint surgeries.

Photo by Carmelka/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Carmelka/iStock / Getty Images

Your puppy's hormones are necessary to ensure that they develop a healthy skeletal system.  When those hormones are lost before a puppy is mature, there is a much higher risk of degenerative joint diseases such as hip dysplasia, cruciate problems, and luxating patellas, all conditions that carry an alarmingly expensive price tag to correct.  Joint disease as it progresses causes increasing pain and immobility, all reasons to justify waiting 6 months to a year longer to neuter your pet.  

The average surgical repair for a dog with advanced hip dysplasia can run from $7,500 to $14,000.  (Yes, sadly, you read those numbers right).  Even less expensive repairs, for example, surgery to correct luxating patellas can run from $1,500 to $2,500 PER leg!

Dog Joint Disease Help

A study in the Journal Of The American Veterinary Association published July 2016 headlines their article with this frightening tagline:

"Early Neutering Triples Risk Of Joint Disorders In German Sheperd Dogs"

Agatha's Apothecary article on Joint Disease

I hope you're convinced when your puppy approaches 5 or 6 months of age and you're asked to schedule the appointment for neutering, to first have an in-depth discussion with your vet about the pros and cons of delaying that visit until your puppy is more mature.  In some breeds that will be around 14 to 18 months of age, giant breeds might need to wait until 2 years of age.  

Yes, there will be additional management required.  That's part of being a responsible pet owner.  Your boy dog will need skillful handling if he starts to get interested in girls or ponders lifting his leg on your shrubbery.  Your female dog will have one or two "seasons" you'll have to navigate through.  That heat cycle lasts between 2 to 4 weeks and admittedly will require some extra care and precaution on your part, but compared to the pain and expense of degenerative joint disease, it will be completely worth the effort.  

Problem #2  Too many Vaccinations

Problems with vaccinations in puppy

One of the most controversial topics in pet care in recent years is debate raging about whether or not yearly vaccinations are safe and completely necessary for our pets.  

As a dog breeder I know all about maintaining the delicate balance between keeping puppies healthy and worrying about the dangers associated with each vaccination they receive. 

Did you know for example, that when puppies receive their first distemper vaccination at 12 weeks of age, they receive a lifetime immunity to that disease within hours of that single vaccination?   Yet almost every puppy receives her first distemper booster at 8 weeks (which typically only provides 45% immunity) again at 11 weeks (boosting that immunity to 70%) and once more at 14 weeks of age where finally an lifetime immune response is achieved.  

To make matters worse, that joint destroying distemper vaccine will be repeated every year for the life of your dog.  Even though study after study shows that lifetime immunity came after that properly administered 12 week booster.   additional distemper shot your puppy receives can cause her body to begin an autoimmune response that causes her to attack and destroy the collagen cushioning between her joints.

Problem #3  Toxic Monthly Flea Control products

Are flea products for dogs toxic?

This is probably the area where you'll feel the most frustration when it comes to disagreeing with your veterinarian.  A lady called the other day, indignant because the girls behind the counter at her veterinarian's office laughed at her when she asked if flea products could hurt her dog.  

Unfortunately, most vets are oblivious or in denial about the long-term health risks associated with the rows of flea products lining the shelves in his dispensary.   Those of you who know Agatha's Apothecary, know that I am an advocate for educating pet parents about the dangers of these products not only to the pets they are applied to but to the children who handle and live with those pets.  
The Frightening Facts About Flea Control For Dogs is an absolute must read if you're not yet convinced that those monthly drops you apply to the family dog have the potential to do immeasurable harm to those you love. It contains a catalog of scary reasons to kick toxic flea control to the curb if you have any doubts or need the courage to go a more natural route.   A recent call from a lady who found herself at a cancer clinic for dogs was a chilling reminder of the dangers many owners are completely unaware of:

"I was in the waiting area with some of the other dog owners there and we were discussing why so many dogs were getting cancer. More than anything else, we blamed the poisons I got from my vet to keep fleas away. I can't believe I used that stuff on my poor dog for so long, it makes me sick to think of what I was doing to her all those years..."

Alice Thompkins, Maryland

Problem #4  Unhealthy "Prescription" Diets

Are prescription diets for dogs unhealthy?

Got a dog with a problem that a diet can "cure" and you'll quickly find yourself paying a small fortune (from $45 to $70 for about 20 pounds!) headed back to your car with a tiny sack of a veterinary prescribed prescription food.  On the surface, it sounds like a quick fix and an easy answer right?  Just pour some dry food in a dish and presto, your dog will no longer be overweight, her tummy troubles will disappear, the clock will turn back and even your senior dog will romp like a puppy again.  Before you pull out your debit card, let's do a little research into why that diet may not be at all good for your dog over the long term.

Prescription diets are big big business these days, not only are they stocked by virtually every animal hospital in the country, other non-prescription versions abound at the dog food stores too.

Sadly though, when you have a look at the ingredient list and the numerous complaints logged against these brands you might find yourself looking elsewhere for a truly nutritious diet for your pet.  Pet Food Advisor has this to say about a recent revamping of ingredients by Hill's Science Diet...  

Although we applaud Hill’s decision to use natural ingredients and no chicken by-products, our current analysis suggests little has changed. And what has appears to be mostly cosmetic.

The company’s posted label information shows the recipes are still dominated by cereal grains and lower quality ingredients.

Dog Food Advisor goes on to analyze a long list of Hill's brand dog foods, if you're using any of them you owe it to your dog to become better educated about what's inside that bag, and whether or not it's really going to nourish your dog.  For example, Science Diet Canine ID ingredient list begins with this rather uninspiring selection:

Brewers rice, whole grain corn, chicken meal, pea protein, egg product, pork fat, corn gluten meal, chicken liver flavor, dried beet pulp, lactic acid, pork liver flavor (Read More...

Is corn in dog food bad for dogs, GMO article Agatha's Apothecary

I never like to see corn listed as a dog food ingredient, and it appears TWICE in the first 7 ingredients of this product.  Most dog owners are aware of the problems with the GMO versions that find their way onto our grocery store shelves and our dog's foods.  If you need more reasons to avoid corn in your pet food, this article by Rodney Habib who hosts a popular radio program about pet care ought to help you be more informed, Corn And Dry Dog Food Aflatoxins and Mycotoxins

Scary stuff indeed and plenty of reason to rethink your dog's food choices.

Problem #5  Dog Got Skin Problems? Cortisone, The Drug I Love To Hate

Help for dog skin problems article Agatha's Apothecary

One of the most common reasons you'll find yourselfat your veterinarian's office, especially if you have a dog who's eating a less than stellar diet or fighting a flea outbreak in the neighborhood, will be to deal with skin problems.

Again, let me start with a qualifier.  There are times when your veterinarian will have no other choice than to inject your dog with Cortisone and send you home with a two week course of tablets to help a dog that is driving him and your family mad with his scratching. 

If your pet has reached the stage where he's developed a hot spot. has hair loss or is keeping himself and everyone else up at night with non-stop attempts to relieve the irritation, needs have musts and cortisol will probably be the only option for short term relief.  

The problems begin when after two weeks of relative "relief", if you don't count the increased thirst & accidents in the house from increased urination, silent damage to liver and kidneys and this food for thought from a popular down under veterinarian/blogger:

I often wonder if owners are pre-warned about the significant side effects that cortisone can cause their much loved pets. Just like in people, cortisone leads to increased eating, drinking and retention of water. In dogs, it can also unleash aggression. The risk with cortisone is increased with prolonged and repeated dosing and can even cause iatrogenic cushings or diabetes which are serious medical conditions. Dr Rayya T-Malaeb DVM

In short, while Cortisone might be effective and even necessary for short-term relief, if you don't take steps to deal with the underlying causes of your dog's incessant scratching and digging, you'll find yourself returning again and again for more injections and more tablets and that short-term relief will cause untold long-term damage to your dog.

Here's a short list of possible causes along with some helpful suggestions if you find yourself the owner of a miserable itchy dog:

  • Food allergies. Remember my tirade against corn listed above? Corn is often the culprit behind food allergies and the resultant cascade of skin problems that plague dogs that are fed a diet containing it. Chicken can be another allergen for many dogs because of the processing and low quality chicken by-products in many foods.

  • Try Probiotics. Many owners of dogs with food allergies have found that probiotics can be helpful. I've seen really amazing results with adding about 15 Billion CFU's daily to dog diets.

  • Using the wrong shampoo on your dog. Dog's are surprisingly sensitive when it comes to their skin.

Canine skin is thinner and much more sensitive than human skin. Dogs should be bathed only with shampoos made specifically for pets. Shampoos and other topical products for people can be irritating to canine skin and should be avoided. Merck Veterinary Manual

Using people shampoo or worse still, dish detergent on your good dog will strip the delicate protective layer of oils on the surface of his skin and quickly open the door to dermatitis and a host of other problems.

Scratching dog
  • Not enough healthy fat or EFA's in the diet. Check your dog's coat, is it shiny or dull and lifeless? Often the addition of quality sources of EFA's (essential fatty acids) can go a long way in helping repair damaged coat and help restore luster to those canine locks (just in case you are one of those unfortunate owners who've been using Dawn to wash your poor dog). Extra Virgin Coconut oil is one of my favorites, a teaspoon a day for a 30 pound dog can do wonders.

  • Fleas and flea bite dermatitis. It only takes the bite of one flea to set some poor dogs off into a digging & chewing frenzy. Worse still, even when you've eliminated the fleas on your pet (naturally PLEASE), he can continue to feel the effects set in place by his sensitivity to the saliva of that first wretched flea. There are other avenues of relief to your suffering pet besides cortisone but the first order of business is to eliminate those bites in the first place and thus stop the cascade before it can begin.

people food for dogs

Problem #6 "No People Food For Your Dog!" 

What one thing (after toxic flea control products) has done more to damage our good dogs and helped to shorten their lives than almost any other?  It's that vehemently repeated admonition to avoid all people food for dogs.  For years I repeated this warning faithfully to clients at our popular animal hospital,,,

"NEVER feed your dog people food! It will cause stomach upsets and besides, dry dog food is so complete, they don't need anything else to thrive, dry dog food is actually better for them!"

The manufacturers of those dry diets rejoiced and the "NO PEOPLE FOOD FOR DOGS " mantra rang out from coast to coast until it became a point of pride to say "I would never give my dog people food!"  All the while cancer rates are skyrocketing in the canine population, and dogs have never been more unhealthy. Currently it's estimated that over half of all Golden Retrievers will get cancer, what an appalling statistic.

The tide has begun to turn with the current mania for raw diets, and while I find it admirable that some dog owners have the time and energy to keep up with that complicated and dare I say it, daunting task of feeding an entirely raw diet, I have to be honest and ask who has time for all that?  I find it hard enough to keep my own diet where it should be and thus may I suggest a compromise that could benefit your good dog without driving you to distraction being a raw food purist?

The path I'm taking is simple.  Every day I start with quality supplements and probiotics and the rest of the diet consists of real living food.  Almost all kibble has been replaced by simply including my dog in my dinner plans. Baked chicken for supper?  Prepare an extra small portion along with some of that baked sweet potato and yes, adding those green beans is a great idea.

As with all changes in your pet's diet, especially if you've been in the NPFFP's camp, begin gradually introducing additional live foods to help him slowly move away from a commercial pre-packaged diet.  You can add small amounts of the following:

  • Cooked eggs

  • Kefir or yogurt

  • Small pieces of apple, broccoli, cauliflower, even brussel sprouts can become a favorite if you are ingenious and make a game of tasting new things. (Think toddler vs broccoli here, psychology works on dogs too : )

  • Meat (of course!) beef, chicken, lamb or pork will be much appreciated by most canines but start with one at a time for a week then if no tummy upsets occur introduce other foods one at a time.

Common sense precautions:

  • Avoid heavy seasonings, remember your dog has been living on another planet in regards to real food and what exists in a bag of dry dog food, keep seasoning to a minimum especially in the first weeks.

  • Of course, there are foods to avoid, onions, grapes and raisins are toxic for dogs. Here's a more comprehensive list to keep you on safe footing.

Problem #7  Microchips Are They Really A Danger to your dog?

Photo by vetkit/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by vetkit/iStock / Getty Images

"Microchips are safe and effective!  Don't believe the scaremongering!"  Daily Mail UK April 2016

"Vets Warn Don't Get Your Small Dog Or Puppy Microchipped" Daily Mail UK April 2016

#7 is one I'm especially concerned about for my clients and their pets.  Microchipping your pet seems like such a great idea and if you're one of the pet owners who has already had a chip inserted in your pet I only ask that you read this with an open mind. 

When implanted identification devices first came on the market, the veterinary community embraced them wholeheartedly.  It seemed innocent enough, a tiny receiver placed under the skin would mean if your pet was ever lost or stolen, his ID and your phone number was always accessible and the potential for his return home was greatly increased.  

Photo by bymuratdeniz/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by bymuratdeniz/iStock / Getty Images

I've always prefered to do things as naturally as possible with my pets and I worried that anything that emitted a radio frequency included an antenna, and a computer chip and acted as a GPS positioning device was strange new science to put in my pet's body, the whole idea just seemed flawed.

Then recently, two of my clients reported their dogs had developed tumors at the injection site, (one microchip was walled into the center of the tumor by the way) and I became even more concerned that microchips had to potential to cause serious problems and began to urge our customers to avoid getting one for their pets.

If you do a search on microchip dangers you can draw your own conclusions, but articles like this one "Jury's Still Out On Microchipping" by Dog World Magazine contributor and journalist Lee Conner are enough to keep me firmly convinced that the safer option for my pets is to leave the dubious benefits of microchipping their pets to braver souls than I.

A word for those pet lovers who are worried about the chips that are already implanted in their pets?  Maybe it's time for a frank discussion with your veterinarian to see what options are available going forward.  At the very least it would seem wise to closely monitor dogs who carry microchips and immediately seek veterinary assistance if any changes occur at the injection site.