We all want our dogs to live forever but know the reality, they will share portions of our lives and we want these to be as long as possible and for our dogs to live well as they get older too, free from health issues and pain.
There’s never been a better time to have a dog. In the twenty years I have been sharing my life with whippets I’ve seen huge changes. Back then raw food diets were thought to be a fad, vaccinations; flea and tick treatments were routinely given and never questioned. Most dog treats were highly processed and pet shops stocked just tinned processed food.
In 2022 where we have choice. The internet allows us to research what’s best for our dogs and many studies have been done on animal health. We can make the best decisions for our dogs based on research. BUT there is an alarmingly high dog obesity rate, arthritis is the most common cause of pain in dogs and cancer kills more dogs over 10 than humans.
I turned to Anna Webb for tips on this topic; Anna is a specialist in Canine Nutrition and Behaviour Therapies (CIVT), dog trainer and broadcaster.
Anna hosts a brilliant podcast A Dog’s Life – where I’ve learnt so much about dog health and wellbeing and it’s now a weekly must listen. Anna lives in London with Prudence, a Miniature Bull Terrier and Mr Binks, a re-homed English Toy Terrier. She combines her psychology degree with study at the College of Integrated Veterinary Therapies and lifelong experiences including training many dogs to bring us a wealth of knowledge of dog health and happiness.
Anna: “ If you are what you eat, I recommend feeding a dog as a carnivore just as nature intended with primarily animal fat and animal protein. Nutrigenomics and Epigenetics evidence shows that feeding a raw unprocessed and balanced species appropriate diet will promote positive anti-inflammatory gene expression. This is in contrast to overly processed alternatives, with high sugar content, creating negative or inflammatory gene expression, which can lead to disease. Much research concurs that a healthy gut and microbiome (billed the second brain) is also responsible for cognitive health. If 99% of a dog’s immune system is provided by millions of microscopic hairy bacteria, residing in the microbiome, it highlights why a highly processed, sterile diet can be counter-productive.”
Note: Having read most of the insightful book – The Forever Dog – it’s clear that processed food is bad for our dogs. Dog food cooked over 90 degrees Celsius looses nutritional value and the ability for your dog to digest it. Dried food is cooked at over 150 degrees C and is the most processed. Raw is thought to be the best option and Anna has a wealth of knowledge on feeding raw – I don’t. Our two are fed Butternut Box, it’s gently cooked and thought to be the next best option to raw – it works for us and George and Winnie thrive on it. I know many owners whose dogs are healthy and happy fed raw and now it’s easily accessible via shops and online subscriptions delivered to your door in conveniently portioned packets ready for the freezer.
The important thing is to be informed of the facts so you can make the choice that you want for your dog.
Anna: “Welfare organisations concur that there is an obesity crisis in Britain’s dogs, with one in two dogs being labelled as overweight or obese. Being aware of your dog’s body score, understanding dogs need a waist and that it’s acceptable to feel their ribs, rather than having an oblong look from above is crucial. Fat cells are pro-inflammatory, and as such can promote cellular dysfunction. A concern with fat cells is that they multiply by excreting enzymes, known as cytokines, into neighbouring cells, which is why shedding weight can take time and patience. Just as in people, being overweight can affect porky pooches with similar health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and arthritis.”
Note: Whippets aren’t generally prone to weight gain if they are exercised adequately, but there are times such as in very hot weather when our whips are not as active. During these months I drop the food intake and likewise increase it in the cooler months when they are far more active.
Anna: “I believe that trained dogs are happy dogs and create happier families! Many common behaviour issues like excessive barking, no recall, pulling on the lead, reactivity, even separation anxiety can be fixed with training. But it has to be positive reward based. I like to think of turning everything in a dog’s world into a game centred on rules and teamwork. For me the reward is letting your dog have fun. It builds a bond, pushes boundaries, helping build trust and communication. That’s both ways! By learning to speak dog you will understand the why’s behind your dog’s behaviour. Otherwise, messages can get lost in translation!
Note: I am completely on board – training is not just for puppies – it is for the life of our dogs. Making it fun and interactive strengthens our bond and there are always going to be times when your dog might be in danger, that recall or WAIT training might prevent harm.”
Anna “The science of Epigenetics highlights that behaviour and the environment can affect a dog’s DNA sequence and lead to disease. Stressors can be found in food, water and the air we breathe. There’s also over medication and over vaccination. Scientists concur that sometimes the cleanest indoor environments can be more toxic than outdoors. From cleaning products, washing powers, air fresheners, flame retardant chemicals, BPA’s in plastic. Dogs sniff or lick up minute residue particles known as volatile organic compounds. Overtime these absorb into the cellular system adversely affecting health. Dogs know when we’re stressed as they smell changes in our cortisol levels. Sadly recent studies suggest our stress becomes internalised as an endocrine disruptor to our dogs.”
Note: Whippets are a sensitive breed and I’m sure we have all experienced at some point when we are feeling low, a long nose snaffling the tears or hopping up next to you on the sofa when they don’t often do that. But I didn’t know about the risk of everyday cleaning products.
Anna: “This combats boredom and frustration. Set training projects for your dog and practice little and often. Plan dog days out for socialisation, new experiences, new sights, sounds and smells. Punctuate your dog’s day with regular proactive play sessions like playing hide and seek, fetch and tug indoors and outdoors. Integrate daily short, but regular training sessions, like teaching your dog a new trick! Tap into your dog’s instincts to sniff and chew. Choose chews that are natural. Chewing is an instinctual behaviour that releases happy hormones, cleans teeth, and is a boredom buster. Never underestimate the power of interactive toys stuffed with natural, healthy alternatives as offering vital brain teasers for additional mental dexterity, and igniting a dog’s olfaction.”
Note: We are BIG fans of enrichment. Winnie has Find It games every day and just hearing her sniff out the treats hidden around the house puts a smile on my face. We also give them natural chews and luckily most pet shops sell them and there are plenty of online subscriptions to sign up to. In our house the smellier the better – tripe wins but they also love goat trachea and camel hide.
We tend to do the same walks during the week but take them to new places at the weekend. They always have more of a spring in their step when the smells are new to sniff and you can see their joy.
I hope there are some nuggets of wisdom in there – if you want to know more please have a listen to Anna’s podcast – episodes I have found most insightful are:
112 – A Visit to the Vets
101 – What’s in your Gene’s
86 – Victoria Stillwell
Anna’s website - www.annawebb.co.uk
A Dog’s Life Podcast https://feeds.transistor.fm/a-dogs-life-with-anna-webb
A very useful read: The Forever Dog by Rodney Habib & Dr Karen Shaw Becker