Dr. Nicholas Dodman talks animal psychology. He says animal emotions and thoughts can be treated more like our own. Why he believes we can improve the mental health of our pets, and what animals teach us about human medicine.
Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine many of the dogs in our lives are living longer and healthier lives. But just like people, as they age, the kind of care they need changes. Experts at the Cummings Veterinary School of Medicine at Tufts University treat more than eight thousand dogs a year. In a new book edited by animal behaviorist, Nicholas Dodman, they share their knowledge on what dog owners can do to further the good years of their pet’s life. Join us for a conversation with Nicholas Dodman on how to keep your older dog healthy, happy and comfortable.
- Nicholas Dodman director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and author of "The Dog Who Loved Too Much," "The Cat Who Cried For Help," and "Dogs Behaving Badly," among other books.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Dogs, like people, are living longer. As they age, the kind of care they need changes. In a new book, animal behaviorist, Nicholas Dodman draws on the extensive experience of the faculty at the Cummings Veterinary School at Tufts University. To offer advice on keeping your aging dog healthy, happy and comfortable. The new book is titled "Good Old Dog." Nicholas Dodman joins me in the studio. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, your questions, comments, 800-433-8850. Send us your e-mail to email@example.com, do join us on Facebook or Twitter. Nicholas Dodman, it's good to see you again.
MR. NICHOLAS DODMANIt's good to be back.
REHMYou talk about old dogs and the kinds of problems they run into. Give me an idea of what someone with a seven-year-old longhaired Chihuahua could expect.
DODMANWell, we discuss in the book that age is relative, especially according to a dog's breed, so a seven-year-old Chihuahua, who weighs probably 10 pounds --there's a chart in there, so you could look it up on the chart and you go down, you'd say, seven-year-old small dog, 10 pounds, multiplication factor six, so seven years times six is 42 years old, equivalent to a 42-year-old person.
DODMANNot yet in tiger country.
REHMSo he should not be considered an old dog?
DODMANNo. We have this chart so you can calculate the rough age in human years, but the bottom line is that supposing a dog, according to its size and breed, a life expectancy might be, let's say, 16 years. You hit the senior age bracket, where this book would really apply, when three-quarters of that life span has elapsed, so when the dog was 12, that's the time, really, for a dog, anticipated to live to 16, to start getting increased scrutiny at the vets. And for owners to be -- they are the primary caregivers for their pet and they're part of the team, really, of healthcare and welfare for dogs.
REHMAnd give me the kinds of problems that smaller older dogs run into versus larger older dogs.
DODMANNow, two things that jump out are dental disease, so they're really big on that and I'm not sure what the reason is, but it might be because people tend to feed them a lot of soft food. They're very worried about, you know, if they don't eat for half a day that perhaps they're so small that they're going to lose another half pound and that could be the end, so they work very hard to feed them delicious food, wet food, chopping it up with a fork, adding liquids and bits of chicken and stuff.
DODMANSo there's no real erosion to, you know, sort of grinding to take the tartar off the teeth and the plaque, so they often end up with so-called periodontal disease, infections in the gums, which eventually, what gives them bad breath, loosens the teeth and the mouth, of course, is the entrance to the body and when it's infected, it showers the body with bugs which can cause heart problems and kidney problems and so on.
DODMANSo that's the big one that's kind of -- not exclusively small breed, but in that direction. The other one that springs to mind is heart disease, particularly valvular heart disease, which is more prevalent in the small breeds. And the large breeds tend to drift in a different direction with weakness of the heart muscle.
REHMInteresting. I wonder why that should be.
DODMANWell, some of it is genetic. Some -- the dental thing could be lifestyle for the little dogs.
DODMANBut these heart conditions, like the cardiomyopathy of the larger dogs like the Doberman. Cardiomyopathy is definitely -- it's been shown to be caused by aging. And there's some other large breed dogs that tend to have that dreaded cardiomyopathy, like a Great Dane, for example, so that's in their genes. Basically, larger dogs do not live as long, so if you look on that chart I was referring to, the age factor there is more like eight. So if you take a 10-year-old giant breed dog, multiply 10 years by eight is equivalent to an 80-year-old person.
REHMWow. Now, do you believe that might be in part because people who live in cities are bringing larger and larger dogs into smaller surroundings where, in fact, what they need are wide open spaces?
DODMANWell, that's a bit of a paradox, really, because the fact is, some of the little dogs, not all of the little dogs, but some of them actually are very energetic and need to run around and burn off steam. So someone might say, I live in an apartment, so I'm gonna get myself a Jack Russell terrier. Wrong decision.
DODMANBe better if you lived on a farm.
DODMANBut on the other hand, they say, well, you know, I live in an apartment, so I can't have a giant breed dog. And the fact is, some of these very large dogs are, you know, more like throw rugs, that they just sort of lie around and just entertain themselves and they -- you know, in another book I wrote, there's some -- I classify dogs into those that have minimal exercise requirements. I call them the coach potatoes. A lot of the large dogs are in that category. Then there's medium exercise requirements and finally, there's the runners. So you take a dog like a Ridgeback, for example, or a Vizsla or a Weimaraner and those guys are born to run.
REHMTell me what kinds of dogs you have.
DODMANWell, actually, I only have one dog in the house right now, but he's a dear. His name is Rusty and, of course, I rescued him because too many dogs are getting put down needlessly, so it's a mission, but also fell in love with this big floppy eared -- he's not that big, he's 62 pound floppy eared sort of rusty colored dog with a black Homer Simpson muzzle and a white bib and a big laughing face. An eternal optimist. They've just shown recently that dogs can be either optimists or pessimists and he's definitely an optimist. He just laughs. Every day he wakes up is the best day in the rest of his life.
REHMHow do you know he's laughing?
DODMANYou can tell (laugh). His mouth's wide open, his tongue's lolling to the side, his eyes are kind of squinting...
DODMAN...and he just looks happy and I can see this face when he does his like a little spin move and he's a terrific dog. People come and say, you know, what kind of dog is he? And I say, well, he could be a Boxer cross and other people say, do you have a Ridgeback there? 'Cause his ridge can go up sometimes and we don't really know. The nearest I ever got was somebody brought one into my clinic at Tufts and I said, oh my God, that's my Rusty. And they said, no, he's a Florida black-mouthed cur. And I got like, what (laugh) ?
REHMAnd what do you feed your dog?
DODMANWell, I listen to our nutritionist who was the information source for one of the chapters in the book. And Lisa Freeman is -- has about three degrees in nutrition -- or she's got a veterinary degree, a PhD, a master's degree from Tufts and board certified in nutrition. So she really knows what she's talking about and she said a long time ago to me, really, you should feed food that is designed according to the AAFCO standards and preferably that has been used in feeding trials and found appropriate for a dog of that life stage.
DODMANSo AAFCO, I always get it wrong, but I think it's the American Association of Food Council Officials and they sit down and look at all the science and they've figured out exactly what a dog needs in the amount of minimum requirements of say protein and carbohydrate and all of the additives. So I feed him that as his base meal, but then I do something very bad. I do feed him treats because he's so cute.
REHMWhat kinds of treats?
DODMANWell, almost anything I'm eating, but not huge amounts because I don't want to spoil his underlying diet and I do want to keep his teeth white and pearly and there is a sort of grinding action from the kibble, so he gets dry food, AAFCO recommended. On every bag of food, there's a little statement of so-called nutritional adequacy and on that, you know, the little expression AAFCO is a good thing to find and preferable has been used and found appropriate in feeding trials.
REHMDo you know that our lines are already filled? Which says to me, that people who love their dogs really have so many questions. I want to ask a few more questions and after a short break, we'll open the phones, but it seems to me that the food we as humans eat is good, it's nutritious. I mean, if you're talking about a combination of proteins, carbohydrates, vegetables, so that's what I feed my small dog. I tried various brands of kibbles and he seemed -- they did not seem to agree with him, so I only give that little dog human food.
DODMANWell, you can do that, but preferably, you design that ration with input from a veterinary nutritionist, like Dr. Freeman or Dr. Remiard (sp?) at Angell Memorial Hospital. I mean, there's a bunch of them and you can do a consultation and you -- a fax consultation or a e-mail consultation. I think you have to pay for it.
DODMANBut they'll tell you certain things like, so many ounces of this and this and so on. But if you just make it up yourself, you can end up, by being short of things in the diet -- a lot of people, for example, try to make their dogs vegetarians, not realizing the importance of carnitine and taurine and amino acid. And after a long time, you can end up with problems like anemia or even heart conditions.
REHMNicholas Dodman and we're talking about a new book put together by the faculty of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, where Nicholas Dodman is. The book is title "Good Old Dog."
REHMAnd as promised, we're going to open the phones, try to take as many of your calls, messages as we can. First to Maureen in Cleveland, Ohio. Your question for Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Maureen.
MAUREENGood morning. My question is, doctor, I have a 20-year-old dog lying here next to me who's passing away slowly.
MAUREENAnd I wondered how rare is it to have a dog live to 20 years old. He's Gordon Setter and possibly Dalmatian mix.
DODMANWell, that's a good age for a dog of that type. Twenty's pretty much the limit. In the book, we talk about, you know, we see 8,000 new senior dogs per year. And going back through our records, 8,000 dogs per year for 10 years or so, the oldest dog we found was 21 years old.
DODMANSo your dog is right up there. You've been doing something right, but it sounds to me like he's hitting the wall. And there is some advice in there for people who have that difficult -- in the book for people who are trying to make that difficult decision, you know, when is the time. When is enough enough?
MAUREENYes. He's incapacitated, but he does still eat, he perks up for food, he eats a can and a half of -- I give him wet dog food because it's so hard for him to eat the dry at this stage, but I am just amazed. I just thought his sheer tenacity would be reason enough to allow him to die at home. He doesn't seem to be in any pain. So thank you.
DODMANWell, that's true. There's a few good things you have going for you. The fact that he does perk up, maybe he looks at you and knows who you are and wags his tail and eats his food, so you've got a few plus signs. I don't know how ambulatory he is, but it sounds like you're not quite there. And I agree that a dog like that would be better to pass away at home, but, you know, you can get vets who will come to the home...
DODMAN...and, you know, help them to slip into the next dog world peacefully and without being dragged out of their environment.
REHMThanks for calling, Maureen, and good luck to you. Let's go to Worcester, Mass. Good morning, Lav.
LAVHi. Thank you for taking my call.
LAVWe raise sled dogs here in Massachusetts. We've got a kennel of about 45 dogs right now. Some of these dogs are downright ancient and they're all quite healthy. Our 12 and 13-year-old dogs still get put in a harness and driven with the younger dogs. And I guess we're tied into the veterinary community quite a bit. Our dogs get looked at and we see a lot of dogs at the vet that are overweight, under exercised, malnutritioned and I'm just wondering how much of the lack of exercise is contributing to all of the medical advances that are coming around. We tend to think that if dogs had gotten proper exercise when they were younger, they wouldn't be quite so bad off in their old age.
DODMANWell, I absolutely agree with you. And in the book, we replicate that old scientific adage that basically being overweight, or the amount of calories that pass over your throat, the more you eat, the less long you live. Of course, you need enough to sustain whatever level of exercise that you have, but that's been shown just the turn of the last century that being overweight is the single most important factor in determining life span. And of course, a contribution to that is diet.
DODMANSo if you are eating too much and not exercising, you're actually setting yourself up as a dog or a person, I believe, for a lot of trouble and a less long lifespan than you might otherwise have. So exercise is the other big thing. So your dogs have the right food, not too much food, the right weight and they're exercised and they're living long. You're a lesson for all of them -- all the other people listening out there.
REHMHope that helps, Lav. Thanks for calling. Let's go now to Melinda, she's in Thatcher, Ariz. Hi there.
MELINDAHello. Thank you for having me.
MELINDAI have an almost 14-year-old dog with pretty bad cataracts. She seems like, especially in the bright sun in Arizona, she doesn't see a whole lot and this is a very rural area. We don't have a canine ophthalmologist and we'd have to go about 120 miles just to get surgery for her. She seems pretty healthy, though. Is this something that's worth it?
DODMANWow, that's one of those tough judgment calls. If she can see enough to get around in your house, even when you move the furniture around so she's not just doing it from memory, you could delay the decision considering her age. But delaying it means it's not gonna get done because she's getting older. But on the hand, cataract surgery is pretty common these days...
REHMFor a dog.
DODMANFor a dog. It's not difficult to do. It has to be, I think, preferably a veterinary ophthalmologist. It might be worth just taking a day or two off and driving to see the ophthalmologist and having at least one eye operated and just see if that doesn't improve things. Because, you know, your dog could have another couple or three years and being able to see would improve the quality of his life.
REHMOf course, expense is also part of the issue.
DODMANExpense is a major part of a lot of decisions and we talk about that as sort of the price of aging gracefully. Like us, the older dogs get, the more and more medical attention they need. And the bills these days can be pretty hefty ranging from -- for a major surgery like that, so three to $5,000. And recently I had a person who said they'd spent 60,000 on their dog.
REHMWow. What about pet insurance, Dr. Dodman?
DODMANWell, pet insurance today is better than it was in the past. I mean, it was an experiment some 15 years ago or 20 and they hadn't really thought it out properly and most of them kinda went belly-up. But nowadays, the premiums are pretty reasonable, depending on what you're getting insured for, ranging from sort of 10 to $60 a month. And you are insured against these major cataclysms, these major out-of-pocket expenses, depending on how much you pay. Maybe even some more routine treatments also, but there's problems with it, too, that some people won't insure a dog with a pre-existing condition. It's almost like the human...
DODMANAnd other people will include, as a pre-existing condition, a condition the dog develops while it's insured. So that will be your last year insured because you've now got a problem that's going to cost them money, so you need to read the small print, but that's a good idea to save up for these surgeries.
REHMAll right. To Brian who's in Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning to you. Brian, are you there? Oh, dear. Okay. Let's go to Medina, Ohio, Joan.
JOANYes. I have a Border Collie that smiles all the time. She's 13 years old and I wanted to ask about her dental care. Her back teeth -- for several years now, she doesn't have bad breath, but her back teeth are kinda dark. And I talked to the vet and say, you know, do you think she needs to get her teeth cleaned? And they go, oh, not yet. So I don't know if I should get a second opinion or if there's a way I can get x-rays taken. I don't want to put her to sleep -- and since she's 13, I don't want to have her put to sleep and just have that dental care done, but by the same token, I don't wanna wait too long until maybe there could be problems. Are there x-rays that can be taken ahead of time or what can I do so that I make sure that I have the proper dental care?
DODMANWell, yes to all of the above. First of all, I think dogs should -- if you're not brushing their teeth every day, then they do need dental profies. And at least once a year, they should go in and have a tune-up where their teeth are scaled and whitened and kept healthy, the mouth is fresh. Because that's so important to other organ systems, too, is a healthy mouth as the beginning of a healthy life. I think the American Dental Association has that same (laugh) motto.
DODMANSo yeah, dental profie -- if you see these darkened teeth, there's something going on and I would ask for a second opinion, preferably a veterinary dentist and ask for a profie if it hasn't been done for a year. And when they're in there, they can examine things and they can take x-rays and they can clean the teeth and I think it would be a big service to your dog.
REHMGood luck to you, Joan. Here's an e-mail from Harold who's out in Dallas who says, "We have a Great Pyrenees mix who's six years old. My wife said to stop taking her with me jogging and only walk with her due to her age. What is the correct age to cut back on their exercise?"
DODMANWell, I think the dog tells you more about that than a wife could. Bottom line is we all need to exercise and I exercise and my dog exercises. I hope to be exercising when I'm 95 in a wheelchair with a five-pound weight. I think it's a necessary part of life, but you only do as much as your health will allow you to do. You don't want to overdo it too much if you're incapacitated. For a dog, say, with hip dysplasia can be counterproductive, but you still need some, even for a dog like yours. And your dog, if we use our chart, that's six times eight is 48, is really like a 48 or 50 year old. And at 50, nobody kept me off a treadmill in the gym, but I might've slowed down a bit from when I was 30.
REHMOf course. Okay. Here's an e-mail from Tony in Grand Rapids, Mich. who says, "I have an 11-year-old mix breed whom I thought was on her last legs just six months ago. She was slowing way down in obvious pain in her hips and just plain not herself. I started giving her treats twice a day with glucosamine in them and they transformed her into a revitalized puppy again. Simply amazing. Can Dr. Dodman please speak about this and maybe other foods or supplements that are good for older dogs?
DODMANWell, it's true, the glucosamine sometimes with chondroitin sulfate composite can be very helpful. I know the scientific jury is sort of still out. The experiments have not been universally conclusive, but the fact is anecdotally, these things work very well. And there's reason to suspect that they're excellent for dogs who have arthritis, improving the health of cartilage and actually thickening the joint fluid because when you have arthritis, the joint fluid sort of thins out.
DODMANSo these things will thicken up the oil in the gearbox of the joints, so to speak, so you end up with a much greater relief. And actually, I can tell you how much my wife and I myself, both vets, believe in this because we asked her grandparents to take this same mixture and they were much better on it also. I was asked to go on it one time...
DODMAN…'cause I had an achy knee and the sports medicine doctor said, you'll find it third aisle down on the left, you go down about a foot off the ground. I said, how do you know exactly where it is in the store? And he said, I take it myself. But you have to get the right brand because there's a lot of fly by night preparations around. You need to get a company that's a big company with a big name. We actually recommend a specific name in the book, Glucoflex, as being one of the good compounds, but there are others that don't have the right quality or quantity of ingredients.
DODMANSo you've got to be careful what you give, but that's a very big help. And other things that might help would be, for example, Omega 3 fatty acids can also be a good dietary supplement. There's actually a diet made by, I think it's the Hills Pet Food company, called Hills j/d standing for Joint Disease Diet that is enriched with these Omega 3 fatty acids. So you've done the right thing for your dog. I'm glad he's better and other people can learn from your experience.
REHMDr. Nicholas Dodman, the book we're talking about is titled "Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy and Comfortable." You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's now go to White Lake, Mich. Good morning, Kate, you're on the air.
KATEGood morning, Diane. I have a problem. My dog howls to beat the band every morning when you're opening music comes on (laugh).
REHMSo what can we do about that except turn the radio down?
KATEI know. I have the remote handy every morning and he looks at me like, oh, my God, there it is (laugh). And my daughter thinks that he's singing, but I think it hurts his ears.
REHMWhat do you think, Dr. Dodman?
DODMANI think there's something in your theme music that hits -- literally hits a chord with this dog and you can take a singing type dog, usually a more primitive type dog, a northern breed or some such in particular do a lot of good howling, a Siberian Husky, for example, and if you hit piano keys, they'll sit there looking at you until you hit a certain key or you can, you know, sing with your own voice and when you hit a certain pitch, all of a sudden, the dog's joining in and singing with you, so it's almost like a nerve.
DODMANI used to live in a town in Massachusetts called Grafton and they had an old fashioned sort of fire warning system. It was like a siren that would go off and you could hear it right across the valley. And every single dog in the whole valley would start singing (laugh) when this came on.
REHMOh, my goodness. Kate, what kind of a dog do you have?
KATEWell, we're not exactly sure, but as close as we can figure, he is a Labrador/Chow mix.
REHMWell, I hope that eventually you will recognize the fact that maybe your dog really does like the music and is singing along with it.
KATEWell, I hope that's what it is (laugh) 'cause we both listen to your show every day and love it.
REHMI'm so glad. Give your dog a big hug for me. Thanks for calling. And let's go to Fairmont, Md. Good morning, Skip, you're on the air. Skip, are you there? I guess not. To Sue in Syracuse, N.Y. Good morning. Are we...
REHMYes. Please go right ahead. Sue, are you there?
SUEYes, I am. Thank you, Diane.
REHMPlease go right ahead.
SUEWe have a 12-year-old Golden Retriever. Right now, she's very healthy, knock on wood. She walks twice a day, she lets you know how far she wants to walk, she'll turn around when she's ready to come home. And my question is at what point, I guess, if they're -- physically they fade, but mentally, they're still there, how do you know when the right time to, you know, be done and put them away?
DODMANWell, we sort of address that in the book and it's always a very personal decision. It involves that owner -- preferably that owner and the entire family, plus maybe some objective advice from good friends and the veterinarian to sit and say, is this quality of life good that this dog has in front of it? And you're right that sometimes for us, as well as dogs, sometimes the body fades and the mind is good and sometimes the mind fades so dogs get Alzheimer's, too, and the body's good. So you can lose either component or sometimes both in parallel and it's a tough decision. I would say your dog is perfectly fit, but being a Golden, I would check the thyroid to make sure it's right.
REHMNicholas Dodman, the new book is titled "Good Old Dog." And after a short break, we'll take more of your questions and comments. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd more of your questions, comments for Nicholas Dodman. Here is one from Tamara who says, "My 10-year-old Black Lab mix is riddled with arthritis. She is NSAID intolerant, but takes Tramadol for pain. She is in physical therapy, has laser treatment, massage and I am about to start her on acupuncture. She still limps terribly. What else can I do for her?"
DODMANWell, that's a very common disease of older dogs. Arthritis, usually it's osteoarthritis and usually it's caused by some issues of joints not fitting properly that are -- the dog's born with. So typically, hip dysplasia in a dog of that breed, Labrador. So they get very sore. The joints, the cartilage wears out and there's also some growths and, you know, it's difficult to do anything about it other than sort of palliative treatment.
DODMANWe list those treatments in the book. And the number one thing is weight control. So, you know, if your dog is a tad overweight, to get it down to the right size is highly recommend to help the pain on the joints. And there's a chart that we have permission to reprint in the book called the Nestle Purina Chart of Weight Estimation in Dogs. And you can look at pictures of your dog from above and from the side and you can -- my dog fits this category and it will tell you whether he's overweight or not.
DODMANSo weight is a very important thing. The next thing is exercise. And, you know, the natural reaction is, you know, my dog's got sore hips, so I won't exercise him. But the fact is, you do need some exercise. It sounds like you're doing that physiotherapy. We've got a picture in the book of a dog walking on an underwater treadmill, which can strengthen the muscles without putting undo stress on the bones. But they need muscles to keep the joints in place and not to do that, the joints flop around even more and it causes more pain.
DODMANI didn't hear you talk about glucosamine that we were talking about earlier on in this interview and I think that would be a good addition. And, you know, possibly even the addition of some Omega 3 fatty acids. Maybe also not as well as the Chondroitin, but also that Hills j/d joint diet also might help. But I'm surprised that your dog is " some NSAID anti-inflammatory drug intolerant" and I wonder whether it wasn't because, you know, maybe one particular compound and there's lots of them or maybe a dose that was too high. I might be tempted to try that again, unless the Tramadol was working super well. So these are about the limit to the things you can do without getting involved in surgery and hip replacements and so on.
REHMAnd one more e-mail from Russ in Richmond who says, "How real is the threat of dog deaths from heartworm disease? Every year, the cost of those meds keeps increasing to the point where I can barely afford this medicine."
DODMANWell, I think it's a real risk that most veterinarians would agree with the fact that it's a major risk, that, yes, indeed, those little biting annoying creatures do transmit heartworm to dogs and they need protecting because the fact is if they get heartworm, that's a very serious condition. I mean, these worms proliferate and block, you know, arteries, pulmonary arteries and so on and it's just an excruciating condition. And the treatment is, you know, I don't wanna say almost as bad as the disease, but it -- 'cause the disease will kill them. The treatment is also awful, too.
DODMANSo just not to give those medicines, take a chance, your dog gets it and then you've gotta treat him and the treatment isn't even super guaranteed safe because, you know, they can have a reaction to the treatment. It's a major intervention, so I would say prevention in that case is better than cure.
REHMWhat about cancer in dogs, Dr. Dodman. Are we seeing more of that?
DODMANI think we are seeing more and I'm not quite sure why that is. I mean, we do talk in the book about, you know, even dangers of, you know, lung cancer from secondhand smoke. A study that we did in cats --but, you know, the same should hold true for dogs that, you know, if they live in small spaces, you know, an apartment or a caravan or something with a heavy smoker, I mean, they are obliged to imbibe that secondhand smoke.
REHMWhat about skin cancer?
DODMANSkin cancer is one of the more common cancers, in particular the mast cell tumor, which often starts out in the skin, but can affect any organ in the body. And there are some new treatments out for that now, but it's certainly not a terrific thing to get. So skin cancer can occur and melanomas and so on. This is one of the areas to look. But there's other tumors also like lymphoma, which -- where your dog has bumps sometimes under the chin. We have a picture of that in the book, a dog with a swelling under his chin. And in the limbs or under their armpits, you find these bumps and swellings and they go off their food and they lose energy. And luckily, that one can be treated quite well.
DODMANThere's also splenic tumors and bone tumors in the giant dogs. There's a bunch of them that do seem to be more common. Whether it's something in the environment or something we're doing or not doing, I'm not too sure.
REHMAll right. To Cincinnati, Ohio. Brian, are you there?
BRIANYeah, thanks very much. Our tan 11-year-old Sheltie mix, and he is thoroughly spoiled, and we started when he was young giving him human food, scraps. Today, at this point, he'll sit at our table and he'll just sit there quietly and if he doesn't get anything in the first five minutes, he boop us in the leg with his nose and if that doesn't get a reaction, he'll give us a bark. And his grandmother has an actual scrap drawer in the refrigerator that he's there five minutes before he's giving her a scolding bark if he doesn't get anything and is this a bad thing to have? Should we be weaning him off of that getting older now or is human food really a bad thing or a good thing if it's the right kind of stuff?
DODMANWell, first thing is he has you very well trained, all of you, and you know exactly what he wants.
DODMANAnd he's not gonna give up until he gets it. I think, you know, like, I practice what I preach in the sense that my dog does get table scraps and also sits there and looks balefully at me and we'll wait 'til the end and licks plates and things that other people might find disgusting, but I don't care about. There's no real germs you can get that way and we think it's a service and actually helps our dishwasher lighten its load, so he does get scraps from the table, he does beg. We don't mind it.
DODMANI mean, if you mind it, then there are ways to stop doing it. You just do it cold turkey and it will work. But unless the treats are so voluminous that they're outweighing the good diet that you're feeding him in the meantime, personally, I don't think it's a terrifically bad thing to do and you don't need to stop. It seems to be something he enjoys and you don't mind.
REHMBut at the same time, Brian, are you feeling him regular dog food or is he eating exclusively human food?
BRIANYeah, he -- I mean, he eats -- the vast majority of his food is the dog food. He'll wait 'til the end of the day -- the absolute end of the day to make sure he's not getting anything else. Actually, our biggest problem is when we go through drive-thrus, he'll actually try to get into the -- go through the window of the drive-thru.
REHMOh, my gosh.
BRIANAnd he's so cute. He gets all sorts of free stuff. He'll get free fries, hamburgers. I mean, I can't get it.
REHMAnd probably neither should he. Dr. Dodman.
DODMANWell, that's true. And especially if they have some -- you know, as older dogs, some sort of medical condition. So, you know, we describe in our book one of the -- as a dog, I think it was under treatment for renal disease, so we picked up early that the dog had renal disease, put it on a special diet. And one weekend, the owners indulged their dogs with all kinds of human food and chips and goodness knows what and it actually knocked it out of kilter and it came in and it was really quite sick and we had to sort of -- luckily, got it back on course again, but -- so depending on the condition that the dog has, it may not be the smartest thing.
DODMANAnd even though I'm making light of it, the fact is in the board exams for -- to be a veterinarian, the national boards, which I sat almost 20 years post grad because I came across from Britain, there was a question in those days. And it said, an owner asks you, should I feed table scraps? Is it good or bad? Your answer should be -- well, it was answer B 'cause it is always answer B and that was you should never feed table scraps at all...
DODMAN...is the hard line.
REHMInteresting. I have heard that grapes, chocolate, onions, garlic are bad for dogs. Are there other foods that absolutely should not be given to dogs?
DODMANI think you pretty much nailed it with that list. And, you know, there are terrible things that happen with, you know, onions and garlic, for example. These are just not good things for dogs to get. They get sort of anemia and such like. And, you know, grapes, raisins, you know, are also bad. I don't know any other particular class of food, though, that...
DODMANOh, chocolate you included, which of course has a caffeine like substance, theobromine, in it which, if they eat enough -- I mean, a dog can eat -- I’m not suggesting you should do this, but a dog can eat one piece of chocolate depending on its size, the size of the dog and the size of the chocolate, without any problem. But, you know, if they eat too much, if you indulge them, I mean, that's very serious. Probably the answer is, no, they should never get chocolate because it contains these stimulants.
REHMWhat about peanut fragments? Maxie and I share peanuts almost every night.
DODMANI don't think there's a problem because it's been going on for awhile. I was told -- I had a parrot. Unfortunately, it died of lead poisoning when it found an old antique butter dish and decided to eat the handles, which had lead in them, but that bird, I was told by the Avian specialist, you should never feed a parrot peanuts. So behind closed doors...
REHMAll right. Well, since I have no peanuts, I won't -- I have no parrots. Let's go to Arlington, Va. Good morning, Virginia, you're on the air.
VIRGINIAHi, thank you for having me.
VIRGINIAI'm curious, my family owns a three-year-old Jack Russell Beagle. She was born with a congenital knee disorder, so whenever we take her to the dog park, she comes back just miserable. I mean, she really can't handle much exercise at all. We are pretty good about feeding her. We feed her about a third of a cup of dry dog food twice a day. She gets a half hour walk, but everybody who meets her says she's fat. And, I mean, my mom and I defend her. We just say she's busty, but I'm curious, what can we do to help maintain her weight? I mean, I don't want her to grow up and be an unhealthy dog.
DODMANWell, you hit the nail on the head that controlling weight is extremely important if you have an orthopedic problem like that. And the simple rule is this and that is you are in charge of the amount of food your dog eats. And if you feed it too much, it will put on weight. And you can use that chart I referred to earlier, the Nestle Purina chart, to look at it and it becomes more of a science than just, I think my dog is fat. You look at that chart and you say, my dog is the right weight or is underweight or is overweight. You can look at that chart and figure things out for yourself.
DODMANIf the dog's overweight and you're feeding three-quarters of a cup twice a day, go to a half cup twice a day. Dogs don't have that problem that we have that we can always go to the refrigerator at 10 o'clock at night and eat a whole bunch of stuff. They don't have the opposable thumbs, so they will eat what you give them. That said, there are special diet foods for dogs. And there's even a diet pill called Slentrol made by Pfizer to diet your dog if you have no willpower.
REHMAnd that's the advice of Nicholas Dodman. His new book done by the faculty at the Veterinary School at Tuft's University is titled "Good Old Dog." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What is your thinking on dog parks?
DODMANWell, I think they should be everywhere, of course. Being a dog owner, I think that -- yeah, we've got this issue in our town and there are certain areas which are available to dogs. There was a big property donated by some people in my town of Westborough and everybody with their dogs goes down there, as they should. And there should be a space provided for this. And even at the Tuft's Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, we have a huge field that we've opened to the public. And when we first opened it, the dogs were running everywhere off leash. It was the largest off-leash area in the entire state of Massachusetts.
DODMANBut there were some issues with that, that some irresponsible people weren't picking up after their dogs. Some, I think -- you know, I don't know what's wrong with these people. Some people would pick up in a plastic bag and then throw it in the bushes, which, I mean, better not to put it in a bag at all if you're gonna do that. Then there were some issues with little aggravation between dogs, people bringing down aggressive dogs, which is not smart. Then there were some people getting into fights because -- I mean, yelling at each other. The police were called.
DODMANSo we've settled that problem now. We have one area, five acres, that if you want to let your dog off-leash -- this is fenced in and dogs need to run, I believe, and they need to run off leash. Walking on leash isn't enough for most dogs. And then, if you do have a dog with a problem, you can use the other 12 or 15 acres to walk your dog on leash. And everyone's registered who uses it, but I think you have responsible dog park uses are vital for owners and dogs.
REHMAll right. To Fairfax, Va. Pat, good morning to you.
PATYes, good morning. I'm wondering if you can speak about the need for extra care when you're administering anesthesia to an elder dog. Like for routine dental care, can you go to a regular vet or do you need an anesthesiologist to be involved? Is it really better to go to a dental practice where there is an anesthesiologist? What's the safest way to go about it?
DODMANOf course, I'm also a veterinary anesthesiologist. That was what I did for the first half of my 40 year professional career and I had a saying that would apply really to anybody knowledgeable about giving anesthesia to dogs. And that is really there is no such thing as too old. Being under anesthesia is, to me, safer than being conscious, awake and breathing room air because you have your airway protected, you're given oxygen to breathe, the circulatory system is supplied. And in fact, really what happens to you under anesthesia is what would happen to, say, a person or a dog if they were involved in an accident. They would have maximum intensive care to keep them alive and that's what you're doing in anesthesia.
DODMANThe only difference between intensive care and anesthesia is one small percentage of one very safe anesthetic, so it's not a problem at all. But there are some people -- and I don't know how you figure this out, but there some vets who somehow make a mistake. Maybe they forgot that 10 to 10, that lecture at school, but if someone tells you withhold water for 12 hours before you anesthetize this 14-year-old dog, that kind of bad advice can precipitate acute renal failure. So your dog goes through the surgery okay, but wakes up in what's called a uremic crisis and expires. That's just bad medicine.
DODMANAnd then, of course, there's not realizing that older dogs take lower doses of drugs, I mean, they just -- I mean, a veterinary anesthesiologist would not make that mistake and a specialty practice probably wouldn't, but, you know, if someone out in the sticks who's not doing enough continuing education, you might end up with a difficult situation.
REHMNicholas Dodman and that's the advice for your good old dog. I'm certainly gonna take good care of Maxie and have his teeth cleaned for the first time. I'll make sure to do that and do it carefully. Thank you so much for joining us, good to have you.
DODMANThank you for having me again. I appreciate it.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales.
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