Before deciding on any course of action or treatment plan for your dog, it is critical that you have a correct diagnosis in hand. Time and time again, people post on the K9 Nutrition list a few symptoms their dog is having and ask for suggestions on how they can help their dog. Most often, these concerns pertain to itching or skin problems, upset stomach or loose stools, frequent urination and increased water drinking, or they are a small list of vague symptoms that don’t seem to point to a particular or recognizable problem.
Inevitably, this brings a variety of suggestions for supplements and diet changes. Many of these stem from popular fads frequently seen on the web. Some include all-in-one remedies for kidney cures, liver treatments and arthritis/joint problems. Others suggest single potions such as coconut oil, apple cider vinegar specifically mixed, and formulated turmeric concoctions. Other more expensive recommendations include saliva tests for allergies and intolerances or all-in-one specialty ‘cleansing’ or prescription diets are suggested.
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While certainly, in a few cases, some of these suggestions can be helpful, oftentimes the dog’s symptoms return, with no resolution to the problem. When this happens, the owner frequently tries another variety of new remedies hoping to resolve the problem. This tends to result in frustration and disappointment, not to mention the cost of the remedies and the loss of time in getting the real issue resolved.
When people give me a list of symptoms and ask me for recommendations for a supplement or diet, I will ask for more information. Most commonly, I will ask what the dog’s current diet is, the history of prior diets, a list of current supplements and remedies they might have tried already, and always, what diagnosis did their veterinarian give their dog.
And in most cases, the dog hasn’t yet seen a veterinarian or the owner did not provide enough information to the veterinarian for him/her to know which tests would be most beneficial to run to determine a diagnosis. Below are some examples of this:
-The dog is drinking more water and urinating more frequently. Blood work shows BUN is elevated, along with the creatinine showing slightly high elevations. The diagnosis given is renal failure and the question asked me is, ‘what is the right diet?” At that point, I might ask if the veterinarian did a sterile urine culture and did he/she do a leptospirosis blood titer and tick borne disease panel? The reason I ask these questions is because if a dog is showing some indication of renal issues, it is important to find the cause. Generally, dogs don’t suddenly go into renal failure without an underlying reason. In that light, often a diet change isn’t required and simple antibiotics can cure the underlying condition.
-The dog has itchy skin and sores. The owner has tried topical treatments, special baths, ‘allergenic’ foods and a supplement or remedy to cure it, to no avail. Often at this point I suggest asking the veterinarian to do a skin scraping and culture to look for either bacteria or a fungal infection on the skin. In that light, the right antibiotic or fungal medication can resolve the issue.
-The owner has tried numerous remedies for a dog’s lameness with no success. Again, it is important to rule out certain disorders that might cause the lameness. These include a tick borne disease, Addison’s disease, Valley Fever or leptospirosis. Arthritis can cause lameness and discomfort, but arthritis is not the only cause. It is important to look at the whole picture, assess the situation and find the exact cause. If you suspect the lameness is from arthritis, radiographs are important to diagnose arthritis.
-The dog is showing chronic diarrhea, reflux or gurgling noises between meals. While certain supplements such as probiotics, digestive enzymes and l-glutamine, may help, it is important to examine the diet, and the diets that were fed prior to these digestive issues. Certainly, prescription drugs can help temporarily (metronizadole, tylan, antibiotics), however, most often they don’t resolve the underlying problem.
My point with this is to stress the importance of knowing what the actual problem is before you start looking for a solution! It is helpful to sit down and write down all the symptoms in a list along with a history and timeline for your dog’s diet, health history, and the dates and timeframes for when the various symptoms occurred. This can help you better understand when the issues started and what might be the cause. A visit to your veterinarian with a good history in hand of the symptoms, when they started and what you have tried in the past, can help give your veterinarian clues so he/she can best determine which tests are needed to rule out what the problem is not and get to the root of what the problem really is.
Once you have a diagnosis in hand and you know the cause of the problems, you will be able to select the best diet, choose the right supplements that can help, and you can see your dog improve. Trying to guess what your dog’s problem is on your own and offering various foods and/or remedies ‘willy-nilly’ rarely works. Also, it frequently costs you more in the long run than a productive visit with your veterinarian. If you can’t get the answers you need from your regular veterinarian, please get a SECOND opinion!
Over the years, the right diagnosis has helped me with my dogs in so many ways. I was either able to resolve the problem or work with the condition presented to make my dog the most comfortable. If your dog has symptoms, it is fine to present this on the K9Nutrition list for ideas on the cause and what tests to run to determine the root of the problem. THEN, with a diagnosis in hand, it is easier to suggest diet changes, supplement additions or deletions, and to get the best recommendations. Please know, there are no ‘miracle’ cures out there no matter what you might read on the Internet or what your friends might tell you. There is no ‘one’ cure for kidney failure, cancer, allergies, itching skin, arthritis, gastric upsets or other chronic conditions. Most of these issues are complicated and are not ‘one-size-fits-all’. And truly, it is not worth the risk to rely on these without a good visit to your veterinarian, the appropriate tests done to rule out (or ‘in’) what the actual problem is and the cause. That is what will lead you to find the best solutions for your dog.
Please feel free to discuss issues with your dog and ask questions about health and nutrition on K9Nutrition. We help as we can with resources, references, advice and sharing our own experiences!