Monday, October 27, 2008

Skin Problems and Allergies in Pets

When I was a little girl, we had a schnauzer mix named Patches. I dearly loved her, but her skin was always so greasy and full of dandruff that Mom would never let Patches into the house. That poor little dog itched constantly. We barely had enough money for food, and vet visits were few and far between.

The doctor said Patches needed medicated baths three times a week, regular pills, and a special diet. I remember telling my friends that Patches was allergic to grass, of all things. In other words, we couldn’t cure her skin problems. Every few months, Dad would haul her off to the vet after Mom insisted that he have her put to sleep. But he never did. He always came home with more shampoos, and promises to take better care of her. I used to spray her or rub in Noxema to sooth her skin, and we used Sebulex shampoo when she finally got a bath, every few months.

I look back on Patches and her care with great regret. I was just a little kid, and my mother was always afraid I would “catch” something from Patches.

Today, our generation knows that foods containing additives, dyes, and preservatives can contribute to skin problems. Also, low thyroid, certain grains in food, pollen and dust allergies – a host of causes – can lead to constant itching in your pet. Allergy testing is available, but the results don’t always provide easy answers. After all, if the dog is allergic to dust mites, it is pretty hard to keep her away from them. 

If your pet is constantly licking her paws, scratching her chin or ears, or digging at her butt, allergies might be the problem. First, have your vet eliminate other causes such as impacted anal glands, ear mites, or fleas. Constant scratching often causes a secondary staph infection. Cortisone provides immediate relief, but can drive the infection deeper into the dog’s system, and long term use comes with a host of undesirable side effects 

The best offense against allergies is often holistic, natural treatment. A colleague of mine in the Dog Writers Association of America, Dr. Shawn Messonnier, operates a holistic veterinary practice in Plano, Texas. He has developed his own line of organic pet shampoos, and I quote him here:

I treat a lot of pets with skin diseases including various skin infections and allergies.  However, it is rare that I ever have to use any conventional medications.  Why? Because not only do I make sure that my patients are eating a natural diet, free of harmful byproducts and chemicals, and taking a supplement regimen consisting of various herbs and homeopathics that helps heal their damaged skin, but I also prescribe a regular bathing regimen for them. 

The secret to healthy skin is frequent bathing.  How frequent?  While it depends upon the disease, is not unusual for my clients to bathe their pets every one to two days for a few weeks and then one to two times a week to maintain healthy skin.  I always instruct my clients to use an organic shampoo devoid of artificial ingredients that could harm the skin or dry the skin and hair. I regularly recommend one of the shampoos that I developed in my line of USDA certified organic pet shampoos called Dr. Shawn's Pet Organics 

While I'm obviously biased towards the shampoos, I know they contain the best ingredients available to heal damaged skin and maintain a healthy skin and coat in my patients.  Frequently bathing their pets with the shampoos will allow quick healing without the use of expensive and potentially toxic conventional medications in most pets.

My holistic vet when I lived in Washington State, Dr. Lemon, recommended that I rinse my dog in cool, distilled water. Hot water will aggravate the itchiness.

I haven’t seen a lot of allergies in cats, though many do have thyroid issues. Here are some books that will give you more information about allergies in dogs.

The Allergy Solution for Dogs, Shawn Messonnier

Guide to Skin and Haircoat Problems in Dogs, Lowell Ackerman DVM

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Labrador Retriever painting- my latest!

I have just completed one of my favorite projects. I have painted lots of labs over the years, and I just love it. This one is of three Labradors from Adora Kennels in Ellensburg, WA. I showed you their new logo that I did for them a few weeks ago. This painting is about 16 x 20 inches will go on the wall in their wonderful wilderness home. 

I always do an underpainting in watercolor (shown at left). I found with pencil that you can always see the paper underneath  unless you burnish your drawing very hard and go over it multiple times. I just don't have the patience, and am not such a purist that I have to stick to one media. So technically this is mixed media: watercolor and colored pencil, which is what I most often use. It would not be eligible for a colored pencil show or a watercolor show. But then, I'm not entering it in a show! 

For this painting I did something I've never done before. I blew the photo up very large on the computer screen and looked at it while I painted. This gave me the chance to see lots of detail I miss when I'm looking at a printed photo, even when I use a magnifying glass. The black dog's eyes were shut, so I had to improvise. The chocolate dog's eyes were squinting, so I had to open them up a bit. 

There's a lot to think about when painting a dog portrait. If a dog hunches over while sitting, then his neck will be too thick and look awkward. If he is nervous while being photographed, his ears will go back and not look as natural as they do in this painting. If the ears aren't perky, it can ruin the pose. All three of these dogs are very alert and intense.

Getting a good photo of a black dog is difficult. This dog was photographed in the sun in the snow, so there was a lot of glare, and he was closing his eyes. The best way to get a good photo is to shoot it on an overcast day. Shadows that are too strong from the bright sun hide all the detail that is in the shadows. Sometimes I have to look at photos of another dog to see all I need to know for a painting. I loved this pose- he's a big dog, very noble, and the shadows were easy to define. 

Photoshop is a wonderful tool. I can lighten the exposure so I can see detail that seems lost. I don't always get such nice samples to work from. Then again, sometimes a lousy photo makes a great painting. It may have a dumb background, poor color and all sorts of other problems, but if the pose is good, I can change all the rest. Sometimes I can see detail (especially the dog's markings) in another photo that doesn't show up well in the one I am working from. 

It seems like I spend more time on the layout and sketching than the final painting. By the time I pick up the brush, I have worked out a lot of problems. I do have to stop and set it across the room occasionally to be sure I haven't added a tree growing out of the subject's head or other dumb mistake! And when it's all done, I put it away for day or two and I then take a fresh look. If I see something I want to change, I will sometimes photograph the painting and mess with it in Photoshop to see if the change will make it better. Then I go over and fix the original. It's nice to try something without risking ruining the painting!   

Friday, October 17, 2008

A cat poem for you

    On a Cat Ageing

    He blinks upon the hearth-rug,
    and yawns in deep content,
    accepting all the comforts
    that Providence has sent.

    Louder he purrs, and louder,
    in one glad hymn of praise
    for all the night's adventures,
    for quiet, restful days.

    Life will go on for ever,
    with all that cat can wish:
    warmth and the glad procession
    of fish and milk and fish.

    Only-the thought disturbs him-
    he's noticed once or twice,
    the times are somehow breeding
    a nimbler race of mice.

    Alexander Gray


Monday, October 6, 2008

Responsible Dog Owners

The AKC sponsors a Responsible Dog Ownership Day every September, with events and celebrations around the country. With that in mind, I made up my list of what I believe constitutes a responsible dog owner. The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Basset Hound, Your Happy Healthy Pet, to be published this December by Howell Books.

Step outside your home with your Basset Hound and you are no longer just a family—you are both a part of your community. This is where the phrase “responsible dog ownership” takes on serious implications. The best thing you can do for your dog, others of his breed, and for all dogs and dog owners in your community, is to provide a good example to all who see you and your dog.

Responsible dog owners:

1.     Commit to keeping the dog for its lifetime.

2.     Always provide adequate food and water.

3.     Provide regular health care, including vaccinations, and grooming.

4.     Put identification on their dog. A tag with your name and phone number, a license and a microchip all help ensure your Basset’s return if he gets lost. Dog licenses are usually required by law. 

5.     Spay or neuter their Basset Hound to prevent overpopulation.

6.     Are good neighbors. Confine the dog in a fenced yard, never on a chain, and keep the dog on a leash when out in public. A Basset shouldn’t be allowed to roam the neighborhood, bark annoyingly, or chase the neighbor’s cat or their kids.

7.     Train and socialize their dog. A Basset should know basic obedience at the minimum and be able to sit, down, come, and walk nicely on a leash even with the distractions of being out in public. He should know not to jump on people when he greets them, not to paw at people, and of course, he should never put his mouth on people, even in play.

8.     Exercise and spend time with their dog.

9.     Always clean up after their dog. Keep a baggie in your pocket when you go for walks and keep several in your car. Never leave a pile of waste for someone else to find or worse yet, step in.

10.   Have a plan for emergencies or in case of the owner’s death