Question: Our eight-year-old daughter would like a puppy for Christmas. We have decided to gift her with a Shih Tzu pup, which will be seven weeks old on Christmas Eve. As we are holistic minded ourselves, we would like to raise the pup as naturally as possible. Can you offer any advice?
Mr and Mrs Davis, via email
Answer: I'm sure you already know that a puppy is not just for Christmas. Dogs are a big commitment and need to be taken care of for their lifetime, which is usually at least 10 years. Assuming you have already considered the responsibilities involved, here are my tips for a smooth transition into your home and a healthy, as-natural-as-possible upbringing.
Do your research
Selecting a dog that is right for you and your family is crucial. Size, activity level, breed, coat and temperament should be carefully considered. Certain breeds tend to be good with children compared to others. Responsible breeders, rescue organizations, friends and family, and humane shelters are good places to acquire a puppy. I am strongly against buying puppies from 'puppy mills,' which have a reputation for breeding pups of questionable quality under appalling conditions.
Whatever the source, ask the right questions, visit the premises and carefully observe the puppy and its environment. It is also very important to research the family history of your new pup, including the health of the parents and their temperament.
Puppy-proof your home
Puppies investigate with their mouths and will try to bite and chew anything and everything. Supervise your puppy at all times and when you're not around, ensure you have a puppy crate to safely house your puppy. If there is a baby in the house, make sure that pacifiers are not left around, as puppies love sucking and chewing on them.
Create a calm environment
Be patient, loving and do not leave your new puppy unattended for more than an hour. Play quiet, soothing music for your puppy, such as Animal Whispers by Tim Wheater and Elizabeth Whiter. You could also spray a few drops of lavender essential oil on his blanket or onto a cloth and tie it to his crate. Dog appeasing pheromone (DAP)-based sprays and plug-ins may also help your pup feel less apprehensive. A hot water bottle inside a furry toy placed next to your pup at night can help him sleep better.
Feed the 'right' diet
Feed your puppy a biologically appropriate diet with the freshest meat you can afford. Avoid dry or canned processed foods, especially those containing fillers such as potatoes, tapioca and grains and preservatives like ethoxyquin, BHA, BHT and PG.
There are some good-quality natural and holistic diets on the market now such as The Real Meat Company and Ziwipeak. Raw food is also a good option, provided there are no immuno-compromised individuals in the house and good hygiene is maintained during food preparation (it is best to ensure the raw food is high-pressure processed). You can also cook human-grade meat for your puppy if you have the time and enjoy cooking.
Avoid feeding cooked bones to your puppy as they can easily splinter and cause intestinal perforation.
If your pup was fed a particular diet by the breeder, try and upgrade his diet gradually over one to two weeks. Slow the transition down even more if your pup has diarrhea or vomiting. Pups should be fed three to four small meals a day until they are six months old. The amount of each meal will depend on the diet you pick and the size, breed and expected growth rate of your puppy.
Try to avoid over-vaccinating, as every vaccine can trigger an immune-mediated response, potentially causing more serious problems. I recommend that, unless you live in an area where parvovirus, leptospirosis or any other infectious disease is rampant or endemic, it's best to wait until your pup is at least 10-12 weeks old before he is vaccinated. If your puppy had access to its mother's milk from birth, he should have enough maternal antibodies to protect him until then. However, your breeder may have already vaccinated your pup at six weeks, so make sure you check.
One vaccine at 12 weeks and a second one three or four weeks later should provide enough immunity often for a life time. At least one booster vaccination after 12 months is recommended by the WSAVA (World Small Animal Veterinary Association).
In the USA, the only compulsory vaccine is the rabies vaccine, which is required by law. Ask your vet for thimerosal- and mercury-free vaccines, which are relatively safer.
Some homeopathic vets recommend 'nosodes' instead of or after vaccinations, but at present there is no scientific evidence that they offer the same protection. For owners who are totally opposed to the idea of annual vaccinations, it is a good practice to administer nosodes and then run titers to evaluate whether it was effective in stimulating the immune system. Titer testing is also recommended if you are contemplating annual boosters, as the boosters can be waived if your pup has enough antibodies.
(See my book You Can Heal Your Pet for a more detailed discussion on the pros and cons of vaccination.)
Watch out for worms
Many puppies are born with intestinal worms. Puppies may actually pass roundworms that look like strings in their stools. They may be pot-bellied, lethargic and have vomiting and diarrhea. Some pups may vomit whole worms. Worms should not be taken lightly—in excess, they can actually kill a puppy.
Puppies and kittens need to be wormed every two weeks from two weeks of age until they are 12 weeks old. They should be wormed monthly until the age of six months and then every three to six months, depending on the product used and your pet's lifestyle.
Lungworm should be treated by your vet and then prevented by using products regularly.
I have found conventional worming products to be safe and effective. But you can minimize the use of dewormers based on your pet's lifestyle and potential for exposure to worms. There are many natural dewormers on the market, but I cannot vouch for their effectiveness, especially in severe infestations.
Dr Francis Hunter, in his book Everyday Homeopathy for Animals, suggests homeopathic remedies like Abrotanum, Cina Maritima and Santonium for roundworm and Filix Mas and Granatum in low potency for tapeworms, but only under the supervision of a homeopathic vet.
Constant scratching, flea dirt on the back and neck (rub a wet piece of paper along the black flecks on the back of your pup. If it is flea dirt, the flecks will turn red—confirming fleas), hair loss from chewing and actual fleas when combed all point to a flea infestation. As fleas are the intermediate hosts for both the dog and cat tapeworm, if your pup's feces has tapeworms, it suggests a flea infestation.
A severe flea infestation can cause your pup to become anemic and could be life-threatening. In this case, make sure to use a conventional anti-flea product that is recommended by your vet.
If your pup has no fleas, then you can use natural flea repellents like the one used by Elizabeth Whiter, co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (see box, left).
The safest and most natural flea treatment is using a flea comb to manually comb the fleas off your puppy, then drown them in soapy water. Bathing your pup and then picking the fleas off him is also a good technique, as the fleas usually try to find dry ground. Amorphous diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled once daily on your pup's fur as a natural flea repellent.
Both fleas on your pets and fleas in the environment have to be controlled in order to effectively treat a flea infestation, especially if the fleas are biting you and your family. You will need to identify potential areas in your house that could be infested and treat them.
Citrus- and peppermint-based pet-safe cleaners can be used to deter fleas. Aromatic cedar is also a natural flea repellent. Homeopathic vet Dr Jeff Fienman recommends Wondercide cedar flea and tick spray, which is non-toxic. Regular vacuum cleaning of furniture and skirting boards, pet bedding and other nooks and crannies is key to getting rid of fleas.
Avoid environmental toxins
Use pet-safe, non-toxic products for cleaning your home and maintaining your lawn. When you walk your pup, avoid areas which have been sprayed with weed killers or insecticides. Bathe him with herb-based shampoos and conditioners containing tea-tree oil, oatmeal or aloe vera rather than synthetic chemical-based products.
Neem insect repellent for dogs
1 Tbsp neem oil
18 fl oz warm water
1 drop liquid dish soap
1) Heat the neem oil in a glass bowl over a bain-marie until it is warm to the touch and thinner in consistency.
2) Add the water and the liquid dish soap (to help bring the ingredients together) and beat together vigorously with a whisk for a few minutes. Place liquid in a glass jar, label and keep in the fridge.
3) Apply the neem insect repellent using a clean cloth. Gently sponge down the back and flanks, keeping clear of the face and genitals.
If you decide to use the liquid mixture again, you will notice that the neem oil has separated from the water. Don't be alarmed, simply place the bottle of liquid mixture over a bain-marie again to warm it, shake the bottle well and try a little on your arm for temperature. Apply as above.
Rohini Sathish, DVM, MSC, MRCVS, MHAO, MCIVT
Dr Sathish is an award-winning holistic vet with 22 years of experience. After training in acupuncture, acupressure, energy healing, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), animal communication and herbal medicine, she now actively integrates conventional veterinary treatments with complementary therapies and is co-author of You Can Heal Your Pet (Hay House UK, 2015). You can contact Dr Sathish at her website: www.rohinisholisticvetcare.com