Thursday, July 5, 2012

on keeping Kip


Some people saw Becky's post on Kipper the dog, and wrote me asking how I kept Kip white -- basically, what her maintenance was like. People who see her out on her walks usually ask me the same thing, so I thought I'd write a post just about that. Perhaps it might be helpful to you if you have a Westie too, or a white dog, or a thick-coated dog, or just a dog. Maybe even a white cat, or a thick-coated cat, or just a cat.

Now I certainly don't pretend to be a Westie expert or anything, and this is going to be very cursory; I'm just glad that Kip is really quite easy to care for. Every dog is susceptible to health issues, with some diseases being more common in certain breeds than others. Westies are reportedly more prone to a variety of health problems, including white-shaker syndrome, hypoadrenocorticism, luxated patella and dry eye. But perhaps the number one concern Westie owners have is skin and allergy problems.

Westies are notorious for these, and they are probably the largest contributing factor to the breed's being given up or abandoned. Of course, all dogs are subject to dermatitis, yeast infections and allergies, but Westies are apparently one of the more susceptible breeds. If your Westie has any of these issues, chances are you've had to deal with him or her scratching and licking themselves like crazy, which usually results in other problems, like fur stains, fur loss, lesions and rough, crusty, stinky skin.

Most of these skin problems are hereditary in nature and generally require long-term medical care. Of course, these things aren't usually apparent in a little puppy, which is why it's super important to be sure you thoroughly research the breed before bringing it home, and be clear that you're prepared to deal with whatever crops up.

Kip was just barely three months old when we adopted her, and I wanted to be sure from the get-go that I did whatever I could to give her a healthy start. So first -- her diet. Skin problems can be caused by food allergies, so it's really important to pay attention to the ingredient list on your dog food. A dog can react to any ingredient really, but there are some things you especially want to avoid, including wheat, corn, soy, meat by-products, and artificial preservatives (like BHA and BHT). The protein source should be the first ingredient and should be named (for example, chicken) (though chicken -- and pork and beef -- are often implicated in food allergies).

Getting a high-quality dog food -- i.e. not the cheap stuff you find in the supermarket -- goes a long way to helping with this. Don't think you're saving by skimping; a poor quality diet can have very negative repercussions on your dog's health and cost you way more in the long run. If your Westie thrives on it, then stick to it -- don't keep changing around. I feed Kip dog food from a brand called Wellness, and I pretty strictly refrain from giving her doggy treats. If I do want to give her a treat, say as a reward, I might give her a tiny bit of cat kibble, or something healthy, like a small piece of carrot or apple. But I don't do this much.

Next -- grooming. I give Kip a bath about once a fortnight, because we live in a very hot, humid environment. I imagine if you live in a colder, drier climate, you should bathe your Westie a lot less (unless he or she has a skin problem which requires more frequent baths with a medicated shampoo). Bathing too often will remove the natural oils from their coats, and make them susceptible to dry skin and other skin problems.

Before giving Kip her bath, I comb her fur out. I do it before her bath because if I don't, the water will make any mats or knots ten times worse. But I do comb her regularly, so tangles aren't really an issue. Combing lets the skin breathe, and helps keep the Westie's undercoat clean.

Regular grooming also reduces shedding and will bring any palpable health problems to your attention. If need be, I trim her fur with a little scissors. And every few months, I shave her down with a dog clipper. Kip is not a show dog, so I spare her the rigours of being hand-stripped. Keeping her fur trim helps her stay cool, and her skin healthy, and clipping her myself saves a lot of money (can you believe these grooming people want to charge a couple of hundred bucks a pop?)!

Then, I clean her ears. I do this with soft cotton buds and baby oil. Yep, good old Johnson's baby oil (and I learnt this from the vet, so please don't be writing me going, "Baby oil?? Cotton buds??"). I saturate the cotton bud, and very gently clean inside. I also trim the fur in the ears so that they can "air" better. A damp, dirty ear predisposes it to nasty things like yeast and bacteria.

Finally, I give her her bath. Be sure to use a dog -- not human! -- shampoo. I use an oatmeal shampoo on Kip, because oatmeal is mild and helps soothe and relieve itchy skin (Kip doesn't really have itchy skin, but it's still nice to soothe it anyway right?). I know some people add liquid bluing to whiten white dogs (others use chalk), but I prefer keeping the stuff I use on Kip to a minimum.

I bathe her in the shower, and scrub her down very matter-of-factly, so she doesn't take it into her head to be difficult. I make very sure to avoid getting water in her ears by keeping the water below ear level. And I -- like every average dog owner -- make a point to brush her teeth. Remember, gum infections can migrate to other parts of the body and cause serious problems!

Then -- and this is important for Westies -- I dry her
thoroughly, first with two towels, then with a hair-dryer. You know they're pretty dry when they do that body-shaking thing and you don't feel any water sprinkles. I pay particular attention to potentially moist-y parts, like the armpits, groin, and between the toes (if you see a blackish discolouration on the skin, then you might have a fungal or yeast issue -- have the vet look at it). Then, after blow-drying, I do what my vet recommended -- I sit her out in the sun for five to ten minutes. This really helps with dampness and yeast.

Now, besides showing up dirt really easily, being white also means that Westies are often plagued with paw and beard stains. These stains are sort of an orangey-reddish-brown, and are generally caused by saliva. Some Westies have it so bad, their entire muzzle and paws look orange. It would be good to find out the root cause of your Westie's excessive licking -- it could be anything from yeast, bacteria and allergies, to plain boredom. I make sure to keep Kip's paws as dry as possible, and trim the paw pad hair short.

With regard to parasites, I use Revolution on Kip once a month. Revolution is a broad-spectrum parasiticide that protects pets from heartworms, fleas, and other harmful parasites. It is theoretically prescription-only, but I've seen it being sold at certain pet stores. Just be sure that the parasiticide you choose is FDA and vet-approved; avoid using the cheaper spot-on pesticides, whose safety has been questioned.

Having such an intense abhorrence of ticks and other such entities, I also keep Kip on pavements and off grassy areas where other dogs have been. I know she's on Revolution, but still... better safe than sorry. It's bad enough the dog next door has ticks. Besides, any dog who goes into grass risks stepping on someone else's poo and pee -- I just really don't feel like having that in my bedroom. That's why I am still the number one proponent of the doggy pee tray.

And that's about it. As far as practical maintenance goes. As I'd written over a year ago: "Having worked in an animal shelter, I've known too many people who give up their dogs because they didn't know what they were getting into, they didn't give the animals the time, love and dedication they need and deserve.

"I've said it so many times to so many people -- do your research thoroughly before ever bringing an animal home. A dog can live 14, 15 years -- that's a LONG commitment. Be absolutely sure you can commit to that. Ask yourself what will happen to the dog if you guys move, go on holiday, go abroad to study, to work, get married, have kids. These life decisions must include your canine family member. Remember too, that as your pet ages, he or she will develop health issues that affect all elderly beings, and that will require a lot from you as well.

"And for goodness' sakes, neuter your pet!

"Again, 15 years is a long commitment -- many people don't even begin to grasp the concept of that when they first pick up a little puppy and fall for those big eyes and lovable face. Really think about whether you honestly have enough time for a dog. For example, you will need PLENTY of time to devote to proper training. If you don't, and the dog becomes a chronic house soiler, barker, furniture destroyer, aggressive biter, etc etc, will you become like those countless owners who get fed up, give up and dump their pet?" (you can read the entire post here).


Stefania said...

Lovely post!!

StephilĂ  Creations-Myfashionblog

Sulky Kitten said...

Kipper is adorable, and I totally agree with everything you say. Pets are a commitment, but so worth it.My little pup sees his groomer every 5 weeks and I take care of the rest. He is fully insured and has his regular anti-flea treatments etc. I am fascinated with the doggy pee tray! First time I've heard of it and am now off to investigate !

AntiquityTravelers said...

Kipper is so sweet! Lovely post - as always! Stop by my blog, I have a surprise for you

Dawn said...

Janice, I don't have a Westie but I read this fantastic article on how to care for one because of your writing style. You can write, girl!!!! I love the pee tray. My cat won't go in the litter so somehow I trained him to go on the pee pee pads. dawn suitcase vignettes xo

Beth said...

Wonderful post, Janice. Kipper is a lovely little dog. You are right that having a pet is a real commitment. We would very much like to have a dog (and had dogs years ago) but after researching what vet care and other dog necessities cost these days, we decided we couldn't afford one. Maybe some day...


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