pixeatingBy Sheltie Nation member & guest author Ann Compton.  (Ann is an accomplished Animal Journalist with more than 20 years specializing in canine topics.  Currently, she writes a weekly column on animal care for one of Connecticut’s newspapers.)

One of the most important things we can do for our dogs to keep them healthy is to feed them good food. With so many name brands compromised this year—even some veterinary foods and ‘premium’ brands–many people are understandably confused about what they can and should feed their pets.

There are ways to make sure that what you feed your dog is wholesome, nutritious, and safe. Unfortunately, what you cannot do is pop into the supermarket or local chain store and grab a bag of whatever happens to be on sale. You must aware of what the dog food you are buying contains.

The single most important thing you can do for your pet is to be an educated consumer. This means that you MUST read the ingredients on the label! Of course, you must know what you are looking for when you read ingredient labels, and what you shouldn’t buy.

It’s really a simple formula. All pet food should consist of whole ingredients.  Avoid foods with the words, “by-product, “wheat or rice gluten/protein,” “wheat bran, rice bran, rice flour,” or ingredients such as “animal fat” or “meat protein.” These are fillers of inferior quality or unknown origin, or what is known in the pet food industry as “fractions,” including over-processed ingredients that have no nutritional value—in other words, doggie junk food.

The recalls we saw this summer centered primarily around wheat gluten, made in China. What is wheat gluten, and why is it in your pet food? The answer is, it shouldn’t be. Wheat gluten, although not as well known, is an alternative to soy-based meat substitutes such as tofu; some types may taste even more like meat than tofu due to their chewy or stringy texture. It is often used in place of meat in Asian, vegetarian/vegan, and macrobiotic cuisines. Good quality foods with whole ingredients do not use wheat gluten.

A term frequently found on some pet food labels is “by-product.” By-products are just that: leftovers from the good part of the meat; parts you really wouldn’t want to feed if you knew what they were—parts “not fit for human consumption.” The translation is this. The label should read “chicken,” or “chicken meal,” but not “chicken by-product.”

Next, the first ingredient on your dog food label should be named meat or fish, such as “chicken” or “lamb” or “beef,” not unidentified “meat” or “poultry.” It’s very important that one named meat or fish be the first ingredient listed on the label, since ingredients are listed in order of their total weight in the food and what your dog’s diet should consist of first is a meat or fish, unless he is under veterinary care and has dietary restrictions. Succeeding ingredients should be whole grains, vegetables or broth.

The same is true for vegetables and grains. Whole grains such as rice or vegetables should be named, so you know what you’re getting in the food. Avoid foods with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, sweeteners or sugar.

Does this food cost more? The answer is yes. But you’ll save money in the long run on vet visits, avoid potential health issues, and you can usually feed less of a natural, quality food because it doesn’t contain the fillers found in other brands.

If you don’t know where to find good, natural pet food, consult your local yellow pages for natural or holistic pet food stores. Since the recalls, even some chain pet stores have begun carrying a few premium brands such as Old Mother Hubbard. There are also many natural pet food sources online; all offer delivery.

There are a growing number of healthy, whole foods for dogs and cats. Some brands that top the list include Eagle Pack, Innova, Solid Gold, Canidae, Wellness, Wysong, and Merrick. If you can’t find these foods locally, try an online resource such as www.waggintails.com or www.jbpet.com .  Doctors. Foster and Smith also make an excellent line of pet foods that can be ordered online (www.drsfostersmith.com ) or through their catalog.

Remember to check your pet’s biscuit and treat labels as well. They contain similar ingredients that can also be questionable. Look for the same whole ingredients when buying treats and chews.

Stay tuned for part II of Ann’s great article & what you should do to assure the safety of the food you buy for your pet!

food1. Grapes
Many people give this fruit to their dogs as a treat. However, just a few bites can cause fatal kidney failure in some dogs.

Both grapes and raisins can be toxic. Some dogs eat them with seemingly no ill effects. However, some dogs become ill after ingesting only a few grapes or raisins. The first symptom is vomiting, followed by acute kidney failure, from which many dogs do not recover. As of yet, the toxin is unknown, nor do we know why some dogs become sick and others eat grapes or raisins without a problem.

2. Bread dough
The yeast-containing bread dough can ferment in the dog’s stomach, releasing large quantities of alcohol. Dogs may become very ill from alcohol poisoning.  Small dogs are most susceptible to this toxicity.

3. Macadamia nuts
The ingestion of as few as six macadamia nuts has caused paralysis in dogs. Dogs with macadamia poisoning will appear anxious and have difficulty moving their rear legs. The legs may appear to be painful. Luckily, the paralysis is temporary and clears up within a few days. The causative agent of the paralysis is unknown.

4. Salmon
Salmon and trout can be infected with a parasite called Nanophyetus salmincola, a type of trematode worm. The worms themselves can be infected with a type of bacteria known as Neorickettsia helminthoeca. The bacteria only infects canids; other animals show no symptoms from eating it. When dogs eat raw fish infected with this bacteria, they can show symptoms including weakness, vomiting, loss of appetite, swollen glands, and fever. Ninety percent of untreated dogs die. However, cooking kills the worm and the bacteria.

5. Onions
Onions and garlic contain a chemical called thiosulfate. When ingested either in large quantities or in small quantities over a long period of time, they can cause anemia. This is reversible if you stop feeding the onions or garlic.

6. Xylitol
This toxicity usually occurs when dogs eat large amounts of sugar-free candy or gum. In humans, xylitol does not cause a drop in blood sugar; in dogs it does. This can lead to weakness, staggering, and other symptoms of hypoglycemia. There is also some evidence that some dogs may develop liver failure after ingesting xylitol.  Read more about this here.

7. Cooked chicken bones
Cooked bones are much more dangerous than raw bones. They are much more brittle than raw bones and can splinter into sharp shards.  But why risk feeding any chicken bones?  Give them something else.

8. Turkey skin
Dogs that are fed a straight diet of dry food with little variety- may get an inflammation of the pancreas called “pancreatitis” if they eat certain foods that they are not used to.

In dogs, pancreatitis often results from eating a very high-fat meal. While dogs that are used to eating a high-fat diet, like sled dogs, can eat pure fat with no problems, dogs that are not used to such foods often cannot. When such a dog eats a high-fat meal, its pancreas overproduces enzymes, to the extent that they actually begin to “digest” the pancreas and inflame it. Common culprits are turkey skin and ham fat. Symptoms include vomiting and stomach pain. This is a medical emergency, and such dogs must be treated by a vet. Some breeds, like miniature schnauzers, are genetically predisposed to pancreatitis.

9. Cocoa bean mulch
A common food byproduct used in gardens has been found to cause vomiting, tremors and fast heartbeat when dogs eat it.

Cocoa bean shells contain the same toxic theobromine that chocolate does, and are poisonous to dogs for the same reason. The mulch has an attractive chocolate smell that is irresistible to many dogs.

See our previous post on Chocolate for more information on this toxic food.

10. Poinsettia, Holly & Mistletoe
Despite common misconceptions, poinsettias are only mildly toxic, and most dogs who eat them will experience no symptoms at all. Some dogs will drool or vomit after eating them. Holly causes intense nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Mistletoe causes vomiting, diarrhea, neurological problems and heart failure.

Thanks to Linda for the great shot of Maxx getting his dinner!

Next: Did you know? Tea Tree Oil is toxic to dogs.

Back to: Sheltie FAQ

Closeup of Sheltie noseFor a person, bad breath usually means we ate something offensive. But for a dog to have bad breath, it means something is wrong.

Sadly, as a breed, Shelties have very high maintenance teeth. They need to be brushed and cleaned on a regular basis; yet so many Sheltie owners never notice this important health issue.

Imagine how your teeth would feel you could not brush them. Tarter would quickly build up and decay would begin on one or more teeth. Your gums would become inflamed and sore. As the decay advanced, it would eat away at your teeth…down to the roots.

Long before this point, us humans would have run to the dentist because of the pain. But a Sheltie cannot tell you what hurts; so it goes unnoticed. Soon, the decaying tooth (or teeth) and gums will become infected. Once the infection gets a good hold in your Sheltie’s mouth, THEN it starts to smell bad. An infected mouth can smell terrible! This is the point at which many people start to tease your dog about having “bad breath”. You don’t worry too much, because everyone has bad breath “sometimes”. Right?


Simply put: If your Sheltie has lingering bad breath, he needs to be seen by your vet. A tooth infection is one of the leading causes of kidney failure and a host of other medical problems in dogs.

Canine dental disease in dogs occurs as a result of the buildup of tartar, sometimes referred to as “calculus”. Tartar develops when plaque (a sticky colorless film that consists of bacteria, mucus and food) remains on the teeth for too long. The long-term effects can lead to periodontal diseases, such as gingivitis or periodontitis.

Gingivitis is as an inflammation of the gums. If left untreated, the gums will become infected and eventually recede, exposing the root of the tooth.  Ouch!  If this is left untreated, it will progress to a type of dental disease known as periodontitis. If you have allowed your Sheltie’s teeth to get to this point, it is likely that they will need a vet to professionally clean their teeth, and/or extract the infected teeth. Then, you will likely need to give your Sheltie antibiotics to knock out the infection. Once your Sheltie has clean, healthy teeth…. it is YOUR job to keep them that way.

Best ways to reduce & eliminate dental disease in your Sheltie:

  • Check your Shelties teeth weekly.
  • Brush & scrape the tarter off at least once per week.
  • Have your vet check your Shelties teeth (at minimum) yearly.
  • Feed dry crunchy high quality dog food & treats.

Soft dog food and treats are not good choices for maintaining healthy teeth. There is some controversy as to whether or not hard dog foods can act as an abrasive and remove already existing tartar. But at the very least, dogs who eat hard foods are less prone to dental disease than those who eat soft, moist, canned or table foods. Hard foods are less likely to adhere to the teeth and lodge beneath the gums, causing tartar buildup to develop at a less rapid rate than softer foods. Rawhide or milk bones are preferable for the same reason.

How to recognize if your Sheltie has dental problems:

  • Foul smelling “doggy breath” indicates the presence of bacteria in the mouth.
  • The appearance of yellow or brown deposits, known as calculus, usually appearing at the gum line, is another sign of dental disease in dogs.
  • Red, rather than pale pink gums.
  • The beginning of gingivitis is indicated by a red line at the base of the gums.
  • Rounded edges, rather than pointed edges, where the gum meets the tooth, are another indicator.
  • Pus, loose teeth and severe sensitivity of the mouth indicate the later stages of dental disease.
Clean dog teeth

Clean, healthy adult teeth and gums.

dirty dog teeth

Bright red gum line, tarter build up. Painful?  Bad Breath?You bet!

bad tartar on dog tooth

This dog needs vet care.

Bad tartar on dog's teeth

This case could be called abuse.

Dental disease in dogs can lead to much more serious consequences, if not treated properly. Once bacteria gets into the blood stream and circulates, any number of additional medical conditions can develop.  Circulation of bacteria can lead to organ damage. If left unchecked, dental disease in dogs can and will lead to a shorter life span for your dog.

As domesticated dogs cannot be self-sufficient, it is up to us to educate ourselves in dog teeth cleaning and dog dental care so that we can take proper care of our Shelties.

In our next installment, we will talk about the proper way to clean your Sheltie’s teeth.

Excerpts & photos courtesy of Central IL Sheltie Rescue.

Thanks to Linda for the closeup of Maxx’s nose! 

Next: Shelties and Heartworm Medications

Back to: Sheltie FAQ

Sheltie barkingShelties ARE barkers.  No two ways about it.   And for the most part, barking can be controlled in most Shelties.  But what if your Sheltie barks all the time?   Is your Shelties barking getting on your nerves?   Are you considering giving away your Sheltie because you cannot tolerate the barking?  Excessive barking can be a serious problem.

Most Sheltie folks have various opinions on the subject, & I know I have my own.  I doubt I’d ever want to de-bark one of my dogs, but everyone is different & each situation is unique.

I really love Shelties, but they are not the right breed for all people and all living situations.  I really wish people would “think” before the bring a dog into their lives.  My boys sometimes drive me crazy with the barking, but I knew that going in. It makes me so sad to hear about the things people do to Shelties to get them to stop barking, when if they did a little homework in advance, they would have realized that a Sheltie wasn’t right for them in the first place.

Now, I shouldn’t generalize, but I’m sure certain situations would call for debarking as the best alternative for the dog’s welfare.  But I’ve heard a de-barked Sheltie & it makes me sad.  How can the dog NOT know their voice does not carry?  I can’t claim to know how dogs think & feel, but they do hear very well.

I digress….Read through two professional opinions on the subject & decide for yourself.

The Rescue Perspective: 
Excerpts from Central Illinois Sheltie Rescue

Rescue groups say that some of the abuse that Shelties suffer is from people’s intolerance of the barking.

Until you work in rescue and see how some Shelties are quieted, you won’t believe it…

  • Had oven cleaner sprayed in their throat because of barking.
  • Found with their throat slit wide open, because of excessive barking.
  • Found with their muzzle tied shut with bailing wire.
  • Had been given up 3 times for it’s barking.  At age 1, it had gone through 3 owners.

If a rescue gets a dog whom they feel is an abuse risk because of excessive barking, many will have the dog surgically debarked.

“Debark surgery is the kindest, most humane thing we can do for a chronic barker.  With a Debark surgery a dog will still go through all the motions and enjoyment of barking…….it’s just that no noise will be produced.   No more shock collars.  No more muzzles.  No more yelling at the dog.   No more angry neighbors.  And….most important, it eliminates the worry of possible abuse.  It is the best all around solution to problem barking.”


Animal rights groups attack life-saving debarking procedure

By Charlotte McGowan
Charlotte McGowan is the author of The Shetland Sheepdog in America and is an honorary Life Member of the American Shetland Sheepdog Association. She has bred dogs for over 40 years. She has been an AKC dog show judge for over 30 years.

There is a move around the country by animal rights interests to outlaw the practice of debarking dogs. So much misinformation about this procedure abounds that it is truly time to set the record straight. As a dog breeder for over 40 years, I can tell you that debarking in the hands of a well trained veterinarian is a very useful tool for breeders and owners and it saves lives. I have had a lot of dogs debarked over the years and the usefulness of this procedure should not be ignored. I know friends who have used debarking for decades with no ill effects on the dogs.

Q: What is debarking?
This is a surgical procedure to reduce tissue in the vocal chords. Some vets use a punch to remove tissue. Other surgeons make cuts of varying sizes and I have heard of some using a laser. The goal of the surgery is to lower the volume of the dog’s bark and the ability of the bark to carry over a wide area.

Q: Does debarking remove the dog’s ability to bark?
No. Debarked dogs continue to bark. What debarking does is to lower the volume of the bark so that it does not carry for miles around.

Q: Is the surgery always successful?
Sometimes scar tissue forms and heavy barkers will become louder than when first debarked. The skill of the veterinarian is also a factor. 

Q: Is this a “cruel and barbaric procedure?”
No.  People with little or no experience raising naturally noisy and talkative breeds may tell you this. People with breeds like Shetland Sheepdogs (Shelties) can tell you that this procedure is simple and that it saves lives of dogs that might otherwise be dumped in the pound for their barking.

Debarking is a more simple procedure than removing the uterus in spaying or removing testicles in neutering.

Q: Do dogs suffer emotionally from debarking?
It is a huge myth to suggest dogs are emotionally disturbed by debarking. Debarked dogs can bark. Even if reduced sound comes out of their mouths, they don’t seem to notice at all! Debarked dogs that are not being constantly disciplined for barking, in fact, tend to be much happier dogs!

Q: Is it true that only criminals and drug dealers debark dogs?
This is the biggest myth about debarking! The majority of people who debark dogs are responsible dog owners at the end of their rope with dogs whose bark is so piercing that they can be heard for miles around.

To be breed specific, Sheltie, Collie and other herding breed owners are the
people most apt to do this. Herding breeds, by nature can be very vocal in their work. They also are joyful in their barking. They bark at squirrels, strangers, in play. They bark just to bark. Sheltie and Collie breeders are not criminals and drug dealers!

Q: Is it true you can train any dog not to bark?
I defy some of the so-called new wave of dog behaviorists to train a group of Shelties not to bark! Shelties in numbers larger than one love to do group barking. It is part of who they are.

Q: Isn’t debarking a hazardous procedure?
Any procedure that requires anesthesia, whether it is a dental cleaning, spay, or debarking has intrinsic risks. The key to success is good veterinary skill in all these procedures.

Q: Do people debark just to avoid training their dogs?
The majority of people who debark have run out of options and are trying to be good neighbors. We are not talking about people who are irresponsible and leave their dogs out all night or ignore chronic barking. We are talking about people who understand that the piercing bark of a Sheltie, even on limited occasions, can be enough to cause a war in built up residential neighborhoods.

Animal rights interests have painted debarking as a cruel quick fix when in fact it is something no owner does lightly.

Q: Is excessive barking due to bad breeding?
Here’s another myth. Shelties  kept birds of prey away from lambs on the remote Shetland Islands. They also kept livestock out of the crofters meager gardens and protected fish drying on the beach from eagles and other raptors.

Barking is a useful tool for this work. It also helps let the owner know where the dog is. Unfortunately, in modern life, neighbors are not impressed when Shelties bark at birds!

Q: Anti debarking legislation is being put forth around the country as part of anti dog fighting bills. Isn’t this a good idea?
Criminals pay not attention to laws. They are not going to license their dogs in the first place, let alone report any that may be debarked. The people impacted by anti debarking laws are responsible owners, especially people with Shelties and Collies. Animal rights interests want to outlaw any procedures they deem unnecessary. Responsible and compassionate veterinarians should understand that debarking can save lives by keeping dogs out of shelters and in homes.

While some dogs, especially when they are the only dog in a home, can be trained to reduce their barking, others cannot be trained to the point where neighbors will not be annoyed.

Q: Do you debark ALL your dogs?
No. Some dogs are less noisy than others. I do debark the dedicated squirrel chasers because they can be extremely noisy and the squirrels are always going to be out there. I wish I could train the squirrels to move to another neighborhood but that’s just about as hard as training a sheltie not to bark.

Additional reference:

Thanks to sheltiebrat for the great photo of Rocky doing what Shelties do best – bark! :)

Next: Where can I get a Sheltie?

Back to: Sheltie FAQ

pupcarSummer can be a very dangerous time for dogs — especially those dogs left inside hot vehicles. Every year, countless dogs die after being locked in cars while their guardians work, visit, shop, or run other errands. These tragic deaths are entirely preventable.   Most people simply don’t realize how quickly closed, unattended cars or trucks can become
stifling death traps.

Why people don’t remember this completely annoys us here at Sheltie Nation.  We rank this right up there with leaving children in cars.  This is really a common sense “no no”.Regardless, we all have at one point or the other, opened a car door in the summer to a wave of heat or sat down on a too hot car seat.  Is it really that big of a leap of logic to imagine how a dog (or any animal) would feel being trapped inside?

Did you know…When it’s 85 degrees out, the temperature inside a car, even with the windows left slightly open, can soar to 102 degrees in 10 minutes, and can reach 120 in just half an hour?   (At 107 degrees, dogs begin to suffer brain damage.)

To help spread the word The Animal Protection Institute (API) has launched a newly designed website, www.MyDogisCool.com packed with life saving tips and resources such as windshield fliers, millions of which have been distributed since the start of the campaign. The national outreach effort also includes materials and warning notices for stores and public places.

Through the website www.mydogiscool.com, you’ll learn about what you can do to protect dogs from the dangers of hot cars. You can find out how quickly cars heat up in warm weather, whether it’s too hot to take your dog along that day, and how to get the word out that it’s just not cool to leave a dog in a hot car, even for “just a minute.”

On warm or hot days, leave your dog at home.  Even better, purchase the API fliers (25 for $3.00) to leave in your own glove box in case you come across a dog you suspect may be in need of help.  You might just educate a complete idiot & save a precious dogie life.  But if you see a dog in distress, do not hesitate to call the authorities!

flyerthmbTo purchase the flyers:  http://www.mydogiscool.com/b_flyer.php

Thanks to puppup for the Sheltie in the car shot.  We know it wasn’t hot that day!

Larry’s touching email & our post about his dog Toto has caused quite a few email inquiries about Canine von Willebrand’s Disease & how it affects Shelties.  We have put together a basic overview of the disease & how it is passed on.

Von Willebrand’s Disease (vWd) is an inherited bleeding disorder, similar to hemophilia.  It is a complex and difficult disorder to deal with, because genetics, diagnostic abnormalities, pathogenic mechanisms, and sometimes conflicting clinical signs are all involved.

There are 3 status levels of the disease:

1. Clear – does not have the disease and can not pass on the defective gene for the disease.

2. Carrier – does not have the disease but can pass on the defective gene for the disease.

3. Affected -has the disease and passes on the defective gene for the disease.

It comes in 3 major types, but only two affect Shelties, Type I and Type III.

Type I is a mild bleeding disorder with the risk coming mostly from trauma or surgery. (This form of the disease is rarely found in Shelties.)

Type III is a severe bleeding disorder that results in a high risk of bleeding from something as simple as a nail cut too short to the risk of serious bleeding due to trauma or surgery.  Sadly, Type III is the most common type found in Shelties.

The commonality between all vWD is a reduction in the amount or function of von Willebrand factor (vWF), which is manifested through abnormal platelet function and prolonged bleeding. The vWF factor is a blood protein which binds platelets to blood vessels when they are injured. Absence or deficiency of the factor can, therefore, lead to uncontrolled bleeding episodes.

Diagnosis can be performed by measurement of plasma concentrations of vWF. Testing should be done at an early age since the disorder often diminishes with age, causing false-negative test results in older animals.

In dogs, the most common clinical signs are spontaneous bleeding from the gums or nose, blood in the urine or gastrointestinal tract, or excessive bleeding at the time of surgery. Clinical signs also include a bloody nose, prolonged estrus or postpartum bleeding, bloody urine, bloody stool, excessive bleeding after toe-nail cutting and sometimes hemorrhaging into body cavities and organs.

The good news?
A February 3, 2004 report showed that 92% of the Shelties tested are DNA clear of the disease, 7% are determined to be carriers of the disease, and 1% are affected by the disease.  But, the results only represent those responsible breeders who test for & eliminate breeding stock based on the results.  This is another example of why you should obtain your new Sheltie puppy from a responsible breeder, and not from a pet store or newspaper “back yard” breeder ad.

The results of various breeding combinations are as follows:

Clear x Clear = 100% Clear
Clear x Carrier = 50% Carrier, 50% Clear
Clear x Affected = 100% Carrier
Carrier x Carrier = 25% Clear, 50% Carrier, 25% Affected
Carrier x Affected = 50% Carrier, 50% Affected
Affected x Affected = 100% Affected

Because this disease can be eradicated before breeding (by having a dog tested) it can be eliminated from the breed all together. Unfortunately, experience and hearsay indicate that the AKC is not active in the enforcement of these preventive measures.  Testing prior to breeding is a must if it is ever going to be completely eliminated.

As we have stated before in previous posts – always obtain your new puppy from a reputable breeder.  A breeder that genuinely cares for the Sheltie breed will not knowingly pass along the genes of an affected dog.  When interviewing breeders, be sure to ask if they have tested their breeding stock for von Willebrand disease.

ettingerFor those who wish additional
information, an excellent source concerning the disease is Ettinger’s Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine: 2-Volume Set

Back to: Sheltie Health

MaggieOur friend Patrick sent us a heartfelt reminder that as good Sheltie parents, we owe it to our furry children to take good care of them.

“Our first Sheltie Mandy died at age 12 from being overweight.  I learned a terrible lesson from this tragic loss and want all Sheltie owners to know how important it is to keep your Sheltie fit.  They are natural herders and want to get to the outdoors as often as possible.  Please take time to take care of your own health and the health of your Sheltie…get out to the park and have a good run at least 4 times a week…daily is even better.”

Thanks to Patrick & Maggie Girl for the caring reminder & lovely spring photo.  :)

dogheartworminterceptorHeartworm has become a national problem, and most veterinarians recommend protecting your dog with some kind of regularly administered preventative medication. Preventing hearworm is easy to do for your dog & only requires a monthly pill.

However, some Shelties, Collies, and related breeds have an unusual sensitivity to Ivermectin, the active ingredient in the popular monthly heartworm preventative called Heartguard. The monthly medication Interceptor was developed especially for these sensitive breeds. Its active ingredient is milbemycin, which has been demonstrated safe for Shelties and their relatives. The daily heartworm medication Filaribits is also safe for these dogs, although some concern has been expressed about possible liver damage connected with extra ingredient in Filaribits Plus.

If you have any concerns about which heartworm medication is right for your dog, please check with you vet.


Back to: Sheltie Health